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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2018

Small Town Crime (2018)

Big towns, small towns, medium-sized towns. Yeah, they’re all the same.

Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) used to be a cop, but because of a bust-gone-wrong, he lost his job and is now searching for that next great gig. However, he’s got a bit of a drinking-problem and no one really wants to take him on, so he mostly just goes about his life, drinking, hanging out, and doing his best to stay out of cases that he knows for a fact that he can solve. But when he finds a dead body on the side of the road, the juices begin to flow again for Mike and he decides that it’s time to take on another case, but this time, as a work-for-hire private-investigator. It’s not necessarily legal, because he’s not even licensed just yet, but he doesn’t care – he’s got a lead and he’s going to find out just what the hell happened to this body. Eventually, he unearths a massive cover-up and it becomes way more dangerous than he, or anyone else around him, ever expected it to be.

Uh oh. Look out, Johnny!

Small Town Crime is a very simple and easy-going crime-procedural that reminds me so much of a Elmore Leonard novel, it’s a shocker to see that it wasn’t originally one. Co-writers/directors Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms seem to know what they’re doing with this procedural-formula so much that, even when it seems like convention, the movie finds small, slight little ways to make it a step above the usual fray. For instance, we actually get to know these characters, their relationships with one another, and more importantly, just what this small town is like.

In other words, it’s a lot like Fargo, or literally any other Coen Brothers flick, but it doesn’t feel like a direct copy-cat. If anything, it’s a nice bit of style that’s similar, but still it’s own thing and for that, it’s an enjoyable watch. We care what happens to these characters, with this case, and the twists and turns that do come running at us make some sense and help keep the movie exciting, even when we realize that we’re in the third-act and things should be wrapping-up.

And at literally an-hour-and-a-half, it does. And it’s nice to have that: A movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but instead, plays it short, sweet, and a little fun.

Perhaps a sitcom in the future with these two? Or literally anything else?

Most of the fun, though, is attributed to watching John Hawkes get, for what seems like the first time in forever, a juicy, meaty leading-role as only John Hawkes could get. Mike Kendall is a bit of a loser, who doesn’t score much with those around him, is a little selfish, and has a drinking-problem, but the movie allows us to care for him and see why anyone would ever trust the guy. Of course, a solid portion of why we care for this guy is thanks to Hawkes being charming and lovable, literally both at the same time, but it’s also thanks to the Nelms’ for giving him a solid-role that reminds us why we need more of John Hawkes in the world, regardless of whether or not he’s starring, or supporting.

We just need him around.

And the rest of the ensemble is pretty great, too. It’s nice to see Anthony Anderson play it a little dark and serious as Mike’s best-buddy, as well as Octavia Spencer, playing Anderson’s wife and not putting up with any of Kendall’s shit. But it’s really Robert Forster, who shows up every now and then, who reminds us why he, like Hawkes, deserves to be around more. Of course, he reminded me a whole lot more of the Leonard-influence than anything else here, but that’s on-purpose; Forster is one of those great character actors who can take a small, bit-role, and make it the best thing in whatever he’s doing.

More of him, more of Hawkes, and while I’m at it, more of Small Town Crime. Please.

Consensus: Though it’s a small, rather simple procedural, Small Town Crime is still fun, enjoyable, and well-acted enough to make it a lot better and less conventional than it actually sounds.

7 / 10

Never have I ever saw John Hawkes as a bad-ass. That all changes now.

Photos Courtesy of: Saban Films

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Mom and Dad (2018)

Kids are the worst. So are parents. Basically, don’t have kids.

The Ryan family is your typical, relatively boring suburban family just trying to get by without ripping each other’s heads off in the process. There’s Brent (Nicolas Cage), who is bored and wants to have a little more excitement; there’s Kendall (Selma Blair), who wants some more love and respect in the house; there’s Carly (Anne Winters), who is always feuding with her mom, dad, and little brother, and is doing what she can to get good grades and hopefully, move out somewhere far for college; and finally, there’s Josh (Zackary Arthur), who is just a little kid and doesn’t really know what’s going on. They’re all fine and dandy, until one day, parents from all over the city start to go crazy and take their anger out on their children. But why? Better yet, will this same issue affect the Ryan family and their idyllic lives?

Though I can easily say I’m a fan in the greatest-sense possible and without any irony whatsoever, it’s pretty hard following Nic Cage’s career. For the past four-to-five years, the man hasn’t done much outside the occasional prestige pic, except show up in these low-budget, straight-to-DVD pieces of junk that honestly, nobody should even be bothering with, let alone a former Oscar-winner. And yes, even though I’m a fan, I haven’t bothered with any of these movies because, well, they just look utterly and completely awful, without it even seeming like they’re using Nic Cage to the best of his ability. I may be missing out on something, but I’m probably not.

Husband….

And with Mom and Dad, it seems like Nic Cage may finally be on the right path to retaining his glory-days.

Maybe.

I hesitate to go too far because even though Mom and Dad brings back Nic Cage to making possibly good movies again, it’s still not entirely his fault for it being pretty good. Mostly, it’s all chalked-up to the crazy and wild screenplay and direction from Brian Taylor (who’s taking a break from Mark Neveldine, who is also off on SyFy creating the pretty great Happy!) and the fact that he’s not afraid to allow this material to get so weird, so dark, so crazy, and so violent, but without ever seeming like he’s losing focus of what he’s going for. It would have been easy for him to just lose all control, throw whatever he could at the wall, and see if anything at all sticks, but there’s something of a method to Taylor’s madness and it’s what keeps Mom and Dad from going totally off-the-rails and into total crazy land.

It also helps that the movie’s pretty funny and, if you’re able to get down deep inside of its heart, wading through all of the blood, guts, gore, and hacked-limbs, you may be able to find a small, itty, bitty message about family and how we should love the ones we have, even if they can be pains in the asses. Sure, it’s hokey stuff, for sure, but Taylor seems to actually give some semblance of humanity here and not just allowing for all of the craziness to take over; even the first-half, which would typically be set-building and conflict-creation, actually works because the characters are well-defined and the dialogue they have to work with is smart and snappy.

Wife…

Unfortunately, that also creates a problem for the movie later on, when it just totally becomes crazy and over-the-top. Is it still a fun movie? Of course. No one’s doubting that, but what I am doubting is whether or not it needed to go off the deep end so much that it absolutely had to abandon whatever it was going for in the beginning. Taylor’s proven himself as a director, but as a writer, he’s surprisingly witty and it’ll be interesting to see just where he goes on his career, if he continues to do stuff solo.

Guess we’ll have to see.

Guess we’ll have to also see whether or not Cage keeps with these relatively good movies, or simply, goes back to doing utter and total crap. Cage, as said before, is a joy to watch because he’s crazy and never ever stepping down from that, but it’s really Blair who steals the show, with her small, quiet, and simmering tension boiling throughout. Whereas Cage is screaming the hokey pokey while destroying a pool-table, Blair is standing there, patiently waiting to get her chance to speak and holding everything back. She’s a true mother in the general sense and it’s why she was a perfect choice for this role and holds even greater promise for things to come for her.

Let’s hope they all capitalize on it. Please.

Consensus: Though it eventually succumbs to total craziness, Mom and Dad is a wacky, wild, biting, and rather funny dark-comedy that finally gives Blair and Cage ample opportunity to unleash their wild sides.

6.5 / 10

…together forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Momentum Pictures

The Polka King (2018)

“Pennsylvania” and “Polka” can never be mentioned in the same sentence again.

Jan Lewan (Jack Black) was a legend among the Pennsylvania polka community. He was charming, fun, talented, and most of all, a great guy with large crowds. However, he and his wife, Marla (Jenny Slate), knew that they wanted a little more out of life and it was up to Jan to come up with the grand idea: Fleece his audience out of their savings, so that they could invest in his band. Of course, they would see returns, but over time and because his fans were so in love with him and his persona, they trusted him for all that they were with. And for awhile, Jan’s life was looking pretty great; lovely wife, solid savings, a Grammy nomination, and hell, he even got to meet the Pope. But as expected, it all came crashing down when people were wondering just where there money was, what it was going towards, and when they were all going to get it back.

Jan Lewan: An American hero to us all

And clearly, Jan couldn’t come up with a clear answer.

The Polka King is one of those typical tales that seem all too crazy and weird to be real, but the fact is that it is and there’s a documentary about it. I haven’t seen it and after time, I’m pretty sure I’ll get to it, but as for right now, the Polka King remains the top information-piece about Jan Lewan, the Pennsylvania Polka King. And the reason why the movie works as well as it does is because of Lewan himself, his tale, and just how bizarre his tale truly got.

In fact, a lot of movies with similar subjects get by on this point alone and it’s why the Polka King, for so long, is entertaining. It can be funny, but in a dark way where you know all of the fun times are all going to come crashing down and people will be sad by the end. There’s a certain tragedy behind the Polka King that co-directors Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes tap into, but only ever so slightly. Mostly, they keep an arms-length from allowing this material to get either too dark, or too light.

It’s somewhere slap-dab in the middle and it can sometimes feel like it’s keeping the material from truly reaching the heights that it should.

Yes, all people in Pennsylvania dress this tacky.

That said, it’s mostly dependent on Jack Black’s performance as Lewan, another wild and colorful character that Black’s perfect at channeling into. While his Polish-accent may, at times, sound faulty, it works because it makes this character who seems so manipulated and constructed, feel exactly like a caricature of what his screen-presence is; we know that he’s not as lovely and as nice as he lets himself come across as. It’s why Black’s performance is the main reason why the Polka King works as well as it does: There’s something deeper, darker, and much more sinister in there. It hardly ever comes out, but the slightest hints we get of it, are worth watching.

Same goes for the rest of the cast, especially Jenny Slate as Jan’s wife, Marla, who feels like she’s darker than she is portrayed, too. But we get brief instances of her trying to distance herself from being in her husband’s shadow and it promises a much more different, much more interesting movie. It never comes together, but it promises at so much more.

Much like the Polka King itself. But hey, at least it’s entertaining.

Consensus: Though it never gets as deep and as dark as it should, the Polka King benefits from a light and entertaining look at someone who’s much meaner and sinister than is let on, played to perfection by an impressive Jack Black.

6.5 / 10

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now!”

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Blame (2018)

High school will never change.

Abigail (Quinn Shephard) returns to high school after a nervous breakdown and hopes to get everything back to normal. Of course, with this being high school, no one ever forgets about her and her crazy tactics, which is why, on the very first day, rumors are already swirling about her. One of the leaders in bringing up the rumors is Melissa (Nadia Alexander), a type of mean-girl who has some issues of her own, but uses her anger and rage to hide it all. But both of their lives change when a substitute teacher (Chris Messina) fills in for the semester and wakes both of them up. Abigail is awoken because she sees something of a tortured soul within him, whereas Melissa doesn’t like the attention that Abigail is getting and decides that it’s up to her to take matters into her own hands.

Damn cheerleaders and their cliques!

Blame, for all of its missteps and flaws, is still an impressive work because of its 22-year-old director/co-writer/editor/producer/star Quinn Shephard, who takes something that could have easily been a dumb, conventional after-school special, and turn into something raw, gritty, mean, and a little sad. It still feels like the work of someone incredibly young, who is just starting out and getting used to the game of making movies, but for the most part, it’s a solid debut and is a sure sign of things to come.

That said, the movie’s got some problems, and it mostly comes through in its plot. Mostly, Shephard likes to have a little bit too much going on; there’s Abigail’s story, there’s Melissa’s story, there’s the subsitiute teacher’s story, there’s a few other girls stories, there’s the Crucible, and oh yeah, there’s the various romantic subplots that come up every once and awhile. While all are interesting in their own rights, mashed-up in a 100 minute movie, it just doesn’t totally work, with some parts feeling much better than others.

Move on, girls. It gets better.

That said, there’s a realism to this that I appreciated, mostly because Shephard seems to know and understand how rough and grueling high school can be, especially when you’re a little different. Some of it may have to do with the fact that she’s young enough to remember high school like it was literally yesterday, but there’s no nostalgia or sunshine here – it’s just mean teenagers, treating each and everyone of each other awfully. Shephard doesn’t shy away from this, nor does she ever seem to be trying to get across some tacky message about bullying and why it’s all wrong.

Basically, she’s just showing us that high school is a pretty rough time and for some, she’s not wrong.

What helps this all out, too, is that the ensemble is all pretty good. Shephard herself is an interesting and compelling presence on the screen, who can get away with a lot, without saying much of anything at all; Alexander is rough, raw, and a little unlikable, until you realize that there’s possibly more behind her evil and possibly cruel intentions; and Messina, while playing a bit of a loser-like character, gains sympathy by showing us that he’s just as sad, confused, and depressed as the students he’s teaching and doing his best to put up with. The whole love-angle feels like it could have been more fully fleshed-out, but believe it or not, Shephard and Messina have a nice chemistry to where you see the attraction and possibly, love, but you also don’t want to buy into it, either.

So conflicting. Yet, so beautiful. High school, in a nut shell.

Consensus: As a debut, Blame serves as a promising, if also messy high-school drama that digs in deep and doesn’t shy away from the rougher aspects of adolescence.

6 / 10

Yes! But also, no! I don’t know! Ugh!

Photos Courtesy of: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Before I Wake (2018)

So, I don’t know, maybe don’t adopt? Or something?

Mark (Thomas Jane) and Jessie (Kate Bosworth) have been wanting to desperately have a kid, but they just can’t, so they decide to adopt a cute and nice little eight-year-old named Cody (Jacob Tremblay) who, inexplicably, has been without a family for quite some time. And while it takes awhile for them to get used to each other, eventually, they begin to grow into their own little family, where they mess around, get along, and generally have a great time together. But that all begins to change when weird, downright spooky things begin happening and no one really knows why, except for Cody himself. And then, it all becomes evidently clear why Cody has been by his own for so very long and Mark and Jessie have no idea what to do. Should they give him back and move on to the next kid and hope that there’s not some evil spirits following them around? Or stick it out with Cody and treat him as one of their own, fight these spirits, and live together in perfect harmony?

There’s mom.

Before I Wake has, infamously, been trapped in release-hell for the past few years and I’m not really sure why. The movie isn’t all that awful to the point of where the studio involved would feel ashamed to ever release it, nor is it really all that great to begin with. It’s the kind of movie that gets made, doesn’t have much hype behind it, and of course, due to some other random business-reasons, gets lost in the shuffle, is known and/or talked about, and eventually, gets released to the wide masses. But why did Before I Wake take so long?

No clue. And really, I don’t care. Had the movie stayed on the shelf longer, I would have been perfectly fine with that, because while I do appreciate how Mike Flanagan is trying to single-handedly change the game of horror, after this and Gerald’s Game, I hate to say but I’m growing a little worrisome. Granted, Gerald’s Game was a tad more inspired than this here Before I Wake, but both suffer from the same problem in that there just isn’t much of a story to really work with; Before I Wake does, thankfully, benefit from a solid family-dynamic, but never focuses on it enough to where it’s completely effective, the way it should have been to heighten the emotional drama.

Instead, it’s much more focused on the ghouls, ghosts, and butterflies that mysteriously begin to pop-up and yeah, it just takes away from everything else.

There’s son.

Of course, I’m not one to say that Before I Wake didn’t need all this horror in the first place, because it’s most certainly Flanagan’s wheelhouse, it just doesn’t feel necessary. It’s like the Babadook in that we actually deal with some real issues about love, about family, and about surviving together, as one, except that Before I Wake only occasionally passes on these ideas and themes, only to then get distracted by the spooky stuff. And it doesn’t work, really, because the spooky stuff either doesn’t make sense, or isn’t even all that scary; it’s a little cheesy, a little schlocky, and because we don’t totally care about what happens to the characters, a little dull.

That said, the cast gives it their all, with Thomas Jane putting in a pretty great performance as the dad of the family. Jane seems like he’s in a totally different movie where he’s cool, funny, and always one step ahead of the plot. Which is why it’s a shame that he gets saddled with a role that, honestly, would have been better in a much more character-based drama. Kate Bosworth is good, too, in that she has to handle a difficult role in being the matriarch of the family and it works. Tremblay is fine, too, although, because he was so young and because his role wasn’t all that demanding, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Or, at least, not as much as he would continue to do in the next few years or so. Something everybody else involved with this movie would be doing.

Thankfully.

Consensus: Though it does aim for some heartfelt notions about love and family, mostly, Before I Wake‘s a dull, unemotional, and unscary horror flick that could have stayed on the shelf for a lot longer, or even, forever.

4 / 10

Oh, and there’s a ghost-creature. Or something.

Photos Courtesy of: Relativity Media