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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: Stephen Frears

Philomena (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

HELL TO THE NO!!

But then again, I can see why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10 = Rental!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

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The Grifters (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nope, Warren's still bigger."

“Nope, Warren’s still bigger.”

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

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

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

80′s teen heart-throb he is no more.

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

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

7/10=Rental!!

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

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

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