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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Amin Joseph

Take Out (2004)

Tip your drivers, people. Please.

Ming Ding (Charles Jang) is an illegal Chinese immigrant working as a deliveryman for a Chinese take-out shop in New York City. On a typical day, Ming puts up with a lot of crap from customers who are either too rude, or too unappreciative of someone of his delivery-skills. But because Ming knows very little English and is just trying to get by, he doesn’t care too much – he just continues to ride on, delivering treats to random New Yorkers, and getting very small tips, whenever they do come around. Problem is, Ming is behind with payments on his huge debt to the smugglers who brought him to the United States and he’s got until the end of the day to deliver the money that is due. After borrowing most of the money from friends and relatives, Ming realizes that the remainder must come from the day’s delivery tips. In order to do so, he must make more than double his average daily income.

“America blows, man. Everyone’s so angry here.”

You’ve got to love co-writer and co-director Sean Baker, who did this movie with Shih-Ching Tsou, for not ever bucking to convention. Mostly all of his movies focus on the outliers of society, the ones we don’t normally see as the main focus in a full-length feature-flick, where they aren’t just given the spotlight, but the ample opportunity to show their side of the story and the argument that sometimes comes with having a story be all about them. It’s also always interesting of Baker to never make it seem like his movie’s following any certain conventional plot, or story – mostly, we’re just plopped-down in the middle of someone’s life, where we are forced to sit there, watch, observe, and take them all in for what they are. Of course, this can be awfully intimate and uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the raw beauty that Baker gets away with in all of his flicks.

And Take Out is no exception. In fact, it’s one of his better ones.

By focusing on the small, meek, mild and awfully quiet Ming, Baker is able to tell us a great deal about this person’s life, without really telling us much of anything at all. He goes about his day, delivering food, getting crappy tips, and constantly wondering if he’s going to have enough cheddar to pay-off his dealers. We of course learn more about his life over the course of the movie, but Baker gives us character-development in smart, small ways that sort of happen without us ever really knowing; just sitting there and watching him gives us a better sense of the rhythm in which his life is lived.

Look at all that effort! Give him a big tip! Come on!

And therefore, we are not only more sympathetic to Ming himself and his situation, but many more out there just like Ming in our country, trying their best to survive, with very little resources. So often we see in today’s day and age the criticism of immigrants coming over to the U.S., soaking up benefits, taking up space, and generally taking away jobs from those natives who deserve it the most (this is all ridiculous and false, mind you), but little do these irate and pissed-off people know and understand that what they are doing, what they are trying to accomplish is, above all else, the American Dream. They, just like you or I, want to get by, be safe, happy, and have a little bit of money in their pockets, in hope of a better future for themselves, or their loved-ones.

It’s the notion of what this country was built on and to rob others of that privilege, is awful.

Take Out is the kind of movie that shows this, but never quite hits us over-the-head with it; Baker’s way too smart to really stand on a soapbox and preach to the rest of the world. Instead, he gives us a small, contained, but always compelling feature about someone doing what they can to survive and make a life, in the Big Apple, and not quite knowing full-well what’s going on around him. He’s just a small fish, in a very large pond and there’s a lot more out there like him.

Consensus: With a naturalistic look and feel, Take Out never feels too stylistically challenging, but is better off for that, giving us a glimpse into the life of an interesting, yet, all too sad individual who is far too similar to others out there in the world.

8.5 / 10

Just another day in Chinatown. With lots and lots of rain.

Photos Courtesy of: Take Out the Movie.com

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The Gambler (2014)

Albert Camus and gambling. How could I have not seen the similarities before?

Literary professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t seem like he’s happy about his life. For one, his grand-father just died and has practically left him little-to-no money. Bennett also happens to have a gambling problem, that gets him into all sorts of trouble with powerful kingpins of the underground poker world. And, to make matters slightly worse, he has a job that he absolutely hates, where all he does is practically yell at each and everyone of his students, telling them that not only are they “not great”, but they’re also wasting his precious time. So yeah, Bennett doesn’t necessarily have the best life in the world of all person’s lives, but he does have a possible-girlfriend (Brie Larson), a very rich mom (Jessica Lange), and nearly seven days to settle all of his debts before it’s too late. But a week isn’t so bad if all you have to do is cobble up a couple hundred thousand dollars, right? Well, wrong.

One of the main problems with the Gambler lies solely within the lead character himself, Jim Bennett. For starters, he’s not a very likable, nor sympathetic one to say the least, but he also is quite repetitive without hardly any rhyme or reason. And then, there’s the fact that Mark Wahlberg, of all people, was cast in this role as a literary professor at what seems to be a very prodigious university somewhere in California. Both go hand-in-hand with what makes the Gambler a poor movie, but they’re both hard to describe to a person who hasn’t seen the movie. It just feels, while watching it, very mis-matched and awkward. Almost like a blind date you set up between two mutual friends; you know that they may have similarities and be a nice match, but you’re not sure how they’re going to approach one another.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

I would make a joke about the lack of resemblance between these two, but the movie already does that for me. So whatever.

It’s a bad simile, I know, but it’s all I got to work with since this is a very frustrating movie.

First off, the lead protagonist of Jim Bennett isn’t a very likable one, which is fine and all if a movie at least shows us that there is something to him that’s not only interesting, but turns him into something of a tragic-figure. However, the writing for Bennett is too repetitious and simple to make him as anything but; Jim Bennett is, simply put, a dick. But he’s the worst kind of a dick – he’s that kind of rich, self-entitled, whiny dick that you see at a dinner-party, who everybody crowds around and listens to all because he seems like a smart, know-it-all dude, when in reality, he’s just a bone-head who pisses, moans, and cries about everything in life, when he doesn’t really need to. Everything’s been practically handed to him on a silver spoon and the only problems that he ever faces in life, are ones that are completely made because of him and nobody else.

Yet, the movie makes him out to be some sort of martyr that we’re not only supposed to feel bad for because he’s so pissed off and angry about life, but also because he apparently has a gambling problem; one that’s never really brought out well enough to be classified as such. What I mean is that while you see certain movies about people with addictions, mainly gambling addictions, you know that they are, the way they are, is because they love the trill of winning whatever big con it is. In the case of gambler’s, they love the excitement of winning a bet and absolutely chase that for as long as they can. Here though, with Bennett, we never see his utter joy and/or pleasure for winning; we just see him bet a lot of stupid hands in the game of Blackjack, lose, and then continue to dig himself in a deeper-hole for no other reason other than, well, he can.

To me, this not only makes him an unlikable, nearly insufferable character to watch and have to stick with for two hours. Not to mention, it also wastes the talents of Mark Wahlberg, an actor who, when given the right material to work with, is strong and impressive, but seems like he is way out of his depth here as, get ready for it, a literary professor who may have reached his mid-life crisis already. I know it sounds like a joke, but judging by how this movie portrays Bennett, as well as the rest of its story, it isn’t. It’s pure, unabashed drama, and it’s hard to take in as fact or compelling.

You’d think that casting-directors would think twice about putting Marky Mark in roles of teachers, but oh well.

Though, to be fair, I have to hold back on the hate of Marky Mark’s performance, because he’s not all bad; you can tell by the fact that he lost about 60 pounds, that he truly is trying with this role. But the problem remains that he’s just not believable enough in this role as a professor who just preaches about the monotony and shit-heap reality that is life. There are some instances in which we see the good, old school Marky Mark come out (mostly in scenes where he’s acting smarter than the person he’s talking to and/or ready to brawl), but overall, it’s a mixed-bag of a performance, that could have easily been avoided, had Wahlberg not been cast in a role that clearly doesn’t suit him well.

Then again though, it all comes back to this character of Jim Bennett; he’s not nice, not interesting, and sure as hell isn’t compelling enough to make this movie work. He’s just a blank-slate, that’s made even worse by the dumb, idiotic decisions he makes in life that not only impact his own life – one that he’s already made pretty clear he doesn’t care for. But, even worse, he impacts those around him who love him, care for him, and actually care about their own, relatively pleasant lives as human beings. He doesn’t care, so therefore, we’re supposed to care.

And because we don’t care about him, or the actions he makes, there’s hardly any tension to be found in the Gambler. Sure, some of the scenes where Bennett’s betting his life away on what seem to be ordinary games of Blackjack, do have some real suspense to them, but it’s only because of the way they’re filmed. It’s not that we’re held in suspense because Bennett may actually die if he loses whatever hand he’s playing with, but because director Rupert Wyatt actually seems to care for how this film looks and feels. Even if his lead character is terribly-written, he’s still trying and that, for the most part, at least made it watchable.

"The King stay the King." Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

“The King stay the King.” Shit! Wrong Wire reference!

Although, Wyatt isn’t the only one trying here. It’s the rest of the supporting cast that show up every so often to not only make things a little bit brighter, but make a lot of these self-important speeches the script frequently lapses into actually interesting. John Goodman has the brightest end of the stick as a bald loan shark that Bennett meets with on a few occasions, and talks about how America is build on “fuck you”. It’s a lovely bit that adds some flair to this film, but also counts as one of the rare speeches here that actually works and doesn’t seem like the writer behind it is just trying his hardest to sound smart.

The one’s who don’t really come away as nicely as Goodman does with his speeches, are Michael K. Williams, Alvin Ing, and Anthony Kelley; with the former two playing actual mob bosses who Bennett runs into conflict with, and the later just being a student of his, who is constantly on the discouraging end of Bennett’s many rants about paying attention in class and not trying to get by in the academic-world because of athletics. None of these characters really seem believable, and it’s even more evident once they open up their mouths and start going on about stuff we either don’t care for, or have much of a foundation to really build our own feelings on. We’re just sort of sitting there, wondering what it all means, and end up not caring at all.

The only impressive part about this supporting cast is that the two female roles, played by Jessica Lange and Brie Larson, actually feel pertinent to the story and add some dramatic-heft to a piece that definitely needed it. Lange plays Bennett’s mother and has maybe two dramatic scenes where you can definitely tell she loves and cares for her dastardly son, but wants to be rid of his problems and hopes that he does to. And Larson, who I’m glad was cast here, at least makes some sense of her character’s motivations, especially when we’re supposed to believe somebody as lovely and chirpy as hers would fall for someone as downtrodden and inexplicably depressed as Bennett. They are two fine performances in their own rights, that go a long way.

Especially for something as disappointing as this.

Consensus: Occasionally entertaining and interesting, but mostly, where the Gambler loses points in is because its lead character is terribly-written, and suffers even more from a miscast Mark Wahlberg playing it.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Ladies, don't act like you aren't impressed.

Ladies, don’t act like you aren’t impressed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Homefront (2013)

Them Southern belles and boys don’t take too kindly to British lads around their parks.

After a drug-bust goes slightly wrong, DEA Agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) and his little girl Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) relocate to a small, abandoned Louisiana house where they are practically left alone and allowed to resume their normal, everyday lives as if nothing ever happened. It seems to be going well for awhile too, that is until Maddy violently retaliates to a bully, breaking this kid’s nose and everything. The boy’s mother (Kate Bosworth), despite looking like she’s constantly in need of a meth-fix everytime she shows up, somehow starts up all the right trouble, giving Phil Broker the kind of unwanted reputation that usually drives out new-folk to this small town. It gets so bad, actually, that she even goes so far as to call up her drug-dealing, big bro Gator (James Franco) who knows a thing or two about Phil’s past that puts him and Maddy in some serious danger. Then again though, Phil being played by Jason Statham and all, we know he won’t go down without a fight.

First things first, I think it’s best to tell everybody right off-the-bat that this flick is written by none other than Mr. Sly Stallone himself, which already gives you the idea that not a single ounce of this movie should be taken seriously. Because, in the past couple of years, with the movie’s he’s been participating in, it doesn’t seem like he has, so why the hell should we, you know? Some part of me wishes that this movie took that idea and ran with it, but instead, this is what we’re left with: A big, dumb, brainless action-thriller, somehow disguised as deadly-serious, slow-burner.

Even with the gun in his hand, The Stath's still got time for his daughter.

Even with the gun in his hand, The Stath’s still got time for his daughter.

And that’s the biggest mistake I think Sly could have ever made with this material.

With a movie this outrageous, it almost feels like you just have to make it something that’s quick, loud and to the point, just so we don’t realize all of the cracks with the important elements that go into making a movie. Elements like say, acting, writing, directing, originality, and so on and so forth. Nope, you can’t find much of that here, and even when you do, it’s not of any great quality to really call home about. Instead, we’re mainly just presented with something that should have been a totally fun, exciting and well-worth it time-burner, but we get something that takes its time a little too much.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m fine with a movie trying to tell its story, set-up its pace and give us characters to care about, mainly through developing them and showing dimensions, but this isn’t that type of movie. It’s much more of something that should be balls-to-the-walls crazy, over-the-top and nutty, as if we were watching a movie dear ol’ Sly himself would have actually starred in way back when. Heck, I don’t know why he didn’t star in this one as it was! Sure, he’s a bit older now and most of the fighting scenes would have looked hella cheesy and tacked-on with him moving around, but who cares. His type of silliness would have made this movie at least somewhat charming, rather than just emotionless, but sometimes fun.

But you know, I can’t really get on a flick like this, because when it’s having fun, it’s a good time to be around for. The only problem with all of the fine action set-pieces is that once we actually get to the point where one occurs, it takes a long while for us to get to the next one where we have to pay attention to the characters, the directing and the most simplest of them all, the acting. Now, I’m not saying that any of these actors in these roles are per se, bad, it’s just that they don’t necessarily bring anything to the table, nor do they make the material better or worse with their presences being felt. They’re just there to act like window-dressing for a whole bunch of explosions, guns, bullets, drugs, sex and violence. A whole lotta violence too, may I add.

Jason Statham, whether you love him, or you definitely hate him, there’s a certain charm about him in these movies that somehow works, if only just for his character. He doesn’t really try to dig any deeper with this wholesome daddy, yet, savage beast known as Phil Broker, but he gets the job done more than he doesn’t. Especially when he’s just kicking ass, taking names and saying some sort of cocky one-liner that’s only funny to the people closest to the speakers who can actually decipher what the hell he’s saying underneath that freakin’ accent. Seriously, I get that the guy is born and bred from England, but he needs to help us out a bit with that “talk” of his. I mean, seriously. It’s literally been eight or so years since the last time he was in a Guy Ritchie movie. Help us out, pal!

However, the strangest thing behind this whole movie is that this is being advertised as yet another, big, dumb, stupid, action-vehicle starring Jason Statham, and somehow, these really well-known, very talented stars got involved with the supporting cast, making you wonder why they even signed up to do this in the first place. But after awhile, it becomes clear: They just want to stretch their wings out a bit. That’s not a bad thing neither, considering some of these names in here do desperately need to show us that they still got the goods to sell us on anything it is that they do, but there’s nothing at all for them to do.

Yeah, I mean that's trashy, right?

Yeah, I mean that’s trashy, right?

The most prime example of this fact would be James Franco’s Gator. We all know that James Franco loves to switch things up with his career, whether he’d be playing a wanna-be-gangsta, Allen Ginsberg, or even himself, it doesn’t matter because Franco’s one of the brightest and bestest talents right now that loves doing cool things with his career, and seems to always succeed at pulling them off, no matter how random or obscure those decisions of his may be. This is where I think he goes a bit too far with those odd choices, but it’s less of his fault, and more of the script, although he’s definitely partially to be blamed, too. The problem with Gator isn’t that he’s a bad dude, it’s just that he isn’t very interesting or even worth even being scared by. You sort of always know that Statham’s going to kick this guy’s ass no matter what, and most likely go home with a win at the end of the day. Franco definitely could have made this character interesting, compelling or even fun to watch, but oddly enough, Franco kind of straight-faces his performance the whole time, despite this guy being a backwater meth-dealer, which is already plenty enough substance to make a person want to go crazy with a performance. So basically, if you put these two problems together, you just get a lame character, with a very strange and dull performance from Franco.

Something I never thought was possible, but hey, I guess anything truly is possible in a Jason Statham, action-vehicle.

The rest of the cast fair-off a bit better than Franco, however, it’s obvious that they definitely try all that they can do to make this work as well. Sometimes, painfully so. Winona Ryder does what Franco should have done, and gives her biker-trash girlfriend enough craziness to actually make us want to feel like we want to watch her, however, it’s pretty hard to watch when all you know that she’s doing is just acting all crazy, just to act crazy and try to steer our minds away from the bad script; Frank Grillo plays, YET AGAIN, another villain but he handles it fine and shows that he can still steal the show, even if he does show up with only about ten minutes left in the movie; and Kate Bosworth, despite never impressing me before in her long-storied career, somehow becomes the most believable and most interesting character out of the whole bunch, despite her practically yelling, hootin’, hollerin’ and looking like she’s in desperate need of a shower, everytime it is that we see her. Never been too big of a fan of hers, but I’m always ready to be impressed and surprised. And hey, it’s like what I said before: Anything truly is possible in a Jason Statham, action-vehicle.

Consensus: While there are spouts of action, fun and tension to be found in Homefront, they still don’t add to much of a movie that’s worth investing time in, or even really caring for. You just want to see the explosions, the violence and the asses being kicked, so you can be on your merry way. Is that too much to ask?

5 / 10 = Rental!!

The first, and maybe only, time that Kate Bosworth acted out James Franco. He'll sure as hell remember this for the rest of his life.

The first, and maybe only, time that Kate Bosworth acted out James Franco. He’ll sure as hell remember this for the rest of his life.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net