Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Movie Review

Alps (2011)

We all get the grief we think we deserve.

A bunch of free-spirited and desperate actors get together and form something of an acting coalition. In it, they’ll impersonate dead people, for the living family-member’s who are left to pay for this kind of service. It’s made to help out with the grieving process and for awhile, that’s all it seems to be. It’s a little weird and creepy, but most people seem to be getting stuff out of it, so there’s no problem with that, right? Unfortunately, it all begins to change when even the actors start to lose loved-ones and begin using the same business, to help out their own grieving-process. Others, like a gymnast (Ariane Labed), go so far as to completely inhabit their “roles”, almost to the point of where they can’t really decipher between what their actual lives are, or what are the lives they’re being paid to live and reenact are.

Fix that mascara, girl! Get in the role!

They say that half of comedy, isn’t the joke, or even the meaning, but more of timing. And if that’s the case, then co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has perhaps the most wicked sense of comedic-timing ever seen. Sure, his jokes, what they mean, and what they represent, are dark, messed-up, cruel, and generally upsetting, but the way in which he tells each and every joke, where the jokes are placed, how they come-up, and the general feel of the jokes, are what matters most and where he is at his most effective.

And with Alps, Lanthimos never once forgets to make every joke land and connect. Sure, it’s funny as is, the jokes themselves, but really, it’s his timing that’s a thing of beauty and puts it beyond just normal, everyday humor – it’s much more subversive and, in a way, brilliant. Does that make Alps, as a result, a great movie?

Well, not really.

It’s definitely funny and what Lanthimos is trying to get across with his many jokes, is smart and interesting, but at the end of it all, it is just a one-joke premise and movie. It talks about and even pokes a lot of fun at the grieving-process, the lies we tell ourselves to get over loss, and how it doesn’t really matter whether that person is lost or not, because we’ll always find ways to forget about them, or better yet, replace them, and it’s smart with it. Lanthimos isn’t afraid to mock ordinary life and make us not just laugh at ourselves, but hate ourselves at the same time.

Method?

It’s quite brilliant, like I said before, but really, it’s all that Alps can handle and maintain throughout its very short run-time of 90-minutes. And with those 90 minutes, all we really get is the same joke, over and over again, although, of course, with different iterations each and every time. It still works and oh yes, is very funny, but that’s all it is: Jokes. Again and again.

Is there any heart? Not really and that’s probably where the one issue comes from.

Of course, Lanthimos isn’t setting out to make a heartfelt, or even sweet tale of regret, grief, and loss, but it definitely wouldn’t have hurt, either. To just have your movie being darkness and subversiveness, throughout the whole time, honestly, can only go on for so long. The only idea of a sense of conflict we get is guessing who is paying for this service, who isn’t, and just whether or not what we are seeing is actually a joke, or not. It’s interesting, sure, but if that’s all you’ve got, there needs to be a tad bit more. And it’s not as if I’m the kind of movie-viewer who can’t handle disturbing stuff like this – trust me, I’ve seen far, far worse – but really, there comes a point in the movie where there’s no real plot, no real conflict, or even any real movement.

It’s just one joke, again and again, told in different forms, ways, shapes, or fashions.

It’s a good way to spend a stand-up bit. But for a whole movie? Not really.

Consensus: While poking fun at grief and loss in a very funny, almost too disturbing way and manner, Alps gets by on being original and quite different, but also feels a tad bit too long because of the limitations of the material itself.

7 / 10

Always hug it out. Even if it is with your pretend-relative.

Photos Courtesy of: Haos Film

Advertisements

Marjorie Prime (2017)

By now, this kind of stuff is a documentary.

Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an aging woman who has seen the last few years of his life slip by. Now, as she’s getting older, she’s also starting to forget things. In order to help her out a bit, her daughter (Geena Davis) and son-in-law (Tim Robbins) buy Marjorie a holographic projection known as a Prime, that looks, sounds, and is in the form of her late husband (Jon Hamm), when he was younger and they first met. At first, it’s just Marjorie speaking with it, getting to remember old times, and even reminding herself of who she once was. But because her daughter is still so angry at her for the years and years of animosity, she decides to use the Prime for herself. Then, time goes on and all of a sudden, Marjorie becomes a Prime for her daughter. And so on and so forth.

You get the picture.

“You remind me so much of this ad-executive I knew from the 60’s.”

Anyway, Marjorie Prime‘s a hard movie to really get into because it is so languid, slow, quiet, and even mysterious. It’s as if writer/director Michael Almereyda set out to make something so incredibly weird and brief, that you get the sense that he doesn’t want to tell you what he’s up to next, but you also don’t want to know, either. Just sitting around and waiting for whatever odd transgression he takes next is more than enough for the wait.

That said, Marjorie Prime still feels like a movie that’s much better in thought, than it is on-paper. For instance, the idea of robots walking and talking just like you or I, isn’t all that original in the world of sci-fi, or even in the real world in which we live in, and here it plays out in an interesting manner, until it seems to repeat itself and not really have anything interesting to say. Or, better yet, it does, it’s just that it’s the same point, over and over again, hitting us over the head and not allowing us to forget about it. Almost as if Almereyda didn’t trust his audience enough to really think things all through and get down to the actual meaning of everything.

And it’s not all that hard, either: Marjorie Prime is an honest movie about life, death, and how even though we accept death and the passage of time, we also try our best to find whatever substitute is out there. We do that to make ourselves feel better and we also do it to preserve the legacy of those lost. But we also do it to feel safe and act as if death isn’t just an illusion, but a crazy idea that will never become reality to us. The movie’s a lot darker and sadder than it lets on, which is why despite my general lack of actual enjoyment watching it, I can’t help but feel a great deal of respect for it actually going to some deep and disturbing places that I didn’t expect to come around.

“Stop being so funny.”

It’s also thanks to the pretty wonderful cast on-hand, too.

Lois Smith, for what seems like in forever, is finally given a role that allows her to be more than just the cooky granny, but someone who is more thoughtful and compelling to watch. It’s the kind of older-woman role they’d give to Jane Fonda, or Lily Tomlin, but Smith works perfectly in it because she’s sweet and endearing enough to make her sympathetic enough, but because she’s older and losing her memory, it’s hard to fully trust her. We don’t know if she was a great mom or not; we get the idea that she was a bit forgetful for reasons that become clear to us later, but mostly, we think that she did the best that she could. Like all moms, right?

Geena Davis is also pretty good as the spoiled daughter who, no matter how long life passes her by, can’t seem to get over the past she shares with her mom. It’s a surprisingly annoying and unlikable role from Davis, but she’s more than willing to give it her all. Same goes for Tim Robbins, who plays someone darker than you’d expect. And then, there’s Jon Hamm, who is so perfect as this Prime, you never quite know what he’s thinking at any moment. It’s probably nothing, really, but the idea that he could turn and go bad, is a scary thought and Hamm, in a very stern, serious role, makes you expect the unexpected, just about the whole time.

Consensus: As dark and as weird as it gets, Marjorie Prime is also an interesting, thoughtful, and well-acted meditation on the passage of time, life, death, and the blankets we cover ourselves with to block the inevitable.

6.5 / 10

If all robots look like Jon Hamm in the future, yup, all us human men are screwed.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Landline (2017)

Oh. The 90’s. When screening calls was a huge thing.

It’s the mid-90’s and the Jacobs family is going through a bit of a problem. The mother, Pat (Edie Falco), is having a rough go at work, but is also not really spending much time, paying attention to her husband, Alan (John Turturro). Speaking of which, he’s also a little bored with life and may be having something of an affair. Nothing’s confirmed yet, however, because his youngest daughter, Ali (Abby Quinn), only found out about after seeing a bunch of poems on his floppy-disk. Meanwhile, she’s also worried about what she’s going to do with her life and also with college. Then, there’s her sister, Dana (Jenny Slate), who is having issues with her fiancee (Jay Duplass), but mostly because she doesn’t know if she’s ready to settle down just yet. This leads her to having an affair with an ex (Finn Wittrock), who may or may not be her last chance at some form of freedom and/or happiness. Either way, this family’s going through a lot.

Same hair. Same blood. Same sisters. That’s how that works, right?

Obvious Child was the sweet, small, soulful, and somewhat beautiful little surprise of 2014. It was 82-minutes of pure heart, comedy, and truth that was rarely seen in movies that were either longer, with more stars, or had a bigger-budget. It ranked on my Top 10 that year, showed me that Jenny Slate was an amazing actress, and oh yeah, put writer/director Gillian Robespierre on my watch.

Then Landline happened.

Okay, actually, it’s not all that bad. In terms of sophomore slumps, it’s not that bad, because it shows us that Robespierre still has the knack for writing interesting characters and smart dialogue, but when it comes to the plotting and actual story itself, the movie just has way too much going on, for such a short time, and with no real cohesiveness. It’s as if Robespierre got something of a bigger-budget, had bigger stars, and more time to play around, so she did, but in this case, it actually went against her.

Lock the door!

And of course, it’s not right to compare this to Obvious Child, because they’re two different movies. But with Landline, you can tell that something’s a bit off this time around about Robespierre and what she’s doing. With the talented ensemble, she’s very lucky, as everyone here isn’t just great, but funny and brings a lot to the table. They all feel like a very lived-in family, who not only have gotten used to each other for so long that they don’t even care to put up resistance any longer, but that they also know each other so freakin’ well, it’s almost painful. That’s how real families are, regardless of how close-knit they are and it’s one of the aspects that Landline nails down well.

The only issue is that every so often, the movie will jump from one subplot, to another, and depending on how interesting one is, the movie works, or doesn’t. Landline suffers from a lot going on, with very little time, and not nearly as much concentration as they should have all deserved. You can tell that Robespierre is trying and relatively succeeding, but I don’t know, something’s just missing.

What it is, I may never know.

I’m not taking Robespierre off my watch, but I will hold her next film with at least a little bit of trepidation.

Consensus: Not nearly as focused as it should have been, Landline suffers from having too much going on, with very little time to actually wade through it all, but gets by on a solid cast that’s willing to make this material into something fun and enjoyable.

6 / 10

The guys in the family can’t do this kind of stuff.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Bald truly is better.

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a former boxer, loses his job as an auto mechanic and his marriage, which was already troubled in the first place, is about to expire. But as much as he wants to stay on straight-and-narrow, he can’t help but be drawn back into the life working as a drug courier. While it brings him all sorts of riches and saves his marriage, it also comes about with some great villains who want nothing more than to get a head up on Bradley and his position. One night, a deal goes bad and he soon finds himself in a gunfight between police officers and his own ruthless allies. When everything’s done, he’s arrested, a few officers are shot and killed, and a few of his supposed fellow drug couriers were killed to. But in this case, it was by him. Those guys were very connected and they hear about this, so while Bradley’s locked in the clink, they extract revenge the only way they can: By kidnapping his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and forcing him to knock somebody off while in prison. Problem is, Bradley’s got to do a whole lot in order to make sure that happens.

Uh oh. It’s happening, people.

At two-hours-and-15-minutes, Brawl in Cell Block 99 overstays its welcome a teenie, tiny bit. There’s a great hour or so dedicated to just sitting around, watching, and waiting for this Bradley character to eventually break bad and just let it all go. He does, after about an hour or so and while it’s good that we at least got some of that to build character and give us a reason to care, it still feels like maybe, I don’t know, perhaps, we didn’t need that whole chunk of change in the first place. Maybe about 15 or 20 minutes would have been fine, but once again, I don’t know.

Cause in reality, once we do get to jail and see Bradley imprisoned, it’s an entirely different movie. It’s still slow, it’s still melodic, and it’s still very, very quiet, but it’s also a movie with a motive, and a much harsher, meaner, grittier, dirtier, and uglier tone than ever before. And it’s at this point where it becomes clear why we needed that first hour or so: To make us think that we were in safe hands and not going to be rushed somewhere we didn’t want to be.

After all, we’re in the hands of S. Craig Zahler and it becomes very clear that this man is not to be messed with.

Like, at all.

And with Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler proves again why he’s a very good director at taking his time and not really rushing into things because, well, when all you really want to do is throw people for a loop and give them absolutely vicious and disgusting pieces of violence, who cares how much time you have to wait for it? Cause even though it’s long and a little meandering, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also features some of the most gruesome and disturbing acts of violence I have seen committed to film in quite some time, and what’s even nuttier about it all is that it happens so quick, so matter-of-factly, and so disjointedly, that it’s almost like it never happens. There’s no stunt-doubles, no fancy editing, and no real special-effects – it’s just limbs being hacked-off, bones being broken, and dudes being killed.

“You think you’re taller than me. Don’t ya?”

Sounds fun, right?

In a way, it sort of is. Zahler isn’t afraid to drag us through this mud of misery, but at the same time, doesn’t hold back on the darker, more sensational thrills that come with pulpy-flicks just like this. Does he have an agenda? Sort of. It’s interesting that the first prison we see here is actually pretty chill, relaxed, and quiet, until we get to another prison and it literally looks an old, medieval castle, where dark underlings lurk in the shadows. Maybe Zahler has a bone to pick with the justice system and all its corrupt features?

Or maybe he’s just not that deep, doesn’t care, and wants to enjoy someone’s head getting stomped in, almost to the point of where his eyeballs pop-out. Cause yeah, that happens. And yes, it is pretty rad, because mostly, it all feels worth it. The slow plodding and pacing of the movie eventually works out in the movie’s favor, because it sets us up for all the blood, gore and violence of the later-half and it proves that Zahler, while very hard to get into immediately, ultimately gives the goods of what you want and expect.

Does that make him a perfect film-maker? Probably not. But it does make him effective and it makes me excited to see what he’s cooking up next.

Same goes for Vince Vaughn who, after a few years of starting and stopping, seems poised for a dramatic comeback that he hasn’t seen since the mid-to-late-90’s. But what’s odd about Vaughn’s role here as Bradley Thomas, is that he’s still a bit of a smart-ass and domineering – it’s just way more different this time around. Rather than always speaking, ranting, raving, and improving until the cows come home, he’s quiet, still, stern, stiff, and always intimidating. Sure, it helps that just in about every fight he gets into, he can kill every person within an inch of their lives, but it also helps that Vaughn himself creates this character that is not to be toyed with and gets a lot of mileage out of just standing there, looking tough, gruff, and all sorts of pissed-off. It has me hoping that there’s a much brighter-future out there for Vaughn’s career, even if the roles he takes are darker and less filled with goofs, gags, and sadly, Owen Wilson.

Wow.

Consensus: Though it could definitely afford to trim a little fat, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a relentlessly brutal, bleak, and violent piece of pulp, that also serves as a rejuvenation in Vince Vaughn’s career.

8 / 10

Vincey ain’t happy. Or being funny.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Family’s enough competition as is.

Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) is going through a bit of a rough-patch in his life. He and his wife are separated, his daughter (Grace Van Patten) is going off to college to hopefully continue the family’s long legacy of being artistically-sound, and he just lost his home, forcing him to have to move back in with his father, renowned sculpture-artist Harold (Dustin Hoffman). And by doing so, he also becomes closer with his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and stepmother, Maureen (Emma Thompson). It’s not too happy of a time for Danny and while his father knows this, he doesn’t quite help the situation out much, either. Then enters Danny’s half-brother, Michael (Ben Stiller), who his father loves and adores a lot more and for very obvious reasons – Michael is a lot more successful and Harold happened to marry his mother twice. While the two aren’t really supposed to get along, they eventually try to tie the binds between them and get over the long years of familial strife and continue on the Meyerowitz legacy. Or at least, whatever is left of it.

“No! I’m funnier!”

Is Noah Baumbach a pretentious film-maker? A part of me likes to think that he is, but another part of me likes to think that he isn’t. While there are certain movies of that I don’t care for (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg), there are others that I do (everything else), and it mostly all comes down to how unfathomable and unlikable his characters are. And in mostly all of Baumbach’s films, that seems to be the case.

It’s pretty interesting, really, that he’s chosen to have his protagonists be challenging, somewhat unsympathetic human beings that, while we dislike the time we spend with them, they’re still human and compelling. After all, the characters are either just like us, or like people we know, and while we may not want to spend two-hours with them, there’s no denying the fact that actually spending time with them is rather refreshing. So yeah. I don’t know if the fact that enjoys having his movies centered around these awful characters makes him pretentious, it just makes him, as well as his movies, a bitter pill to swallow.

But one that you’ll probably be fine with afterwards.

And while in the Meyerowitz Stories, there’s no really awful, unlikable, and reprehensible character here, they’re all kind of annoying and a little deuchy. Then again, that’s sort of the point. Family itself is raised on the notion of competition and who’s more successful than the other, so when these characters all start bragging to one another about their great noble achievements, however small they may be, sure, it may be a little tiresome, but it all comes from a soft spot in their hearts that we can, at the very least, relate to.

Baumbach’s a smart enough writer to at least know and understand that each of these characters all have something going for them, as well as a little something going for them. For instance, while Danny’s made out to be a bit of a loser, he’s also got a stronger connection to his daughter and most other humans than perhaps his half-brother, Michael will ever have with another person. On the flip-side of things though, Michael’s also a lot more successful in his life and probably always will be, whereas Danny seems like he’ll never get up off the couch and do something extraordinary with his life because, well, he’s never had to, so why start now? It’s an interesting contrast that follows just about every character in this movie, and while it may make them a wee bit over-bearing, they’re still honest and raw.

So much sarcasm.

And oh yeah, because of the ensemble, fun to watch, too.

Especially in the case of Danny, who gets a great performance out of Adam Sandler, for once and a blue moon. But what’s interesting about Danny is that he’s basically every other Adam Sandler character the guy’s played in the past two decades or so: He’s a man-child who doesn’t know if he ever wants to grow up, how to do it, and is kind of sad. But in this case, the sad-sack has a lot more to him than just childish hi-jinx, as he’s much more likable and sympathetic, and not just an all around dick. It’s great to see Sandler in this kind of role, where he’s literally forced to act and actually do something, and it shows us all that, yes, he’s still got it, and when the Netflix money runs out, he can always turn back to arthouse, character-driven roles. So long as it’s not something like the Cobbler.

Ben Stiller is, as usual, pretty good, too, playing another sort of dick-head who seems like he’s got his whole life in-check, but really doesn’t. Stiller’s done a great job in his outings with Baumbach and while this isn’t his most challenging, it still shows us that he and Baumbach help each other out in working better for the two. Together, Stiller and Sandler have a sort of anti-chemistry that, even though they’re not supposed to like each other, they sort of do and it’s quite a lovely little sight to see. After all, these are two of comedy’s greats, finally together, once again, but instead of yucking it up for the nosebleeds, they’re actually playing three-dimensional, fully-realized characters.

Wow. Funny how times change. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and a group of interesting characters, the Meyerowitz Stories is an honest, funny, and sometimes look at family and all of the hostilities that go along with it.

8 / 10

Invite me to that reunion. Oh wait. Maybe not.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (2017)

Three’s a party.

Professor William Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), live a relatively happy and carefree life together. He’s a professor at Harvard and she desperately wants to be, but because this is the 1920’s and she’s a woman, for some reason, that’s not allowed to happen. Anyway, the two have a loving and passionate romance that gets a newfound lease of life when they meet Olivia (Bella Heathcote), a young grad-student who applies to become their assistant. Both are struck by her; he wants her, and so does Elizabeth, but it’s sort of different. But in a way, it’s a little too unconventional and controversial to really go about trying to initiate a poly-amorous relationship, especially back in those days. That’s why no one really makes a move for awhile, until they do and all of a sudden, they’re in a loving, sexy, and great romance together. The only issue is that the outside world doesn’t quite accept them all for what they are and it becomes a much larger issue when Professor Marston decides that he wants to make a comic-book.

And what comic-book would that be? Oh yeah, a little thing called Wonder Woman. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

“Babe? You want up next?”

What’s so interesting about Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is that it starts off feeling and looking exactly like one of these charming, relatively entertaining, yet safe biopics that we see too often. There’s soft jokes, a little bit of character-development, a great sense of time and place, and a smidgen of conflict in the air. But nothing too much, really; it’s almost as if writer/director Angela Robinson is doing this on-purpose to put us in the this safe-place where we won’t be expected to really think long and hard about much.

But then, in case you couldn’t tell, it all changes. Olivia walks through the door and into these two character’s lives, and suddenly, there’s sex, nudity, whips, chains, gimps, and a whole lot of kink. But no matter what, it actually still stays interesting and never strays away from being heartfelt and humane, even though, at times, the movie can get a little comical. Then again, it’s also the rare movie about BDSM that doesn’t poke jokes at it, or seem to ever have a laugh about that, either; supposed respectful pieces of art like Fifty Shades of Grey likes to think that they respect and appreciate those who like a little kink in their sex-lives, but really, mocks it in certain ways, too.

Here, there’s a certain deal of love and respect for this kind of sexual-healing and it’s nice to see. For once.

It’s also nice to see Robinson actually focus in on these characters, their relationships with one another, and how they all change, over time, when things begin to get hot-and-heavy. Robinson could have easily made this into a movie about how these characters feel about getting whipped and gagged, and how they try to hide it from the rest of the world, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about love, and how Marston himself uses these two lovely women in his life to make sense of the evil in the world, just when it becomes almost too over-bearing. It’s also a movie about life imitating art, and vice versa, where we see what happens to Marston’s real, personal life, and how that affected a lot of the material as seen in the Wonder Woman comics.

“Don’t speak. I know what you’re thinking.” (Why am I always referencing this damn song?)

It’s not all that ground-breaking in terms of the biopic-genre, but hey, it works. Why fix something that ain’t broke, right?

Anyway, Professor Marston also features one of the first performances, in probably ever, where I actually liked and appreciated Luke Evans’ presence. He’s always been charming, hot, and likable, it’s just that he’s never seemed to have been given the one role to really launch him beyond “hot and sexy British dude”. As Professor Marston, he not only gets to use that charm to the fullest-extent, but show a great deal of heart and humanity, which can sometimes put this character in a negative light. Which is fine, because it’s the kind of biopic that isn’t afraid to ask if this guy was a sleaze-ball, or a genuinely smart and intelligent man who did a lot for the world of comics and women, and who also appreciated a little bit more fun in the sack. Either way, he’s an interesting fella and it’s nice to see Evans get the chance to do some real work, for once.

Same goes for both Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote who are both pretty great. Hall’s a strong, commanding force whenever she’ up on-screen, whereas Heathcote feels sweet and shy, but also smart in every which way. Together, they represent a little part of Marston’s life, but they aren’t just there to be the women that he occasionally bangs – they have lives, hopes, dreams, and ambitions too that, hopefully, one day, they’ll be to achieve. There’s a slight feminist-angle which doesn’t seem to get fully explored as well as it probably should have, but it’s there, and it’s telling us that all women deserve an equal-chance at a career and love.

So can we at least progress, people?

Consensus: Smart, tender, and character-based, Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman isn’t as safe of a biopic as it looks, with solid performances and an interesting-angle on sex and humanity, overall.

8 / 10

Always takes three to tango. And three to get ball-gagged and whipped, cause hey, someone’s gotta help.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Florida Project (2017)

Disney’s overrated anyway.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a young girl currently living in a shady, relatively scummy hotel with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinai). Most days, Moonee is spending her time running around with her friends, causing all sorts of havoc, and getting into all sorts of trouble, while her mother is off trying to make money anyway that she feasibly can. Sometimes, this means selling cologne/perfume on the streets, other times, this means a little something more that Moonee doesn’t quite know about, but everyone around her does. Either way, the two try their best to make something of a lovely little life for themselves, given the current situation that they’re in, despite being only a few miles away from the Magic Kingdom itself. And one person who is also doing all that he can is the manager of the hotel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). He too has been dealt a pretty crummy hand at life and is just doing all that he can to get by and also ensure that his tenants, that he tries not to get too close to, are safe and sound in their own little bundles of trash paradise.

Save the day for once, Willem!

Basically, it’s two-hours of misery and I loved almost every minute of it.

Actually, that’s a lie. The Florida Project isn’t as miserable, or as depressing as I make it sound; Sean Baker is such a talented film-maker that he knows how to keep downbeat, relatively disturbing material like this, not only quick, swift, and entertaining, but also make it all compelling, even when it doesn’t ever seem to have a real story-line or plot to work with. But that kind of works in the movie’s favor; Baker has always moved to the beat of his own drum and here, he gets the opportunity to tell whatever story, however he wants to.

And it’s why the Florida Project is his best movie so far. Sure, it’s a lot like his other movies, in that he focuses on a large part of society that has, unfortunately, been pushed away from the movies, or entirely forgotten about, but this one has so much heart, so much energy, and so much creativity, it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all of it. Right from the beginning, you have an idea of where it’s going to go and end up, until, about halfway through, it switches itself up, decides to go down another path, and it’s just surprising.

Cause in a way, the Florida Project is a coming-of-age flick, that is very loosely following some form of a plot or story-line. Baker has done this in the past with all of his movies, where he doesn’t really concern himself with much in the way of plot, but instead, just relies on the strong characters and performances to hold things over. Occasionally, he’ll drop in a bit of story here and there, but it’s never anything too crucial to where it ruins the overall improvisational look and feel of the flick.

And it’s what the Florida Project specializes in.

Due to it being a movie about such a downtrodden and depressed group of people, it almost feels like it should be preaching a whole lot more and trying to say something about the way our society is forced to treat these people who we’d rather not admit to being alive, or taking up any space. Baker knows and understands that this is something the common, everyday person thinks and while he, as well as all of us, knows that it’s wrong, he doesn’t let it get in the way of this movie, or getting to actually know these characters. All of them could have easily been pedestals for Baker to jump off of, but he’s a much smarter film-maker than that, to just use compelling characters, for the sake of getting an agenda across – he knows that they are the heart and soul to a good movie and with the characters here, he gets a lot of mileage.

Which is to say that everyone here is great. But what’s really shocking is how very little everyone seems to be working from a script; this is something I thought to myself throughout the whole movie, but it wasn’t until I went home and actually checked-out interviews and realized that a good portion of the movie was improvised and sort of made-up, on the spot, with the actors making their stuff up as they went along. I’d expect this out of a pro like Willem Dafoe (more on him later), but with relative newcomers like Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, I was especially surprised.

That I never heard of them before now, doesn’t really matter. That they never actually acted before, is all the more shocking.

Damn kids and their ice cream.

In the case of both Prince and Vinaite, these will be star-making roles, and with good reason: Both are great and go well beyond convention. Prince is a smart, sassy, and charming little girl who, just about every second, actually feels like a little kid who may be a little too smart for her own good, but a smart girl nonetheless. Vinaite, despite seeming like the typical cliche of the awful mother who doesn’t really care for her kid and just wants to smoke, drink, and have sex all of the time, eventually, shows us a real heart and humanity within this character. It’s something that you don’t expect with this character – all of the tattoos and piercings, I’ll admit, are more than enough to turn any person off immediately – but that’s sort of the point.

Baker isn’t making a movie full of gorgeously beautiful A-listers, who are risking their lives and careers by slumming it down. In fact, what’s crazy about getting Dafoe here, is that even though he is quite the known-talent, he’s also one of the uglier guys in the business (which I mean, in a good way). So yeah, even though Baker was able to nab a top-tier talent like Dafoe for his small, scummy indie, he was able to get one who fit and looked the part.

That said, Dafoe, like everyone else here, is amazing. He fully understands and sinks into this Bobby character who, you think is going to be a terrible, awful human being who just wants money and lots of it, but shows a true heart after a short while. He actually cares for his tenants and the hotel that he imagines, and while he’s stuck with the hard task of keeping everything all together and in-check, he sort of loves getting the pleasure of keeping this close-knit family, well, together. It’s a wonderful performance filled with subtlety and beauty, sometimes, both at the same time and it makes me happy to not just see Dafoe giving this really small indie a chance, but also working wonders for it, too.

Basically: Give him the damn Oscar already. Same goes for Vinaite. Hell, same goes for the whole movie. Give them everything!

America needs it. We all need it.

Consensus: Scrappy and gritty, the Florida Project realizes the harsh conditions in which it is set, yet, never succumbs to the inherent sadness and is instead, a beautiful, well-told, well-acted, and honest film about growing up, loving those close to you, and making your own little piece of paradise, the only way that you can. It’s sort of sappy, but the best kind.

9 / 10

The American Dream, everybody. Learn it. Love it. Accept it. And shut up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Starlet (2012)

The bonds that can be forged by simple misunderstandings.

Jane (Dree Hemingway) is an actress down on her luck, short on cash, and in need of a new friend in her life, because her supposed one, Melissa (Stella Maeve), just ain’t cuttin’ it and her boyfriend (James Ransone), isn’t helping matters, either. But one day, Jane gets a surprisingly new lease on life and her apartment when she accidentally stumbles upon a wad of cash hidden inside a thermos purchased from an elderly woman at a yard sale. Conflicted, Jane takes some money for herself, but also makes attempts to befriend the old lady who sold her the thermos in the first place. The old lady turns out to be named Sadie (Besedka Johnson) and although she doesn’t quite know what the hell Jane wants with her, she’s not totally against her wanting to hang around with her day and hearing all of her stories of the good old days. It not only adds a little more hope to Sadie’s later days, but gives Jane a newfound love and appreciation for the sometimes unfortunate, and rather disturbing, life she currently lives.

Put some clothes on, girls! It’s not that hot in L.A.!

Cause who knows? Maybe it will all get better.

Sean Baker does something brilliant here in Starlet, and while it’s no doubt a small aspect of the film, it’s a glaring example of why he’s one of the best writers and directors out there today. At the center of the film, we have Jane, a relatively idiotic woman who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a job, or even a career; she spends most of her time at home, smoking pot, yelling, listening to trash rap, and caring for her little dog. We get an idea that she’s an actress, but we never actually see her, well, acting.

Until we do. It’s one of the biggest and most well-kept secrets in the whole movie and the ultimate reveal of what Jane does, and how far Baker’s willing to go with it, not only took me by surprise, but had me looking at this character, and the whole movie a whole lot differently. It’s not so much of a twist, as much as it’s just a small, little secret hidden in plain-view – some may have been able to figure it out right away, but for some of us, it wasn’t all that easy. Either way, it’s another sure sign of Baker’s great writing and directing style that, no matter how much he depends on his naturalistic look and feel, the man still has some tricks up his sleeves.

That, and he’s also still a great storyteller, without it ever seeming like he’s trying too hard at all.

And with Starlet, Baker gets a lot of mileage out of just letting the camera sit there and do most of the work for him. He follows these sometimes annoying characters, but Baker never seems like he’s judging any of them for a single second; even Mikey and Melissa, the somewhat evil and conniving couple who live with Jane, just seem ridiculously dumb and not necessarily like they’re out to get any person in particular. Baker is smart in giving us a great idea of who each of these characters are, not just by telling us through a story, but just by their actions, and it’s as much of a testament to the actors, as it is to Baker himself.

That said, the performances here are all pretty great. Dree Hemingway, who’s beauty commands your attention with every frame, seems like a natural for the screen, just as her mother was. But in this case, there’s a much more dangerous and rather dark mystery about her that makes her compelling, as we never full well if we can trust her to have good morals, or if she’s just too dumb to function, too. Regardless, Hemingway is great here and makes Jane a whole lot more interesting, packed with a heart, than she had any right to be.

Mariel?

But the real stand-out here is newcomer Besedka Johnson as Sadie who, unfortunately, gave her first and last performance here.

But it’s a beautiful performance from Johnson, because it never seems like she’s acting. This was probably done so on purpose, hence why she was chosen for the role, but it really works in Starlet‘s favor – there are genuinely moments where it seems like Johnson is just being herself and forgetting that there was a camera, somewhere, out there, filming her every move and action. The chemistry she has with Hemingway is beautiful and while the movie does an awful bit of navel-gazing by the end and almost forgets about plot, them two are so extraordinary to watch, it’s hard to complain too much.

Or at all.

Consensus: With a thoughtful direction and attention to the performances, Starlet is a small, subdued, but surprisingly smart character-study of two women who couldn’t be further different from one another.

8 / 10

“So, uh, what’s your favorite color?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Prince of Broadway (2008)

Who needs to be the King?

In New York City’s Flatiron District, Lucky (Prince Adu), newly arrived from Ghana, hocks fake designer products out of back rooms with his partner, Levon (Karren Karagulian) and seems to be making something of a living with it. Even though his living-quarters have him spaced to just one tiny room and the business itself can be very dangerous, what with the feds constantly sniffing around, Lucky seems to be doing fine enough as is and not really having to worry about much in his life. But then, it all changes when his toddler son comes to live with him – the same son he had no idea really existed, until a former-flame of his can’t handle the child anymore and basically just drops him off on Lucky’s doorstep. Lucky isn’t ready for this and he doesn’t quite know what to do, and after a few attempts to pawn the child off on somebody else to make their responsibility, Lucky realizes that it’s up to him to take care of the child. He does, however, it all comes at a cost.

Daddy knows best. Especially with the coats.

As usual, Sean Baker takes a look at the small working-class of America and doesn’t ever seem to lose sight of the realism. In Prince of Broadway, what’s so interesting about Baker’s approach to the material is that he could have easily made this into a sort of broad comedy, with wacky hijinx and silliness abound, like how, for instance, Lucky can’t really father this child and doesn’t know much of anything. Actually, you know what? That sort of does happen here.

But it’s done in such a smart way that you almost never know. Baker starts off with a conventional plot-line about a long, lost father trying to take care of his child the best way that he knows how, and while you can tell that it’s going to be all easy yucks and jokes, eventually, it turns into something far more serious and meaningful. Sure, it’s funny to laugh at Lucky for being ill-equipped at this whole father-thing, but it’s also nice to see him grow into something of a loving, caring, adoring, and passionate father who does what he can, for the kid he hardly knows.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with Prince of Broadway, which is also a bit of a problem.

Can’t even walk? Ugh! Long way to go!

See, so many of Baker’s films are best when he’s sort of just coasting his movies along, not really giving us a plot, nor demanding anything of us, either – he just wants our attention and to never have our eyes wander away from what’s going on. It’s how Baker does best and I think it goes without saying that, often times, it seems like plot may not be his best thing. In the case of Prince of Broadway, this seems especially clear; the whole subplot concerning Lucky and his boss, while well-done, also seem to pad the movie’s run-time a lot longer than it probably needed to. Baker is clearly making a statement about the United States cracking down on the everyday, normal American citizen just trying to make ends meet, by any means, but it seems a tad preachy and a little bit murky, considering we get so much other stuff with Lucky and his kid.

But at the center of all this, is Prince Adu as Lucky who not only gives us a very charismatic performance, but the kind that would make someone a star. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened just yet for Prince Adu, but if that doesn’t ever happen, it’s okay, because his role as Lucky proves that the guy has the chops to be both funny and a little sad, sometimes, in the same scene. Baker doesn’t really demand much of Adu, but he’s willing to give both Baker and the movie, more than they probably bargained for.

Damn. I wish this guy did more.

Consensus: Prince of Broadway gets bogged-down a bit in plot, but still benefits from a heartfelt, lovely, and compelling story of a father coming to terms with his life and responsibilities, without ever seeming all that ham-fisted.

7.5 / 10

Man Push Baby Cart.

Photos Courtesy of: Elephant Eye Films

Take Out (2004)

Tip your drivers, people. Please.

Ming Ding (Charles Jang) is an illegal Chinese immigrant working as a deliveryman for a Chinese take-out shop in New York City. On a typical day, Ming puts up with a lot of crap from customers who are either too rude, or too unappreciative of someone of his delivery-skills. But because Ming knows very little English and is just trying to get by, he doesn’t care too much – he just continues to ride on, delivering treats to random New Yorkers, and getting very small tips, whenever they do come around. Problem is, Ming is behind with payments on his huge debt to the smugglers who brought him to the United States and he’s got until the end of the day to deliver the money that is due. After borrowing most of the money from friends and relatives, Ming realizes that the remainder must come from the day’s delivery tips. In order to do so, he must make more than double his average daily income.

“America blows, man. Everyone’s so angry here.”

You’ve got to love co-writer and co-director Sean Baker, who did this movie with Shih-Ching Tsou, for not ever bucking to convention. Mostly all of his movies focus on the outliers of society, the ones we don’t normally see as the main focus in a full-length feature-flick, where they aren’t just given the spotlight, but the ample opportunity to show their side of the story and the argument that sometimes comes with having a story be all about them. It’s also always interesting of Baker to never make it seem like his movie’s following any certain conventional plot, or story – mostly, we’re just plopped-down in the middle of someone’s life, where we are forced to sit there, watch, observe, and take them all in for what they are. Of course, this can be awfully intimate and uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the raw beauty that Baker gets away with in all of his flicks.

And Take Out is no exception. In fact, it’s one of his better ones.

By focusing on the small, meek, mild and awfully quiet Ming, Baker is able to tell us a great deal about this person’s life, without really telling us much of anything at all. He goes about his day, delivering food, getting crappy tips, and constantly wondering if he’s going to have enough cheddar to pay-off his dealers. We of course learn more about his life over the course of the movie, but Baker gives us character-development in smart, small ways that sort of happen without us ever really knowing; just sitting there and watching him gives us a better sense of the rhythm in which his life is lived.

Look at all that effort! Give him a big tip! Come on!

And therefore, we are not only more sympathetic to Ming himself and his situation, but many more out there just like Ming in our country, trying their best to survive, with very little resources. So often we see in today’s day and age the criticism of immigrants coming over to the U.S., soaking up benefits, taking up space, and generally taking away jobs from those natives who deserve it the most (this is all ridiculous and false, mind you), but little do these irate and pissed-off people know and understand that what they are doing, what they are trying to accomplish is, above all else, the American Dream. They, just like you or I, want to get by, be safe, happy, and have a little bit of money in their pockets, in hope of a better future for themselves, or their loved-ones.

It’s the notion of what this country was built on and to rob others of that privilege, is awful.

Take Out is the kind of movie that shows this, but never quite hits us over-the-head with it; Baker’s way too smart to really stand on a soapbox and preach to the rest of the world. Instead, he gives us a small, contained, but always compelling feature about someone doing what they can to survive and make a life, in the Big Apple, and not quite knowing full-well what’s going on around him. He’s just a small fish, in a very large pond and there’s a lot more out there like him.

Consensus: With a naturalistic look and feel, Take Out never feels too stylistically challenging, but is better off for that, giving us a glimpse into the life of an interesting, yet, all too sad individual who is far too similar to others out there in the world.

8.5 / 10

Just another day in Chinatown. With lots and lots of rain.

Photos Courtesy of: Take Out the Movie.com

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

Paris was burning.

Marsha P. Johnson was a legend in the transgender world. She was loud, flamboyant, proud, and not afraid to speak her mind when it came time to. She wasn’t a revolutionary in the sense that she fought day and night for her community’s rights, as much as she stood side-by-side the many others who were there with her, hoping and wishing that one day, America would fess-up to realizing that transgender person’s rights matter. But sadly, Marsha’s life came to a tragic end when her body was found floating in the Hudson River. While nobody really had any clues just yet, the NYPD jumped on it real quick and determined that it was clearly the case of a “suicide”. Why? And with what evidence? Turns out, none. In fact, many years later, Marsha’s death is still a mystery and it’s one that old friend of Marsha’s, Victoria Cruz will spend the remainder of her days, invesitagating and uncovering as the tragedy that it was.

And now we bring Native Americans into this situation!

I’m a tad torn about Marsha P. Johnson, the movie, because while I agree with everything it says, presents and ultimately ends on, it also feels like a bit of a mess. On one hand, it’s this true-crime, murder-mystery tale of a botched investigation, conspiracies, and possible links to a mob. That right there is already interesting and more than enough to fill a whole movie.

However, that’s not where it stops.

Instead, we continue on to focus on, obviously, Marsha’s life. Then, we begin to focus on those who knew and loved Marsha, their trials and tribulations. Okay, fine. Then, we get a bunch of information about the gay-community leading up to Marsha’s death and how it was all being ran and funded by the mob. It’s a lot for one movie to take in and it’s why Marsha P. Johnson can’t help but feel like it’s got a tad too much on its plate.

But then, at the center of it all, is this notion that Marsha’s life wasn’t just one, but many, many others who were just like her; sad, lonely, and confused, but fully in-love with herself regardless of the constant scrutiny she may have faced in her life. Director David France is able to cobble-up a lot of footage from Marsha, over the years and growing up, but really, it’s the fact that Marsha represents the lives of many transgender people in this country, as well as many others; like her, they too may not have the right time or place to actually come out and be themselves, so they wait patiently for that day to come.

The 70’s did have a certain style to it.

But when they do, do their lives get any better?

Marsha P. Johnson is an emotional movie when it shows how much the LGBT community has suffered throughout the years and for literally no reason. It’s understandable to be enraged by this story and its overall outcome, which is probably the feeling France was going for. After all, this isn’t something that happens every so often – it’s nearly every day. It’s ridiculous, awful and yes, above all else, sad. When will it end, people?

But like I said before, the movie’s heart and emotion is clearly here and it almost never goes away, even though it does falter and hide a bit here and there. This, though, has mostly to do with France’s busy direction and the overall fact that he doesn’t quite know how to stick with one angle or story-strand. His approach to this material is the same kind of crazy scattered-board that we see cops use to track down serial-killers who have been alluding them for way too long – it’s sort of all over-the-place, with one clear goal in the middle, but everything else connecting to it is just so darn much to take in and comprehend. But once again, it’s a story about the rights of a human being being violated.

And why? I think we all unfortunately know the answer. So if anything, see it for Marsha and the countless other people just like her. They all deserve so much better than any of us can give them.

Consensus: While the direction may be a bit too sporadic, Marsha P. Johnson focuses in on its total subject and gives us a sad, but hopefully empowering tale.

7 / 10

We’re sorry, Marsha. Rest in piece.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Una (2017)

We’ll always have Junior year.

Una (Rooney Mara) arrives at a warehouse one day, looking for an older man by the name of Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). But why? Turns out, the two had something of a relationship when she was 13 and it lead to him not only being incarcerated, but even let out, forced to become a sex-offender, and move on with a different life, name, and in another part of the country. However, he wasn’t able to get away from Una, and on this one fateful day, where it seems like corporate has come in and promised to make cuts on certain employees, Ray doesn’t really have much of any time for this. But it also gets him wondering if he still loves Una for the little girl that she was and the awfully ruined and disturbed one that she is today. After all, he’s moved on and married, whereas she’s a drug and sex-addict, who seems to be using it all to mask her pain. Will she ever get over him? Will he ever get over her?

“So, uh, we doing this?”

The original play in which Una is based-off of, Blackbird, is a very interesting, riveting and smart piece of writing. It’s all in one room, with literally only two characters, yelling and speaking to one another and never losing sight of the heart and humanity in the desperation of these two lives. It’s why bringing the stage to the screen, can be a bit problematic.

Cause sure, while it would have been nice to have Mara and Mendelsohn in one room, doing the same thing that the play did, it’s different here, as director Benedict Andrews has a lot more time and money to work with. Meaning, he now gets the opportunity to tell the story in different ways, go to different places, and do whatever he wants with it, so long as he keeps the heart and sadness of the original. And while he definitely gets a bit too ambitious, who cares?

The heart and the sadness is still there and that’s all that matters.

Also what matters, is that we have two of the best actors working today, together and playing ridiculously challenging characters that we don’t get to see too often on the big-screen. Though her British-accent is a little wary, Mara is great as the lonely, self-destructive and beautiful Una; there’s always a huge frown on her face and you can never get past the fact that she’s lived a hard life where she doesn’t know if she’s loved, or ever will be again. Though we get tons of flashbacks to help us see what happened with the supposed “relationship” she had with the much-older Ray, the movie didn’t need it, as we can clearly see through the  long, winding and tearful eyes of Mara. It’s one of her more disturbing and compelling performances, yet, because of the small-distribution of the film, many won’t see it.

Clearly doesn’t stick out in a warehouse full of hot, sweaty men.

But they should. Not just for her, either, as Mendelsohn, as expected, gives another one of his great performances as a truly despicable, yet somehow, also somewhat sympathetic guy who knows the mistakes he’s made and does what he can to get past it. The movie paints him in a challenging light, where we never know if he’s truly just a dirt-bag, or a guy who actually fell deeply in love with a 13-year-old; by the end of the movie, we’re still not sure. What we are sure of is that Mendelsohn, once again, gives us a person we love to have, but hate to love, and it’s why it’s always a treat seeing him on the big-screen.

Together, the two create something of a tragic relationship that the movie tries to move around and make more difficult with subplots about big corporations, scandals, courtrooms, and family-dramas, but at the center of it all, is these two and they are what’s worth watching above all else. Andrews direction, mind you, should also be noted for the fact that the movie’s quite sleek and beautiful, but in a rather gritty way that never lets you forget about the darkness surrounding each of these character’s lives, whether they want to see it or not. The movie never lets us forget that, while we are seeing something of a love story, we are also seeing a story about two sad lives, who were once happy, in love, and together, were taken apart and had their lives ruined forever, because of it.

Is it a true love story? Honestly, who knows. And that’s the small, unfortunate beauty of Una.

Consensus: Anchored by two amazing performances from Mendelsohn and Mara, Una‘s a sad, honest, and rather frank tale of love, tragedy, sex, pedophilia, and romance, that sometimes gets a bit too carried away with other subplots, but almost doesn’t matter when the core-material is this compelling.

8 / 10

Kiss! Or don’t! I don’t know what I want!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Mountain Between Us (2017)

At least they have a dog.

Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) and photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) are two people who desperately need to board their planes. He’s about to save somebody’s life in a very critical surgery, whereas she has a wedding to get to. However, their flight gets cancelled when, due to stormy weather, the skies just aren’t totally safe to go through. But Alex has a plan and that’s to board a charter plane, between her and Ben, and a pilot (Beau Bridges) that she entrusts to get them where they both need to get to, safely and without any issue of hitting the storm. However, halfway through the flight, the pilot suffers a stroke and they crash somewhere out in the middle of the wilderness, without any signs of life anywhere to be found. Both survive and although Alex has an injury, it’s nothing too serious that Ben can’t help out. Now, it’s just up to the two to survive and do what they can to make it through this awful predicament they are in, even if they aren’t wholly sure if they’ll ever get out of this alive, or even sane.

Is this considered the “meet-cute”?

The Mountain Between Us is the kind of melodramatic, sappy, and cheesy piece of fluff that Hollywood so rarely makes anymore, in that it’s actually not awful. Think a Nicholas Sparks movie, but instead of having subplots about cancer-striken parents or abusive husbands, you have two people who are, for the sake of the matter, just trying their best to survive. Oh, and a cute little dog, too.

Can’t go wrong with the dog.

Which is to say that the Mountain Between Us is just another case of big Hollywood having enough time and money on their hands to make something that’s corny and a little silly, but in a way, that’s fine. The movie isn’t trying to be high-art in the slightest, nor is it really trying to pass itself off as a Oscar-winner. It’s just a simple, sometimes stupid, but always enjoyable romance, laced with a little bit of survival. Coming from director Hany Abu-Assad, who has made two great flicks in Paradise Now and Omar, it can seem like a step-down, but considering how many prized foreign-film makers screw up their English-language, American debut, it’s a moderate side-step.

It’s not perfect, of course, but that hardly matters because when your movie is almost two hours of just Kate Winslet and Idris Elba on the screen, does anything else matter? You can say that this movie does try very hard to force all of the weight on the back of these two stars, their good-looks, and their inevitable chemistry, but what’s wrong with that? Stars like Winslet and Elba were made for movies like this, where plot and the script sort of come second to their good-looks and their great acting-ability, so that even if a film wasn’t to care all that much about other stuff, like plot, or making sense, it’s not a total crime.

Trust me, she’ll be in safe hands with a man like that. Rawr.

The fact is that they’re still here, doing their absolute best and in this case, that’s enough.

The rest of the movie is, as I’ve said, silly and if you think long and hard about this even in the slightest, yeah, it doesn’t hold-up. It’s the kind of movie that looks pretty because it was shot on-location, but once you actually get to thinking the geography of where these two are, how they have to survive, and where they have to go to stay alive, yeah, it doesn’t quite make sense. It’s as if the film-makers thought that the audience wouldn’t care too much because we’d all be too busy sinking into the beautiful eyes and faces of Elba and Winslet and didn’t care about too much else. Of course, they aren’t wrong about that, but maybe for some others out there, like me, a little bit more comprehension and plot can go a longer way.

But hey, it’s Idris Elba and Kate Winslet, looking hot, sexy, and beautiful, while falling in love and trying their best to survive in harsh winters.

Oh, and a little dog, too.

Consensus: Not to be confused for high-art, the Mountain Between Us mostly relies on the charms of Winslet and Elba to get by, even when its script is clearly lacking in certain aspects.

6 / 10

Come on, Kate! Don’t just hold onto the man! You don’t need him!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blad

It’s many, many years into the future and for some reason, the old Replicants of yesteryear aren’t being used anymore. Now though, there’s some new and improved ones out there that are working for the LAPD, hunting down the old ones, to ensure that no more problems can come of them. One such blade runner is Officer K (Ryan Gosling) who isn’t quite happy about his existence. Mostly, he spends his time hunting and eliminating old Replicants, then, coming home to Joi (Ana de Armas), a hologram that he has as a companion, despite the two actually never being able to touch one another. On one mission, K unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos, which eventually leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years and may hold all of the answers that K’s looking for. But he may also offer the same hope and ambition that K himself wants, but doesn’t quite know it just yet. 

With the way this world’s looking, that may be Vegas in the near-future. Almost too near.

Was the original Blade Runner all that great of a movie to garner as much of a following as it has? For me, I’m still not sure. It’s a bold, ambitious and creatively original movie, even for 1982, but it also feels like it deals with a lot of ideas and doesn’t have the opportunity to flesh them out completely and/or fully. Some of that probably had to do with Ridley Scott trying his best to combat with a budget, or some of it may have to do with the fact that the studios just didn’t know what to do with this truly dark and complex material. That said, here we are, many, many years later, and now we have a sequel. Did we really need one?

Actually, it turns out, yes.

What’s perhaps most interesting about Blade Runner 2049 and what, ultimately, turns out to work in its favor, is that it didn’t call for Scott to come back and sit directly behind the camera again. Nope, this time, it’s Denis Villeneuve who is much more of an auteur and has proved himself more than worthy of a big-budgeted, blockbuster in the past and gets the chance to really let loose here. But what’s most interesting about Villeneuve’s direction is that he doesn’t seem to be in any kind of a rush; with most of these kinds of sequels, especially the ones financed by a huge studio, there’s a want for there to be constant action, constant story, and constant stuff just happening.

In Blade Runner 2049, things are a lot slower and more languid than ever before and it does work for the movie. Villeneuve is clearly having a ball working with this huge-budget, with all of the toys and crafts at his disposal, and it allows us to join in on the fun, too. Even at 164 minutes (including credits), the movie doesn’t feel like it’s all that long-winding because there’s so much beauty on-display, from the cinematography, to the clothes, to the dystopian-details, and to the whole universe etched out, it’s hard not to find something to be compelled, or entertained by. After all, it’s a huge blockbuster and it’s meant to make us entertained, even if it doesn’t always have explosions at every single second.

That said, could it afford to lose at least 20 minutes? Yeah, probably.

But really, it actually goes by pretty smoothly. The story itself is a tad conventional and feels like it could have been way more deep than it actually is, but still, Villeneuve is using this as a way to show the major-studios that they can entrust him in a franchise, no matter how much money is being invested. He knows how to keep the story interesting, even if we’re never truly sure just what’s going on, and when it comes to the action, the movie is quick and exhilarating with it all. There’s a lot of floating, driving, and wandering around this barren-wasteland, but it all feels deserved and welcomed in a universe that’s not all that forgiving – Villeneuve doesn’t let us forget that and it’s hard not to want to stay in this universe for as long as we get the opportunity to.

And with this ensemble, can we be blamed? Ryan Gosling fits perfectly into this role as K, because although he has to play all stern, serious and a little dull, there are these small and shining moments of heart and humanity that show through and have us hope for a little something more. Gosling is such a charismatic actor, that even when he’s supposed to be a bore, he can’t help but light-up the screen. Same goes for Harrison Ford who, after many years of not playing Deckard, fits back into the role like a glove that never came off, while also showing a great deal of age and wisdom, giving us fond memories of the character he once was, and all of the tragedy and horror that he must have seen in the years since we left him.

That said, my praise for this movie ends here and especially with these two.

“Dad? Just kidding. You’re way too cranky.”

For one, it’s really hard to dig in deep into this movie without saying more than I would like to, but also, most of my issues with this movie comes from the possible spoilers I could offer. To put it as simple as I humanly can: The movie suffers from problems of, I don’t know, leaving way too much open in the air.

Wait. Did I say too much?

Let me explain a bit further. The one problem with Blade Runner 2049 is that it does feel the need to give us a bunch of characters, subplots, ideas, themes, and possible conflicts, yet, when all is said and done, not really explore them any further. A part of me feels like this is the movie trying to tell us to stick around and wait for me Blade Runner movies, but another part of me feels like this was something that could have been easily avoided, had the writing and direction been leaner, meaner and most of all, tighter.

Don’t get me wrong, all that’s brought to the table, in terms of the main-plot, is pretty great. Everyone in the ensemble, including a lovely and delightful Ana de Armas, put in great work and even the conflicts brought to our attention, have all sorts of promise. But then, they just sit there. The movie ends and we’re left wondering, “Uh, wait. What? That’s it.”

Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’ve said too much. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll just shut up now.

Okay, no. I definitely will. Just see it so I don’t have to type anymore.

Consensus: Big, bloated, bold, beautiful, and ridiculously compelling, Blade Runner 2049 is the rare many-years-later sequel that does a solid job expanding on its universe and ideas, but doesn’t quite know how to wrap things up in a tiny little bow that it possibly deserved.

8 / 10

Holograms in the real world really do have a long way to go.

Photos Courtesy of: aceshowbiz

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Hey, somebody’s gotta eat.

A bunch of people start going missing somewhere around in the West and it gets people thinking, “Just what’s going on?” Some believe that the people tailed-off and died, whereas others think that they were kidnapped by a savage tribe of cannibals that hide-up in the mountains and are most definitely best left alone and to their business. Problem is, Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) can’t allow that to be enough for him, so he decides that it’s time to find these people, infiltrate this cannibal-tribe and oh yeah, save some lives. But in order to do so, he’ll have to get the help of some of the most trusted gunslinger’s he knows. Like, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who, despite a leg-injury, sticks it out on this mission. Or like Chicory (Richard Jenkins), the Sheriff’s Deputy who knows that time has passed him by, but he’s not willing to settle down just yet. Or, like a random cowboy named John Brooder (Matthew Fox), who shows up randomly into town and makes it his duty to stop these cannibals, all for a hefty-sum of course.

The more out West they are, the more scraggly the facial-hair.

Bone Tomahawk is the kind of movie that won’t be for everybody and that’s why it’s pretty great. It starts off as a slow, meandering and rather meandering Western that’s languid and taking its time, but then rapidly changes into something far more disturbing, barbaric and grueling that we never see it coming, nor do we know what to do with it. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler deserves loads of credit here for not just turning the Western-genre on its side, but also realizing the pulpy-limitations that can be reached when such things as convention, or good-taste are thrown to the side; sometimes, it’s better to just show a bunch of blood, guts, bullets, and cannibals.

Something that, honestly, the John Ford Westerns always seemed to be missing.

But I kid. Zahler does something interesting with this material in that he lets it breathe and move at its own pace. That can sometimes mean that it’s a bit slow and boring, but it also means that Zahler is using his time wisely, setting-up and building characters, giving us a better idea of who, or what exactly, we’re working with. It may not seem like much in the world of film, but when it seems like almost every other movie feels the need to rush itself, get going, and immediately jump to all of the gore and action, it’s a nice change-of-pace to get a movie that doesn’t rush things along.

It also helps that Zahler knows that by doing this, he’s also building tension, which is exactly why Bone Tomahawk works as well as it does. Cause when we get all of the necessary build-up that we need, the movie’s tension snaps like a rubber-band that’s been stretched too tight; the action that we’d been waiting around for so desperately, does eventually come around, but it hits a lot harder than we expect. It’s quick, brutal, unrelenting, and oh yeah, pretty damn shocking – all factors that seem to be missing from today’s film’s violence, without seeming gratuitous or over-the-top.

Why would anyone want to leave her at home, all alone?!?

Nope. In Bone Tomahawk‘s case, the violence is just a sick and savage culmination of all the building and waiting around that’s been done and it’s hard not to be gripped by this. Zahler is a smart director in that he knows the best way to film this kind of heartless action is not to look away, shake the camera, or pull off some sick style-points, but keep the camera there, tightly and firmly, so that we can see just what sort of carnage is being done. It makes it not just more hard-to-watch, but rather disturbing.

Another factor missing from most of today’s movie violence.

But if anything, Bone Tomahawk is a solid B-movie that wants to be a bit of an A-movie, what with its stars and possible ideas about land and freedom. Then again, the movie is best when it’s not caring about this certain kind of stuff and just allowing for these characters to blow each other’s heads off. Sure, there’s something more to this small dynamic of characters, but really, the movie’s not necessarily as character-based, as much as it just uses them to be pawns in a much larger, much more dangerous game. Zahler knows that it’s best to have us care about them and sympathize with them, even when we know that it’s all going to blow up in their face, as well as our own.

But hey, that’s just the price we pay for caring.

Consensus: A tad long, Bone Tomahawk isn’t high-art, as much as it’s a B-movie with some pretty horrifying violence, a solid cast, and a smart direction that plays on genre-thrills, but never shying away from the sheer brutality that’s actually shocking, given today’s standards.

8 / 10

Uh oh. Look out cannibals. Or, I guess, prepare the hot-sauce.

Photos Courtesy of: Image Entertainment

Polytechnique (2009)

What a time to be alive. And unfortunately, still live in.

It was December 6, 1989 and it was just like any other day at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. People were going from class-to-class, thinking of their days, getting ready for the holiday-break, and most of all, looking forward of what was next to come. But little did most of these people know that, by the end of the day, they would be shot and killed by one deranged loon (Maxim Gaudette). Due to issues with his mental well-being, as well as with authority, the killer enters the school and decides that it’s about time that the world heard and understood his hatred for all things women, which is exactly who he targeted in this attack, killing an overall of 15 and injuring 14 more.

Director Denis Villeneuve knows that he’s dealing with a difficult, downright disturbing subject here and while he doesn’t try to gore it up in an unsettling way, he doesn’t shy away from the harsh facts, either. A good portion of the movie is mostly dedicated to this school-shooting and as such, it’s chilling, compelling, and very hard-to-watch, meaning that as a director, Villeneuve gets what he needs to get done.

Just two gals looking for a fun time.

Shot in black-and-white, Villeneuve allows for the camera to swoon back-and-forth, following our certain characters as they go about their day and truly does put us in the place of this shock and horror. We feel as if we are right there, feeling the same distraught confusions that these people must have felt, having no clue where to go, what to do, or just what the hell was actually going on; this constant stream-of-confusion and cause-and-effect is shown quite well, as Villeneuve displays just how the actions took place, with people figuring out stuff a lot later than others, and often times, almost too late. It’s unflinching and as disturbing as it should be, making Villeneuve feel like one of the better displays of a school-shooting ever put to film.

Issue is, that aspect is so well-done, it’s hard not to find everything else lacking.

It isn’t that Villeneuve doesn’t try to aim for something deeper and smarter here, because he absolutely does. Much like Gus Van Sant did with Elephant, Villeneuve focuses on a few characters, giving us their lives, hopes, aspirations, conflicts, and backgrounds leading up to the school-shooting. It does help give us a point-of-reference once the carnage starts, but the issue is that there’s such an intense feeling in the air, these characters, as well as their developing-sequences, can’t help but feel like plodder to what’s to come. Maybe that’s the point – perhaps Villeneuve is meaning to have us expect the worst, but still keep us around, sitting, and waiting for it all to happen.

Do it. Idiot.

But then again, maybe not. What I do know is that for a 79-minute-movie, it’s a surprise how much of it can actually feel a tad meandering. Van Sant’s Elephant felt the same way, but it was much more deliberate and worked much better for the movie’s sense of style and meaning – here, it can’t help but feel a little long. The actors are all good, too, but as I’ve said, they’re sort of stuck with faceless characters who we see through this tragedy and that’s all we really need to know.

It’s a shame because they were real people, too.

But still, Polytechnique works because it gets the point across that not only are guns bad, but the ideas surrounding this sort of violence is even more scary. See, the killer in real-life wanted to get rid of all women in the world and very much opposed their equality, by any means necessary. It’s something that, unfortunately, we see too much of in today’s world and while the movie was made in 2009, it still hits on a lot of points that are often made whenever another mass-shooting comes around. The violence, the blood, the loss, and the death is there, but the actual ideas that this may never get better are also there, and it makes this all the much more sad.

When will it ever end?

Consensus: Chilling and frightening, Polytechnique can’t quite overcome its issue with its narrative, but still gets the hard and heavy points across without preaching, while also reminding the world of the tragic-loss.

8 / 10

Never forget. Not just this one, but every one.

Photos Courtesy of: Alliance Films

Gerald’s Game (2017)

Lock her up!

Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) have been married for quite some time, and as is with an aging-couple, they’ve run out of a bit-of-steam. So, they decide to spend a little weekend away in a cabin together, with barely anyone else around, hanging out, and possibly, having lots of wild and crazy sex. Or at least, this is something that Gerald thinks is going to happen, until he ties up Jessie to the bed and she doesn’t like it. But not taking a hint, Gerald goes for it anyway and soon, he keels over of a heart-attack. Now, Jessie is left all alone, in that room, tied to a bed, without any hopes of getting out. What’s a girl to do? Figure out a way to get out, by any means imaginable? Or sit there, think about her life and talk to dead people, who are constantly ragging on her for the past mistakes she made as a kid?

Obviously, she goes for both.

“Watch. Me. Flex.”

Gerald’s Game is the kind of movie that, as a 20-30-minute short, probably would have worked like gangbusters. It would have been short, sweet, tight and very tense. But instead, we get a 100-minute movie that feels over-stretched, long, meandering, and oh yeah, pretty boring. It’s the kind of movie that so many people get disgusted by because it’s dealing with hard-to-take ideas about sexuality, pedophilia and rape, but really is just a bore.

And it’s a shame because it seemed like director Mike Flanagan was really going somewhere interesting and cool with his career. He was taking the horror-genre, finding new and smart ways to spin it around, play with conventions and never let us forget that, oh yeah, horror stories like this can sort of be fun. While Gerald’s Game isn’t necessarily a “horror” story, it’s still one with darker, harsher undertones that makes it feel more vicious, somehow. Still, that doesn’t save the movie from feeling like it’s just spinning its wheels, figuring out where to go next, and exactly what to say.

Cause at the end of the day, what does it have to say?

Rape and incest is bad? That it has long-term effects? Marriage isn’t always pretty, despite the sometimes lovely appearance to the common-man? Don’t trust your elders? Honestly, I don’t know. It wants to pass itself off as a character-study of one woman who, for basically the whole run-time, is tied to a bed-frame, stuck talking to herself and imaginary beings that constantly egg her on, but really, don’t have much of anything to say. They just sort of hoot and holler at her for no reason because, uh, they’re dead and angry? Right?

See? So much better now.

Once again, not sure. The only thing that I am sure of is that without Carla Gugino, the movie would have been a whole lot more awful than it actually was. Gugino, for many years now, has constantly been putting in great work, but it’s mostly on the side; here, as Jessie, she shows us that she can carry a whole movie entirely on her own, staying swift and interesting to watch practically the whole way through. Due to this character’s possible mental-illness, Gugino has a lot of showing to do and she gets by with it just fine, even if the script doesn’t entirely help her out in those regards.

Same goes for Bruce Greenwood who, despite always being a welcome-presence, is just shirtless here the whole time and it doesn’t really matter. He’s just sort of there to instigate and piss-off Jessie, and that’s it. It’s a bit of a waste for someone like Greenwood, who can really make sleazy so charming, when he gets the opportunity to. It’s not like Henry Thomas here who, in flashbacks, really does himself in as a total creeper and it works. While Thomas still has the childish looks, there’s something darker and more sinister here that’s hard not to take notice of.

If only the rest of the film was that easy to take notice of.

Consensus: Despite a solid performance from Gugino, as well as Thomas, Gerald’s Game suffers from being way too mean and nasty, without much else going on, except a very limited plot and slow-moving pace.

4.5 / 10

Don’t mess with Brucie’s body. This is what happens.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Our Souls at Night (2017)

Old people have sex, too!

Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda) are two people who’ve been living next to each other for the past 40 or so years. They don’t really know one another, live alone, and yeah, are basically trying to live out the rest of their days in absolute and total silence. Louis seems perfectly content with this, whereas Addie doesn’t, and so, she offers him time to spend with her. Whether it’s just sleeping in the same bed together, having dinner, or going out on casual dates, and giving each other company, she wants it all. She’s not asking for sex, but just a human connection – something she hasn’t had since the death of her husband. Louis is initially against it and a little antsy, but he soon starts to grow closer to Addie and realizes that he doesn’t mind the company. Then, Addie’s son, Gene (Matthias Schoenaerts), brings his son, Jamie (Iain Armitage), around, who then forges something of a connection with Louis. It’s something Louis and Addie both appreciate, but Gene isn’t too happy about, due to a shared-history the two families already share.

Don’t pull a hernia, you whippersnappers!

I’ve said it before and I guess, I’ll say it again, having Netflix around is great for the entertainment business. Case in point, Our Souls at Night. Here’s a movie that, had it ever been widely-released or produced by a major company, either 1) wouldn’t have been made, 2) filled with ridiculously dumb and idiotic boner jokes, and/or 3) just wouldn’t have felt so raw and fresh. While I do understand that there are numerous movies out there about old people, growing older, falling in love, and realizing the lives that they have lived, they don’t nearly feel as contained, as honest, as realistic, and as lovely as Our Souls at Night.

Don’t know if you can really say Netflix is the whole entire reason, but to me, it seems like that. Cause Netflix is willing to have faith in a project that, otherwise, wouldn’t have found much funding or backing anywhere else, regardless of having two screen-legends in it, due mostly to the material itself, it gives me a greater-faith that more and more movies, small or big, creative or not, dumb or smart, will continue to find the help they deserve.

In other words, let’s hope Netflix stays around, so long as that means we get more movies like Our Souls at Night.

Cause for one, it’s a very smart movie that, due to the material, doesn’t feel like it’s in all that much of a rush to get anywhere. Director Ritesh Batra is very admirable in that he’s willing to not trust the strong script, but to also allow for this material to breathe and move at its own pace. Batra doesn’t really have add much conflict here, or feel like he’s going to introduce any twists or turns – it’s literally a story about two elderly people, hanging out, and enjoying whatever time they have left on this planet, but together. It’s quite a beautiful little movie that made me happy just about every scene, whether it was just them two sitting in a room, speaking about past regrets, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, former-spouses, and the idea of dying.

Kale?

It may sound boring and completely melancholy, but that’s sort of the point. And oh yeah, it isn’t boring. Cause the movie features both Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, together, after all this time, it’s worth watching and having a ball with. Both are still amazing and handle their roles with a great deal of sincerity, heart, emotion, and sadness that feels fully-realized, as much as it feels honest. The movie never talks down to them for being old, or even a little cranky, which is why the time we spend with them, is just a joy; it’s literally two of film’s best, working with some solid material that not only gives them the respect they deserve, but enough opportunity to show the world that they’ve still got it.

Take note, Hollywood. Don’t give up on the oldies!

The only issue Our Souls at Night seems to run into is that because it is so lax, so laid-back, so melancholy, and so meandering, in a sense, it does eventually feel the need to throw in a conflict here and there, which, when it comes around, feels shoe-horned in. Mostly, it all comes from Schoenaerts’ Gene character who, right from the get-go, feels like a ticking time-bomb who wants to start trouble everywhere he goes. Are there people out there, just like this? Sure, but does one have to be in this movie? Not really. And it’s why his performance not only suffers, but the movie itself.

But still, it’s Redford and Fonda, baby. Love it while we got it.

Consensus: Even if it’s a little slow, Our Souls at Night still features two of the greatest performers, ever, together again, enjoying the material, and making it all worth watching and sticking around for.

8 / 10

Okay, so maybe there’s a boner joke here and there. Somewhere.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Boys vs. Girls. Didn’t this stuff stay in the playground?

It was 1972 and Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was on top of the tennis world. She was #1, breaking all sorts of records, and oh yeah, had a phone conversation with Tricky Dick. Pretty awesome, right? Well, apparently not that awesome as she was only receiving an eighth of what a man made in professional tennis, leading her, as well as many other pro-tennis females to boycott the league and start their own. Meanwhile, hustler has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was looking for his next and best score, when all of a sudden, it came to him: Why not face-off against a female tennis-player and prove, once and for all, that women are the inferior species? Surely Bobby didn’t actually think this, but he knew that the media would create a swirl-storm, hyping up whoever he played, creating quite the anticipation around the match itself. This happens, of course, with Billie Jean, but it comes at a price for both of them. For Bobby, his marriage begins to fall-apart, whereas for Billie, hers does too, however, with much different circumstances as she’s absolutely afraid of being ousted as “gay”, even though she’s clearly in love with her hair-dresser (Andrea Riseborough).

“So, uh that ten-grand?”

Battle of the Sexes clearly deals with a lot of the issues we’re having in our current day-to-day society, but it doesn’t try to fall back on them too much. After all, creating a modern-day parallel isn’t all that difficult, what with a female candidate and a male candidate vying for the presidency and coming very close to a split-decision (depending on who you ask), and blatant sexism being thrown everywhere you looked. It’s something that makes America, America, and it doesn’t matter if it happens in 1972, or 2016, or 2046, it’s something that’s a problem and needs to be changed.

But then again, there’s no issue with what Battle of the Sexes brings to the table, as it’s much more about these two individuals in general, the people around them, the so-called “conflict”, and oh yeah, that sport called tennis. Co-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton are smart in not allowing this material to ever get too preachy, corny, or even melodramatic – along with Simon Beaufroy’s script, they allow for each and every character to have a certain bit of heart and humanity to go beyond their sometimes silly personas.

Case in point, Bobby Riggs.

While he is no doubt a caricature and clearly not meant to be take so entirely seriously, Carell and the movie give him some pathos and show us a softer, rather sad tide to his whole appearance. While he may have no doubt been a hustler, a cheat, a gambler, he was still a nice enough and charming enough guy to make you smile and entertain the hell out of you, even if that came at the expense of all those around him. Carell fits the Riggs-role so well that it’s hard to see anyone else in it, whether he’s cheeking it up for the press, or trying to score a few extra-dollars off of his friends and family, when the cameras aren’t around.

But then again, he does get the short-end of the stick when it comes to Billie Jean King who, as played by Emma Stone, is perfect. Like with Riggs, Battle of the Sexes gives us more to Billie Jean than just a bad-ass, rather tomboy-ish leader of the women’s movement; she was surely troubled, scared, a little lonely, and incredibly vulnerable. We see a softer-side to her that goes well in adjacent with her tough-as-nails skills on the tennis-court and it allows for Stone to give this character more and more depth, as we go along and learn more about her. The movie is clearly hers and she’s more than deserving of it.

Billie Jean is definitely not my lover. But she’s got a mean back-swing. So look out, sexist pigs.

And as for everybody else, the same goes.

Battle of the Sexes isn’t a movie where the immoral people are classified as “villains” – more or less, they’re just seen as pricks, or d-bags. Bill Pullman’s Jack Kramer is a perfect example, especially of someone who can be seen as “a baddie”, but isn’t really; he’s just a businessman who has a certain way of getting his dick-ish point across. Same goes for all of those around Billie Jean, like her husband, as played by Austin Stowell, who seems more like a manager, than a passionate, loving-companion. But still, he’s not seen as a bad guy who, when finding out about his wife’s trysts with Riseborough’s Marilyn, doesn’t scream, hoot, holler, yell, or break things – he’s just sad, as anyone would be. Riseborough is also quite great in this role that gives her the chance to show a softer side to Billie Jean that makes us actually feel the conflict and the love, sometimes, both at the same time.

But really, everyone here is great. They’re given something to work with and guess what? They all make their presences known. It’s the kind of mainstream, Hollywood biopic that gets made literally all the time, but doesn’t actually have this much thought or reason to go with it.

It’s rare and I’m glad it’s around.

Consensus: As much of a sports movie, as much as it’s about two sports-icons who made the best of their professional and personal lives, Battle of the Sexes is smart, fun, and entertaining, while also boasting great performances all across its ensemble.

8 / 10

Together. As one. That’s the way it oughta be!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

American Made (2017)

The American Dream.

It’s the late 70’s and Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is enjoying the hell out of his life. He’s got a nice job, working as a pilot for commercial airline TWA, married to a beautiful woman (Sarah Wright), and is relatively happy with how simple things are in his life. Sure, he could always have a little more money in his pocket, but hey, what’s he to complain about? Well, things change for Barry when he’s contacted by CIA agent, Monty Schafer (Doomnhall Gleeson), who asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over South America using a small plane with cameras installed. But why? Well, it seems like Schafer has a little mission of his own, to not just get his name known, but use Barry as the reason for it. Eventually though, times begin to change and Barry begins to get ideas; rather than just doing these missions for Schafer and making a small amount of extra-cash, why not just help out the drug cartel in transporting such things as drugs, guns, and all sorts of other goodies?

“Guys. Come on. Do I have to call L. Ron?”

Most of the negative-press towards American Made has been mostly about the fact that the movie plays fast-and-loose with its facts and takes what is, essentially, a dark, gritty, and sad tale about a dude transporting drugs and weapons across country-borders, and not really having the CIA crack down on him for it. And while this is no doubt a valuable criticism, it should also be noted that the movie doesn’t really care about how serious you, or anyone else, takes it story – it doesn’t, so who cares? All that matters, in the end, is whether or not this story deserves the big-screen treatment and is told in the most efficient, entertaining, and knowledgeable way possible.

And yes, that’s exactly what happens.

As per usual, director Dough Liman knows how to make this material crack and sizzle at just about every second. While it takes some time to get off-the-ground, once we are sprung into this world of drugs, guns, sex, heat, and conspiracies, it never lets up. American Made very much feels like Blow, in that it’s about, basically, a low-level dude trying to achieve the American Dream, while also not settling down to preach or cry about its sadness, but this movie’s a whole lot more exciting and fun to watch – this movie takes its premise seriously enough to know of the very real-dangers, but also doesn’t get too bogged down by them much, either. Much like Barry Seal himself, the movie knows what it’s dealing with, but is willing and able to turn a blind-eye in hopes that it will make things a lot more enjoyable to watch.

And that’s exactly what happens with American Made, the kind of movie that feels like it should be a lot more serious, but gets by entirely on its charm and quick pace. You can focus on the fact that it’s about the government turning a blind-eye and using another middle-class American for their own game, but that’s already to be expected. American Made has very much the same rather jokey, wink-wink true-story aspect that Narcos gets away with, but in this case, isn’t a little afraid to play around with certain facts and anecdotes.

“All of this, Tom, could be yours. Just leave that freakin’ cult, bro.”

It’s still a true story as is, but how many liberties were taken, honestly, we don’t fully know.

What we know about American Made is that it gives us, in what seems like a millennium, an actual performance from Tom Cruise, that doesn’t include much running or fancy stunts, but instead, a character, a personality, and oh yeah, plenty of opportunities to have some fun. And yes, Cruise reminds us all that he is, no matter how many silly blockbusters he does, a movie-star through and through; he can hang with the best of them, take over every scene he’s in, and most importantly, sometimes make you forget you’re watching Tom Cruise, movie-star. Cruise hasn’t been able to do that in quite some time, but here, as Barry Seal, he does actually grow into this character and over time, we start to see less of Cruise, and more of Seal. Both are still charming as hell, but there’s some subtle differences here that makes the performance all the more lovely to watch and marvel at.

Cause honestly, who knows the next time we’re going to get a great performance from Cruise where he, believe it or not, actually acts? Let’s just take our wins when we get them and be happy. And oh yeah, forget about the Mummy.

Everybody else already has.

Consensus: As entertatining and as fun, as it is informative, American Made doesn’t pass itself off as a history-lesson, but feels like it’s pulling double duty, while also reminding us that Tom Cruise is a freakin’ movie-star.

7.5 / 10

“Can’t run from all of your problems, Tom.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz