Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out: As In... GET OUT And Go See This Movie NOW!

Get Out manages to tackle issues of systemic racism, white privilege, interracial couplings, and societal taboos while still being a tense and taut horror/thriller, as well as [at times] a laugh out loud hilarious (on purpose) satire. It's genre-bending, convention-bending, mind-bending brilliance wrapped up in a tight hour and forty minute movie. It's almost surprising that one of the best (horror) movies of the past decade comes from someone solely known for comedy. Yet, if you think about it-- it's not really that surprising at all.  The best comedy, for most comedians, stems from some deep-rooted emotional pain. Most comics have this... are aware of this... and channel it into moments of humor to soften the inner turmoil. So, they're already familiar with what fucks you up.  Also, in order to stay relevant, they need to keep up with the cultural climate at all time. So, they're very in tune with the state of the ever-changing American culture. And finally, non-white comics tend to be more in tune with their racial and ethnic history. So, now, in fact, it appears that Jordan Peele should actually be the perfect person to tackle a movie such as this.

Get Out explores an avenue of racism that has hardly been seen, if ever, on film-- liberal racism. We've seen countless movies where blatant racism is the target theme, but this isn't that type of exploration of race. The white characters in this movie aren't the backwater, confederate-flag toting, DJDrumpf supporting, moonshine guzzling hillbillies slinging 'N-words' left and right. These are upper class doctors and psychiatrists and social elites that "would've voted for Obama for a third term". It's amazing how uncomfortable it is to watch these people try and acclimate their privilaged white lives with the one dark-skinned man who just so happens to be around. These are the type of people who bring up golf... and HAVE to bring up Tiger Woods with it. It's beyond uncomfortable because it's a very subtle, yet powerful racism being explored. Jordan Peele is breaking new ground here... and did I mention that it's still a horror movie??

Alright, so I'm not telling you shit about the plot. Like, at all. You've seen the trailers. You know that the one hot chick from Girls is dating a black man and wants to take him to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford & Catherine Keener) at their rich, secluded estate. Soon... weird stuff starts to happen. That's all you get. That's all you should want.  In fact, I think I've said too much. I know it's already been out for a good five days, but do your absolute best to avoid any and all information on this film. You shouldn't even be reading this right now unless you've already seen the movie-- which, if you have... please contact me as soon as possible so that we may discuss.

Elements I can discuss-- the genre-bending. Peele does a fantastic job of weaving in the terror and the comedy. It's like he studied very early Sam Raimi horror and was able to emulate that (without the campiness) and avoids making his film feel jarring when moving back and forth between emotions. It's not a horror movie in the sense of jump scares and gore... but it is wildly suspenseful and tense. It's the type of horror movie when you look down and realize you've been gripping your armrest so tightly that your hands hurt. The comedy only serves as brief levity (and it's very funny) until the suspense kicks right back in. I normally advise my readers to try and figure out a way to see horror movies in a theater that is near empty. There's nothing that ruins a good scare like assholes laughing and talking and ruining the movie. Other movies it doesn't bother me as much, but horror deserves to be seen in absolute darkness with absolute silence. However, a friend of mine saw it alone, whereas I'd been convinced by another review to see it in a crowded theater. After conferring with one another, I think the crowded theater is the way to go for this one. First of all, the movie is too damn good for nearly anyone to act like a dumbass, but second, it's amazing how often the film will elicit entire audience reaction-- which only adds to the fun.

For nearly two weeks Get Out was sitting at 100% on rottentomatoes (with over 140 reviews). I've never seen that. I know there are a few films out there that have received the 100%, but I haven't seen a film released in the last twenty years to do it with that many reviews. Then, yesterday, one asshole gave it a semi-negative review and knocked it back a percent. And while it is definitely surprising that this was the movie to hold the 100% honor for longer than I've seen in years, it's definitely worthy. There have been multiple Oscar winning films that haven't claimed that honor and a little horror/comedy released in February got it? There must be something special about this film? And yes... there is. Unless you are that aforementioned racist hillbilly... you're going to absolutely love this film. You're going to laugh, you're going to scream, you're going to reach for your heart medicine because it's going to be beating out of your fucking chest. It's a fantastic film that's already been cemented as one of the best movies of the year (I'm not talking so far... I mean we'll be saying this even at the end of the year).


Friday, February 24, 2017

Lion: Would Be A Cheesy, Formulaic Hollywood Tear-Jerker... If It Wasn't All Entirely True

Lion is the final movie I had yet to see that was nominated for Best Picture. It's probably my privilaged whiteness, but I tend to subconsciously avoid movies that take place in the middle east. I don't know why. There are several areas that are ripe with culture, and lush with color, but it just doesn't interest me.  I'm talking anything from Slumdog Millionaire, to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to even War Dogs (okay, that one might have more to do with my utter disdain for Miles Teller). Yet, even with this aversion to movies that take place away from my comfort zone in utopian whiteland... Lion still interested me. Dev Patel is a fantastic actor and Nicole Kidman is still rocking it. And thanks to my rule of watching every movie nominated for Best Picture, I was able to watch a film that not only deserves its nomination, but should absolutely be watched by everyone.

The crazy thing about Lion is that it plays out like a very formulaic "journey home" film. There are instances of far-fetchedness that would generally make anyone roll their eyes and detach themselves from the rest of the narrative because they aren't able to suspend that much disbelief. These moments would surely send Lion into the 44% range on rottentomatoes and hardly anyone would care. The reason Lion is able to transcend this is because it's all 100% true. (Okay, maybe not 100%, but pretty damn close.) Lion is the [unbelievably heart-breaking] story of Saroo, a 5-year-old Indian boy who follows his older brother to a train station, falls asleep on a bench, loses his brother and travels thousands of kilometers in the wrong directions attempting to get home. For months, on his own, he has to survive several life-threatening challenges, until he is rescued and adopted by a (*cough*) white Australian couple (Nicole Kidman & David Wenham).

Saroo is raised by this couple and given a life of luxury and privilege, a life he would not have received living in poverty with his mother, a laborer who moves rocks each and every day.  And even though for the past twenty-five years, Saroo has been given everything he could ever ask for... he's still drawn to his home. He still (rightfully) obsesses about his mother and brother and yearns to get back to them. His Australian parents are his family, are his mother and father, are his home... but they're not his family... they're not his home.

Lion does a fantastic job of presenting the theme of identity and home. Everyone is able to relate to Saroo and his struggles because we all have some sort of connection (whether present or lost) to our home. So, when it looks like adult Saroo (Dev Patel) is starting to obsess to the point of insanity over finding his home... we understand. Hell, even his Aussie parents understand... even though Saroo keeps his search a secret until the last possible second. The final act of the film is Saroo traveling back to India to find his mother and brother. And my God, readers, consider yourself a bonafide robot if the ending doesn't move you to tears... several times. Dev Patel carries the weight of the film visually on his shoulders in a role that certainly earned him an Academy Award nomination (though it shouldn't have been in the Supporting category). Sunny Pawar, the 5-year-old who portrays little Saroo is just as magnificent and without his strong performance, Patel would genuinely not have a movie to carry.

The other aspect of this film that feels like I should just be angry at Hollywood is the whole "white people save a person of color and turn is his life around... thank you white people." First... and again... this is a TRUE story of what actually happened.  Second, this isn't what the film is about and it isn't the message being conveyed. Yes, a white Austrailian couple (who admittedly CAN have children but choose to adopt from third world countries) saves an Indian boy, adopts him, and gives him a life he could never dream of having.  However, they can only save him to a point. They can't make him forget about home. They can't make him forget about family. Because no matter where we go in this life, we can never forget about home and family (as much as a lot of us try to).

Finally, what Lion also does is gives us a deeply depressing and dark look at the children of India. More than 80,000 children in India are abandoned on the street. They're killed, kindapped, trafficked, harvested for organs, collected for labor and generally experience the worst of life. Nicole Kidman's character, in a very moving and emotional scene, admits to Saroo that the reason they adopted him wasn't because she was physically incapable of having children, but because there's enough people and pain in this world... there's no promises of protecting a newborn child. But, there is the promise of helping a child (even a child from India) who was already in pain and giving that child something most Indian children don't ever get out of life. It's a very difficult reality to face, but Lion has not only created awareness, they've also started a charity, the #LionHeart campaign. If this is something that truly speaks to you on a deep, emotional level... I encourage you to see the movie and then check out the campaign.


The Lego Batman Movie: [Almost] Everything Is Awesome

There is an emoji movie coming out. To theaters. A movie... starring... emojis... from you phones. And you know what? I'm not surprised. This is where we've come, ladies and gentlemen, and it's everyone's fault. Maybe get up and go see a movie that isn't based off of anything that doesn't star someone A+ famous. Because every time you don't... we're getting shit like The Emoji Movie. Every time you don't, we get a movie based off a STUPID game you play on your phone-- we get The Angry Birds Movie.  Every time you don't we get another movie based off of a RIDE a Disneyland. Every time you don't-- we get a movie based off of little tiny building blocks for children.  Okay, actually let's scratch that one because we all know that The Lego Movie was an anomaly. Somehow when the studio decided to make a movie based off of Legos... the right writers and directors were in the right place at the "write" time (heh heh heh... I've lost all my followers). The Lego Batman Movie doesn't hit all the chords that its predecessor was able to, but it still captures the same humor and energy and is still a pretty fun ride.

The one thing The Lego Movie had going for it, other than the fact that it was damn funny, was that it was very clever. And it had a great message about honing your creativity and being yourself. That being said, everyone knows that Batman (Will Arnett) stole every scene he was in. It's actually probably my favorite portrayal of the character of Batman (that or George Clooney's bat nipples... it's a toss up). With the success of The Lego Movie, there are bound to be NUMEROUS sequels each getting shittier and shittier as they go along. The Lego Batman Movie takes just a step down from the original and the second spinoff... already coming out later this year... The Lego Ninjago Movie... looks to be a step or two below that. This is what happens in Hollywood, people. Then again, the most expensive original movie last year was Passengers and that wasn't very good... so it's really a give and take.

Batman is in a constant battle with all of his enemies, but the one he has to tussle with the most is the Joker (Zach Galifinakis). The Joker views the two of them as perfect opposites who complete one another. Batman views him as a nuisance. This, of course, annoys the Joker, as he takes it personally, and releases every single Batman villain ever to go after Gotham. Along with the hoard of villains, Batman also battles with inner demons of loneliness. He's constantly lonely in his giant batcave, eating lobster alone, and watching Jerry Maguire by himself in his massive bat-theater. However, along the way, Batman inadvertently adopts Dick Grayson, who becomes Robin (Michael Cera). He also befriends the new Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who eventually becomes Batgirl. And the trio, who eventually show Batman the value of friends and family, go off on an adventure to save Gotham city.

It's a pretty action-packed film that got just a little bit tiring in my opinion. Nearly every scene is an action scene, either fighting off the Joker or trying to save Gotham or the people in it. There's hardly every a dragged on conversation or moment of levity, which I think may have exhausted viewers a few times. The good news is, however, that even though there is a high energy pretty constantly througout the film, it's also very funny.  So, you may be searching for that quiet moment or two of levity in between all of the adventure, but it's relieving to know that even during all the 'action' there is still quite a bit of humor. And while only about 80% of the jokes land... that's much higher than most movies nowadays.

Once again, there's a good message to kids and a movie for adults to enjoy. There's several callbacks to previous Batman/Dark Knight films and Batman is just as humorous as he was in The Lego Movie. I do feel, however, that the film is essentially one giant joke. They still re-use some of the humor from the first film (like characters making the "pew pew" noises when shooting a gun), and Batman is still the same droll character, but it's all one joke. The joke is funny most of the time, but by the end you're hoping this was the last of the Lego Batman "franchise" because I don't know if I could take another one of these. I realize this makes it sound as if I didn't enjoy the film, because I did. And while it didn't make me laugh as hard or as often as The Lego Movie, the humor is there. It's still very impressive how detailed the animation is and how gorgeous the movie is to look at.

As far as animated family movies these days, it's still nice to see one company that isn't Disney respecting kids and not churning out movies that treat children like they're stupid. So far, these Lego movies have been very smart and don't pander to the lowest humor common denominator. As long as they can keep up, at the very least, this level of humor and cleverness, I'll be glad to keep seeing them. But, that doesn't seem to be how Hollywood works. Hopefully, they can transcend Hollywood tradition.


Big Peck's Cineflex Awards Edition V: Oscar Winner Predictions

After #Oscarssowhite, the old fucks behind the Academy Awards decided to step up their game a little bit. They might have even over-compensated (because seriously... Hidden Figures wasn't that good).  So, the score from last year is 8 out of 9 picks I secured.  Okay, 7.5 picks seeings as how I couldn't decide between The Revenant and Spotlight for Best Picture and Spotlight won. But in a year that released a cavalcade of seriously underwhelming movies... we did up the diversity factor.  It wasn't just a white-washed moviefest in 2016, even though the movie with the most nominations ONLY white people are going to enjoy.  So, we made more movies starring and about people of color in order to shove something large and pointy up the asses of the Academy and we elected a literal cheese puff into office.  We are a seriously indecisive and dumb ass country. Anyway, here are my picks for this year's Academy Awards in case you're putting any money down in Vegas and you want some rock solid picks.

Best Picture:

Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land 
Manchester By The Sea

Like I said, the movies this year were a bit underwhelming (not like the year Slumdog Millionaire won or the year The Artist won-- seriously go check out the nominees for those years) but the Academy did a pretty good job of selecting the best movies of the year. I wouldn't have nominated Hidden Figures, and replaced it with A Monster Calls, The Nice Guys or Don't Think Twice, but it was nice to see Hell or High Water make the list. All of these films minus Hidden Figures and Lion made my top ten movies of the year list. And while all of these movies were great in their own right, there are really only two clear cut favorites/front-runners in my mind.

What's Going to Win: La La Land
What Should Win: Moonlight

I'm not trying to take anything away from La La Land because it's a great movie. But, come one Academy.  One year after everyone hashtagged you about how much you DON'T appreciate black people, they give you a movie about a GAY BLACK DUDE. It couldn't be more simple to select a winner. Remember a couple years ago when there was a movie about SLAVERY and you were like-- uhhhhhhh.... yeahhhhhh.... we should probs get on that one. Here's another one! In all seriousness, though, Moonlight was legitimately the best movie of 2016. While The Nice Guys was definitely my favorite movie, Moonlight was the absolute best. It's a beautiful film that deserves all of the recognition it is getting and doesn't really deserve to lose out to a movie with two signing and dancing white people whose only source of conflict is that they haven't 'made it' in Hollywood yet. It's going to go to La La Land, and if it does, it's certainly deserving.  But, Moonlight is the movie that should be crushing all of the compettion around it. However, the only other times a movie has received 14 nominations like LLL has... they were Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and Titanic, so....


Best Actor: 

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortenson (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Certainly a decent year when it comes to acting. Notice it's primarily white, but then again all of the fantastic stars of Moonlight all had basically supporting roles.  If I could combine all four of the supporting roles in that film into one nomination, it would be a shoo-in. This category was pretty well represented other than the fact that Michael Keaton got stiffed for The Founder.  It was a bit of a quiet movie that didn't get a ton of publicity, so it kind of fell by the wayside, but he deserves to be up there just as much as any of the others. In fact, I'd probably remove Ryan Gosling from the list in favor of Keaton. Not that Gosling wasn't great in his role, it just wasn't as genuinely impressive as Keaton's was.

Who's Going to Win: Casey Affleck
Who Deserves to Win: Affleck OR Denzel

It's a cold day in movie Hell when anyone has a shot against Denzel Washington. He's the Meryl Streep of the acting category (more for the fact that he's better than all... not so much the amount he's won which is astoundingly small). But, damn, if Casey Affleck didn't kill it in Manchester by the Sea.  His performance was so subtle, and yet in your face. It was a remarkable performance from someone who looks like he's about to be outed as a complete prick.  Lifestyle choices aside... he's definitely the frontrunner for this category. If there was a surprise and Denzel took it, he'd be MORE than deserving.  But, if Affleck's latest controversies don't catch up to him and influence the voters, look for him to take it.

Best Actress:

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Emma Stone (La La Land)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Ohhhhhhhhhhh Jesus. Lookie there. It's Meryl Stree once again getting the nom. The only surprise about this list is that Jennifer Lawrence finally missed a year. Unfortunately for her the only film she was in this year was the pretty creepy and incredibly underwhelming Passengers. I'm sad to say that I've only actually seen one of these films, so I can't exactly speak to who should be on the list and who shouldn't. I mean, it's pretty clear that Meryl isn't going to win this year and it's really only because she is the best actress ever that she made the cut. But, the only names I can see missing from this list are Annette Benning in 20th Century Women and Amy Adams in Arrival or Nocturnal Animals. 

Who's Going to Win: Emma Stone
Who Deserves to Win: Natalie Portman

Again, I haven't seen all the movies, and I haven't even actually seen Jackie, but everything I've heard/read suggests that Portman deserves this more than anyone else. However, due to poor box office performance, she lost the steam she needed in order to win her second statue. Emma Stone has gained serious momentum over the last month, and yes, the last song she performs in La La Land all but solidifies the fact that she's probably going to take this one.

Best Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Another solid list of actors on this list. I can't think of anyone that has been neglected for this category. It is nice to see that the Oscars gave the bird to the Golden Globes and nominated the actor who truly deserved to be nominated in this category from that film-- Michael Shannon. It was sort of strange to give Aaron Taylor-Johnson the nom for the GG's when it was Shannon who really stole the show. I will say that though it wasn't the toughest year to narrow down the best performances, the Academy is spot on with this category.

Who's Going to Win: Mahershala Ali
Who Deserves to Win: Mahershala Ali

Jeff Bridges was fantastic in Hell or High Water, but it wasn't deserving of the top spot.  I look at it more as the "quirky old man" award, like when Alan Arkin won for Little Miss Sunshine. Lucas Hedges gave a stellar performance and Dev Patel made a deal with someone because, while he was amazing in Lion, he was definitely a lead role, not a supporting one. But Ali was perfect in his role in Moonlight.  He's only in it for a good twenty minutes or so, but he commands the screen in every second the camera is on him. I really hope that there's a huge upset and Moonlight takes the majority of the awards.  That would really show 'em! (Who? I have no idea.)

Best Supporting Actress:

Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

Whoooooaaaaa Academy. Looks like our #oscarssowhite hashtags really got to you this year, huh? Three African-American actresses nominated in the same category with only two white chicks?! Are you apologizing, compensating for something, or have you actually figured it out? This was another great list, but the one perplexing nominee, to me, is Spencer. She was fine in Hidden Figures, but didn't even come close to something mindblowing. If anything, Taraji P. Henson is the one who deserves to have her name on this list. She blew me away. Spencer's role, while good, was a very small background role that didn't really deserve a spot on the list.

Who's Going to Win: Viola Davis
Who Deserves to Win: Viola freakin' Davis

Dude. There is NO way anyone else on this list takes the gold this year. Viola Davis gave the best performance in a movie hands down.  I'm not just talking actresses. I'm talking any movie with anyone in it this entire year... Viola Davis is the Queen. If there was to be an upset-- which there won't be-- Michelle Williams is a distant second. While her role is small, the last scene between her and Casey Affleck will chill you to the bone. (Have I used enough cliches yet?)And I have to do a shout out to my girl Nicole Kidman. Heartbreaking! Had me near tears.  But guess what lil homies-- Viola Davis brought the muhf**kin house DOWN! Viola Davis WILL take this category. No question.

Best Director:

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

So far this has been the most controversial category. A lot of people still haven't forgiven Mel Gibson for his anti-Jewish/anti-woman/anti-everyone rants back in the day. Yet, we're not up in arms about Casey Affleck?? (Google it... he's most likely a piece of shit). I probably wouldn't have changed anything about these five other than maybe tossed in Denzel again for the double nom whammy. What he did with Fences... how he made a theatrical movie feel like you're sitting and watching a real-life stage play was phenomenal. Other than that, everyone deserves to be here... including Mel.

Who's Going to Win: Damien Chazelle
Who Deserves to Win: Barry Jenkins

This one is TOUGH. The Academy has been very random with their Best Director winners the past few years. Most of the time if a movie was going to win Best Picture, the person who Directed that movie would always win. This hasn't been the case lately. However, I am sticking with the format of old because while Barry Jenkins would be the new choice if La La Land takes Best Picture, Hollywood loves musical movies about Hollywood. And, what he did is very impressive, especially the opening single-shot sequence of the film. He's almost assuredly going to win, but I'd still give it to Jenkins. Moonlight forever.

Best Animated Feature:

Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle

Is it or is it not just a tad bit shocking that Pixar didn't make the cut? I mean, I've only seen two of these films and while I've heard very good things about Kubo and I've even heard rumblings about The Red Turtle, not only have I heard literally nothing about My Life as a Zucchini, but Finding Dory was a fantastic sequel. Other than the Toy Story sequels, Pixar hasn't really been the gold standard for their sequels with Cars and Monsters University. But, I would say that Finding Dory certainly deserved a spot here. However, it is nice to see that Pixar isn't entirely infallible. If it has enough good competition, it isn't exactly always a shoo-in.

What's Going to Win: Kubo and the Two Strings
What Deserves to Win: Zootopia

Like I said... I've only seen two of the five films nominated, but Zootopia was brilliant. The reason I believe it doesn't stand a chance is that it came out wayyyy back in March of 2016. Too much time (almost an entire year) has gone by and people have forgotten the impact that film had not just on kids but on everyone. Then again, I've heard nothing but great, positive buzz about Kubo and how spectacular it is supposed to be. It's actually been enough that I've gone from "meh... looks decent, but not my thing" to "maybe I should actually check this one out." Also... don't discount Moana. If the Academy really wants Lin Manuel-Miranda to EGOT... this could be the sleeper pick.

Other Predictions:

Best Original Screenplay:
What's Going to Win: La La Land
What Deserves to Win: Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay:
What's Going to Win: Moonlight
What Deserves to Win: Moonlight

Best Foreign Language Film:
What's Going to Win: Toni Erdmann
What Deserves to Win: Probably that. Didn't see any of them. That's just the only one I know people are tuggin' their dicks to.

Chance of Lin-Manuel Miranda Being the Youngest Person to EGOT: 60%

How Many Categories I'm Guaraneed to Pick Correctly: 7/10


If we look at the track record of past Academy Awards, then we know that this year is going to be a La La Land sweep. Only twice before has there been 14 nominations for a single film in a single year and that film normally walks away with the majority of the categories they're up for. Crazily enough, La La Land is able to creep into music, sound, costume design, acting, directing, writing and it's all stellar. If it wins each of these categories, it's certainly deserving. I would just love to see Moonlight, the best movie of last year and the riskiest move that Academy has made in a long time. Sure, they gave Hidden Figures the apology nominations this year and a lot more credit than it actually deserved... but Moonlight deserves every category and it's only guaranteed one is Adapted Screenplay. 2016 was a lame duck year in almost every cinematic aspect, so I'm expecting good things from 2017. However, when that happens, a lot more movies miss the cut and a lot more people are left without any recognition (and the Academy has a very strange way of awkwardly making sure these are generally people of color). Every movie this year, while not super-Scorese/Spielberg-exciting, were all very deserving and whoever takes an award in each of the categories is definitely more deserving than some of the people who have taken the gold in the past.      

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Cure For Wellness: A Destined Cult-Classic Or A Medically Induced Shit Coma?

Back when I was in high school, a movie was discovered and spread around the school like wildfire. It was a movie that hasn't aged very well, had many questions, but very few answers, tried to pose philosophical questions that when analyzed harder are complete bullshit... and everyone went gaga over it.  I'm, of course, referring to Donnie Darko.  It didn't do well in theaters and one asshole (probably me) watched it... had his "life changed"... and talked about it to everyone he knew until the entire school felt the same way. It became a cult classic for young people who thought they all were intellectuals who understood everything the movie was trying to say. If you watch Donnie Darko today, it's not the worst movie ever, but it's not good. A Cure For Wellness is either going to be forgotten in the next two months OR, for young millenials just coming out of junior high, it's going to be their Donnie Darko.

A Cure For Wellness is Shutter Island without the cop-out ending. There has to be a reason that there really aren't any "great" insane asylum horror movies. We all have it in our heads that shit back in the day that went on in those places is freaky as hell... but no one has really been able to make a movie that metabolizes those fears. The closest we've been is American Horror Story: Asylum and even they had to throw in some weird alien thing in case what they were doing with the mental institution wasn't working. Rising [brooding] star Dane DeHaan plays Lockhart, a young Wall Street executive who has been sent to Switzerland to retrieve his company's CEO from a "wellness center". Of course, the center is far from what it seems on the outside. The head of the facility, Dr. Volmer (Jason Isaacs) seems like a nice dude, but because Jason Isaacs is the villain in every movie he's ever been in... you know he's really up to some shady shit. After locating the CEO and trying to leave, Lockhart is involved in a car crash that breaks his leg and essentially traps him within the facility. From there a mystery surrounding the mysterious events surrounding the character surrounds the audience mysteriously.

The movie is an insane mess. It's definitely a creepy, freak out out viscerally type of film, but at no time does it try to actually scare you. It's there to put you at unease for two and a half hours. And at just under two and a half hours for real, it's a bloated schlep trying to reach the end. At 146 minutes, it could've been trimmed by nearly half and probably would've been a bit better. But they had to make sure there was plenty of time for, you know, not having a character arc for the protagonist. Seriously, we get our "hero" and he's this workaholic, greedy, money-hungry young Wall Street whatever who is so involved with his job he calls his dead father 'weak', is constantly eating nicotine gum, and treats his mother like shit. For the first half hour of the movie, this is what we get-- and he's never really redeemed at any time for this. He doesn't learn some big lesson, which makes me have to wonder why spend all that time on him anyway?

It actually plays out a lot like Shutter Island where what's happening around the asylum gets stranger and stranger and creepier and creepier and just when you think you're about to discover the twist, something happens to put the protagonist three steps further behind. I can commend A Cure For Wellness for not pulling the "you're actually crazy-- it's all in your head" ending or the "everything weird that happened was a delusion caused by a sensory deprivation tank" solution. The mystery that unfolds does have an ending that (mostly) explains the strange goings-on of the rest of the film.  The problem is-- it's really dumb. About an hour into the movie you realize that what's happening isn't particularly interesting, it's just visually bizarre. Then about 90 minutes, you're kind of just ready to get your answers... unaware you've still got nearly another hour to go. And once the ending reveals [most of] the answers you were seeking... it's very underwhelming, and just, kinda... dumb.

What the movie does well is, like I said earlier, put you in a constant state of unease. It is not a relaxing movie to watch. There is some pretty messed up stuff you're witnessing. From injured animals, to naked old people, to some very intense dental work, to eels(?) your stomach is churning as often as your mind is trying to figure out just where in the hell this is going to all tie in together. And as far as what audiences are looking for when it comes to a creepy mental institution horror movie, it succeeds to a point. What's visually stunning on screen is reduced significantly by its lackluster plot. There's a couple of easy "twists" that you'll see coming very early on in the film and think to yourself "well, that would be too easy... and probably too dumb... it couldn't be that..." If you happen to think these things, chances are... you're absolutely correct.

But it's also so incredibly deranged and weird that there are going to be people who absolutely love this movie. They're not going to be able to believe that you don't like it (probs cuz you just don't 'get it' bro). And in its weirdness is where it's going to assumedly find its cult followers. It's going to be a very polarizing movie because you're either going to love this movie or despise this movie-- whatever the case, it's going to be difficult to get out of your mind for a few days. If you love it, you'll try to get others to love it as well.  If you didn't care for it, as I didn't, I'm going to assume that it will leave my brain in a day or so and ne'er return. But, right now... even though I now I didn't really like what I watched... I'm still thinking about it.

It is nice to see Director Gore Verbinski (Pirates series, The Ring) get back behind the camera. He's got a definite eye for the strange and it's been too long since he's put anything out. And it's also nice to see that he's definitely taken a risk with a movie as bold and weird as this one. It's not for ones with a weak stomach because there is imagery in this film that is downright demented and vomit-inducing. If only the rest of the film, more specifically the script, ending, and CGI were as strong as some of the camerawork and design of the rest of the film. I'm assuming I'm probably never going to want to watch this movie again... and there are definite lingering questions that I want answers to, but the questions themselves are so dumb, I don't know if I actually want them... so, who really knows? Is this the Donnie Darko for "intellectual" millenials.... or is this just another swing and miss?


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fist Fight: 3/4ths Of A Missed Opportunity

Charlie Day is the perfect side-character. He's just the weird high-pitched mousy character who never really has to have an arc, learn a lesson, or be the front-man of any film or TV show he works in. He's never been the lead of a film until Fist Fight. Seems strange, doesn't it? The most popular character from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia never being offered a lead role? There's a reason for that. Charlie Day IS very good at the weirdo characters he plays, but characters like that don't make good leading roles in movies. Leading comedic roles can have weird characters, but they also have to be instantly likable and relatable. And as much as we love Charlie's character on TV... he's not exactly relatable. So, now, the only way to make him a leading man is to make him a little bit more normal. But, that's not the Charlie Day we want, is it?

In Fist Fight, it's the last day of school at Roosevelt High School. Senior pranks are going off left and right (and I'm not talking about simple pranks either-- these are elaborate and disgusting pranks that would land any high schooler trying to pull one off in jail). Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a gigantic wimp who also doubles as an English teacher. He's got a pregnant wife, a bullied daughter, and a meeting at 2:30 that may or may not lead to him being laid off with half the school due to budget cuts. Cue Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube), a tough-as-nails History teacher decidedly fed up with the lack of respect from both students and administration. When a student in his class pushes him a bit too far, he takes an axe to the student's desk. When Strickland and Campbell are called into the Principal's office, Campbell narcs immediately. This, in turn, gets Strickland fired and he challenges Campbell to a fist fight after school. The remainder of the movie is Campbell doing everything in his power to fanagle his way out of the fight.

There's actually a pretty good lesson in the film about how sometimes in life there are unavoidable conflicts and no matter how hard you try to get out of or around these conflicts, sometimes you just have to understand the potential consequences and face it like a man. This is the revelation that happens to Campbell throughout the movie and it's a decent lesson.  The problem really is... most of the movie isn't that funny. It's a very high concept script with a couple of very funny people... that don't really get a ton to work with. The bulk of the script's "laughs" are comprised of all the different elaborate senior pranks being pulled. They're unbelievably outrageous and after one or two the school would be on lockdown with cops swarming. So, instead of guffawing with laughter, you're left wondering how in the hell any one of these students have gotten away with anything they've done (like giving a live horse meth, spray-painting it, tying it around a teacher's leg, having the horse drag the teacher down the hall while being shot by barrels of paint...). Then, if they're not elaborate, they're the same drawing-a-dick-on-the-football-field joke over and over again.

The next draw for laughs comes from the situation of a teacher fight happening on campus. By the end of first period every student is privy to the fight, yet not another single teacher is aware. And when police are called, they laugh it off.  Yes, this is a comedy, but there don't seem to be very many consequences for any of the people in the movie doing highly illegal things. Either way-- you can let that go. Finally, it's in the characters. Charlie Day is the leading man, who now must be relatable, so he's normal-- and he's kind of a pussy. It's a different Charlie Day than we're used to, and it's not particularly that funny (there are moments). Ice Cube isn't exactly a natural comedian-- he can be damn funny-- but if he's supposed to be the wildcard to Charlie Day's straight man-- there's not a ton of laughs to be made. Tracy Morgan, who I have never really been a fan of, is probably at his least funny in this movie. The (clearly improvised) lines that come out of his mouth kept not just myself, but our entire theater silent. Then, Jillian Bell, who plays a horny guidance counselor, continues her schtick from Workaholics, and while it isn't unfunny... it might just be a tad overplayed now.

I know it sounds like I'm entirely bashing the film and making it seem like there is nothing redeeming about it, which isn't entirely true. It's a high concept comedy that mostly falls flat when a more mature comedic writer/director could've made it work. However, that being said, the final act of the film is pretty hilarious. Like I mentioned, Charlie Day as the straight man isn't really anything too exciting to watch-- in fact, it can get kind of dull, like the first act of the film. However, when he's finally "become a man" and finally lost all scruples... and gone a little bit nuts... he becomes the wild and crazy Charlie Day we know and love. So, the final act... when the fight finally occurs is actually very funny. There were three ways for the movie to end: First, everyone learns a lesson, people put aside differences, and the fight never happens, but some clever trickery on the school does. If it's done cleverly, this ending can work, but the build up is for nothing. Second, the fight can be over in one punch.  It's funny... but also kind of expected. And finally, there is an all out brawl between Charlie Day and Ice Cube and everything that's been build up... that you've been waiting for... is executed perfectly and hilariously making you somewhat forget that everything leading up to the fight has been kinda shitty.

I didn't hate the movie. There are definitely moments where I found myself chuckling. But, the only time I was really laughing consistently was during the fight. Some of the interactions with the side characters were decently funny (literally none with Tracy Morgan), but some just went laughless (like Christina Hendrick's character-- does absolutely nothing in the movie... contributes nowhere... and her character makes zero sense). And while Charlie Day and Ice Cube do have a bit of chemistry in the film, it's not enough to hold down an underdeveloped script. This is definitely one of those-- you just bought yourself a 12-pack and need something to watch type movies.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Wick Chapter 2: I Don't Think You Fully Understand... He Literally Has To Kill Everyone!

On our vision quest to witness the next chapter in the John Wick saga, a few of our female compatriots had not been privy to plot of the original film. When asked what the first one was about in order to be caught up for the sequel, we simply told them: "So, John Wick is this badass hitman who's gotten 'out of the game'. Then, some bad guys kill his dog and he kills everyone." This was scoffed at several times and the question "No, seriously, what's it about?" persisted because no movie could possibly have such little plot and ONLY be about one guy killing... everyone. For those who have seen the original John Wick... while there is a "little more" to the story that adds to character depth and background... that is essentially the entire film's plot. What's even better is that John Wick is a wickedly entertaining film with some of the most creative gun violence ever filmed. So, naturally... there had to be a sequel. But, in order to live up to the magic of the first one it's going to have to get bigger, more violent, more creative, and have some sort of different driving plot because, again, in the first film... he literally kills everyone.

John Wick Chapter 2 had a lot to live up to, but those standards were not only met, they were exceeded. What's great about the movie is it didn't fall into the two sequel traps. The first trap is that they take a simple story and expand the universe in ridiculous ways that loses the magic of the first film because it takes a character from a journey you already enjoyed and places him or her in a different journey that doesn't really flow with energy of that already established character. The second pitfall, henceforth known as The Hangover pitfall, is presenting the exact same movie you've already seen once or twice, having nearly the exact same things happen... in a new location. John Wick Chapter 2 avoids both of these pitfalls and does what good sequels do-- amps everything up (especially the violence), knows the character and the world, expands the mythology of the world in organic and fun ways, and gives us something new while channeling the fun and energy of the first film. This is where John Wick Chapter 2 succeeds mightily.

Plot description? Sure, why not! John Wick... having just gotten back into the game to seek revenge on the fools who killed his dog and stole his car is pulled in YET AGAIN due to some sort of blood pact he made with this shitty Italian dude. He's pulled into the world... against his will... to pull a job he doesn't want to do. When he completes the job, he's double-crossed and guess what ladies and gentlemen... He literally has to kill EVERYONE! There couldn't possibly more people left to kill, right? You may think that... but you'd be wrong.  Dead wrong! Shitty Italian prick puts a hit out on John Wick, which essentially ropes every hitman in the greater New York area in to finding and snuffing out ol' Wick. So, in order to protect himself, and seek further revenge on the shitty Italian dude for turning on him. And it's beautiful.

If you thought you had seen it all when it came to handgun head-shots in the first film... you haven't seen anything yet. The body count in this film (according to the internet) at John Wick's hand alone is over one hundred. I guess I didn't really have to specify that each death is attributed to Wick because no one else dies by anyone else's hand. It's literally... John Wick... killing everyone. And it's beautiful.

Keanu Reeves has really taken this career resurgence and channeled it into the perfect films. He's never been a great actor to begin with (very, very likable, but not a great actor) and John Wick is the prefect character for him to portray. He's quiet, doesn't like to talk much, brooding, angry, and bad-f**king-ass. So, when those one-line Keanu moments happen and you want to shake your head at how hammy he sounds just saying words... in this world... the John Wick world... it works and it's awesome. Aside from violent as all hell, the film is a ton of fun. It's got some very good humor (intentional... this is actually a movie that knows what it is) and colorful characters. And while the character John Wick takes everything serious (again, has to kill everyone), the film does not take itself seriously at all, which is what makes the film so enjoyable. I'm going to have to watch the original again, but we may have on our hands, that rare experience where the sequel is better than its predecessor.

Director Chad Stahelski knows his audience. People going to see John Wick are die-hard action fans yearning for the magic of 90s action with contemporary violence. There are very clever action scenes in settings that are quite colorful, showing the maturation of the current climate of action films. Then there are very campy (albeit impressive) moments of ridiculous action stunts. Hell, there's even the call back to the very best (and worst) of 90s action films when the lead character looking for an escape, climbs into someone's car, frantically searches for keys, then checks the sun visor and magically that's where they were kept. And it's beautiful.

Now, certainly John Wick Chapter Two is not going to be for everyone. This movie is a lot of fun, but it's quite violent and graphic and a real testosterone punch to the nards... but for someone like myself (and strangely my girlfriend) it's the exact type of movie that I enjoy more than most. And yes, I realize that the grade below may seem slightly high for a movie where Keanu Reeves fights a Chinese man sumo-wrestler style and stabs another man in the ear with a pencil... but for what it is... for what it knows exactly what it is... it gets the grade that it deserves. And it's beautiful.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars: Dumber Than A Monkey F**king A Football

You know those funny little bits they have on Late Night shows where they walk out onto the street and ask unsuspecting people questions that make them appear kinda dumb? Kimmel did one recently where he asked people if they like Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act better. Stuff like that. If one was to go out onto the street to ask people how many Underworld movies there are, not only would they not know (I think it's 5, but I'm still not entirely sure) but any answer they gave wouldn't be as dumb as this dumbass movie. The Underworld franchise, much like the Resident Evil franchise, has been peppered into our theaters sparingly over the past fifteen years. Yes. Fifteen years. The first Underworld film, which I actually surprisingly enjoyed, was enough to launch a decade-and-a-half franchise of pure dumb as shit nonsense. I've even read that there's a sixth entry already in the works. These movies need to stop.  At least Resident Evil has had the good sense to stop it's run... that is at least for a few years until it's rebooted.

Ohhhhhhhh, let's see what's happened here. The damn movie thinks it's a compelling TV show because it begins with a "here's what you missed last week" intro. This is more necessary because no one remembers what happened in the last Underworld movie.  Seriously, I'll give you twenty bucks right now if you can tell me what the last Underworld movie was called without looking it up. Apparently, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) had a half-vampire, half-werewolf, half-strong blue guy daughter and the werewolves, aka Lycans, want her because she's got... strength? Power? Abilities....? I'm not actually sure why they want her. So, Selene has been exiled from the vampires for killing the head vampire in the first movie (seriously, we're five movies deep and they're still talking about events from the first movie as if they happened two days ago... what in the actual shit has been going on plot-wise in the rest of these movies??). But, she's also being hunted by Lycans because she's a vampire and they want her blood because she's got... strength? Power? Abilities....? Yeah... I also don't know why they want her... or why she's apparently invincible. 

Anyway, so there's this new Lycan asshole named Marius... he's some long-haired, skinny emo fuck who wants Selene and her daughter for... um... reasons? But, he's like super strong and has strength? Power? Abilities....? Jesus Christ this is getting to be too much for me. So, the vampires realize that the Lycan army is coming for them in a... ahem... blood wars... situation and so they need Selene to come back and train a bunch of smaller pasty emo fucks in the ways of the "death dealer". She comes back and BANG! BOOM! Double-cross! SMASH! WHOOSH! Another double cross! POW! KA-BLAMMO! Third double cross...what???? Didn't see that shit coming! The movie is literally one double-cross after another and one old character from past entries getting offed after another. It literally makes no goddamn sense. I was excited because with a title like Blood Wars it sounds like some really epic shit is about to go down in Underworld town.  Plus, it's 2017 and stakes get seriously upped in movies these days, so in theory, you're gonna have a good time. In practice, however, it's quite the opposite. Where the movie sets it up so that it looks like Selene is going to train an army to fight in said blood wars... the double-crosses get in the way and there is no blood wars to be found. Sure, there's some fighting between vampires and Lycans... but blood wars... nah, nothing that cool.

Speaking of it being 2017... what the fuck, CGI department? What 3rd grader with a Dell from 1996 did you hire to do the visual effects for you? The first movie used puppetry and practical effects, but the rest have gone all CGI. So, tell me... how are we five movies deep and the CGI is getting worse? I just watched a straight-to-Redbox movie with Nic Cage and Tom Sizemore (yeah, Tom Sizemore) called USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage which was made on a $30 budget and it had shark attack effects stronger than this damn movie which was made by SONY!!! Okay... enough about how shitty the visuals are. Let's talk about the story some more-- uh... halfway through the movie Marius straight up kills Selene... then she comes back from the dead as like some Vampire ghost who isn't immortal, but she DOES have new blonde streaks in her hair! I'm dead serious. It's even dumber than that.

These movies used to be kinda fun.  Okay, well most of them have been pretty stupid, but there's a cool little mythology to them and the first one, despite some seriously bad acting from supporting players, was actually a pretty decent movie. The rest, however, have had so many problems, if it wasn't one of the only franchises with a female lead, I'd say it needs to end. Really though, all it needs is one good script and maybe another recognizable face that isn't Beckinsale or literally anyone from Game of Thrones to accompany her and we could have a Fast and Furious style resurrection on our hands here.

It's a really bad movie, but it does happen to fall into the category that it's so bad that it's kinda fun.  If you have that friend who can watch movies with you and the two of you can make fun of it the whole time, then it's a decent choice.  And, just like all of the other entries, the violence is very stylized and stunning. There's ample amounts of ridiculous blood, but that's pretty much the only thing being offered here.  The movie doesn't know anything other than predictable double-crosses. It's like going into a new James Bond film with a new Bond-girl... there's a 50/50 chance she's going to betray him.  This movie is that Bond girl.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Founder: Portrait Of An Asshole

Is Michael Keaton underrated? Like I feel like he's not because he's been in so much good shit and he's been around FOREVER. But, every time I see a new movie advertised with him in it, I get a little excited. Then, I watch the movie and I'm just astounded at how great his performance was. I remember thinking that he disappeared for a long time between Jack Frost ('98) and Birdman ('14).  But the dude was still in a ton of movies-- First Daughter, White Noise, Cars, Toy Story 3, The Other Guys, RoboCop, etc. So why has the guy who we know is a great actor... who made movies like Batman, Beetlejuice, and Nigh Shift suddenly having a "resurgence"? Why does it feel like he just McConaughey'd or Cranston'd back into the limelight? Whatever the reason is... I'm glad to have him because he's [STILL] fantastic. So, even if he's underrated... that's definitely a compliment.

Keaton stars as bumbling milkshake machine salesman, Ray Kroc. He's a dinosaur in the sales industry and you can tell this ain't his first rodeo.  He's the guy that gets caught up in get-rich-quick, 'cockamamie' schemes year after year. He's the guy selling whatever he can that's hot at the moment to make a quick buck before the people purchasing said item realizes it's trash and he's moved on to the next new product. But, he's not a slime ball. You actually feel for the guy.  He's been pushed down his entire life and never found that one magical moment of clarity in business that's set him on the path of glory. He works out of his car, he dresses like a square, and he leads a very boring life. That's when he gets a call from a restaurant in San Bernardino ordering an unprecedented eight milkshake machines. Krock climbs in his car and drives from Missouri to San Berdoo to check out just what the hell is going on. That's when he meets the McDonald brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), two pioneers who have essentially invented the fast food joint-- meals in thirty seconds.  Kroc latches onto the two brothers and convinces them to franchise across the U.S. This is when he begins to turn from bumbly-blue-collar-nice-guy to a business shark out for blood. He ends up screwing over the brothers in more ways than one and essentially launches the most popular fast food burger franchise of all time.

The writing in the film is actually quite genius. While you think that the first half is more of a biopic of the guys who invented McDonalds and the film is essentially one giant Micky D's commercial, it's really a character study of one of the biggest assholes in business. Kroc is a nice guy.  He is looking for opportunity and it is nice when he finally finds something he can use to his advantage.  But as the film/story progresses, that mentality to become bigger and bigger overtakes Ray and destroys the brothers in the wake of his collateral damage. It's honestly a heartbreaking story as it goes on and you realize that what you have on your hands isn't a quaint little story of the guy who founded McDonalds, but more of a Walter White situation of a desperate man becoming a calamity-causing demon. This, of course, is enhanced by Keaton's stellar performance.  He'd have no chance of winning an Oscar this year, going up against the likes of Casey Affleck and Denzel, but it's a damn shame he wasn't even nominated because her certainly gives one of the strongest performances of the year.

The movie is very clever the way that it traverses rocky terrain but feels like one smooth ride. It's almost too late into the movie before you realize you don't like Ray Kroc anymore and you're not entirely sure when that mentality switched because it felt like just a minute ago you were rooting for him. His attempts to cut spending, his dismissal of anyone in his way, and the way he treats his wife are all portrayed here (I assume) without any gloves on. You are not meant to think he's a hero. You are not meant to come out of the movie wanting McDonalds (though by the end no matter how much you hate Ray Kroc... you'll still want a cheeseburger).  I'm honestly shocked that McDonalds didn't intervene and try to stop the movie because while it doesn't paint the restaurant itself in a bad light, it does absolutely no favors toward its so-called founder. The movie is defiitely like watching a car accident.  There's probably no way you'll want to watch it again and you won't come out feeling very good about yourself... but it was damn sure interesting to see.


Live By Night: Do You Even Remember This Movie Coming Out?

Ben Affleck's career has been a bit of a roller coaster. He burst onto the Hollywood scene when him and Damon wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting.  Then, he latched onto friend Kevin Smith's filmography starring in nearly every movie in the mid 90s that Smith put out. Then... it started to get a bit rocky. Bombs like Reindeer Games, Bounce, Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, Daredevil, Gigli, Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas all seemed to collectively put a nail in the coffin that is Ben Affleck's career.  He took a few years off then came back with a bang as director of Gone Baby Gone, followed by The Town then Argo and the Ben Affleck we knew was gone and a new, talented Affleck had emerged. Three movies with Affleck in the director's chair and each one better than the last. So, needless to say when it was announced that Affleck was directing a gangster movie starring him... it had a bit to live up to.  And while Affleck movies of 2016 weren't critically acclaimed (Batman v. Superman was warranted... The Accountant was much better than critics said), Live By Night isn't a terrible movie, but it is certainly not his strongest outing.

Without doing much internet research because I just don't care enough... Live By Night tells the (fictional?) story of Joe Coughlin, a crony working for an Irish mobster in the 40s. Stupidly, he decides to take Irish mobster's girlfriend (Sienna Miller) for himself.  Obviously this doesn't go well for ol' Joe, so he flees to Florida to work with the Cubans running illegal rum during prohibition.  There he meets another girl (Zoe Saldana), a psycho girl (Elle Fanning), and her police chief father (Chris Cooper).  Shit gets a little crazy between the KKK trying to take them down and the Italian mafia trying to take them down. Joe rises in power and turns from "a good man" to a stone-cold killer. If the plot sounds murky (beyond my own apathy in writing a plot synopsis), then you're right. There are multiple years of Joe's life crammed into one movie, and it all feels a bit disjointed.

Gangster movies are tough to make nowadays. After The Godfather and Goodfellas every movie until 2006 just seemed like a cheap knockoff. Hell, even Scorsese's own Casino is just 'okay'. The Departed really gave the gangster movie the resurgence it needed, but again, the movies that followed (We Own The Night, American Gangster, Public Enemies, Gangster Squad, Black Mass) were all just movies trying to cash in on the same idea and never really hit stride with the greats. Live By Night is no different. It's not that next great gangster flick, but it's also not garbage, either.  There are several moments in the film that are quite entertaining and the violence is definitely on a Scorsese level. What's really missing from the movie is someone to like. Sure, we've got Joe and he's our protagonist that we're supposed to follow and care about, but he's just not a likable guy.  It has nothing to do with his moral code or actions taken by him in the film, but more to do with Ben Affleck's portrayal. Joe is without charisma, without humor, without any human charm whatsoever. He's dull and quiet and not the type of protag we want in a movie like this. When the movie first came to fruition, Leo DiCaprio was supposed to play Joe (he later had to drop out, but stayed on as Producer), who would've at least given Joe a little more life and the movie a little more umph.

Then, there's the women. The women in Live By Night don't really do much, especially Zoe Saldana. But before here there's Sienna Miller who is essentially the inciting incident that leads Joe down to Florida from Boston. Then, there's Saldana who, when first meeting her, gives the illusion of a tough, independent woman who didn't need no man and could fight her own battles.  Soon after, she's relegated to love interest and background noise. Finally, there's the Fanning girl whose character is batshit insane, but even she isn't utilized to the full potential. There really are no characters to latch onto and root for... or even loathe. Good gangster movies present a villain who is loathsome, but also someone you can't wait to return in the next scene (ie., Jack Nicholson in The Departed, Joe Pesci in Goodfellas).

But, the movie is okay. Once you get through the sludge of politics and relationship bullshit, there's some pretty stellar gunfights and verbal tête-à-têtes. You can tell that Scorsese was definitely an inspiration for Affleck on this film. The one thing I can give him credit for, however, is nothing feels inauthentic. Every moment, every character feels real instead of falling back on caricatures like a lot of sub-par gangster movies. I just think that Affleck was the wrong choice to play the lead role. His direction was spot on, but, like the Affleck of old, his acting abilities can get in the way of a movie deserving better.  Not that he isn't a decent actor, but there's just something about him where if he makes a certain acting choice, it can nearly ruin the entire character. That's almost what happens here. Unfortunately, also for Affleck, the movie kind of got pushed to the side when other, stronger films came out at the end of 2016 and this movie never really stood a chance. I got to watch it via DVD screener because it didn't last more than two weeks in theaters. It's a nothing-good-at-Redbox-so-I'll-get-this-one type of film that probably deserved a little better.