Tag: sam rockwell

Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Billy (Sam Rockwell) is in the “dog-borrowing” business. He observes from afar, steals the dog, and once a big reward is posted by a desperate owner, Billy’s partner, Hans (Christopher Walken), returns the canine. It is a scam that works… until Billy ends up stealing a Shih Tzu owned by an irascible gangster (Woody Harrelson). Charlie is out for blood and will do absolutely anything to get his dog back. Caught in the middle is Marty (Colin Farrell), a screenwriter with a drinking problem. His most recent project is writing a script titled “Seven Psychopaths.” The problem: he has nothing else written down except the title. But it seems that the events about to unfold is the perfect panacea for his writer’s block.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, “Seven Psychopaths” may have borrowed elements from tough guy flicks, stories of unsuspecting writers in need of stimulation suddenly being thrusted into ridiculous adventures, and typical bromances in forgettable comedies, but it puts all of these elements into a blender, loony ingredients are added, and shaken once more to create a rather original material that works for itself despite its occasional distracting self-awareness and criticisms of its own inspirations.

Most enjoyable is the fact that the story is willing to go in many directions. While the main strand involves the kidnapping of the Shih Tzu, what makes the material memorable are the colorful imaginings and retrospectives. Many supporting characters enter and egress but they never feel disposable even though a lot of them are killed. They are consistently given something important to do or funny quip to say so it is thrilling when a new face is introduced. The attention is not in the violence or deaths but in our curiosities of how someone might alter the course of the game.

Its off-beat sense of humor is coupled with good performances. Walken does his usual slithery menace but it works given his character’s history. The scene that tickled me most is one that takes place in a hospital where the gangster and the dognapper finally face each other. It is given appropriate beats to solidify the tension. The reward is small compared to the larger surprises later on but it makes a lasting impact. What is a surprise, however, is Farrell deciding to play Marty straight. As the picture goes on, it is increasingly clear that Marty must almost be a blank canvas, somewhat bland with sporadic quirks, in order for us to be absorbed in the more flamboyant personalities.

There are few movies that come out within a span of a year where the audience can feel a filmmaker’s love and passion for his or her work. “Seven Psychopaths” is one of them. It is in the dialogue, the images, and silences that separate a flicker from a full-blown flame. The number of things it wishes to address matches the quantity of its twists and turns. Although there are some problems with its pacing as it reaches the climax, I guess one can consider it a part of its own funky groove.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The plot of Martin McDonagh’s structurally elegant and emotionally honest “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” involves an unsolved case of a girl who was raped, murdered, and set on fire, but the story is no murder mystery. Instead, it is an exploration, perhaps even an exorcism, of the psychology of some members of the titular small town who are directly involved with the case that has reached a dead end. The characters we meet may not be entirely likable but it is required that they be interesting. McDonagh continues to create work that will stand the test of time. This time around, his work asks us to consider how we might respond in the face of great injustice—especially one that happens to us and our family.

The film is a perfect showcase for Frances McDormand’s astounding range. Playing Mildred, the mother of the deceased, the veteran performer makes it so easy to summon inconsolable rage and disarming vulnerability within a span of seconds. While it is not difficult to empathize with the character as is written on the page, who has grown tired and beyond frustrated for not hearing any progress regarding her daughter’s murder, there are numerous instances where the audience is challenged to stay behind the actions of the protagonist. Like those around Mildred, she is capable of unnecessary cruelty.

Given the character’s wit and intelligence, Mildred has a knack for sniffing out weaknesses, lies, and deceit. This character trait paves the way for exciting, dialogue-driven scenes where power can shift at a drop of a hat. There is build-up, stare downs, and silence which do not follow any sort of rhythm to prevent becoming predictable. Mildred is aware that what she is about to say or do to somebody will hurt deeply and yet she does it anyway so the person she is dealing with would feel a fraction of her pain and suffering. McDormand demands that you do not take your eyes off her because Mildred is a bomb waiting to go off.

It gets the feeling of a small town just right, from the humble but busy streets to the interior decor of gift shops, homes, and local police station. But the relationships among the residents is most intriguing. Take the relationship between Mildred and Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the latter being the lead investigator of the unsolved murder case. The two are constantly butting heads and yet look closer and notice there is mutual respect there. It just appears that respect may not be there all the time, especially when either gets so riled up that they see nothing but red.

Their common understanding is a great contrast when it comes to Mildred’s relationship with the other men in uniform (Sam Rockwell, Zeljko Ivanek) who consider the grieving mother’s decision to rent three abandoned billboards out in the highway as an affront or insult to who they are and what they do for the community. To them and others within the community, why couldn’t she just grieve in private like everyone else? Must the tragedy of their town be publicized constantly? Must everybody be reminded of the traumatic past?

While the material does not provide one glorified action scene, especially for a story that touches upon a murder, it is firecracker from start to finish. The characters are so fully realized that we learn about who they are and see them undergoing changes to the point where they become unpredictable. “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” takes one left turn after another that it is near impossible not to be regaled by its mesmerizing dance.

Better Living Through Chemistry

Better Living Through Chemistry (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Doug (Sam Rockwell) is the only pharmacist in town so one would think that he gets the respect he deserves. His customers see him only as the man behind the counter; his employees do not even bother to hide the fact that they do not like their job very much; his father-in-law gets to keep his last name displayed on the roof despite having sold the pharmacy to Doug; and his wife (Michelle Monaghan) always gets the final word. But when Doug meets the beautiful Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde), he is very drawn to her—even though it is clear that she has a drug problem.

Written and directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier, “Better Living Through Chemistry” is a limp comedy despite the talent on screen. This is because the writers fail to construct a well-defined story arc that is designed to convince us that Doug is living a life of quiet desperation. Yes, we are allowed to see how much of a pushover he is. But do not be fooled by these images. Almost all of them are sitcom-like and uninspired.

Not for one second do we believe that Doug’s transformation from a mousy pharmacist to a drug addict is genuine. The biggest miscalculation is that the protagonist is never put into any real danger, just possible threats that back away during the last second. The trick gets really old especially during the second half. The screenplay offers no surprises, just a series of scenes with the same punchline. There is no reason to keep watching.

The most interesting relationship is not Doug’s extramarital affair with the equally unhappy Elizabeth—although it might come close if it had been written more sharply and actually had something significant to say about human connection—but that of Doug and his twelve-year-old son, Ethan (Harrison Holzer). The boy exhibits classic signs of a young person who lacks guidance, an older figure who sees him nonetheless despite his behavior, and someone who he can genuinely look up to.

The best scene involves a talk between the father and his son. The school recommends that Ethan should be on medication since his behavior appears out of control. Doug has a better idea: To spend time with his son and really talk to one another about the issue, or issues, behind the troubles at school. This sensitive moment doesn’t last, however, because the filmmakers would rather show a scene—again, sitcom-like—of the two bonding over committing an act of vandalism.

Moore and Pasamentier should be ashamed for spitting at what should be the heart of the picture: How an unhappy husband, through an extramarital affair, learns to recognize how good of a person he is and how much he can offer, thereby helping his son to get out of a destructive cycle. I loved the shots of how Ethan comes to admire his father later on in the picture. But it is most unfortunate and frustrating that none of it is earned.

Digging for Fire

Digging for Fire (2015)
★ / ★★★★

Married couple Lee and (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Tim (Jake Johnson) agree to house-sit a multimillion-dollar house belonging to an actress, Lee’s client, who is shooting a movie in Budapest. The day after they move in, while exploring a relatively untouched area of land, Tim comes across a bone and a gun. Thrilled by his discovery, he runs to his wife and tells her that he is convinced there are dead bodies buried nearby. However, Lee, concerned that they are overstepping certain boundaries, tells Tim that he should stop with the excavation and focus on being there as a family.

Written by Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson, “Digging for Fire” is a severely anemic picture, a bore from the moment it begins right until its nondescript, platitudinous ending. The premise sounds mildly interesting—hinting at a possible murder mystery—but do not be fooled: It is merely an attempt at a marriage drama with nothing interesting or insightful to say about modern relationships and the tribulations that come with it.

The script lacks dramatic pull. Because it never shows why Lee and Tim should or should not be together prior to them going on their separate journeys toward would-be realizations, it is hard to care about them and think about what might be going on in their heads as they consider choices that could lead to transgressions. And although it touches upon relatable problems like the couple having money issues about half a dozen times, these are so superficial that it is laughable. Not once do we buy these actors as real people. Thus, for example, when DeWitt’s character considers whether or not to buy an expensive leather jacket, I saw a successful actress pretending like she doesn’t have enough funds in the bank.

The film is rife with scenes that can be considered as junk or time-fillers. For instance, when Lee and her son go to see Grandma and Pop-Pop, Tim throws a little get-together with his male friends (Mike Birbiglia, Chris Messina, Sam Rockwell). It wouldn’t have been a problem if the entire charade hadn’t been so dull. We watch them drink beer, talk about women, swim the pool, and dig up more bones but there is no sense of real camaraderie among them. One wonders what the writers wish to communicate. Is it that Tim misses male companionship so badly? If so, the picture does not provide a good reason why. His friends are written to be so generic, it is a challenge to keep our eyes open as we watch them interact.

Eventually, the movie is reduced to a recognition game. That is, plenty of familiar faces drop in and out: Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, among others. What do these people have in common? They are real performers who have been in much better dramatic films. Here, they are not used wisely or efficiently. They might as well not have appeared at all. It probably would have made the film stronger because perhaps the focus would have been on the couple rather than the people they come across.

It is difficult not to feel robbed after watching “Digging for Fire,” directed by Joe Swanberg, because we keep waiting for something interesting to happen but it never delivers. The couple are boring together and apart, the people that share a connection with them are cardboard cutouts, and the subject of marriage is not delved into in an honest way. Just about everything about the film rings false.


Poltergeist (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Moving into a new home has its set of stresses, but the Bowens have another challenge: They had not been told that the land the house is standing on used to be a part of a cemetery and there is a possibility that the bodies had not been moved prior to construction. During move-in day, middle-child Griffin (Kyle Catlett) catches youngest child Madison (Kennedi Clements) speaking with someone—or something—from behind a closet. Perhaps it is only one of Madison’s harmless imaginary friends… but perhaps it is something more sinister.

Although “Poltergeist,” written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Gil Kenan, offers two, maybe three, genuinely scary scenes, it falls apart almost completely during the final third when visual and special effects move front and center. These effects are too stylized that they begin to look fake—almost like watching a video game—and so the horror element grows weaker as the visual spectacle grows stronger. The most effective supernatural horror stories—those that inspire a real sense of dread, suspense, and chills down our spines—understand that the punchline is about small moments, perhaps when one is home alone or when one is supposed to be safe in her bed.

A memorable scene involves Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), the eldest child, babysitting his little brother and sister while their parents (Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt) are out. While texting, her phone screen starts to get staticky and it appears to get worse as she moves around the house. Meanwhile, Griffin is terrorized upstairs by toy clowns he had found—or that found him?—the night before. This part of the movie is effective because we get a genuine feeling that the children are not safe. With the parents around, the adults can always run upstairs or downstairs to offer help. There is a sense of urgency in how Kendra and Griffin’s encounters are edited together. Meanwhile, Madison sits in a corner, afraid of the increasingly powerful entity behind her closet.

There is not enough characterization. Rockwell is one of those actors who can pretty much deliver whatever emotion the script requires. Here, his character is supposed to be so stressed out and so upset about having been laid off for a while that sometimes he reroutes this negative energy into the opposite of what he is supposed to be doing—like going on a spending spree instead of being more careful with money. I wanted to understand his personal struggle as a provider who is not providing, but the screenplay does not go deeply into the root of his emotions, thoughts, and choices. Although the film is not a drama, horror movies have lasting power when we are invested in the characters—characters of whom we can recognize a part of ourselves or someone we may know.

The other solid scene involves a paranormal researcher (Nicholas Braun) attempting to set up equipment inside Madison’s closet. Notice that with each passing second, the frame gets tighter and tighter which runs parallel to the buildup of tension. This is a film not without potential to become engaging. Clearly, the director, who helmed “Monster House,” one of my favorite animated films, knows how to setup and execute scenes that make us feel uncomfortable. Imagine if the screenplay had been more sparing when it comes to the CGI. The filmmakers would then have to be more creative when delivering shocks and scares.

Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” did not need a reboot because it already embodies the horror trifecta: heart, brain, and very unsettling scenes that sometimes come in a form of special and visual effects. Perhaps it just needed a sequel—maybe injecting a bit more menace into the template’s marrow or a proper and convincing background story with respect to those corpses underneath the house.

Safe Men

Safe Men (1998)
★ / ★★★★

Sam (Sam Rockwell) and Eddie (Steve Zahn) fancy themselves as singer-songwriters, but they are unable to entertain a bar packed with ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. When Veal Chop (Paul Giamatti), the right hand man of one of the Jewish gangsters in Rhode Island, has mistaken them for legendary safe crackers, they find themselves in a quandary: perform the job that Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner) wants done or get swim with the fishes.

“Safe Men,” written and directed by John Hamburg, is a farce that uses the lead actors’ chemistry as a crutch whenever the jokes miss the mark. And, boy, does it miss quite often. When the jokes work, however, I found myself smiling from ear to ear. Still, the ratio between unfunny to funny bits is far too large.

A standout is a scene involving the first safe that the hapless duo attempts to break into which happens to belong to another Jewish gangster, Leo (Harvey Fierstein), who runs a fencing operation behind a barbershop. Completely inept and constantly at each other’s throats about how certain things ought to be done, Sam and Eddie are caught by Hannah (Christina Kirk), Leo’s daughter. The funny thing is since she has a history of dating thieves, she does a surprising thing.

When the screenplay plays with our expectations combined with providing us a skeletal understanding of the motivations of characters who are about to commit bizarre actions, watching the interplay among the characters is fun and entertaining.

There are too many recycled ideas that distract from the plot. Frank (Mark Ruffalo) and Mitchell (Josh Pais), the real safe men, drop in and out of the story whenever it seems convenient. When they do show up, they act like baboons half the time and the script never bothers to convince us that they are smart and stealthy, two basic requirements, I would imagine, in being successful thieves. Maybe it would have been funnier if Frank and Mitchell had been completely different from Sam and Eddie instead of just playing a diluted version of them.

More frustrating is Giamatti not given a lot to do. I actually felt him wanting to be more challenged. The screenplay touches upon his character wanting to be treated like his boss valued him more. Once or twice there is a funny line or two about his line of work but there is not a time when we are given a chance to actually consider Veal Chop as more than a henchman. One serious moment might have given the character a semblance of dimension. If we were to ultimately believe his insecurities, we had to see him as a person.

Finally, the romance between Sam and Hannah is is not at all convincing. The way material likes to remind us they are a couple is showing a sloppy make-out session. It’s supposed to be funny. Why not just allow us to continually observe the sexual tension between Sam and Eddie grow until it is unbearable?

It is a shame that the writing is so bland and unfocused because Rockwell and Zahn seem willing to go to the extremes. For all the risks that “Safe Men” appears to take on the surface, what results is still a flavorless concoction of inanities.

The Way Way Back

The Way Way Back (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Just before arriving at their summer beach house, Trent (Steve Carell) asks Duncan (Liam James) to rate himself between one and ten. The fifteen-year-old refuses to entertain the man he does not get along with but is forced to provide an answer eventually. Duncan assigns himself a six while Trent says he is a mere three. The boy is hurt by the assessment he did not ask for and so he remains quiet in the back of the 1970 Buick station wagon. This is only one of the many ways that Trent exerts his power over the teenager and Duncan already knows it is going to be a very long summer in Cape Cod.

Many of us have seen movies about young adults who learn something about themselves while working with a group of colorful people during the summer. One of the most memorable in the past five years is Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland,” balancing amusement and heart so effortlessly that it feels like a true product of the ‘80s. “The Way Way Back” contains elements that are familiar, but small touches in the writing and direction by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash allow it stand above the sub-genre. I think that those who remember being a teenager and feeling trapped will find themselves investing in the film.

Credit to Allison Jones for casting the right actors. James embodies such an unhappy protagonist not only through his dejected facial expressions but also in his posturing—how Duncan’s back is hunched just a little, the lack of spring in his step, and how he looks so isolated even when surrounded by very energetic people. Speaking of energy, Allison Janney as the next door neighbor is a complete riot. She reminds me of my aunts who effortlessly light up the room during family gatherings. Even when Janney is not in the frame, her laughter is so recognizable that my eyes desperately search for her.

The most subtle performance, however, is delivered by Sam Rockwell, the manager of a water park where Duncan is eventually invited to work. Owen is worthy of our attention because his mind seems to be all over the place but immediately he is able to recognize the sadness in Duncan. Rockwell is smart to play the role as both an older brother and a father figure since Duncan does not have either. In one scene, Rockwell effortlessly switches between being a guide and a friend without pushing so hard or resting on quirks that we are reminded of watching a performance. As a result, the relationship between Owen and Duncan is believable, sweet, and true.

One of the reasons why the material does not come across as tawdry is because some relationships are acknowledged but never really delved into. Duncan develops a crush on Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the girl next door, but what they share is more tender than romantic. Also, the mother-son relationship feels a bit distant but there is no arc designed to push them into understanding each other a little bit better. The screenplay is right to focus on Duncan learning to feel comfortable with who he is by working at the water park. Sometimes he is forced into uncomfortable situations but through them we see him grow just a little bit, that he can be vulnerable without us having to feel sorry for him all the time.

The best coming-of-age movies exude a love for their subjects and “The Way Way Back” embraces such a quality. When I see great work like this, I get frustrated that so many teen movies these days rely on the subject of sex to elicit easy laughs. This one chooses to take a more thoughtful approach: the protagonist’s contentment hinging on being accepted—whether he be a six or a three.

The Sitter

The Sitter (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Noah (Jonah Hill), a college dropout with nothing much to do except hang out, decided to babysit the three children of his mom’s friend (Erin Daniels) because he figured his mom (Jessica Hecht) could use a fun night out. Who knows? Being a single parent, she might even meet a man who could make her happy. The three youngsters, Slater (Max Records), Blithe (Landry Bender), and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) were, to say the least, a handful of troublemakers. It didn’t help that Noah was far from a responsible adult, accepting to pick up cocaine for his girlfriend (Ari Graynor) in exchange for sex in the middle of his babysitting. Written by Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, as “The Sitter” unfolded, the gnawing question of who it was aimed for could no longer be ignored. Even though it contained kids, it certainly wasn’t for children given their mean-spirited natures, especially Rodrigo’s predilection for putting homemade bombs in public restrooms. And yet it wasn’t for adults either. At least not those who preferred their comedy distilled of sentimentality. The screenplay couldn’t help but make Noah into a brother figure for the kids, so unconvincing that in select scenes where the mood was supposed to be serious, like when Noah confronted Slater of the young teen’s homosexuality and self-hatred, though a great topic of conversation in a mainstream lens, I was relatively unmoved because I couldn’t see past the hokum. Since the sensitive moments didn’t feel earned, I was offended that the film so willingly crossed the line. I wish that the writers acknowledged the reality that some people, even babysitters, are just not good with kids. They certainly wouldn’t change their deeply-rooted tendencies overnight. However, the picture did have one very funny scene that took place in a store. Blithe had a bodily accident in the car so Noah had to take her underwear shopping because she had no change of clothes. Observing from a couple of feet away, a Kid City employee (Alysia Joy Powell) had mistakenly believed that Noah was a pedophile and Noah’s nervous explanation about what he was doing in the little girls’ underwear section didn’t help the situation. Hill and Powell mirrored each other’s energy so strongly, their exchange had crackle and pop. I wish other confrontations between Noah and another character were just as effective. In contrast, the scenes between Noah and Karl (Sam Rockwell), a drug dealer, were so lackadaisical and nonsensical. At times it was downright offensive. Karl was supposed to be gay. His sexuality was strictly utilized as a source of comedy. If the drug dealer had been straight, he’d just be another unfunny, incompetent thug. Would it have been too much to ask for the writers to make their villain a little bit more interesting without relying solely on the character’s sexual orientation? To me, mean-spirited gay jokes are just as offensive as gay jokes that insidiously try to pass as progressive thinking. “The Sitter,” directed by David Gordon Green, needed a writing overhaul in order to make room for adventurous and funny moments that have range. There was no sense of adventure here, just a series of poorly executed sketches.


Conviction (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Inspired by a true story, Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), a hardworking bartender who had to support two teenage boys, decided to put herself through law school so she could get her brother, Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell), out jail for being wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983. Written by Pamela Gray and Tony Goldwyn, the film immediately established why, aside from the fact that they shared the same bloodline, Betty Anne would go to great lengths, even as to sacrifice her entire life and family, to free Kenny. Although it focused on their childhood, it was done with brisk pace and the techniques employed were not melodramatic. I could imagine kids from a broken home being separated to be raised by different foster parents respond in the same way they did. Swank had a challenging role. She had to balance being tougher than a leather Prada bag yet still remain sensitive so we could understand that her decisions of sometimes putting her family aside for the sake of her brother really did took a toll on her. Failing to reach that critical balance while making it look easy could have made Betty Anne look more like a caricature than a real person. Despite some formulaic elements, like scenes in the courtroom designed to make us feel that the murder was an open-and-shut case, the film was spearheaded by Swank’s nuanced acting. The way she held back her character emotionally was equally powerful as the explosive celebrations–like when we learned that she passed her bar examination and, along with the friend she met in law school named Abra Rice (Minnie Driver), when she found DNA evidence that could potentially exonerate Kenny of the crime. The picture was exciting for me because I never followed nor heard about the Waters case. Despite the DNA evidence, there was possibility that Kenny really did commit the murder. There was a feeling that maybe Betty Anne’s quest of more than sixteen years would not result to Kenny’s freedom. I wish the film took a moment to acknowledge that DNA evidence was not an easy solution: It could be tampered with while in storage and scientists were capable of human error. Such instances were not unheard-of. The filmmakers were smart in deciding not to inject too much humanity in Rockwell’s character for the sake of mystery. While there was a small evolution in his character, we were never certain whether or not he committed the crime. What mattered most was Betty Anne’s determination to fix what she thought was a crime in the justice system. Another fascinating character was a corrupt cop played by Melissa Leo. The one scene that Leo and Swank shared had deep tension that could scar. It look forward to seeing them star in the same film in the future. “Conviction” left some unanswered questions such as how Betty Anne was able to support her two boys with a bar-tending job while putting herself through law school and still living in a nice house. Her ex-husband might have supported or perhaps she took out a loan. Were her adoptive parents wealthy? It wasn’t clear. Regardless, the film had an inspiring story supported by the filmmakers’ defined vision and strong acting from the cast.

Everybody’s Fine

Everybody’s Fine (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite his doctor’s recommendation against traveling, Frank (Robert De Niro) decided to go on a road trip across America when his thirtysomething children (Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore) made last-minute cancellations to come visit over the holidays. Frank wanted to reconnect with his kids due to the recent death of his wife. Also, he felt lonely being by himself at home. “Everybody’s Fine” had an interesting premise but it ultimately left me wanting more. Since Frank’s children had vastly different personalities and temperaments, I thought that each visit would reflect a change of tone. Unfortunately, it remained mind-numbingly one-note. It was depressing because the kids didn’t want to have anything to do with their father which were reflected in their phone conversations when Frank was on the train, the bus, and the plane. Although he was somewhat welcomed with smiles and hugs, the emotions felt fake because we knew what they really thought about the surprise visit. It was like watching a guide called “How Not to Treat Your Parents When They Get Old and You Have Your Own Life.” It would have been refreshing if two of them didn’t want him over but at least one genuinely did without question. One visit could have been strange, the other really funny, and the last quite cantankerous. Big shifts in tone could have signified that the material wasn’t afraid to take risks. So what if everything doesn’t quite fit together? Just keep the audiences interested. There were some mildly comedic scenes like when Frank was portrayed as being out of touch with recent technology and his unawareness that the heavy bag he’d been carrying had a handle and wheels which could have made his life easier. There were also some touching scenes such as when we finally realized that there were some truth in Frank’s high expectations of his children and why they felt distant toward him for years. Nevertheless, I still disagreed with the way they treated their father as if he was a child. Protecting someone doesn’t always equal keeping them in the dark especially when the person had a right to know what was happening. The writing could have used some work. The scene I found most awkward and uncomfortable to sit through was the fantasy scene involving Frank sharing a meal with his children, played by actual kids, and secrets were revealed. Some of the divulged information could be surmised from Frank’s visit but some were simply out of nowhere. That scene felt cheesy, forced, and it diminished the little dramatic pull it had going for it. Written and directed by Kirk Jones, “Everybody’s Fine” had a great cast, with some effective acting from De Niro, but it made far too many missteps because of a weak script. I couldn’t help but feel disconnected during the more serious revelations.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.


Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell in “Moon,” written and directed by Duncan Jones, an astronaut who was sent on the moon by a company to gather precious gas that could solve the Earth’s energy crisis. Excitement came over him as soon as he realized that his three-year contract was about to expire in two weeks. However, his positive energy was quickly doused when he started hearing and seeing things that he wasn’t supposed to. I can’t help but feel very disappointed in this film because I saw so much potential in it. The feel of the picture very much felt like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I appreciated the fact that it tried to bring something new to the table with regards to man’s relationship with machine (the super-computer named GERTY voiced by Kevin Spacey). I hate saying this about science fiction movies in general but I’m going to: it just didn’t feel real. I’m not talking about the visuals (which wasn’t that inspiring), I’m talking about how everything started to play out. For instance, when Sam realized that there was a clone of himself walking around, his reaction was very underwhelming. I don’t know about you but if I saw a copy of myself without my prior knowledge of its existence, I would freak out, throw things at it and attack it in every way possible (basically act like a crazy person) to get the upperhand. I won’t just sit there and play nice with it, especially when the copy is trying to bully me around. I also had a problem with its pacing. For a film that’s supposed to be full of wonder, mystery and surprising twists, it felt strangely stagnant. Once the clone was revealed, there wasn’t much to drive the story forward. Even their interactions weren’t really that interesting except that they seemed to have opposite personalities. The second twist regarding Sam’s life on Earth was sad but ultimately empty because I didn’t care that much about Sam. I agree with critics and audiences that it was eerie and atmospheric but that’s about it. I don’t see it as being a classic because the elements it tried to tackle weren’t fully realized. “Moon” felt like the SparkNotes version of a really dense material full of complex story arcs and mythologies. And it certainly didn’t have that wow-factor that could be found in sci-fi greats.


Frost/Nixon (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I’m not going to judge this film with regards to whether or not it followed real life (which it didn’t in some parts) because it was based on a play by Peter Morgan. Michael Sheen stars as David Frost, a British television host who one day decides that he’s going to interview Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). Of course, that decision isn’t as easy as it sounds because he has to have the right amount of funds, gather the right people for research and risk his entire career. The drama prior to the scenes before the interviews was really effective because it solidifies the idea that Frost will be utterly finished if the people do not get what they want from Nixon: remorse with regards to his actions while being the President of the United States, admittance that he did participate in a number of cover-ups and that he did, in fact, abuse his power while leading the country. Sheen was very effective as Frost because even though he’s outgoing, charismatic and enthusiastic enough to tackle such a political issue, we feel for him whenever he is pushed in a corner like a mouse because he simply lacks the experience of interviewing a person of Nixon’s caliber. Langella was quite impressive as well. At first I was skeptical on why he was nominated for Best Actor but after watching this picture, I knew that he deserved it. He may not look like Nixon but he convinced me that he was powerful, intimidating and extremely intelligent. I loved those scenes when he would play mind games with Sheen; though those scenes were really serious, I felt that Langella was having a great time as an actor. To feel that resonance while also being invested in what was happening on screen, to me, means the mark of a great actor. Aside from the two leads, I also enjoyed watching Kevin Bacon as Jack Brennan, Sam Rockwell as James Reston, Jr. and Rebecca Hall as Caroline Cushing. Directed by Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon” is a classic David vs. Goliath story. Although I was a blown away by the script because of its sharpness and wit, I was more impressed with its efficiency as it tackled the important questions while painting complex characters worthy of in-depth analysis. I’m glad this was nominated for Best Picture in 2008.


Choke (2008)
★ / ★★★★

I wasn’t amused by this indie dark comedy based on a novel by Chuck Palahniuk. This movie was about a medical school dropout (Sam Rockwell) who pretends to choke in restaurants so that he’ll be given money by people who save him. He does this because he needs money to keep his mother (Anjelica Huston) who’s suffering from dementia/Alzheimer’s in the hospital. It’s too all over the place for my liking. I felt like it does have the potential to be great but it didn’t really establish and focus on its emotional center. Instead, the movie focused too much on Rockwell’s empty relationship with Kelly Macdonald. The little twists that happened in the second half felt unconvincing and forced. I could feel the dialogue wanting to impress its audiences but it ultimately felt dry and meaningless. There’s no character that one can root for here because all of them are self-indulgent, addicted to their own misery, and they don’t care about hurting others. Its random and somewhat narcissistic nature made me hope that there would be an apocalypse in the end so that all of the characters would no longer exist. I wanted to slap them silly because they were so one-dimensional. Half-way through the film, I questioned why the movie was even made. The story made absolutely no sense. I wish it was more about purposely choking in fancy restaurants (and the comedy that comes with it) instead of the lead character feeling sorry for himself. If you couldn’t already tell, this was one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a while.