Gallagher Says – Live by Night

I finally got around to watching Ben Affleck’s late 2016 release, Live by Night. Ben Affleck adapted the screenplay, directed and stars in this film. His character, Joe Coughlin has returned to Boston after serving in World War I, but he has come home disillusioned by the blind pursuit of orders. In Boston the Irish mob and Italian mob are at war, and Joe gets caught in the middle when he falls in love with the Irish bosses’ girl.

After falling into some bad choices and timing, Joe agrees to go down to Florida to destroy the Irish mob’s holdings there. He quickly asserts his position there and builds his own small empire, gaining the respect of those he works with. He encounters a culture clash and finds himself fighting the KKK and the strong religious beliefs down there.

Going into it, I knew the reviews were mediocre at best, so when the movie opened with narration, a bland explanation of a character and a cliche romance story line, I thought I was going to have to turn my brain off and take it at face value. I was wrong.

The first thing I saw, even in the middle of being thrown into all the opening exposition, this film looks amazing. Two things. The camera work is stunning. I was blown away as the camera swung around cars during a police chase, and the camera just continued to stay alive throughout the film. The second piece was the colours in the film. I was able to forgive the on the nose narration because you could feel it was going for an homage to classic noirs. A big part in seeing this was how consistently muted the colours were. It felt black and white without being black and white. This is because the film draws heavily on strong grays and oranges, making it feel of the times.

The opening clips along at a fine pace, but I couldn’t get invested because of the points I made earlier, but that all changed when the story moved to Florida. The movie really opens up the characters, and the movie is now about Joe and how he handles his relationships with the people of Florida. This improves the film phenomenally, and I could see the Goodfellas/Casino vibe that Ben Affleck had built. I could get behind the film for its elements of a character study and sprawling time capsule. The ending was a little disappointing but tied in well with the poetic elements of the film.

A big part of the surge in the post Boston portion of the story came from the consistently strong performances of the supporting cast. Chris Messina and Zoe Saldana gave strong anchors for Ben Affleck to play off as his partner and lover respectively. Matthew Maher was diabolical as a racist villain. Lastly Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning were spot on as they played a father and daughter with opposing ideals to Joe’s.

All in all. I was surprised and pleased by the film. The opening is very bland but quick to get through, and the rest of the film is a solid character study. I hold it in the veins of Casino and Goodfellas and would suggest it for people looking for a crime film that is more character piece than a film about one particular heist or criminal endeavor.


Gallagher Says – Nightcrawler

I had heard good things about Nightcrawler around the time of its Academy Award nomination (for Best Original Screenplay). Its subject matter revolving around the broadcast industry made it somewhat popular among my follow students.

The story revolves around Louis Bloom played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Louis is unemployed and willing to do anything for a job. One night he stumbles upon an accident and is introduced to the world of freelance photography chasing crime scenes. Louis has a talent for it and begins to delve deeper into the wrong side of the law.

For the most part the film is a slow-burn thriller and character study of the type of people who film horrific images for a living. The opening of the film is lighter and has a little more humour, but this fades away as it falls into its creepier side.

The biggest thing holding the film together is the performances. Gyllenhaal does well in playing a focused and often creepy protagonist. The role suffers a little from being very straight-faced and monotone.

Rene Russo also holds her own alongside him as an equally eager news director with a similar love of the morbid. The standout role for me was Riz Ahmed as Rick, Louis assistant and navigator. Ahmed has the most grounded performance and is the character that allows the audience to connect with such a dark world.

My Favourites from the film: Ahmed’s performance was my personal favourite of the film. Louis setup for filming and his first shoots are fun and engaging. The finale works out very well and is quite thrilling.

My Less enjoyed parts of the film: I just have to say it was very slow. It’s two hours long, and one of those hours is purely building tension and moving the characters towards a somewhat expected outcome. The middle of the movie just really lost steam for me, and there’s a subplot where Louis is making romantic pursuits that I felt really went nowhere.

My Recommendation Not for casual moviegoers. If you are looking for an interesting character study with morality questions, this may be for you. It will also appeal to fans of dark thrillers, but be prepared for a slow plot.

Gallagher Says – Youth in Revolt

Michael Cera is one of those actors that plays one type of role, and you can never tell if he’s a good actor or just being himself. Regardless, I’ve enjoyed his characters in movies and shows like, Arrested Development, Juno, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and This Is the End. I had heard good things about his performance in Youth in Revolt, so I decided to check it out.

Michael Cera plays Nick Twisp, your typical mild mannered, hopeless romantic teenager. Needless to say, Nick isn’t popular with the girls, but he dreams of better days ahead. Nick’s small town life and the lack of attention from either of his separated parents don’t promise to make this easy.

Nick has a stroke of luck when his mom’s boyfriend angers some navy men, and they have to go stay at his trailer till the heat blows over. At the trailer park, Nick meets Sheeni, the most perfect girl in the world, but as he’s going to leave again, she tells him he needs to be a bad boy to get kicked out of his home and be able to stay with her.

The story of the film is a pretty standard good guy goes bad to win over the heart of a girl. What sets this apart from others of the same type is it tone. This movie melds the coming to age/sex comedy genre with a Napoleon Dynamite sense of style and uniqueness.

A big thing that creates this tone is the way in which the characters talk to each other. Everyone in the film use grand technical phrases when expressing dramatic thoughts. It expresses how all of them are trapped in their own poetic worlds.

Another point of interest in the film is Nick’s creation of an alter ego that only he can see. This alter ego is also played by Michael Cera and adds depth to his role as it is Nick’s evil persona, hellbent on getting everything Nick desires.

My Favourites from the film: The cast is great. Michael Cera delivers on the promise of the duel roles. The supporting cast is also well chosen. Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, Fred Willard, Jade Fusco, and Ray Liotta all make great additions to the film. The dialogue is fun, and the film has some stand out stop motion animation sequences.

My Less enjoyed parts: Justin Long as Sheeni’s brother just feels pointless in the film, and he doesn’t do much. There were some points in the film where I wasn’t sure if much time was supposed to have passed or not which made me unsure of how fast the pacing of the story’s development was. The plot’s predictability due to it’s strict following of it’s genre’s structure wasn’t very good either.

My Recommendation: I’d say give it a try. While the story isn’t very original, the setting and style make it feel fresh. It’s funny, and definitely a great film for Michael Cera fans or fans of smaller comedies.

Gallagher Says – Bad Words

I have been watching a lot of Jason Bateman’s works lately. It started with binge watching Arrested Development. Next, I watched Identity Thief and The Gift. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed him in Zootopia and Central Intelligence, so the next logical step was to watch his directorial debut: Bad Words.

Bad Words is about forty year old Guy Trilby, played by Jason Bateman. Guy discovers he can enter a children’s spelling bee because he never completed the eighth grade. Guy uses this loophole to exploit the competition, much to the children’s parents displeasure.

Guy is accompanied by small-time reporter Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn). She hopes to have his story as her exclusive. Once Guy gets to the national bee though, he is faced with Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) the director of the bee who vows to not let him get to the finals. Along the way, Guy is befriended by fellow competitor Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand).

Bad Words is a dark comedy, so some of the humour and the situations created in the film definitely won’t appeal to all tastes. I found some of Guy’s interactions with the children to be weird and off-putting at times. That being said, Bateman’s scenes with Chand were the most enjoyable parts in the film.

Most of the film’s story and humour centre around its premise of an adult competing in a children’s competition. It doesn’t deviate much from this core which contributes to it having a short runtime. This isn’t a bad thing though. My main problem was when the film shoehorned in a couple minor subplots or tidbits of information that really didn’t deepen the film as much as it felt like they wanted them to.

The film has a very definite style to it. The scenes are darker than other comedies, and it has a very brown look to it. The photography is also interesting with Bateman chossing to frame his shots with foreground objects. This makes the film look like the audience is sitting in on conversations and lives they are merely eves dropping on. Bateman also uses slow motion to enhance actions for comedic effect.

My Favourites from the film: Bateman’s performance is on point for a character that you can root for but also dislike. The scenes of the spelling bees are fun to watch, and Bateman and Chand have great chemistry.

My Less enjoyed parts of the film: The scenes that attempt to add dramatic weight felt hollow, and the exposition felt forced or obvious. The immaturity of Guy is sometimes hard to watch, and Jenny’s part in the story was purely there to serve plot points.

My Recommendation: Not for all audiences. The dark humour and subjects of the film would be off-putting to some. On the other hand, the film is not ridiculous or rude enough for a strong R-rated comedy crowd. If you’re into strange, low budget comedies, it’s a good one. Excellent for the fans of Coen Brothers type films.

Gallagher Says – A Life Less Ordinary

In my search for films by one of my favourite directors, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, and 127 Hours), I came across A Life Less Ordinary. It is the third film he ever directed and features Danny Boyle regular Ewan McGregor.

Ewan McGregor plays Robert Lewis, a man who is fired from his custodial job because he dreams of a better future and a robot can do his job for less. He ends up kidnapping his boss’s spoiled daughter. Cameron Diaz plays the daughter, Celine Naville. Robert’s innocent nature betrays him in this endeavour, but Celine is there to teach him how to be a professional kidnapper.

The film has a bookend plot with celestial beings being sent to aide in a romance. Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo play angels O’Reilly and Jackson, respectively. During the course of the film, they take on the role of bounty hunters sent by Celine’s father to rescue her, but they always have their own motives.

When I bought this film, I figured it’d be an okay Danny Boyle film. Something along the lines of The Beach that doesn’t quite live up to his better films. I was pleasantly surprised. While its not as good as Slumdog Millionaire or Trainspotting, it was a very enjoyable ride.

With the weird concept and it’s backwoods style, I couldn’t help thinking it was a better Coen film than Raising Arizona was. I couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculous concept of a kidnapper asking the kidnapee about how to properly pull it off. Ewan McGregor does a great job of grounding this into a relatable performance.

I found the cast in this was very hit or miss. McGregor was great, but Diaz was very inconsistent. She seemed intriguing and engaging is some scenes then felt very wooden and bland in others. Lindo’s role didn’t have much, but he was good in the moments he got. Hunter was fun and provided a very unhinged performance. The thing that bothered me was the high-pitched voice she used. Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci were enjoyable as Celine’s father and ex, respectively.

My Favourites from the film: The craziness of the film made for a fun ride, and Diaz’s scenes teaching McGregor how to kidnap were great. It was the first film I’d seen by Danny Boyle that didn’t have any extreme stylistic choices, so that made it easier to get behind the weird concept. The stop-motion end titles sequence was a pleasure to watch.

My Less enjoyed parts: Aside from the issues I had with the performances, the main problem was some of the angel scenes that were a bit too far out there or distracting. The accents threw me off, so I was never quite sure where it was all supposed to be taking place. It hits a bit of a slump before the third act.

My Recommendation: If you’re looking for an odd, small scale comedy, I’d say pick this up. Be ready for something weird and inconsistent. Don’t expect it to follow a contemporary story structure. I would definitely suggest it for fans of the CoenBothers or David O. Russell.

Gallagher Says – Corner Gas The Movie

I have loved the Canadian sitcom, Corner Gas for a number of years now. This year I also got my family to watch it, and they enjoy it as well. It was then an easy decision to purchase Corner Gas the Movie.

The movie takes place a number of years after the end of the show. The residents of Dog River are the same as ever, but some bad investments with the town’s money have brought it to a state of financial crisis. The only apparent solution is to enter the town into the quaintest town in Canada contest and use the prize to solve their problems.

Many complications present themselves as Lacey tries to pull the town together to save their home. Brent appears to be indifferent to the town’s collapse. The power flickers on and off as their unpaid bills pile up. The water pump is going, and the last straw is the closing of the bar.

They open with my own personal weakness. A scene of the ending then the movie builds towards it. Sometimes this can be a problem because the audience now knows exactly where the movie is going, but I found they did it well enough that I was questioning how it could possibly get to that point right up to the point itself.

As with the show, the humour is very sarcastic and deadpan. I found the humour connected with me, and there were a number of times that I laughed out loud. The drawback I can see with a comedy like this is that a number of the jokes rely on its location, a small town in the Canadian prairies, so it may not be relatable to all demographics. I’m not from the prairies, but I’ve grown up in the country. So I’m not sure how the story connects with audiences that have grown up in the city.

The main problem with a sitcom adapting to a movie is whether or not the material can be effectively adapted to a full runtime of an hour and a half. This is basically carrying one story for the same length as four episodes. The story that is setup lends itself to be a good way to keep an audience engaged for that length of time. That being said, there are a couple of subplots and a bit of a long opening to help get to that length, so it’s not perfect but a good and mostly effective attempt.

My Favourites from the film: The whole cast and a large part of the creative team return which is a wonderful thing to view. The humour still hits home, and every character had an interesting and engaging place in the story. The evolution of the story and characters to this point felt logical. The story was well written. The photography was beautiful.

My Less enjoyed parts: Some of the story elements were overplayed while others were underplayed. Wanda’s antics in Davis’ man cave start to drag and lose steam halfway through the film. Karen’s pregnancy felt out of place and really didn’t add to the story. The whole lawsuit plot point is kind of just brushed aside.

My Recommendation: This is a great film for fans of the series and makes them feel like they never left. It’s a fun small town, indy style comedy. If you haven’t heard of Corner Gas before, I’d suggest checking out the first season to start.

Gallagher Says – Raising Arizona

I found Raising Arizona when looking through DVDs. It caught my attention because Nicolas Cage is in it, and I’ve been watching a lot of his films lately: The Wicker Man, Vampire’s Kiss, and Face/Off. I decided I needed to see it when I saw that it was an early Coen Brothers film.

Raising Arizona tells a tale of a criminal marrying the officer who takes his mug shots and their attempts at living a normal life. This is all ruined when they find out they can’t have children and his criminal record is preventing them from adopting. They resort to the only option remaining. Kidnapping.

Nicolas cage plays H.I. McDunnough, the ex-convict who has a partiality to robbing convenience stores. Holly Hunter plays Ed, his wife a former police officer. John Goodman and William Forsythe play escaped convicts who pay them a visit, and Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand play neighbours with an unruly batch of kids.

From the premise down to the execution, this film is a ridiculous and wacky ride. This is both its strength and it’s weakness. When it makes you laugh at its leads’ antics, it’s a fun ride. When the pacing begins to drag or the scene doesn’t get you, its a bore. It also means you can’t take the story seriously or empathize with the characters, so if the jokes don’t work, you’re left with nothing.

The co-stars are what made it for me. When Glen and Dot visit with all their kids, the crazy and characters mesh well for a comedic scene that feels more grounded. The pair of escaped convicts steal all their scenes with their over-the-top stupidity and caricature of the redneck criminals. Randall “Tex” Cobb also makes a fine addition as a mysterious, dark manhunter.

The film feels like a compilation of skits. Some of them are funny, some weird, some too long, and some boring. The problem comes when you look at it as a whole, and you realize it’s a flimsy excuse to drop you into weird and inconsequential world.

My Favourites from the film: It has plenty of great, cutesy moments with the baby. The scenes with action in them are a great balance of comedy and thrills. The Coen Brothers do a great job of creating a world, and their dialogues between the characters are enjoyable.

My Less enjoyed parts: I think the film falters most on its leads, both from acting and writing. The characters never grabbed me as interesting or relatable enough for me to care about them. Nicolas Cage felt too restrained for the setting, which is odd considering his other films, and Holly Hunter was basically just a plot device.

My Recommendation: I can see inspirations for the Coen brothers’ later films in this one, and I feel you’d be best to just skip this one and get to them. If you’re a fan of theirs and need another film to sink your teeth into, it’s not bad. It’s a decent B-movie comedy.

Gallagher Says – The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys is a movie I wanted to see when it came into theatres, but I didn’t get a chance to. I was excited to see it despite very little interest in the lead actors. The trailer was fun, and I’m a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So I was looking forward to its release.

The film tells the story of two investigators searching for a missing girl. Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a jaded, semi-successful private investigator. Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, an enforcer who questions if there are better things he could be doing with his life.

The story is based in 1977 in Los Angeles. After Healy pays March a visit, he discovers his client’s case may not be so simple. They join forces to find the missing girl, and they are taken on a case involving potential murder, angry hitmen, and Los Angeles’ automotive and pornography industries.

The main fun of the film comes from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling’s back and forth banter. Crowe is the straight man who expects Gosling to be professional, and Gosling bumbles and drinks his way through the case. Being the muck up, Gosling gets the majority of the laughs, and I don’t think I expected to laugh so much at Gosling’s screams and shouts. Gosling is great in this.

There are also some heartfelt scenes in the film. March is a single father after his wife died, and he makes attempts to be a passable father. His daughter Holly, played by Angourine Rice, is a fun and emotionally interesting addition to the film. Healy shows his attempts at redemption throughout the film, and the development of the men’s relationship is engaging.

The action scenes in the film are exciting as well as fun. There is nothing too dark to take away from the comedy, but it doesn’t shy away from some great action. The plot of the mystery is interesting and plausible, but I found the development of plot elements frustrating at times.

My favourites from the film: The humour was definitely the best of the film. It’s hilarious. Ryan Gosling’s performance and comedic timing was excellent, and I enjoyed his chemistry with Angourine Rice. The film looks great and cuts well.

My less enjoyed parts: A lot of the plot comes about because the characters happen to be at the right place, or sometimes wrong place, at the right time. It adds to some of the humour, but it left me frustrated at some of the key plot developments. I also found it bares a little too much resemblance to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

My recommendation: If you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, watch that. If you’re a fan of it, this is another fun outing from Shane Black, and it’s not something you’ll see too much elsewhere. It’s a fun ride with some interesting characters, but you may want to leave your brain in the backseat.

Gallagher Says – John Wick: Chapter 2

My main interest in the John Wick films has been to see if there is a film I like Keanu Reeves in, and I have to say I do like him in these. It probably has something to do with the character’s serious nature that compliments Keanu’s skills, or it may have to do with the action or the more limited amount of lines. Any way you look at it, these movies are good for Keanu.

Picking up very soon after the first, Keanu finishes his quest for justice and tries to again settle down. He is soon interrupted by a request for a favour, and it’s a very serious request because he had made a blood oath to the man. This drags John Wick back into his old way of life.

The task John is ordered to complete is a job of eliminating a high level member of the crime syndicate they are all affiliated with. This takes John to Rome where we are treated to more glimpses of how the crime syndicate operates.

The rest of the movie consists of betrayals and swarms of people trying to kill John Wick. A bounty ends up being placed on John’s head, and every assassin in town wants a piece of him. This leads John to a quest of trying to kill the person who placed the bounty on his head.

The film is straight to the point. It is an action film with no holds barred. In a way it is very similar to the one-man-army types of action films from the Eighties: Films like the Ramboseries or Die Hard series or anything with Arnold Schwarznegger.

The highlights of the action scenes is a hit during a live concert and the subsequent chase underground, John’s fights with Ruby Rose’s and Common’s characters, and the opening car chases. I really liked Ruby Rose as a mute bodyguard/assassin, and her character had a very distinct personality that set her apart from the rest of the faceless masses. Common was also good. His character had heart. Keanu and Common had some great fight and chase scenes together.

My favourites from the film: The world of John Wick seems very interesting, and it is fun to explore. I liked the scenes when John is preparing for the hit in Rome. The scene at the live concert was very good, and I enjoyed the moody atmosphere. Again I likes Ruby Rose and Common. Overall, the best thing about the film is probably the editing. Story wise it is well put together, and action wise it flows well.

My less enjoyed parts: The film’s Gun Fu style gets very repetitive. Most of the action scenes with multiple enemies follow a formula of John knocking a man down and pinning him with his legs while John shoot two to three of his buddies then executes him. John moves to a new room and those actions are repeated, so on and so forth. I also felt the final fights between John and each of Common’s and Ruby Rose’s characters were similar. From a technical point of view, the medium shots in many of the dialogue scenes appeared to have a soft focus which bothered me.

My recommendation: If you love action films, especially those from the eighties, this is definitely for you, and it’s a good one. If your not, I wouldn’t suggest running out to the theatre. Watch it on DVD or Blu-ray. I’d also like to mention that, without giving too much away, it does end with the beginnings of what I expect should be a franchise. This means that it is sandwiched between the first film and whatever comes next, so overall, it may not be a very satisfactory film to watch on its own.

Gallagher Says – Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious and Spellbound

​First off, I am among those that consider Alfred Hitchcock to have been the greatest director of all time. Back in Welland, I had purchased this collection featuring Notorious, Rebecca, and Spellbound.

I watched Rebecca because it was his only film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It was enjoyable with a twisty plot. I became busy and forgot about the other films. Last week I watched both Notorious and Spellbound. Since they were both romantic thrillers, I figured they were as good as any to review for Valentine’s Day.

Notorious is a story about Alicia, played by Ingrid Bergman. The year us 1946, and her father has just been convicted of working with Nazi conspirators. Devlin, played by Cary Grant, is sent to recruit Alicia to spy on the German spies. They head to Rio and a romance quickly blossoms, but a wrench is thrown in the works when Devlin is told what Alicia’s mission is. She is to romance an old friend in order to gain access to the spy ring.

Spellbound tells the tale of Constance, a psychiatrist played by Ingrid Bergman. She is a no nonsense woman who focusses on her work, but this all changes when she falls for an amnesia victim who may also be a murderer. The film follows them across the country as they try to escape the police and unlock the mysteries in the mind of Gregory Peck’s mystery man.

Notorious was great, and Spellbound was not. I felt bad because it was the first Hitchcock film I’d seen that I thought was actually bad. For the master of suspense, I couldn’t fathom how he concocted such a boring thriller. The whole film is a giant police chase. How do you make that boring?

Sadly I now know the answer. You just have to make sure the majority of the film is spent with the doctor yelling for the patient to remember then he collapses into screams and they cap it of with a bit of romantic banter. Yuck. Hitchcock’s formula for suspense is all about giving information, not starving us for details till the last reveal then The End.

Notorious was great because it did the opposite. It threw our lead into a den of snakes. We knew what one character was holding back from another, and we were forced to watch and wait till the truth would be found before it destroyed them.

My favourites from the film:

Notorious: Ingrid Bergman was amazing. I loved seeing her portrayal of the type of woman who goes out driving drunk. It was refreshing to see a film from the period with a female lead that held her own. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant had great chemistry. I enjoyed the wine cellar scenes and the poisoning dillema. The ending was perfect.

Spellbound: I like that Alfred Hitchcock made films that explored psychology. The scenes in the psychiatric ward were great, and the scenes in Constance’s old professor’s house were a breath of fresh air. The straight razor scenes was thrilling, and the dream sequence was visually interesting.

My less enjoyed parts of the films:

Notorious: The romance once in Rio was quick, and the movie slumps a little till Alicia gets her assignment. I thought it was odd they discussed their plan to hook her up with Alexander while right behind him. It also bugged me that Devlin knocked over just the right bottle by accident.

Spellbound: The worst part about this film is that Constance is established as a professional woman, but that is thrown out the window when she falls in love. The film literally says that is what happens to women when they fall in love. It was dumb. The amnesia went on too long with a slow progress to going anywhere, and it never delivered on the promise of a manhunt.

My recommendation: Check out Notorious. Skip Spellbound. My favourites from Alfred Hitchcock are the original Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Rear Window, North by Northwest, and Psycho. I’d suggest checking those out.