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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: John Ortiz

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Going in Style (2017)

Get some life into ya.

Lifelong buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) all decide that it’s finally time to take some time back and retire, once and for all. However, once they do that, they don’t know what sorts of annoyances await them. For one, the factory that they slaved away for all of those years, aren’t going to be giving them pensions. And if that wasn’t so bad, they’re so broke that they may not be able to keep their own roofs over their heads. It’s so bad that even a piece of pie at a diner is a constant cause for argument. But then, Joe gets the idea: Why not rob a bank? Better yet, why not rob the bank that is, get this, robbing him blind in the first place? It’s a crazy idea and one met with disdain from the two other guys, but as time goes on, they start to come around to the idea. Eventually, the three hatch out a plan for what to do, but considering that they’re three old dudes, it may be a lot harder than it seems.

Do they qualify for the license to carry? Let alone, see?

Going in Style is probably an unnecessary remake, but it’s also different from the 1979 version. While that movie was a mostly dramatic, melancholy look at aging, life, and death, with some comedy splashed in there for good measure, the remake is a lot more fun, humorous, and less about being too dramatic. In a way, it’s as director Zach Braff and the studios thought that having a movie in which a bunch of old dudes try to re-ignite sparks in their lives, only to realize that they haven’t got much time left on Earth, was all too serious and real, so therefore, they added a bunch of jokes about prostates, pie, Alzheimer’s, and oh yes, the Bachelor.

Did I mention that this is Zach Braff we’re talking about here? Sure, I Wish I Was Here was a problem, but surely the same guy who made the near-classic over a decade ago (in Garden State), doesn’t feel the need for these sorts of paycheck gigs, does he? Well, in a way, it sort of seems like it, but it’s not like the movie’s the most manipulative piece of money-making machine ever made.

If anything, it’s just enjoyable and pleasing enough to literally not offend a single person.

Is that we should expect from these actors, as well as Braff? Hopefully not.

But for now, it’s fine, because Going in Style proves that the age old formula of “old dudes getting to have some fun one more time”, still kind of works. The only difference here is that the tone is a lot lighter and playful than you’d expect, which makes all of the crazy plot contrivances, twists, and turns, seem fine. Are they unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous? Absolutely, but for the longest time, the movie doesn’t do much but go about its day, with a smile on its face, and a pleasant mood on its mind.

Ride or die, boys.

And for that, it’s fine. It doesn’t ask for the heavy questions, with the heavier answers, about life, death, love, or immortality, or any of that fun stuff, nor does it really ask you to fully get too invested in its heist at the center of the film; it’s all being used to just get by and allow us to have some fun with these characters, in this place in time.

And once again, that’s fine.

It helps that Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, no matter how old they get, still seem like total pros and can do practically no wrong. Sure, a lot of the stuff that they’re saying and yammering on about isn’t all that funny, but the three are so charming and lovely, does it really matter? Yes, it sort of does, but in this case, not really; it’s annoying to constantly see older actors get the short-shift in which they have to play these old dudes and that’s about it, but if that’s the way the world works, then so be it. It seems like Caine, Freeman, and Arkin themselves are so fine with it that it doesn’t really matter.

So long as they keep on doing what they’re doing, until the expected end of their careers, well then, no argument from me.

Keep doing what you’re doing, fellas.

Consensus: Pleasing and enjoyable enough, mostly by the talented trio of leads, Going in Style doesn’t set out to offend anyone, or change anyone’s life, and in this case, that’s all that is needed.

6 / 10

[Insert boner joke here]

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

If it’s not on Google Maps, chances are, you should stay away from it.

It’s 1973, the Vietnam War is close to an end, and Bill Randa (John Goodman) a senior official in a super secret government organization known as Monarch, finally sees his opportunity to capitalize on achieving one of his biggest missions yet: Going to the mysterious Skull Island and figuring out what sort of threat is out there. After much arm-twisting, the government finally gives Randa the tools and resources he needs to get there, which means that he gets the army, the weapons, as well as the experts to help guide him along on this possibly dangerous island. One person Randa seeks out and pays to help him is world-renowned traveler James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who doesn’t know what’s there on Skull Island, either, but doesn’t like the sounds of it, which is why he demands for his pay to be doubled. Meanwhile, on the mission, is anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who can’t wait to see what’s out there, and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a member of the Army who isn’t too happy about what happened with the war and isn’t ready to let that go. Not even a gigantic, monstrous and incredibly violent ape known as Kong.

Kong best look out.

Kong: Skull Island is so entertaining, so quick, so visually impressive, and so fun that, even with all of its flaws, I’m willing and absolutely able to just let bygones be bygones and praise the film as it is. Because even though the script is silly, underwritten, and not at all up to the task of aiding and abetting this talented ensemble, the direction from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is so thrilling, it’s hard to care so much. After all, do you really go to a King Kong movie for the well-written, three-dimensional, and emotionally complex characters? Or, do you go to a King Kong movie for the vividly gigantic monsters beating the absolute hell out of one another and terrorizing any human that tries to stand in their ways?

Honestly, it’s not bad to have a little bit of both, but fine, Kong: Skull Island wants to stick with the later, so whatever.

Either way, Kong: Skull Island is still a very fun movie and a lot of that is credited to Vogt-Roberts because he takes what could have been a very soulless, almost boring job of rebooting the tale of Kong and instead, adds some life, flair (literally), and energy into it. One of the most notable and interesting aspects Vogt-Roberts adds here is that Kong: Skull Island is, on one hand, a monster movie, in which people run away and try to kill a monster, but on the other hand, it’s also a Vietnam War movie, in which some cold cut rock classics from the early-70’s blasts out from the speakers, everyone’s a little scared and paranoid, and yeah, the temperature is hot, sweaty and downright miserable. In a way, Vogt-Roberts wants to make the Apocalypse Now of monster movies and while he doesn’t quite reach those heights, he still shows us all something new and original can be done with the monster movie.

And because of this, there’s an energy to Skull Island that’s hard to resist and shove-off. Even though it’s absolutely clear from the get-go that the script is going to be shoddy, silly and downright stupid, there’s just something about the look and feel of this all that’s easy to ride along with and enjoy. Even those who want to see Kong in all of his finest form, will be pleased to know that he’s seen a whole bunch throughout and doing all the sorts of things that you’d expect him to do in a movie involving him; there’s smashing, crunching, chewing, roaring, pounding, beating, breaking, punching, kicking, throwing, eating, and oh yeah, crying. Kind of.

But not from these fools.

Regardless, those who complained about 2014 Godzilla not having enough of said title character, then sit down, shut up and feast your eyes on the creature that you’ve all been so desperately wanting to see.

That said though, like I’ve said before, the script is just, uhm, how should I say this? Lame. But it’s not terrible in that it’s hard to listen to, ruins the movie, and sucks all of the fun out of it; it’s more that it feels like a leftover script from the 90’s, right around the time Jurassic Park came out and all of a sudden, everyone wanted to make a big-budget, effects-heavy monster movie. Meaning, there’s a lot of cheesy one-liners; a lot of characters who have basically one personality-trait to them and it basically defines them; a lot of contrivances; a lot of scenes that need more explaining; and oh yeah, a lot of random bits of silliness that seem to literally come from out of nowhere.

And it’s weird, too, because the cast here is so well-done and impressive, that it’s a bit of a shame. No one’s bad here, honestly, but because the net has been cast so far and wide, no one true performance really gets to shine above the rest. The only ones I can truly think of doing this are probably John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson, but that’s just because they get maybe two or three more sentences than the rest of the cast to explain themselves and allow us to get to know them a tad bit better. Others like Hiddleston, Larson, Goodman, Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, and an oddly miscast Thomas Mann, all fall by the waist side and it’s a sign that the movie may have cast a smaller net, or have been longer.

Still though, for a movie that clocks in just under two hours, it makes for a good time. Just don’t try and think too hard, like me.

Basically, don’t be me.

Consensus: Even with an awfully wacky script, Kong: Skull Island gets by solely on the pure energy and fun from its direction, as well as an interesting take on the monster movie genre itself.

7 / 10

Oh wait. Never mind. He can’t be stopped.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Pride and Glory (2008)

Keep it in the family. Even corruptness.

After a bunch of his fellow cops are shot dead in what was supposed to be a drug-ring raid, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) returns to the detective field to figure out just who killed these cops and just exactly how it all happened. And because his daddy (Jon Voight), his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), are all apart of the force as well, it should make absolute sense that he should have no problems getting the right kind of answers he so desperately seeks. However, what Ray begins to find out, though, is that the details surrounding the killer and what happened are a bit shady. For one, nobody can find the supposed-shooter, and to make matters worse, it turns out that perhaps some brothers in blue may also be a little bit dirty. Which is expected, but there’s a possibility that these dirty cops may have been involved with the killing of the other cops, leading Ray to start questioning all of the cops around him, including his family. Obviously, they’re all appalled and shocked by Ray’s findings and accusations, but at the same time, there’s still some truth to it, and this is when everybody involved starts getting desperate and finding a clean way out of this dirty situation.

"Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?"

“Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?”

If you’ve seen one cop movie, generally, you’ve seen ’em all. Hardly do they ever stray away from the norm of what we’ve all come to know and expect with a cop movie, which begs the question: Why does Hollywood keep making them? Is there really any huge sell or draw in them that makes people flock out to the theaters to check them out? Or is that Hollywood can’t get over its weird affection and interest in the brothers in blue, so they still continue to make movies about them, not offering anything new or interesting to say about them, either?

Well, whatever the answer may be, Pride and Glory doesn’t really do much to make sense of it.

Although, Pride and Glory is a different kind of cop movie; for one, it’s about dirty cops, being, well, dirty and corrupt as all hell. Given today’s political climate, you’d think that this would be a hot-button topic worthy of being touched upon and prodded at, but director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t really seem interested in diving deep into that discussion. Instead, he just sort of wants to show off his dirty cops as they were; doing stuff they shouldn’t be, pointing the fingers at others, and telling lookie-loos to “mind their own business and shut their mouth”. O’Connor may have some sort of interest in what drives a seemingly normal, everyday cop, to become a drug-dealing, money-stealing baddie, but he doesn’t quite show it.

Most of the time, O’Connor allows his movie to fly-off the rails with fine actors going a tad bit over-the-top. Gifted character actor Frank Grillo is sadly the clearest example of this as his cop character, albeit a dirty one, wants absolutely each and every person in the movie to know it. It’s almost as if any and all subtlety was lost here and O’Connor told Grillo to “just have fun”, and he really did. Problem is, all of the yelling, punching, kicking, and gun-slinging doesn’t do much to help create a character, but further highlight a type that needs to be done with.

But Grillo isn’t the only one who is dialing it way, way up.

Colin Farrell is intense, doing his best De Niro impression here, but once again, his character feels like he has no rhyme or reason for breaking bad. Sure, we get the idea that maybe greed took over and he couldn’t stop himself, but we can only assume that because we never see this character actually be a good cop – we just see him as this dirty one, who can’t be trusted with anything. There’s an unpredictable nature to Farrell that he brings onto the screen each and every chance he gets, but mostly, it just ends with him yelling or acting out in some way.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

I mean, hell, the guy almost hot irons a baby! What the hell!

Edward Norton, thankfully, dials it down a bit more and seems to actually be more interested in diving dig into his character’s psyche. Issue is, this tends to make his character feel a bit more boring and dry than he probably should, which is an even bigger shame because he’s the lead protagonist we’re supposed to stand behind, root for and spend all of our time with. Norton has solid scenes with just about everyone around him, but when it comes to pushing the story-line along, there’s a never ending sense of normality that overtakes Norton, as well as the movie and it’s hard to get away from.

By the end though, O’Connor decides to stop sitting around and let everything and everyone, within Pride and Glory, run wild.

This means that guns are shot, people are beaten-up, noses are bloodied, faces are battered, people start shouting, and out of nowhere, which was, at one point, a slow, almost meandering drama, is now this wild-and-out, action-thriller where people can’t stop beating the hell out of one another. Is it exciting to watch? Sure. Does it feel like a whole completely different movie? Oh, most definitely and it’s an issue that seems to make Pride and Glory, yet again, just another cop movie.

Although still plenty more watchable than season two of True Detective.

That’s for sure.

 

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Pride and Glory is drenched into too many cop movie cliches and conventions to really do much, other than just mildly entertain those looking for some entertainment.

6 / 10

"We're brudders. We ain't eva gain to brake apaart."

“We’re brudders. We ain’t eva gain to brake apaart.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Steve Jobs (2015)

No one’s a genius until Aaron Sorkin says so.

Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) is one of the most inspirational human specimens to have ever graced this fine planet. For one, he paved the way we view and live according to technology. At the same time, though, he was incredibly difficult to work with and often times, found himself making more enemies, than friends. Not only did this carry into his work life, but his personal one, as well. And through three important moments in Jobs’ life, we see both of these sides play out and sometimes, clash heads. Though each story takes place in a different year (’84, ’88, and ’98, respectively) each one shares a similarity in that they all take place at conventions and feature Jobs getting prepped-up and ready to premier a recently-made piece of technology of his. While this is already a stressful enough time, now, he’s got everybody coming up to him, bothering him, and constantly making him lose sight of the bigger-picture that he has to work with. Co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), wants Jobs to give more credit to what he and his team did on certain items; a former fling of his (Katherine Waterston) has his kid that he refuses to say is actually his own flesh and blood; CEO of Apple, John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), wants to always remind Jobs of what’s really at risk here; and always there for him, almost no matter what, is his dedicated, passionate assistant, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who always stands by his side, even though we wouldn’t ever blame her if she did.

"Eh, maybe you're right, honey. These things probably won't ever catch on."

“Eh, maybe you’re right, honey. These things probably won’t ever catch on.”

So yeah, it’s clear that Steve Jobs is a bit contrived. Each one of these major moments in Jobs’ life, all of a sudden, now feature each and every person from his past coming into the fray, making their presences known, and giving us a certain shadings to Jobs that we may have not gotten had it just been him, all alone, in a room. While I assume that Aaron Sorkin would make that movie still interesting, it’s nice to see that, despite the obvious-nature of the structure of the plot, that he’s able to make it all go away once we realize that yes, this is an Aaron Sorkin-scripted flick. Meaning, everybody talks so electric and stage-y, that no one in the real world would ever speak the same.

Then again, that’s why most of us head out to see Sorkin pieces, and that’s why Steve Jobs, is amazing (the movie, I mean, although the person himself wasn’t too shabby, either).

Though it hits the two-hour mark and is filled with nothing but walking, talking, and narrowly-shot hallways, Steve Jobs never, ever gets boring, nor does it feel overlong. In fact, if there was a complaint I had about this movie, was that it wasn’t long enough; three acts in Steve Jobs’ life is fine and all, but had Sorkin taken it one step further and decided to focus in on a snapshot from way later on in Jobs’ life, it would have most likely been welcomed. After all, Sorkin is known for making even the strangest of conversations and topics seem, somewhat interesting and relateable; even if you aren’t a huge a techno-geek, Sorkin still puts you right by the side of Jobs so intimately, that everything he says, does, or gets pissed-off about (which is a lot), you feel it. It doesn’t matter if you know exactly how many bytes or megabytes have to go into his presentation – all that matters is that you can understand what somebody says when they state, “I hate you”.

But once again, because this is Sorkin, we get many variations on that well-known and understood term, which makes the movie all the more exciting. There’s a exciting feel in the air whenever people start talking in Steve Jobs and it’s one that hardly ever leaves, even in some of the more downbeat moments. Like, for instance, we’ll get one heartfelt scene of Jobs connecting with his she’s-not-actually-mine daughter, that’ll make you see him for the human that he is, and then, in the next scene, you’ll see him get into a verbal-sparring bout in public with Woz, where he practically tells him that “he’s nothing”, that’ll make you see him for the monster he was mostly alleged to be. Sorkin himself is perfect at this type of blending between different tones and/or feelings, and it’s no different with Steve Jobs.

Sure, there’s plenty to laugh at in a snarky way, but still, there’s a lot to be disturbed and saddened by, which is exactly the point of Sorkin’s script.

While Sorkin is, as usual, showing off his skills for writing snappy, inexplicably silly phrases, he is, at the same time, still building up this Steve Jobs character that we often think we know, but this movie actually shows you, warts and all. There’s no real hiding behind the fact that this Steve Jobs, as presented in the movie, was a stubborn, sometimes maniacal son-of-a-bitch; not to just his enemies, but to those who actually cared for and loved him. Sorkin knows this, understands this, and not until the very, very end, try to make amends for it; he sees Jobs for all that he was, and doesn’t hold back in reminding the audience that he could definitely be a terrible person. Did that mean he didn’t, on the rare occasion, commit a nice act for a fellow human being?

No, of course not!

He made iPods for gosh sakes!

But still, all kidding aside, Sorkin’s script is just about perfect. Though the sappiness does begin to take over quite a bit towards the end, the script, as it is, takes over the whole movie and reminds us why most of us out there still stand by Sorkin, even when it seems like he loves to hear himself speak and yammer-on about lord knows what. Steve Jobs, because of Sorkin’s help, is more than just a biopic, it’s more of a character-study and it shows that sometimes, all you need is really interesting characters, mixed with great dialogue, to make a plan, simple scene, more riveting than anything ever presented in a Michael Boy movie.

Of course, you’re actors need to be solid players, too, but that’s a given. And with Steve Jobs, the cast is absolutely outstanding. Michael Fassbender, despite not being the first choice for this iconic role, still does a terrific job as our titular-neurotic, blending both sides of this man’s personality together so well, that you hardly ever notice that there’s a change in his psyche. After awhile, we just sort of come to know, accept and understand that whenever Steve Jobs gets pissed-off, he’s going to snap on whoever is nearest to him, and while it can be hard-to-watch and listen to, the mixture of Sorkin’s winning-dialogue, with Fassbender’s commanding presence, gels so sweetly, that it’s like these two were made for one another. Though we do get a chance to see plenty of the nice attributes surrounding Jobs’ persona, it’s the nastier ones that keep everything riveting, and it’s great to see Fassbender sink his teeth into each and every second of it, loving everything that he’s doing.

"Wanna do the walk-and-talk and see whose the best? Huh?!?"

“Wanna do the walk-and-talk and see whose the best? Huh?!?”

Also, speaking of someone whose acting-style blends quite well with Sorkin’s writing, is Jeff Daniels. This may come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has ever seen an episode or two of the Newsroom, but still, it deserves to be said that with Jeff Daniels, Sorkin may have found his go-to guy whenever he’s counting on a reliable source to deliver this dialogue and not make it seem hammy, or stitled. Which is why it’s all the more surprising to see Seth Rogen, in a very dramatic role, work well with the dialogue as well. Not that I ever doubted Rogen’s abilities as an actor, but still, it’s awesome to see him not just get a chance to stretch out his serious-acting wings, but to do so that works and doesn’t seem odd.

But no matter how much male-posturing and dick-measuring goes on here, it always comes down to the women.

In Steve Jobs, there’s two women that deserve to be mentioned, because they’re the ones who make these men get everything done, even if they don’t intentionally mean to – which, for a Sorkin piece, is saying something, because he’s not always revered for the nice treatment of his female characters. Katherine Waterston, despite being given the difficult role of playing an unlikable woman that constantly bothers Jobs, as well as the audience, does a fantastic job in showing the utter sadness and despair a woman in her situation may feel like. While she doesn’t always go about getting her way in the smartest manner possible, she’s still sympathetic enough to where you’d understand why she’s so miserable and needy.

Kate Winslet, on other hand, has a different character to work with as Joanna Hoffman’s, Jobs’ most trusted friend and confidante. While Hoffman does take an awful lot of crap from Jobs throughout the majority of this flick, there are still those instances in which we see her take control and remind him that, not only will she not put up with so much garbage, but throw it right back at him as well. By the end, the flick tries to bring up some honestly valid points about why Hoffman’s and Jobs’ relationship never became anything more than just business, but also, reminds us that it’s not all about sex to make a person love another; sometimes, it’s all about respect and care. Winslet is amazing in this role and, if things work out her way, she might be looking at another Oscar come that time.

Then again, I don’t want to cross my fingers.

Same goes for Danny Boyle as director. While it looks nice and definitely keeps itself moving at a fine pace, Boyle’s direction, does what it needs to do. I know that’s a surprise to be saying about Danny Boyle, but honestly, the movie didn’t need his direction to make things work as well as they do; it certainly helps, for sure, but the movie isn’t made or broken because of it. It just still works, which is probably all that it needed to be, because it’s my favorite of the year.

So far.

Consensus: The combo of an intelligent script from Aaron Sorkin and well-done cast, help allow for Steve Jobs to be more than just an acting-piece, and instead, an actual look inside the mind and life of an icon that we need to know more about.

9.5 / 10

One of these days, Stevie, this could all be yours. Just stop being an asshole.

One of these days, Stevie, this could all be yours. Just stop being an asshole.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Blackhat (2015)

Can 2014’s “World Sexiest Man really be a hacker?

After both America and China are taken by surprise by a ruthless, controlling hacker whom decides to rob the banks of all their worth, both sides agree to work together. However, in order to work together peacefully and hopefully find whoever the hacker is and stop him at once, they might have to make a bit of a compromise: Allow for notorious network-hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) to join in. While the U.S. is initially skeptical of doing this, because doing so, would also grant Nicholas furlough, as a result, they realize that the reward is greater than the risk, so they decide to allow Nicholas in on the investigation. And while, at first, it seems to be going according to plan, with them finding out who the hacker is and their location, they soon begin to realize that discovering the identity was the easy part; actually nabbing this person(s) once and for all, is still left to do. Which yes, means there’s going to be a lot of blood-shed and, quite possibly, many of lives lost. Still, it’s Nicholas who wants to stick to his intense hacking-skills to hopefully save the day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

Literally how I imagine he stares at a computer every day.

It’s odd that Michael Mann hasn’t made a movie in nearly six years. But what’s even weirder is that, after all of this time, the movie that will ultimately make-up for his hiatus from the big screen, gets placed in the most deadly months of all movie month’s: January! While this doesn’t mean that every movie released in January, you know, without having already had an “awards-consideration” buzz beforehand, is downright rubbish, it just means that most of the time, the movies aren’t always the best of quality. Most of the time, it’s just the kind of movies that the major-studios want to get off their hands once and for all, in hopes that they’ll make some sort of profit in the meantime, although they aren’t really keeping the fingers crossed.

And while, since we’re being honest here Blackhat may not be the total exception to that rule, it’s still an alright crime-thriller that deserves to be seen if you need a little hope and sanity in a month like this. Or also, if you’ve just missed Michael Mann so nearly and dearly that you have to see what he’s been up to that’s had you waiting for the past five years since Public Enemies. Which, for me at least, made the wait seem a whole lot longer.

But I digress.

Since this is a Michael Mann production, it’s obvious to expect most of the trademarks that come along with that neat style of his; of course there’s going to be much use of the hand-held, digital-camera, an strange, retro-ish blend of colors, and a score that recalls the glory days of the Human League and Gary Numan, among many other of those New Wave-ish bands that I’m not too in love with, but are at least suitable for two hours or so. And while that style of his can be a tad too over-done at times, it still added a nice flair and pizzazz to a story that, quite frankly, needed plenty of it. Not just to help keep things alive and energetic for some of the viewers who might be dozing off, but to at least help keep things as simple as humanly possible, as hard of a task as that may have been.

Because, though Mann seems to be getting at somewhere with technology in the modern-age, which is, if you’ve left the cave you’ve been living under for the past few years, will understand that it’s an idea that’s as relevant as you’re going to get. Mann, by bringing up such tragedies like 9/11 and nuclear crisis’, seems like he’s trying to make a point about how technology has impacted our world more than we know it, and it’ll sometimes draw people into deep, dark and sadistic worlds that they don’t already expect themselves to be in. These deep, dark and sadistic worlds that I speak of, are the same kinds that Mann normally loves to explore, but here, it feels like he’s maybe trying a bit too hard to make this more than just a silly, sometimes over-the-top crime-thriller that has Thor banging on the keyboards a lot.

In fact, while I’m on the subject, I might as well begin to speak about Chris Hemsworth and just say, despite his obvious effort in the matter, he isn’t the right fit for this role as a slick, sly and cool technology-hacker. Sure, he gets the slick, sly, and cool aspect down perfectly, as you’d expect him to, but he just seems too hunky enough to really be taken seriously as a guy who apparently knows all sorts of network’s codes and maps by heart. Also, not to mention the fact that since his character is American, he’s forced to use this accent that is so odd, I wonder where Mann would have said he was from, had the character’s place-of-origin really been that important to know about. This isn’t me hating on Hemsworth for being everything that I could ever want in my life (it is true), because I’ve actually come close to loving him in plenty of other movies, it’s just that here, he isn’t right.

Yeah! That's what I'm talking about, baby!

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about, baby! More! More! More!

That’s less of his fault and more of Mann’s, but so be it.

Anyway, that aside, the movie’s still fun and seems like, when it gets the intensity going, it’s as exciting as you’ll get with a Michael Mann movie – bullets are flying every which way but loose, people are getting shot, blood is being drawn, and most of all, it’s all done so in Mann’s trademark slo-mo. Once again, a lot of this movie gets style-points for whenever Mann just does his thing, but it’s when he decides to go a bit deeper with this story, it’s meaning, and how all the mechanics get worked out in the end, he more than often stumbles. Which isn’t to say a movie that uses hacking so often is automatically going to get points off from me, because I’m too stupid and clearly don’t get anything that have to do with computers or internet-connections (I still use dial-up, people). No, it’s more so when you throw so many random curveballs at your audience, without ever explaining how they are done, and are only used to keep the story moving, then I have a bit of a problem. I’ll get on any movie’s case for it. However, it just so happens that the one movie’s case I’m getting on is Michael Mann’s first in a long time.

Welcome back, Michael. Hope you stay around some more and at least make some better movies.

Consensus: Though it thinks it’s smarter than it ought to, Blackhat still works best whenever Michael Mann is allowing for all sorts of violence to blow-up and hopefully get past a poorly-cast, but trying, Chris Hemsworth.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Swear I wasn't looking. Okay, fine, maybe.....

Swear I wasn’t looking. Okay, fine, maybe…..

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Drop (2014)

Never trust a silent bartender. Don’t even bother tipping them, either.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a bit of a lone wolf in that, he mostly keeps to himself, goes to work at the bar his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), run, and goes to Church every Sunday. Also, occasionally he drops some money to fellow gangsters who own his bar. So yeah, life is good for Bob, that is, until he discovers a beaten-up and bruised puppy in a trashcan. Which yeah, doesn’t seem all that bad considering that he takes it in as his own and even names it, but he starts to develop a relationship with the woman who found it with him (Noomi Rapace), which brings around her ex-boyfriend, the near-psychotic Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Also, to make matters worse, he and Marv’s place ends up getting robbed, which means that they have to find a way to pay the owners back, or else they’ll be sleeping with the fishes. And if things couldn’t get even worse for these two fellas, a local detective (John Ortiz) starts sticking his nose in certain places that comes a little too close to comfort for both of them.

What we have here is another one of those simple crime-thriller dramas that, on paper, don’t really seem like much: Quiet dude finds dog, quiet takes dog in, quiet dude falls in love with dog, quiet dude’s life suddenly becomes a whole lot of hell. That sounds boring and, like I noted before, on paper, it probably would be. However, that’s what happens when you’re able to transport something to the silver screen, where you not only having somebody direct others about how certain scenes are supposed to sound or look, but also those “others” being some very talented actors and actresses that can jump into any role, without ever making us second-guess their casting decision.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

I’m rambling on so much like this because it’s so very often I get a small, intimate movie such as this, that doesn’t feel like it’s being that way due to budget-constraints. There are so many movies out there (aka, indies), that feel like they have a small scope because they can’t go anywhere else. Here however, director Michaël R. Roskam keeps his story tiny, because that’s what it exactly is: A small crime-tale of a bunch of thugs, low-life’s and simple do-gooders that just can’t help but be taken down by the world they live in.

And that’s why most of the Drop works; whenever it pays close attention to these characters, their connections to one another and what makes them who they are, the movie stays interesting. They’re not the best-written characters in the whole world, but they’re done well enough to where you can find a little something to sympathize with in each and everyone of them. Then again though, it’s also easy to be able to distrust some of them too and realize that while on the surface, they may be fine, simple-minded people, deep down inside, underneath all of the tucks and turns, they can be really mean, almost savage-like people. They can easily do the wrong thing, to the wrong person, and continue to move on with their lives as is, even if it does beat them up inside. They’re just trying to survive in a world that, for the most part, could live on without them.

Sounds like some pretty sad, mopey stuff to deal with here, but I can assure you, the movie’s not nearly as dark as I present it to be. There is some humor to be found and when the actual crime-angle of this story starts to develop, there can be some fun to be found. However, the double-edged sword here is that while it may be fun to watch a bunch of gangsters go around, shooting, killing and yelling obscenities at one another, it doesn’t really add up to much like the character-based drama does. Still though, I can’t complain too much because while there is plenty of moments just simply dedicated to people doing bad things, there are still more than a few scenes where it’s just two characters getting to know one another better and for me, that was always something to watch and listen to. Even if, sometimes, it didn’t pan-out to much in the end other than being “bad guy”, “good guy”.

And a lot of that credit deserves to go towards Roskam, who got a very good cast together and allowed them to just sink their teeth into some small, bare-bones material we don’t see too often from these actors. Tom Hardy is doing that silent-yet-demanding thing he does in most of his movies, and while he has to do it this time with a New York-accent, the guy handles it very well. We get the feeling right away that this character is a good guy, but we also understand that there may be some darkness lying underneath it all and Hardy’s to thank for making us think that each and everytime this character’s morals get called into question.

I don't know who's scarier.

I don’t know who’s scarier.

Even Noomi Rapace does a fine job playing something of New York white trash, even if she has to do the accent, too. She’s nice enough to where you could see why some normal, everyday dude would want to take a run at her, but you can also tell that she’s been through a whole heck of a lot in her life as is, so she won’t put up with it anymore. Her and Hardy develop a nice bit of chemistry that definitely seems like it’s going to lead some heavy foreplay, and to just watch as they both wonder how to go about it is neat, especially since these characters both seem to know what they want, they just don’t know to go about getting it from the other.

You know, much like how most of my relationships with the opposite-sex are!

Anyway, most of the spotlight is being put on this film because it just so happens to feature the final performance from one James Gandolfini and honestly, it’s a great swan song for him to go out on. It’s not the most perfect performance he’s ever done and it sure as hell isn’t much different from his days as Tony Soprano, but it’s the kind of role that makes us look at Gandolfini and realize what a talent he truly was. He was mean and nasty when he wanted to scare a room full of children, but he could also lighten any mood of a scene with that big grin of his. But no matter what, you always knew that there was more to his character than what he was presenting, which is why it was always a pleasure of watching him just act; something he definitely seemed perfectly suited to do right from the very start.

Consensus: The crime-thriller aspects of the Drop may not always mesh very well with the character-based ones, but nonetheless, it’s still an interesting watch, especially if you want to see some great actors put in some wonderful work. And most of all, if you want to see James Gandolfini’s final role ever on film.

8 /10 = Matinee!!

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Cesar Chavez (2014)

Hail Cesar!

César Chávez (Michael Peña) was a man that believed in sticking up for himself and his people, even if it didn’t mean having to take matters into your own hands. César had a problem with the way Mexican farm-workers were being treated; they made very little, worked for very long and if they decided not to work any longer, then they would be forced to go back to their native country. So yeah, of course César saw this as “wrong”, which is why he decides not to stand for it any longer and get together as many of people he possibly can on his side, to face-off against the powers that be – aka, the head of these major companies making these workers work so hard, long and without much of a reward to show for it. Throughout César’s mission, he goes through his usual ups, his downs and even finds himself questioning whether or not there’s any reason to fight for a cause/group of people, that are clearly out-matched, out-numbered, and out-of-their-element when it comes to how the government does things and if they do so in a moral way, or let the sound of money and pride get in the way of doing what is right.

Well, there you have it, folks. It needed to happen sooner or later, but we have finally gotten the César Chávez biopic. Is it the one we deserve? Eh, not really, but I guess if there is one thing that this movie gets right, it’s that it informs those of us out there as to why this man mattered, why his cause was just and how much his impact has been felt on the world today. With that aspect of the film taken in and thought about, then yeah, director Diego Luna (yes, the actor) gets the job done. No questions asked.

"Twenty-on-one, brah. What you gonna do?"

“Twenty-on-one, brah. What you gonna do?”

However, when it comes down to giving us a heartfelt, emotional and complex story about one man’s struggle to fight for what he believes in, as well as staying true to himself, his values and those who are close to him? Eh, I wouldn’t say so.

See, where I think Luna runs into the problem with this movie is that he clearly loves and has so much respect for César Chávez in the first place, that you never get an sense that we’re watching a movie that’s trying to get us to know exactly who this man. Much rather, we get the story about what this man did, those he cared for and why he believed in sticking up for his people. That’s all we really get and even though I wasn’t expecting Diego Luna to throw out some random bits or pieces of info that would have César Chávez look as if he was a downright, despicable human being, I still would have liked to seen a little more detail into the mistakes he made along the way.

Sure, we get to see that he runs into conflicts with his wife, but only because she feels as if she’s being tied-down too much and not given the time to stretch her own wings and fly around for a bit. And sure, we get to see him have problems with other members of the group, but only because where as he wants to rebel in a calm, sophisticated, no-violence way, they all want to take out their dukes and start rumbling a bit. Oh, and sure, we see how much the law-enforcement acted so wrongly against him, as well as the rest of the group, but that’s only because their a bunch of racist, bigoted Southern assholes that have nothing else better to do with their time, money or house-maids, then just take out their shotguns and wailing it around some.

You get the point now? It isn’t that Luna paints César Chávez as the most perfect person on the face of the planet, but it doesn’t really do much to show him at his faults either. Apparently he wasn’t that great of a father to his son either, which comes and goes as it pleases and only seems desperately thrown in there to create some more conflict and family-drama, when in reality, we don’t really need anymore of it at all. All we really need is an honest story about a man we should know a whole lot more about coming out of, than going into, but somehow, it ended up just being the same. Even for someone like me, who only knows the man of César Chávez, his influence and his impact, through the beautiful workings of WikiPedia.

Ah, what a wonderful and nifty tool it is to have the internet exist in today’s day and age. How wonderful indeed.

Cause with that hat, how could you not be a dick?

Cause with that hat, how could you not be a dick?

If there’s anything really worth seeing this movie for, it’s mainly for the fact that Luna makes a smart choice in giving Michael Peña a rare chance at a lead role for once and a lifetime, and the guy does an okay job with it. I can’t really say that it’s anything spectacular or even better than what we’ve seen him do in some smaller, supporting roles, but with what material he’s given, which is rather thin, Peña delivers. Same goes for America Ferrera who fits-in perfectly as Chávez’s wife, even though she’s given the conventional-role of “the house-mother that sits at home all day, does nothing and just wants to be apart of something fun and exciting”. It’s a role we’ve all seen written a million times before, and somehow, Ferrera makes it a bit more watchable and even creates a realistic-piece of chemistry between her and Peña.

The supporting cast has a whole bunch of familiar-faces, which are great to see and all, but none of them really stand-out among the rest; which, once again, may have more to do with the script, rather than their own acting-abilities. Rosario Dawson shows up every once and a blue moon during this as one of Chávez’s most-trusted supporters; Wes Bentley plays a free-lovin’, hippie lawyer-brah that backs up Chávez when he needs all the help he can get; and out of everybody here, the one who made the biggest impression on me was John Malkovich as one of the owners of these major-companies that Chávez and his people are speaking-out against. Malkovich is clearly soaking up the sun as, who is presumed to be, the baddie, but he actually gives a nice moment of humanism where we see him talk about his days of growing up as a Scandinavian immigrant in America, and how he had to work his way up the ladder to become the man who he is today. It doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s being a total and complete, money-grubbing prick that doesn’t give two hoots about his workers, their families, or their livelihoods, but it definitely does throw us a curve-ball in terms of the way we view this character. Love it when that happens in any movie, and I wish there was more of that in here.

Consensus: Though it boasts a few fine performances worth seeing, Cesar Chavez feels more like a tribute to the man, rather than an actual narrative, where we get to see him for all that he was, good qualities, as well as bad ones, alike.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Still pissed somebody hasn't filled his glass back-up yet.

Still pissed somebody hasn’t filled his glass back up yet.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

Dan does typing. Dan likes typing. Dan continues typing.

Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a meek, mild and closed-off guy that doesn’t really ask for much from others, so therefore, he never gets asked of much in return. He’s sort of just there, without really bringing anything to the table or to the world, even though he does have a pretty fine job as a limo driver. Through mutual friends, Jack gets set-up with a woman who is a little bit of the same as him (Amy Ryan), although a tad more scared of a human-connection, which she apparently has a dark history about. Together, they meet, they hit it off and Jack suddenly becomes interested in cooking, being a better guy and even learning how to boat, so that he can take him and his girl out on it. On the other hand, we have Jack’s best buddy, Clyde (John Ortiz), who is having a bit of his own lady problems; except in his case, it’s his long-term wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). All four do spend time together, hang out, eat food, get drunk and try to have fun, but eventually, problems do begin to arise for both couples and lead to some very sad, very upsetting truths being unearthed.

Usually when an actor goes to make that jump from being in front of the screen, to trying their hand at the back of it, most of the time, they tend to go for the small, sweet and simple stories that aren’t that big, or ambitious to pull-off well with a lot of skill. All they need is just a simple idea of how to handle a camera, and basically, just know how to film a movie, of which most actors-turned-directors have a clear idea of. Or at least they should have.

"So....uh, should we kiss? Or, I mean, we don't have to? Not if you don't want to, that is. You know? Okay...uhm yeah. Kiss, right?"

“So….uh, should we kiss? Or, I mean, we don’t have to? Not if you don’t want to, that is. You know? Okay…uhm yeah. Kiss, right?”

So, that’s why when Philip Seymour Hoffman decided that he wanted to try and shake things up a bit with his own career and get behind the action, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d not only adapt a play he starred in back in the day, but also not try to really reach out of his limits as a director. Which, for some directors, would be rather lame, but for him, it works in its own condensed, easy-going way.

Sure, there’s nothing here about Jack Goes Boating that’s really life-changing or revolutionary in terms of what you’ll be thinking about when it ends, but does every movie need to change your life? Especially when all it’s about is a bunch of people with some very closed-off personalities who just so happen to know one another, and talk and fall in love? Yeah, I don’t think so and I have to give Hoffman at least credit for not really trying to over-step his boundaries as a director. If it was somebody like Scorsese, or Spielberg, or even Spike Lee behind the mantel, then yeah, I’d be a little ticked-off and disappointed considering I usually expected them to make something, out of anything, no matter how small or large; but as for Hoffman – the guy never over-steps anything that’s given to him. Instead, he just focuses on our four characters and gives them a chance to show us why they deserve to be looked at, thought about and discussed.

And even if you don’t go that far into your thought-process with these characters, there’s nothing all that wrong with that because each and everybody is good with their own respective roles, which is something to applaud Hoffman for in at least handing over the spotlight, on many occasions, to his supporters in this rather tiny cast. Even so though, it’s apparently clear that Hoffman really owns the screen whenever he gives himself a chance to do so, and it’s great to see him play this nervous, awkward and twitchy guy, but not done so in a way that we’ve seen him do before in something like Magnolia and Happiness (where he was a lot more creepier). Jack’s just a simple guy, who wants to impress this lady of his that he just met and practically fell head-over-heels for and we can’t help but want to see the big lug get his happiness, get the love of his life and best of all, get his boating-license. There are small goals these characters set for themselves, and just being able to watch them as they try their hardest to get to that point, truly is something worth seeing, especially in Jack’s case.

However, as much as this story may be Jack’s, it could have easily been Clyde’s as well, and it still would have been just as compelling, if not more. Most of that has to do with the character is written so richly to where you get a general idea that he’s a different person everywhere he goes, but that’s also because John Ortiz himself is so damn good in the role, making you think just what the hell he is going to do next every time he shows up. Ortiz has been one of my favorite character actors since I first checked him out in American Gangster, and I’m happy to see that not much has changed; especially here with his role as Clyde where he gets to show all sorts of sides to his character. Clyde can sometimes be too touchy and put people in an uncomfortable situation; sometimes too open to the point of where he’s revealing stuff his wife sure as hell wouldn’t want revealed in a million years; sometimes too happy and spirited to where he’s just simply over-bearing; and sometimes, he can be a bit of a dick, saying and doing the wrong things, to the wrong people, at the wrong moments. However, I never hated Clyde for doing these things because I truly did feel like he always meant well and never meant to hurt those around him. Mainly Jack, though.

Women: Always driving us men to drink.

Women: Always driving us men to drink.

The ladies get to do some fine work as well with both Daphne Rubin-Vega and Amy Ryan putting in some fabulous work that clearly challenges the guys in how well they can developed and looked-at. Rubin-Vega is great here and seems like the type of wife that can put up with Clyde’s crap for as long as she has, but also seems like the type of woman who doesn’t want to be tied-down too much, regardless of if it hurts her hubby’s feelings or not. We should dislike her for that, but we sometimes see just how pushy Clyde can be, so instead, we sort of sympathize with her and hope the two work it out. As for Ryan, she has a bit more of the “shticky” role where she gets to be odd, off-kilter and slightly neurotic, but never to the point of where it’s annoying. Rather, we always feel like we’re seeing a truly messed-up person who definitely wants love in her life, but just can’t get past that point into intimacy where she has to giver her whole-self to that one and only person. That’s why her scenes with Jack truly are nice to watch, especially their little kiss in the snowfall. Only Ryan and Hoffman could pull that scene off so well, but with Hoffman directing that, it feels all the more sweeter.

Poor guy. He truly will be missed. Another legend gone from the silver screen. But at least we have the memories. At least we have the memories.

Consensus: Essentially, Jack Goes Boating is the type of small, uneventful directorial-debut we expect to see from a well-known actor trying to make that stride over to the other side, but Philip Seymour Hoffman still shows that he was a good director, and definitely understood the tiny, simple and easy-going pleasures of these character’s lives, as well the fact of life itself.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

At least he got a chance to reach his goal. Good for Jack.

At least he got a chance to reach his goal. Good for you, Jack.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Narc (2002)

It seems like every cop in Detroit is dirty and never does a nice thing for anybody. Only in the movies, though, and I don’t know how much fact there is behind that.

The plot revolves around the efforts of two police detectives (Jason Patric and Ray Liotta) as they search for the murderer of an undercover police officer. As they proceed in the investigation they engage in suspect tactics and give viewers a glimpse into the seedy side of undercover work.

Right before I even got into watching this movie, I was thinking that it was going to be another fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled, cop-action movie but instead, I got something totally different, and probably a hell of a lot more gritty. Actually, “gritty” is probably the best word to describe this flick as I could literally taste the blood, sweat, and dirt that seemed to fall right-through the camera and into my face. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad and literal, but you get what I mean: it’s pretty freakin’ gritty!

I have to give a lot of props to writer/director Joe Carnahan, who takes a pretty normal cop-story of two detectives on opposite ends of the spectrum, that are looking for a killer, and giving it a dark and eerie style that kept me involved with this film even when it seemed to be a tad too predictable. Carnahan makes this film look just as depressing as these two characters are, and it shows us just what sort of terrible side-effects come along with being an undercover cop. Yeah, it’s another one of those hand-held camera style movies, but it’s not as annoying this time around since nobody really saw a Paul Greengrass film around the time this came-out so the hand-held camera was still young, innocent, and normal, just like my grade-school days. Oh dear, how they went to waste after. Definitely not as fun and easy as other movies make it out to be, but Carnahan shows us differently, but that is also another separate-reason as to why I liked this movie so much.

The main mystery surrounding this film was pretty good, but what really got me involved with this story was Carnahan’s detailed-attention to its characters, that not only made me feel something for them, but also made me realize just why they were doing all of this undercover ish to begin with. You get a feel for how these guys go through their jobs on a daily basis and it doesn’t seem like that much of a walk in the park at all. These guys pretty much have to deal with terrible shit all of the time at-work, only to come home, some more terrible shit with their wives/families hootin’ and hollerin’ at them for choosing a job like this. Maybe the film doesn’t go that far in showing us how these guys live but I like what I saw with these characters and it kept me riveted through every twist and turn this story took. The attention to characters made more of an emotional-bump for me, just when things started to seem to get very, very sour for these jokers in the end.

What I was bummed out by here was that the story does get ultimately formulaic by the end and I could kind of tell just where this story was going, mainly because of the type of cliches I’m used to seeing with all of these cop-dramas. There’s a certain point in this flick where you realize that something is a little not all that right with one character, and it starts to turn into something we have all seen before. The same old, tired “bad-cop, good-cop” element starts to get in the way and take over the flick which was a real, real shame for me as I felt like I really was getting to see a new, interesting, and fresh-take on the whole cop-drama. Instead, I was only saddened by the fact that Carnahan starts to lose himself and give us what we didn’t want in the first-place: predictability.

Let me also not forget to mention that the ending does feel a tad rushed. There’s a whole bunch of twists with the ending and how everything with this mystery actually did happen, but that’s not what really bothered me. What really bothered me was how they just dove right into it as soon as the tension was really picking up and it made me feel like Carnahan was a bit too scared of over-staying, his welcome which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the first place, but he almost seems like he dropped the ball a bit too early. Then again though, this guy has some real talent for taking a generic story like this and give it an unpredictable feel so I can’t hit him too much.

Having said all of that junkola, the real reason this story works so well is because of the performances given by everybody here, especially the two main stars. Jason Patric is, in my opinion, a very underrated actor but with his performance here as Nick Tellis, he shows that he has the dramatic range to be a great leading man. He’s trying to get away from all of these problems he’s been having as an undercover cop, trying to seek some peace at home with his wife, and is just trying to do the right thing but the guy keeps on finding himself in once again, terribly shitty situations. Patric displays this sadness very well here and is character that’s easy to trust even though he may not have all of the right answers.

I was actually very impressed with Ray Liotta as Lieutenant Henry Oak, a guy who I would not want to be stuck in the room alone with at all. This guy is one hard-as-nails son of a bitch that’s a force to be reckoned with throughout this whole flick but he also shows a lot of heart too, that made me feel something for this lean and mean character. There’s a little monologue that Liotta gives that makes you realize that this character has a lot more going on then you would first imagine, and it’s a very good scene that shows Liotta isn’t so bad when it comes to drama. Shame that this guy doesn’t get better roles nowadays, but maybe he’s done that to himself. Who knows.

Consensus: Even though it’s ultimately a pretty formulaic cop story, writer/director Joe Carnahan gives Narc a style that is gritty, mean, and grungy, and the performances from Patric and Liotta make this more than just another another, run-of-the-mill story about two messed up cops.

7/10=Rental!!

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Man, I’m glad to be from Philadelphia.

Bradley Cooper stars as a sad sack loser named Pat trying to get back on his feet after suffering a mental breakdown. When he meets a mysterious girl named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) with problems of her own, an unexpected bond begins to form between them.

As many of you out there may know, I’m a proud Philadelphian through and through, and to see and hear about a big-budget, Hollywood rom-com be filmed around my parks was surely something that had me interested. I mean honestly, it’s been awhile since the City of Brotherly Love has had a good movie come from it’s native-land in a long, long time and that’s why I was a bit skeptical of just how well this one would do, despite it’s somewhat generic premise. Then, a miracle started to occur right in front of my eyes, as the reviews started to tricked in and I realized: this movie could be the next Rocky, in terms of representing Philly and making all of those who live there, proud to be apart of a city that deserves all the love and praise (in some ways). Then, lastly, another miracle came my way and made me realize something: I LOVED THIS MOVIE.

Yes, I just used the “L word” and with good reason, because this film is exactly what I wanted in a rom-com/character-drama. Director David O. Russell steps out of the boxing ring, and into the streets of Prospect Park (holla!), which may definitely seem a bit odd at first considering this is a character-drama that focuses on people who have problems and don’t really do much about it except talking, and not just go into the ring and beat the shit out of each other, but in a way, you can almost tell that the guy is as ever comfortable as he has ever been with material like this. See, earlier in the review, I stated that this was a “big-budget, Hollywood rom-com”, but I was wrong. Dead-wrong. Actually, it’s more of a very indie-like, rom-com that down-plays everything that we have come to know and expect from any movie of this unoriginal genre, and thank O. Russell for that because that’s the real charm behind this movie.

Right from the first-shot of this movie, I couldn’t help but be swarmed in by all of the fun, humor, and wittiness of this setting and script and as soon as more and more characters became introduced to the story, I knew that I was only getting started on this wild-ride. Every piece of dialogue between these characters is always fun, always interesting, and always something that feels realistic and believable, especially when you actually consider the characters. The real risk O. Russell takes with this movie and these characters, is that he introduces us to people that aren’t exactly the most likable or lovable people we would want to watch a movie about, let alone spend 2 hours with, but somehow, the script makes you forget all about that and you really see something underneath all of the humor, goofiness, and weirdness of these characters, you actually see a heart to it all.

What I loved so much about this flick is how it takes a look at love, through the eyes of a heart-broken man, that has literally been pistol-whipped by love, and can’t figure out just how to go back to the life he once had and make right with everybody he knew, so instead, he just goes back to his old ways and tries to convince everybody that he is the same dude he was 8 months ago when he was shipped-away to crazy town. However, sooner or later, as predictable as it may sound, this guy eventually has to come to terms with what is true and what is not, and eventually that takes a toll on his life and what he thinks he should do with it. This idea of picking yourself back-up from a broken-heart and broken-life, by doing whatever you can to make yourself better each day-by-day is an idea that really resonated with me, as I can definitely say that there have been many times throughout my life where I’ve realized I can be happy in my life if I just allow myself to be better as each day goes by.

However, as corny and gooey as I may make this sound, this film is definitely not all about that. This love that is eventually carried-out, is not something we are used to seeing in movies and what’s even weirder is what the script brings into the fore-front of this love and what gets in the way of it. To be short, without giving too much away, the film combines crazy people, dancing, and the Philadelphia Eagles all into one movie and shows you that as weird of a combination that may be, you give it some real heart and depth, than anything can freakin’ work. I loved this film for showing me, once again, that making your life better is certainly on you but can also be used by allowing yourself to help others and have others help you. It’s a beautiful message that may seem as conventional as they may come, but this film carries it out in a way that isn’t and makes you re-think about where your life/love-life may be heading, and how you can make everything around you, well, better. I know, I know, I’m corny as can be but seriously, this film will make you feel like there is nothing wrong with you, or the world you surround yourself with.

I also think that most of the feelings I have for this movie mainly come from the “romance” between the two lead characters: Pat and Tiffany. First of all, Pat and Tiffany are not necessarily a romantic-couple, even though they may show signs of it. In their own, strange ways, they are both a bit crazy and off-kilter from the rest of the world, but the feelings they share about the things around them has them connect on a way that makes you believe in them as people that could definitely meet and be friends, but also be together, fall in love, and make themselves, and everyone else around them better as well. The whole movie is pretty strange in the directions it goes towards, and that’s mainly thanks to these two and it’s just great to see a rom-com about a couple that doesn’t necessarily fall in love right on impact, and can’t really show each other the type of love-signs we have come to expect from generic characters in these types of movie. Pat and Tiffany is the perfect, anti-rom-com couple that makes it all the more disappointing that once things do get a bit conventional and soapy by the end, it’s a bit too hard to believe or be satisfied with. However, it’s not to the point of where I felt like the whole movie was ruined for me. Just a tad bit of it was. Just a tad bit, mind you.

Despite that itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, little problem, these characters are still great to watch together, especially considering the cast that’s behind them all. Bradley Cooper probably gives his finest performance yet as Pat, by showing that he can let-loose with his manic-energy that definitely shows he still has that pitch-perfect comedic-timing, but also shows a bit of a darker side to him as well. For Cooper, lately, there hasn’t really been a film that’s showed him off a true, dramatic-force to be reckoned with and it’s more that his comedy-skills have been used a hell of a lot better, and showed-off more than I expected. However, his role as Pat allows him to break free from that mold, give us a character that is a bit off his rocker, isn’t always the nice guy when it comes to certain situations and choices that he makes, but also, always allow us to feel some sort of sympathy for the dude as well. Cooper gives off what could possibly be his closest shot to an Oscar nomination this year, and you know what, I think the guy deserves that at least because he nails this role to a “T” here and it’s just great to see him finally break-out and combine what he does best: comedy and drama.

I was a bit skeptical of Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, because the character is definitely supposed to be a lot older than Lawrence’s 22-years of age and would seem a bit weird considering that Cooper is 37, but surprise, surprise, Lawrence makes this work like no other. What’s so beautiful about Lawrence here is not only is she able to really have us believe in this gal that could be so weird and cooky, but also have us believe that she is as old and damaged as she is. Tiffany is not the easiest character to really get right from the start as you can tell that she has some problems that may need more fixing than just a simple dance-competition, but Lawrence is so natural with this gal that you can’t help but want to reach your hand out to her, even when Pat doesn’t seem to be. Lawrence is everything you would want her to be in this role and yet, it’s something that we have never seen from her before. She’s vulnerable, but never asking for sympathy; she’s sad, but never mopey; she’s smart, but never condescending; she’s weird, but never to the point of where she’s considered “crazy”; and she’s good-looking, but never to the point of where you wouldn’t believe her is as this older, sadder-woman that comes to terms with the life she lives and where it’s going. Basically, in a nutshell, Lawrence is perfect for this role and if she doesn’t at least get a nomination for her role here, then I’m really going to be ticked off. Seriously, this girl has tons and tons of amount of promise going for her and I’ve already forgotten about House at the End of the Street. Even though, I can’t believe how I remembered that title.

As much as this is Cooper and Lawrence’s show, everybody else on the side still gets their own chances to shine and jeez, am I ever so glad for that, because their just as good too. Thank you so much David O. Russell, for giving us a meaty-role for Robert De Niro that shows us why everybody loved the guy so much in the first-place. De Niro plays Cooper’s OCD-like father that can’t seem to ever miss an Eagles game, and is absolutely terrific in a role that shows how much one man can love a son, but also want the best for him and try to give him advice on how to make his life better. It’s a role that shows De Niro at his finest, that we haven’t seen from him in a long-time and as much as he may down-play it, he still lets loose a bit and still makes us laugh our asses off whenever he does the signature crunched-up face. Man, you gotta love De Niro!

As for his wife, played by Jacki Weaver, she’s great as well and shows us a lighter-side to her acting-skills, by giving her character a delightful smile that only wants what’s right for her boy and her family. Oh, and I forgot to thank David O. Russell for something! Thank you so much for bringing back Chris Tucker to a mainstream movie that isn’t co-starring Jackie Chan and reminding us why the guy is so damn funny in the first-place. Yeah, Tucker may have lost his signature, high-pitch voice that mostly everybody hated (even though I loved) and has definitely packed on a couple of pounds for good measure as well, but still shows us that he has that great comedic-timing that makes me wonder why the hell he isn’t in more stuff. Does his character matter all that much to the plot? Hell no, actually, if you got rid of him, nothing in this movie would ever change one-bit but it’s Chris Tucker, man! The guy’s hilarious and I want to see more of him.

Consensus: With a heart as big as the state of Philadelphia (not terribly big, but still big none the less), a message that hits the heart, characters that interest the hell out of you right from the start, and a script that balances quirky, comedy, drama, and romance altogether, Silver Linings Playbook is exactly the type of feel-good movie you want to see this Winter-break, especially if you have ever longed for someone to tell you that your life is worth it and is something that’s meant to be made better not just by others around you, but yourself, as well. Definitely go out there, and go see it. Especially, if you’re from Philly. Then again, I feel like that’s obvious enough already.

9/10=Full Price!!

Fast & Furious (2009)

Sometimes, car explosions never do get old.

Fugitive ex-con Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) must team with his old nemesis Agent Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and take on a common enemy in the latest full-throttle installment of the speed-racing franchise. Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster reprise their roles as Letty and Mia, respectively.

This is the fourth film of the ever-so popular series about illegal street-racing, and it’s considered an inter-qual. Which means it takes place in between the second and the third, so if you’re following along with this story line, you won’t give much of a shit either.

Director Justin Lin brings a flair with editing to this film that really does work. The car chases look very cool and some of them may actually be very new, because a lot of the things they do here with the cars, is astonishing. Lin keeps the camera moving rapidly all-over-the-place, to give you the havoc feeling that these car chases would give, but you can also tell what’s going on, which is totally different from other car chases in films. Also, that GPS they have in here sounds like Stephen Hawkins hot sister, and had me laughing just about every time.

However, as usual with these films, the writing ranges from decent to bad. I’ll give this film some credit because it actually does try to be more character-driven than the past films, but the problem here is that it doesn’t work because all of the lines said here are either cheesy, or predictable. This is a more talky film than any other of the series, and I wouldn’t have minded if these characters didn’t sound like they were reading cue cards from 1980 action films. Although, when I look at it this film is called Fast & Furious, not Smart & Thought-Provoking.

The cheesy tag-line for this film is “New Model. Original Parts”, and those original parts have been sitting on the shelf doing nothing for the past few years. Vin Diesel brings back that sleepy-eye gaze, those huge biceps his V-neck can’t even contain, and that extremely likable bad-boy image to the character of Dom Toretto, and commands this story. It’s good to see Diesel doing what he does best, and it seems like this act never gets old for him. Paul Walker is his usual character as Brian O’Conner, and nothing is really wrong with that. Jordana Brewster who is bangin’ I must add, doesn’t really have much to do here as Mia. She’s in there just looking worried, angry, or some combination of the two. Michelle Rodriguez is in this film, for as about as long as I’m in the film, and it’s a little bit awkward since I think from the 22 DUI’s she’s gotten, she’s not actually allowed to drive, so she’s forced to just ride on trucks. John Ortiz does his best as the main bad-guy here, but the cheesy evil one-liners take over his character, to the point of where he becomes a laughing stock.

Consensus: The plot may be ludicrous, and the writing is the usual cheesy and predictable fare we have come to known of these films, but director Justin Lin brings back the old gang with awesome action sequences, and a different style of telling this story.

6/10=Rental!!