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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Ben Safdie

Daddy Longlegs (2009)

Safdie

Lenny (Ronald Bernstein) is really trying to make it work. After his divorce, he was given custody of his children with his ex, but for some reason, he can’t even seem to make that work. He constantly yells, gets frustrated easily, and doesn’t really know how to maintain his time to ensure that he has enough of it for work, for his kids, and for the rest of his personal life, and whatever the hell else that entails. Issue is that it’s all starting to catch up with him now and for some reason, a mental-health disease is back in full-form and keeping him away from being able to grasp with all of these responsibilities even more than before. What’s he to do? Give it his best shot and see what happens? Ask for other people’s help and see if they don’t mind? Or, simply put, just give up on it all and abandon anything that he has left in life.

See? He’s a nice guy!

Daddy Longlegs, like all of the Safdie Brother’s flicks, seems a lot like a Cassavetes clone. Or, I guess in this case, the right term is “wannabe”. See, it’s not that they don’t nail the style, the mood, or even the look of that legend’s films, because they definitely do, and then some. It’s more that they don’t really nail much else, like compelling characters, or even an interesting story worth sitting by and sticking around for, regardless of time, or subject-matter.

And sure, you could even make the argument that a lot of Cassavetes films were like that, where we didn’t really want to sit and spend time with a lot of these awful people, but there was still something about them that made us want to stay glued to our seats and screens. Most of that had to do with in the way of the performers and in Ronald Bernstein, the Safdies are lucky. Bernstein has a ticking time-bomb look to him where we’re never too sure just when, where, or how this guy is going to crack, but we just know that he is, so standing by, watching, and waiting for it all to happen, is a bit of ride in and of itself. The character is thin and a bit conventional, honestly, but Bernstein makes this guy seem a little bit more crazy than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character and makes him watchable.

The rest of Daddy Longlegs is watchable, too, but once again, the Safdies feel like they are getting at something, but only scratching the surface.

Uh oh. Nut’s about to crack.

Cause while the movie wants to sort of sit there and poke fun at Lenny’s crazy actions and his seemingly dysfunctional life, it also wants to focus on how nice of a guy he is, who takes time out of his day to take care of his kids and ensure that they grow up fine. Or, at least that’s what I think. See, this aspect of Daddy Longlegs is a bit confusing and makes the movie a tad bit uneven; it wants to be a dark, somewhat twisted comedy, but also show us a softer side to this nut-ball, too. It never quite chooses which way it wants to go down and because of that, it gets to be a bit frustrating to watch.

It helps that the movie can look a lot like a documentary and that it feels authentic, but they never quite nail down a compelling story to sit by. Cassavetes always seemed to be making things up on the fly, so it didn’t always matter what his story was about, or what the central-conflict would even turn out to be – all that mattered was characters and the relationships they had with themselves and the world around them. The Safdies seem to itch close to achieving the same goals that that wizard did, but unfortunately, come up very, very short.

Thank heavens for Bernstein, though. Guy saves the day.

Consensus: The Safdies are clearly going for a Cassavetes vibe here with Daddy Longlegs, and while they somewhat succeed on a technical level, they don’t have solid writing to back any of it up. Instead, it’s left to Bernstein to sort of save the day, which he does.

5.5 / 10

That’s how all dads treat their children. Correction, only the “best” ones do.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Lenny Cooke (2013)

Don’t put all your hoops into one basket.

Lenny Cooke, at one point in the early-aughts, was considered one of the best, most-sought high school basketball players. He was fast, smart, and incredibly athletic. But the one thing that brought him back was the fact that he didn’t really care much about school. Like, at all. And considering that he grew up in poverty, he didn’t believe that having an education would really amount to much, other than just more annoyances in his daily life. So, rather than spending a year or two at a nice college, getting some form of education, and then heading for the NBA, where he would most likely be a top choice, Cooke decides to just skip college altogether and go straight for the NBA where, he hopes, to be the #1 pick of the NBA. Involved with the same draft were players of names like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, among many others, meaning that while it didn’t look totally terrible for Lenny, it also didn’t look too bright, either. Fast-forward nearly a decade later and yeah, Lenny’s life is a lot different than he could have ever imagined.

Who’s that chump?

Lenny Cooke is probably one of the best sports documentaries ever made, but only because it doesn’t forget that in sports, just like in everyday life, there is above all else, failure. Most sports documentaries that we see talked about and constantly praised, have to do with the underdogs facing all the odds and winning the grand prize – or if not the grand-prize, at least something close to it. But in Lenny Cooke, the documentary, it’s less about achieving that grand-prize, or even working towards it, and more about just watching a person do whatever he can to avoid it, for no real reason other than, well, life.

And in that sense, Lenny Cooke can be a little frustrating.

Both the person, as well as the documentary. Then again, however, I feel as if that may be the point. After all, Lenny isn’t an easy guy to totally pin-point; he’s young, a little brash, and so incredibly talented, he almost doesn’t know what to do with himself. It’s actually hard to sit there and watch as he possibly squanders his future away, due to decisions that he’s just not fully equipped to make just yet. It almost makes you want to shake his head and tell him what to do, but it also has us grow a lot closer to him, as an athlete and as a person who could have possibly been one of the best.

But why didn’t Lenny become one of the best? There’s a lot of ideas and questions brought up about this, but really, there’s no clear answer. There’s a few – like how Lenny’s friends may have influenced his final decision – but not a whole lot to really nail down and have as the final say. In this sense, once again, the documentary can be a tad bit frustrating, while also making exact sense as to why it is frustrating.

So interested.

Cause, after all, in life, there are no clear answers, or solutions. Just moments and certain choices that eventually lead to something happening. And such is the tragedy about life.

And a lot of the credit here deserves to go to the Safdie brothers and producer Adam Shopkorn, who gets a huge deal of footage from the early-aughts, when Lenny was the next best thing in basketball. This footage, while remain gritty and in-your-face, also puts us right there with Lenny, watching his life flash before his eyes, allowing us to see his skill, and just exactly who he was off of the court. The movie never tries to paint him as a hero, a saint, or even a terrible kid – mostly, they show that he’s a kid. Insecure and way-in-over-his-head, like all of us when we’re 18 or younger and, essentially, have the world at the base of fingers.

Which is why when the movie does abruptly shift into a final-act where we see Lenny, in present-day, it’s downright shocking. Not only is he bigger, but the life he lives, is pretty depressing. It’s hard to really say why this is, if you haven’t seen it, but what the Safdie’s are able to capture and get in this final-act, without ever passing judgement whatsoever, is a down-and-out tragedy. It shows you that time can pass you by and even the smallest, teeniest, tiniest decision, can affect the rest of your life for good. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at basketball or not, life is unfair and sometimes, it can bite you right back.

You know, general happy feelings that arise with sports.

Consensus: Smart, affecting, and absolutely tragic, Lenny Cooke is one of the rare sports documentaries that views its failure with an unblinking view and never shying away from getting even deeper.

9 / 10

Ugh. Time flies. Savor it, people.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Local Sports, IndieWire, Worldstarhiphop

Heaven Knows What (2015)

Kids, for the millenials.

After she commits suicide because the love of her life, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), doesn’t return the same feelings she has for him, Harley (Arielle Holmes) slices her own wrists and ends up in a rehab clinic. Eventually, she gets out and is supposed to be all clean, new, and fresh; however, what happens is basically the same old, same old. Harley turns back to the world of drugs, where she’s constantly trying to get by on scamming people, day in and day out, all just to get whichever heroin she can find next for the right price. She’s not alone in this seedy underworld as Mike (Buddy Duress), a drug-dealer and sometimes guy-she-hooks-up-with, has something of a partnership with Harley in getting as much money as they can so that they can pay their rent, get the drugs, get high, and continue into the same pattern the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so forth. But what keeps Harley alive and well is the fact that she still loves Ilya, even if he could care less about her. Because, to her, Ilya is the one she wants to spend the rest of her life, whether he wants to or not, and that causes a lot of problems once Mike and Ilya start feuding over most things teenage heroin-addicts feud over.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

A lot of people may hate Heaven Knows What for solely being about, well, heroin addicts. Young heroin addicts, to be specific, but heroin addicts nonetheless who, really don’t have much to do with their lives. Their days, for the most part, consist of hustling whoever they can hustle, doing whatever it takes, and losing all sorts of self-respect, just so that they can have that next, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing high that they’ve been fighting for since the second they woke up. That’s basically it and you know what?

It’s hard to ever take your eyes off of.

Most of that has to do with the fact that we hardly ever see these kinds of stories/characters told and given to us on the big screen. And even when they are, they’re usually done so in a way that’s preachy, obvious and judgmental; here, the smart thing that the Safdie brothers do is that they don’t ever, not for a second, make it seem like they’re judging these characters for who they are, what they’re doing, and the naughty ideas they’ve got in their heads. The Safdie’s see these characters for all that they are and because of that, the movie itself takes a back-seat to what it is that these characters are up to.

And sure, while it may not seem like they’re not doing much of anything at all (except just getting high), there’s still something incredibly compelling that makes the events all the more interesting. Sometimes, they’ll be in the park, or on the streets, or in a McDonald’s, just generally acting like a bunch of hooligans, causing all sorts of shenanigans, and not giving a single turd about who it is that they’re bothering, offending, or pissing-off-to-high-heaven – they’re high and living life, so why should they?

In a way, Heaven Knows What feels like a documentary that the Safdie’s just got very lucky in being able to film. There are certain moments that are staged (and they’re the weakest), but honestly, there’s plenty of scenes here that make it seem like the Safdie’s just told their actors to go out there, do whatever it is that they wanted to, and not stop until they said, “cut”. Though it’s never clear just how much is made up on the spot, or actual, genuine dialogue written for those moments in particular, there’s no denying the fact that whatever’s going on here, it’s working. It could have easily been another one of those micro-budget, grit-pieces from first-time directors that are just about as meandering as a Joe Swanberg piece (early Swanberg, that is), but surprisingly and thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way one bit.

And even if it does, so what?

Heroin chic?

Heroin chic?

These characters, literally, live each and every one of their days, meandering along the dirty, raunchy streets, having no clue of what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do anything, or where the hell they’re going to end up at by the day’s end. All they do know is that, well, they’re going to high as hell, yo. Because of that, the fact that the movie feels like there’s almost no direction behind it whatsoever, works perfectly; these characters clearly have no directions in life, so why should they have any direction anywhere else!

And like I said before, the movie doesn’t try to make any of these characters into saint-like figures that are clearly better and made for more than what they’re surrounded by. Of course, that’s implied, seeing as how they’re all young, aspiring and street smart kids, but the movie never makes any one person out like they’re the nice people of the group and therefore, should be seen as such. Granted, nobody here is really considered a sinner, either – there’s just people who are a lot more morally reprehensible than others.

The only one who doesn’t seem to be is Arielle Holmes as, Harley, who is basically just a semi-fictionalized version of her own self. You’d think that because Holmes wrote this, that her character would get the lovely and sympathetic treatment, but gratefully, that doesn’t happen. She is just as worse than the company she keeps, but she’s also one that seems like she’s got more of a head on her shoulders, as well as a heart in her chest.

Of course, she’s also always seeming to get a needle in her arm, too, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

Consensus: Gritty, dark, disturbing, and ugly, but in all the right ways, Heaven Knows What doesn’t settle for any sort of narrative and instead, gives us a compelling portrait of people’s lives we don’t usually see in movies nowadays, as sad as they may be.

8 / 10

See? The heroin world isn't all that bad! Cuddling's allowed!

See? The heroin world isn’t all that bad! Cuddling’s allowed!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire