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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Alicia Witt

The Upside of Anger (2005)

Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.

While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.

All women eventually succumb to the "Costner-charm".

All women eventually succumb to the “Costner-charm”.

Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.

For better, as well as for worse.

But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.

Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.

However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!

That Joan Allen: Takin' a drag and just lookin' spicy!

That Joan Allen – takin’ a drag and just lookin’ spicy!

Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.

The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.

Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Four Rooms (1995)

People will do anything for a tip.

It’s the first day on the job for Ted the bellhop (Tim Roth), and from what it seems like, it won’t be a very pleasant one. Early on, he gets told the ins, the outs, the what to do’s, and the what not to do’s on the job by an aging, supposed retiring bellman that gives him an idea of what he should expect taking people’s luggage up to their room, answering their phone calls and the most important of all, waiting on them for a tip. So with this all out of the way, Ted gets ready for one of the biggest and most hectic nights of the year, New Year’s Eve. And what do you know it? Ted’s night ends up being an eventful one, albeit one that he finds his life threatened on more than a few occasions. But it’s all in the good name of a sizable tip, right?

Like with most anthology films, the idea here seems smart and somewhat nifty: Get at least four low-key, up-and-coming indie film-makers, give them a budget and give them free reign to basically just strut their stuff for no less than 20 minutes each, slap the Miramax logo on it, and release it to the mass-audience. Seemed like a really promising idea that could have worked wonders for all of the film-makers involved, but somehow, it more or less just ended up killing two promising careers, while just injuring two others.

Take a wild guess as to whose career’s were killed, and which ones were just injured for a short while. Not that hard I guess, but let me just tell you through my usual-way of reviewing anthology films; taking it one-by-one, segment-by-segment. Shall we?

Random twitching example #2.

Random twitching example #2.

1. The Missing Ingredient – This is the one that starts it all off, and that’s not a good thing at all. In short, this segment is easily the worst. It made me feel like I made a huge mistake actually even bothering with this movie. Director Allison Anders gives us a cool idea in which a coven of witches who need male sperm to complete their ritual and just so happened to choose Ted as he comes stumbling on in. While the ground-work was there for this to be not just hilarious, but all sorts of weird and cooky, in a fun-way, Anders doesn’t even bother going anywhere with this. Sure, for horny dudes, there is plenty of hot boobage to be seen, but for anybody who wants a little bit of craziness mixed with their covens, will be most likely disappointed as Anders seemed to really drop the ball with this, and not know what’s considered “funny”, and what’s considered “boring.” Easily the worst out of the four, but it’s not like the next one is a peach neither.

2. The Wrong Man – Things seem to get a bit better with this segment, however, not by much. Director Alexandre Rockwell keeps things small and subdued, but not anywhere near being considered “sweet”, as this whole segment just meanders endlessly, without ever really moving outside of the actual hotel room it’s placed in. The whole story is in which a married-couple (Jennifer Beals and David Proval) basically plays this little sex-game where he pretends that she’s been screwing around him and picks out whatever poor fellow just so happens to stroll through that door, interrogate him, wave a gun in front of his face, take his pills, and basically, just scare the shorts off of him. There are moments in this segment where the wheels seemed to be turning and there seemed to be some moments of promise, but once the segment is all said and done with, I couldn’t help but feel like it went on a bit long. Especially once Beals’ character just started yelling out any term for the word “penis” she could think of right away. Sure, it made me laugh (probably my first one), but it was only because it was a random moment of creative spontaneity that the first segment didn’t seem to have.

Thankfully though, it does get better from here and begins to feel like something worth watching, rather than the first two awful-pieces.

3. The Misbehavers – Antonio Banderas plays a tough and sinister father-of-two that wants to take his wife on a night out on the town, in hopes of getting laid and therefore, igniting the spark in their marriage that probably sizzled-out once kids came along and screwed everything up. But, knowing that these same kids can’t come out with them, he decides to intimidate Ted intoi watching over them, and making sure that they “don’t misbehave”. It seems easy, and with the price for this little mission being $500, it seems even easier. However, with these two kids, nothing is quite as easy as it seems and eventually, the room itself starts to smell and once that happens, all hell breaks loose. So yeah, the plot-line for this segment is dumb, but with Robert Rodriguez behind-the-wheel, it’s anything but. Actually, that’s not true. It is still dumb, but in a “fun” way in which one can only associate with Rodriguez and his style of film-making. It starts off simple and small, but as time goes on, and Rodriguez really gets the brain working, you can see just how much havoc he can throw on top of the other and once all is said and done and we get the final-line of this segment, you know that, if anything, the whole movie was it at least worth it for just this whole time-span of 15-20 minutes. It doesn’t even matter if the last segment blows, all we know is that this is the segment people should be wanting to see and talk about.

When you do have a movie in which "the chick from Say Anything" gets and stays topless for more than five minutes, I guess you have something "to watch".

When you do have a movie in which “the chick from Say Anything” gets and stays topless for more than five minutes, I guess you have something “to watch”.

But of course, the last segment is done by none other than Quentin Tarantino himself and, as we all know, the guy has a bit of a thing for stealing the spotlight of movies, and his segment here is no different.

4. The Man from Hollywood – The plot-line is simple: Ted stumbles upon a bunch of fast-cat, Hollywood big-shots (Bruce Willis being among them), who con him into doing something for a hefty price, as idiotic as the act may be. Oh, and there’s a bet involved somehow, someway. Basically, being that this is a Tarantino-segment, you can expect a lot of witty lines that involved pop-culture, violence, sex and a bunch of other talk that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from actual human-beings who grace us with their presence on the same planet we call Earth. That said, considering the rest of the film that came before this, it’s a blast to watch, keeps you interested, laughing, a bit tense and overall, entertained as if Tarantino was the one they really were leaning on for this to work and that’s exactly what they got. In hindsight, it’s not the best thing that Tarantino has ever done or touched (especially when also speaking of his acting), but when you place his segment against the three others, his definitely comes out on-top and a reason to see this whole film. Although you do have to get through two shitty segments, and one pretty good one.

And through all of these segments, there’s none other than Tim Roth himself acting his ass off through them, which is not a good thing. For some odd reason or another, Roth is given the order to carry-out this overly-used, spastic-twitch of his that carries on throughout most of his segments in which he stammers and bumbles more than Hugh Grant on a bad day. It gets old real quick and just becomes random, as if there was no other reason to make this character interesting than to just have him do and say all of these odd things. Roth tries, but he can’t help but suffer due to doing whatever it was that he was told. However, when he’s told to dial it down a notch and just let the segments for speak themselves, is usually when he’s at his most watchable, as well as the same could be said for the movie itself. And mostly, this occurs during the last two segments. Strange how things work themselves out, right?

Consensus: If you counter in the fact that only two of the four segments in Four Rooms work, then I guess you could consider this “watchable” in the least bit. But, then again, if you want to save yourself some precious time, effort and/or money, then just watch the last two segments somewhere on YouTube. I’m sure you’ll be able to find them somewhere.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Talk about a party I'd like to involved with on New Years Eve. Speaking of which, Happy New Years Eve everyone. Get out, get trashed, but most of all, don't do anything I wouldn't do! Woo hoo!

Talk about a party I’d like to involved with on New Years Eve. Speaking of which, Happy New Years Eve everyone. Get out, get trashed, but most of all, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! Woo hoo!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Citizen Ruth (1996)

CitizenRuthNever would have happened if the people involved weren’t silly, and just wrapped their willies. Or, I guess just “willy”.

Poor old Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern). Not only is she homeless, addicted to huffing paint on a regular-basis, and not able to see her kids, but now she’s pregnant with her fourth child. And trust us, four is enough for her, and lord, even she knows it. That’s why she plans on having an abortion as soon as possible, that is, until the “Baby Savers” get ahold of her and try to make her keep it, all in the good lord’s name who don’t really seem to care about her or the baby, they just want the publicity that somebody is listening to their ways and not thinking otherwise. But Ruth knows that she wants to get rid of the baby, so she then gets taken in by the pro-choice group that actually had a spy (Swoosie Kurtz) in the pro-life group. At first, things with the pro-choice group seem all fine and dandy, with Ruth getting all sorts of lovely treatment in hopes that she’ll get rid of the baby and stick to their side, however, things change around once the pro-life group offers her $15,000 to keep the baby and let it live. And then, the whole deal gets changed around again once pro-choicers offer her the same amount, if not more to get rid of it. What’s poor old little Ruth to do when she has all of this money being waved around in her face, and a baby still in her stomach? My oh my, questions, questions, questions.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen just about all of his movies that Alexander Payne sure does love to poke fun at people. But already in the year 2013, we know this. Back in 1996, nobody had a clue what this guy was capable of doing, or even what his name was. All that they knew was that there was a movie out, that dealt with abortion, starred Laura Dern and that was basically it.

Exactly what I do on an airplane. Minus the blue paint. That is unless I'm not sitting in first-class. In that case, I just huff the hell away.

Exactly what I do on an airplane. Minus the blue paint. That is unless I’m not sitting in first-class. In that case, I just huff the hell away.

And over 17 years later, that’s all people still know of it as and quite frankly, rightfully so.

While I can’t get on Payne’s case too much considering that this was his first movie, I will say that he does go for the gull when it comes approaching the topic on-hand. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, the abortion debate will always be one up for much discussion and controversy, and it’s how funny Payne turned that on its side in a satirical way, highlighting both sides to the best of his ability. Of course it’s easy to poke fun at the heavy-duty Christians that pray to the lord, hail him as the almighty and banish all those who decide to kill their babies to hell, but it never seemed so easy to poke the same type of fun at the liberals on the other side of the coin, which is what really shocked me here. Rather than showing which side he’s on more, he sort of just lets them both speak for themselves, with them both seeming greedy and ill-tempered, yet well-intentioned, as if what they are doing is what they truly believe in as the right way to go about things in your daily-life. Their only problem is that they don’t know how to go about it in a nicer way.

That said, the movie definitely doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know about the subject of abortion, the people that get them, perform them or support them as an action. Mainly, the movie just gives us a story about a girl who gets caught in the middle of this whole media-frenzy where she and her baby are the center of attention, and the topic of abortion is lingering over it. While I do, once again, give Payne credit for spinning this in a way to where it plays both sides view-points in a sympathetic, fair manner, the movie itself just never got over that hurdle for me to where I was totally, and utterly involved.

Plenty of food-for-thought if you think about how far we’ve come as a society in discussing the topic of abortion, but that’s all it is: A thinking piece. Sure, we have characters, character-development, a witty script and even some heartfelt insights to the way humans interact, think and get their points across, but they all just feel like filler for the real attraction of this whole movie: Abortion. I know it sounds terrible to use that as a selling-point for a movie, but it seems like that’s what the creators behind this movie did, which doesn’t matter it any better. It just makes it a smart decision in order to get your movie seen and noticed by dozens of people, which is why I have to give more credit to Payne.

Good job on the advertising, bud. Not-so good job on the final-product itself. Oh well. You picked yourself back up in the years to come, so all is forgiven.

Like what my mommy did when I was still in her belly. And look what good that's done me!

Like what my mommy did when I was still in her belly. And look what good that’s done me!

But where this flick really feels like a total disappointment is in the way that it wastes a very talented cast, giving them material that feels like a bunch of ham-handed speeches that do have a point, but are shown to us in the wrong format. For instance, you have great character actors like Kurtwood Smith, Swoozie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place and even M.C. Gainey showing up, looking like they’re going to bring some of their miraculous personalities to the script, but in reality, all they do is become victims of Payne’s preaches. They all do what they can to make the material worth more than just a series of thought-provoking lines, speeches and discussion-starters, but overall, they just succumb to the problems and are left with nothing else to do.

And then of course we have Laura Dern as Ruth, and as talented as this gal may be, she too can’t help but become a victim to the weak-material, if not even worse due to how annoying her character can be at times. I get that Ruth is supposed to be a despicable piece of a white girl trailer-trash, however, there could have been more substance to her than what we got. Once again, Dern’s performance is another case where we have a terribly talented actress, given this piece of material that has reaching for the stars, but ends up coming down empty-handed with nothing to show. Well, except for maybe a spot on her resume that shows she’s got those indie-chops.

Consensus: Payne never chooses a side to stick with in Citizen Ruth, and is the smartest decision he makes throughout the whole entire movie, which brings up a lot of smart, thought-provoking points about the abortion debate, but ends up being just that, no substance added or involved.

5 /10 = Rental!!

Like I always say, "Bring Burt Reynolds in to liven things up. Just make sure he has his 'stache."

Like I always say, “Bring Burt Reynolds in to liven things up. Just make sure he has the ‘stache.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB