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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Marlene B. Russell

The Infiltrator (2016)

Pretty sure that Bryan Cranston doesn’t need drugs anymore to make himself seem cool.

By 1986, federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) had gone under cover so much, that it was all starting to catch up with him. Now, facing retirement with a pretty attractive benefit deal from the FBI, Mazur decides to do one last job that will not only put him in more good graces with those around him, but may also help solve the victor in the war on drugs. Working alongside fellow agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur poses as a slick, money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella, who works with some shady characters who’d much rather not have their finances be sitting around in some bank. But in order to seem more legit and get his target (who is basically Pablo Escobar), Mazur has to gain the trust and confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s top lieutenant. However, Mazur’s personal life starts to slip and slide into his professional one, and eventually, there comes a point where he doesn’t know whether he can complete the job to the best of his ability.

Diane just can't get enough of the 'stache.

Diane just can’t get enough of the ‘stache.

Everything about the Infiltrator is riled with cliches and conventions that we have seen so many times before in more interesting, much better flicks of the same nature. Heck, even TV shows like Narcos and Animal Kingdom seem to get this kind of corrupt and crime-fueled world so right, to the point of where you’d much rather watch them, rather than spend nearly two hours watching a story that you may or may not already know about, happen in the most conventional way imaginable. If you’re on a plane, or channel surfing at 2 a.m. and having nothing else better to do, then yeah, sure, it’s probably an exciting watch.

But if you have better stuff to watch, like say, the two aforementioned shows, then yeah, hit them up instead.

And honestly, the Infiltrator is not all that bad – if anything, it’s incredibly mediocre. As Brad Furman showed with the Lincoln Lawyer some years ago, he has a knack for getting a quality cast together, and giving them some relatively gritty, but fun material to work with. The likes of John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, and other all show up, and while some of them definitely have more to do than others, Furman gives them each enough time and attention to where it seems like he may possibly be interesting in exploring who they are and why they matter to a story like this.

But then again, at the same time, none of them are ever as developed as they should be, or at least, as much as Cranston’s Mazur is; Leguizamo comes the closest, but eventually, his character is just pushed to the back in favor of more crime, violence, blood and drugs. Cranston though, gets the bulk of the attention and he’s very deserving of it; once again, he’s playing a character that’s starting to develop more and more of a darker-side to himself than he ever expected and, as usual, the transformation is compelling. No matter how deep or dark Mazur the character may get, you always get the sense that, because of Cranston’s presence, that he’ll do the right thing and not break bad too much, to the point of almost no return.

But Bryan can.

But Bryan can.

But then, like I said, there’s the rest of the movie.

It’s all just fine, but a movie like the Infiltrator, where drugs, violence, crime, corruption, Latinos, and 80’s appear in almost every scene, shouldn’t be so middling. In fact, there’s a small stretch here where it’s just, plain and simply put, boring; there doesn’t seem to be anything really at-stake, nor does there ever seem to be anything worth holding onto. The war on drugs is currently going on in this flick, but rather than trying to make a comment or an idea about that, it just presents it as a thing that’s happening and yes, this story wouldn’t be told without it. And yeah, there’s nothing more to it than that.

Sure, maybe I’m expecting too much, or that I’ve seen one too many crime-dramas in the same vein as the Infiltrator, but still, that doesn’t excuse that the movie is rather boring, when it should be as fun and as exciting as can be. Even despite the conventional plot, the movie should still have the right amount of energy, excitement, and unpredictability to it. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that here; there are small bits and pieces where it seems like Furman is really trying to crank up the tension, but mostly, he backs away before anything gets too good.

Is that my fault, or his? I don’t know, but really, I don’t care. See the movie if you want, if not, no big deal.

In two weeks, you’ll probably forget that I even talked about it, regardless.

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, and wonderful central performance from the always reliable Cranston, the Infiltrator also feels very conventional and rather tepid.

5.5 / 10

And yes, he's pissed about it.

And yes, he’s pissed about it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

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Free States of Jones (2016)

Turns out, most racists don’t enjoy being on the end-side of a gun.

In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) served as a medic for the Confederate Army, where he treated and helped all sorts of soldiers who were either severely injured, slowly dying, or dead on arrival. Either way, it was terrible for Newt to be around and it made him see some unimaginable things that no man should ever have to see. And once his nephew dies in battle, Newt decides that he’s had it with the war and returns home to Jones County, his hometown. There, he safeguards his family, but therefore, is branded a deserter and chased by all army officials who are either looking to steal citizens goods and crops, or just looking to capture Newt and whoever else may be ducking the war. So now Newt has to run for the swamps and in there, he finds a fellow band of slaves, also trying to hide out and be free from the slavers, leading both Newt, as well as the slaves to create a union where they’ll fight-off the evil and corrupt army with all that they’ve got. It’s dangerous, but it leads to one of the biggest uprisings in U.S. history.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Director Gary Ross clearly has good intentions with Free State of Jones; in fact, so much so that it actually comes close to ruining the movie. There’s a lot that Ross has to cover and talk about here, and because of that, the movie runs in at nearly two-hours-and-19-minutes. For some, this may not be much of an issue, because there’s plenty to watch and learn about, but for mostly everyone else, it will just be a long, boring slog that never seems to end, never knows where it wants to go, nor ever seems any interest in actually exploring anything deeper than its message, which is, essentially, slavery was bad.

That’s it.

Free State of Jones, for its whole run-time, narrative choices, tricks, trades, and detours, eventually ends on a typical note that racism was bad, hating people for their skin-color is bad, and yeah, you should just be nicer to people. While this is definitely a fine statement to have in everyday life, this doesn’t really seem to break any new ground, nor open people’s minds up, especially when the movie is as long as this one is. And while I’m sure that this makes it appear that I didn’t like this flick, I’ll have you know, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, it’s messy, odd, confusing at points, and flawed, but there were bits and pieces of it that worked and interested me, long after having seen it.

Ross definitely has a lot he wants to talk about here and because of that, the movie can sometimes feel like a jumble; it’s also made even worse by the fact that his narrative-structure isn’t always the smartest to use. For example, he uses a lot of typeface that tells us what historical moments/occurrences are happening between scenes, as well as using a bunch of old-timey photos of certain characters and settings. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also frames it all with a story taking place in 1949, where a descendant of Newt Knight is trying to argue his race and family’s history.

They’re all interesting ideas to bring to a movie that covers as much ground as this one does, but are they the right ones?

Well, that’s kind of the issue with Free State of Jones – it takes a lot of risky steps, but doesn’t find a lot of them paying-off in the end. If anything, they seem to take away from the strength and the power of the actual, true story itself, in which a lot of bad things happen to good people and for all idiotic, except that, once again, this is all from history. Ross has an agenda and has something that he wants to say about the South, America’s history, and racism as a whole, and they’re all noble, but at the same time, it also keeps Free State of Jones from being a better movie. Sometimes, it’s just a little too messy and disjointed to really keep moving at a certain pace.

But for me, the pace actually worked for me. Ross isn’t trying to cram everything down our throats and at our eye-sockets all at one time – he takes his time, allowing for certain details about the story and these characters to come out, slowly, but surely. It’s very rare to get a big-budget, summer flick that doesn’t feel the need to go all crazy with explosions, guns, violence and a big, screeching score right off the bat; sometimes, all a movie needs to do is settle itself down to keep us on-track with everything that’s going on. Does it always work? Not really, but the times that it does, it helps make Free State of Jones a more interesting piece of history that, quite frankly, Hollywood seems to get wrong, or steer away from.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he's the man.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he’s the man.

And this is all to say that yes, Free State of Jones is violent, bloody, gruesome, and ugly, but in all the right ways. The movie is depicting a time in U.S. history that we all don’t like to look back on with smiles, so therefore, Free State of Jones gets as graphic as it humanly can about all of the mean and nasty injustices and deaths that occurred during this time. After awhile, it all gets to be a bit jarring, but that’s sort of the point; war, or even for that matter, violence, isn’t pretty, so why should a movie depicting it so much be?

Well, to answer that question: It shouldn’t.

And yes, the cast is quite good, even if it does sometimes feel as if they don’t always have a whole lot to do. Matthew McConaughey is as charming and likable as he can possibly be as Newt Knight, and it works in the character’s favor. You want to love his winning and charismatic smile, but you also want to believe that he is absolutely willing to sink to the lowest depths of humanity to protect himself, as well as those that he loves so much. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, a former slave who has some of the more emotional moments of the movie and quite frankly, they’re definitely needed. As for the women, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, play two interesting characters in Newt Knight’s life that, honestly, I would have liked to see their own movie about.

Maybe in another flick, perhaps?

Or then again, maybe not.

Consensus: Disjointed, uneven and a bit nonsensical, Free States of Jones doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, narratively speaking, but still offers up plenty of interesting truths about America’s bloody, brutal, and sometimes upsetting history.

6 / 10

"To freedom! I think!"

“To freedom! I think!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Daddy’s Home (2015)

Some kids are lucky enough to have a dad in the first place, but to have two that are Marky Mark and Ron Burgundy?

Brad Taggart (Will Ferrell) wants to have kids of his own, but due to a mishap at a dentistry, he unfortunately can’t. That’s why, when he meets Sarah (Linda Cardellin) and finds out she has two kids of her own, he’s more than happy to take on the duty of being their stepfather. While their father, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg), is sort of out of the picture, the kids still love and adore him a whole lot more than Brad, who they just see as “the guy who’s married to their mom”. Brad’s fine with this as he’ll try to do anything he can to win them over, which he does come very close to, until Dusty decides to come back home and stay around for his kids. Obviously, the kids are happy to see their daddy, which makes Brad feel as if he has to overcompensate for something. So, he and Dwight have a battle of wits, of sorts, all to decide just who isn’t the better man, but who is the better father and more equipped to handle a whole family-unit.

"And don't ever forget, always say 'hello' to ya mothers for me."

“And don’t ever forget, always say ‘hello’ to ya mothers for me.”

If anything, Daddy’s Home proves just how great of a comedy the Other Guys was. Even though it was basically just a romp on the buddy-cop genre, featuring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell playing off of one another the whole time, it was still so funny and wacky, that it didn’t mattered that it was a bit messy and if nothing more, just an enjoyable comedy. That’s why, when watching Wahlberg and Ferrell unite here together again and try to recreate some of that same magic, it’s hard not to feel like some of the spark may be missing; after all, the Other Guys came out around a time where Wahlberg was trying so desperately hard for everyone to take him ridiculously seriously and didn’t even bother to show his mug in a fun-spirited comedy that, quite frankly, made him look like a goober.

But at the same time, the issue with Daddy’s Home lies in the fact that it never quite knows what it wants to be. For instance, believe it or not, Daddy’s Home is rated a friendly PG-13, whereas, from the look of this, it seems like at least an R. Still though, the movie still flirts around with the idea of being this raucous, raunchy R-fest that likes to poke jokes at balls, fertility, and sex, whereas another good portion of this movie just wants to poke fun at kids and still be able to cuddle up with them at the end of the day. No matter which way the movie has it, it doesn’t work and seems a bit confusing.

Still though, there were parts of Daddy’s Home that had me laughing and when I looked back on it, quite enjoyed.

Most of this comes back to the fact that everybody in the cast, no matter what they’re working with, can’t help but be charming, funny and above all else, entertaining to watch. Ferrell, as usual, is overly-earnest and sweet as Brad, a role he has played many times before but this time, seems so dedicated in actually developing more and more as the flick rolls on, and Brad gets thrown into some very weird predicaments. That Brad hardly ever turns into a bad guy, makes Ferrell seem like he’s one-note, but there’s more to this character than just being a total and complete softy, which is how the movie could have presented it and left it at. Instead, the movie shows that this sweeter-side to his persona is, perhaps, what makes him the most lovely presence to have around.

The sweet babies I couldn't imagine these two making together.

The sweet babies I couldn’t imagine these two making together.

Of course, I’m definitely getting way too deep into thinking about Daddy’s Home like that, but hey, it goes a real long way when a comedy adds a bit more heart to its characters when it isn’t just embarrassing the hell out of them. And yeah, as Dusty, Wahlberg’s a fine fit; he’s both suave and cool, but at the same time, more than willing to let himself be the butt of any joke tossed at him. Together, Ferrell and Wahlberg still have great chemistry that doesn’t get used as much as it probably should have been, but for what it was worth, there were still plenty of jokes and gags to be found between the two that are, for lack of a better word, humorous.

And the cast goes on and on with the likes of Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress, Paul Scheer, Bill Burr, and Bobby Cannavale, all seem to try with their material and may not always come out on top, but still deliver enough to add a little bit of something on the top. Basically, it was just nice to see them and see the film not trying to ruin any of their personalities in the meantime; while Daddy’s Home could have easily been the movie to have them all look stupid and foolish for actually taking this gig up in the first place, it instead, rewards them for being able to play along for as much as they can. In a way, they’re all sort of like dads who know when it’s time to relax and take a chill, but because they love their family so much, continue on with whatever they’re doing to keep the smiles up.

Yeah, definitely thinking about this one too much, but so be it! I laughed, surprisingly, and well, so should you!

Consensus: Daddy’s Home isn’t perfect and definitely doesn’t allow for Wahlberg and Ferrell’s chemistry to shine on perfectly through, but is still funny enough to make it an enjoyable comedy to sit through and not be worried about who is being wasted on what jokes.

6.5 / 10

That sex would be fun to watch. Just saying.

That sex would be fun to watch. Just saying.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire