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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Joel Edgerton

It Comes at Night (2017)

Stay inside. Watch Netflix. Never come out. The end.

In a world where a deadly disease has been rapidly spreading, a close-knit family lives together, holed-up somewhere in the woods, where they fight all sorts of everyday dangers, aside from the disease. While the patriarch of the family, Paul (Joel Edgerton), wasn’t quite ready to live a life like this, he knows that his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) need him now and it’s about time that he took charge. Which is why when a mysterious outsider (Christopher Abbot) accidentally breaks into the house one day, Paul can’t trust the guy, or anything that he says. Initially, that is. After awhile, the two get to know one another, where they came from, and yeah, even forge something of a bond. And yeah, it turns out that this mysterious stranger has a name – Will – as well as a wife (Riley Keough) and kid. Together, the two families try to stay alive out there in the woods and fight the disease, but weird things begin to happen for both families and it comes to a head, especially when the lies begin to unravel.

New family…..

It Comes at Night has been oddly marketed as a typical and conventional horror-flick, filled with spooky ghosts, creatures, and happenings. It constantly seems to be playing with the fact that there’s an “It“, it goes bump in the night, and yeah, there’s something to worry about, almost in the mythical sense, as opposed to the realistic sense. And I don’t know if it’s smart, or just pure manipulation of advertising, because It Comes at Night doesn’t really have anything to do with spooky and scary monsters in the slightest.

If anything, it’s just about spooky and scary human beings which, from a marketing standpoint, probably isn’t the one thing that’s going to sell tickets to the everyday, average movie-going member. Nope, sirree. Instead, most want to see a dark, twisted, shock-filled, and gory chiller filled with ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and evil, satanic beasts that can only be things of nightmares, as opposed to the real, everyday world.

And that’s why those types of movies, while some being quite good, are just not my bag. They feel phony, fake, and a little too obvious to really creep me out. It Comes at Night, however, is my kind of horror movie; it’s the kind that doesn’t really deal with anything supernatural, but instead, shows us that these supernatural beings are always lingering in everyday, normal human beings who, when pushed to the brink of insanity, act just as ugly, or hell, even as evil as these monsters from other horror flicks are known for acting. Honestly, who needs a Freddy, or a Jason, or even a Pinhead, when you can just have a bunch of normal people, who have to act out, kill, and lose bits and pieces of their soul.

See why I’m not working in advertising?

Regardless, It Comes at Night is a pretty great movie in its own right, forget the whole “horror” genre tie-in. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults clearly plays around with his audience in smart ways, making it seem like the material is going to go down one dark avenue, but then takes another wild turn, going somewhere completely and utterly darker and more sadistic than you’d expected. Because of the small-scope, and presumably, small-budget of the flick, it makes sense that he’s able to get away with some of the mean stuff that he gets away with here – the movie doesn’t back down from showing people, making rash and sometimes, tragic decisions, while having mercy about them, also know that they have to make them, for the greater good of themselves, as well as the ones that they love.

…meet the old family.

It’s basically an episode of the Walking Dead. Except that it’s actually good. Not cheesy. Doesn’t feature any zombies. And, oh yeah, actually has something interesting to say. It reminds me what can be achieved through horror, so long as there’s something going on behind the scares, the chills and the brutality; just having a bunch of scares, violence, and oh yeah, gore, without much going on, doesn’t quite work. There needs to be a soul, a heart, a bleeding pulse to everything that’s going on, because without that, what’s the point?

Sure, some people may be scared, but there’s nothing behind it.

Then again, this is all just me speaking. It Comes at Night will probably fail ten ways from Sunday at the box office, but honestly, that’s because most audience-members won’t be ready for it. They won’t expect the movie to be more character-based and more about the decisions that these people make, and why they make sense. They won’t expect there to be a small amount of actual blood, violence and gore, with most of it actually being hinted at, or shown off the screen. They won’t expect it to have a whole bunch of questions, setting up its dystopian-world, and not really answering a single lick of them. And they sure as hell won’t expect the material to go as deep, as dark and as downright disturbing goes.

But I did. And that’s why I loved it.

Consensus: Remaining smart, interesting, and complex, even despite all of the violence and creepiness that eventually ensues, It Comes at Night is a step above your average horror-fare, showing more mind, than bravado, while still also not backing away from disturbing us in the meantime.

9 / 10

Let the freakiness begin!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Loving (2016)

Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.

It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.

But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.

In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.

And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.

It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.

If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?

Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.

Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.

Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.

7.5 / 10

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

King Arthur (2004)

He’s Arthur, King of the Britons. Or, at least I wished he was.

The tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was one we all thought we knew, but somehow we didn’t. This is a new take on the story as we see Arthur (Clive Owen), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and countless others battle Saxon invaders for control of what is now Britain. However, leading the Saxons is Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a man that you do not want to come toe-to-toe with.

In the beginning of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua puts a couple of lines on the screen to let us know that this movie is based on the King Arthur stories that have apparently been unearthed by countless archaeologists and historians. Basically, what the movie’s trying to say is that screw all you thought about, heard, or believed in about the story of King Arthur and his tales of heroism, because they are apparently not true.

Or, maybe they are? We actually don’t really know, because it’s all speculation.

Threesome?

Threesome?

But what’s not at all up for debate is whether or not this movie’s a good one, because trust me, it’s not.

The biggest issue with King Arthur is that it’s a little over two hours, but honestly, it feels way, way longer than that. While Antoine Fuqua isn’t necessarily a great director by any means, he still knows how to move a story when it needs moving; something like a take on the real life of King Arthur, desperately needed a nice push, or better yet, kick to help make it feel less like an useless history-lesson, and more like an actually nice bit of swashbuckling fun.

And even with the action here, sometimes, yes, it is pretty exciting, because Fuqua knows how to film action and make it as dirty, as gritty and as grueling as possible. He’s shown it before and it’s interesting to see him do it in this Medieval-setting, where it seems like he wouldn’t be as well-equipped without guns, cars and explosions to help him out. But like I said, the action can only help so much, especially when you don’t have a story to work with, or even tell.

Fuqua clearly wants to make a mean and moody piece here on the tale of King Arthur, which is fine and all, but it’s not handled well. He seems to want King Arthur to be the type of epic that Gladiator was, but doesn’t seem to have the brass balls to go that for with itself and really hit the tunes and notes that would make it really hard-hitting. Of course we get bucket-loads of blood, gore, and decapitated heads, but does that really give us an epic movie, or just a violent one? I’m aiming more towards the latter, but I could also see how this movie would be seen as an epic, if whoever that person is, perceived epics as stories about people with problems, who love to kill and chop people’s heads off, in the name of God and freedom.

Doesn’t seem, nor does it feel like an epic to me, but hey, I could be wrong.

Sure, the action itself is cool and Fuqua tries, but when you literally have a movie filled with, I don’t know, say, 15-20 minutes of pure-action, and the other hour-and-45-minutes is spent watching people we don’t care to learn about, care for, or even understand in the least bit, talk and wade through their problems, then yeah, it’s a problem. That’s even for the original version, though; in the director’s cut that I, unfortunately, had to sit through, features the same action, but with more blood and gore than ever before. Of course, Fuqua can do that right, but a story of this magnitude and attention does not service him in the slightest bit and it’s why King Arthur is, really, just a slug of a film.

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they're fun people with lively personalities....

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they’re fun people with lively personalities….

What’s even worse, though, is that he really doesn’t give the cast anything to work with. Keira Knightley is meant to be this fiery, sexy presence, despite never seeming like she’s taken a shower, nor ever making it seem like she’s as much of a bad-ass as she should be; Clive Owen just delivers his lines in a growl that’s highly reminiscient of Tommy Lee Jones’ worst; Ioan Gruffudd would come to be a whole lot more charismatic in his career, but here, he’s got nothing to work with and suffers because of it; Stellan Skarsgård always has fun when he’s playing a baddie, and this one as Cerdic is no different; Mads Mikkelsen is bad-ass as Tristan, but nothing else; Ray Winstone is playing the usual hard-ass he’s used to be playing by now here as Bors, and it’s pretty boring and odd, considering he’s talking like a Cockney-gangster, and he’s stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages; Joel Edgerton is all bearded-up and timid as Gawain, but yet, nobody cares; and Ray Stevenson is, well, what do you think happens to his character?

Yep, unfortunately, a poor-man’s Sean Bean, that Ray Stevenson is.

Consensus: King Arthur tries to take an age old story that we all know and love by now, and twist it around, but rather than seeming risky, dangerous, or even fun, it’s just boring and features talented, interesting people, doing nothing worth their effort, or time.

3 / 10

What the hell was Keira talking about? Her boobs are totally that big!

Avatar?

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Jane Got a Gun (2016)

But how easy was it for her to get that gun? Any background checks?

One morning, one just like any other one, where her husband has gone out for work, her daughter is playing in the front-yard, the sun is setting, the weather is nice, and there doesn’t seem to be a single chill in the air, something happens to Jane (Natalie Portman) that changes her life forever. Her husband (Noah Emmerich) ends up coming home, but with two bullet holes in him. Why did he get these? How? Who is to blame? Well, turns out that her hubby has been on the run from the law for quite some time and because of that, he’s been targeted by the ruthless and vicious John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), and the rest of his ragtag group of bastards, and now, they’re coming to finish off the job and, possibly, get rid of Jane, too. Obviously, Jane isn’t going to go down without a fight, which is why she knocks on the door of her ex-boyfriend (Joel Edgerton) to help fight off these evil baddies. Obviously, this brings up old feelings of love and remorse – something that doesn’t always go well with blood and violence.

Jane has her gun.

Jane has her gun.

At one point in time, Jane Got a Gun was promising to be a pretty awesome movie. With the likes of Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman, and director Lynne Ramsay attached to it, it not only had some bright and shiny talents to make it sound good, but possibly be good, too. Then, things got fishy. For one, Fassbender left, then so did Jude Law, and though he was cast, Bradley Cooper was the next to hit the road. While this is clearly no good for any project, still, the fact that it still featured Portman, Ramsay, and Joel Edgerton was fine enough to make it seem still at least somewhat promising. Then, inexplicably, Ramsay left on the first day of shooting and ever since then, Jane Got a Gun has been a whirlwind of confusion, release date movements, under-seen advertising and, yes, a terrible box-office.

But who’s fault is that, really?

Sure, you could put a lot of the blame on the Weinsteins for allowing Jane Got a Gun to run as out of control as it did, but at the same time, this is just what happens when you’re working in Hollywood. People don’t always stick with projects, schedules conflict, and yeah, not every project turns out the way you want it to. The only thing you can hope for is that at least some part of the original vision is still to be found, and not totally abandoned because, well, it had to be.

And in the case of Jane Got a Gun, it’s obvious that the vision and final product that director Gavin O’Connor comes together with, was very different from Ramsay. Obviously, it’s clear what attracted Ramsay to a story like this; one about a strong, female character, front and center, taking over her life, kicking ass, and making baddies pay for it, all while in front of some beautiful landscapes. However, what would have been a very interesting movie with her take, gets lost in O’Connor’s, where it’s less about building the character of Jane and instead, showing us how terrible her life is, while focusing a whole lot more on the action than anything else.

Joel doesn't.

Joel doesn’t.

Which isn’t to say that the movie is nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. Sure, it’s disappointing, given the cast and crew involved, but at times, it can still be a enjoyable enough Western to where it doesn’t feel like the studio tinkered around with it enough to ruin it, nor does it feel like everyone involved was just cashing it in. Somewhere along the way, yes, Jane Got a Gun was probably left without any spirit or hope, but there’s some effort given on O’Connor’s part, where it seems like he wants to make a pretty Western, and does a fine job at that. Not to mention that some of the action is actually entertaining, as well as bloody – something that you don’t too often see in Westerns nowadays, unless they’re really trying to not make money at the box-office.

Oh, and the cast is pretty good, too.

Sure, nobody here really excels better than the rest, because the script doesn’t seem too concerned with actually building their characters, or giving them any distinct personalities, but hey, they work with what they’ve got and sometimes, that’s all you need. Portman does a lot of stern and somewhat scared staring as Jane; Joel Edgerton takes on his character with a sweeter touch; Noah Emmerich’s husband character doesn’t get to do much except rile in bed and occasionally make his presence known; and Ewan McGregor, as the main baddie of the film, tries to give at least something of a sinister spin, but other than a pretty bad-ass ‘stache, doesn’t make much of an impression. Once again, it’s not his, or anybody else’s fault here for not making a mark, but yeah, they’re all doing their things and that is, for the most part, fine.

However, while watching Jane Got a Gun, I couldn’t help but feel like nothing was really happening. Sure, there’s a story in which we’re told that a bunch of gun-slingin’ rebels are going to start coming for Jane and her loved ones, but there’s no real tension behind it. Also, there’s a whole bunch of flashbacks that are meant to help us understand these characters and their relationships a whole lot more, but for some reason, they don’t add much of any emotion or interest. It helps that we get at least some context, but when it’s so weak and underdeveloped as this, it’s almost like what’s the point?

If anything, just give us more action and violence. That’s the least you could try and do if you’re not going to give us anything of real intrigue.

Consensus: While not nearly the disastrous mess you’d expect from all of the production scandals, Jane Got a Gun is still a bit of a dull movie, not utilizing a cast to their full talents, nor ever getting its story off the ground.

5 / 10

But he'll teach her how to gun sling anyway.

But he’ll teach her how to gun sling anyway.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

SithposterBlack, is always better.

It’s now been nearly three years after start of the Clone Wars and, well, a lot has changed. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) not only has long hair now, but is also married and expecting twins with Padme. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is more scruffier than ever and is starting to notice something strange with Anakin. While he’s happy that his student has now become more powerful and skilled than he ever was before, he’s also realizing that there’s a bit of a rebellious streak in Anakin that doesn’t put him in the good graces with the fellow Jedis around him like Windu, or most importantly, Yoda. Still, despite all of this, the two now spend most of their time here hunting down the leaders of the Separatist Army across the galaxy. Because while they do have plenty of power with the Clone Army and band of Jedis, they still have to worry about the opposing forces as Chancellor Palpatine is now plotting to take over senate and reclaim galactic rule for the Sith. What makes him all the more sinister is that he’s looking to do so with the help of a new padawan of his own choosing – one of whom, if he has his way, may be Anakin.

Nobody's fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

Nobody’s fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

So, finally. After wading through the other two disappointing prequels, we now get to the one that matters the most: Anakin turning to the dark side. And yes, for the most part, Revenge of the Sith is most definitely the best of the other prequels. Is that saying much to begin with? No, not really. But hey, it’s saying something that makes this movie not just an enjoyable watch, but also a pretty heartfelt one, too, for old and new fans alike.

For one, this is the installment where we see Anakin finally turn the other cheek and realize there’s a lot of evil inside of him. While the reasoning for him turning into a baddie and to start killing younglings, isn’t fully realized and more of just a, “Hey, people aren’t being nice to me, so it’s time to fight back”, but it still works in a way; we know to expect it, so when he does start going off onto the dark side, it’s neat and interesting to watch. While Christensen’s acting is, once again, a bit over-the-top and crummy, the good side of it all is that we’re not supposed to like or care for him this time – we’re supposed to dislike and hate him, so it actually works in Christensen’s favor.

For better or worse, I guess.

But what works best here is that George Lucas really seems invested in what this story will become and because of that, the action-sequences have another added element of drama and suspense that was hardly found in the other two prequels. We don’t know if Mace Windu is anywhere out there in the galaxy for the original trilogy, so when he starts to have a duel with Senator Palpatine, it’s not only exciting, but quite scary; we care for Windu and we actually want him to survive.

Same goes for that amazing, ultimately epic battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Not only is it one of the best of the entire franchise (which is including the original franchise), but it also does a lot in that it tells us more about these characters through the way they battle one another. Anakin will occasionally get ahead of himself and miss a move or two, whereas Obi-Wan’s every move is as calculated as ever and ready for what’s next to come. Then again, he’s getting a lot older, so he can’t always handle Anakin’s energy, which is why, when watching the battle unfold, we wonder if Obi-Wan’s going to make a wrong step or two, and bite the dust. As I said, we know what to expect with Anakin and Obi-Wan in the later trilogy, but still, Lucas does something special here in that he keeps us expecting the unexpected.

Still though, the same issues with Revenge of the Sith, have been around for the past two installments. The script’s still pretty lame and filled with all sorts of silly lines that seem as if they came out of an episode of Young and the Restless; Padme’s and Anakin’s love story, once again, doesn’t breathe a single fresh air of truth and just continues to get more and more hackneyed as it goes along; and yeah, Palpatine himself, as played by Ian McDiarmid, gets way campy, way too quick. Thing is, though, it’s easy to push a lot of these issues to the side and just focus on the fact that, you know what, the movie’s actually pretty fun and emotional.

Yoda's still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

Yoda’s still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

And “emotional” is, honestly, not something we’d come to expect with these new installments, but like I said, Lucas does something here that works and helps this movie hit a lot harder than it should.

For example, that whole sequence in which the Clones initiate “Order 66”? Yeah, some pretty rough stuff to sit back, watch and not at all relax, too. What about the aforementioned scene of the murder of those younglings? Ten years later and you know what? That scene is still incredibly screwed-up. Even the scene when Anakin goes around the switchboard room of that Lava world and kills just about every bad person from the previous installments? Yeah, that’s a little hard to watch, too. Here, it seems like Lucas finally gave into his darker, more adult side and let everyone in this story, have it. He doesn’t hold back on hardly a single person and really, it’s actually quite brutal to watch.

To me, that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect surrounding this movie and while it does make me wish that the rest of the other flicks were just like it, I still can’t help but feel pleased that Lucas didn’t end on a terribly weak-note. Of course, people will get on the movie for trying to tarnish the legacy of the originals and not be anything more than just a bunch of obvious and manipulative cash-grabs, but personally, it’s nice to see these stories told. Could they have been done so with a better director and writer on-hand? Of course they could have! But Lucas gave it his all and while, at first, it didn’t hold, he eventually got the hang of things and it’s nice to see.

Now, it’s time for the original trilogy and oh boy, can’t wait.

Consensus: Revenge of the Sith is the best installment of the prequels, which may not be saying much at all, but does show that Lucas eventually got the hang of everything that he was doing and decided to remind his audience that this story was going to get a whole lot darker and more serious as it went along. Which, thankfully, it did.

8 / 10

See? Look! They're all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

See? Look! They’re all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

First is the worst and you know what? Second is not the best.

Taking place about ten years after the events of the Phantom Menace, we now see that Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has grown up quite a bit. Though he is still learning a lot under the guidance of Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), he’s also beginning to understand his strength and power, while also using it for the greater good of the world. But now that Anakin’s a whole lot older too, that means that he’ll be experiencing life in different ways than ever before. That’s when Queen Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman) reenters his life and reminds him of all those feelings he had for her when he was just a kid. And since Anakin is tasked with protecting Padme after an assassination attempt on her failed, he’s made to spend a lot more time with her in which he gets to know more about her, discuss life, politics, romance, and most of all, realize that he may actually be in love. While this is all going on, the Galactic Republic and Jedi council are also trying to prevent from there being an all-out war from a separatist movement with the help of a clone army.

Ripping-off Blade Runner? I'll leave that up to you to decide

Ripping-off Blade Runner? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

So yeah, is Attack of the Clones better than the Phantom Menace? Well, yeah, of course it is. But then again, look at how low the bar has been set. Then again, I do have to give credit to Lucas for at least stepping back up to the plate with the Star Wars franchise, seeing what he could bring to the next installment and, while maybe not totally listening to the haters and their complaints, at least giving them something that they can still enjoy, regardless of if they’re old or new fans of the franchise.

And by this, I mean Lucas gives us plenty and plenty of action.

Sure, the problems with the story and character-development are still here, but they’re not on such full-display as they were in Episode 1; instead, they’re now just used as filler to get us from one action sequence to the next. In all honesty, I would much rather have that, than to be stuck watching as Anakin grew up and as Jar-Jar goofed-around and generally pissed everybody off. Speaking of the later, he’s definitely thrown on the back-burner, although, at the same time, it’s still a tad ridiculous that he’s now playing Padme’s senatorial representative.

Still though, hardly anywhere Jar-Jar anywhere is fine, because, like I said, there’s still plenty more to focus on here. One of Lucas’ strong suits has always been his skill of setting-up and handling action set-pieces, which here, all seem to work out well. There’s a nice piece between Obi-Wan and Boba Fett that not only remind us how crafty and skilled of a Jedia Obi-Wan actually is, but why Jango Fett was considered such a deadly assassin in the later movies. While he’s only seen as a kid here, the movie still sets up the fact that he’d grow up one day to be a scary, trained hitman just like his daddy. Of course, the CGI, despite being somewhat choppy, still helps these scenes to be more intriguing and fun-to-watch, although they were still clearly miles away from having everything look genuine.

And of course, yeah, the movie still does a nice job at setting-up what’s to come with this story next and just how exactly this galaxy gets set into the Clone Wars. Though most of us expect it to come very soon, while watching this movie, it’s hard not to get tense and be curious as to where all the pieces of the puzzle fall. While prequels can get annoying doing too much setting-up and not actually delivering on anything, Attack of the Clones does a nice job in that it sets a lot up for the next, action-packed installment, while still giving people a lot to lock onto here and, overall, be entertained by.

Once again, it’s not a perfect installment, but it’s still far better than anything that the Phantom Menace tried doing.

However though, the one key factor that keeps Attack of the Clones away from going anywhere towards being considered “great”, is that Anakin’s a lot older now and is played by Hayden Christensen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t really hate Christensen as an actor; sure, he’s definitely weak and doesn’t seem to have that certain screen-presence that grabs you from the very start, but I’m hesitant to call him “a terrible actor”. In movies like Shattered Glass and even to a certain extent, Life as a House, Christensen has shown that, with the right script to read from, as well as a talented director to help guide him along, he’s actually quite fine. Not terrific, but just fine.

Anakin and Padme? Eck! More light-sabers!

Anakin and Padme? Eck! More light-sabers!

But what he’s forced to work with in Attack of the Clones, is what sets him so far back and really, Lucas doesn’t help much. Though the script here is nowhere near as cringe-inducing and as scattered as the first flick, Attack of the Clones still suffers from a lot of the poor-wording and corniness of what we can come to expect from Lucas, and it doesn’t help that Christensen is, more often than not, the one delivering these sorts of lines. That his story-line is mostly focused on a supposed romance he has with Padme, already makes it hard to watch, but the movie constantly gives Christensen nothing to do except bitch, moan and act as if he’s never had a conversation with anyone else in his entire life.

Which is a huge problem because, well, Christensen is supposed to be the leading-force of this movie – he is, as we know, going to become the one and only Darth Vader. So why he’s such an annoying pain-in-the-ass, is totally beyond me. All I do know is that Christensen spends the majority of this flick whining or kissing, neither of which he does so in a compelling way. Is his poor acting-skills to be blamed? Potentially, yes. But at the same time, I’m still not going to rag on him too much considering I’ve seen him do well before and really, with Lucas, sometimes, you’re just left to fend for yourself.

Which, sadly, Christensen seemed as if he had to do here.

Anyway, the rest of the cast seems like they’re trying too, but like Christensen, aren’t allowed to do much beyond the boring stuff Lucas gives them to do. McGregor is more believable this time as a more seasoned, skilled and disciplined Obi-Wan; Natalie Portman seems like cynical this time around as Padme and is, sadly, left to drop the same corny lines as Christensen had to; Samuel L. Jackson gets more time as Mace Windu here and shows why he’s more of a bad-ass than most of the other Jedi’s hanging around; and Christopher Lee, despite seeming like he was a last second call to fill out a villainous role, does a nice job as Count Dooku, showing us why he’s so menacing and deserving of being a baddie that our heroes can’t seem to defeat.

Oh, and yeah, we get more of Yoda here. Which, honestly, never gets old.

Consensus: Despite the occasional script and tonal issues, Attack of the Clones is still a step-above the Phantom Menace, which may not be saying much, but still says enough if you remember Jar-Jar Binks and all the pain and torment he caused.

6.5 / 10

Literally and hypothetically looking up.

Literally and hypothetically looking up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Kinky Boots (2005)

I don’t care what gay men say, but Crocs are amazing.

With the sudden death of his father, it’s all up to Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) to take over the reigns of his family’s traditional, Northampton shoe business called Price and Sons. But unbeknownst to the rest of the loyal staff, the factory is on the verge of bankruptcy. Charlie, in a chance encounter, discovers sassy cabaret star, Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who’s Soho world of outrageous fashion and stylish, erotic boots for men, opens his eyes to an alien new niche market that he may try to exploit to keep his family’s company alive and well.

Don't judge a book by its cover. 'Cause Chiwetel Ejiofor looks pretty good in that leather!

Don’t judge a book by its cover. ‘Cause Chiwetel Ejiofor looks pretty good in that leather!

Pretty much I could just review this movie in one word, and that one word would probably just be: Formulaic. Seriously, every scene, every character-detail, every frame, every-line, every anything that happens in this movie, is obvious, predictable, and nothing new that you haven’t seen before. However, being “formulaic” doesn’t always mean “terrible”, especially when your movie has a bunch of dudes in stilettos and make-up, dancing and prancing around to all sorts of funky disco hits.

Which is basically Kinky Boots: All formula, but with enough flashy eye-shadow to keep you somewhat distracted.

But before I go on any longer, I might as well and just get it off my chest now and say that if it wasn’t for Chiwetel Ejiofor being in this movie, then there would have been little to nothing at all to talk about here at all. However, because he is in this movie and takes over the role of Lola, the movie is a lot more watchable and entertaining to watch. Ejiofor is one, diverse dude in terms of acting; the guy can, and probably has, played it all and he shows here that he’s not just a guy people take too seriously and all, because he can actually do comedy, and do it so well. It also helps that the character he’s playing, is also written well, too.

Lola is such a fun, lighthearted character that looks at anything everything around him in a way that’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration all of the other LGBT characters out there in movies, but Ejiofor does a great job with it and definitely kept me interested in where he was going with this character. There’s more heart to him as well, and even though it does seem obvious to have in a movie like this, Ejiofor actually makes us believe it’s true and have it come off as a bit less manipulative than you would expect.

Basically, in a nutshell: Ejiofor makes this movie better, everytime that he shows up on the screen and really, I wish there were more of him to go around.

Joel Edgerton ain’t so shabby either as Charlie Price, but definitely gets the far more boring character here. Nowadays, watching Edgerton appear in anything, adds a certain level of excitement as he seems to constantly challenge himself as an actor and have us see him in new, interesting lights. Here, as Charlie, he doesn’t get much of a chance to stretch his wings, and because of that, the performance comes off like a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, the times have changed and Edgerton is taking over the world of Hollywood, one great performance at a time.

But still, it’s hard to really like this movie anymore because it’s just so darn cliché! But it’s also so darn cliché in that it begins to feel safe.

Gosh. What I wouldn't do to see these two in a movie nowadays, and away from this.

Gosh. What I wouldn’t do to see these two in a movie nowadays, and away from this.

For example, the movie contains plenty of men, dressed in drag, with make-up, wearing stilettos, having fake breasts, and dancing to awful covers of famous disco songs from yesteryear. This all sounds like a relatively naughty, but frothy good time, but Kinky Boots still tries to keep it all well-meaning enough so that it can hold on to that PG-13 rating it’s been luckily slapped with. There’s a part of me that wants to feel proud of the MPAA for not jumping down this movie’s throat due to it featuring LGBT characters and slapping it with an unnecessary R-rating.

Then again, the fact that the movie is, at the center, very safe, also feels like it’s keeping itself away from achieving any sort of greatness it should have had in the first place. Sure, we get to see Lola for what the character is, but really, it can often feel like surface-material; just enough focus so that the general, predominately straight audience doesn’t get too uncomfortable when there’s a full-grown, masculine man trumping around on heels, singing Olivia Newton-John. I’m most definitely thinking about this a lot harder than I should, but for some reason, my mind just can’t get by this fact and it’s what’s keeping me from loving this movie more.

However, I did love the Broadway show. So much fun! So yeah, see that instead.

I guess.

Consensus: Chiwetel Ejiofor’s spirited performance is just enough to save Kinky Boots from staying stuck in its pile of conventionality, where almost everything you expect to happens, happens, except this time, it’s with more gay people.

6 / 10

It doesn't matter who's wearing the shoes - if they look nice and sexy, then that's all that matters.

It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the shoes – if they look nice and sexy, then that’s all that matters.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Gift (2015)

High school is life.

Married couple, Simon and Robyn Callum (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), have been encountering some problems as of late with their marriage, so they decide to move back to where Simon grew up. One day, during shopping, a person by the name of Gordon Mosley (Joel Edgerton) comes up to Simon, to see if he remembers him from high school. Long story short, Simon kind of does, but kind of doesn’t, either. Plenty of time has passed, but to be a nice guy, Simon decides to invite “Gordo” over a fine dinner one night. It isn’t until long that both Robyn and Simon start to see that there’s something odd and off-putting about Gordo; he constantly leaves them gifts and comes over unexpectedly, asking for Simon, but stays longer than he probably should. Eventually, Simon gets tired of this and lets Gordo have it, which is when they think everything’s over with. However, Robyn’s fish are killed, her dog goes missing, and randomly, she starts having panic-attacks, which leads Simon to think that it’s all Gordo causing this and nobody else. But the main question remains: Why would Gordo go all this way to push himself into some dude from high school’s life, some twenty-odd years later?

A-hole.

A-hole.

Despite there being plenty more out there to see, I tend to believe sometimes that I’ve seen plenty of movies. Some were better than others, of course, but that’s not the point of my rambling – the point is that I think, after all the movies I’ve seen, I’ve come to know a lot about what to expect with certain movies. Therefore, when a story starts to lean down a certain direction, my brain automatically turns to the most conventional solution because, well, I’ve seen it all before. In all honesty, I wish I didn’t always think like this with movies, because it actually sucks a lot of the fun out, but so be it. I’m a miserable sack and I blame it all on movies.

But I digress.

The same directions that I’ve just alluded to, are the same ones I saw appear on countless occasions during the Gift. However, what’s different from this movie, as opposed to so many other ones out there that I’ve had the displeasure of seeing, is that it goes down a different way that I didn’t least expect it to. For instance, when Gordo starts showing up unexpectedly, inserting himself into this little couple’s life together, and making it known that he wants to be their friends, my brain was already saying, “Oh great. Here we go. He’s going to creep this family out so much that, eventually, they’re going to have to let him know straight-up, that their relationship is over. Then, Gordo’s going to get all crazy, start harassing the family, creeping them out plenty more, until, there’s a final battle between both sides that’s bloody and senseless.”And heck, once the dog ended up missing and the fish were killed, my mind had already turned off and let me knew that, yup, the Gift was going to be nothing different from any of the other “creepy neighbor thrillers” out there.

Once again, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, time and time again, writer/director Joel Edgerton turned down a different street and instead, opted for more fresh ways to tell this pretty familiar story. Take, for example, the characters Edgerton has created here – nobody here, even though the movie may sometimes lean a certain way, is considered to be a “good guy” or a
“bad” one. Mostly, everyone is just a person who may have better morals/social skills/earnings/personal issues/etc. than others and that’s all there is to them. This not only helps the movie feel like it’s more than just a thriller, but a character-study, as well heighten the tension in the air because, quite frankly, we start to care for these characters.

We care for them, not just because the movie wants us to, because after a bit of time, we get to know each and everyone of them. But it’s never over-done; we get certain, little inklings about a person’s life to where we’re able to conjure up exact ideas of how these people may be. And even though, it’s never fully clear who these people are. Maybe that was the cynical point Edgerton was trying to get across, but either way, it’s still an interesting thought to have in a movie that, honestly, could have been all about this couple getting terrorized and the creepy guy, continuing to be creepy.

Edgerton is a smarter talent than that and it goes without saying that, this being his debut and all, I’m quite impressed.

Not because Edgerton finds himself more off-screen, than in front of it, despite this being his movie and all, but because he seems to understand what it takes for a movie to be both smart, but also fun-in-a-silly-kind of way. This is especially evident in the final act when it becomes clear that this is less of a story about a creepy people being creepy, and more about how bullies continue to be bullies, no matter how old or experienced they get. Though the movie itself is smart and complex, the message it sends across, isn’t; however, it’s handled in a way that makes it seem like Edgerton was actually trying to say something here, as simple as it may have been.

Sweetheart.

Sweetheart.

But still, the characters here are strong enough that it doesn’t matter if Edgerton trips up on making sense of this movie. As Simon and Robyn, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are, respectively, very good here and help create their own characters well enough to where we see them as separate human beings, and not just a couple. To me, this was probably the most important aspect to making these characters work; while it’s easy to say that they’re in love, hence the fact they’re married, it’s what they do when the other’s not around that makes them into their own person and allows us to see them for all that they are.

For instance, whenever Simon’s not around, Robyn casually goes on a job around her neighborhood, re-organize the house, work on her computer, and do whatever else she feels like doing when she’s home all alone. Though these may seem unimportant when watching them, after awhile, the film uses this as a way to develop her character and make it known that, you know, she’s just a simple, sweet and easy-going gal; she may have had past problems with drugs, as we get more than enough hints at throughout, but overall, she’s a lovely gal. In fact, she’s probably so lovely, that it becomes almost baffling as to why she decides to stick with someone like Simon who, being played by Jason Bateman should already tell you, is a bit of a dick.

In fact, he’s a huge dick.

While this may seem like the same kind of role we’ve seen Bateman do a million times before, there’s something darker and meaner about this character that makes it feel slightly “different”. Instead of all is snarky comments being played for laughs, they’re now played for serious breaks of silence, where he makes a room a whole lot more tense for just saying what he feels and thinks. Bateman’s great here and it shows that, when given a solid script, the dude really can deliver. Same goes for Hall who, by now, we understand to be a pretty great actress. She not only handles the American-accent well, but also allows us to see that there may be a bit of a darker side to this character too, even if it doesn’t always show.

But perhaps, the best character of the bunch is, no surprise, the one being portrayed by the same dude who created this movie to begin with.

Though it’s made clear to us early on that Edgerton’s Gordo may be a bit of a weirdo who is best left in his own, little world of weirdness, rather than jumping in other people’s, there’s still something about him that makes him a character worth watching. While he may be socially awkward and odd at his worst, he is, in no way, a person who seems capable of murder, or any of the heinous acts he’s accused of throughout the flick. And once it becomes clear that he’s not really a bad person, we start to feel bad for him a whole lot more and wish that, not only would someone give him a hug, but also take him out, buy him a beer, and develop a long-standing relationship with him.

Still though, the dude’s still a mystery to us by the end and it’s what makes the Gift perhaps more thought-provoking than most thrillers of this nature that I’ve seen in quite some time.

Consensus: Working as both a character-study, as well as a psychological thriller, the Gift is a smart, complex and tense tale echoing in a new writing/directing talent in the form of Joel Edgerton.

8 / 10

Strange guy.

Strange guy.

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

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exactly why you never mess with guys named Moses. Especially when you’re near the beach.

If you don’t know the story of Moses by now, you probably should. But anyway, here’s what this movie’s all about. In 1300 B.C, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and a member of the Royal family, which makes him a brother to  Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). However, he is not blood-related, so therefore, when Seti I (John Turturro) passes away, it’s Ramesses who is next to claim the throne. While this doesn’t upset Moses, he knows that this won’t be good because Ramesses doesn’t take responsibility well and lets his emotions get the best of him. Ramesses knows that Moses thinks this and therefore, he banishes from the land and forces him to survive on his own. While in exile though, Moses finds out that not only does God want him to continue out his plan, but that he needs Moses to take control of whatever the hell crazy stuff Ramesses is doing to his land. Obviously Ramesses isn’t going to fall for all of this mumbo jumbo, which makes God very angry and nature so drastically turns on humanity.

And the rest is, I guess, history.

"Guy-liner is cool!"

“Guy-liner is cool!”

A lot of has been said about Exodus: Gods and Kings, and most of it isn’t about whether or not it’s actually good and worth your time at all. Most of it is, and reasonably so, is about the casting of the white actors in roles that were made especially for Hebrews and Egyptians. It was a small bit of controversy that held some ground, but it was made all the worse by the fact that Ridley Scott couldn’t quite shut his trap and therefore, seemed to have kick-started a huge list of people boycotting his film.

Is it reasonable? Yeah, I guess so. But that isn’t really the point of this movie, or even this review. The point of this movie is to inform and possibly entertain the audience about the story of Moses. However, the point of this review is to tell you that while it does the former, the later is hardly anywhere to be found.

Most of this has to do with the fact that Scott doesn’t really do much of anything entertaining, interesting, or even enlightening about this story. It’s all as plain as day. It may all look incredibly pretty, but honestly, there’s only so much one viewer can do with really pretty visuals. Eventually, you need an interesting story, to be told in an incredibly compelling way. If you can’t do this, then there’s something wrong with your film, all problems with casting aside.

And no, I’m not making the argument that Scott’s movie somewhat fails because we all know the story of Moses, it’s mostly because he doesn’t know where to go with it. He shows us that, yes, Moses was a person who spoke to God, set out to do what he was called on to do, and when it didn’t, all hell (literally) broke loose. This aspect of the film is, at least, exciting, fun, and interesting, something you don’t get from the rest of the movie. It shows us that not only does Scott still appreciate a nice monologue when he wants to use one, but that his exquisite eye to detail still pays off.

That said, I’m talking about what’s maybe 15 or so minutes in a movie that runs on almost two-and-a-half hours. Which wouldn’t have been a huge cause for concern, had the rest of the movie been at least somewhat worthy of watching, but it’s so slow and meandering, you’ll wonder if Scott fell asleep while making it, or was already in the midst of planning and filming his next picture, that he totally forgot about what was already on his plate. Either way, it’s a bit of a snoozer of a film and it’s made worse by the fact that some signs of Scott’s genius shows, teasing us more and more about what this film could have been, had it not decided to get bogged down in whatever it was blabbering on and on about.

And the same could also be said for the cast who, despite all being pretty big, respectable names, don’t really offer much to a movie that desperately needed something to liven it up.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Though Christian Bale is one of the best actors we have working today, it seems that whenever he is in a major blockbuster picture, he never quite gets the chance to show everyone those skills he’s known to have. Here, as Moses, he gives a pretty wooden performance that, at times, can seem inspired, but for the most part, just makes it seem like he’s reading from a Gideon Bible and doesn’t really care whether or not he’s putting any effort into anything. It’s not a terrible performance, but definitely one of Bale’s high-points, I have to say.

Same could be said for the rest of the cast. The likes of John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and María Valverde all show up here, but hardly any of them leave a lasting impression on us. They’re just here to service a script that doesn’t know what it wants to say or do about itself, nor does it really know how to treats its characters, so it just has them talk a lot about seemingly nothing and see if they can draw up any sort of emotion whatsoever.

It seems like that was the same guideline given to Joel Egerton, although he’s a lot better off with his role as Ramesses because he’s call on one thing and performs it well: Be campy. Egerton seems like he’s not only having a fun time with this role, but is at least more interested in diving deep into who this person may have been and why he was inspired to make the actions that he did. Though most of this gets lost in a muddled film that could really care less about any sense of humanity there may be in these characters, the effort is still noticeable and it’s worth commending Egerton for. Even if, you know, the character was written as a guy who yells a lot, forces people to die, and eats a lot grapes.

Consensus: Everybody in Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to be trying, except for Ridley Scott himself and it proves to be a major problem for a two-and-a-half-hour epic that moves slow, doesn’t say anything interesting, and hardly ever seems to know what it wants to do with itself, other than just try and inform people about the story of Moses that they may already have known since kindergarten.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Gotta give it to those Egyptians - they sure did have style.

Gotta give it to those Egyptians – they sure did have style.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Animal Kingdom (2010)

I knew there was more to those Aussies than just Steve Irwin.

Following the death of his mother, J (James Frecheville) finds himself living with his hitherto estranged family, under the watchful eye of his doting grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), mother to the Cody boys. J quickly comes to believe that he is a player in this world. But, as he soon discovers, this world is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine.

It’s a conventional plot-line, but writer/director David Michôd does a great job at handling this rather familiar story-line that most Hollywood flicks cover, and gives it an exciting and almost unpredictable edge that keeps this film ticking and ticking, until the very end. However, the whole film is not like that and I have to give it some credit for that.

The first hour of the movie, slows things up, focuses on its characters, and places us in a setting that we know isn’t nice, and is filled with people that are totally influenced by that setting. We also get a big glimpse into the lives of these criminals and just who or what they are, and it provides us with enough material to actually care for them, once their lives all become in-danger. This is one of those kinds of films were it features a slow but breezy pace to set its story up, but it’s not boring at all really, because even though there may be a lot of talking and posing going on, we know that sooner or later, the shit’s going to hit the fan real quick. And trust me, once it does hit, oh damn, it really hits!

All in the 'stache, ladies.

All in the ‘stache, ladies.

What’s so impressive about Michôd’s is how he is able to change the tone up right in the middle and act as if none of that even happened. We all know that pretty much all of these characters in this movie, are bad people, hell, even the cops can be a little dirty here and there. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that since every character don’t quite have the best morals in their heads, you know that you can’t trust any one of them, and they feel the same way in this film. Somebody’s going to end up double-crossing somebody and when that does actually go down in this flick, it’s not predictable and it sure as hell isn’t bloated. It feels realistic and understanding considering the types of characters were dealing with here, and we see why they do the things that they have to do just to get by. Maybe they aren’t the best acts of morality, but it’s what they all think is right and what continues their existence on this planet.

The problem I had with this usual, gritty crime-drama right here, is that this film doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to say anything new that hasn’t already been said before. One of the main themes in this flick is about the dedication and bonding of family-members and how each and every single person in a family, no matter how dysfunctional or corrupt, should stick up for the other one because in the end, that’s all you got is family. This type of theme wouldn’t have bothered me if it was used back in like, say 1972, right before The Godfather came out. It seems like every one of these crime dramas says the same thing, just with a different execution and this one really had me wondering just if this genre has anything left to say at all. I was glad the way that Michôd used a different way of speaking to convey this theme, but maybe it’s time to hang-up the whole “dedication to family” element in these types of films.

Then again, if it works for the mob, I guess it can work for crime-dramas, so what do I know!

It’s impressive to know that this was James Frecheville’s first feature, and what a first feature it was as Joshua ‘J’ Cody. Right from the start of the movie, you know that this kid is a sweet little innocent guy that means no harm to anybody around him, but is stuck in a pretty crummy family and continues to get himself stuck in some terrible situations. The kid chooses to hang around this, but that doesn’t make him a bad boy and it’s obvious that this J-cat, is one of those characters that is so nice, that he almost seem like he wouldn’t even hurt a fly. However, this kid has a lot more to him than that and I have to give a Frecheville a lot of credit for bringing out some major emotions in him to have us still care for him, whenever it seemed like he really went on to the dark side. I don’t know who the dark side was in this film was, but either way, it just wasn’t going to be good for him.

"Pizza!"

“Pizza!”

Ben Mendelsohn shows up here as J’s crazy, and I do repeat, crazy uncle, Pope, and gives one of those performances where every time he is up on-screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him no matter what. This guy is a nut-ball type of a character that seems so unpredictable and so damn wild, that it would almost be a crime drama fantasy to have him in here, but the character plays out in a realistic way and almost comes off as if he was grounded by Mendelsohn’ performance. I don’t want to say that I got scared every time this guy came up on screen, but I can tell you for sure that I wasn’t looking forward to it, either. In a good way. Also, sporting one of the sickest ‘staches in all of film-history as Officer Leckie, Guy Pearce gives a very comforting performance where you know that every time this guy comes in front of the camera, that something interesting is about to be said or done, courtesy of Mr. Pearce.

The one Oscar nomination this film actually got was for Jackie Weaver as the the very touchy-feely, mommy-figure, Grandma Smurf. At first, Weaver’s character seems to take the back-burn to this story for all of these other characters to get more and more developed, while she just stayed in the back and made-out with all of her sons. However, when the tone and pace of the film starts to change, so does her character, and layer-by-layer, we start to find out who she really is. Weaver just looks downright evil with those pointy, Cartoon Network-like eye-brows and she ups the ante with the evilness whenever she talks, because it always seems like she’s going to lead to a threat from her. It’s hard to say, but she may be more scary than her kids in the movie. Which yes, is totally saying something!

Consensus: With just enough detail to focus in on its characters, tone, plot, and performances, Animal Kingdom offers us a tense and unpredictable crime story that may have the same things to say as any other movie of the same kind, but still will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next to all of these characters.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Woah, mom. Love you too."

“Woah, mom. Love you too.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The classic tale of love, lust, living the life, and throwing a great party in the 20’s, all to the sweet and soulful tunes of Jay-Z.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is an aspiring artist who searches for inspiration and passion when he decides to leave the Midwest and travel to New York City, where all of the hustle and bustle is a-foot. Nick finds himself there, looking for his own taste of the American Dream, but also lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jay just so also happens to be across the bay from Nick’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), who’s with her d-bag-of-a-hubby husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Nick soon finds himself drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, deceits, passions, ways of having fun, and most of all: their secrets.

Believe it or not, The Great Gatsby was one of the very-few books that I have actually had the pleasure of sitting down, taking time out of my day for, and read to the final page. It was a hard piece of literature to get through, but thankfully, I had the bragging-rights and all to say that I was able to conquer it, as well as being able to say I knew what the “big surprise” actually was. Can’t say that about many books (mainly because I haven’t read many), but it still had me wondering just what could be made of with this material, if it were ever made for the screen one more time.

And Baz Luhrmann was definitely not the first choice I had in mind.

"Don't worry, Carey. Baz didn't mean it when he said that that folk shit doesn't deserve to be played in his movie."

“Don’t worry, Carey. I STILL like Mumford & Sons.”

Actually, that last statement is starting off on the wrong-foot because I can’t say anything bad against Luhrmann’s direction, or what it is that he tries to do with this material. If anything, the guy tries his damn-near hardest to get past the fact that this is just dry material, made for the sake of reminding everybody how freakin’ awesome the Roaring Twenties actually were. Despite the gimmicky 3D aspect behind this movie (trust me, not even worth the watch in that extra-dimension), the movie does look very purrty and once again, you can tell that Luhrmann really put his heart and feel into making this movie look like it exactly reads out. Loud, lavish parties filled with extraneous amounts of glitz, color, glamour, and loads, and loads of champagne. Being able to match the look I had in my head of what the setting actually looked-like after reading the book, I realized that Luhrmann had a bigger-imagination than even myself was graced with, which makes the movie all the more visually-outstanding.

However, pretty colors, pretty things, and pretty people can only go so far. And in Luhrmann’s case: it’s sad to see. You can jump-start this material with as much exuberance and energy as your little heart desires, but if you can’t get to the heart of the story and feel what it was like to live in this period, then you have all but lost me. That’s exactly what I felt like when I watched Luhrmann try whatever it was that he could to make it seem as if he had actually read the novel, and/or still remembered it to this day. Instead, it just seems like he SparkNote’d the hell out of this thing, went through the motions, and stamp his own trademarks here and there. You know, just for show.

But it’s one of those shows that’s obvious and it lost me about half-way through, once I realized that this movie didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Granted, I wasn’t on-the-edge-of-my-seat considering I knew how the material would play out, and what characters would be doing what in certain situations, but I was still interested in seeing what Luhrmann could pull-off to surprise the hell out of me. Sadly, nothing really seemed to make me fall back in my chair and wonder how he pulled it all off. Everything seems so cut-and-dry with character’s emotions and dilemmas; the “big reveals” are nowhere near being subtle, as they were in the novel; and everybody else here, feels as if they just got out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, but have a fancy-schmancy accent. Okay, maybe the characters aren’t that bad, but they are pretty damn dull. A real shame too, because the cast working with these characters really seem to know what they’re doing, it’s just that the direction isn’t there to help them succeed.

Tobey Maguire plays our narrator for the whole, 2 hours: Nick Carraway. Maguire is alright in a role that doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t get much back in-return. It’s just Tobey, being Tobey, and whether or not he’s acting like this, or this; you don’t really give a shit what else he’s doing. All you want him to do is not be distracting by how geeky he is, and he wasn’t. Good job, Tobes! New-comer Elizabeth Debicki actually walks away clean with this movie, as she’s the only one who really feels as if she would have been the gal to beat around this period of time, and reminds me of the older-days of Hollywood, where the dames seemed to run rampant all throughout the town. Sort of reminded me of a younger-Kristin Scott Thomas, minus the French and nudity. Pretty bummed out by the latter aspect. Damn you, Baz! Couldn’t “up” the rating to at least a soft R? Bastard.

The Tobe-meister, once again wondering just how Gatsby does it the way he does it. Aka, the same face he has on the whole movie.

The Tobe-meister, once again wondering just how Gatsby does it the way he does it. Aka, the same face he has on the whole movie.

As Nick’s cuzzy, Daisy, Carey Mulligan looks exactly like the character I imagined in my head when I read it all those years ago, but seems slightly-dull in the way she prances around character-to-character, throughout the whole story. The only thing she wants in this whole movie is to just live a peaceful, happy life, but yet; she’s still stuck with the bastard that continues to cheat on her, right in front of her nose. And to make matters worse, she then decides to mess around herself. Pretty smart girl if I don’t say so myself. Playing that philanderer of a hubby, Tom Buchanan, is Joel Edgerton who seems to take a whole box of delight chewing the scenery with his thin-mustache, but it goes nowhere. Instead, it seems like the guy never has anything good to say, morally-right to do, or even brings any happiness around him. He’s just a miserable, sad-sack of a dude that lacks no moral-understanding of what’s going down. In the novel, there was more to him than just a dude looking to get revenge. But, once again, Baz didn’t seem to get that part of the novel. All he saw as an opportunity to get a bunch of people to beat around the bush with one another about who’s sleeping with who. Gets old, real fast.

Thankfully, the only one who saves these characters and this movie is the man himself: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby. Right from that definitive-shot where we first meet him, Leo seems to be having the time of his life as Gatsby. He’s living the life of a billionaire that looks handsome, wears lavish-colors, likes beautiful things, and always holds hospitality at his upper-most important factor of being a person. He’s everything, any person in their right mind would ever want to be, except there’s more to this dude than you may think. Leo is great at playing the cool, charmer of a man that Gatsby shows-off to everybody around him, but is even better when it comes to peeling-away the layers of who the hell this guy just might be, and whether or not he can be trusted. You never know with this guy, and Leo is very good at keeping us guessing as to when he’s going to just lose his shit, and at what velocity he’ll lose it at. If it wasn’t for Leo, this movie would have fallen down the drain, but with him: it survives by a hair. A relatively longer-than-usual hair, but it’s still ready to be cut-off at any second.

Consensus: Baz Luhrmann knows what it takes to make The Great Gasby‘s fourth, and hopefully, final big-screen adaptation as beautiful and eye-appealing as ever, but all of the effort he puts into the look of it, doesn’t translate well into the drama, the message, the characters, or the overall-feel that the novel originally had. Yup, somehow Jack White songs just didn’t cover what it meant to be a flapper during the 20’s.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

If you look closely, you might be able to see Joel Edgerton's left hand prepare for the twirl of his mustache.

If you look closely, you might be able to see Joel Edgerton’s left hand prepare for the twirl of his mustache.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Osama’s dead! Now it’s time for Hollywood to take advantage!

The film is a chronicle of the decade-long hunt for the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks, and his ultimate-death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011.

Unless you have been living under a cave for the past years (sort of like Osama himself), then you’ll probably already know how this story ends. People get on the look-out for Osama, find some tip-offs, locate his living quarters, send a search and destroy team, and basically, destroy him and everybody else that was practically in there.

After a decade of anger, frustration, sadness, paranoia, and a great deal of questions left unanswered, we, as a country, finally got what we wanted ever since those fateful hours of 9/11: we killed the son-of-a-bitch that was to be blamed for all of it. If you like to look at humanity in the eyes that every person made in God’s eyes are equal and judged the same, but if you look at it from another pair of eyes, you’ll start to realize that this was a piece of shit that deserved to die, deserved to be stuck in-hiding half of his life, and better yet, deserved to be killed the way he was. In my opinions, no matter how brutal or vicious, I feel like the guy got-off a bit easy with a couple of shots to the dome (apparently) and no torture whatsoever, when this is also the same guy that killed over 3,000 innocent people in just one day. Yeah, in case you couldn’t tell by now, I’m rooting for America on this one and I usually don’t get all this “hurrah! hurrah!”, over being a patriot of my country, but there’s just something about the idea of finding the person that was responsible for so many deaths and broken hearts in one day, killing him, and showing him, as well as his followers, what the ‘eff is up with the good, olde U.S. of A. I hate to sound all lame-ass and cliche, but damn, was I proud to be an American after seeing this movie.

No, I did not just spoil the movie's ending with this image.

No, I did not just spoil the movie’s ending with this image.

This also really surprised the hell out of me as well, mainly because I wasn’t expecting feelings like this to pop-up, after expecting this to be Kathryn Bigelow’s big, follow-up to The Hurt Locker, a war movie in which, it seemed like the theme was very much against the war, rather than creating a love-letter to those who fight for our safety and freedom, day-in and day-out. It’s not like Bigelow went full-throttle at the army’s throats and showed them how much of dirty and despicable bastards they can truly-be, but instead, showed them more as a bunch of people that have problems, just like you or me. It was a nice movie, a nice war movie, and a very nice movie with a smart message to-boot, but that’s not the film I’m reviewing here.

The movie I am reviewing instead is this one, Zero Dark Thirty. Up until a couple of days ago where I heard this movie has been destroying film festival award shows, I wasn’t really all that amped-up to see this flick. Yeah, we all know the story about Bin Laden, we all know the cook gets shot, and yes, we all know that people did a lot to figure-out just where, how, and when this guy hid for so long. It was an obvious story that just seemed like it was going to be the more modern, war-version take on a “based on factual events” story like Argo. However, slowly but surely, this movie really started to creep-up and find it’s way into my mind and have me very, very excited to see what was going to go down and after awhile, I got to thinking: I didn’t really know all that much about the whole Bin Laden-killing as it was.

Yeah, I knew how it began and how it ended, which is pretty much enough for some people, but being the type of guy that likes reasons, explanations, and understandings to most of the stories that I find-out to actually be true, I knew there was more than meets-the-eyes and that is exactly what you can expect from this movie. Right from the start, you know you are in for a thrill-ride that is full of suspense, espionage, exposition, clues, hints, interrogations, arguments, conversations, torture, and best of all, action. This movie basically has it all and even though the first 20 minutes seems to go a bit over-the-top with the whole “torture” idea, it soon builds into something that doesn’t need to have things exploding or people being shot to keep you interested and riveted; it just uses conversations, and wonderful conversations at-that.

Seeing how this whole investigation got from Point A, to Point B, is pretty damn interesting, but what’s even more interesting is how much feels like it’s on the line in this flick. When these characters are out searching for Bin Laden, where’s he hiding, and who the hell helped him with terrorist attacks, we feel as if we are there searching with them as well, with just enough terror and suspense as you could imagine. I knew how this was going to turn-out and if you are the biggest-idiot on the face of the Earth and don’t know by now, well then, you do too. It’s a real-life investigation that just so happened to turn-out successful  but getting to that point where everybody is happy, jolly, and feeling victorious, is a real, fucking ride that will take you all-over-the-place in terms of emotions and thoughts. Actually, maybe saying it will fuck with your mind is the wrong-impression to give you, but if you like a thriller where you have no idea what’s going to happen next and like to have your palms sweaty for about 95% of the actual-movie, then this is the type of thriller for you that will stick with you just as much as it did to me.

Even though she could order a team of highly-trained professionals to come and kill me in a matter of seconds with no traces whatsoever, I'd still try my hardest for her heart.

Even though she could order a team of highly-trained professionals to come and kill me in a matter of seconds with no traces whatsoever, I’d still try my hardest for her heart.

And as for the rest of that 5%, well, I sort of left that out, mostly because it seems like more of this flick is about getting the facts straight and telling it like it is, which was all fine and dandy with me for the most part, especially because all of it seemed to be pretty legitimate. As with most of these movies that take on an actual, real-life investigation that had to deal with the U.S. government, there’s always a lot of speculation as to what is real, what is dramatized, and what is fake. For the most-part, after all of the controversies this flick has seem to be dealing with as of-late, I can easily state that most of what you will see and hear here, is in-fact told in the way it went-down. Of course not every scene was filled with as much witty-lines and moments of humor that this movie’s scripts throws in there to great-effect, but the ideas, the hints, the clues, the thoughts, and the actions, all seem to be very reasonable and I never really found myself scratching my head as to how the hell somebody could pull something-off like this, no matter how much leverage she may have had. However, it’s less of a history-lesson and more of a thriller that shows you what went-down, how it went-down, and what exactly was going through the minds of the people behind all of the actions. Some good, some bad, some are just not worth giving a fuck about but at the end of the day, Osama was killed and everybody was happy and joyful together. Yippie-Kay-Yay!

Featuring a cast that doesn’t really have any real, blockbuster names to attract an audience to a flick that already seems like it may have a bit of a struggle with making moolah around this time of the year, definitely seems like a risk that Bigelow is willing to take, and a risk I want to watch her take, more and more now, especially after what I saw what she could do with an amazing cast like this. After having what is essentially the greatest year of her freakin’ life so-far (other than that one, beautiful summer where she went to camp and become a woman for the first-time, I don’t know, just guessing that it’s what all girls have memories of), Chastain builds on top of that with a stellar-performance that is probably the best she has given so far, mainly because her character goes through so many changes throughout the whole flick, but yet, they all feel real.

Ahhhh, beautiful Pakistan.

Ahhhh, beautiful Pakistan.

When we first see Chastain as Maya, we see her as soft-spoken, scared, and a bit of wimpy-like girl that can’t handle the sight of so much blood and torture that she sees within the first 20 minutes, but after awhile, she gets used to it and realizes that maybe, just maybe, she, as well as the rest of the CIA, needs to get their shit together and find this summbitch who caused all of this trouble in the first-place. Chastain is strong-as-hell in this role and you can totally tell that as time continues to go-on for her and for this mission, that the look on her face and her eyes, begin to change and get more and more disrupted by the anger and frustration that sort of domes come with the job of being a very-skilled member of the CIA and handling a mission like locating, and taking-out a top-terrorist. Every look she gives another character in this movie feels deserved and she is such a strong female-character that you are able to stand-by, trust, and feel like she is literally a nice human-being that only wants what’s right for her, her own well-being, and her own country that she fights for day on a daily-basis. No surprise whatsoever that this gal is getting so much damn Oscar buzz for this and if she does win (which she just might), I will have no objection or angry-tirade whatsoever. Hell, after all that she did last year, the woman deserves it. But please, somebody just give her my number!

Her co-star from this year’s earlier-release, Lawless, Jason Clarke has the next best role as another member of the CIA, but yet, has a way different job than her. See, Clarke’s character is a guy that has to deal with the torturing and question of their Iranian prisoners and as hard as it may be to watch some of the actual torture that does go-down in the flick (mainly within the first 20 minutes, just to let you know how crazy, wild and disturbing this movie is going to be), it’s even harder to watch a character like this have to suffer from doing something that literally makes him a miserable human-being. Clarke is a guy I never really payed attention-to in the past, mainly because I never thought he really needed to shine in the spotlight, he’s just always been there, but here, every chance the guy gets, he absolutely nails it in showing us how a character that does something so vicious and violent for a living, can actually still stay sane and normal in the outside world around him. If it wasn’t for all of the buzz that has already been surrounding every-other aspect of this damn movie, then I would definitely have to say that Clarke would be up for an Oscar nom., but as for right now, I think I may just have to wait and keep my, Minnesota Fats-like fingers crossed.

"Seriously, since you're night-vision doesn't work, you brought a candle?"

“Seriously, since you’re night-vision doesn’t work, you brought a candle instead? Do you not know what we are here to do!?!?”

Even though Clarke and Chastain may be the real stands-out of the flick, you know, the ones you really remember when all is said and done, they sure as hell aren’t the only ones that give solid performances worth-mentioning. Mark Strong shows up in a couple of scenes, and absolutely hits the high-rising emotions in this flick, and hits them hard, especially with an introduction-scene that is one of the best he has ever done in his entire career. Trust me, just ask the fellas I saw this movie with. They’ll probably tell you I couldn’t stop quoting his damn scene and with good reason: it’s memorable, important, and best of all, perfect. And no, for all of you people out there wondering: Mark Strong does not play Osama Bin Laden, regardless of what his past-decisions for characters may have you think otherwise. Kyle Chandler seems to be having a lot of fun playing, once again, another member of the CIA that seems to always have the right, witty answers to every solution, but yet, still can’t keep an eye on his own shit and even get the chance to cover his own-ass. Chandler’s been doing some real splendid work as of late, and I think this flick is only going to prove that point a whole lot more. James Gandolfini also shows-up in a scene or two as the main, higher-up of the CIA that always has to give final-word to the president and even though it’s not a glamorous-role for the guy, it’s not one that shows how much of a fat-slob he has become, either. He’s just a normal dude, with a very demanding job.

However, these three are the only three I could really think-of off the top of my head and say exactly why I liked them so much here, because everybody else, I kid you not, is as great as they should be. Every tiny, little-role that Bigelow needs filled-up, she fills it up with a great actor/actress that gives their all and might into scene that sometimes doesn’t mean a shit in the long-run, but after it’s over, you are still left remembering it because of how well-acted it truly was. The only bad apple out of this whole cast that really seems like he may have been trying a bit too hard was Chris Pratt as the main, Navy Seal that goes into Bin Laden’s cave. I love Pratt to death and I think he is an absolute riot as Andy Dwyer, but seriously, you can’t go from a character that’s all about being a man-child, who is dumb, big, and slow, in terms of understanding the things around him, and go right to a character that practically slimes his way around and about Bin Laden’s head-quarters. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pratt and he’s not even that bad here, but he just seems like he should be off, doing something more comedic that would use him well.

Despite all of this big and bad jibberoo about why the movie works and how, I can only imagine the real question on your mind: what about the whole Bin Laden-shooting? Well, without giving too much away or even letting you know of what fully goes down, I’m just going to state that Bigelow handles it in the most understandable, most respectful, and most perfect way that makes you realize how far everybody has come to this point and in a way, what is to come of us next, not only as a country lead by an army, but as humans living in the country as well. Bigelow handles this last-sequence where all of the Navy Seals find their-ways to Bin Laden as if we are actually there, right next to them, as they make all of the tough shots and calls, and it’s probably the most exciting and suspenseful, piece of 30 minutes at the theaters I have spent in a very, very long-time. And mind you, I am talking about the whole Bin Laden-shooting. Something that I actually have prior knowledge to knowing that it did actually happen!

"What by the term, "Casual Friday", do you not understand?"

“What by the term, “Casual Friday”, do you not understand?”

Yup, it surprised the hell out of me too, but if there is anything that surprised the hell out of me, is how happy and proud I was to be in a country where most humans have the rights to do whatever they want, however they want it, and mainly because we all are humans, no matter what eyes you look through. Now, I’m not saying that it’s right for people to do anything they want, whenever they want because they’re humans (last Frdiay’s shootings come to mind), but for people that can choose between right-and-wrong, and are given a set of ideas as to what is right for the world and everybody else living in it, it’s a beautiful country we live in and it’s one that makes me happy, just knowing that I am being protected by people who are days and days away from me, but yet, still continue to keep me safe at-night, while I sit here, half-naked, drink a Mountain Dew, and talk about a movie that’s all about them. Yes, thank you all for saving my life day-after-day, please don’t stop either, because I really like not having to look over my shoulder every five seconds.

Consensus: Some historical facts and inaccuracies may always be up for discussion here in Zero Dark Thirty, but what cannot be up for discussion is how entertaining, enlightening, smart, provocative, well-acted, and perfectly-performed this flick truly is and I really do see it winning a crap-load of Oscars, come February of 2013.

9/10=Full Price!!

Looks like the perfect cover for a video-game version of the movie.

Looks like the perfect cover for a video-game version of the movie.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

This will probably bring up a lot of awkward questions about where babies come from and how they’re made. Questions I look forward to answering.

The film stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as an happily married couple who have been unable to conceive a child and are ready to give up. One night after a bit too much wine, they fantasize about what their ideal child would be and bury a box with all these wishes in their backyard. Lo and behold, a dirt-covered little boy (CJ Adams) appears on their doorstep the next day.

That’s a pretty strange premise to have and it’s only weirder that the son of Frank Zappa, Ahmet, wrote it himself. However, while his father was inventive and original with what he could with his profession in music, he just so happens to be the total opposite with his.

What bothered the most about this flick was how damn predictable it was. I sort of knew that I was going to get that right from the start going into this, but I wasn’t expecting it this bad. Everything happens in the same ways you would expect it to normally go down in flicks like these, and what’s worse is that I barely got a surprise. The recipes for this family-oriented flick have already been written out and predicted before-hand, and it was only a matter of time until I was throwing money down on what was going to happen next, how, and when. Sadly, it was only me and my grandparents who went to go see this (go ahead, make jokes) and they weren’t down to throw any moolah around but you can bet your sweet-asses if I had gone with a bunch of girls I would have been loaded. With money, that is.

As soon as Timothy shows up in these people’s lives, he somehow makes all of these miraculous dreams and miracles come true but without ever doing anything. Take it for granted, the kid’s a nice kid and has a certain amount of goody-goody charm to him but he doesn’t do anything that could be deemed terribly special to the point of where you actually believe in these townspeople actually standing behind him altogether. I thought that they were going to play this story out as if it was “the Forrest Gump for kids” but even that would have been too much of a stretch for this movie. A lot of belief has to be suspended for these types of films but not so much to where you think people would buy the fact that these people know he has leaves on his legs, and they never choose to say anything. Where I come from, that kid would have gotten his ass thrown in so many lockers they would run-out. And don’t even get me started on all of the lunch money he’d lose.

But as terribly formulaic and predictable this all is, it still has a nice message deep-down inside that I couldn’t help but enjoy every time it was on-display. Basically, this film is all about how kids should be themselves, live up to what they want to do, and don’t have anybody ever tell them that they are weird for doing so. I got this message right from my parents when I was a young kid and I’ve been living that way ever since and look where it’s gotten me. I’m no major success in life or anything, but I still have stay trued to myself and the things that I want to do regardless of how weird it may be viewed at as by other people. This message is very prominent in this flick and I hope it is one that gets out to kids, as well as parents so they can tell their kids the same thing.

The real element of this movie that actually won me over was probably the performances from everybody involved, even if their characters may have not been the best that they have ever portrayed. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton are awesome as the wife and husband couple that eventually get Timothy Green and they play up this very loving mother and father-combo well, and you could see why they would be great parents to have, especially for a kid with such odd predicaments as Timothy. Garner is fine but it’s Edgerton who really nails it as the fun-loving dad who just wants Timothy to have the love and support from a father-figure that he never had, and that sometimes results in the funnier and more heartfelt scenes of the whole movie. Not saying that there were many, but they still worked mainly because it was Edgerton behind all of them.

I was actually surprised that this kid, CJ Adams, didn’t bother me as much as I was expecting him to. Kids actors aren’t always the best to watch in movies like this, especially those ones that try to sound ultra-smart and cute, but somehow just end up being annoying and that’s what I thought Timothy Green was going to end up being. Thankfully, he’s not and this young blood, Adams, plays him very well by giving him a conscience that’s easy to stand-behind. Also, without sounding terribly effin’ creepy, the kid’s very cute and will probably have a lot of young girls swooning over him. I was like that once, but then I started to get facial hair. That’s when it all went South for me.

Everybody else in this cast is fine too, the only problem is that they aren’t giving characters that are worth paying much attention to, even though the film tries to make us see otherwise. Ron Livingston easily steals every scene that he’s in as Edgerton’s boss, but his character is played off as this one-note dickhead that we don’t really care what happens to him or what lesson he learns; Rosemarie DeWitt (who is almost this year’s Jessica Chastain with how many times I’ve seen her show up in random shit) plays Garner’s younger sister that believes all of her kids are miraculous and so much better than what they really are, and she’s alright with the role but she is another one that feels too one-notey for us to care about; David Morse has a very interesting character as Edgerton’s dead-beat daddy that was barely ever there for him when he needed him the most, and actually gives it his all even though by the end of the film, his character is sort of wasted in a bunch of false sentimental moments that don’t do much development for his character, or Edgerton’s for that matter; and Dianne Wiest, as great as she may be, she gives off one of the biggest one-note pieces of trash in this whole movie and seemed way too mean and cruel to be a chick that these many people would put up with, let alone have her as the head of the city council. There’s plenty of other familiar faces to be seen here, but they’re all given characters that don’t really seem like you should care about at all and the film takes too much of its focusing on them, when they could be focusing more on Timothy and his so-called “parents”.

Consensus: Though it is well-acted and features a nice message for the whole family, The Odd Life of Timothy Green just doesn’t bring any surprises, emotional resonance, or any type of extravagant characters to hold onto. Still, it’s bearable to sit through and won’t kill you to check out on a rainy, Sunday afternoon.

5/10=Rental!!

Halloween Horror Movie Month: The Thing (2011)

If I see an alien frozen in ice, I’m gonna leave that damn ice alone.

This prequel tells the story of a team of Norwegian scientists who find an alien ship frozen in Antarctica. When the organism inside awakens, blood flows across the frozen landscape. Leading the group is pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton), who allies with paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in a desperate attempt to rally the paranoid workers to combat the deadly threat.

When I first heard rumors about a prequel to the John Carpenter horror classic, ‘The Thing‘, I thought that this would once again just be another cash-grab for the Halloween audience of October. However, it didn’t play out as bad as I would have expected, but I still missed the bearded Kurt Russell.

Dutch director Matthijs van Heijninger Jr. actually does a surprisingly good job here recreating the tone and feel that Carpenter explored very well in his classic. There were times when I felt the paranoia of not knowing who was infected and who was not and the whole film just keeps on building little tiny bits of suspense. It isn’t the kind of suspense where I was practically on the edge of my seat the whole entire dang time, it still had enough of it to where I actually felt it.

Also, having any film in an Antarctic setting is just plain and simply freaky. The only time I can think of where it actually didn’t work was that piece of crap Whiteout, but other than that, placing your film in a place where it’s surrounded by snow, snow, and more snow just cooks up the perfect recipe for a good horror film.

The problem that I knew that I was going to have with this film beforehand, was the fact that everything that happened in this film, was something I already saw in the Carpenter film. The whole idea of who was or who wasn’t taken over by an alien, the reason how and why they take over the body, and the way they find out who is real and who isn’t, are all ideas from the first that seemed so original and novel then, but instead now just feel like recycled material over-and-over again. On it’s own, the film doesn’t really have much of a leg to stand on and it was kind of a drag at times too.

The scares also sort of work here but too many times it just feels like those same old “boo” scares that we get in so many horror films today, whereas the Carpenter version never did that. You know the scares, everything gets all quiet with little sounds and no score, until suddenly something incredibly crazy and loud happens and that’s the scare-factor right there. It also didn’t help that the volume in my theater was up to about 100 so every time these damn aliens yelled or screamed, I went deaf for about 5 minutes.

If you couldn’t already tell by the trailer in the beginning, there is a lot of action that is actually pretty fun to watch even if it is a bit the same things we have already seen and done better. Instead of also focusing on actual costumes, make-up, and designs for the scary “infected” this film uses a lot of CG creatures that actually look pretty detailed as well as disgusting. It didn’t really stun me the way the Carpenter version did but I have to say that when I saw these creatures, I was pretty disgusted in a good way.

When you have a cast for a horror film, you know not to really expect much, and as is the case with this one as well. Joel Edgerton is the obvious choice to replace the hard-assed Kurt Russell hero role from the Carpenter film, but he does an alright job with what he’s given as Carter even though his role and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje‘s are both very minimal considering that they are gone from the screen for a long period of time. Why though, is something I cannot say. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is alright as Kate Lloyd, even though I think her performance just mainly consisted of her being scared or determined. There are also plenty of other Norwegian dudes playing Norwegians which was kind of a problem considering the fact that we can’t really tell each of them apart, and the fact is that there is just too many characters to begin with in the first place.

Probably my favorite part of the film was the credits and that’s not me being an ass either, the credits are pretty cool. Considering how lame and cheesy the ending is (it takes place in an alien spaceship?) when the credits came up it sent chills down my spine because as soon as I heard the Carpenter score, I just knew what I was getting. I was expecting it to lead me to the opening of Carpenter’s film but the way they did it, I thought was pretty cool and a nice twist on the whole film in general.

Consensus: Though not as bad as I imagined at first, The Thing is an unnecessary prequel that has some chills and thrills, but still doesn’t have the originality, creepiness, and overall effect on you as Carpenter’s version might have.

5.5/10=Rental!!

Warrior (2011)

Before he destroys Batman, Tom Hardy gets to destroy his brother.

Tom Conlon (Tom Hardy) and older brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton) have pursued separate lives, but when Tom returns home to ask his father’s help in preparing for a championship bout, events lead the siblings back into each other’s paths.

Judging from the trailer, I was coming to expect a mixture between Rocky, The Fighter, and Never Back Down. 2/3 are great films that I loved, while the other one was shitty. This one is sort of in between.

Writer/director Gavin O’Connor does a great job of taking a plot and structure we have seen done time and time again, and still make it something amazing to watch. The first hour sets the whole story up, showing these two characters, who at first don’t even seem like brothers but if you have seen the trailer (which everybody has) you know that they are, and just how they each are different in their own way. The film also doesn’t try to explain what happened to these characters and why before the story begins, it is either brought up later in the film casually like it would in real life, and is sort of left up to our imagination.

Another great thing about this script is that the character development is amazing. I really felt intrigued by these characters because each were so likable and charming in their own ways, and you could tell that these two really are believable characters that you could see doing this extreme and intense sport for two reasons: one likes to do it because he’s simply angry, the other does it for money. As the story builds up, up, and away the dialogue gets very heart-wrenching and believable and works when it’s trying to show the problems a family has when they all stop loving and start hating. Hey, it’s a gay line but after watching this flick, you’ll see what I mean.

The fight scenes are also pretty bangin’ because I was expecting them to be all that shaky-cam crap we see in just about every single film where there’s some sort of action or tension happening, but instead they are incredibly well-staged and I could actually tell what was going on too. Also, when you hear somebody get their face smashed in, it sounds like somebody getting their faced smashed in and who doesn’t just love that?!?

The only problem with the fighting is that you had Hardy’s character practically laying out other fighters the same way every time just about 4 times in a row, and it didn’t bother me until I realized that he was just a new fighter. I mean yeah, there are sometimes guys that come into the ring every once and awhile that just totally show everybody else up, even with barely any prior MMA experience, but just watching this dude tear through professionals like Joey Chestnut with hot dogs was a little too hard to believe.

I have still been contemplating about whether or not I actually still liked the ending, or thought it was too schmaltzy but I’ve decided to basically go either way on it. The reason I liked the ending was because I felt that it was true to the story and really had me feeling even more connected to these guys more than ever, and when the ending happened, I felt like it was a great way to turn this story off. However, I started thinking about it more and more and started to realize that a lot of it got really schmaltzy and very lovey dovery way too quick.

I’m all down for cliches and predictability if the film keeps me entertained, which is what this film was doing for the longest time, but when all of these people just started going out all-over-the-place practically telling each other they love each other, it seemed a little cheap just for a more heartfelt ending. Did it touch me? A little bit but with all of the right things the script was doing beforehand it was kind of a shame to sort of see it go for the extra schmaltzy notes that The Fighter did so well in avoiding.

However, this film would be nothing without it’s perfect cast. Tom Hardy is near-perfect in his total bad-ass role as Tommy Conlon, who if you have seen Bronson, looks the part and if you have seen Inception, definitely knows how to act the part as well. Hardy just seems so angry about something the whole film and it really adds an extra layer of that mystery to him that has us attracted to his character in the first place, and he is just so incredibly tough-looking that when it comes to the fighting, I just about feared for whatever poor soul was in the ring with him next.

Joel Edgerton is also great as the modest and a lot more nicer brother, Brendan, and proves that he can handle a lead role all to himself. I guess some people will see Hardy’s performance and just keep their minds on him the whole time, but when it comes right down to it, Edgerton knows how to add those extra levels of emotional depth to him as well that when his character needs more sympathy from the viewers, we’re able to give it to him since he seems so likable and just like your average everyday high-school teacher, that will beat the shit out of you, if you don’t do your homework.

Nick Nolte has been doing some of these crackly old-fart roles that honestly hasn’t done many things well for him lately ever since his beautiful mugshot, but I think he’s starting to win that amazing rep he once had in Hollywood, and his role as Padd, the boys’ father is the real reason why he’s back in action. Nolte is probably the most interesting and sad character of the bunch because he is now a washed-up alcoholic that has messed his life up so bad that he can’t seem to win back the one he once had with his kids and now suffers more and more. Nolte commands the screen just about every time he gets and I think this is probably one of his most brutally honest roles as of late, which makes it all the more tragic to watch.

Oh, also Kurt Angle is here as the MMA equivalent to Ivan Drago, Koba. Didn’t believe it for a second but me want to go back to watching some WWE.

Consensus: Warrior starts to lose itself a real long way by the end of the film, but has great writing, perfect performances from the whole cast, some fun action, and a story that has been done before, but with still hits with that emotional punch that it needed so much.

8.5/10=Matinee!!