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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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The Interrupters (2011)

See? Not everybody has to kill each other.

In most cities throughout the country, there’s a great deal of violence that’s hard to turn away from. It’s tearing apart families, destroying societies, and most of all, killing many, many people who don’t deserve any bit of violence done towards them (not that anyone deserves to die, or be hurt in the first place, but you get my drift). This is when CeaseFire came together in hopes of doing one thing and one thing only: Interrupting violence. Made up entirely of ex-gang members who’ve done their time and seen the error of their ways, CeaseFire’s mission is to put an end to the violence epidemic among the youth of one of the harshest, meanest cities in the whole country, Chicago, by mediating conflicts before they escalate into murders. And while some people want to learn how to better themselves, as well as their own community, others don’t think that they can. After all, some feel as if they are too far along in life to turn back time and become peaceful, carefree members of society.

How wrong they are.

Hero #1

The Interrupters could have easily been the preachiest, most nauseating documentary ever made. It’s about how violence can be stopped through simple, small and kind actions, as well as action can be made, just not in the violent sense, to ensure that everyone walks away from a situation better and happier about their lives. It has the look and hell, even the feel of this kind of documentary that’s not necessarily hitting any sort of new nail on the head, but instead, just hammering away at one obvious point, again and again, until our minds are numb to it all and we just accept that this is how the world works, when in reality, it doesn’t.

And yes, the Interrupters can be a hard movie to get used to, especially whatever your preconceived notions about inner-cities, violence, and gangs, and all that jazz are. Even I myself went in with a little trepidation, having lived in Philly for quite some time, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s all a hoax for middle-class white people, such as myself, to feel better about themselves.

But even I was shocked by how much the Interrupters, both the documentary, as well as the group themselves, work.

In fact, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before; in a time where violence seems to be happening every second in the world and is broadcast everywhere the next, it’s rather sweet and reassuring to see that there are people out there trying to stop this violence, once and for all, by any means. But what’s even more shocking is to see how it all plays out and, well, works – the movie is much more about the wins and success of the group, rather than the losses and defeats, however, both sides of the equation are shown here. The Interrupters shows us a group who’s mind-set it is to stop violence from occurring by calming people down and talking everything out, which sounds all hokey and stupid, until you actually see it work and somehow, all the cynicism goes away.

Hero’s #2 and #3

It’s as if, yes, the world can be changed through some heartfelt, meaningful conversations.

But the Interrupters is honestly more than just about this group, all the good that they’re doing, and what they can do for communities, but about the strength of the human condition in the first place. The fact that the group is run by ex-cons, who not just go out of their way to save people’s lives, but also put their owns on the line, is honestly surprising, but the fact that they all seem to know what they’re talking about and are 100% dedicated to making this group and its efforts work, is all the more shocking. It’s as if these people were tossed to the side as soon as they got out of jail, but rather than getting down in the dumps, they decided to make a difference and change people’s lives, the way they probably wish theirs would have.

It’s hard to go into specific examples, except to just know this: Everyone here is a flawed, but lovable human being. They try to make the world a better place and because of that, it’s hard to ever have issues with the things that they’ve done, said, or witnessed in the past. They’re past it now and are in desperate need to save people’s lives. If that doesn’t earn them at least some small bit of forgiveness, then I don’t know what does. Just stop the violence, people.

Please.

Consensus: Even at the center of the Interrupters, lies a hokey message about how we can all get along, but through the stories we hear and see play-out in front of our own eyes, it can’t help but feel honest, raw, and reassuring that all life is beautiful, no matter what kind.

8.5 / 10

Oh and of course, hero #4.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

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Stevie (2002)

Always be a big brother.

After not seeing his younger friend for several years, documentary director Steve James decides to catch up with the Illinois boy he once mentored through the “Big Brother” system that so many schools adopt, yet, don’t ever seem to fully keep up with. Although, time has changed for both Steve James and Stephen Fielding. Steve is an accomplished, Oscar-nominated director, with a lovely wife and kids, whereas Stephen, at one time, a very dorky kid, is now a damaged adult who has had repeated problems with the law, with one serious charge that he possibly touched a younger relative in an appropriate spot. James knows this about Stephen, but rather than asking him why he did what he may have done, he decides to look back on Stephen’s life leading up to now, and tries to figure out just what went wrong.

Hey, it’s pretty hot out.

You’ve got to give it to Steve James for making a two-and-a-half-hour documentary about someone nobody else knows, but him. In that sense, he’s literally making a movie, for himself, and for his own conscience, so that he can help make sense of his life, his subject’s life, and figure out just what the hell went wrong along the line. Was it him? Was it Stevie? Was it Stevie’s family? Or, basically, was it just the way the world was turning for both parties involved?

In other words, this is basically one, long therapy-session for James, who also just so happened to film it all and release it for the whole world to see. A little pretentious and self-involved? Perhaps. However, Stevie, both the movie, as well as the person himself, are far from pretentious or self-involved, making it a bitterly long pill to swallow, but one that’s worth swallowing in the end.

That makes sense, right?

Either way, Stevie works best because it focuses on Stevie, just as much as it focuses on Steve James. See, the reason why the movie matters and is made in the first place, is because of their friendship and honestly, it’s a touching one. They both seem to genuinely have a love and respect for one another, even if time has passed them both by and they realize that while they were once big parts of each other’s lives at one point, that isn’t such the case any longer. James has gone on to make a name for himself and his family, whereas Stevie is still trying to grow up and keep his head out of trouble. It’s a sad, yet honest tale about how time passes, but somehow, those small relationships we had early on in our lives, still maintain and stay strong all of these years later, regardless of whether those involved with the relationship have changed a whole lot, or not.

In this case, yes, Stevie and Steve changed a whole lot, but they still find ways to connect and love one another, even if they’re still uncertain about where the time has gone for them. It’s an ode to their friendship and long-lasting bond, for sure, but it’s also one to the fact that the people we depend on the least, can sometimes be the ones to trust the most. Who knows if Steve James wanted to gain some fame and love from audience-members for reaching out to an old pal of his, or if he genuinely cared about his friend and wanted to shine a lot on who this special friend of his is?

Good old pals, reconnecting, almost two decades later. So okay, maybe not great pals.

Honestly, it’s hard to fully come to a conclusion of. A part of me feels like James is looking for adoration, but another part of me thinks that he’s genuinely sad and somewhat regretful over the separation he and Stevie have had for all of these years, so he just wanted his friend to have some shine in the spotlight.

Once again, I’m still not sure.

That said, Stevie, as a documentary, is still a smart and understated character-study about its subject, what brought him to become the way he was when the movie was being made, and whether or not he has any hope in this place we call “Earth”. While Stevie has no doubt done some heinous and terrible things, the movie does make the case that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s less of Stevie acting out and more of just the way of him acting the only way he knows how. James focuses on Stevie’s home life, with his family and his incredibly sweet and supportive wife, showing that no matter how hard he tries, there’s always someone, or something, pulling him back to do even more worse in the world. It’s sad to see, time and time again, but James knows this, so he offer small glimmer of hopes, in that we can see that Stevie knows he can do right and make up for his bad mistakes from his past, but when he will, or if he will, remain a whole entirely other question.

Maybe Stevie, 15 years later is coming soon?

Consensus: Though it probably didn’t need to be nearly two-and-a-half-hours, Stevie is still a smart, honest, and rather emotional character-study on its compelling, yet, incredibly flawed-subject, as well as on its director, Steve James himself, who actually offer some interesting spins on this story, too.

8 / 10

Doesn’t that look like someone who is in desperate need of a hug? Or a shave?

Photos Courtesy of: Kartemquin FilmsCritics At Large

Lovesong (2017)

You don’t know who your real besties are until you, well, bang ’em.

Sarah (Riley Keough) takes an impromptu road trip with her toddler daughter and her best friend Mindy (Jena Malone). After all, she and her husband haven’t been together for quite some time and not only does she feel a bit lonely and in desperate need of some companionship, but also to remember the good old days she had with Mindy. And for Mindy, it seems to be the same. However, the trip ends rather odd; there’s kissing, touching, hugging, and possibly even love-making. But for some odd reason, it’s hardly ever spoken of afterwards. Mindy leaves Sarah, takes the bus and is, essentially, off to live the rest of her life. Three years later, Mindy invites Sarah to be apart of her bridesmaids for her wedding. While Sarah is shocked she never heard much about the guy she’s marrying in the first place, she’s just happy to be remembered and part of this moment in Mindy’s life, even if there is still obviously some unspoken-stuff going on between them.

Uh oh. There’s that jealousy!

Lovesong is probably the kind of movie that pisses a lot of people off, especially those who already have a problem with indie/arthouse flicks. See, it’s not that it’s necessarily a very plot-heavy movie, that even features all that much direction; for the longest time, it literally seems like we’re just following these characters, without much of a rhyme, or reason why. Hell, there’s even long stretches of total and absolute silence, where the two characters are literally just staring at each other, or at somewhere into space and it makes you think if anyone’s going to say something, or even do anything.

But you know what? There’s something compelling in that and it’s why Lovesong is a nice little indie/arthouse flick, yes, made specifically with that audience in-mind, but is also a solid tale for the common, everyday movie-goer, too. Especially if those common, everyday movie-goers actually appreciate a movie that doesn’t spell each and everything out, nor does it seem to follow any sort of conventional/formulaic plot.

In a way, Lovesong moves the way it pleases and for that, it’s interesting to watch.

Co-writer/director So Yong Kim is smart in that she allows the story to play-out, without much of a push on her part, but by just solely depending on the writing and acting to all come together. It does, and it’s quite nice to see, what with the bulk of the movie being Jena Malone and Riley Keough, two of our finest actresses working today, clearly choking on words and biting their tongues, looking for certain things to say. What they want to say, what’s on their mind, and better yet, what they expect to come of all these words, honestly, is all up in the air. It’s sort of like real life: You don’t know what a person is going to say, or do, by something you do, or say, so sometimes, you have to just go out there and give it a shot, see what happens next. Or, yeah, just sit around, stare into that person’s eyes, and basically torture them to start speaking first.

Oh man. That awkward feeling of having to be friends with your friends’ friends who you don’t actually know.

Either way, Lovesong works both as a tale of friendship that may be a bit more than just two gals palling around, but also as a tale of two actual friends who, after all of this lost time, get back together and realize that maybe they’re closer than ever before. Whichever you choose to view the movie, Lovesong still works; in a way, it’s a universal tale, told very well, that can work for both gay, as well as straight audiences, and doesn’t feel like a certain group is excluded out of the feelings.

In other words, it’s a sweet and sad movie, but it may be able to make anyone cry. It doesn’t matter.

And yes, Keough and Malone are to be applauded for that because they’re both amazing here, showing off a more sensitive side to their appearances. Keough is especially impressive, playing this rather depressed girl who doesn’t quite know what she wants in terms of a sexual partner, but knows that she just wants to be happy and appreciate some form of life. It’s a subtle performance from an actress who has shown some very dark and scary edges to her as of late and it’s a true sign that she’s the real deal. Malone is also great, giving us a character that may seem a tad unsympathetic, due to the actions she commits throughout, but hey, don’t all humans screw up?

Especially your best friends?

Consensus: Sweet, small, and rather melancholy, Lovesong is a heartfelt tale of actual love and possible romance, but also allows for Malone and Keough to rise above the already-solid material.

7.5 / 10

It’s love, right? So cheer up a bit.

Photos Courtesy of: Strand Releasing

Risk (2017)

What’s up with all these hacker-bros and sex?

Filmmaker Laura Poitras, after being, once again, flagged by the United States Government as “Un-American” decides that it’s time to start following and documenting the life and times of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his team who, in the early 2010’s, was red hot with infamy and controversy from the whole entire world, for better and for worse. However, while the portrait of Assange starts off relatively nice and flattering, it soon turns ugly when it’s revealed that Assange is being accused of sexual-assault by a few women that he may, or may not have, had sex with. Then, it gets worse when Poitras herself begins to strike up a relationship with another hacker and WikiLeaks member in Jacob Appelbaum who, like Assange, is accused of committing the same sort of sex crimes. It all eventually piles up into more legal cases and issues that Poitras has no idea what to expect from next, especially since Assange himself is constantly changing before her very own eyes.

The government can’t find you if you’re underwater.

Risk is much like Citizenfour, in that we’re getting an up-close-and-personal view of this controversial and rare figure. But Risk is also like Citizenfour in that it’s sort of not really a documentary in the general sense, as much as it’s just a bunch of scenes, over and over again, watching some dude talk about technology, type on his computer, talk on the phone, and yeah, act really freakin’ paranoid. It’s crazy that Poitras got this kind of access to not just Snowden, but also Assange, especially when he was at the peak of his fame, but at the same time, there can be something said for a documentary that’s basically the same as its predecessor, except in this case, it’s someone who’s a lot less interesting to watch and hear from.

And why is that? Well, it comes down to a little thing we like to call “timing”.

See, Risk is the kind of documentary that not only feels a few years too late, but sort of also forgets to cover the most important and notable event that occurs later on (the Clinton documents being leaked during the election). It feels like the kind of movie that had a lot of footage to work with, some of it interesting, some of it not, and Poitras, being the smart film-maker that she is, has to choose from all of it. What she ends up allowing in the final product is fine, but once again, it’s a lot of the same stuff, over and over again.

But this time, like I said before, it’s with Assange who, in all honesty, just isn’t all that interesting to listen to. He goes on and on about hacking and the world wide web, but it kind of goes nowhere. You can tell that he’s just ranting, with no clear end in sight, and what’s weird is that Poitras never seems to edit any of it; it’s like she’s too nice to him to really make him out to be the fool that he is.

Assange. Julian Assange.

Which is why Risk does bring up an interesting point about Assange and this whole legion of hackervists who are, essentially, heroes to the underground political world, but may also be just as slummy and as dirty as the people they are going out after. It’s nice to see a movie not shy away from this fact and provide perfect and nitty, gritty detail to it all, but once again, it’s been done before and doesn’t feel totally fresh. It’s all about timing here, people, and yeah, Poitras was just a little late to the button.

It’s not her fault, it’s just how life works out in general.

Sometimes, you get to the right person, at the right time, like she did with Snowden, but other times, you get the right person, at the right time, sit on it for awhile and then, yeah, public-interest for said right person, goes out the window. Maybe that’s just my own personal feelings about Assange, WikiLeaks and his supposed “morals”, but really, it all comes down to whether or not this guy has anything compelling to say or do for an-hour-and-a-half in the spotlight and well, he really doesn’t. A simple blog post would have honestly been fine.

Consensus: Laura Poitras is brave and smart in getting the footage she needs, but Risk, at the same time, also feels like it’s late to the party, focusing on someone who, honestly, the public has lost interest in and has mostly just become a bit of a joke, with only some of that being highlighted and focused on here.

6 / 10

Now I see what Pam Anderson sees.

Photos Courtesy of: Marshall and the Movies, Variety, Rotten Tomatoes

Alien: Covenant (2017)

It’s basically Jason X, but in space. Oh, wait. Jason X was in space. Never mind. So basically, it’s Jason X.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy so that they can continue on with the human race, but this time, elsewhere, members aboard of the colony ship, Covenant, seem to be going just fine. However, disaster strikes when they’re ship is hit, killing the Captain (James Franco), leaving a new one to take his place (Billy Crudup). The odd thing about this Captain, however, is that he believes a little too much in faith, which makes him a bit detested by the rest of the crew, which would be fine and all normally, but makes their situation all the more heated when they discover a new planet. Rather than just continuing on with their journey, they decide to check out what this new planet is all about and believe it or not, it’s not exactly what they expected. Instead, it’s the planet where the dreaded Prometheus expedition crash-landed all of those years ago, and still harbors David (Michael Fassbender), the scariest robot around who is still, somehow, on and being creepy.

Tell me, could you hate a face like that?

The fact that Covenant is better than Prometheus, may not be saying much. The later is a flawed movie that, yes, while brimming with all sorts of ambitious ideas and themes about life, faith and science, also didn’t have much a plot, and even worse, lame characters. It was a sight to see on the big screen, but also felt like a hollow experience, made all the more disappointing by the fact that it was done by Ridley Scott, aka, the dude who kick-started the whole Alien franchise in the first place.

But now, Scott seems to be back in his comfort-zone with Covenant, the kind of Alien movie you’d expect an Alien movie to be. It’s tense, exciting, silly, scary, gory, and at times, pretty wild, but at the same time, also feels like every other horror movie we’ve ever seen done before, where instead of Freddy, or Jason, or hell, Leatherface, we’ve got a bunch of aliens, running around and taking people that we don’t care about, off one-by-one. Now, is that disappointing, too? Or, is it just something to expect?

Either way, Covenant can be a good movie to watch, for quite some time, because like Prometheus, it’s clear that a lot of attention and detail was put into how slick and cool the movie looked. But unlike Prometheus, it has some characters to care about (sort of), and most of all, a plot that’s easy to fall in-line with. Sure, it’s formulaic and a little conventional, with all sorts of exposition flying left-and-right, but it’s less of a metaphysical experiment than Prometheus was so, once again, it’s better.

But still, a tad bit disappointing. I don’t know why, either.

Not Ripley, but still has an odd hair-do. For some reason.

Because honestly, Scott does a solid job here. He knows how to racket up the tension, he knows how to take advantage of an A-list cast, and most importantly, he knows how to still shock and surprise us, but still, there’s a feeling had with the movie that’s all the same beats hit, again and again, time after time, and now, it seems like it’s just running out of ideas. Then again, maybe it’s not; Covenant does set itself up as a sequel, but also shows us that there’s a much larger, much grander universe out there, just waiting to be explored with more and more movies to follow.

So in a way, Covenant is like a refresher-course for those who were worried of the Alien franchise blowing and not having any reason for its return. Scott seems to have a genuine interest in where these stories can go and eventually, lead to, even if it seems like he’s taking his good old time, taking an opportunity to give us another trapped-in-space-by-aliens-tale, rather than, you know, exploring more and more.

Then again, it’s entertaining. it’s hard to have an issue with a movie when it’s doing that.

Even though, yes, it is a bit frustrating to watch such a talented and awesome ensemble, essentially, be left to just spout out a bunch of sci-fi gibberish, when they aren’t giving us frightened and freaked-out reaction-shots, but hey, it’s nice to have them around, right? The one who gets away the most is Michael Fassbender playing, get this, dual roles as one robot, and another one. But there’s a key difference in the way the two are – David is a cool, sophisticated robot with personality, whereas the new one, Walter, is much more advanced in that he doesn’t think for himself and is, basically, as dull as a doorknob. It works for Fassbender who has fun, both as a the square-edged dork, as well as the charmingly freaky David, and makes his scenes, genuinely intriguing, because you never know where they’re going to go, or lead to.

Something this movie needed more of, but once again, was still entertaining.

Consensus: While not necessarily a game-changer for the franchise, Covenant is still a fun, intense and rather exciting entry that showcases Scott doing what he does best, even if there is some disappointment in him not trying a bit more of something, well, new.

7.5 / 10

Everyone’s waiting, Ridley. Now kill ’em!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Inland Empire (2006)

Wait. What?

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an accomplished actress who, after much time spent waiting and wondering, finally gets the role as the lead in On High in Blue Tomorrows. It’s supposed to be her comeback role, so to speak, so there’s a lot of pressure wearing on it, not to mention, a lot of pressure from her husband not to fall in love with her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux). Sure, it can be done, but the two are playing characters who are having an affair, making it a tad bit harder. However, the director (Jeremy Irons) trusts that both of them will keep it as professional as can be and will make sure that the movie comes out perfectly, because believe it or not, it’s been attempted before, but for some reason, the movie just hasn’t been made. Why, though? Eventually, Nikki and Devon find out and it causes both of them to start imagining weird, rather insane things, that they don’t know if is real, or not.

Wait, what?

Honestly, there’s a lot more to the premise of Inland Empire, in that there’s not just one story, but about three or four more of them, none of which make a single lick of sense, or better yet, ever seem to come together in a way that you’d imagine. Now, if sitting around for three hours and watching as a bunch of random stories get told to you in the most confusing manner imaginable sounds like a good time, then be my guest and enjoy the hell out of Inland Empire.

I, however, didn’t and just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Sure, there were things to admire and of course, this is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so I can’t be all that surprised, but still, it just didn’t quite work for me. There was so much going on, without any rhyme or reason, that after awhile, I had to sort of give up and just accept the fact that the movie’s going way beyond my intelligence and I’m best to just let it do its thing and see if I can make it up in the end.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Sure, is that more of a problem with me, as opposed to the movie? Definitely, but by the same token, there is something to be said for a three-hour movie that not only feels every bit of it, but never seems to show any signs of actually going anywhere. Lynch is well-known for doing this sort of thing time and time again, and while it’s always had me happy and rather pleased, this go around, it just didn’t work. It seemed like too much meandering and craziness for the sake of being meandering and crazy, as if there wasn’t a whole lot of story, but weird and surreal imagery that Lynch just had to get out of his system.

And okay, it makes sense, because the look and feel of this movie is, above all else, freaky. Then again, how could it not? Filmed on a hand-held digital-camera, the movie is grainy, dirty and downright gritty, but in a way, it’s also more terrifying for that reason alone, often times feeling like a documentary, than another glitsed-up flick. Film itself can do wonders, but digital-video can also do the same, especially when you’re really trying to go for an aura of realism, even if, you know, there’s nothing realistic happening here.

No seriously, what?

And once again, that’s all me. The movie gets away doing its thing, but it’s so frustrating to watch, that no matter what Lynch does behind the camera and how much inspiration may come out of him, it just didn’t connect for me. There’s a lot going on here and a lot that randomly happens, but the only thing I could remember clearly in my head was a very few haunting-images, bunny-rabbits, a dance to “the Locomotion”, and a lot of walking down hallways.

Like, a lot.

But Laura Dern, all issues aside, is great here and gives it everything she’s got. There’s no denying that Dern’s probably perfect for Lynch’s creepy, twisted and warped mind, and it’s why her performance here, with so many shades shown, is something to watch. Even when it seems like the rest of the movie has gone far, far away, she’s always there, working her rump off and making sure that everything sticks together. She allows for it to do so, too, it’s just a shame that it didn’t fully connect at the end.

For me, at least.

Consensus: Absolutely confusing, weird and random, Inland Empire is a hard movie to get into, mostly due to its frustrating plot, but there is some art to be seen here.

5 / 10

See, even Laura doesn’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Pretty Clever FilmsFour Three Film

The Straight Story (1999)

Get it? Because it’s not a total mind-f**k!

Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly World War II veteran, lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who has an intellectual disability. When Alvin hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, he makes up his mind to go visit him and do it all, hopefully, before he dies and they’re both left to feel like they missed out. However, there’s an issue: Alvin doesn’t have a driver’s license and Lyle does live very far away. So what can Alvin do to travel all of this way to see his bro? Well, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty-year-old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, that has about the maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour, and sets off on the 240 mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. Of course, he runs into all sorts of colorful and rather normal characters throughout his journey, most of whom offer to drive him the whole way there, with others just telling him to give up. However, through it all, Alvin remains determined, knowing that this may not just be his last shot at regaining some happiness with his brother, but his last shot at regaining some happiness with life in general.

“Yeah, honey. You’re driving me mad. Literally.”

So the inside joke about the Straight Story is that, pun intended, there’s not much else to it, other than just what is exactly presented to us. It’s just a normal, everyday story, told in the most straightforward, easy-to-follow manner imaginable, without any curves or side-turns into the extreme or ambiguous. It is what it is, no questions, meditations, think-pieces, or re-watches necessary.

But the reason why this deserves to be said is because it’s directed by David Lynch who, for what seems like the first and perhaps, last time, ever, made a normal movie. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a problem with his many mind-benders that went on to make him famous and well-known, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for a dramatic change-of-pace like the Straight Story, where it literally seems like Lynch is a whole entirely new person, trying on a new piece of skin, seeing how it fits him, and working with it.

And yeah, it works.

The Straight Story is probably one of my favorites of Lynch’s because there are bits and pieces of it that feel like a Lynch film, what with the sometimes odd, awfully random character interactions, but it is still, after all, a movie in its own right. It’s slow, meditative and yes, old-timey, but there’s something truly charming and lovely in that that not only makes us feel like we’re watching the perfect movie for the whole family, but the perfect movie for anyone wanting a bit more drama and depth to their road-tales about elderly people. After all, there’s plenty out there like the Straight Story that feel it is necessary to dumb-down their material, for the sake of making silly jokes and ham-handed sentimentality.

But Lynch proves to be a smarter director than allowing himself to get caught up in all of that. He knows what the material deserves and doesn’t lose his sight on telling it, without trying to add some sort weird spark onto it. Sure, can it be a bit disappointing to see Lynch so ordinary and plain? Probably, yes. But like I said, a change-of-pace, especially one as solid as this, is a welcome one.

Gosh. Cheer up a bit, eh Richie?

It makes you wish that more idiosyncratic directors jumped out of their wheelhouse a bit and tried some new flavor for once.

That said, the Straight Story proves to be as much of a showcase for the skills that Lynch has, as much as it proves to be for the talent of the late, great and highly underrated Richard Farnsworth. As Alvin, Farnsworth gets a whole lot to do; while he is definitely playing an old-school, do-gooder who likes to wax on about the good old days, he’s also funny, charming and above all else, kind of sad. In fact, there’s a lot of sadness to this character – just by looking in Farnsworth’s pale blue eyes, you can tell that there’s just years and years of anguish and grief piling up, and it works absolutely well for building this character and helping us to understand just what there is about him. After all, he’s just another old guy who wants one last shot at life, so what else is there about him that can be offered?

A lot, it seems and it’s why Farnsworth’s a talent we still miss to this day. We just don’t know it.

Sissy Spacek is also quite good in the supporting role as his daughter, although at the same time, doesn’t get a whole lot to do, except have the occasional conversation with her daddy while he’s on his adventure. That’s probably how the whole rest of the cast plays-off as – they’re there to assist Farnsworth in all of his daily duties. Some are good (like a randomly pregnant teen), some aren’t (the woman who hits the dear is so over-the-top, I’m actually shocked it made it into the final-cut), but for the most part, they’re there to help us fully realize the world that David Lynch doesn’t often portray in his films: The simpler, kinder and more soft-spoken one where people aren’t all monsters and demons, but instead, actual nice, sweet people, who wouldn’t mind helping out an old-timer get to see his long, lost brother.

Consensus: Definitely a change-of-pace for Lynch, but a welcome one at that with a smart, attentive direction, witty, humanistic writing, and above all else, a great lead performance from Richard Farnsworth.

8.5 / 10

Pull him over!

Photos Courtesy of: Konangal Film Society

Lost Highway (1997)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get off the road. Like, way off the road.

Cool and happenin’ jazz musician Fred (Bill Pullman) lives a pretty fine life with his lovely wife (Patricia Arquette). But for some reason, he constantly keeps on thinking that she’s having an affair, driving him to go a little bit nuts in the head. However, he is shocked when he discovers that she’s dead and is being framed for it all, without he himself knowing whether or not he actually did it. Meanwhile, I think, there’s a young mechanic named Pete (Balthazar Getty) who is suddenly drawn into a web of deceit by a temptress (Patricia Arquette) who is cheating on her gangster boyfriend (Robert Loggia). Are these two tales linked? And if so, by what?

Uh. I’ll take my chances at a Motel 6.

Lost Highway is, no surprise, another one of David Lynch’s mind-benders that probably takes more time to watch and decipher it, again and again, than is probably necessary. However, there’s also some fun to be had in that, what with the movie not forgetting to constantly throw small hints, clues and little bits and pieces at us that may or may not tell us the whole story, or may just lead us down a path towards more darkness and confusion than ever before. Then again, there’s some fun to be had in that, especially when Lynch himself seems to know of the maze he’s taking us on, rather making stuff as he goes along, as he can often sometimes seem to do.

And in Lost Highway, there’s some fun to be had, but also some annoyance, too. In a way, it’s hard to really pin-point what it is about this movie works and what doesn’t, as much as it’s easy to say what’s hitting its mark the way it’s intended to, and what isn’t. For Lynch here, it seems like he’s got the mood down perfectly; there’s a creepy air of neo-noir mystery, coldness, and darkness that actually makes it more interesting to watch, despite the slow pace and sometimes meandering story. But Lynch clearly put a lot of effort into the way the movie look, felt and sounded, with all aspects being top-notch and creating a very paranoid, sometimes eerie aura of danger lurking somewhere underneath, and it pays off.

Then, you get to the story and well, there’s a lot to be desired.

It’s not that Lynch made a mistake in telling these two different stories and demanding that we make the connection in our times, by ourselves, it’s just that they aren’t all that interesting to watch. Bill Pullman’s story has some interest-factor because of it seeming like an attack on the male-psyche, whereas Balthazar Getty’s seems to sort of go nowhere. It’s as if Lynch was so enchanted with Arquette in the first place, that he didn’t really care how much mileage he could get out of her – so long as she was willing to act in two, somewhat different roles, then so be it.

Like, is she even real?

And well, there’s not a problem with that, either, because Arquette is quite good in both roles, playing up her beauty and sweetness, as well as her possible viciousness and danger, too. Arquette’s dual roles, while showing her off as being both sleek and sexy, also give her a chance to fool around with the audience, not allowing us to know whether or not she’s a good person, a bad one, or even a person at all. After all, she could just be a figment of these two guys’ imaginations, as well as our owns. The movie doesn’t always make that clear and while it’s a solid job on Lynch’s part for keeping that guess up and about, it’s also a solid job on Arquette’s too for never losing our attention.

But it does deserve to be noted that Lost Highway, by a certain point, at least, does seem to have painted itself into a corner that it can’t get out of and when it’s all done, there’s a big question-mark left. While you can say that about practically every other Lynch flick, it feels more frustrating here, where it’s as if Lynch himself didn’t have the answers or conclusions, but instead, just wanted to take his good old time, going wherever he oh so pleased. Sure, that’s fine, mostly because it’s an entertaining and compelling watch, but sometimes, a little help here and there could definitely help.

Actually, I know they do. But hey, that’s why I am me and David Lynch is, thank heavens, David Lynch.

Consensus: Odd, creepy and downright freaky, Lost Highway highlights Lynch at his most subversive, but also shows that his knack for storytelling doesn’t always pan-out as well as he may intend.

7 / 10

Yeah, don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Jay’s Analysis

Aliens (1986)

Aliens are pretty scary, but humans can be even worse.

After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team. Upon arriving at LV-426, the marines find only one survivor, a nine year old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). And while no one on-board really knows who Newt exactly is, or why she was all by herself on this huge ship, Ripley takes a liking to her and trusts her with all her might. Little does she, nor everyone else know, that there’s literally a huge colony of aliens waiting to get rid of them all and it’s up to these rough and tough soldiers to step up, stand together, and get rid of the threat, because lord knows that if they don’t get rid of it in space, it may just come closer to hitting Earth and causing way more problems than they could have ever expected.

Say what you will about James Cameron, his scripts, his cheesiness, and his knack for going over-the-top, but the man can direct a freakin’ action movie, for gosh sakes. I mean, literally, there’s not a minute in Aliens that isn’t packed with some sort of fun, or intensity, or excitement in the air; it’s literally two-and-a-half-hours of pure, unabashed adrenaline, mixed in with some speed for even better times. While some movies like to pride themselves on being a piece of absolute energy from start-to-finish, very few of them actually are and it’s why Aliens, all of these years later, still reigns supreme as one of the best action movies of all-time.

Okay, so yeah, Jimmy Cameron clearly recycled some ideas.

That said? Is it stupid? Hell yeah, but with James Cameron, it works. See, whereas Alien was much more of a slow-burning horror-thriller, Aliens is way more of a slam-bang action-thriller, where instead of taking our time, feeling the mood, it’s a pure straight-shot from the get-go. While that may sound bad and a downgrade from the original, it actually works in the movie’s favor; we still get to feel the mood, we still get to know some of these characters, and yeah, we still get thrown on the edge of our seats. All the stuff that made the original so great are here still, but they’re just heightened to a point of where they seemed to have been replaced by something far better.

It’s like something we didn’t even know we needed.

But that’s why James Cameron is such a master at his craft – he knows what a movie-going audience wants and absolutely delivers on it all. Sure, he hasn’t met a cheesy one-liner he didn’t like, nor does he seem to stray away from macho-posturing, but it really doesn’t matter, because it’s so fun to watch and listen as these goofy characters all talk, scream, and pose their muscles. In other words, Aliens is the perfect movie for a nerd to enjoy and not feel threatened by, but also for the jocks to enjoy and not feel like they’re losing their reputation as one of the cool guys.

In other words, everyone can find something here to love and enjoy and at the end of the day, even get along.

See what I mean?

Now, isn’t that what movies were made for in the first place? Not just entertaining people, but bringing them together, no matter how different they may be from one another? To me, that’s what movies are about and it’s why Aliens, while definitely not the heartfelt, sentimental flick I’m making it out to be, is just a near-masterpiece. It’s got some stupid moments and Paul Reiser’s character, more often than not, feels like an unfortunate villain that the movie just falls back on for unnecessary conflict, but for the most part, every bit of it works.

And mostly, it all comes circling back to Sigourney Weaver in the title-role of Lt. Ripley. See, in the original, while Ripley was still a strong character, she wasn’t quite given nearly as much as she’s given to do here and it’s why Weaver’s performance tops everyone else’s here; she’s got presence and seems like she’s as tough as she makes herself out to be. But she’s also the kind of character that isn’t asking for us to love, adore, and praise her – she’s just a rough and rugged S.O.B. that isn’t afraid to stand up to those around her and speak her mind.

In other words, she’s the perfect woman. But also a little scary.

But that’s fine, because Weaver is great at these kinds of characters. After all, she’s practically made a career out of them and it seemed to have started with Ripley. While yes, even those on the side of her like Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, and the late, always amazing Bill Paxton are great to watch and have here, it’s Ripley’s show the whole way through. She reminds us not why strong female characters matter first and foremost, but why strong characters matter in general.

Especially in something that is basically an alien shoot-em-up.

Consensus: While undeniably cheesy and over-the-top, Aliens is also undeniably fun, exciting, compelling, and perfectly directed by James Cameron, that you almost forget how great Weaver is in the lead role.

9.5 / 10

Move aside, fellas!

Photos Courtesy of: Horror Freak News

LA 92 (2017)

So is this what that Sublime song was all about?

It was one of the most heated and controversial times in our country, the spring of 1992, in Los Angeles to be exact. With all sorts of racism, hate and anger brewing in the air, everything came to a head when four cops were acquitted of the crime of nearly beating Rodney King to death. It was a decision that shook the whole world, but for most of the citizens in Los Angeles, they not only felt like this was a personal attack, but a time for them to strike back, have their voices heard, and stand up exactly for what they believe in. And of course, this lead to some of the most shocking and upsetting violence ever seen in mainstream culture.

There’s going to continue to be a lot more documentaries out there like LA 92. Technology has gotten so grand by now that nearly everyone and their grandmothers have a camera with them, meaning that they’ll be able to capture whatever it is that’s happening in front of them. In a way, there’s no privacy and everything can be seen for the whole world, which may make someone very paranoid, but also makes it possible for small events, inside these huge ones, appear and finally be seen.

Wanna let it burn!

And it’s why LA 92 is so surprising, considering that this was around the time where not everyone had a cell-phone, nor did they have a video-camera along with them. So the fact that both directors T.J. Martin and Dan Lindsay were able to tell a whole documentary about the LA Riots, solely through video-footage, without any present-day interviews or narrations, or what have you, is truly astounding.

And yeah, the fact that it’s downright intense the whole two hours, is an even greater achievement.

Needless to say, there’s a great deal of energy simmering throughout LA 92 that plays out just like the real timeline of the events presented. The movie starts off slow and melodic, but there is no doubt an unsettling feeling in the air; it’s as if we, just like the people involved, know exactly what’s going to happen, and it’s only a matter of time. However, just waiting for it all to happen is pretty damn suspenseful and it makes certain horrors and thrillers shame in comparison.

Hey. I was using that.

That said, when it does come to the actual riots, there is nothing left to the imagination. You’d think that with all of the press-coverage this infamous event got and still does get, that there wouldn’t be anything new or surprising to see here, but there actually is. We get a lot of hand-held footage that puts us right there, on the ground, and in the action, and it’s absolutely terrifying. There’s this feeling that we, the viewers, are in danger and it’s hard to keep your eyes off of the screen. We know what the end result of this whole situation is, but for some reason, it’s still so insanely crazy and wild that it’s hard to not get involved with.

And because of that, LA 92 is an achievement. Not just in documentary storytelling, but editing and storytelling in general. It’s the kind of documentary that’s hard to really talk on and on about, without just saying that it deserves to be seen. Everything that happens is still relevant to this very day and while the documentary doesn’t quite try and make that comparison as well, it’s obvious, therefore, it doesn’t even need to be said.

The only thing that needs to be said is that you need to see LA 92. Please. Do yourself a favor.

Consensus: Exciting, tense, and masterfully put together, LA 92 is not just an alarming recount of the infamous time in our nation’s history, but a sign that moments like these will only repeat themselves.

9 / 10

Some things, you’ve just got to let figure itself out.

Photos Courtesy of: (not) to docFlavorwireSuddenly, a shot rang out

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

Where’s those Knights of the Round Table?

After the murder of his father (Eric Bana), young Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is sent off, via boat, to an island where whores and crime run wild. However, Arthur gets going with it all pretty quick and soon, he becomes the smartest, craftiest, and trusted people on the island that, practically, everyone is asking him for their help, in any way that they can. But there’s a reason for why Arthur is the way he is – he comes from royalty, yet, doesn’t know what it is, what it feels like, nor does he actually want it. He’s actually pretty pleased with his life and doesn’t feel the need to up-end it, only until he discovers that his power-hungry uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), who also killed his father, is looking for him and needs him to pull the Excalibur sword from stone. Arthur eventually does and leads to all sorts of action and violence that both sides will compete in until their deaths, but also know that there’s more to being a king, than just having power and fine jewelry. There’s also this thing called respect and honor, and stuff like that.

Just look at that get-up! Clearly the baddie!

King Arthur is a movie that a lot of people will, and already have started to, hate. This isn’t to say that those who don’t like it, aren’t wrong, because in fact, they’re probably; the movie is loud, dark, brash, stupid, random, nonsensical, and downright weird. But sometimes, can’t there be fun had in all of that?

See, Guy Ritchie is the kind of director who seems to take on anything he wants, so long as he can put his own little cool, suave stamp on it. It’s why his early movies, the Sherlock Holmes‘, and even Man From U.N.C.L.E. have worked so well for him, because he was able to do something neat and different with these pieces of work, and make them entirely his own. And yes, it also helps that Ritchie’s style, while definitely show-offy, is still fun to watch and brings a certain amount of energy.

Then again, maybe that’s just for me.

See, the first ten minutes of King Arthur are just so odd, slow and boring, that it made me want to check out very early on. But then, out of nowhere, Ritchie’s style kicks in, where everything’s quick, a little dumb, loud, and random, making it feel like we were watching Clash of the Titans, only to then change to channel to 90’s MTV. It’s silly, of course, but it works in moving this flick forward when in all honesty, other films just like it would have kept a slow, leisurely pace for no reason.

Does it totally work? Not really, but it does help keep the movie fun at times when it shouldn’t be. For instance, Ritchie makes Arthur and his cronies as just another group of his usual rag-tag bunch of gangsters, stealing, lying and killing, for their own gain. Granted, Arthur’s supposed to be the hero here, but listening to him and his pals telling a story, or better yet, a bunch of stories all at once, is quite entertaining.

Once again, this may all just be me, but for some reason, King Arthur was a little bit of fun for me.

The issues the movie seems to have is in making sense of its story, which is why, for two hours, the movie can be a bit long. There are times when it seems like even Ritchie himself can’t make sense of the story and why Arthur matters in the grander scheme of things; certain supernatural elements with witches, eagles, and bugs, all randomly pop-up and are supposed to mean something, but they really don’t. The movie hasn’t really told us much about it, other than, “Oi, yeah, this kind of stuff can happen.”

Poor Eric Bana. The man can just never catch a break.

Can it, though? I guess, and it’s why King Arthur, while clearly not a perfect movie, also seemed to need some more help on the story, even though it took three writers to apparently bring it around.

Still, King Arthur provides enough entertainment when it’s needed and it’s also nice to see the ensemble here having some fun, too. After the Lost City of Z, I began thinking of whether or not Charlie Hunnam was actually a good actor, or if he was just another good-looking guy, who also happened to be able to read lines. Here, I think he fits Arthur quite well; he gets to cool, calm, sophisticated, and a little arrogant, which, if you’re someone who looks like Hunnam, it probably works, and it does here.

Even Jude Law gets to have some fun as Vortigern, although he never quite gets the chance to go full “villain”. Sure, he kills innocents, gives people the bad eye, and yes, even scowls, but there’s never any key moment where it feels like the man is as despicable and as evil as he probably should have been. He’s basically just the Young Pope, but instead of preaching and having weird sexual feelings for nannies, he’s actually killing people.

So shouldn’t that make him more evil? I don’t know, either way, Law deserves to be meaner and badder.

Consensus: While it is no doubt a flawed, odd and at times, random piece, King Arthur also proves that Guy Ritchie’s hip and cool style can still work, so long as it isn’t being depended on to help out with the story, or other things that matter to making a good movie.

5.5 / 10

He’s still deciding on what accent to use, or if to even have one at all.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

It’s like they say, “Your best movies, are the ones that come close to killing you.” Even though, yeah, they don’t.

After making not just the Godfather Part I, but Part II in the span of a nearly two years, Francis Ford Coppola could basically do whatever the hell it is that he wanted, with as much money, with whomever, and wherever. That’s when he decides to take up adapting Heart of Darkness, the novella that had been a long passion-project of Coppola’s, but needed some extra push to get off the ground. Eventually, he got it, but in this case, it wasn’t what he, or anyone else was expecting. Needless to say, without saying too much, one lead actor gets a heart-attack, another gets recast about halfway through, one is filmed in a drunken-stooper, one lies about his age to get in the movie. But then, if you go past the usual actor stuff, you’ve also got the fact that the budget is running up the bill way more than it was supposed to, the Vietnam locals are getting pissed, the weather was absolutely awful and practically unlivable, and oh yeah, Coppola himself literally lost his mind.

Was it “method”?

The biggest joke about Hearts of Darkness would be that the resulting film of all this mayhem and madness, Apocalypse Now, turned out to be a bunch of crap that people put way too much of an effort into, for no other reason because they had to, or they thought what was right. But that’s what’s funny, because the movie turned out, dare I say it, almost perfect. All of the years spent filming, editing, and putting money into it, guess what?

At the end of the day, everyone went home happy.

But Hearts of Darkness isn’t a movie about what the final product ended up becoming, nor is it really about what everyone else thought about the movie, it’s mostly about the behind-the-scenes of everything that happened on, as well as off the set, and yeah, it’s just about as candid and as eye-opening as you can get with a documentary about so many big names and faces in Hollywood. With the assistance from Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, believe it or not, Eleanor Coppola, Francis’ wife, is actually the perfect one to bring this table of absolute craziness to the big screen; she was, after all, there for it all, and her insight, while sometimes silly, focuses on things that probably mattered the most. While Francis was off worrying about how much fire was burning the trees down, Eleanor was worried that her husband was going to have a stroke and possibly die from all of the tension and turmoil in his life.

It’s not like she wants us to feel bad for her husband, but at the same time, she also wants to see it from more of a film-nerd’s perspective, where the control-freak director is always right for themselves, the movie, and everyone else around them. But still, just watching what happens behind-the-scenes here, and the things that we only hear small instances of, are truly insane, but draw you in even closer to the mind of Coppola, how he worked, and why he slaved away for so long to get this picture of his made and up on the big screen, for all the world to see and hopefully feast their eyes on.

It was the 70’s and it was hot, so maybe he wasn’t totally crazy.

And really, it all comes back to Coppola, someone who has become a pretty infamous figure in movie-making, only because it appears like his career has taken a huge turn downwards after he was put into debt for this project, as well as the many others to follow. For one, it’s interesting to see Coppola talk about this project, but also not think of him as a total ass; sure, he loves himself and his work, but can you blame him? The man has literally just made two of the greatest movies of all-time and was onto making another, so maybe he’s allowed to kiss his own ass, eh?

If so, it still brings up the question: How much is too much?

Eleanor and the movie as a whole, brings this point up many times and makes us think, whether we’re on his side for going so far as he did, to make sure that this movie was complete and actually worked to his vision, or, if he was just way too artistically-driven in the first place? See, it would be a problem if the movie didn’t turn out to be such a classic, but it somehow did and it makes us not just think, but wonder: Where has that same artistic integrity gone? And hell, when is it coming back?

Consensus: Eye-opening and thrilling to watch, especially if you’re a film-nerd, Hearts of Darkness will surely show you everything you need to see, hear, and understand about all of the craziness that went into making sure the final product turned into what it is seen as today.

8.5 / 10

Pictured: Cast and crew getting the hell out of Coppola’s rage.

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Measure of a Man (2016)

Globalization, am I right?

Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon) is a 50-something Frenchman who, after many, many years, gets laid-off from his job. Now, not having many skills in the world and a family to provide for, he’s finding it harder and harder to get his foot in a door, let alone, actually get hired. After all, when you’re his age, without much of a school career, or experience in a certain type of specific field, then sorry, it doesn’t look too bright. Thankfully, many months go by and Thierry finally gets a job, but it’s as a security-guard for some supermarket. While it’s fine because it allows him to have some money in his pocket, it also puts him in some uncomfortable positions where he has to stop people from robbing the system – aka, the same system that’s been laying people off like him for the past few years or so and won’t stop. Eventually, he’s got to give up and realize that the system is crooked, right? Or should he just stand by, collect the dough, and run on home?

He’s sad, but interested.

The Measure of a Man is a smart movie in that it could have been a very preachy and agonizing movie about the slowly but surely depleting middle-class, the recession, the workforce, and most of all, how the government is constantly screwing over those who work their hardest, only to be replaced by someone younger and probably, far more inexperienced, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a very small, very short, and very slight little movie about one man trying to make a living in a world that is constantly moving and going into certain places that he doesn’t know if he can keep up with. It’s very simple stuff, of course, but co-writer and director Stephane Brize does a solid job of keeping us watching and waiting for this man’s life to unravel, because of all the tension he’s facing.

But once again, the movie’s much smarter than that – it doesn’t play by a sort of conventional formula, nor does it ever really seem to even have a plot. Mostly, we just sit around and watch as this guy gets fired, tries to get a job, go to class, get denied, get a job, and yeah, eventually, work it. But while that all may sound boring, it’s surprising how much of it isn’t; it’s like watching an all-too real and painful documentary that may help you realize that your upper-class, suburban life isn’t so bad after all.

See how these things work themselves out sometimes?

Okay, now he’s kind of pleased.

But really, it’s Vincent Lindon’s performance that remains the sole reason to see this movie and it’s the main reason why the Measure of a Man constantly stays interesting, even when it seems like it’s not going anywhere. Though he’s got plenty of say and is in every scene, it’s actually surprising how little Lindon actually speaks as Thierry. Most of his scenes either involve him staring off into space, looking sad, mad, or just thinking of something. Sure, he talks and yells, at one point, but for the most part, it’s a very quiet, subdued and subtle performance that remains interesting because there are so many different angles to this guy that it makes us want to watch him do more stuff, no matter what it is.

Sure, he’s the main character and perhaps, in a way, the only one that’s really worth remembering, but still, it’s a great performance nonetheless. The movie is definitely his for the taking, mostly because the plot is nonexistent, but that’s all fine, because Lindon knows how to make a scene of absolute silence, somewhat intense and off-putting.

Would it have been nice for the movie to get deeper and dirtier into what it really wanted to say about the business world? Of course, but when your lead actor’s this good, who cares?

Consensus: Even though there’s not much of a plot to follow, the Measure of a Man is a small, but interesting flick, anchored by a very good performance from Vincent Lindon.

7.5 / 10

And oh darn, he’s back to being sad again. Come on, Vincent!

Photos Courtesy of: Nord-Quest Productions

On a Clear Day (2005)

Swim upstream. Or down. Depending on your mood.

After losing his job at a Glasgow shipyard that he’s been working at for quite some time, 50-year-old Frank (Peter Mullan) doesn’t really have much going on in his life. While his wife (Brenda Blethyn) is practicing to become a bus-driver and become the soul bread-maker of the family, Frank is looking anywhere he can for a job, that doesn’t just pay, but also get him out of this funk that he’s been in ever since a tragedy hit him and his family many, many years ago. That’s why, even though a casual remark is made by a buddy of his, Frank gets an idea: to swim the English Channel. While it’s rather outlandish and silly, Frank is determined enough to make the dream a reality and with the help of his closest friends and of course, his loving and supportive family, Frank sets forth on a training regimen that will help him achieve his goal. But that goal is a lot harder to achieve when you already have so much baggage on land, in the first place.

Peter Mullan, or David Beckham? Nope, definitely Peter Mullan.

On a Clear Day is such a cute, little adorable movie that it’s hard to really point out any faults about it. Of course, there are quite a few, but at the end of the picture, do any of them really matter? Because while the movie isn’t as deep as it wants to be, nor is it ever really as smart, either, On a Clear Day, when all is said and done, is charming, nice, and rather enjoyable. It’s the kind of movie that’s safe, inoffensive, and essentially, perfect for the whole family, in the same ways that Disney movies are, but instead of talking cartoons, it’s actual, real life human beings.

And instead of singing, everyone’s just yelling in heavy Scottish accents.

But there’s not much of a problem with a heavy accent – in fact, half of the charm of On a Clear Day is from where it takes place and the overall setting. It’s a calm, easy and rather lovely little place where everyone knows each other and is able to lend a helping hand. However, on the other side, it’s also a dark, sometimes muggy town that sees people losing jobs, day in and day out, and more immigration to the big cities, than ever.

So is it really all that happy and lovely? Not really, but that’s one of the many aspects On a Clear Day hints at with itself. It never gets as deep, or as dark, or as depressing as it wants to, which is sometimes okay, but other times, it does feel like it’s keeping itself away from being better and much more thought-provoking. Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, but it makes it one that had plenty of promise to go to some deep, heavy places, but instead, chose the safe way out.

“Oi, ladeys. Who’s swimmin?”

Sometimes, there’s no problem with that. At least most would be pleased.

But then again, it’s hard to be mad at a movie like On a Clear Day when the cast assembled are so wonderful and fun to watch, that at the end of it all, it’s almost like, “Aw, who cares?”. Peter Mullan has been one of the more dependable acts in film today and honestly, it’s no shock; he can play down-and-dirty when he wants, but he can also brighten things up and play charming. Here, he gets to do a little bit of both, although, without ever showing one side too much and it’s actually quite nice. He makes us feel and understand the sadness that exists within Frank’s life, while also showing some glimmers of hope throughout. It’s a slight performance on his radar, for sure, but it’s also a sign that the man knows what he’s doing.

Brenda Blethyn is quite charming, as usual, in the role as his wife. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a whole lot more of her, other than trying to talk to Frank and, on occasion, getting into arguments with him about his life and their history together. A much smarter movie probably would have focused on how both of their lives are affected, but eh, so be it. Blethyn still gets a couple of opportunities to show why she’s great in these smart, yet very strong women roles and it goes without saying that I wish there was more of her now.

Maybe some day. On a clear day, perhaps?

Consensus: While slight, small and relatively safe, On a Clear Day is also quite a lovely movie that doesn’t go as deep as it should, but does have a charming cast to make up for its issues.

6 / 10

Hey, Michael Phelps had to start somewhere, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Icon Pictures

Tramps (2017)

Let’s get lost. Please.

Danny (Callum Turner) is a Polish kid living in Queens, who aspires to be a top-level chef. He still lives with his mom and brother, and is, basically, made out to be living there for the rest of his life, essentially. So when his brother gets locked-up in Atlantic City and calls him up, he needs to get his act together. His mission is simple: Get a bag from a lady and drop off another. If that wasn’t easy enough, he would then get help from Ellie (Grace Van Patten), a gal who also is apart of this deal somehow. While neither know one another, they decide that it’s best to be nice enough so that they can get the job done and go home. However, they both sort of screw-up in giving the wrong woman the bag. Now, they both have to retrace the woman’s steps and figure out where the bag is, how they can get it, and when they can get it back to its rightful place, before there are some serious consequences. Of course though, this also leads Danny and Ellie to spending more time together, getting to know each other, and yeah, possibly even falling in love. Maybe though, right?

Writer/director Adam Leon deserves some props for basically remaking his previous flick, Gimme the Loot, and only changing up certain aspects, like the characters, the situation they’re in, and the time. That’s about it. Everything else is basically the same, with the plot, the look, the tone, the feel, and of course, the spirit. Meaning that it was fine for him to remake it, because not only was that a solid little movie, but this one’s even more solid and, well, little.

Will they?

May not have been the most original idea out there, but hey, it works, right?

And with Tramps, Leon seems to be having some fun, playing not just with the geography of the story, but the constant tones that pop in and out. For one, it’s a comedy, but it’s also got some small, yet, serious consequences, making it almost a thriller, but not really. The movie is also a drama, with some romance sprinkled in throughout, but really, it’s just an all around sometimes serious, sometimes not, movie. Does that it make it bad? Nope, not all. If anything, it just makes it unique and a lot of fun to watch, mostly because Leon nails everything he’s trying to nail.

So often what happens with movies such as these is that they get too bogged down in story, tones, moods, and everything else, that they all mash together in an uneven, if watchable mess. Tramps is not that kind of movie because it has such a lovely, breezy pace to it all that when it does change itself up, it feels welcomed and believable, as if the adventure these two kiddies got on, all of a sudden switched gears. Some of it’s a bit silly and downright ridiculous, but honestly, it’s hard to get annoyed by all of that.

Won’t they?

The movie’s so charming that it’s like, alright, who the hell cares? Just have fun.

And while Tramps may not become the most serious piece of film ever seen, it does work so well because Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten are, quite literally, the cutest two people to ever share the screen together. He’s tall, charming, and a bit stupid, whereas she’s small, tough, and smart. Together, the two probably shouldn’t work, but they have such good chemistry that it all works out. They always make it seem like they want to drop whatever scene they’re doing and maul each other on-screen, even when they’re not supposed to be giving off that feeling, but it actually works. We want to see them fall for one another and possibly make cute, but odd kids.

Tramps 2 anyone? Netflix? Yeah, make it happen.

Consensus: While slight and small, Tramps is also a fun, charming, and rather sweet tale of little lovers-on-the-run, that also sort of isn’t, but whatever. It’s a good time. So shut up.

8 / 10

Aw. Who cares? Just be cute together, dammit!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood ReporterThe New York TimesPopCultHQ

Small Crimes (2017)

You can’t go home. Like ever. Especially if you’re an a-hole.

Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) a former cop, returns home after a six-year stint after attempted murder on his deceased partner, and well, let’s just say that no one really likes him. His dad (Robert Forster) is more forgiving than his mother (Jacki Weaver) is, meanwhile, old friends become new enemies who take to spitting in his food at restaurants. But still, Joe has to do something, which is why he decides to stay in town a little longer, and complete whatever it is that he has to do. But in order to do it, he’s going to have to befriend a local nurse (Molly Parker), who, good for him, doesn’t know a single thing about his checkered-past. Like I said though, everyone else does and it makes Joe’s life, not just an endangered one, but one that’s not so perfect when you’re living in a small town, full of sometimes dangerous and mad people. For Joe though, he’s just going to have to stick to his job and see if he can complete it, with his head still in-tact.

Co-writer and actor Macon Blair is an interesting talent. Literally no one had ever heard of him, or his name five years ago, but now, all of a sudden, in the past three years, he’s become one of indie’s hottest talents, starring in and also writing/directing some cool features. It makes you think where he’s been all this time and just what else he’s got ready to bring to the table.

A little rugged, but still hot.

Which is why Small Crimes is so disappointing.

Cause not only is Blair co-writing it, but he’s co-writing it with director E.L. Katz, who a few years ago, made a cruel, dark, twisted, but surprisingly smart Cheap Thrills. You’d think that these two talents’ penchant for dark, seedy tales of violence and crime would come together perfectly like peanut butter and fluff, but for some reason, that doesn’t happen. Instead, the movie proves that perhaps their styles are far too different and weird to actually come together at all, resulting in a movie that’s all mixed-up in tones, subplots, and characters that either don’t make any sense, or aren’t interesting enough to even get invested in.

Basically, it’s a big step down for both of these folks and it makes you wonder just what happened? Because honestly, there’s a good, and rather fun story to be had here, with a small-town full of murder and deceit and lies, but it gets lost in the shuffle. There’s a romantic subplot, there’s a family-conflict, there’s issues concerning Joe’s case, and yeah, there’s a whole lot more for, mind you, a movie that’s a little over 90 minutes.

But a jumble isn’t such a bad thing, really, so long as it’s all interesting. But in Small Crimes, it’s just not. There’s not really much of a character who’s compelling to keep the movie watchable, nor is there really any conflict with the story, because, oh, that’s right, they never really clue us into what the hell Joe’s actually getting up into. Movies like this bug me, where they tell you certain details of what’s happening, but not everything – think of a riddle, but instead of deciphering what the message means, you have to think of what part is missing. It’s an annoying contrivance for certain stories like this to feel like they’re one step ahead of you, when in reality, they’re just holding back for no reason.

A little scared, but still hot.

Sometimes, telling the audience what’s happening, isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it may help your movie out a bit.

And in the case of Small Crimes, it would have definitely helped out. Cause instead, we sit and watch as this Joe guy, gets ready to commit a crime, that we’re not too sure about, and/or for what reasons. The movie either expects us to put the pieces of the puzzle together, or better yet, just wait for some more info to come around. In some cases, storytelling like this can work and seem smart, but here, it’s just aggravating.

The only aspect in which Small Crimes seems to work is when the action of the story comes together, and well, it’s actually pretty brave, disturbing and dirty, the way it ought to be. But then, by that point, the movie has already lost some adrenaline and energy, making it seem like a little too late and perhaps, even a wasted opportunity. Because when you have a cast this stacked, with a premise so simple and promising, you have to wonder where it all went wrong, or better yet, why?

But then again, who cares?

Consensus: Small Crimes had promise to work with the talent involved, but it ends up being a mish-mash of plot, characters, and tones, that just never seem to rub against one another well.

4 / 10

A little bloody, but still hot.

Photos Courtesy of: Bloody Disgusting

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Eye for an eye. Literally.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion magazine Elle, lived a pretty momentous and happy life until he was 43, where he, all of a sudden, suffered a massive-stroke. But his stroke was perhaps the most unique and rare of all time, as the damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome. Meaning, he was practically a vegetable, left for dead, couldn’t move any part of his body, except for one key part: His left eye. Once again, it was a rare case of a stroke, so obviously, no one really knew what to do – the doctors were constantly studying him and figuring out ways to hold conversations with him, which mostly just led to him blinking a lot and getting frustrated. But through it all, Bauby himself kept something of a journal, detailing his inner-most thoughts, his anger, his rage, and eventually, giving a voice to himself, when he couldn’t even mutter a word.

“Books. Remember?”

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets by, for quite some time, on the fact that it’s got this unique and ridiculously odd premise, and works despite itself. Seeing as how the movie is taking place from Bauby’s point-of-view, and considering that this is his story mostly after he suffers the stroke, it only makes sense that the movie take place in his head, where we see everything he sees, hear everything he hears, and, well, not really, but sort of feel what he feels, right?

Well, yeah, kinda. And surprisingly, it works.

Director Julian Schnabel takes a risk here in putting us inside the head and mind of Bauby, where we see just what he sees for at least the first hour or so. It’s actually quite mind-boggling how long Schnabel goes with this gimmick, but surprisingly, it never gets old, or grows tired, like so many other camera-gimmicks of the same nature would have; if anything, it makes us feel closer to this subject and have us grow more sympathetic to him, over time. Sure, it may not have been all that hard to do in the first place, but still, it deserves to be said that the gimmick taken on here, pays-off and honestly, could have gone on the whole time.

Because unfortunately, it doesn’t and eventually, Schnabel, out of fear that the audience may get bored, decides to switch it up to more conventional film-making, where we get everyone else’s stories, start to get flashbacks, and of course, see Bauby, both before and after the stroke. Does it still work? Yeah, it actually kind of does. There’s always something interesting and compelling about these stories in which a person literally has all the time in the world to think about their lives, the mistakes they’ve made, the decisions they should have done, the people they’ve hurt, the ones that they’ve loved, etc., and Bauby’s no exception. It helps that the writing is sharp, too, in that we Bauby himself never loses a comedic-edge to the absolute piece of crap he has been handed, making him, of course, more likable, as the film progresses.

“Papa? We do not look alike at all.”

But does it have the same effect?

Unfortunately, no.

See, there’s only so much you can do with your film when you decide to abandon a gimmick more than half-way through, especially when the gimmick was already working heavily in your favor. An odd example of this happening elsewhere is in REC 3: Génesis, where, like the two movies before it, is filmed in the trademark, found-footage style, and, like in those two other movies, still works and is perhaps even creepier. But then, out of nowhere, it abandons this and becomes a traditionally-shot film that’s like any other horror film. Was it a risky move? Yep. Did it ruin the movie? Not really, because it still stayed tense. But did it have the same chilling effect as the first two movies, or better yet, the first-half?

Nope, not really. And that’s what happens with the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The story is still there and compelling, but it also feels like a wasted opportunity to really go deeper and further with this gimmick. Some may have been especially happy that the film switches gears about more than halfway through and started to introduce a more ordinary style of film-making, which is understandable, but to me, it felt like a cheap back-away from really sticking to itself in telling the story, the way it probably should have been told. I can’t speak on Bauby’s behalf whether he’d be happy about it, either, but hey, maybe he would have.

He seemed to have liked the artistic, more creative side of the world before, well, you know.

Consensus: Instantly smart, original, inventive, and altogether, compelling, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly maintains emotion throughout its two hours, even if it does flutter a bit when it surprisingly switches gears some time around the middle.

8.5 / 10

Uh yeah. Just kill me now. Thanks. Bye.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Before Night Falls (2000)

Us writers, and the wild lives we live.

Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) had a hell of a life that never ceased to be filled with energy, excitement, and altogether, tragedy. It started when he was born fatherless in 1943, and ended with him dying of AIDS in his NYC apartment in 1990. Everything else that happened in between, such as the love affairs, the constant novels being written, and the plenty of arrests in his life, are all apart of his unique story that, once again, was all a tragedy.

It’s hard for a movie to make us feel any type of sympathy for a character, especially when we know what we see is a biopic and it’s supposed to span a long amount of time. Sometimes the directors/writers have to get down and dirty and give us something that’s unique about this person, or the least bit sympathetic for that matter, in order for us to even give a flying fuck about the subject, or the movie itself. It’s very hard to pull off, and pull off well, but sometimes you don’t even need that aspect of your script to make the subject, or the movie work. Sometimes, all you need is a great actor playing the subject to take things over.

And that’s exactly what we have here with Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas.

Honestly, if it weren’t for Bardem’s amazing performance here as Arenas, I don’t think I would have cared for this person, or this movie at all. We all know that Bardem can act his ass off by now, but back in the early days of post-Y2K: People had no freakin’ clue who this guy was and what all of the fuss was all about with him. He had a lot of buzz going on over in his native-land where he was constantly getting nominated and winning awards, but he never quite broke out into the states. That is, until this movie came around and as they say, “The rest is history”.

Yup, totally gay.

Talk about style.

Bardem is given the simple task here of having to look as if he’s feeling pain and on the verge of absolute-depression, every second, of every scene. For some, it may repetitive, but for me, I noticed something really remarkable here. It isn’t that he’s just using the same look and expression on his face the whole time, it’s more that he’s adapting to the story, the same way the real Arenas would have. There’s always a sad, dark grin on his face the whole movie, even when he’s happy and having a good time, but there’s something more underneath it all that you’re able to latch onto right away, not just because you’re able to tell that is a peaceful soul that shouldn’t be hurt because he’s gay, but because Bardem gives him that soul.

As time goes on for Arenas and the story begins to go through its many dramatic shifts, the performance only begins to pick up more and more heart and emotion, and that’s when Bardem really lights the screen on fire with every ounce of gasoline and brimstone he’s got. The guy’s a class-act of an actor because he’s able to take any type of role somebody has to throw at him, and find a way to make it his own, while also giving something resembling a heart and soul. A soul that we may have to search hard to actually spot, but one that you’ll be able to chalk-up to his ability as an actor and always being able to make his presence more than enough. The dude’s been great for awhile and it’s great to see where it all started.

God, I wonder what we’d do without this guy.

However, I did have a reasoning for talking about Bardem so early on and it wasn’t because he was the main attraction of the whole flick, it’s because he’s probably the best thing going for it since the rest of the flick is a bit of a mess in terms of editing and cohesion. For instance, we jump-forward in time on more than a few occasions where it isn’t that we know what Arenas has been up to in the years prior that we probably missed, but more that we are sort of just plopped-down and left to make up the conclusions ourselves. In some films, this can work, but with a biopic that’s asking us to pay attention to this human-being at the center of the story, it just feels distracting. It’s almost as if we’re paying too much close attention to putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and not the subject himself.

One second, he’s in prison, and then the next second, he’s out and has already written ten books. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even know when he was writing a book, or just writing poetry for the hell of it. The movie never makes that clear enough and it seems because it’s more focused and interested on Arenas’ sexual escapades and the constant trysts he had with other dudes. It’s not wrong to be interested, but it takes away from what was already a brutally honest about depression and grief, especially in this one man’s life. Bardem makes him unique, but he does it so effortlessly.

This movie, on the other hand, doesn’t and even worse, fails at doing so.

No, he did not die from hypothermia.

No, he did not die from hypothermia. Although that would have been tragic as hell.

Like I said before, without Bardem, who knows what the hell would have happened with this flick. He holds it altogether like Gorilla Glue and never lets loose of it, even when the fragmented story-structure tries to pull his weight down. And that’s not to discredit the rest of the cast either, because everybody else does fine – it’s just that the movie isn’t all that concerned with them, and only uses them as window-dressing. Like, you know, for show.

Olivier Martinez probably gives his best performance as Arenas’ most beloved lover, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and shows that he has a soft side to his act that we may not see in the muddled-crap that he does nowadays; Sean Penn shows up in what is basically an unrecognizable performance that didn’t even seem like him when he was on the screen, but had me do a check-up and I realized it totally was him; Michael Wincott was a fresh face to see on the screen as the main artist who stands-up to the government, and roots for his writing buddies; and last, but sure as hell not least is Johnny Depp, playing dual roles, both of which are surprisingly good. The first one is a transvestite who Arenas takes a liking to in the prison and has one of the more bizarre scenes of the whole flick, and the second one is him playing a Cuban officer that’s a bit strange as well, but a tad bit more vicious than what we’re used to seeing from Depp. There’s plenty more names where those came from, but they all are fine for what they have to do, but it’s Bardem who really keeps the show on the road, even when the direction from Julian Schnabel gets in the way.

Consensus: If it weren’t for Javier Bardem’s amazing performance as Reinaldo Arenas, who knows what the hell would have happened to Before Night Falls, but with him in the lead role, the movie is surprisingly engrossing, heartfelt, and all the more tragic because of the life the real-life figure lived and even died from.

7.5 / 10

Don't lie, you'd hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Don’t lie, you’d hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Photos Courtesy of: Grandview Pictures

Basquiat (1996)

Just cause you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not “hip”.

Despite living a life of extreme poverty in Brooklyn, graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) ended up becoming one of the biggest and brightest names in art, during the 70’s and 80’s. He became the poster-boy for what would essentially be known as “neo-Expressionism” earning all types of praise, as well as money from those who wanted a little piece of his pie. It also helped him gain something of a wonderful and lovely friendship between him and Andy Warhol (David Bowie), who, at the end of his life, was looking to hang out with the hot young thing in the art world. However, Basquiat’s personal demons continued to haunt him throughout his whole life, whether it was his battle with racism, drug addiction, or staying loyal to his girlfriend (Claire Forlani), the art was always there to aid him. But was it ever enough? Judging by how his story ends, probably not.

There’s Courtney Love ruining another artist’s life.

Basquiat is a an interesting biopic because it isn’t what you’d expect a movie about an artist, directed by an artist, actually be like. Writer/director Julian Schnabel could have easily decked-out every inch of Basquiat with all sorts of watch-me, pretentious style-points and he probably would have been able to get away with it, too; artist biopics are probably the easiest where a director’s own creativity has no limits and allow for them to go as overboard as they want. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule like Pollock and Basquiat, which makes them both very compelling to watch, if only because neither one loses sight of what the real story is about and, yes, that’s the artist themselves.

And in this case, Basquiat deals with a very sad and interesting figure that, for a solid portion of the movie, hardly does, or says anything – for a good portion of the running-time, Basquiat is seen being told what to do and going from one character to the next, occasionally having conversation, although mostly, just standing around and mumbling to himself. Sounds boring and like a true waste of having someone like Basquiat at your disposal, but it actually works in the movie’s favor – it gives us a better idea for who this person was, why his art mattered so much, and why the art-world, at the time and in the present day, isn’t all the love and hype it’s made out to be. It’s a pretty soulless and annoying world, where people constantly try to piggy-back off of the latest and greatest thing, even if they don’t really know what it all means.

So long as they have enough money to buy it, then who cares, right?

Clearly thinking about his future character-roles.

Although, that’s where Basquiat, the movie, does fumble a tad bit. It doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a small, understated character-study, a satire on the art-world, or this ensemble piece about said art-world, with all sorts of colorful and wild characters popping in and out. In a way, I sort of like all three of those movies, but together, they don’t always gel; the movie will actually forget about Basquiat at certain times, making it hard to wonder just who’s story this actually is.

It’s nice though to get the ensemble piece, because it allows for us to get a treat of the lovely and awesome ensemble here, what with some of the finest character actors of the day having an absolute ball. The likes of Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, Benicio Del Toro, Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, and a stand-out Michael Wincott all get plenty of ample opportunities to bring something to the story and Basquiat’s life, but it’s really David Bowie who steals the whole show as an aging, late-in-life Andy Warhol. What’s interesting about this portrayal is that Bowie never overdoes the mannerisms that we all knew Warhol for; he’s soft-spoken and whiny, but never feels like he’s acting. In other words, Bowie inhabits every bit of Warhol and allows for us to see not just someone who’s still very funny, but also a little bit sad, trying to grab onto any sign of fame and fortune that he has left.

Once again, it just proves the kind of talent Bowie was.

And this isn’t to take anything away from Jeffrey Wright, either, as he does a fine job in the lead role. But like I said before, the movie does often get distracted by all of these colorfully wild and entertaining bit-players, most of whom steal the spotlight from Wright in the first place. There’s still a sweet, soft and hurt soul within Wright’s performance that makes it compelling, but you’d think that in a much more focused movie, he would have been able to do so much more. Still though, it did put Wright on the map and man, oh man, the guy has gone on to do some great stuff, so hey, can’t be all that upset about it.

Consensus: Well-acted and intimate, Basquiat is an interesting, heartfelt look at the life of the infamous artist, but also loses focus every so often, and makes us wonder what could have happened with a smaller cast.

7 / 10

I’d pay to watch a conversation between these two.

Photos Courtesy of: Alt Screen

The Messenger (2009)

Possibly the only instance in which Jehovah’s Witnesses would actually be a welcome presence.

Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. Meanwhile though, he strikes up something of a relationship with a widow of a fallen soldier (Samantha Morton), who shows him that there’s truly something to live and be happy about with life.

Co-writer/director Oren Moverman uses the Messenger to get across two points: The pain and grief one feels after the death of a loved-one is greater than any hurt ever felt, and also, that life after the war is incredibly difficult. Are either points being made anything new, or necessarily fresh? Not really, but somehow the Messenger feels like a real, hard, honest, and raw indie that doesn’t back away from getting down to the hard truths of the hard psyche, as well as still attempting to build character along the way. In other words, it’s a movie right up my alley and it’s a perfect example of what can happen to your movie when you don’t have a very high, mighty and flashy script, but plenty of heart and emotion to make up for all of the style and the bang.

When you’re doing the job they do, fishing sounds perfect.

And because people still can’t seem to get enough of watching veterans cope with everyday society.

But is the Messenger an anti-war film? In a way, it is, but in other ways, it isn’t; the movie is never necessarily arguing about the war, why it happened, and what it’s true intentions were, as much as it’s just highlighting the fact that there were many souls lost during it, both home and on the field. Like the Hurt Locker, the Messenger essentially says that come back from the war, can’t escape it, go crazy, and end up losing their minds, only wanting to go back for me. It’s the same old song and dance every single time but this time, somehow, it feels different as Moverman takes a look inside the mindsets of all of these characters and we see sad people that seem to not be able to move on in life, all because they were sincerely crushed by the war. You feel for them, you understand them, and when it’s all said and done, you sort of end up hating the war because of what it’s done to these characters. Moverman never once gets preachy and instead, just lets us look at the view of the war from these character’s sides and make up our own decisions on our own. It’s a smart move on Moverman’s side and it’s great to see an anti-war film, that doesn’t try to spell it’s message out for you on-screen in every single shot, even though, yeah, we know what it’s trying to get across.

And playing these characters are some of the best talents working today. Ben Foster’s pretty solid in his lead role as Will Montgomery, someone who, obviously from the start, has issues. However, the movie, nor Foster ever ask for our sympathies, or our love. We feel for him enough as is and can feel his pain from a mile away – it makes the performance all the more gritty, as well as his character all the more believable.

All a vet needs is some pizza.

And if Foster being a good actor in the first place wasn’t enough, then he’s given two possible love-interests here, both are pretty amazing in their own rights. Samantha Morton is always tremendous and here, she’s even better, playing the widow who may or may not just be lonely and need some human connection, or generally actually like Will. The two have a nice bit of chemistry that does grow gradually over time, without ever making it seem all too clear just where it’s headed. Playing Will’s “other gal” is Jena Malone and while she doesn’t have a whole lot of time here, her presence is felt, just by the very few scenes she and Foster share, bringing more insight into who this guy really is.

But the real stand-out of this whole film and this whole cast, is in fact Woody Harrelson as Tony Stone.

Woody is, no matter what, always great to watch. He can be light and charming one second, but then, out of nowhere, scary and disturbing the next second. Here, he plays a little bit of both, with the later portions shining the most; he plays Tony as a stern, serious and by-the-book guy who seems like he’s never smiled in his life, but can also be quite the charming fella, too. Harrelson’s performance can get so intense sometimes, you never know when the acting begins or ends with him, making each and every one of the scenes he has with Foster, all the more suspenseful and compelling. They’ve worked together since this, so obviously there was no love lost, but come on, you can’t tell me they didn’t give each other a nudge every now and then, eh?

Who knows? We may never find out.

Consensus: Heartfelt and humane, while also never trying too hard to get its anti-war message across, the Messenger is a smart, well-acted, and emotional look at grief, loss, sadness, and of course, PTSD, yet, handled oh so perfectly well.

9 / 10

See? Like they definitely beat the snot out of one another during breaks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz