Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Tag Archives: Arthur Holden

Race (2016)

Those Nazis didn’t even know how to enjoy the Olympics!

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) was just a young man living on the dirty streets of Ohio. He had a kid, he had a girlfriend, and he had a very poor family, but what made him rise above all of that was the fact that he not only was a very fast-runner, but had all sorts of ambitions and ideas for what he wanted to do with his life. That’s why when he got accepted on a full-time athletic scholarship to Ohio State, he couldn’t pass it up and had to grab the opportunity right away. Problem was, considering that this was the mid-30’s, people didn’t take too kindly to African American people, regardless of how fast they could run, or how high they could jump. Getting past all of these issues, however, was Jesse’s track and field coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), who wants Jesse’s absolute and undivided attention to the team, so that they can win all sorts of championships and, if lucky, head on off to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And everybody knows what was going on with Germany at that time, and it’s another problem that gets thrown in the way of Jesse, as well as the whole U.S. Olympics team.

Black and white can get along people!

Black and white can get along, guys!

There’s already something interesting, and relatively cinematic about Jesse Owens’ own story that it doesn’t need much else more to be said around it. However, Stephen Hopkins, for some reason, didn’t seem to realize this. Instead of keeping the story singularly placed on Owens, his triumph over racism, adversity, and personal anguish, to, at the end, stick it to Hitler in the best way he could, Hopkins goes everywhere else.

Not only does we get Jesse’s story, but we also get a story about his track coach; not only do we get a story about his track coach, but we also get one about Jesse and his wife and girlfriend; not only do we get one about his wife and girlfriend, but we also get one about the Nazis and how they were using the Olympics as a way to let the world know of their brutal regime; not only do we get one about the Nazis and their regime, but we also get to see how the Olympic committee decided on not boycotting the Olympics that year; not only do we get the idea of boycotting or not, but we also get one about German camerawoman Leni Riefenstahl, and how she used her skills as a director to, in ways, undermine Hitler and his messages; and not only do we get this story-line, but we also get one about how a fellow hurdler, German Carl “Luz” Long, saw Jesse for what he was (a great athlete), and decided to let all of that race stuff go to the side.

Did I get everything?

Honestly, I’m not sure, and that’s a huge part of the problem. Race already has a solid story at the center, what with Jesse and all, as conventional as it may be when it comes to race biopics, so when it seems to linger elsewhere and take on all of these different angles, it seems to be too much and a bit disrespectful to Owens. It’s almost as if Hopkins and his team of writers thought that having a Jesse Owens biopic wouldn’t be enough to get people going, so they just decided to take up all of these other different subplots, in a way to cram everything in and distract people from the fact that they don’t really have any actual faith in Owens’ own story.

And for the most part, everything concerning the 1936 Olympics is interesting. It’s nice to see just how everybody acted in that country, at that time, but also, to see just how some people reacted to Nazi Germany, their ways, and their controversial rules, way before anybody actually knew what was going on. At the same time, the movie handles some of these bits and pieces in a hammy way; an almost useless scene concerning Sudeikis’ character looking for shoes late in the night is handled in such a hammy way, that I still have no clue what it was trying to get across. Even the subplot concerning Luz and his random friendship with Owens is so corny, that it feels tacked-on, even if it did happen in real life.

"Thank you for all your service. Now please, walk through the designated bathrooms."

“Thank you for all your service. Now please, walk through the designated bathrooms.”

If anything, the movie really livens up when Jeremy Irons and his character is around. As Avery Brundage, the International Olympic Committee who works as something of a concierge for the U.S., trying to figure out a deal with the Nazis, Irons isn’t just exciting, but fun to watch. He tells the Nazis some stuff that I don’t think the real life Brundage ever had the right idea to say, but it’s interesting just to see how he gets his point across and how, when it came to planning these Olympics, the certain demands both sides had. Obviously, as real life would have it, Brundage becomes more of an unlikable, but for awhile, he seems like the heart and soul of, what was supposed to be, after all, Jesse Owens story.

But that’s neither here nor there.

There is one interesting idea the movie brings up concerning Owens and it’s whether or not he should have actually competed in the Olympics or not. Considering that he was already facing so much unabashed racism and hatred in his own country, it was actually a huge question as to why he would bother representing said country, in an Olympics game to show whom is better than the other? Not to mention, Germany itself was treating people in their own country with the same kind of racism, except with more tragic consequences obviously. So why would Jesse even bother?

The movie brings this idea up and touches on it a couple of times, but really, it’s not enough to get through everything else. At two-hours-and-ten-minutes, yes, Race is jam-packed with the idea that there will never be another Jesse Owens biopic made for quite some time, even though it’s incredibly likely that there probably will be. As well as their should be – Owens himself had made it quite clear that he wasn’t afraid of saying what was on his mind when it came to racism, his thoughts on it, as well as the U.S., but really, none of that’s ever shown here. Instead, Jesse Owens is used as our conduit to explore this much bigger, more interesting world where people are bad and evil, but that’s about it.

I guess as long as you’re fast and can jump really high, people will like you.

Consensus: While there is the occasional interesting thread weaved throughout, Race deals with way too much, in such a messy way, that it feels like a disservice to Owens, as well as everything he stood and fought for.

5 / 10

Fly like an eagle, Jesse. Away from all the Nazis.

Fly like an eagle, Jesse. Away from all the Nazis.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins


Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

How Bobby Fischer was everyday of his life, is exactly how I get when I enter a movie theater.

Ever since he was a little boy, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) has always loved the game of chess. He’s also been incredibly paranoid about everything, too, but that’s done more to enhance his skills as a chess-player than actually hinder it. As he got older, Bobby became more and more known as a genius and gained a whole lot of notoriety – most of which, he wasn’t able to deal with. But the peak in his career/life came during the rise of the Cold War, when he challenged the Soviet Union and their best player, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), to a series of chess matches. Though the Russians agreed, Bobby still felt as if the games were being rigged in ways that went against him and it’s what ultimately made him a tragic-figure in the media. Though everybody wanted to tout him as an “American hero”, Bobby just wanted to be left alone and pushed away from the rest of the society he viewed as “Commies”. This not only pushed away those who were most close to him, but also ruined his skill as a magnificent chess-player.

He's crazy.

He’s crazy.

The crazy, unusual life of Bobby Fischer is an interesting one that, sadly, not too many directors have tried to tackle. It seems as if because his antics were so erratic and controversial, that to just make a movie solely based on him and his antic tirades would lead to be nothing more than just that. However, Edward Zwick and his crew of writers (Steven Knight, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson) try to make amends for that mistake in giving us a sorta-biopic of Fischer, his upbringing, and his momentous chess bouts against the Soviet Union.

There’s a slew of other characters to pay attention to, of course, but still, it’s Fischer’s story we get.

And as Bobby Fischer, Tobey Maguire is solid. Maguire gets a bad rap for not being the best actor out there, which isn’t something I wholly agree with; while he’s definitely not shown a huge amount of range over the years, he’s still proven to be a fine presence in movies that he’s just coasting-by in (the Great Gatsby), or when he has to act like a total and complete nut (Brothers). His performance as Fischer is a whole lot more of the later and it works; once we see Fischer grow up into becoming Maguire, he’s a whole heck lot more frantic, manic, and strange, and it’s something that Maguire can play quite well.

You’d think that three movies playing someone as nerdy and straight-laced as Peter Parker would make Maguire into a dull specimen, but thankfully, for him, as well as the movie itself, it didn’t.

Everybody else in this movie is fine, too and ensure that Maguire doesn’t steal the whole movie away from them, even if he does occasionally get the chance to do so. Peter Sarsgaard plays Catholic priest William Lombardy, one of Fischer’s fellow chess experts, who also served as one of his teachers, and gives a humane-look inside a guy who isn’t exactly what he appears. Sure, he’s wearing the same outfit that a priest would wear, but he swears, drinks, smokes, and is able to hang around Fischer, even when he seems to get so erratic, nobody in their right mind would stand-on by.

Michael Stuhlbarg shows up as Fischer’s manager of sorts and while you know he’s someone that’s not to be trusted, there’s still a feeling that he has Bobby’s best intentions at heart. He may not at all, but Stuhlbarg keeps us guessing as to what it actually is. Lily Rabe shows up as Fischer’s sister who tries to help her dear brother out as much as she can, but eventually, it becomes all too clear that the man is just too far gone to be helped, talked to, or aided in any way – which is actually a pretty sad that the movie doesn’t really touch on until the end of the movie. And though he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do, Liev Schreiber still does a nice job as Boris Spassky – someone who had no clue what to make of or how to handle Fischer, except to just play him in chess and hope for the best.

And honestly, the performances are all that’s worth to discuss here because they’re the reasons why this movie works as well as it does. Everything else about Pawn Sacrifice is as handsome and nice as you can get with a biopic, but really, that’s all it is and stays. Nothing really leaps out at you as any sort of insight into Fischer’s character or persona; he was just a wack-job that, yes, was great at the game of chess, also had plenty of issues when it came to interacting with others, his own psyche, and how to handle all of the fame that had totally blind-sided him. This, if you’ve ever known a thing or two about Fischer himself, is obvious, but the movie still tries to find other aspects to his character that haven’t been touched on yet.

He's not.

He’s not.

Problem is, they all have. So there’s nowhere else to go.

Zwick may seem interested in the political landscape surrounding Fischer at this time in his life, but he never goes anywhere further with it; there are constant conversations about Communism and conspiracy theories, but really, that’s just all of Fischer talking and no one else. Whether or not any of these accusations held true, are never said, which leads it to all just seem repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something enjoyable about watching and listening to Maguire ramble on about how the Jews, the Russians, the White House, and practically everybody else on the face of the planet, are out to get him, but after awhile, it becomes a bird that I would have been pleased to stop hear chirping.

And of course, there’s a post-script about Fischer’s later-life, how far away from society he had gone and where he had been living before he died, but it’s all too late. The movie had already focused so much time on Fischer’s life when he was younger, alive and successful – everything else was, as it seems, added-on filler. Which is a bit of a shame because this later-half of Fischer’s life would have been very interesting to see portrayed, but it doesn’t seem like the budget or time allotted it.

Shame. But I guess there’s another biopic to be made another time.

Consensus: Thanks to great performances from the cast, especially an unhinged and edgy Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice is an enjoyably, mildly interesting, but never seems to rise above being that.

7 / 10

The end.

The end.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Don’t trust your government. Because apparently, they have no clue what the hell’s going on half of the time.

The new Russian President, Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds), seems like he may be giving the good ole’ boys of America a hard time. Actually, probably a lot harder than either the president (James Cromwell) or CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) feel comfortable with! Apparently, a nuclear bomb that was mysteriously lost during a 1972 Israeli-Egyptian conflict, somehow finds its way back into prominence with the Russians who, in their sneaky ways, are making a secret bomb of their own. Some of it makes sense, and some of it doesn’t, but one thing’s for certain: America won’t be taking any chances with this whatsoever. This is when they decide to call in CIA Agent Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) who, having already written a book on Nemerov, seems like an expert of sorts on this type of stuff, and goes so far as to call him a “good man”. The U.S. government doesn’t agree with this and sets up defense as soon as they can. However, “as soon as they can”, may just be a little too late.

"I said, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW??!?!?!""

“I said, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW??!?!?!””

Let’s not forget that this movie was released only nine months after the 9/11 attacks occurred and, in case you were born just yesterday or have been living under a rock for the past 12 years, America still hasn’t quite gotten over it. And nor should we; not only was it one of the worst travesties to happen to our country in the past hundred or so years, but it showed every citizen that yes, our country is vulnerable enough to where a couple of terrorists could actually get into planes, strapped with bombs to their chests, run those said planes into the Twin Towers and during the process, even blowing themselves, as well as everybody within a 10-feet-distance from them, up into smithereens. The images, videos, sound-bites, etc. are still shocking to this day and it has us wonder if anything as tragic like that will ever happen again to our country.

That’s why, when a movie that not just discusses the same ideas of terrorism like nukes, mass-genocide and paranoia, but even goes so far as to give us a shocking sequence in which all of Baltimore is hit by a nuclear bomb, it comes off as a bit “in poor taste”, for lack of a better term. Though some of you out there may get upset with me “spoiling” what happens about half-way through, I think it deserves to be noted because not only is it the turning-point for this movie, but it also still does the trick, even twelve years after it’s initial-release, and a little near-thirteen years after the infamous attacks themselves. It’s still shocking, it’s still brutal and, even despite some choppy-visuals here and there, still feels somewhat realistic.

Strange to think that seeing certain stuff like that in movies still gets us to this day, but so be it. That’s what happened to us on that fateful day, and for most of us, we’ll continue to be scarred till the rest of our days.

But anyway, like I was saying about how it effected this movie, because before this sequence, the movie was rather by-the-numbers. Sure, some of it had energy and intrigue added to the proceedings, but for the most part, I didn’t get what was really happening, nor did I really care. Nobody feels all that fleshed-out, with the exception of Freeman’s Cabot who, as you probably guessed, steals the show every time he shows up. Hell, even when he isn’t around, his presence can still be felt and you’ll wonder just when it is that he’ll show his lovely face again, and give us a character that we both enjoy to watch and be around, but also respect enough to where if he was in the same room as us, we’d automatically shut our traps and let him do whatever it is that he wants. He just has that type of control and prowess over a movie, which is why he was the only real reason to stick with this flick for its first-half, because everything else, is rather boring.

Then, the already-mentioned nuclear attack happens and all of a sudden: Everything in this movie is cranked-up to eleven and everybody is going absolutely ballistic. Though you could argue that this later-half of the film is as conventional and plain as the first, you can’t argue that it wasn’t entertaining to watch a bunch of heavy-hitting, grade-A character actors like Bruce McGill, Ken Jenkins, James Cromwell, and Philip Baker Hall walk around a board-room, just yelling at one another. Even if certain lines like, “It’s the Russians who did it! Nuke ’em!”, are a tad corny, they’re still fun to hear, especially when you have talented dudes like these delivering them. There’s also a stand-off between the Russian and United States government in which both presidents talk to one another through some sort of a computer-messaging system and though it may be a bit silly, it’s still suspenseful to watch and listen to. Yeah, typing on a keyboard has never been the most thrilling, nor exciting thing a movie can do, but here, it worked for me.

"Quick advice kid: Leave the heavy-lifting to me and go get drunk or something."

“Quick advice kid: Leave the heavy-lifting to me and go get drunk or something.”

However though, whenever we don’t focus on these powerful men screaming, figuring stuff out and yelling demands at one another, we focus on Jack Ryan as he ventures all throughout what rubble is left of Baltimore, which may have been exciting to watch, had Ryan’s story been all that interesting to begin with, but it isn’t. That’s not to discredit Ben Affleck too much here in the lead role, because while the guy definitely does try, the movie isn’t all that focused on him to begin with and only shines a light on him whenever necessary. I’m not saying that if you took him out of this film, it would work better, but you could probably have featured somebody awesome like Liev Schreiber’s very mysterious, yet ruthless spy in the same role, and it would have been a lot more entertaining to watch.

Then again, everybody out there in the world knows exactly who Ben Affleck is, and not Liev Schreiber. Hence why one is in main leading-role, whereas the other is in the strange, rather under-written supporting role. Sucks to say, but it’s true.

As it remains though, this is Jack Ryan’s story so when it does focus on him to really deliver the thrills, chills and elements of suspense, it isn’t that Affleck blows the chance to do so, it’s just that we don’t care that much. We see that he’s clearly a nice guy that has a bright head on his shoulder, but can’t fight worth of dick. Which means, that when he has to drop-down in the mud and get his knuckles dirty, it doesn’t fully work, nor does it make you believe too much in him. So it stands, Ford may have been the best Jack Ryan to-date, with Baldwin running a close-second. Sadly, that leaves poor Ben in last place, which isn’t so much of his fault, as it was more of just a wrong film, and wrong time. If Big Ben had been in either the Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games, something tells me he would have been a nice fit and worked well with Clancy’s exposition-heavy dialogue. That’s not the case though. Poor guy. At least he’s onto portraying bigger and better characters than some chump named “Jack Ryan”.

Consensus: May not quite pick-up its full head of steam until half-way being over, but nonetheless, the Sum of All Fears is a well-acted, tense, exciting and rather visceral thriller that takes on a new life when you think about what our country had been going through at the point in time it was released, but also how the shots of a post-apocalyptic Baltimore still have us cringe a bit.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I think we all know by now that once you step into the state of Baltimore, shit's about to get real.

I think we all know by now that once you step into the state of Baltimore, shit’s about to get real.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo