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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Mos Def

The Italian Job (2003)

If you’re going to pull-off a cool heist, your whole gang’s gotta be cool, too. It’s a known fact.

After a super, duper tricky heist in Venice, Steve (Edward Norton) turns on his partners in crime, and ends up killing skilled and legendary safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). Why? Well, Steve got greed and just wanted to keep all the gold for himself, and not try to cut in anyone else. The rest of the team that Steve ripped-off included leader Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives man Left Ear (Mos Def), and tech geek Lyle (Seth Green), or, as he likes to be called “Napster”, now all vow revenge. But in order to totally get back at Steve and ensure that their heist goes down without a hitch, they enlist the help of Bridger’s daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), so that they can get an inside-view into Steve, his life, and just where exactly he’s hiding all of that damn gold. But it’s known that Steve’s a tricky dude to mess with, and it’s why the gang’s really going to have to get their act together, in order for them to not just pull this all off and get the gold, but ensure that everyone’s alive by the end of it.

“Ayo Marky Mark, check this out. I’ll say hello to my motha for me, too.”

The Italian Job is a typical remake that’s modern, which means that it’s “hip”, “cool”, and totally unnecessary. But still, it’s also a bit of fun and when it comes to remakes of old-school classics, having a bit of fun means a lot, because most of the time, they’re just soulless, annoying and nauseating cash-ins. The Italian Job is different in that it doesn’t seem a whole lot of it was made solely for the money, but that it’s still got the same kind of look, tone and feel of all the other “gang-heists” movies.

Basically, think of it a more adult, somewhat smarter version of the Fast and Furious movies.

Which isn’t to say that the Italian Job is all that dumb of a movie, it’s just silly. But in that silliness, there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had, mostly because F. Gary Gray knows that the best way to keep this material interesting, even when it’s silly, is to always be moving, never stopping and never focusing too hard on one aspect of element too much. We have a heist, we have a cast of characters, we have a baddie, we have a conflict, we have a plan, and that’s really all we need; Gray doesn’t get too bogged down in too many senseless subplots to where it feels like extra padding for a movie that does come a tad close to two hours.

But it’s a solid two hours that keeps up its energy throughout, so much so that you also realize that some of the key issues with the movie, like character-development, are left by the waist-side. Now, there’s a part of me that’s fine with the fact that each character sort of has their one characteristic/personality-trait and there’s not much else to them, but for some reason, it’s hard not to expect something a little more, especially from this well put-together cast. For instance, Statham’s Handsome Rob is pure Statham – silent, but scary, and that’s about all there is to him. Same goes for Seth Green’s “Napster”, who is just the goofy tech-y and yep, that’s it. Mos Def is also sort of like the comedic-support with Left Ear, but he’s got such stiff-competition from Green in that department, that often times, it feels like a lot of his stuff was cut.

And then, there’s the core trio of Wahlberg, Theron, and Norton who all, in any other movie, probably would have put on acting-class beyond our beliefs. But sadly, they’re stuck in a silly actioner that doesn’t quite care about how good of actors they are. As long as they are hot enough and can read lines, than it’s all that matters, right?

Honestly, public-transportation has been worse.

Well, yeah, I guess.

In 2003, it’s hard to believe that Wahlberg was still finding his inner-leading man, which is why his performance as Charlie Croker, while not bad, isn’t necessarily the strongest, either. Same goes for Theron’s Stella, who is basically there to be the hot romantic love-interest for Charlie to eventually learn feelings from. Theron was also in a weird spot in Hollywood where they knew she could act, but she was too busy getting these roles where she was just window-dressing because of her absolutely gorgeous-looks. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s obvious she was made for much, much more.

And of course, the same is clearly said for Norton who, even as the villain here, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Still, Norton tries in what is, essentially, a paycheck gig that allow for him to take more risks with the smaller indie-flicks that he had always became so known and adored for. Even in the moments where we’re supposed to feel like this guy is a total and complete asshole, Norton’s not fully there and it’s weird, because it’s like we almost don’t care and just remember how effective he was in another good heist film, the Score.

But still, all of this talk about performances and characters, guess what? It doesn’t matter. The Italian Job gets the job done it set out to do, right. It doesn’t slow itself down and it sure as hell doesn’t try to appear as anything more than it already is – it’s just a fun, sometimes way too silly flick, with hot, talented people, being hot and cool.

And in that sense, yeah, it’s fine.

I just like to complain.

Consensus: Though it’s disappointing to see such a waste of a good ensemble, the Italian Job still delivers the right amount of fun, thrills and humor to have anyone happy.

7 / 10

As usual, the bro’s don’t know what to do when a tall, beautiful and smart woman comes around. Except Marky. He knows everything.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex.com

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

The galaxy is vast, wide, and apparently, very British.

Everyday British dude Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is currently battling a bunch of contractors who literally want to build a bypass right where his house is. He’s sad about it and constantly rebels in any way that he can, but when he’s not even thinking about it, he’s taken aside by his friend Ford Prefect (Mos Def), who informs him that not only he’s an alien, but that the two have barely a minute left to live on planet Earth, as it is set to be destroyed any time now. And well, that’s exactly what happens – Arthur and Ford are then left to roam about the galaxy, until they’re then picked up by a random ship, holding Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), the President of the Galaxy, his kind of, sort of, quite possible girlfriend Trillian (Zooey Deschanel), who Arthur had feelings for initially, and Marvin the Paranoid Android (Alan Rickman), who seems incredibly depressed about everything around it. Together, the group must face-off against the Vogons, aka, those who were familiar for destroying Earth in the first place and don’t seem to be done just yet.

It's okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

It’s okay, Martin. The day will be over soon.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a piece of cult pop-culture that’s survived as long as it has, based solely by the fact that people still don’t seem to understand it just yet and are still, as we speak at this moment, trying to make sense of all the crazy, madcap and wild adventures that the countless stories had to offer. That’s why a movie made of this source material is already troubling as is – especially when you’re working on such a big budget and have to, essentially, please not just the fanboys, but everyone else who may seem interested in seeing a madcap sci-fi flick for the hell of it. And it’s also why Garth Jennings, try as he might, just feels kind of lost here.

He gets some stuff right, but for the most part, Hitchhiker’s unfortunately seems like another case of where a lot of people had to be pleased and because of that, the movie itself ends up muddled, somewhat disjointed and yes, even messy.

Still though, there’s some joy and pleasure to be had in the messiness.

For one, Jennings does keep the movie moving at a fine, efficient pace, to where it feels like we’re getting a whole lot of story, but it’s always constantly going. The movie also doesn’t just focus on the one plot in particular, as there are some truly weird, yet humorous sidebars that come in, bring in a little flavor to the proceedings, and leave soon so that they don’t get in the way of the movie. While it may be a little close to two hours, surprisingly, the movie breezes by and may actually sneak up on you with how quick it’s going.

At the same time, though, being quick and swift doesn’t make your movie good, or even hide away all of the issues that may be troubling it in the first place. And if there’s a huge problem to be found with Hitchhiker’s, it’s that it’s just not as funny as it think it is. Sure, bits and pieces pop-up in this one adventure and on the side that could be considered “humorous”, but honestly, they don’t always connect; most of the time, it feels like the movie’s just trying to out-weird itself, throwing another wrench at the screen and seeing how they could go any further. A bit involving a character’s two-heads is supposed to be played for laughs and shocks, but is a gimmick that gets old real quick and honestly, doesn’t even seem like a joke, but just a character trait.

Yup. Just one of those days.

Yup. Just one of those days.

And it’s a shame, too, because there’s clearly a whole lot of ambition here coming from Jennings and everyone else, but the movie ends up being about its plot a lot, its odd sense of humor, its even odder sci-fi, and yet, not much else. It is, essentially, an adventure, for the sake of being an adventure, but we never get a clear understanding of anything that’s going on beforehand, so that when we’re told of what’s going to happen and what the clear goal of this mission is to be, it just doesn’t connect. The movie takes a whole lot of time to set-up its weird puns and sight-gags, but forgets to actually build a comprehensible plot that makes the whole adventure, well, feel like an actual adventure, that doubles as a ride we don’t ever want to get off.

But we kind of do, just so that it would chill out and take some more time with itself to figure things out.

The cast are really the ones who save it, as it seems like everyone came ready to play, for better or worse. Martin Freeman is, as usual, perfect as our every man; Mos Def fits in perfectly, showing his goofier side for once; Zooey Deschanel plays it as a ruler and it kind of works, although you’d sometimes wish she would just crack a smile or something; Sam Rockwell goes way overboard, even though that’s probably what was called on him in the first place, so it’s hard to make sense of whether or not it was a good idea; and the voices of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, and plenty of others all show up, adding a little bit of zaniness and fun to the overall proceedings, almost making us wish we got to actually see them here, as opposed to just hearing.

Because seeing is believing, as all sci-fi lovers know. And Catholics.

Consensus: Odd and goofy, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has its own style of humor that doesn’t always connect, making the over-packed story feel even a little more straining to comprehend or keep up with.

5.5 / 10

What a gang. Now why weren't they more fun?

What a gang. Now why weren’t they more fun?

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…

Zootopia (2016)

It’s like the actual United States of America. But with animals!

From when she was just a little bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) was always told that she wasn’t going to amount to much. Because of that adversity in her life, Judy trained for years and years to become a cop in the wonderfully huge and grand melting-pot that is Zootopia, a place where all kinds of creatures can live together in perfect peace and harmony. Eventually, Judy’s dream comes true and she finds herself living in Zootopia, with a solid job as a cop. However, she soon finds out that her job won’t amount to much other than just putting tickets on people’s cars. Though she’s disappointed by this, Judy still remains restless and ready to take on any obstacle she meets out there in the real world, which leads her to Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly and cunning fox, who she has a fear of, just based solely on the fact that fox and rabbits aren’t supposed to get along. Using Nick, Judy discovers a missing otter’s case, which leads her to uncovering a greater conspiracy that involves the police chief, the mayor, and plenty other people in power.

Don't call her "cute". Even if, yes, she totally is.

Don’t call her “cute”. Even if, yes, she totally is.

Last summer, when Inside Out came out, a lot of people were going on and on about how it was, essentially, a “kids movie for adults”. And they weren’t wrong. Sure, the animation, the colorful and wild-looking characters were clearly to attract the kids and get them interested in the first place, but really, the plot, the message and the mechanics of it all weren’t really for kids. After all, no kid would have been able to understand “the id”, “the psychosis”, or anything of that psychological nature, nor would they ever be able to understand just what the characters were searching for, or trying to accomplish. In some ways, that’s why I loved the movie, however, I also realize that perhaps the movie was maybe just a tad too smart for its own good, or even for its own audience.

That said, Zootopia is the kind of animated movie made to grab kids’ attention, but really meant to connect with the older-ones who get stuck bringing their kids in the first place.

And that’s a good thing. For one, Zootopia is a solid animated movie that, yes, looks as great and as detailed as ever. Every character, from the sloths, to the lions, to the cheetahs, the foxes, to polar bears, to the bunnies, to whichever you want to call them, all look lovely and pleasantly cartoonish. However, my main adoration for this movie comes in the way it approaches its universe. It’s the kind of movie that has a smart and relatively interesting idea, but rather than using it to rely on a lame plot or kiddie-jokes, instead, it goes balls to the walls with what it can do.

The story is a cross between a police procedural and coming-of-age-tale, but instead, with a rabbit and a fox in the interracial buddy-cop roles. And while for any lesser-movie, they’d just have that idea and leave it there, Zootopia decides to run wild with it and allow for the movie to build both of these characters up, give them personalities, and allow for them to go on throughout this whole world. After all, certain parts of this world that the movie has created for itself is so inventive and creative, that after awhile, it becomes clear that the movie’s dealing with a lot, but not really losing control of itself.

It has a message. It has a message. And most importantly, it has a story.

Granted, the story can sometimes go on and on and for the sake of telling the movie’s central message (racism and treating others for what they look like, and not who they are, is bad), but it still kept me interested. The movie brings up other points about gentrification, xenophobia, and social-classes that do hit, but it isn’t always actually about them; if anything, it’s just using them as a way to make their story feel and sound more important than it may already be perceived as. Of course, one could go on for days with think-pieces out the wahzoo about what Zootopia is trying to say, but none of it really matters, because guess what? The movie’s just a fun piece of animation.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

Sure, it’s definitely made with the adults in mind, but it’s also a good movie for kids in that there’s a lot of the typical humor you’d expect for them to laugh at and love. However, there’s also smarter, more witty jokes aimed at the adults that have to deal with the social and racial constructs of this world, references to movies like the Godfather and Chinatown (among others), and the fact that each and everyone of these animals are supposed to be portraying an aspect of the real world. It’s all so goofy, but so much fun that you don’t care how far they go with these ideas.

You’ll just be happy that someone’s thinking this creatively for once.

And this is all the more surprising considering that there’s at least three directors (Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore) and two writers (Jared Bush and Phil Johnston) working together. Normally, this spells out an uneasy, messy and uneven bit of trouble, but surprisingly, everybody came together here to create some neat and funny ideas, without ever seeming like they’re just throwing stuff in for the sake of it. And yes, the voice cast is also pretty solid, too. Ginnifer Goodwin is bright and sunny; Jason Bateman is as cool as a cucumber; Idris Elba is brass and brawny; and yeah, there’s others. Just know that Zootopia is a fine piece of animation that, if you haven’t already, just check it out.

It has something to say, but more importantly, has something to do with itself, rather than just waste your time because it’s already gotten your money.

Consensus: With smart ideas and messages about the real world we live in, yet, using animated animals to take humans places, Zootopia is not only cute, but awfully inventive and interesting, even when it seems to be preaching an awful lot.

8 / 10 

Oh, sloths. So silly.

Oh, sloths. So silly. Yet, a little creepy-looking.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Amy (2015)

Go to rehab. Don’t say “no, no, no”.

Even at an early age, everyone around Amy Winehouse knew that she was destined for some sort of greatness. Mostly though, everybody had the feeling that said greatness would be seen through her singing and performing, live, in front of crowds, for the whole world to see. And all of those friends, well, for the most part, were tragically right. When she first got her start in the biz, Amy was considered to be the young, fresh jazz voice for a generation that, quite frankly, didn’t quite seem to know what jazz was. Her first album, “Frank”, brought her all sorts of accolades and praise, but at the same time, it also brought on a whole lot more attention and popularity that Amy may have ever wanted in the first place. Once her album started selling in huge numbers and her album started winning her awards, more and more of her personal life was being focused on, which lead a lot of the public media to speculate about what else she did when she wasn’t on the stage. Most of this had to do with her frequent battles with drug and alcohol abuse, both of which were main factors in the taking her life at the very ripe and young age of 27 in the summer of 2011.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Just like he did with Senna a few years back, director Asif Kapadia takes the whole formula of what a documentary should look, act and feel like, and turns it slightly on its head. For instance, there’s not a single talking head or person seen speaking directly to the camera for the purposes of this documentary. Of course, we can hear all of the subject’s voices and whatnot, but we never actually see them speaking to us; instead, we get a bunch of archival footage that actually does Amy the real benefit of putting us there in the scene, at the time that something was happening, and having us feel a few steps closer to Amy Winehouse herself.

And that sense of intimacy is what helps Amy move right along and feel as if there’s something to feel bad for and pity with this Winehouse figure. A lot of people, those mostly involved with the media, have probably looked at Winehouse in the past and saw her for nothing more than just another piece of grade-A talent, who was too spoiled and drugged-up beyond her days to appreciate just what sort of skill and beauty she had. In a way, you could make that same argument about almost every artist, no matter what the field may be, but it doesn’t really make it true. Sure, artists are much more talented than us, but if they’re struggling with a personal/drug problem of any kind, that doesn’t make it phony or unimportant – it just makes it, well, perhaps a bit more dramatic and focused-on.

But with Amy, Kapadia sets out to show us that deep down inside of all the hard booze, drugs, partyin’, and singin’, lied a very sweet, sincere and troubled young woman who had a wonderful voice, but ultimately, just got eaten up in her own demons.

Most people, such as myself, will initially find it hard to really gain all that much sympathy for Winehouse, but as the tale grows larger and her life gets more exciting, it becomes all too clear that her life was quite messed-up to begin with. Winehouse, despite being told she was destined for greatness, always had a problem with her appearance, and a result, was bulimic for almost all of her life. While mostly everyone around her knew about this, nobody ever seemed to do anything about it, except just pat her on the back, tell her “it’s going to be okay”, and have her record another track. Everybody around Winehouse, as the movie will have us believe, was in it solely for the movie and everything else, whether they be her own, actual issues, be pushed to the side.

Which is yes, very cliche of an artists’ life, but it’s still a very true happening that makes Amy hurt just a bit more.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

However, if there was an issue found with Amy, it was that it seems like Kapadia misses a few notes here and there that would have definitely helped make better sense of certain aspects of Amy’s life. For example, we’re told that her father left her and her mother for another woman, when Amy was only nine years old. So why, when Amy’s name is starting to get more and more popular, does he all of a sudden show up and act as if he cares? Better yet, why does she let him into her life and not act as if he wasn’t around for her upbringing?

For some reason, Kapadia seems to bring these questions up, but never get anywhere close to actually answering them. The same goes for Amy and her on-and-off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a wild boy in his own right, but one that I still don’t hate as much as I probably should. Together, the movie makes it clear that while Fielder-Civil may have been ultimately bad for Winehouse’s own good, there’s no denying that the two loved each other beyond belief and that Amy was stuck on him since day one. In fact, this aspect of the movie, as well as Amy’s life, is perhaps the most interesting, as well emotional; so rarely do we see a tale in which a famous celebrity actually sticks by their previous love, or surprisingly, get tossed and turned around by them.

If anything, it makes you feel bad for Amy a whole lot more, but also for Fielder-Civil, which isn’t something the movie may have been going for, but either way, it kept me constantly watching.

Above it all though, what Amy shows the most is how there’s so many factors at-play as to why Winehouse died the way she did, and without anyone really there to make sense of it. Of course, there are plenty of fingers pointed in certain directions, but nobody here is the outright one to be blamed. Instead, you can just sort of push it on everyone in the world, because even though Amy had a talent beyond our wildest imagination, we may never get to see it and it’s truly a shame.

Consensus: Without any frills or cheap shots taken, Amy turns out to be a surprisingly heartfelt, if sad look inside the life of a late, great artist who could have definitely done far much better for the music world, but tragically, was stopped short. At 27, no less.

7.5 / 10

And Amy, from a day that's obviously, not very recent.

And Amy, from a day that’s obviously, not very recent.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Life Of Crime (2014)

Of course they had to kidnap the one housewife who looks like Jennifer Aniston!

Repressed and angry housewife Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t like the life she’s practically married into; her husband (Tim Robbins) is a philandering drunk, her son doesn’t really talk to her anymore, and she sees there almost no chance of being able to escape. That is all until she ends up being kidnapped in a get-rich-quick-scheme set up by two cons, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes). While the plan seems simple at first (kidnap the wife, demand money from the hubbie, run off and have no problems), it suddenly all goes South once the husband’s mistress (Isla Fisher) gets involved. Also not to mention the fact that Louis and Mickey actually begin to develop something of a friendship that makes it a lot harder for Mickey to really be scared in a situation such as this, when she really should be. But she shouldn’t worry any longer because coming to he aide is a friend (Will Forte) who wants more than to just be a dude she casually talks to – he wants to be with her and won’t stop until he finds her and uncovers this plan.

There’s a strange fact that connects me more to this movie than I would like to; see, way back when in high school, I decided to give Elmore Leonard’s the Switch a read. I had already read a few of his books beforehand and considering that the film-adaptations of his books that I had already seen were great, I thought to my young, restless-self, “Why the ‘eff not?” Well, funny thing is that while I’m reading the book, I just so happen to stumble upon a news story that this same book I’m reading, is the latest Leonard piece to be adapted into a film and was going to feature none other than a favorite of mine, Mr. Dennis Quaid himself.

Thought I smelled a rat, too.....

Thought I smelled a rat, too…..

Fast forward a couple years later, Quaid’s out, replaced and the whole movie has come together in something that I didn’t expect. Now trust me, I won’t try to make this a review of the book vs. the movie; although I certainly can’t promise I’ll stay fully away from it either. However, all that said, it’s easy to see why they’d want to adapt this story, of all the other promising pieces of Leonard’s works – it’s quicker, funnier and features more character-development than most of his other works and it made total sense as to why such a high-caliber cast would get involved in the first place.

Even if, you know, my main man D-Quaid wasn’t involved anymore.

Anyway, though the source material holds out a lot of promise, there’s just something totally and completely “off” about this movie to where I feel like writer/director Daniel Schechter didn’t fully understand what it was that he was reading, and as a result, writing down. There are some genuine moments of suspense, even for somebody who has already read the book and knows what happens, but that’s pretty much it when it comes to getting Leonard’s style down perfectly and put onto film.

That’s why certain directors like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino have done so well with his pieces: They get Leonard, the way his characters talk and how the plots progress on and on. Schechter, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem like he’s capable of bringing Leonard’s fun, vivid mind to the big screen and because of that, the movie feels incredibly uneven. There are moments when it’s supposed to be quippy and funny, almost to where we can believe these characters saying these certain lines of wit at these specific moments, but it feels very tacked-on; which isn’t to discredit the cast, it’s just that they’re given such lame material to work with, that even their charming presences can’t make it any better.

For instance, try John Hawkes, an actor who, no matter what he shows up in, is always doing something interesting, yet always stays believable in that character’s skin. He can play a good guy, and literally be the nicest human being alive; he could be a bad guy, and possibly be the most despicable person you’ve ever seen. He just has that certain way about him that allows him to blend into whatever character he’s playing. And honestly, that’s why Louis (the same character played by one Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown) seems like such a perfect character for him to play: He’s not necessarily a moral person, but he has a kind heart. Given the right script, too, Hawkes could have ran wild with this character but instead, he comes off as poorly-written and is hardly ever considered somebody “bad”. There are small instances of his rage, but whenever he’s on the same screen as Jennifer Aniston’s character, he automatically softens up and seems like it’s coming completely out of nowhere.

It was the 70's, so it's okay.

It was the 70’s, so give him a break.

Not to mention that this is hardly ever mentioned/alluded to in the book, but like I said, staying with the movie here, people!

And the same sort of goes for Aniston – while I’ve never been absolutely stunned by the work she puts into certain movies, she’s always likable in her own way. Here, she just seems like she’s on auto-pilot and doesn’t really get much to do that’s neither believable, nor even fun to watch her do. She just sort of yells, screams, runs away and occasionally, tries to act smarter than the criminals who have in fact kidnapped her.

But the same I say for Aniston, is pretty much the same way for everybody else in this cast and it’s absolute waste of some real fine talent assembled here. Yasiin Bey (aka, Mos Def) does his best impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson without totally over-doing it and he gets a few laughs, but all in all, seems like he’s just there to be the token black character who makes stereotypical jokes about race, food and women; Tim Robbins plays the husband as a total dick (mostly how he was written) and is fine, but after awhile, you wonder just what the hell there was about this guy in the first place that actually attracted her to him; Will Forte is goofy and that’s about it; and Isla Fisher, despite being a lot older than I expected her character to be, is smoky, sexy and that’s all she needed to be for this character to work, although it never makes full sense as to why she gets involved with these cast of characters either.

Consensus: Despite boasting an impressive cast who are all clearly trying with all their force and might, Life of Crime can’t help but just feel like a dull, aimless, uneven and rather boring crime-thriller that doesn’t do its source-material justice whatsoever.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It's my real, actual name."

“Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It’s my real, actual name.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Begin Again (2014)

Just pick up anything and play! But don’t forget to cover something from Frozen. That seems to be the “hip” thing to do nowadays.

After Dan (Mark Ruffalo) gets dropped from the music label he helped build, the man dives into a bit of a drunken-stooper. And somewhere along the night, he ends up in a bar where he hears a song being performed by a small, rather sweet British gal by the name of Greta (Keira Knightley). Though the people around him don’t really think much of her song and only use her as background music, Dan sees, hears and feels potential, which is why he doesn’t hesitate a single second to get her information right after the performance. Though she’s a bit reluctant to start diving right into recording and all that, Greta eventually gives in and Dan finds any which way he can, with anybody he can find with enough time on their hands, to help him record at least two or three songs of Greta’s own doing. But both of their troubled-pasts may come back to haunt them if they aren’t lucky enough, especially in Greta’s case where her ex-boyfriend (Adam Levine), also just so happens to be the hottest and coolest, up-and-coming talent out there in the mainstream today.

After finally seeing Once and really enjoying all that it set out to be, I must say, I was relatively excited for another movie in which John Carney would be jumping back into the world of musicals. However, where as that movie was a small, intimate musical that looked as if it had been made for a dime and a Big Mac, this one is a lot larger, broader and definitely with a bigger-budget. All that aside though, all that matters is that the songs are not only catchy, but actually good and feel like they build to something more than just a couple of neat hooks here and there. There has to be emotion, there has to be feeling, and most of all, there has to be inspiration for the songs we hear and the reason for which they exist.

You know it's true love when they start taking selfies together.

You know it’s true love when they start taking selfies together.

A sort-of musical that comes to my mind is Inside Llewyn Davis which, through the songs played by that titled-character, we got a glimpse into who he was and what it was that he felt as a person. Sure, the songs themselves were catchy and well-constructed, but there was so much more heart and soul put into them, that it felt like a person really letting us know who he was, rather than some dude who is trying to be heard on the radio. You know, not like the songs that we have here.

And yes, that is to say that most of the songs here are catchy, in that, as soon as I left the theater, I was humming the tunes to the songs, but totally forgot about them as soon as I got into my car and hooked up my iPod to the aux. But that’s also to say the songs never really feel like they’re giving you more information about these characters than we already know, or have heard alluded to before. Save for the opening-track that Greta plays about feeling lost and abandoned in the Big Apple, which actually gives us a clear view into who this character is and why it is she feels this way. Every other song, though entertaining to listen to for the time being, don’t really have much of an impact.

Which, for a movie that prides itself on its love for music and the thrill one gets when they are in the act of creating something, is definitely a disadvantage. Especially considering that with his previous-musical, Carney was able to construct something sweet and everlasting that could be connected with, even if you weren’t a musician to begin with. Here, it feels like in order to really connect with any of these characters, or what it is that they’re making, you have to at least have some foot in the door of music, or else it may not matter much to you whether or not they all end up getting a record deal at the end.

Also not to mention that Carney is extremely sentimental here with his script; it’s the conventional story of a girl, fighting all against the odds stacked up against her trying to make it big, while the man she’s investing her future in is still suffering from his divorce and the disconnect he feels with his daughter. If you’ve heard of that plot-line before, don’t worry, so have I and Carney continuously milks it for all that he’s got, even if he knows he’s soaking up in the sap. Which can be fine if there’s more sentiment added onto the sap, but here, we get some thinly-written characters who are here to just service the plot, aka, “the jams”, baby.

"Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!"

“Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!”

Which wouldn’t be such a problem with most movies, but when you have a cast this stacked, it makes you wonder just how nice that paycheck was looking. Mark Ruffalo is okay as Dan and has some nice one-liners, but feels like he’s too amped-up on coffee most of the time, which is rather strange considering he’s supposed to be playing a down-and-out bum with a drinking problem; Keira Knightley is given more to do as the meek and kind Greta, while also showing off her mighty fine pipes which service these songs for what they are; and Hailee Steinfeld for what seems like the umpteenth time I’ve seen her playing an angst-fueled, angry teenage girl that clashes with all adults around her, does a nice job and shows that she’s one of the better, brighter talents out there.

The one who actually surprised the hell out of me here was Adam Levine as Greta’s ex-boyfriend who, believe it or not, cheats on her and leaves her for a big career in music, where he loses his identity and even grows a big, hip beard. Sound like somebody you know? Anyway, what’s so good about Levine here is that while it could have been quite easy for him to just play his normal deuchy-self, the guy does well showing us a true character that not only loves his girlfriend, but actually wants to see what this whole rock ‘n roll lifestyle is about. In a way, he feels more human than anybody else here which, I imagine for most significant-others for other big-time musicians out there, may in fact be terrifying.

Consensus: Light, frothy and pleasant for its near-two hour run-time, Begin Again may not ask much of its audience except to just enjoy the numerous songs it plays, which, depending on the kind of viewer it’s speaking towards, may or may not be enough.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Hide the cone. Don't want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.

Hide the cone. Don’t want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Monster’s Ball (2001)

Those beautiful black women just love those redneck freakoids.

The story is about Hank (Billy Bob Thornton) who is an embittered prison guard working on Death Row who begins an unlikely but emotionally charged affair with Leticia (Halle Berry), the wife of a man under his watch on The Row.

For the first hour or so, nothing was going right for me with this flick. I knew that it was going to be a slow-ass flick right from the start but the film barely felt like it was moving at all. It has this very dark and depressing feeling to it right from the start, which will kind of throw you back a bit but somehow, somewhere there was happiness and hope in this story, and then it suddenly started to grow on me. Damn Billy Bob!

I think the main reason why this flick got better in the way that it did was because of its script. This a very character-based flick that focuses on these gritty, dirty, and sad people that all need something in their life, whether it be love, family, or just a nice little bang here and there. The script just feels very human in the way how everybody deals with their problems and it’s also one of the rare cases where the the screenplay decides to take a step back from actually having non-stop talking but focus more on the quiet side of this story which spoke louder to me than any of the racist crap Frank Barone was saying here.

The problem with this flick is that I don’t think the direction here from Marc Forster does the script justice. Take it for granted, there isn’t anything really flashy here done by Forster to get in the way of the material at-hand but he feels very unfocused. There will be moments where it focuses on this nice romance between Billy Bob and Halle, then will go towards the racism she faces, then towards the fact that she has little or no money, and then it will go right to Billy Bob being sad about something. There were too many times where I feel like the film constantly brought up all of these other things that these characters were feeling, which in all honesty, were definitely not as interesting as the romance between Berry and Billy Bob, especially when they start boning in everybody’s favorite sexy time scene.

Where the flick did work was at the center of it all: the romance. The romance between these two feels subtle and something that would happen between two 8th-graders almost but then it really turns into something serious, heart-breaking, and very very real. I liked this romance that these two had going on because it showed just how much they needed each other at a certain time in their lives and even though they both may not be the same person, they still feel hurt and need someone or something to take their pain and anguish away. However, whenever they are on-screen together, you can feel the romance and deep-down inside, was this sweet little love they had going on which really worked for me.

Halle Berry won the Oscar here for Best Actress and even though I can’t recall seeing any of the other performances from that year, I have to say that I think the Academy made the right decision. Berry lets it all hang loose as Leticia. She’s sad, vulnerable, full of pain, anger, remorse, but also very optimistic for the future and feels like a very real person when it comes to how she wants to be treated. Berry is a very stunning chicky but she lets the grit take over here and she dives into this character without any fake steps. Her emotions are almost all-over-the-place but Berry makes us sympathize with this character and actually feel something for her no matter what. Amazing performance from Berry and one that truly did deserve the Oscar.

Billy Bob Thornton was pretty good here as Hank, even though when he is being compared to Berry, his character is definitely the one you least remember. It’s not that this is a bad performance by any means, it’s just that Billy Bob isn’t really doing anything other than playing sort of a dick that somehow changes half-way through, even though we don’t really realize it until his own daddy brings it up. Speaking of his daddy, Peter Boyle is quite good as the totally racist dad, even though it was kind of funny watching him spout out the N-word left and right; Heath Ledger is also good in this flick as Hank’s son, Sonny, and is very chilling every time he is on-screen; and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs does a nice job as Lawrence, Leticia’s husband, and doesn’t really over-play any of the lines like rappers-turned-actors usually do.

Consensus: Despite a slow beginning and feel to the film, Monster’s Ball starts to pick up with a very sweet romance in the middle of the story, great performances from the cast, especially Berry, and a script that doesn’t try too hard but still is able to make us feel something for these characters.

7.5/10=Rental!!

16 Blocks (2006)

Mos Def and Bruce Willis, what an odd pairing.

Tasked with escorting chatty prosecution witness Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) from police custody to a nearby courthouse, aging New York City cop Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) reluctantly gears up for the 16-block trek. But with powerful forces intent on keeping them from reaching their destination, they’ll be lucky to make it there alive.

Bruce Willis like in many of his film’s as of date, has basically played that same hard-nosed cop who turns superhero when things go array. Director Richard Donner has directed all of the Lethal Weapon films and knows how to do these buddy-cop thriller action films, and this shows he hasn’t lost any of his touch.

The storyline to this so called “great concept” that I just stated could have been put together better than it was. I’m not a film writer or director so I don’t know what exactly could have made the storyline better, but I’m just saying that it could have been better. Some scenes did drag on a little bit too long and the film didn’t create too much of a character personality for the two leads to get us to care for them.

The performances from the trio of leads are great. Mos Def is really good in this film and does make this film if his voice doesn’t annoy you enough. He brings a lot to the table and is not like many other rapper’s turned actor’s that we have seen before, he’s actually pretty good. Bruce Willis I think does relive the Die Hard character within him a little bit too much but makes this one more compelling and more tragic to where we feel sympathy and root for him. The one great thing about the two is how their connection in the beginning of the film is not good but as the film progresses the two gain a great deal amount of chemistry between the two and it actually feels real. David Morse also does a very good job at playing the villain as usual.

A lot of the action scenes though do seem done before are actually well-played out and just create a step to have another clever twist in the story. The film is not very comedic but takes all that away with it’s over the top action. I enjoyed the ending and thought it was very sympathetic but strong at the same time and fully made this film.

Consensus: 16 Blocks features strong performances from it’s trio of leads and has some high-quality action but may seem a bit too predictable and doesn’t add much to thrillers.

6.5/10=Rental!!!