Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Tag Archives: Stephen Frears

Hero (1992)

HeroposterEveryone’s a little super. Just look closely and stop judging!

Bernie Laplante (Dustin Hoffman) is known as a cheap-skate, a swindler, and just all around rat, who can’t be trusted with anything, or anyone. However, he makes the first selfless gesture of his life when he helps save injured passengers from a roadside plane crash. Before he can get any sort of recognition or praise for this righteous act of heroism, he vanishes into thin air, feeling as if he’s got nothing else to offer. But Bernie is very wrong, because not only are people out there looking for him, but most of all, the one, the only reporter Gale Gayley (Geena Davis) is now interested in finding this mystery man who put his own life at risk. And in by doing so, she announces a $1 million prize for anyone who is willing and able to step forward. But when handsome vagrant John Bubber (Andy Garcia) takes credit, Bernie now feels like it’s time to speak up, even while all of the media is centered on this one story.

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

What? Would you not trust these two faces?

Hero is a sloppy film in that it balances out a lot of what it wants to say, do, and actually be, but still, it all comes together because, when you get right down to it, it’s an enjoyable movie, with some great performances to be found. Sometimes, that’s honestly all you need in a movie, no matter how messy, muggy, or dirty it may actually be.

Okay, maybe that’s not always the case, but you get my point, right?

Anyway, what Hero benefits from the most is a great cast on-deck who feel as if they are more than capable of taking on this material and giving it all that they’ve got, even if they do sometimes feel like they’re far much better than the material itself. Hoffman especially is great in the lead because while he’s definitely an unlikable and pathetic bum, who constantly steals and rips people off for his own self-gain, he’s still likable and fun to watch. This is the beauty of Hoffman – give him a gritty character, a bunch of unlikable traits, and still, watch him as he works wonders into making him the most lovable guy in the whole world. The script always wants to give you the sense that there’s good in this man, but Hoffman does away with them in smart moves; you almost get the sense that Hoffman would have preferred for this character to have been more detestable and mean, but unfortunately, the movie is too light and quick on its feet to really get down and deep into those dark waters.

If anything, it wants to play around, have some fun, make jokes, but also be “about something”, which is what kind of ruins it in the end.

Cause honestly, Hero is the kind of movie that, yes, on the surface, it’s about something, but for some reason, the direction from Stephen Frears doesn’t seem to show that. If anything, Frears seems more interested in having fun with this situation and watching it spiral more and more out of control; it’s like a Capra crowd-pleaser, but obviously, a lot more modern. However, that’s the central issue with Hero – it never fully feels like it’s as funny, or as light as it should be, nor does it feel like it ever gets as dark or serious as it should.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

Yeah, take a shower, Dusty.

What Hero seems to be talking about here is how the media portrays certain people as being hero’s, for the sole sake of ratings and attention, even if, deep down inside, these people are evil and ugly human beings, really. There’s been plenty of movies made about this topic and honestly, given today’s world of media, you don’t even need movies to know this – just turn on the tube and you’ll see what picture the world paints of celebrities and athletes. That said, it is hard to get down on David Webb Peoples and his script for trying, because Hero is the rare big-budget movie, with A-list stars, that’s more than willing to ask the hard questions.

Sure, it may not give the answers it oh so desires, but sometimes, all you need is a little question to make it all matter most.

Anyway, Hero‘s messy, but it’s a fun and, at times, interesting mess. It is something of a redemption story that, because of Hoffman and his dedication to his craft, is a lot smarter and sweeter than it may have intended to be. Even all of the media stuff, as wild and hectic as it can sometimes get, still works because of Geena Davis, in full-on charm-mode, showing us a character who may be sad, deep down inside, but is still looking for that story of her lifetime to make her feel somewhat complete as much as she possibly can. The movie never gets as deep with her as I make it sound, but trust me, there’s something there, if you look close enough.

And yeah, even Andy Garcia is fine; while comedy has never been his strong suit, there’s something to this character that makes you hate him, but also like him as well. The movie is filled with characters like these and it’s actually quite refreshing to watch; we know we’re supposed to like them, but there’s still factors and ideas about them that make that much harder to be a reality. Why more and more movies can’t feature these kinds of attributes is beyond me, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Doesn’t matter the decade it comes from.

Consensus: Albeit messy, Hero still benefits from a great class, interesting ideas, and an entertaining approach to a premise that could have easily been boring, preachy and sad.

7 / 10

All of the men can't wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

All of the men can’t wait for Geena. No matter what the year.

Photos Courtesy of: Rob’s Movie Vault, Virtual History, Cineplex

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Laundromats were invented to bring people closer together.

In a seedy corner of London, where the tourists aren’t quite encouraged to travel out to see and witness, Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a young Pakistani, is given a run-down laundromat by his uncle (Saeed Jaffrey). His uncle hopes for it to be as successful as every other business idea he has made in this great land of opportunity, which leads Omar to do whatever he can to make sure all goes smoothly and according to plan. But soon after, Omar is attacked by a group of racist punks, leading him to question whether or not he wants to give this job a shot in the first place. All issues go out the window, though, when he realizes their leader is his former lover, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). The men decide that it’s best to work together and see what they can make of this laundromat, while also trying to continue their relationship. However, certain social issues arise, when people start to find out that they’re more than just business-partners and are, in fact, get ready for it, in love.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

Those blond-streaks are killer, though.

My Beautiful Laundrette feels and acts a tad like a student film. While Stephen Frears was no slouch by the time this movie was made and released, there’s still that feeling that he may be rushing things a tad too much. After all, making a movie and getting it out to the general public is difficult as is, so might as well get all that you can, out there for everyone to see, right?

That’s why, while watching Laundrette, I couldn’t help but wonder why Frears himself wouldn’t slow things down a bit. Granted, it does keep a story like this interesting, just by moving at an efficient pace, but it also makes us lose out on some of the smaller, more intricate details of the plot and the characters that would make a movie like this so rich and pure. It’s almost as if the script was much, much longer, so Frears himself decided to hit all of the bullet-points and just expect the audience to fall in line with everything that he showed and left it at that.

It doesn’t quite work, but that isn’t to say that Hanif Kureishi’s script isn’t good, because it is.

What Kureishi does best is that he balances out the actual heart and humanity of these characters, with the certain social-issues that surround them. However, Kureishi doesn’t make these social-issues and concerns the sole factor in determining who these characters are; it’s something that they represent, but they’re much more than just their points and opinions about society and politics. For instance, a great example of this is Saeed Jaffrey’s Nasser – he’s the uncle of the family who came over to England at a very young age and, metaphorically speaking, took the bull by the horns. He saw a land, rich with opportunity, and he decided to go for it, becoming successful, but also opening up the doors for those others just like him who are looking to make a break in a foreign land.

But what’s interesting about the script is how it shows that this can also be something of his demise; in a way, it’s made him more pompous and forget exactly who he is, where he comes from, and who he’s supposed to love. Jaffrey’s performance is wonderful and it helps make Nasser the most interesting character of the bunch, because we know what he’s supposed to represent, but the script is too smart to get bogged down by all of this and just focus on this one, in particular detail. Same goes for the gay love-angle – for a movie from 1985, Laundrette is surprisingly modern and not all that dated when it comes to two men falling in love and having sex. Sure, it’s not graphic by any means, but the movie doesn’t shy away from their little love affair either, and while I wouldn’t be saying it was a brave move in today’s day and age of cinema, back then, it must have broken down barriers.

Look out, world.

This is England?

Or maybe not. I don’t know. I myself wasn’t even a thought by that point.

But even when the direction fails them, the performances from the cast are quite solid, too. Aside from Jaffrey, Daniel Day-Lewis really does shine as Johnny, the punk-turned-legitimate-businessman, showing both sides of his anger, as well as his compassion for the world around him. Though Day-Lewis was young and not quite the powerhouse he would come to be known as, you still get inklings of things to come, whenever the opportunity presents itself here.

As for Gordon Warnecke, he’s pretty good, too. Together, the two share a sensual and sweet chemistry that doesn’t feel phony. Had the movie been solely about their love and compassion for one another, amidst all of this tension, turmoil and prejudice, it probably would have been a lot stronger and gotten rid of some of the messier-portions of the flick; however, as is, the movie still works because Warnecke and Day-Lewis seem believable in their love for one another. It kind of comes out of nowhere, honestly, but the look in their eyes when they see each other is true and it helps carry the movie through some of its murkier waters.

Consensus: Frears’ direction may be a little amateurish, but thankfully, My Beautiful Laundrette benefits from a great script and even better performances from the solid cast.

7 / 10

It's true love, people. Get used to it.

It’s true love, people. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Criterion, Londonist

The Program (2016)

Come on, guys. Let’s cut Lance some slack. Dude dated Sheryl Crow after all.

Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), as they like to say, came from nothing, only to then become something. Though he was just a small-time cyclist from Texas, eventually, Lance began to train more and more, to the point of where he was competing in national competitions like, well, for starters, the Tour de France. However, while he was definitely successful very early in his career, he ran into problems when it turned out that he had testicular cancer. Eventually, he got treatment and got back on his bike, except this time, it was with a whole new mission: To help those with cancer. With all sorts of support on his side from everyone around him, Armstrong created the Live Strong foundation, won the Tour de France a few more times, had all sorts of sponsors, was generally seen as “a hero”, and heck, was even in a long-term relationship with Sheryl Crow. It seemed almost as if Armstrong was the king of the world and couldn’t be brought down from his title. However, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) saw differently and was one of the key people in challenging Armstrong’s past issues with performance-enhancing drugs. These are the same sorts of issues that would ultimately prove his downfall in the public eye.

Cars vs. bikes. Who's going to win the transportation war?

Cars vs. bikes. Who’s going to win the transportation war?

By now, I’m pretty sure that nobody’s holding a “Lance Armstrong pity party”. The dude may have fought for a meaningful cause and won a slew of Tour de France’s, but was a jerk to mostly everyone in the media, anyone who associated themselves with him, and used his good deeds and charities to almost make an excuse for all of the performance-enhancing drugs he took. Oh, and not to mention, that he lied about almost all of this. So yeah, no time soon will everybody crowd around a picture of Lance, and memorialize the person who he was and cry on his behalf.

Some people may do that now as we speak, but it’s probably a very limited number.

However, that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about the Program: While it does treat Armstrong in a sometimes negative, almost mean light, it still has an effect and makes you wonder if all of this piling-up on him is, well, enough. After the Armstrong Lie, it felt like we already had Armstrong’s story and nothing else needed to be told, which is pretty true in this movie’s case, but director Stephen Frears does something interesting in that he turns the story around ever so slightly and make us think that maybe Armstrong, while not misunderstood, was attacked way too heavily. Sure, he was a cocky dude who brought a lot of these issues on himself for just not sticking to his guns, not staying clean, and gaining a God-complex, but at the same time, he still had some nice qualities to him.

I know that statement literally means nothing in most cases, but here, it means something; rather than painting Armstrong as this completely distasteful, immoral son-of-a-bitch, the movie shows that while he was most definitely a dick, he was one that also wanted to fight for a good cause. Also, the movie likes to focus on those around him, like Lee Pace’s Bill Stapleton, or Denis Menochet’s Johan Bruyneel, and show that they most definitely had a hand or two, or more, in constituting just how far Armstrong went with his success. While he may have wanted to use his wealth and notoriety for the greater good of society and to find a cure for cancer, those around him mostly just saw a piggy-bank that needed to be constantly tapped and used.

Once again, none of this is excusing the fact that Armstrong lied on many occasions, but it brings up some valid arguments about him.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

That’s why the Program, the movie, feels very mixed. In a way, we didn’t really need this story to be told to us, but because it’s a movie that exists, it’s hard to hate on it for existing. What I can hate on the movie for is not really offering anything fully meaningful to the debate of whether or not we should all, as a society, go back to letting Lance Armstrong into our tender arms. It makes you think if he was a total dick or not, but that’s about it; all the movie really sets out to do is tell Armstrong’s story once again, as if some of those at home didn’t already know a single thing about it, or him.

Also, what’s odd about the movie is how, even at an-hour-and-43-minutes, it goes by very quick. This isn’t something I note as a positive either, as a good portion of the film just feels like a Lance Armstrong highlight reel, where all of the good things he did, gets shown, as well as the bad things, and they’re just constantly put up next to one another, back-to-back. For instance, we’ll get a scene of Armstrong at a children’s hospital, being nice and sweet to the kids, but the next one, we’ll get a shot of him sticking a needle into his bum. While this may be effective editing, it still doesn’t help when there’s at least three or four of these transitions of seeing Armstrong do something nice, only to then have it all juxtaposed by him doing something bad.

We get it! What we didn’t see in the spotlight, was sometimes darker than what we wished!

As Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster is very good in that he’s doing a lot of acting and having seen Armstrong in plenty of interviews/public appearances, it almost doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, Foster is good and gives this all his every bit, but there’s a lot of yelling, and screaming, and posturing from Foster that I don’t feel was very necessary to this character, especially the real life Armstrong wasn’t totally like this. He was definitely a bit smarmy, in a way, but no way was he a total a-hole like the way he’s portrayed here. If anything, he was just a dull guy who had a lot of championships to his name, his own cancer foundation, and a severe drug habit.

That’s basically all there was to Lance Armstrong – the man, the myth, the cheater.

Consensus: Without making its own mind up on its subject, the Program feels a tad short-shifted, but with some good performances and entertaining, slightly easygoing pace from Stephen Frears, it gets the job done and may have you thinking a bit differently about Armstrong himself. Or, then again, maybe not.

6.5 / 10

He's a hero to us all. Now give me back my money for all those damn wristbands!

He’s a hero to us all. Now give everybody back all their money for those damn wristbands!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Queen (2006)

God save the queen, indeed.

After the death of Princess Diana, all of London was a public mess. People were crying, leaving beds of flowers, and in a downtrodden depression that hadn’t been since the days of the sudden deaths of John Lennon, or Elvis Presley. However, one person who wasn’t quite as tearful or as upset as the rest of the general public was her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Elizabeth, even though she tried to appreciate Diana for what she was, can’t understand why so many people would be in such a fit over somebody who, to be honest, they didn’t know. Surely, Elizabeth doesn’t get the point of this sadness, which is why she seems to live her life as usual, walking around with her beloved Corgis, appreciating her husband (James Cromwell), and doing what she always does. Except, this is probably not the best thing for Elizabeth to do, what with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) ascending to the office of Prime Minister, creating more tension and hatred for her in the press and among public opinion. Eventually, Elizabeth starts to look at the situation in a different light and realize a little something new about herself, as well as the rest of London.

More skin is always better, Philip.

More leg is always better, Philip.

The Queen is an interesting drama, in that everything about it screams “Oscar-bait”, however, the way in which the movie actually plays out, shows something somewhat different. For one, director Stephen Frears approaches the material, not with an overabundance of metaphors and moments of sheer importance, but with a delicate, attention-paying hand and eye that’s more concerned about these actual few people or so, rather than trying to make some statement about how the Queen’s ideals represent an older way of life, against what Diana represented. Surely, all of this material was probably here for Frears to work with, but because he doesn’t see the need in making his material more heavy-handed than it has any right to be, it plays out a little bit better than it would have, had the Academy been sneering towards his way.

At the same time, however, the Queen is also a movie that doesn’t really do much with itself.

I don’t mean this as a way to say that the movie is boring, as there’s plenty to look at, pay attention to, and think about, even when it seems like there’s hardly anything to look or think about. But what I do mean to say is that the Queen deals with such a small issue, in such a particularly subtle way, that if you aren’t already in love with the Queen, the royal family, or everything that the British Royal stand for the most, then sadly, you’ll be kind of lost. For me, I found it hard to care whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually came to terms with the death and subsequent public outcry of Princess Diana. Most of this has to do with the fact that, well, nothing’s really at-stake here; nobody’s going to be calling for the decapitation of her, there’s not going to be any impeachment, and there will surely be no moment of spiritual awakening.

Everything, as they say, will remain the same. Some things may change, but overall, it will be the same as it always was.

And even though watching as a bunch of British cabinet members run around, talking with one another, and generally looking as serious as can be, may sound like fun to some, it doesn’t always sound as fun to me, especially when there isn’t much to grab at here. Frears does a smart thing in that he doesn’t try to overdo the movie with a heavily-stylized direction, but because of this, the movie can sometimes feel as if it’s just treading along, at its own, meandering pace, where people talk and do things, but really, what does any of it matter? Once again, I know I may be in the minority of saying bad things about this relatively beloved film, but for me, while watching the Queen, it was hard to really get sucked into what was going on, especially when there didn’t seem to be much of anything at-stake, except for people’s own hearts, feelings and self-respect.

"Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!"

“Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!”

To me, that’s only high-stakes drama if we undoubtedly care for the subjects whose hearts, feelings, and self-respect is on the line, and with the Queen, some characters were sympathetic, others were not. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for this here and it makes total sense; not only does she downplay the whole role, but she really gets inside of Queen Elizabeth II’s mind, body and soul, wherein we see here deal with this tragedy in the only way she can – without saying, or doing much at all. And of course, there’s a lot of what Queen Elizabeth II says about the public that’s not only funny, but honest, too, giving us the impression that she’s a lady who doesn’t hold back when expressing her feelings on a certain issue, regardless of whether it’s in-line with public opinion, or not.

This isn’t the kind of performance that tends to win Oscars, which is perhaps why Mirren’s performance is all the more illuminating.

But once again, what’s at stake? According to the movie, it’s everything and anything, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like much. We hear a lot from Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair who, considering that the public loves just about everything he does and says, generally seems to be the voice of reason amidst all of the pain and turmoil, but even he turns into this sappy mess who, seemingly out of nowhere, is breaking into speeches about the Queen, her pride, her courage, and why everybody should stick right up for. Maybe the actual Tony Blair was like this, but it seems to come out of nowhere in a film that paints him in an odd light. Same goes for James Cromwell’s Prince Philip, who seems more concerned about his stag, and less about anything else that’s going on.

Once again, maybe this is how the real people, but it still doesn’t grab me even more and make me actually give a flyin’ hoot.

Consensus: Though the direction and performances are much smaller than you’d expect from the typical, awards-friendly fare that the Queen exists in, there’s still not enough to make someone who generally doesn’t care about subjects such as these, actually start doing that.

6 / 10

"Kiss it. Kiss it harder."

“Kiss it. Kiss it harder.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Identity Theory, Cineplex

Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

If only Trump’s dreams come true.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian refugee currently living in London, where, as a way to stay alive and prosperous, he works two jobs. One is his job as a cab driver, whereas the other, is a bellman at a hotel where he sees and witnesses all sorts of weird and shady things, but because he’s in the country illegally, he never makes a problem of it. Instead, he just goes about his life in London and act as if he didn’t have a more lovely life in his native land, where he was actually a doctor (a job, in ways, he is still doing, if only to look over men’s penises for gonorrhea). Senay (Audrey Tautou) is a Turkish Muslim who works as a maid at the same hotel that Okwe works at and, though she is in the country legally, she is not allowed to hold down a job, or have anyone living with her. Though Senay doesn’t listen to these orders sent on down to her from the immigration police, she may start to have to, considering that they’re now snooping around left and right. Together, though, Senay and Okwe try to live and maintain something of a respectable lifestyle in London, even if that is a lot easier said then done.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Dirty Pretty Things is an oxymoron of a title, mostly because it is, and of itself, a dirty movie, featuring some very pretty things. The “dirty” stuff in this movie is in fact the setting of where these characters live and navigate their lives, and the “pretty” stuff is actually the actors in these roles. No matter what though, the picture that director Stephen Frears paints of this world is in no way a beautiful, or caring one – instead, it’s the underbelly of London, a place we think we know all about from what movies and TV tell us, but in reality, we really don’t.

And because of this, Dirty Pretty Things can sometimes be almost too gritty for its own good.

The fact that the movie starts off with someone finding a human heart in a toilet, already makes you think that it’s gone too far, way before it even began, and some of that is true. For one, the heart itself serves as a bit of a manipulative McGuffin to not only give our main protagonist, Okwe, more time and energy spent in this dark and dirty underworld of London, but also search for his own soul. Writer Stephen Knight clearly knows what he’s trying to do with this aspect of the story and where he wants to go, which is why it’s kind of a shame to see everything start off so obvious and, dare I say it, silly.

But then, the movie, as well as Knight’s script, gets back in line and reminds us that, yes, this story is about immigration, but not the kind of preachy, overcooked story you’d expect. In fact, it’s a whole lot smaller and smarter than that. For example, the movie isn’t necessarily as much of one about immigration, as much as its about these two characters who, yes, happen to be immigrants, but are also trying their absolute hardest to succeed in life, even if every possible blockade stands in their way. Because of the bleak tone, Dirty Pretty Things never amounts to being an inspirational, or better yet, sappy tale about how these characters give it their all when faced with adversity, which helps the movie when it actually comes to discussing and approaching just how cruel the lives these characters live.

But like I said, Dirty Pretty Things is not as corny as I make it sound.

Most of what works here about the writing is that the two lead characters, Okwe and Senay, are so well-done, developed, and interesting, that the fact that there may be something of a romance between the two is the least bit compelling thing about them. The movie touches on it many of times, and each time, it’s about as effective as the last, but really, the insight we get into these two character’s lives, whether together or not, makes us see these characters for who they are and get something of a full-portrait of them. Okwe, despite clearly not having as lavish of a lifestyle as he did back at home in Nigeria, still believes that, one day, things will get better and he’ll live that dream of his, whereas Senay dreams of living in America, but sadly, is stuck in London, and doesn’t want to just sit around all day, wasting her time and being practically useless. Both of them definitely want to work and amount to something, which is why it’s easy to sympathize with them right from the start.

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

And it matters so much that, early on, we sympathize with these characters, because Knight’s script moves on and on, the more and more it becomes to get more cruel and mean. However, this isn’t in a so-bleak-it’s-actually-freakin’-depressing way, but more of in this-is-how-it-actually-is way. The movie doesn’t pull back any punches and reminds you that these characters have it bad, which is why when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse – it in fact does. But still, there’s that slight feeling, no matter how small it may actually be, of hope that keeps them, as well as us, the viewer, going. Just to see a character constantly get crapped on, day in and day out, isn’t compelling – it’s just dull and repetitive.

What Dirty Pretty Things does, is that it shows that these characters are capable of having a better life – they just have to search farther and wider for it. Okwe and Senay, played to perfection by both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou, are both characters we want to see live a happy life – whether it’s in America, or in London, or together, or not, we want to see them happy and living the life they want to live. Though the movie takes all sorts of opportunities to show us why that can’t happen, the idea that they may be able to, at least at one point in their lives, is what keeps engaging and, surprisingly, heartfelt. These two characters do in fact deserve, well, happiness, and because of that, it’s hard not to root for them, and boo on those that try standing in their way.

Perhaps Okwe’s and Senay’s story is the same as any other immigrant trying to make something of themselves in another country, eh?

Consensus: With a detailed, but smart direction from Stephen Frears, a bleak, but ultimately uplifting screenplay from Stephen Knight, and a surprisingly honest and heartfelt tale about immigration, Dirty Pretty Things becomes a movie that’s so much more than just that, and more about how two humans can connect to wanting the same thing and trying to achieve that dream that they so desperately want, by any means necessary.

8 / 10

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don't know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don’t know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

Photos Courtesy if: Indiewire, Reeling Reviews

Philomena (2013)

Wanna see some REAL “evil nuns? You’re welcome.

After failing in his ill-advised decision to be a politician, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) decides to return to the world that he knows he’ll safe be in, considering he’s practically been in an expert in it for 20+ years: Journalism. However, Sixsmith isn’t the type of journalist who goes out there and writes fluff for the mainstream. No siree! In fact, the type of writer he is an important one that gets straight to the facts, and doesn’t leave anything dangling. But all that changes once Sixsmith is given the opportunity to cover a “human interest story” concerning one Philomena Lee (Judi Dench). The story is simply this: When Philomena was a young and confused girl, she got knocked up. Seems normal, right? Well, at the time, she was an orphan who had a bunch of nuns breathing down her neck for every simple act she committed, which meant that she could either a.) take the kid and leave the orphanage, or b.) leave the kid at the orphanage to be looked at adoptive parents, while she still lived and worked at the orphanage, giving her the chance to see her kid every once and awhile. She decided to go with Option B, but it wasn’t before long until her own boy was snatched up from her, with little to no idea of who this family was, or even where they went. 50 years later, Philomena and Martin go out to discover the truth, which sadly, isn’t only just Philomena’s story, either.

Sightseeing with Steve Coogan may not be the most pleasant-filled afternoon you could ever have, but it's better than with somebody who ISN'T Steve Coogan, so it's at least a slightly better choice.

Sightseeing with Steve Coogan may not be the most pleasant-filled afternoon you could ever have, but it’s better than with somebody who ISN’T Steve Coogan, so it’s at least a slightly better choice.

There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of hype and a lot of buzz surrounding this movie and quite frankly, I don’t get it. Sure, it’s got two supreme, British heavy-weights in the forms of Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench in the lead roles, and is even a true-life story, but does that really mean it deserves all of the praise it’s been getting? Actually, let me rephrase that: Does it REALLY deserve an 89% (so far) on Rotten Tomatoes?!?!


But then again, I can see why.

Basically, here’s a movie that caters to the late-Holiday, Oscar-bait viewing audience: It ruffles some feathers, but features pleasant, happy-going thoughts about finding yourself, embracing your past, as well as not blaming any others for your problems that you’ve had before, or the ones that you have now. Wow! Wait a ticket! Didn’t that last one seem a bit negative to you? Well, that’s because it is.

What this movie does, and does well, if you choose to see it the way I did, was that it presents a view of these nuns in such a despicable, one-sided way, that the movie lost almost all credibility from me. Don’t be fooled, I am no heavy-duty Catholic that prays to God everyday before I go to bed, or wake up for school, or never misses Sunday Mass, however, I know an unfair viewpoint when I see one, and that’s what I see here. First of all, I don’t think anybody took into account the idea that not only were these nuns giving these girls a second chance at life, but made sure that they did actually get to see their kids. And heck, didn’t the nuns give these girls a choice to begin with? Sure, the girls could have easily left the orphanage without a place to eat, sleep or live at, and the extra-baggage of a newborn could have only added insult to injury, but it’s still the risk you take, right?

The fact that this movie brings this point up, but doesn’t really have much to say about it really ticked me off. Hear me out, I am in no way condoning these nuns for what it was that they did to these girls and to their children, however, that doesn’t get me past the fact that this movie doesn’t realize how hateful it sounds. Makes sense to make the Catholic church the enemy here, that’s totally understandable actually, but it doesn’t try to even come close to explaining their side of the story, or even the benefits one might have made from this decision to stick around the orphanage while the kids themselves were put-up for adoption.

I know plenty of you out there are already thinking how much of a terrible, distasteful human-being I truly am, but seriously, you know there’s a problem with your movie when you have nothing more to show for it other than a bunch of scenes in which both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan just do whatever comes to their mind first. And there’s actually nothing really wrong with that, because they’re both pros, but considering that’s the only aspect of this movie has to fall back-on, those scenes together between them both get real old, real quick and start to make you see all of the other problems with this flick.

Though the trailers and heck, even the poster up-above, may have you fooled into thinking that is a somewhat fun, hilarious, witty road-trip between two of Britain’s most famous beings of the big-screen (only the latter is true), the movie is totally different. It is a drama, and a very dark one at that, which I do applaud because it goes to some areas that I didn’t in the least bit expect it to end-up. But as dark as a movie can and wants to be, it has to be able to save it all by transition well between both sides of the story, and that is not what this does. Whenever there is supposed to be a moment made for comedic-effect, the movie relies on Dench to say something silly, or somewhat daft, just to show you that she’s an little ole’ cute lady, that you’re supposed to feel bad for no matter what mistakes she may, or may not have made in the past.

And while Philomena, the character, gets by mainly on Dench’s performance, you still can’t help but think what would have been if there was more attention to the script and the simple mechanics of the plot. I get that this story was adapted from a book, that was apparently based on a true-story, but for some odd reason, a lot of this just rang false to me, as if it was just Philomena going on the trip all by herself in real-life, but producers realized they needed a witty, sarcastic Brit along with her for the ride, so just call up Steve Coogan I guess, right?

Okay, nevermind. She is pretty damn cute. Just look at her!!

Okay, nevermind. She is pretty damn cute. Just look at her!!

Well, not to anybody’s surprise, Coogan ends up being the best thing about this movie, despite his character being one that’s quite frequently looked-down upon from this movie. Coogan does his usual dead-pan, dickish-like act where he says things that aren’t supposed to be funny, but because he’s such an uncomfortable asshole to be around, you can’t help but chuckle at him. However, Coogan does take this character a step-further in showing us a guy who is actually coming to realize that there’s more brewing beneath the surface of this story than ever before, and while he may not still care too much for “human interest” stories, he cares enough for Philomena to the point of where he wants her to be okay, once they find her boy and get a chance to talk to him. Though the movie definitely has an anti-journalistic mentality about itself going on here, it’s Coogan’s journalist-character whom ends up being the most interesting and believable.

As for Philomena, well, that’s why Judi Dench was cast in the first place, and as good as she is, even her amazing talents can’t save this gal from being just another simple, old woman who loves life, appreciates it all for what it’s worth and loves to throw wisdom down other people’s throats whenever she feels like it. I guess those type of old women are considered “cute”, and not the types you want to send away to a home in hopes of benefiting from the family house?

Consensus: Coogan and Dench do slightly save Philomena from a very painful, uncomfortable death, but the script’s pit-falls into drama, religion, comedy, homosexuality, sex, lies and no videotape, never work or even seem believable, despite this apparently being a “true story”. I’m doubting that one.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't expect a hug, or hell, any sort of emotional support from the Coogs.

Don’t expect a hug, or hell, any sort of emotional support from the Coogs.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Grifters (1990)

Do con-men and women really look this dashing? If so, I’m not cut-out for the job.

Lilly Dillon (Huston) is a veteran con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy (Cusack), a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury when hit with a thrust from the blunt end of a baseball bat, right after a failed scam. However, she doesn’t realize that her boy has fixed himself up with a dame (Annette Bening) that may not seem to be all that she appears to be.

Calling this movie a “thriller” would not be doing it any justice, and I’m still contemplating on whether or not it’s the good type of justice, or the bad. Good, mainly because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool, but at the same time, bad, because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool. See, it’s not the type of film about cons that you’d expect. It’s not filled with a big-heist, it’s not filled with thrilling suspense and action to hold you over, and it’s not even really filled with that many twists or turns. Instead, it’s sort of like the day-time soap opera version of a movie about cons and that’s both good, and bad. It’s very love-hate with me here, and I think you’re about to find that out.

The problem I ran into with this flick was that I feel like it would be going-on in such a slow, tedious-pace that it almost felt deliberate. Most movies that have this slow pace, usually do it for the same reasons that this flick did it, but it works a lot better for them since it’s exactly how the story should be told and judges how effective it will be to the viewer. However, with a story/movie like this, the slower-pace doesn’t quite work as well as it might think and continued to piss me off, because every time the film felt like it was really getting somewhere and picking-up itself and all of the pieces it was leaving on the ground, it would just stop, take a moment to pause, and jog it’s way through.

"Hayyyyy, aren't you that gal from the Addams Family? Where'd your black hair go?"

“Hayyyyy, aren’t you that gal from the Addams Family? Where’d your black hair go?”

It was like me in a 5k mile run. I start off so perfectly, then I realize I put too much energy into the first 5 minutes, then I decide to slow things down, almost to the point of where I begin to walk, then, I get some inspiration and energy in my step and begin to run again, and then so-on, and so-forth, all up-until I get to the finish-line and everybody treats me like I just cured cancer, even despite me coming in 2nd to last place. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes with me (I obviously always win those runs, obviously…), but that’s how I felt with this flick and I feel like director Stephen Frears was just toying with me on-purpose. In some ways that works and makes the flick seem less predictable as it strings along, but in other ways, it just feels cheap and sort of like the director wants to be like the characters and play a sick, cat-and-mouse game that some people may not be too happy with in the end when they find out what’s to come of it all.

However, I can’t hate on Frears too much because no matter how slow and languid the pace got, I was always interested in seeing what was going to happen next. The story definitely takes it’s fair-share of detours into the past and they are definitely what feature the most energy and fun of the whole flick, but whenever it focuses on these characters, what they’re doing now, how they’re getting their money, and who’s playing who, the film still stays fun, if not all that energetic as the flashback sequences. Seeing cons do their thing like no other is always a blast to see on-screen and rather than just having it be a flick that exposes trick-after-trick, we get more of a balanced look at how broken and dull some of these cons lives are, and how money cannot buy them happiness and instead, only buys them more trouble. You actually care for these characters and that’s only what raises the stakes even more when the unpredictable-factor of this story comes into play, and you feel like you have no idea where it’s going to go or how, you just know that somebody is playing somebody. Then again, when you think about life and all that is: aren’t we all?

"Nope, Warren's still bigger."

“Nope, Warren’s still bigger.”

Okay, away from the philosophical ramblings of a 19-year-old film critic, back to the movie at-hand here. Yeah, the Grifters. I think without this trio of leads that the flick features, it probably would have folded underneath it’s own weight but thankfully, this trio of leads are here and are here to give some magnificent performances that stick with you, long after the flick is over. Before ’90, John Cusack was mainly known for racing randomly in the streets and always knowing the right Peter Gabriel track to have the ladies swooning, but once the year 1990 actually hit and this flick came-around, people began to look at him differently and realize something about him: this guy’s all grown-up. Cusack never really got a chance to stretch his acting-skills back in those days, mainly because everybody thought he was made for just hooking-up with high-school girls and in a way, they may have been right, but Cusack proved them all wrong and showed that the guy could play a sly, evil son-of-a-bitch that was as slick as they come and didn’t know when to stop pulling-in jobs and ranking-up the dough. Cusack always seems like a believable character and that’s all because the guy never over-does his whole cool essence and look to his act and always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody else in the flick, as well as the audience themselves, yet, we always like him and cheer for him as things begin to go South for his hormones and his job. I guess being a con is considered a job and if so, he definitely must have had to won “Employee of the Month”, at least once.

Anjelica Huston plays his mommy, who just so happens to be 14-years-older than him and shows you that the gal can, as usual, play a strong-willed and big-brained, female-lead like no other and as much as this may seem like a convention of hers by now, I still can’t hold that against her. Huston’s great with this role and you always wonder whether or not she is Roy’s mom, his lover, a past-fling, or simply, just some chick who’s trying to play a con on him and get his stash of cash. Like the rest of the characters in this trio, you never know what’s up with her and what her next move is going to be, but like typical, Huston-fashion, she always keeps you guessing and interested. Still, I was just waiting for that wig to come off. I could not believe how legitimate it truly was in terms of the story and setting.

80's, teen heart-throb he is no more.

80’s teen heart-throb he is no more.

The best out of this trio, and the one who really stands-out among the rest is probably Annette Bening as Myra, the fellow-squeeze of Roy. Bening, no offense to her or her looks, has never really been the type of actress that I could really declare “sexy”, “hot”, or even one that I would just have to take to bed, if I saw her in real-life (because they all would go to be with me, let’s face it), but here, she totally had me re-think that. Bening uses her flair for sexuality and nudity to her advantage and has her character come-off as a bit of a tramp, but a smart tramp at best, and a tramp that knows exactly what she’s doing, even if the others may not be able to catch onto it right just yet. Out of of the three, you’ll be wondering the most what side Bening’s is on and when you finally get your answer, you may be shocked, you may not be, but what you will be, is surprised by how much Bening uses the look and feel of sex-appeal to make a character that’s full of it, really, really work.

Consensus: Stephen Frears’ direction definitely makes you feel as if he is just playing with you, just in-order to be more like his subjects, but that’s why The Grifters does, and does not work in it’s own right. However, you can’t deny the charm and power that is within these three performances and it’s just wonderful to see them act each-and-every-single-one of their asses off, even if the pace seems to not be serving them the full-plate that they so rightfully deserves.


Possibly the gayest look John Cusack has ever given another man caught-on-film. Ever.

Possibly the gayest look John Cusack has ever given another man caught-on-film. Ever.