Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Selma (2014)

Believe it or not, there’s actually more words after, “I have a dream“.

In 1965, racial tensions in the United States were very high, most importantly though, in the South. A region of the country in which, even though blacks were legally allowed to vote, they still had to jump through all sorts of law abiding rules and regulations that was obviously set out to make sure that their race, and only theirs, wouldn’t be allowed to vote and therefore, not have their voices be heard like any other citizen. This is when Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) decided that it was time to step in and allow for his voice to not only be heard, but acted on as well. Most importantly though, MLK travels Selma, Alabama of all places to arrange a march that would not only get the attention of everybody’s eyes and ears, but also President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson)’s, and would hopefully drive him to make some severe changes to the voting-process. Although, as one could expect, LBJ wasn’t always down to change certain voting restrictions, especially with the looming pressure of possible voters and fellow confidantes like George Wallace (Tim Roth), J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), and Lee C. White (Giovanni Ribisi), among many others.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Every girl truly does go crazy for a sharp-dressed man.

Contrary to what some may believe, Selma isn’t necessarily a biopic about MLK, his life, his achievements, and everything else that transpired when he was alive, and what soon followed afterwards. Instead, it’s much more of a film in which a good portion of MLK’s life is documented, yet, never fully chronicled to make it just his, and his own; there’s plenty more people apart of this story, helping out to create a larger, more thought-out picture than just being standard. The same could actually be said for the civil rights movement(s) that Selma seems to portray – it wasn’t just one person who is single-handedly credited with all of the accomplishments, it’s everybody who was there to help that one person out and make sure that his dreams were fulfilled, as risky as they sometimes may have been.

And in the world that we live in now, honestly, Selma couldn’t be anymore relevant. And to be honest, director Ava DuVernay fully knows this, which is why this movie hits as hard as it does, but without ever seeming like it’s pandering in any sort of way. Surely DuVernay sees and understands the civil rights movement as a significant time in our history (as well as she should), but rather than making it a simple and easy history lesson that any fifth-grader could teach to a class of hundred or more, she strives for something more difficult and ambitious. While DuVernay portrays the civil rights movement, and those behind it all, as smart and inspiring, she also shows that the tactics that would eventually land most of these participants in hot water, not just with the government, but with fellow members of their own race.

For white people who got involved with the civil rights movement, they suffered threats, day-in and day-out from fellow Caucasians who believed that it wasn’t their right to get involved. The black people suffered this, too, and definitely a lot more worse, but as the movie portrays it, it wasn’t just the white people that blacks had to deal with on a regular basis, it was actually some people of their own race. DuVernay shows this with the inclusion of Malcolm X, and as small as it may have been, it’s a smart move on her part to show that some people preferred to side with X’s way of violence solving any and all problems, whereas some others preferred to stick with MLK’s way of not fighting back and instead, using peace as the best medicine to ridicule those who use violence to their benefit. In a lesser film, each and every person of the same race would have gathered, hand-in-hand, and marched happily together, but in DuVernay’s much smarter film, sometimes, they’re at-war with themselves.

But this is just me getting further and further away from what Selma really does here, and that’s portray a brutal, yet significant time in our society’s history, without ever shying away from some of the more dark and dirty aspects that would push certain people away from seeing this. We’ve seen white cops beating on black people in movies (and sadly, in real-life, too) done before, but the way in how DuVernay shows the sheer terror and madness is not only disturbing, but downright terrifying. It not only opens our eyes a little more to what this film is setting out to do, but also puts into perspective what is really being fought for here, rather than just telling us and trusting that bit of info as is.

Like I mentioned before, though, there’s a good portion of this movie that likes to argue against what most of us may know, or think we know, about the civil rights movement and how all those apart of it acted. For instance, not every person in this film is a clear-cut good guy, or a bad guy; they’re, simply put, just people that had a foot in history and all had their own goals, whether they may, or may not be desirable to us watching at home. This is especially clear in the case of LBJ who yes, definitely seems like a racist, but is also a politician, meaning, that he knows he has a lot at stake here in terms of his voting numbers come re-election time. While it’s made clear to us that maybe LBJ’s morals aren’t in the right places, he is still trying to give MLK what he wants, just in his own way. They may not be perfect and they may not always get the job done, but they’re still efforts on his part and that’s more than he can say for many other white politicians during that time.

The same said for LBJ, could definitely be said for MLK, which is definitely surprising considering that you’d expect a piece praising the figure for everything that he did while he was alive, and the influence that still holds precedence in our society today. DuVernay instead dives a bit deeper into the man of MLK, what made him who he was, and how exactly he got through this tough time in his life. And with this, we see that he wasn’t always the perfect man; he was a shitty husband who fooled-around a bit too much, didn’t always step to the front-line like he had initially promised, and got a little big-headed for his own good. But nonetheless, MLK was MLK, a man who accomplished more than what anybody expected of him when he was alive, and it’s a true testament to the person he was, rather than the person people want us to see and believe in.

Round 2. Fight!!

Round 2. Fight!!

Doesn’t make him any less of a good person, it just makes him a person, first and foremost.

And as MLK, David Oyelowo is pretty outstanding. This isn’t too surprising considering Oyelowo has been churning out amazing performances for the past couple years or so, but it truly is great to see him tackle a role that so many people think we already all think we know of, and do something different with it. Because MLK isn’t made out to be the most perfect human specimen ever created in this movie, we see certain shades to his persona that we don’t get to see in his speeches; sure, the speeches are here and they are downright compelling to watch and listen to, but they aren’t what make this person. What makes this person is that he stood up for what he believed in and, at any cost, tried to make his dream a reality. He had many of bumps in the road, but ultimately, he prevailed in getting what he wanted, even if he definitely did gain some enemies in the meantime. Then again, who doesn’t?

Though there’s more to the cast where that came from and rightfully so, too. The previously mentioned LBJ is done well by Tom Wilkinson who fits perfectly into the role and constantly makes it seem like this man is going to explode at any second; Carmen Ejogo has a few strong scenes as MLK’s wife, Corette, and shows the painful side to being the one who is constantly left-at-home, when your significant other is off, fighting the good fight, and constantly allowing you and the rest of your family to be threatened; Tim Roth is pretty damn campy as the overtly-racist man that was George Wallace, although he does with it just enough scenery-chewing that there’s no need for the mustache-twirl; and honestly, plenty more where that came from.

In fact, so many more to talk about that to put one over the other would just be an absolute disservice to each and every performer who shows up here, ready to perform and give it their all with their roles, no matter how small or large they may be. But above all though, it’s DuVernay who deserves the most credit for handling this large ensemble and giving just about every member something substantial to do and add another layer onto a story that, quite frankly, is already very engaging to begin with. Although there are plenty of hiccups to be found on the road leading to the final-act here, DuVernay still brings us a solid depiction of the Selma marches, how they affected us as a society then, and how they do it to us now. Because seriously, the years may change, but the stories remain the same.

Who knows when the change will come. Let’s just hope it’s soon.

Consensus: Smart, powerful, and well-acted by just about everybody involved, Selma is a complex, detailed-look into the civil rights movement that knows it’s important, but never shoves it down its viewer’s throats.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

When they mean "strength in numbers"? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

When they mean “strength in numbers”? Like, specifically, how many are we talking about here?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

All Is Bright (2013)

Chalk it up to the Canadians to ruin Christmas for us Americans!

Ex-con Dennis (Paul Giamatti) gets out of jail and put on parole, and begins the rest of his life. However, once he shows up to the home where his wife (Amy Landecker) and kid live, little does he know that not only does she want nothing to do with him as she’s started a relationship with his ex-con partner, Rene (Paul Rudd), but that she’s told their kid that he’s died from cancer as well. Basically, nothing is going well for Dennis in his life and to make matters any worse than they could possibly already be, his parole-officer doesn’t really seem to care too much about his job and basically leaves Dennis without any job, source of income, or references where to get his life back on track. So, who can Dennis go to for help? Well, try that same dude who’s now banging his wife, and gets him hooked-up with a holiday job selling Christmas trees in the heart of NYC. Problem is, it’s cold as hell, they’re not selling any trees, and business isn’t quite as booming as they originally thought it would be, which leaves these two former friends angry at and tense-as-hell with one another.

While most of you probably already saw that I wasn’t totally fond of Junebug, I do have to say that given the talent involved with Phil Morrison’s first flick in 8 years since, I was a little excited. Not only do I love Giamatti, Rudd, and Sally Hawkins in almost all that they do with their lives and careers, but honestly, come on. It’s not even Fall yet, and we’re already getting Christmas movies. Now I don’t know about you, but that gets me extremely amped-up for the holidays and prepare for the cold, the tree, the presents, and most of all, the wholesome and happy feel everybody has in their minds.

That's what I am talking about! The Holidays, baby!

That’s what I am talking about! The Holidays, baby!

That’s what’s made me relatively excited for this movie even though, yes, it is still technically September. But who cares for technicalities, it’s the holiday cheer! Now cheer!

But the problem with this movie is that, save for maybe 2 or 3 scenes scattered throughout, the movie is not really cheery, happy, or even interesting. Some of it feels like Morrison was working on a very low-budget, didn’t want to hike-up his costs too much, so just had the movie and its story take place in the same 3 locations, throughout the whole hour-and-a-half and depend on character-development and the performances to swoop in and save the day, but they don’t even work in the film’s favor. The performances all feel like their own type of animal, whereas Morrison’s direction just tries too hard to be slow, sullen and a little too dark for its own pleasure. Reminded me a lot of Junebug in that aspect, but with better results, if only because of the cast. And hell, this movie doesn’t even have Amy Adams in it, so you already know which one’s more pleasant to watch.

However, most of you reading this will probably think my complaints of this movie not being pleasant, happy, and as joyous as the season it’s taken place in as “idiotic” or “incomprehensible”, and I wouldn’t really argue against you if that was the case. The movie definitely will appeal to some more, cynical viewers out there who may have a harsher-view of the world, so much so that they feel as if they can share their own opinions and feelings with this movie, and make some sort of connection. If that is the case, then good for you. But for me, myself, and my feelings: I just wanted this movie to turn its big ol’ frown, upside down. Now you tell me, is that too much to ask for in the end? No, I’m serious: Please, tell me! I want to know!

While I’m starting to jump away from the bad of this movie, let me just focus in on the goodness of it all, and that’s mainly the cast that came prepared to act and do what they do best: Be funny. Paul Giamatti is playing, once again, another version of Paul Giamatti, but the only difference here being is that he has a French Canadian accent to go with it. And even that goes in and out every once and awhile. However, that doesn’t matter because Giamatti is great at these sorts of roles and while some may find it unoriginal for him to be playing the same old, sad-sack character that we usually see him portray in any flick he shows up in, I can’t say I’m all that bored of it, especially since he throws his own little pieces of skill in there for good-measure.

For instance, Dennis isn’t considered a bad guy because he’s actually trying to make an effort to change his life. Sure, he was a crook and he got caught in the middle of his action, but at least he wants to make amends for all the mistakes he’s made in his life, despite life not really welcoming him in with wide open arms. In that aspect, Giamatti owns this role as Dennis because it shows him the world against him, and how he’ll never quite lay down, and let the world get the best of him, despite it being quite clear that he should. Still though, it’s Giamatti, and it sure as hell doesn’t matter who’s he playing, cause you love him and want to bear-hug him everytime.

They're dirty, so they obviously CAN'T be funny.

They’re dirty, so they obviously CAN’T be funny.

Same goes for Rudd, even though he’s playing a little more-against type than Giamatti may be. Nonetheless though, Rudd is still great at playing-up Rene’s charm, while also showing him as a bit of a snake-like character that has yet to divorce his own wife, yet, has no problem sleeping with Dennis’s. Yeah, if you think about it, Rudd’s character isn’t the most likable guy in the whole world, but he isn’t necessarily the most distasteful guy either, he’s just made some bad mistakes in his past that he’s sort of paying for now. Just like Dennis, his old buddy. The only difference is that Rene didn’t get caught, Dennis did, and look who paid the whole price.

See what I was talking about though with this movie’s dark view? It never ends, not even when Sally Hawkins shows up as a Jewish house-maid that comes by to pester Dennis every once and awhile, and believe it or not, actually have a nice dynamic going on between one another. She’s sort of miserable and bothered with life in her own, quirky way, whereas he’s the same, just with a more depressed, and worn-out look and feel. Their scenes are fun to watch, and bring out the best within both of each other’s acting-skills. Hell, I maybe would have even liked to see them get their own movie maybe, eh? Never mind, highly unlikely, but still. If only.

Consensus: The cast in All Is Bright excels at everything that they have to do with the thin-script, but it does come off as a bit of a bore at times, especially given the premise, where it takes place, and during what season. I mean, come on: It’s the Holidays for Christsakes!

6 / 10 = Rental!!

As usual, somebody's laughing, but Giamatti isn't. Story of his life, all in a nutshell.

As usual, somebody’s laughing, but Giamatti isn’t. Story of his life, all in a nutshell.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Red Hook Summer (2012)

Does this count as Sunday Mass?

Flik (Jules Brown) is 13-year-old, spoiled-brat who is forced to live with his grand-daddy (Clarke Peters) for a whole Summer. However, Flik isn’t doing exactly what he dreamed of this Summer when he’s with his Grandfather Enoch, who just so happens to be a pastor and trying to get Flik back in the eyes of God.

After giving us two, relatitvely-solid mainstream movies (Inside Man, Miracle at St. Anna), Spike Lee finally returns to his roots, in more ways than one. Firstly, he’s going back to indie-filmmaking which he seems to have abandoned for the longest time, and secondly, he’s back to filming in his native Brooklyn, where it just so happens that Mookie is still delivering pizza’s for Sal. However, cool your jets while you still can, people, because even though Mookie is in this flick and shows-up for about 3 minutes, this is nowhere near a Do the Right Thing sequel, or even a Do the Right Thing-caliber movie. Heck, it’s not even a Spike Lee-caliber movie, if we’re not including She Hate Me.

In the past, Lee has been attacked for being too self-indulgent with his material and not knowing how to separate style from substance, and in the past, I have stood-up for him and said, “nay”, to those attackers but here, he makes me look like a fool. The usual trademarks that we see with a Lee flick are here, however, there’s no driving-narrative to really help it out. Instead, there’s just a bunch of scenes where kids are being kids, and a crap-load of sermons about God. And for all of you people out there who were pissed about Michael Parks’ over-long sermon in Red State, don’t worry, it’s even worse here as I would say about 30 minutes of this flick is probably dedicated to these preaches about everything from God, technology, being black, being poor, being white, Obama, and so on and so forth.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

As usual, the points that Lee bring are up are reasonable and very smart, considering that this is a guy who has a big brain and a very big mouth, but they aren’t done well-enough here to be considered in your mind. Instead, all of the smart views, points, general ideas Lee has in his head and tries to get out on-screen for all of us to see and get into our minds, just fall-flat on the ground as if somewhere after the 4-year hiatus from filmmaking Lee has taken, he lost his sense of telling an important issue, with an important story. In ways, this doesn’t really feel like a Lee flick because it’s almost as if the guy just lost his skill and if that is the case, then damn. It’s disappointing to see a filmmaker of these heights just get so high up there, in terms of knowing what he’s doing, how to do it, and master his craft, to just fall-apart right in front of our eyes. You can talk as much shite on Tarantino as much as you’d like to, Spike, but the fact is: he’s making better films than yo ass.

The film runs a very long 130 minutes (that actually feels twice as long) and for about the hour-and-45-minutes, I was bored stiff-less. However, the last 20 minutes or so of the flick came-around and automatically, I found myself alive and interested in what Lee was bringing to the table. Without giving too much away, there’s a curve-ball that Lee throws at us that shows us more about Enoch than we originally thought and really livens up the story and gives us a new-perspective on all that we see. Yeah, it could be viewed at as a cheap-way for Lee to make a conventional-story, seem less conventional and more thought-provoking, but at the same time, it didn’t matter to me because it kept my interest, almost all the way until the ending, and then everything fell apart once again. But hey, those 20 minutes still kept me watching and that’s a hell of a lot more than I can say about the rest of the flick.

Get back to work, Mook!

Get back to work, Mook!

Everything in this flick may suffer, big-time, but the only person who really gives it his all and actually comes out on-top is Clarke Peters as Da Good Bishop Enoch. There is a lot about this character that could be terribly annoying and terribly one-sided, as he spends almost half-of-the-film just constantly yelling and preaching to people about how they need to get “the big man” in their lives, but Peters shows more effort than that. Peters makes this guy seem very nice, very comforting, and like a relatively normal guy that just so happens to be so high-strung on the G-O-D, that is is a rather off-putting, to say the least. Still, once this twist by the end is actually shown to us and comes into our minds, Peters handles the material very-well and gives us a glimpse at a real man, with real problems, and real, deep, dark secrets that can come out at any time. Peters is definitely the flame that keeps this fire moving and without this dude, doing his own thing, the flick would have definitely been a lot worse and painful to watch.

The reason I say that, is because when the flick isn’t focusing on Peters and all of his sermons, it’s about the forming of love between the two kids in this movie, played by youngsters Toni Lysaith and Jlues Brown. Now, as much as I hate to get on kids’ case about how they can’t and handle the material that’s thrown at them, I still can’t get past the fact that in this movie, where half of the film/story revolves around them, Lee actually gave the “okay” on some of these final-cuts, because being a director that knows how to direct actors and give some of the best performances of their careers, this is almost an embarrassment  Seriously, these kids are drop-dead terrible and the stuff they say to each other not only doesn’t feel genuine, but seems like Lee has lost his touch and should have just stuck with Nate Parker and the gang of Bloods that he lead. To be honest, and I hate to say this, but his performance, his character, and his gang, would have probably been a lot more of an interesting story to focus on, and probably a better-road for Lee to go down considering the guy is one of the best at writing stories for them. However, when it comes to kids, I think he’s got to stay away, as dirty as that may sound.

Consensus: It’s great to see Spike Lee finally back in-front of and behind-the-camera, but Red Hook Summer is not the type of flick that I was imagining all that glee coming from. It’s long, poorly-scripted, boring, and to be honest, only good and worth a recommendation for the last 20 minutes where a phenomenal performance from Clarke Peters, gets better and better by each scene.

5/10=Rental!!

"Please God, don't let Oldboy be a bust."

“Please God, don’t let Oldboy be a bust.”

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