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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jesse Plemons

American Made (2017)

The American Dream.

It’s the late 70’s and Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is enjoying the hell out of his life. He’s got a nice job, working as a pilot for commercial airline TWA, married to a beautiful woman (Sarah Wright), and is relatively happy with how simple things are in his life. Sure, he could always have a little more money in his pocket, but hey, what’s he to complain about? Well, things change for Barry when he’s contacted by CIA agent, Monty Schafer (Doomnhall Gleeson), who asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over South America using a small plane with cameras installed. But why? Well, it seems like Schafer has a little mission of his own, to not just get his name known, but use Barry as the reason for it. Eventually though, times begin to change and Barry begins to get ideas; rather than just doing these missions for Schafer and making a small amount of extra-cash, why not just help out the drug cartel in transporting such things as drugs, guns, and all sorts of other goodies?

“Guys. Come on. Do I have to call L. Ron?”

Most of the negative-press towards American Made has been mostly about the fact that the movie plays fast-and-loose with its facts and takes what is, essentially, a dark, gritty, and sad tale about a dude transporting drugs and weapons across country-borders, and not really having the CIA crack down on him for it. And while this is no doubt a valuable criticism, it should also be noted that the movie doesn’t really care about how serious you, or anyone else, takes it story – it doesn’t, so who cares? All that matters, in the end, is whether or not this story deserves the big-screen treatment and is told in the most efficient, entertaining, and knowledgeable way possible.

And yes, that’s exactly what happens.

As per usual, director Dough Liman knows how to make this material crack and sizzle at just about every second. While it takes some time to get off-the-ground, once we are sprung into this world of drugs, guns, sex, heat, and conspiracies, it never lets up. American Made very much feels like Blow, in that it’s about, basically, a low-level dude trying to achieve the American Dream, while also not settling down to preach or cry about its sadness, but this movie’s a whole lot more exciting and fun to watch – this movie takes its premise seriously enough to know of the very real-dangers, but also doesn’t get too bogged down by them much, either. Much like Barry Seal himself, the movie knows what it’s dealing with, but is willing and able to turn a blind-eye in hopes that it will make things a lot more enjoyable to watch.

And that’s exactly what happens with American Made, the kind of movie that feels like it should be a lot more serious, but gets by entirely on its charm and quick pace. You can focus on the fact that it’s about the government turning a blind-eye and using another middle-class American for their own game, but that’s already to be expected. American Made has very much the same rather jokey, wink-wink true-story aspect that Narcos gets away with, but in this case, isn’t a little afraid to play around with certain facts and anecdotes.

“All of this, Tom, could be yours. Just leave that freakin’ cult, bro.”

It’s still a true story as is, but how many liberties were taken, honestly, we don’t fully know.

What we know about American Made is that it gives us, in what seems like a millennium, an actual performance from Tom Cruise, that doesn’t include much running or fancy stunts, but instead, a character, a personality, and oh yeah, plenty of opportunities to have some fun. And yes, Cruise reminds us all that he is, no matter how many silly blockbusters he does, a movie-star through and through; he can hang with the best of them, take over every scene he’s in, and most importantly, sometimes make you forget you’re watching Tom Cruise, movie-star. Cruise hasn’t been able to do that in quite some time, but here, as Barry Seal, he does actually grow into this character and over time, we start to see less of Cruise, and more of Seal. Both are still charming as hell, but there’s some subtle differences here that makes the performance all the more lovely to watch and marvel at.

Cause honestly, who knows the next time we’re going to get a great performance from Cruise where he, believe it or not, actually acts? Let’s just take our wins when we get them and be happy. And oh yeah, forget about the Mummy.

Everybody else already has.

Consensus: As entertatining and as fun, as it is informative, American Made doesn’t pass itself off as a history-lesson, but feels like it’s pulling double duty, while also reminding us that Tom Cruise is a freakin’ movie-star.

7.5 / 10

“Can’t run from all of your problems, Tom.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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The Discovery (2017)

What’s the point to life anyway? Like seriously, who even cares?

Soon after the existence of the afterlife has been scientifically proven by Dr. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford), upwards to four million people begin killing themselves, thinking that there’s not much more to live for, if all there really is, well, nothing, when it’s all over. Nearly two years after this discovery, Will (Jason Segel), the son of Thomas, decides to head out to join his father’s small, but trusted group of believers who are constantly trying to figure out what the meaning to the afterlife is and, in a way, fix it all, so that people stop offing themselves. Meanwhile, Will also meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a girl with a tragic past who found her life seriously affected by this groundbreaking discovery and has a hard time really connecting with anyone, because she herself doesn’t really know if she wants to stay around much longer. Eventually, the two start figuring things out about the afterlife and together, they feel as if they’ll be able to crack the code and live happily ever after.

Or, I don’t know. Maybe something like that.

“Don’t be intimidated or anything. I’m just Robert Redford.”

The Discovery is so ambitious and so interesting for so long, that it’s absolute travesty what it eventually turns out to be. Cause for the longest time, co-writer/director Charlie McDowell, just like he did with the One I Love, puts us in a state of where we don’t know what’s going to happen, at any time, to any person, for any which reason; it’s unpredictable and off-putting, making the movie itself all the more intense than it probably should be. But whereas that movie was talking about relationships, how we love one another, how we connect with one another, and the lies we each tell the other in a relationship, the Discovery is dealing with a much bigger issue on-hand, such as life, the reason for it, and what’s after it.

So yeah, that’s probably where some of the issues for the Discovery already come from, because while it’s a movie that tackles a lot, it also doesn’t know how to contain all of it on its plate. A lot gets lost in the shuffle, falls off the plate, and almost never gets picked up again – it’s as if McDowell and fellow co-writer Justin Lader knew that they were dealing with a whole lot, but didn’t care. Just mentioning the reason for life, the afterlife, and existence as a whole, it seems to them, was enough.

But honestly, it’s not.

See, in order for certain mind-benders such as this to work, there has to more than just mystery, science and babbling about life’s meaning; sometimes, there needs to be a plot, characters, heart, some humanity, and oh yeah, a small idea that we, the audience, have a general idea of what’s going on. When that’s not all there, unfortunately, sci-fi flicks like the Discovery get a bit messy – they like to deal with a lot and talk about a lot of things, but without helping the audience out, every so often, there’s sort of no point. It’s like throwing a huge banger, full of booze, drugs, hookers, and disco-punk blasting on the speakers, and not inviting anyone to it, except for just you, yourself.

Okay, actually, that does sound awesome. But see, so should the Discovery, a movie that seems to be very close to Lader and McDowell’s hearts, yet, doesn’t fully transport the same feelings towards ours. There’s a lot of talk about what this “discovery” about the afterlife actually was, yet, we barely get to hear, or see anything of it; there’s also a lot of talk about what this group of people are doing now to solve the issues from before, which again, aren’t made all that clear; and there’s even this sort of rogue mission Segel and Mara’s characters both go on that feels like it’s supposed to be more important and most of all, about something, but it’s just random.

Swim away, Rooney. Perhaps a better, much clearer movie awaits.

Once again, there’s a lot that this movie wants to be about, but it just isn’t.

Still, it’s not a total piece of junk and more often than not, proves to be another sign that McDowell is still a very interesting, young director who has a chance to make some real beauty in the world, if given the right script to play around with. The human-element of the story, meaning, the relationships these characters all have with one another, probably remain the most interesting aspect of the whole movie and it’s a testament to McDowell’s direction that makes us see that. It also makes us wonder why there wasn’t more character-development in the first place.

After all, Segel, Mara, Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough are all very good here, it’s just that there isn’t always a whole bunch to assist them. Segel’s still interesting as a drop-dead serious straight-man; Mara’s deadpan is hilarious, but also shows a sad, heartbroken soul; Redford, when given the chance, can be chilling as this sort of ring-leader; Plemons’ character seems like he wants to be weirder, but isn’t given the chance to; and Keough, despite having what was a pretty miraculous year last year, isn’t given a whole lot to do here, but still remains chilling enough as is. In fact, just about everyone and everything about the movie is, for lack of a better word, chilling.

It’s just a shame that it wasn’t able to be transported into something far more entertaining, or better yet, even compelling to watch.

Consensus: Even with all of its talk about the afterlife and existence, the Discovery still feels like a half-baked idea, given the big-screen treatment, when in reality, it probably should have been a pilot for a very interesting, very promising TV show. Hence why it’s probably perfect to be on Netflix.

6 / 10

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Other People (2016)

Come back home, where everyone hates and judges you. It’s always a great time.

At the ripe age of 29, David (Jesse Plemons) finally knows feel himself. For one, he’s come out to everyone around him and is finally working as a writer and not having a single worry in the world. However, that all changes when he has to move back to Sacramento to go and see his family, mostly because his mother (Molly Shannon), has come down with a pretty severe case of cancer. But no matter what distractions may be in his job, or in his love life, David keeps his attention solely on his mom who, unlike his conservative father (Bradley Whitford), actually accepts him for who he is and not what he should have turned out to be. Of course, over the time that David spends with his family, they get into fights, arguments, discussions, and all sorts of other stuff that family tends to get into, while the mother of the family is sitting there, wondering just where her life is going to take her next and whether or not this is all going to be the last moments she spends with not just her family, but on Earth in general.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

So yeah, basically imagine the Hollars, but with not nearly as many stars in the roles and a way better, smarter direction and script to work with and yeah, you’ve got Other People. Of course, it’s the same kind of Sundance movie in which a young, constipated man returns to his family home where he’s subject to all sorts of criticism and praise for all of the decisions he may have, or may have not made, in the years since his leave. It’s conventional in terms of format, but whereas the Hollars felt like it barely had anything to say or do with that convention, Other People actually does do something and has something to say, which is basically that, “yeah, people die, but other people live, too.”

It sounds so simple, but trust me, played out in the film, and through writer/director Chris Kelly’s lenses and words, it works out so well.

That said, Other People isn’t a perfect movie; often times, its small, subtle tone and approach to its plot can get in the way of what could have been some really raw, emotional moments, but that’s neither here nor there. I have to give credit to Kelly for at least taking a smaller approach to this material and not just demanding our tears at every waking moment; instead, he gradually takes his time, waiting for the moments to come up and just constantly building these characters, their relationships, and each one of their personalities, so that we get a better idea of who we’re dealing with and whether or not they’re actually worth giving a damn about in the first place. And considering that Kelly comes from a SNL background, it’s surprising to see him, as a writer, wait for the right moments to actually strike the audience with a serious bit of laughter, or tears, rather than just going for it when he feels bored.

Is that a dig at SNL? Quite possibly, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.

What matters most is that Other People, while dealing with a conventional and yes, formulaic plot, also does small, little wonders with it that helps it become so much more than just another chance for a bunch of famous, good-looking people, to slum it in low-budget, grainy-looking indies. Instead, it’s a movie that has a beating heart, that has something to say about cancer, family, relationships, and love, but at the same time, doesn’t; Kelly isn’t looking to force messages of drama and loveliness down our throats but instead, just give us a tender story that sort of shows us everything that he wants to get across or say.

Yup. This kid.

Yup. This kid.

Basically, he does a lot of “showing”, and not “telling”, which for any writer or director, that’s a smart thing to do. Kelly may not have a huge background in movies just yet, but he makes a lot of smart decisions that so many other well-experienced and legendary directors have made and continue to seem to be making. So if anything, yes, let’s hope that Kelly continues to work and show the world that hey, sometimes it’s always better to play it a little low-key, eh?

Anyway, the cast is also very good and another reason why Other People works as well as it does. It’s nice to see Jesse Plemons take on a much more realistic and naturalistic role that shows him in a more interesting light that, honestly, we haven’t seen from him since the days of Landry. That said, Plemons is still great here, showing a lot of smart, but also naivete to a character who may have it all figured out, but may also not. There’s a fine line he plays with this character and it works, allowing him to be both insightful, as well as just normal enough that he doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the characters and performances.

And that’s why Molly Shannon shines so much as his mother, Joanne. As Joanne, Shannon has a lot of heavy-lifting to do, which means she gets a chance to cry a whole lot and just be a total mess, but it’s never done for shows, nor does it ever feel overdone – it’s actually bare and raw, something that you’d most likely see in real life, being done by a real person in her situation. It’s interesting to say this, too, because Shannon’s obviously not fully known for her dramatic-roles, and here, she shows that she’s more than up to the task of delivering. Sure, she can still be a barrel of laughs when she wants to, too, but when she wants to make us cry, she can still work with that, too.

Why she isn’t a whole lot bigger and more recognized is totally beyond me.

Consensus: As simple and straightforward as you can get with a Sundance indie, Other People may not change the world, but offers up charming, heartfelt writing, along with some great performances to make it feel like a nice little family outing worth spending time with.

7.5 / 10

Mothers and sons. Can't beat 'em.

Mothers and sons. Can’t beat ’em.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Logo

The Program (2016)

Come on, guys. Let’s cut Lance some slack. Dude dated Sheryl Crow after all.

Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), as they like to say, came from nothing, only to then become something. Though he was just a small-time cyclist from Texas, eventually, Lance began to train more and more, to the point of where he was competing in national competitions like, well, for starters, the Tour de France. However, while he was definitely successful very early in his career, he ran into problems when it turned out that he had testicular cancer. Eventually, he got treatment and got back on his bike, except this time, it was with a whole new mission: To help those with cancer. With all sorts of support on his side from everyone around him, Armstrong created the Live Strong foundation, won the Tour de France a few more times, had all sorts of sponsors, was generally seen as “a hero”, and heck, was even in a long-term relationship with Sheryl Crow. It seemed almost as if Armstrong was the king of the world and couldn’t be brought down from his title. However, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) saw differently and was one of the key people in challenging Armstrong’s past issues with performance-enhancing drugs. These are the same sorts of issues that would ultimately prove his downfall in the public eye.

Cars vs. bikes. Who's going to win the transportation war?

Cars vs. bikes. Who’s going to win the transportation war?

By now, I’m pretty sure that nobody’s holding a “Lance Armstrong pity party”. The dude may have fought for a meaningful cause and won a slew of Tour de France’s, but was a jerk to mostly everyone in the media, anyone who associated themselves with him, and used his good deeds and charities to almost make an excuse for all of the performance-enhancing drugs he took. Oh, and not to mention, that he lied about almost all of this. So yeah, no time soon will everybody crowd around a picture of Lance, and memorialize the person who he was and cry on his behalf.

Some people may do that now as we speak, but it’s probably a very limited number.

However, that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about the Program: While it does treat Armstrong in a sometimes negative, almost mean light, it still has an effect and makes you wonder if all of this piling-up on him is, well, enough. After the Armstrong Lie, it felt like we already had Armstrong’s story and nothing else needed to be told, which is pretty true in this movie’s case, but director Stephen Frears does something interesting in that he turns the story around ever so slightly and make us think that maybe Armstrong, while not misunderstood, was attacked way too heavily. Sure, he was a cocky dude who brought a lot of these issues on himself for just not sticking to his guns, not staying clean, and gaining a God-complex, but at the same time, he still had some nice qualities to him.

I know that statement literally means nothing in most cases, but here, it means something; rather than painting Armstrong as this completely distasteful, immoral son-of-a-bitch, the movie shows that while he was most definitely a dick, he was one that also wanted to fight for a good cause. Also, the movie likes to focus on those around him, like Lee Pace’s Bill Stapleton, or Denis Menochet’s Johan Bruyneel, and show that they most definitely had a hand or two, or more, in constituting just how far Armstrong went with his success. While he may have wanted to use his wealth and notoriety for the greater good of society and to find a cure for cancer, those around him mostly just saw a piggy-bank that needed to be constantly tapped and used.

Once again, none of this is excusing the fact that Armstrong lied on many occasions, but it brings up some valid arguments about him.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

That’s why the Program, the movie, feels very mixed. In a way, we didn’t really need this story to be told to us, but because it’s a movie that exists, it’s hard to hate on it for existing. What I can hate on the movie for is not really offering anything fully meaningful to the debate of whether or not we should all, as a society, go back to letting Lance Armstrong into our tender arms. It makes you think if he was a total dick or not, but that’s about it; all the movie really sets out to do is tell Armstrong’s story once again, as if some of those at home didn’t already know a single thing about it, or him.

Also, what’s odd about the movie is how, even at an-hour-and-43-minutes, it goes by very quick. This isn’t something I note as a positive either, as a good portion of the film just feels like a Lance Armstrong highlight reel, where all of the good things he did, gets shown, as well as the bad things, and they’re just constantly put up next to one another, back-to-back. For instance, we’ll get a scene of Armstrong at a children’s hospital, being nice and sweet to the kids, but the next one, we’ll get a shot of him sticking a needle into his bum. While this may be effective editing, it still doesn’t help when there’s at least three or four of these transitions of seeing Armstrong do something nice, only to then have it all juxtaposed by him doing something bad.

We get it! What we didn’t see in the spotlight, was sometimes darker than what we wished!

As Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster is very good in that he’s doing a lot of acting and having seen Armstrong in plenty of interviews/public appearances, it almost doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, Foster is good and gives this all his every bit, but there’s a lot of yelling, and screaming, and posturing from Foster that I don’t feel was very necessary to this character, especially the real life Armstrong wasn’t totally like this. He was definitely a bit smarmy, in a way, but no way was he a total a-hole like the way he’s portrayed here. If anything, he was just a dull guy who had a lot of championships to his name, his own cancer foundation, and a severe drug habit.

That’s basically all there was to Lance Armstrong – the man, the myth, the cheater.

Consensus: Without making its own mind up on its subject, the Program feels a tad short-shifted, but with some good performances and entertaining, slightly easygoing pace from Stephen Frears, it gets the job done and may have you thinking a bit differently about Armstrong himself. Or, then again, maybe not.

6.5 / 10

He's a hero to us all. Now give me back my money for all those damn wristbands!

He’s a hero to us all. Now give everybody back all their money for those damn wristbands!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridge of Spies (2015)

If it comes down to the Russians and Tom Hanks, I’m going with Hanks all the way.

In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, high-priced insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is given a very difficult task: Defend Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) in court. Who is Rudolph Abel, may you ask? Well, he’s a Soviet spy who has been caught and brought in on charges of spying. Due to the fact that such things as Soviets, spies and terrorism are hot-button topics in the world at the time, it would only make sense that Abel see every charge that’s against him, go through, where he would have to live the rest of his days in shame and sadness. However, through his bosses, Donovan is the one chosen to defend Abel, just so that it seems like he was given a fair-trial in the country that he was solely out to ruin. It’s not an easy choice for Donovan and now that he’s put his family in the spotlight, it makes the case all the more difficult to see-through. But, because he’s a passionate, confidante lawyer, Donovan will stop at nothing to ensure that Abel sees a fair trial, and also, that his family walks away from it all, safe and unharmed.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

What some people may not know about Bridge of Spies, is that while that plot I just described may be the main-center plot-line, there’s still another one in the works that finds its way of connecting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. There’s one involving a CIA spy plane being shot down over Russia, where the pilot, Francis Powers (Austin Stowell), is taken into custody; whereas the other concerns an American college student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who is studying in Berlin, only to then be detained for being on the wrong side of the wall. While Spielberg drops these two subplots in unexpectedly, they still fit in with the rest of the movie and make-up what is to be the latter-half of Bridge of Spies.

Was it necessary? Probably not, but then again, being in the hands of Spielberg, it still works.

Though it may feel like it’s two movies combined into one that’s maybe 20 or so minutes too long, Bridge of Spies does a solid job in giving its interesting story the treatment it deserves. Granted, the movie itself has a lot benefit from having a real-life story as complex and neat as this (Big Eyes was another film that I felt like benefited from this same fact), but still, Spielberg helps it all out by moving along the pace, whenever it seems like the movie may be slowing down to focus on one too many random add-ons and whatnot.

And this is all to say that, yes, Bridge of Spies is a good movie, just as it is. Spielberg and his trusted band of script-writers (Matt Charman and the Coen brothers) help stretch this story out to where it feels like we’re getting all sides of the story, told in the most complete, fair-sided way possible. For example, even when we do see Rudolph Abel early on in the movie, clearly participate in sneaky spying shenanigans, the movie still figures out a way to make him human, at the very least, sympathetic. That isn’t to say that Spielberg wants us to feel bad that he was a spy and got caught being one, but because he’s a person too, and like most people, has a family and regular life to get back to at home. And as Abel, Mark Rylance is very good in the role as he shows a certain level of heart and humor to this character that makes him a bit easier to stomach, given the charges that he’s being convicted of.

Cooler glasses contest!

Cooler-looking glasses contest!

But Rylance isn’t the star of this movie – it’s clearly Tom Hanks. And while this may come as a shock to no one, but hey, Hanks is pretty great in this role. Because Donovan is a slick, silver-tongued lawyer that tends to know the right thing next, Hanks gets a chance to have some fun with this role and not just be the usual, near-superhero role that Tom Hanks tends to be given. Though Spielberg does get a bit carried-away in presenting those holding power with the U.S. as one-sided hot-heads who can’t wait to kill them some Commies, the movie still keeps its helmet on tight enough to where it doesn’t try to teach you a lesson, but more or less, tell you a story.

That, to me, is what Spielberg is usually best at: Telling a story, no matter what sort of relevance it may hold.

From what I can already tell, Bridge of Spies will probably go down as one of Spielberg’s least-known flicks, but there’s a novelty in that idea. While it isn’t necessarily lighting the world on fire, but that’s what makes it so special; it’s just a simple movie, trying to tell a relatively complex, if at times, confusing tale of espionage and political-maneuvering. Spielberg may try his hand too many times at making this story more than what it appears to be (those countless endings, oh jeez), however, he’s just doing what he’s been doing for nearly his whole career.

Sometimes, he preaches. Sometimes, he doesn’t. But all of the time, no matter what, he’s a story-teller. And it’s nice to see that form back in full-swing from Spielberg. Let’s hope it stays this time around and we don’t get another Indiana Jones 4.

And yes, that movie did happen.

Consensus: Though it won’t be remembered as one of Spielberg’s masterpieces any time soon, Bridge of Spies is still a well-acted, entertaining and, at times, very interesting take on a story that not too many people hear or know about.

7.5 / 10

Tom Hanks vs. a wall. Now that's something I'd pay to see.

Tom Hanks vs. a brick wall. Now that’s something I’d pay to see.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Black Mass (2015)

Tim Burton must feel pretty useless right about now.

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was one of the most notorious criminals in history. He ran South Boston by his rules, which, for the most part, consisted of a lot of drugs, booze, women, and murder – actually, there was lots and lots of murder involved. But the reason why Whitey was so able to get away with all of his criminal escapades was because he aligned himself with an old pal of his, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happened to be part of the FBI. Because Connolly looked up to and adored Bulger, he gets the FBI to strike some sort of deal where they’ll take down all of Bulger’s enemies (the Italian mob, local kingpins, etc.), and Bulger himself will practically be able to get away with anything he wants. Nobody quite catches on to this fact just yet, but eventually, the blood-shed, the drugs, and the murders become too much and too frequent to the point of where people start to notice that something is awry with this deal between Bulger and the FBI. And it all comes down to Connolly and Bulger’s relationship; one that will ruin both of their lives forever.

"Don't you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!"

“Don’t you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!”

Finally, after a few months of sitting through some okay-to-good movies, it seems like the time has come for extraordinarily great movies to start hitting the cinemaplexes. While I am very tempted to say “Oscar season is upon us”, my better-half doesn’t want to because that seems to have recently given off a negative connotation. Rather than just being about good movies that deserve our attention, Oscar season is more about how studios finagle and manipulate their way into getting more votes and notice from the Academy, so that they can make more money, become more successful, and continue to do so for as long as they want to. And while Black Mass may not be a total Oscar-bait-y movie, through and through, it’s still a sign of good things to, hopefully, come in the next few or so months.

Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp’s pretty good in this too.

In fact, he’s really good. As good as he’s been since he started hanging around with Tim Burton. And while you could make the case that, yes, Depp is once again playing a notorious gangster (like he did in Public Enemies as John Dillinger not too long ago), there’s still something that feels different about this portrayal here that makes it seem like we’re not watching Johnny Depp playingJohnny Depp“. But instead, we’re watching Johnny Depp play Whitey Bulger, a ruthless, cut-throat, mean and sadistic crime-boss that intimidated practically everyone around him, that nobody ever dared to step up to him.

Sure, some of that has to do with the sometimes-distracting make-up job that’s trying so desperately hard to make Depp have some sort of similarities to the infamous Bulger, but Depp is so dedicated to making a character, that it works throughout the whole movie. He’s one-note for sure, but he’s so scary and terrifying to watch, even as he holds conversations that seem to go south as soon as somebody steps slightly out-of-line, that it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Which is an all the more impressive feat when you consider that Black Mass isn’t exactly a Depp-centerpiece, as much as it’s an ensemble piece, where everybody gets their chance to show up, do some solid work, and give Depp a run for his money.

Depp may still own the movie at the end the day, but it’s an effort that’s compelling.

This is mostly evident with Joel Edgerton’s performance as John Connolly, a close friend and confidante of Bulger who, after awhile, you begin to feel bad for. Though Connolly is dirty, corrupt, and tries to avoid every idea that Bulger may get incriminated for all the wrongdoings he’s committed, there’s still something interesting to view and dissect. That Connolly looks up to Bulger more as a big brother, rather than a pal, makes it all the more clear that there’s something inherently wrong with Connolly’s own psyche, but he doesn’t own up to the fact and watching Edgerton play around with this character, showing-off all sorts of shadings, is enjoyable. It may not be as showy of a performance as Depp’s, but there’s something that sits with you long after that puts Black Mass over the hill of being more than just “an entertaining gangster pic”.

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you're an FBI agent in the 1970's, you've got to have a sweet-ass 'stache!

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you’re an FBI agent in the 1970’s, you’ve got to have a sweet-ass ‘stache!

Which is to say that, yes, Black Mass is in fact, an entertaining gangster pic. Director Scott Cooper and co-writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth clearly have a love for these kinds of raw, gritty, and violent gangster flicks in the same vein as Scorsese and do well in constructing a movie that’s both fun, as well as emotional. While it’s hard to really get attached to any character in particular, there’s still interesting anecdotes made about certain character’s and their lives that make it more of an interesting watch.

For instance, though she only gets a few or so scenes, Julianne Nicholson is spectacular as Connolly’s wife who, from the very beginning, doesn’t like a single thing about Whitey Bulger. While she knows he’s helping her hubby out in getting a nice promotion, she also knows that the dude’s bad news; so much so, that she won’t even bother to sit at the same dinner table as him, let alone socialize with him at a party at her own house. Though this role is clearly limited to “disapproving wife”, there’s a lot more to her in the way Nicholson portrays her that makes us want to see a whole movie dedicated to just her.

Same goes for a lot of other characters here, as well.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Bill Bulger, Whitey’s bro, is a mayor who knows that his brother is up to no good, but is so willing to push it off to the side if that means he gets to have more power, politically speaking, that it’s actually scary; Peter Sarsgaard plays a drug-dealer that gets in on Whitey’s dealings and, although a total mess, still seems like a real guy who is easy to care for; Dakota Johnson only gets a few scenes as Whitey’s wife, but sets the basis for what Whitey himself will live by until the day he died; and of course, there’s the likes of Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, W. Earl Brown, Juno Temple, and a very emotional Rory Cochrane, that all add more layers to their characters, as well as the movie itself.

Though it doesn’t make the movie great, or better yet, perfect, it still makes it a highly enjoyable, mainstream gangster pic that has more to it than meets the eyes.

Or should I say, more than just bullets that meets the eyes.

Consensus: Led by a breathtaking performance from Johnny Depp, Black Mass benefits from its stacked-ensemble, but also has plenty more to say about its characters than just guns, blood, and crime.

8 / 10

Jack Sparrow who?

Jack Sparrow who?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Homesman (2014)

The old west was kind of creepy.

Single, middle-aged women living all by her lonesome, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), is looking to make something of a name for herself, so when she hears about the opportunity to take three town’s crazy women all the way to Iowa, for something of a rehabilitation, she jumps right on it, even though most people don’t think it’s a job most suited for a woman. But that doesn’t faze Mary Bee, so she decides to travel to Iowa anyway! While on the trip though, she encounters a man by the name of George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), who was tied-up, hung, and left for dead by a group of men. She doesn’t know whether or not to trust him, but rather than just leaving him there, she decides to take him in under her wing and the two kind of work together. However, as the trip continues on, there begins to become more and more problems for the both of them, some that are near-deadly and life-changing.

Westerns can sometimes be incredibly hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they can be fun, exciting, bloody, brutal, and altogether, a meaningful tale that could have literally been in any other genre of film, yet, isn’t, which makes it all the more important of a film to watch. Then again though, they can sometimes be incredibly slow, boring, and not at all interesting, except if you like horses a lot. There’s hardly any in between with the genre; either you’re very good, or you’re just a downright snoozer.

"It's alright, honey. Nobody's gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby."

“It’s alright, honey. Nobody’s gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby.”

But that changes a bit with the Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the director’s chair, who does something neat with the genre that I haven’t seen in a long while.

For example, take the story itself, the fact that it’s main protagonist is a woman, is definitely shocking and new, but the fact that she isn’t one of these rough and rugged women who want to be just like the rest of the men, is all the more refreshing. But to make matters even better, she’s one of these strong, independent women who doesn’t want to be looked at in a judgmental, or demeaning way; she just wants to be treated like your or I. With that said, she also has the same feelings as you or I, and doesn’t want to be looked down upon for that reason, either.

In a way, Mary Bee Cuddy is the type of strong, free-thinking woman that the western genre has been waiting for all its life, and it’s only made better by the fact that Hilary Swank is quite good in the role, too. It’s been a long time since the last time we see Swank in something worth watching (or simply, something in general), and her performance here makes me wonder why that is. She’s always been a talented gal and one that’s made sure people know she’s willing to test her limitations as an actress. And even though this may not be the most demanding role of her career, it’s still a strong one that allows her to dig deeper and deeper into the psychosis of this Mary Bee Cuddy girl and show us that, underneath all of the brooding and tough love she presents on the outer-surface, she’s just a woman who wants to be loved, have a family, and be happy for the rest of her days.

On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones plays something of a down-and-out bastard with George Briggs, and it’s not just a funny role, but a rich one that Jones works well with. Jones has played slime balls before, but this one’s different in that he feels like he’s a genuinely good guy when he’s given the right amount of inspiration to do so. Jones digs deep with this character, too, but it’s the chemistry between him and Swank that’s really the heart and soul of this movie and keeps it moving, even when everything around it seems to sort of slow down and just take its good old time.

Speaking of which, the movie may get a tad slow at times, but it was hardly ever boring for me. Super insane, for sure, but boring? Definitely not. Most of that is thanks to Jones’ insistence on never allowing this material to get as strange as you could imagine it getting. I’d sit back here and spoil every instance of weird occurrence, but to do so would be a total crime on my part and probably rob most of you of a movie that definitely deserves to be seen, wanting the best, but expecting the worst.

Round 1! FIGHT!

Round 1! FIGHT!

Because seriously, random characters will pop up, act strange, and then something even more wild will happen moments later. But the movie never over-does it in a way that feels gratuitous or over-the-top. Okay, maybe definitely the later, but the former, totally not. The weird stuff that happens here, actually feels like it would happen in this part of the West and allows us to get a glimpse of a certain place in time, we don’t see too many movies about. Makes sense why, but the more westerns we get like this, I can assure you, the better.

However, at the end of the day, the movie is still disappointing, especially when it comes to Jones and his way of figuring out what to make of this story. Though he seems to take some sort of pleasure in exploring the craziest, darkest depths of this strange world he’s created, he never knows what to make of it. Though some may say that there doesn’t need to be a message here, the fact remains that there should be and it was a bad decision on Jones’ part not to make that clear enough to us.

Then again, he did offer plenty good, so I guess I can’t rain on his parade all that much, either. I’ll just take it for what it is, and that’s a weird fuckin’ movie.

Consensus: Strange and eerie, yet constantly interesting, the Homesman is a refreshing change-of-pace for the western genre, without ever trying too hard to be seen as such.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

In today's market, this would not be allowed.

In today’s market, this would not be allowed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Master (2012)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/10=Full Price!!

Battleship (2012)

Gets me more and more excited for the live-action adaptation of “Don’t Wake Daddy” directed by Wes Craven.

Crashing the biannual RIMPAC exercise, a mysterious alien spaceship makes the month-long training event more important than ever before for our naval forces. Unaware of their goals beyond apparent wanton destruction, with a force field keeping what’s out out, and what’s in in, it’s down to a handful of ships and erratic lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) to take down the alien forces and save our world from being turned into dust.

Any person that was even somewhat bummed to hear that Michael Bay was done with the whole Transformers franchise, can only be happy to see that there may be a new franchise brewing. For some odd reason, though, it’s based on a board game that I only played when I was really, really bored. I was a very hyper kid in case you didn’t know.

Instead, taking over duties as director is Peter Berg. Berg is a dude who knows how to do action well even though his scripts may not always be perfect. Case in point, flicks like The Rundown and Hancock, are two films that hit-hard with its action and entertains the hell out of everybody watching even though it may not be winning any awards in its originality department. Still, the guy knows what he’s doing and that’s pretty obvious with this flick too, but it almost seems like he wanted to be more like Bay rather than try to put his own stamp on this soon-to-be movie series.

First of all, before I start to crack down on this film I would like to say that it is pretty fun and action-heavy, if that’s all you want. Berg definitely has a lot of fun with this loud, crazy, and insane atmosphere and story that it almost seems like he has a bit too much fun with all of the havoc but you still can’t help but be entertained watching it all yourself. I will say that the action did hold me over for many parts and I think that’s mainly because the special effects do actually look quite good. Berg’s huge visual FX team definitely makes this film look legit and plenty of the scenes where it’s just the alien’s ships squaring off against the Navy’s ships are actually very realistic. However, that can’t get past everything that is so lame.

I’ve been using that word a lot lately. “Lame”. But that’s exactly what this flick is because as fun and entertaining Berg and his FX team try to make this flick, they continue to get bogged down by the fact that this script is so damn shitty and unoriginal. I get it that I’m not supposed to be going to this flick for witty and powerful writing, but you got to give me something to work with here that can at least hold me over when shit isn’t blowing up. However, this film’s dialogue is so overly cheesy, so obvious, and so ridiculous that whenever there is a moment of everybody being serious, there is tons and tons of laughter, but whenever the film is joking around with us, the film ends up just being stupid and a lame attempt at comedy. It’s also annoying since every single character here seems to have their own witty line, right before they go off and do something heroic or bad-ass. Are lines like “Boom” and “Mahalo Motherfucker” really needed for a flick like this? Actually, they don’t even say the “F” word, they just cut it off because they didn’t want to lose their fan-friendly PG-13 rating. Lame.

This film isn’t so terrible just because it tries to be funny, plenty of action flicks nowadays try their darn near hardest to do that, but it’s more that there’s nothing new or original really offered here. All of the action revolves around ships trying to blow each other up by constantly tossing missiles at each other and the aliens being able to throw any kind of weird or strange sci-fi shit at the opposite team. It becomes fairly boring and monotonous, that only seems to be used for the sake of keeping our minds off of the fact that this script blows. Probably also didn’t help that all of the action was played with a loud-ass noise constantly blaring through the speakers. Actually, I think one of the speakers in my theater blew out and I was not surprised because my ears are still ringing from all of that loud ruckus. I sound old, I know.

What was also another bummer about this flick was the aliens themselves. Yes, once again in a Summer blockbuster there seems to be aliens as the villains but honestly, who else could pull off such a thing as the villains in this flick? Russians? Arabs? Swedes? Anywho, the explanation for them being on Earth is pretty dumb and sounds like the same reason I heard last Summer in Super 8, and the way they look is terribly unintentionally funny. With their helmets on, they seemed like a bunch of soldiers from the cancelled Halo movie, and when they take them off, they all look like evil Goblins and seem way too silly to be considered a bunch of evil and menacing pack of aliens. They seem more like the ones you want to cuddle with, or save from the government. Not throw out in the open and have them killed.

As far as the cast in concerned, everybody tries but they aren’t given much to do with this material. Taylor Kitsch plays Alex, a slacker who joins the Navy, and within weeks is the senior officer on the big, bad naval ship, being allowed to call all of the shots. This didn’t make any sense but Kitsch definitely tries with this character, even though the guy comes off very bland and does too much of the “Christian Bale Batman’s voice”, but I think he obviously has talent, just needs the right movies to show it off. Maybe that’s what Savages will be for. Brooklyn Decker isn’t as convincing as the military physical therapist, but she definitely is easy on the eyes.

Liam Neeson is one of the big draws of this flick, but he’s barely in it and whenever he does show up, he’s the absolute man and steals the show away from everyone around him. Shame the dude didn’t get more screen-time but he was probably off doing 10 other flicks around the filming of this one and hell, I don’t blame him for leaving. I would have too. Alexander Skarsgård also isn’t around that much either but that’s for reasons I can’t say, even though I am so damn tempted to. Oh yeah, and we also have pop singer Rihanna making her feature-film role debut and is absolutely terrible. She plays one of those bad-ass female roles that’s usually made for and done a lot better by Michelle Rodriguez, but she can’t even do any of that right. Honestly, Berg should have just called me up, told me to get a slight tan, cut my gonads, and get a butch-looking wig, and I could have honestly done a better job than whatever the hell this chick does here. Rihanna, you’re a great singer but stay away from movies and closer to Chris Brown’s hands. Oh yeah!

Consensus: Battleship definitely thrills with it’s loud explosions and fun direction from Peter Berg, but the script takes away from everything else with its overt silliness, lines that seem like they are jokes in and of itself, and characters that don’t make any sense but are just here to give us people to care about and root on to win the good fight. Michael Bay will be back people, get ready.

4/10=Crap!!