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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Beth Grant

Lucky (2017)

Realism truly is “a thing”.

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is 90 years old and believe it or not, feels fine. He can’t move his body like he used to and sure, it’s a little creaky every so often, but for the most part, he’s getting by just fine. He spends most of his days doing the same things, like waking up and getting a coffee. Then, he watches game shows on TV and tests his knowledge. And then, lastly, he ends up at the local bar, where he wants to smoke, but doesn’t. Instead, he sits around and waits for someone to have a stimulating conversation with him, whatever it may be, or about whatever.

Lucky doesn’t have much of a plot and that’s actually fine. All it really needs is a solid bit of characters, good performances, and a sweet sense of time and place and it gets by just fine. Making his directorial debut, legendary character actor John Carroll Lynch seems to know how to let a story like this play itself out; he takes his time enough to where some could say it’s “boring” and “slow”, but really, it’s just languid and it fits with everyone and everything else here.

“Coop?”

Especially the one, the only and the late Harry Dean Stanton himself.

And yes, it’s pretty crazy to watch this movie and realize that this would end up becoming Stanton’s swan song, but it feels so incredibly fitting. Stanton himself has never really gotten the chance to have a movie all to himself and it seems like, even at age 90, he was due; the role doesn’t really challenge him, or stretch the talents we know him for, but it doesn’t necessarily have to, either. All it has to do is offer us another great glimpse of the never-ending and charming talents of Stanton, why he was great, why it was always nice to have him around, and why, above all else, he will be missed.

And yes, like I said, Stanton’s pretty great here. He’s charming, wise, and seems like he’s years above everyone else that he meets. But the movie is smart in that it isn’t just about Lucky and his life, as it’s also about the people he runs into on a daily-basis, most of whom put up with him and have been doing so for quite some time. Some will be happy to see David Lynch show up in a cooky-role as a guy looking for his tortoise, others will be happy to see Ron Livingston show up as a life-insurer with a huge mustache, and others, like myself, will be happy to see a nice little Alien reunion between Stanton and Tom Skerritt, in one of the movie’s sweeter scenes.

Seriously, why’s that ‘stache so huge?

But the movie isn’t just about one character over the rest – it’s about all of them and it’s why it’s so sweet.

Carroll Lynch and co-writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks seem to understand how to get the heart of this tale, but never playing their hand too much. Some may not see this as having much of a point, or better yet, not really being about much other than just a bunch of old people talking and yammering on about things that can kind of seem random, but it really isn’t. It’s about watching life pass you by, understanding that reality, moving on, and doing whatever the hell you can to make the best of it while you have it. It sounds cheesy, in retrospect, but Lucky, the movie, as well as the character, aren’t and it’s why it’s a small joy of a movie.

And it’s why we’ll forever miss the talents of Harry Dean Stanton.

Consensus: Sweet and sultry, Lucky is the kind of small and oddly charming movie that works best because of its time, attention, care, and solid performances, especially from the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.

7.5 / 10

Goodbye legend. You will surely be missed.

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

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Jackie (2016)

Thanks for the fashion tips. Now, get out!

After the tragic and sudden assassination of her husband, First Lady Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) has to deal with a lot over a certain period of time. For one, she has to ensure that the rest of her family is alright. Secondly, she has to make sure that her husband’s funeral isn’t just one of the most memorable of any other assassinated President before him, but the best ever. And then, yes, she’s also got to do her absolute hardest to hold onto her sanity, even when it seems like this certain situation in particular wouldn’t call for it. However, no matter how bad life gets, all that Jackie wants is for her husband’s legacy to live on, regardless of what sort of mistakes he made in the past.

Jackie may seem, on paper, like your traditional, ordinary biopic of someone that we think we know so much about, but in all honesty, actually don’t, however, it’s anything but. What director Pablo Larrain does here with Jackie’s story is that he frames it in a way where we get to see small, fleeting glimpses into her life, through certain parts of it, as opposed to getting the rags-to-riches story that we so often get hit with. And sure, there’s nothing wrong with the kinds of biopics that take on those structures to tell their story and to tell a little more about their subject, but with Jackie, an odd structure actually works, as it not only has us feel closer to her than ever before, but also see what really lied beneath the legend.

We still see you.

We still see you.

Sure, most people think of Jackie as this reversed, sometimes not-all-that-bright women who was just lucky to marry the man who would eventually be President of the United States, and a fashion icon, but the movie shows us that there’s much more to her than that. We see that she not just cared about preserving the legacy of the past Presidents who came before her own husband, but also wanted to carve out a legacy for herself as well; rather than just being seen as this harpy wife who stood by her husband, even while he was off, strutting his stuff with many other women, she wanted to be seen, be remembered, or at the very least, be thought of as someone who was intelligent and cared all about the appearances of her and those around her. It’s actually very interesting to see this side to her, as we get a clearer understanding of what her real, actual beliefs and aspirations were, and end up sympathizing with her a whole lot more.

Okay sure, it’s not that hard to sympathize with a woman who has literally just lost her husband right slap dab in front of her, but still, Larrain crafts this story awfully well.

It’s odd though, because while even just focusing on her so much may already seem sympathetic, Larrain still asks a whole lot more questions about her, than he does answer. Like, for instance, why did she stay by her husband for all those philandering years? Was it all for show? And speaking of the show she put on, did she actually care so much about past Presidents, or did she just use that all as a way to show that she was so much more than the First Lady? The movie brings the questions up, never answers them, but at the very least, it does show that Larrain isn’t afraid to question his subject more than actually glamorize her and for all that she was able to do while in the White House.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

Damn journalists. Always ruining the sorrow and grief of famous widows.

And as Jackie, Natalie Portman is quite great, however, it does take awhile for it to get like this. Because Jackie herself had such a mannered, controlled and signature way of speaking and presenting herself with those around her, Portman has to do a lot of weird and awkward-sounding pronunciations throughout the whole flick. Her first few scenes with Billy Crudup’s character are incredibly distracting and make it seem like it’s going to overtake the whole movie, but it does get better after awhile, especially when we see her actually show emotion and use her persona to make the situations around her better. Sure, Portman gets to do a lot of crying, smoking, drinking and yelling, but it all feels right and not just another Oscar-bait, showy performances that we so often get around this time.

And while it is definitely Jackie’s story, a lot of others still get attention to paid them as well, like with Peter Sarsgaard’s incredibly sympathetic take on Bobby Kennedy. While he doesn’t always use the accent, regardless, Sarsgaard does sink deep into this character and become someone who is almost more interesting than Jackie, only because we don’t get to spend every single waking moment of the run-time with him. In a way, there’s a certain air of mystery to him where we aren’t really sure what his motives are, how he actually does feel about his brother’s death, and just what the hell he wants to do now with his life.

Somewhere, there’s a Bobby Kennedy biopic to be made and if so, Sarsgaard ought to be there.

Although, yeah, that damn Bobby title’s already been taken.

Consensus: Smart, insightful and compelling, Jackie presents us with an interesting look into the life of its famous subject, while never forgetting to show the possible negative sides to who this person may have really been.

8 / 10

You look great, Natalie. You don't need three mirrors to prove it.

You look great, Natalie. You don’t need three mirrors to prove it.

Photos Courtesy of: Silver Screen Riot

Alex of Venice (2015)

#SelfDiscoveryProbelms.

After feeling like a prisoner in his own marriage, George (Chris Messina) decides to leave his wife, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and kid, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), alone to fend for themselves. Alex is taken aback by this at first, but eventually, realizes that some alone time is exactly what she needed. Though she’s a lawyer who is working on this big time case against a spa-opener (Derek Luke), she realizes that sometimes, you need to put work on the back-burner and just live life to its fullest. That means, yes, partying a lot more, and definitely, having sex. But problems begin to arise when her dad (Don Johnson) starts to struggle with a play he has currently been cast in and, even worse, is acting out in strange ways that she, as well as her sister (Katie Nehra) take notice of. Also, Alex runs into a bit of a problem with her son in that he’s spending too much time with his aunt and is learning certain things about life, love and all of that fun stuff, when Alex doesn’t want him to. Sooner than later, Alex realizes that maybe doing this whole life thing all by her lonesome self wasn’t all that fun to begin with.

Chris Messina’s the kind of character actor I love to see in anything. It doesn’t matter what it is that he’s showing up in, or for how long – as long as he’s in it and has something to do, then consider me pleased. That’s why it’s a huge shock to see him actually put himself on the back-burner and let the rest of the story, the actors and everything tell itself. Surely he has that control, seeing as how he’s the writer and director of Alex of Venice after all, but it does make me wonder: Would this movie have been a lot better with more Messina?

Yeah, Alex! You get 'em, girl!

Yeah, Alex! You get ’em, girl!

Should “more Messina” be an actual complaint sent-out to movies that are seriously lacking in the casting of Chris Messina-department?

Maybe. Maybe not. Basically, I’m trying to avoid having to discuss Alex of Venice and how disappointing of a film it is. This isn’t because Messina isn’t in it as much (although, there’s no harm in that, really), but because the premise calls on for what I’ve come to realize can be labeled as “later-in-life re-awakenings” sub-genre of indie dramedies. In these kinds of movies, we see an adult literally come to a crossroad in their life where they don’t know what to do, where to go, or what to make sense of; all they know is that they want to be happy and do what they want for a change, rather than appeasing those around them and giving in.

These movies are around more than one may think, and for the most part, they’re getting tired by now. Alex of Venice proves this because it shows that it doesn’t matter if you have a strong actor, a strong character, or even a strong message in the middle of it all – if you don’t find certain ways to change or dilute from the formula a bit, there’s not much to really watch or care for. Any movie that goes through the motions in a bland, rather boring manner, always bores me. However, when you’re an indie and are able to break away from the norm of what’s been set-out before one’s sight, it makes me even more upset.

The only saving grace to anything Alex of Venice has to offer is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as usual, is solid. She’s the kind of actress we can all depend on now to give heavy, emotionally-draining performances in small indies that may not be remembered in a few months, but are at least worth watching, if only because of the work she’s putting into it all. And as the titled-character, Alex, Winstead gets plenty to do – some good, some bad. But no matter what, we feel bad for this character and want her to reach her everlasting goal: Internal happiness.

Now, while this may be easy to feel for Alex, it’s not so easy for the rest of the characters. Which, yet again, is a bit of a shame considering the top-tier talent Messina was able to assemble here to help him fill-out these roles.

Don Johnson has a meaty role as Alex’s dad who is bordering on Alzheimer’s by the forgetful way he’s been acting, and while watching him go through the process of auditioning for a theater role, is surely unique in the way that it’s from the perspective of an older person, it still doesn’t do much for the overall message of the movie. Then, there’s Katie Nehra’s sister character, Lily, who has this look of the popular/party girl from high school who never grew up and doesn’t plan on doing so, either. Though the movie makes a hint of there being something more to this character than just that, it sort of goes nowhere once Messina realizes that he has to fill-out Alex’s story in full detail. And poor Dakota’s story-line – it’s dead before it even hits the water.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

This is all disappointing, but it makes sense when you take into the equation that this is indeed Chris Messina’s directorial debut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making up for the fact that Alex of Venice is messy, due to my love for Messina as an actor, but there is something to be said for someone literally making their first movie for the whole world to see. Sometimes, it works and shows that the person behind the camera was born for commanding the camera, rather than standing in front of it and acting. But other times, it shows that maybe while they shouldn’t give up on trying to commandeer the camera on another outing, to still take some time, mull things over, and realize what you want to do next, how you want to present it, and whether or not it’s going to be worthy of people’s view.

Until then, keep on doing what you do Chris Messina. Just make sure it’s in front of the camera. For now, at least.

Consensus: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is as solid as ever in the lead role, but Alex of Venice still hardly goes anywhere unexpected or even emotional, all because it’s clearly calculated from the beginning and held-down from too many subplots in such a short movie.

5.5 / 10

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo.com, Youtube

Faults (2015)

Can’t cult, the cultee. Or something.

Famed author Ansel (Leland Orser) made a living off of knowing all about cults and their mentality. He was so well-known at one point, that he actually had a TV show of his own. Nowadays, he spends most of his time trying to get free meals from hotel diners, evading people he owes money to, and holding Q&A’s where he constantly gets criticized for some shady practices he performed back in the day. However though, Ansel gets a second chance at not just his job, but at life when an older couple come up to him with a proposition: Kidnap their daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and brainwash her out of the brainwashing that she apparently was subject to while in a cult. Given the right amount of time, resources, and most of all, money, Ansel believe that he can make this work and have their daughter be normal again, but problems arise. Not only does Ansel realize that his brainwashing skills may be rusty, but he’s getting more and more threats from those he’s indebted to, which puts him in a tight spot: Walk out on this procedure that he was practically hired to do, or see to it that it’s completed and the family walks away with their daughter, happy and reunited after all of this time?

Someone's got a long night ahead of them.

Someone’s got a long night ahead of them.

A lot of people I know out there, in the real world and on the worldwide inter-web, have a gripe with me not appreciating a movie trying to be more than just what’s presented on the surface. It’s a complaint that I can see some understanding in, but I wholeheartedly disagree with. While I know that many movies out there should be simple and left grey enough for the viewer to decide and make up their own minds about on, I’m not opposed to watching a movie that tries to dig deeper than what may have already been written. I just have a problem when these movies get a bit too big for their britches and lose all sight of what could have been an impactful, yet small story.

However, Faults is one of those rare movies where the simplicity came to bite both of us on our asses.

See, one of the problems with Faults is that it prides itself in being about this one man, who tries to sneak and connive his way back into some sort of fame and fortune, but by doing so, has to remember what made him have all that in the first place. That right there, is interesting, and the movie clearly seems to take pride in this character, giving us an unlikable protagonist, but one that’s still compelling enough to want to watch and see what he does next, to whom, and for what reasons. And then, it gets all the better once it’s made abundantly clear that this movie could actually be about his relationship with this new subject of his. The possibilities here for a rich, subtle character-drama were all set in stone and ready to shined down on.

But sadly, that’s not what happens.

Instead, Faults turns into a murder-mystery that’s more concerned with the art of cults and brainwashing, that it ends up being a nonsensical piece where people just blabber on and on about stuff we don’t understand, nor do we care about. Which, oddly enough, is how I felt the movie approached the same material; there’s an odd comedic-streak in this movie that comes and goes as it pleases, yet is still effective enough that it breaks up some moments that would have been too self-serious and dramatic for its own good. Writer/director Riley Stearns uses a lot of these humorous moments to shine a light on some of the more extreme aspects of cults and it made me wonder just where the hell it all went in the later-half.

Because, eventually, Stearns loses all sight of what was already an compelling premise about a small group of interesting folks, and throws them into a sub-par Coen Bros. flick. There’s twists, turns, murder, money, cults, black henchman, and even a gay loan shark! It has all the makings of a fun, thoughtful character drama, yet, never gets to be that because Stearns is a tad too concerned with hearing all of the random stuff these characters rant about. None of it is ever decipherable, but then again, I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

So why the hell are we focusing on it so much?!?!

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

Complementary breakfasts are the best kinds of breakfasts.

However, the only reason why Faults gets something of a pass from me is because of its small, but amble cast that puts a lot of faces in some key roles, that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen them in, had this been a bigger, more mainstream flick. And the one member of the cast I’m really talking about is Leland Orser as Ansel, an interesting creation of a character who I felt would have done wonders with a better movie. Orser already has a bit of a creepy-presence in everything he shows up in, so that’s why when I saw him here playing something of a shady fellow, I knew he was perfect for the role. There’s something sort of off-putting to this character that knows he cannot be trusted, but by the same token, we get the impression that he’s not such a bad guy to where he would purposefully do something wrong to hurt this family, their daughter, or anybody else involved.

He’s a weasel, but he’s got a heart and it’s noticeable, too.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Stearn’s wife in real life) is also another actress that’s been so good in just about everything she’s done and still has yet to be given that career-defining performance that puts her from being “indie darling” to being “the next big thing in acting”. And regardless of when that time comes or not, Winstead’s still fine here, playing a character that we’re never too sure is as crazy as she makes herself be. We know that she’s been apart of a cult for very long, but we don’t know how long, so therefore, it’s hard to come up with an idea of how far gone her mind is and whether or not she’s a sensible thinker. There’s a lot of mystery to this character and Winstead constantly keeps us guessing, even when it seems like we’ve got her all figured out.

If only the movie would have realized this and kept the focus on these two. Oh, and gotten rid of all the cult-talk, too.

Cause honestly, who the hell cares?

Consensus: By depending on its cast, Faults is interesting, but continues to add on more and more elements to this story that just feel unnecessary and stuffy.

5.5 / 10

He just can't get enough of the Winstead.

He just can’t get enough of the Winstead.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Bad Words (2014)

Still have yet to see any of these spelling bees give the word, “Icup”. You’ll get it.

Spelling bees are usually meant for those kids who study all night and day, learn every word in the dictionary, its meaning, its usage in a sentence, its tense and even its place-of-origin. These kids duke it out in a civilized, calm manner, with hopes in that they’ll get the chance to shine in the spotlight for a bit, get a check and even get a chance to meet some pretty famous people. And hell, they should – they’re kids, they studied long, hard and diligently, so why the ‘eff not? Well, hate to break it to these little kiddies, but 40-year-old Guy Trilby (Jason Bateman) thinks differently. Through some loophole he miraculously discovers, Guy is able to forge himself into The Golden Quill Spelling Bee competition where he’s up against fifth and sixth graders, and even allowing his whole story to be told to the mainstream media, in the form of a reporter (Kathryn Hahn). As one could suspect, everybody is downright appalled that somebody this rude, crude and downright evil would actually commit such a reprehensible act, but then again, Guy Trilby is a reprehensible guy, so what do you expect?

Jason Bateman, man. We all know you’re funny and everything, but gosh. How are you still able to surprise us?

Fuck ACME, right?!?!?!

Fuck ACME, right?!?!?!

Well, it’s quite simple: He’s a genuinely-talented guy that knows how to make any piece of comedy work. Even if it does mean that he works in junk like Identity Thief. Yeah, let’s just move on from that one, shall we?

Anyway, what I am trying to say here is that we all know Jason Bateman for being a lovable, heart-of-gold, dead-panning smart-ass. It’s an act he’s been perfecting for quite some time and personally, I don’t feel as if it is ever getting old. However, it’s surprising just how many times Bateman hasn’t really gone out on a limb and gotten really wacky and nutty with himself. Sure, there was the Change-Up, where he had to play some-odd version of Ryan Reynolds, but it seems to be that only myself and a few others actually saw it, or better yet, even liked it.

But also, that’s why it is so cool to see him behind the director’s chair with this one, because not only does he get to show us a new skill he may have never utilized before, but he also gets to show us that the dude can still be a likable guy, even if he is playing an absolute and total dick. And an absolute, total dick is exactly what Guy Trilby is; however, he’s an entertaining and relatively lovable one at that. Most of why Trilby gets by as a character, is because Bateman is so likable to begin with, that it doesn’t matter if he’s using racist-comments towards everyone around him, or the fact that he’s antagonizing sixth graders just trying to get ahead of a 40-year-old, grown-man in a spelling bee competition. What does matter is if we get to see that there’s anything more to the guy than just that.

And with both Bateman’s acting and directing, we get to see Guy Trilby for all of his faults, his positives and just what makes him downright human. Honestly, he’s not a great guy, but there are brief snippets where we get to see that he can be a kind guy, even if that does entailing him taking a ten-year-old boy out to steal lobsters, get drunk, eat fast-food and see a pair of boobs. I didn’t say he was perfect, dammit! All I said that he tries to do what is right for both him, and this little boy named Chaitanya Chopra, played wonderfully by Rohan Chand. Together, the two have a nice bit of chemistry that works well and really gives the movie that extra amount of depth the material needed to be than just a “Spellbound meets Bad Santa“-flick.

I guess you can credit most of that to Bateman’s directing, his acting, or the script from Andrew Dodge that isn’t perfect, but still gets most of the beats right. It’s funny when it needs to be funny, but in a mean-spirited kind of way that makes you think you shouldn’t be laughing, yet, still can’t help yourself but to do otherwise. Especially once you see Guy terrorizing and getting inside the heads of all these poor, desperate kids. Sure, it’s terrible to watch, but in a good way that only a dark, R-rated comedy can do and that’s why it’s definitely worth seeing, especially if you’re in the mood for a good couple of hearty laughs.

Why no "Amy Winehouse hairdo" joke wasn't made is totally beyond me.

Why no “Amy Winehouse hairdo” joke wasn’t made is totally beyond me.

Or, if you just want to hear Michael Bluth make derogatory-comments about Arabs, fat people and girls, among others. Never thought I’d be using that in the same sentence, but like I said before: Jason Bateman can still surprise me, even if it is quite late in his career. True comedian right there, people.

By the end, the movie does begin to get a tad repetitive and obvious, as several plot-twists come to the forefront in a heavy, not-so-subtle way. It’s nice to see people like Philip Baker Hall, Ben Falcone and Allison Janney show up in stuff no matter what the occasion may be, but here, the material doesn’t suit them all that well to begin with, or give them much to do. More so Hall than anybody else, as it seems like Bateman really wanted to draw some drama out of just having him around, however, takes the movie down a whole notch along with him. The only one who can bring it back up, other than him and Chand of course, is Kathryn Hahn who, once again, shows us that she can balance-out humor and heart, without making the constant switches and twitches seem all that jarring. Still see a bright future ahead of this gal, even if she is pushing 40 and late in her career. Then again though, could say the same about Bateman and look where he’s going. Oh, Hollywood and all of your talented, over-40 people!

Consensus: May get too dramatic by the end, but with an assured-direction and lead performance from the always-hilarious Jason Bateman, Bad Words works by balancing out its side-splitting, crude humor, with plenty of heartwarming moments to make you think differently about the material you’re watching, as predictable as it may be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Whatta douche.

Whatta douche.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

As I Lay Dying (2013)

It’s like the big-screen version of the Oregon Trail. All that was missing was the dysentery.

After Addie Bundren (Beth Grant) dies, she makes sure that everyone in her family knows that her dying, last wishes are to be buried in a whole other town, where she’d be transported, by wagon, with every member of her family coming along for the ride. It’s a weighty-task to ask upon someone, but everybody in her fam-squad decides to do so, all in respect to her. However, there couldn’t be anymore of a dysfunctional crew going along on this trip with the nearly-incomprehensible Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), who just wants to get the new set of pearly-whites that his wifey-poo wouldn’t allow him to have when she was alive; Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), the youngest one who may have some anger-issues as is, so to add on the fact that his loving, adoring own mother just died, is obviously going to add some insult to injury; Darl (James Franco) is definitely the quieter one of the group, but definitely catches onto things pretty quickly and knows what’s really brewing beneath the surface with the rest of his family; Dewey Dell (Ahna O’Reilly), the only daughter that seems to be using this trip to get rid of “something” that has he so scared, that she can’t even mention it; and then there’s the handy-man, Cash (Jim Parrack) who definitely knows a thing or two about how to keep his mom’s casket from breaking wide-open, but doesn’t know a thing or two about keeping him, or the rest of his family safe when they come into some dire, near-death situations. Take all of these factors together, and you have a pretty crazy, wacky and wild trip on your hands.

Give 'em two, equally-sized farmer's hats, and sure, call them "brothers".

Give ’em two, equally-sized farmer’s hats, and sure, call them “brothers”.

However, being that this is an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

And it’s pretty clear and obvious to anybody who sees this that writer/director/star/God-in-his-own-mind James Franco definitely feels passionate about adapting this pretty heavy, pretty grim material. Now, from what I hear, the source-material itself is found to be almost “unfilmable” due to the fact that the book is split-up into 59 short chapters, in which they were all divided among 15 different first-person narrators. This basically means that Franco would have to do the impossible in the effort in telling the story, getting as much insight as you could from each and every character, not forgetting about some of the most important, relevant parts of the story and most of all, making sure that the whole thing doesn’t come off as a total and complete mess.

So, in order to do this and keep a disaster from happening, Franco inhibits a split-screen format in which we’ll get to see the point-of-view of a certain situation from one character’s side, or even get to hear them as they narrate their inner-most thoughts and feelings, looking straight-on directly into the camera. This is a very smart way Franco allows the story to be told as richly, as detailed and as coherently as he can, but the problem is that it just shows up too oddly and randomly. Though the split-screen format usually shows up for more than half of the movie, the times that it doesn’t, the movie works a hell of a lot more because we’re simply focusing on one thing, and one thing only. Not a billion other things that may or may not be happening, all due to the fact that these characters either seem to be making stuff up, or not seeing the picture clearly enough.

That said, I guess I can’t get on Franco’s case too much as a director for adapting the source-material the way it was written out to be, but it could have definitely been done a lot better. Then again though, maybe it couldn’t have. Maybe this is just one of those pieces of source-material that should stay in libraries, and far away from the script-writing desk. Because if you look closely at what Franco does here, he tries so many times to have this story pop-off the pages and onto the screen itself and in ways, it works. Usually when Franco is just letting the story tell itself, with no visual-flair or camera-tricky added to the proceedings. If two characters are talking about something, no matter whatever the hell it may be, it always seems to be interesting because it’s just a simple tale.

However, when Franco begins to get a little too hot for his own guns and start to add into too much “style” to jazz the whole thing up, it feels distracting, as if Franco needed some sort of mechanism to make this story seem a lot more inviting than it actually is. Because the fact of the matter remains, Faulkner’s source-material is some pretty down-beat stuff, and it’s definitely hard to make sure that material like that always stays intriguing or surprising. But that doesn’t happen here. Instead, I always knew that Franco was going to try something tricky and yet, still have it fall right back in his face. Can’t say that this is a terrible directorial-outing from Franco, as I do think he definitely shows more promise and ambition, than failure, but it’s still very clear that he may have bit-off a bit more than he could chew here, or heck, maybe even not enough.

Glistening = tension.

Even in the deep and dirty South, women still glisten.

Maybe a two-parter, miniseries on HBO would have done the trick? Who knows?

What hurts this movie a bit more, but what also keeps it still above the line of being considered “watchable” is the ensemble cast that Franco so sadly leaves behind, lost, confused and with nowhere to go. Since Franco is so clearly enamored with whatever he is doing behind-the-camera, it kind of sucks for the others since all they have to do is emote and give us compelling characters that deserved to be seen right in front of them on a big-screen, rather than on a bunch of words on countless pages. But despite their many, many efforts, the only one who really comes-off the best is Franco as Darl. It helps that Darl is definitely the center-piece of this story that Franco clearly positioned himself as being, but Franco still shows that he is a charismatic-figure to watch on the screen, even when he’s just being a bumbling, hillbilly idiot. Surely a bit different from what he did as Gator, or as Alien, but kind of the same idea, I guess.

Everybody else does what they can, but with Franco at the helm, they’re sort of just left to fend for themselves. Tim Blake Nelson makes absolutely no sense most of the time as Anse, the head-of-the-family, but is at least entertaining to watch and brings some much needed humor, and energy to a film that desperately needed some, and quick; Ahna O’Reilly is a pretty face, but she proves that she’s more than just that with her performance here as Dewey Dell, the type of girl that seems like she’s about to have a nervous-breakdown at any given moment; Jim Parrack is a fine fit as Crash, the tough, smarter one of the family and shows that even in his most bone-headed decisions, nobody would want to pick a smarts-battle with him; and the same thing that I said about Tim Blake Nelson here, could practically be said for Logan Marshall-Green and his performance as the highly messed-up and problematic baby of the family, Jewel, but has more of a negative-energy going on about him that makes you feel like he truly is apart of this family, for better and for worse. Oh, and even though Danny McBride may be constantly mentioned in the advertisements for this, don’t be fooled; the guy literally shows up for what seems to be maybe ten or 15 minutes, says a few things, uses a weak, Southern-accent, wears a nice farmer’s hat and walks away, presumably to finish the joint that he and Franco lit-up back-stage before shooting.

Consensus: Adapting William Faulkner’s source-material was no easy-feat to begin with, but As I Lay Dying shows us that that statement couldn’t be anymore truer, especially since James Franco himself seems so passionate about getting this material perfect, right down to the nitty, gritty bone, that he forgets what makes a movie worth watching in the first place: Cohesion.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Talk about a family affair!

Talk about a family affair!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Cause I’m proud to be an American, where Michael Bay makes crappy movies.

It was the morning of December 7, 1941, and as usual, everything was practically the same. Except, only a couple moments later, Japanese planes attack Pearl Harbor, killing thousands and injuring more, thus beginning America’s own, official involvement with WWII. However, despite the movie being named after that horrific event in our history that we will soon never forget, the story isn’t too concerned with that. What the story is concerned with is the life-long friendship between two pilots, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett). They’ve both been through thick and thin together from an early age, so they feel as if joining the U.S.A.’s Army Air Corps won’t even come close to putting a stranglehold on their friendship, however, they’re wrong. Dead wrong, to be exact and ironic. Because once Rafe volunteers to help out things for the British on their turf-war against the Germans, things go bad and Rafe winds up killed on the battlefield. This leaves Danny devastated, just as much as it leaves Evelyn Stewart (Kate Beckinsale), the little Navy nurse that Rafe shacked-up with before he went off to-duty. Now that Rafe is gone from both of their lives, the only thing that Danny and Evelyn can do is move on, which ultimately means that they have to start banging one another. Which is fine for quite some time, that is, until Rafe turns out to be alive after all! Dun dun dun!

And I do promise you that the Japanese planes do eventually come into play and start bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor, however, you’ve got to wad through almost two hours of poor character-development, horrendous acting, a cheesy love-triangle that couldn’t be any less unemotional or compelling, obvious propaganda, war movie clichés where fellow soldiers make dirty sex jokes to one another, Japanese army generals looking as if they only sleep, eat and breath death and destruction, and Jon Voight in a rubber double-chin.

Yawn. Where's the explosions?

Yawn. Where’s the explosions?

And even then, yes, the movie still gets a slight recommendation from me.

I know, I know, I know! The flames from hell will rise up with that statement, but please do let me explain. I assure you: If I do not convince you that this is an “okay movie” in the most respectable, reasonable sense-of-the-word, then I give you the right to just automatically block my blog from your mind, for the rest of your natural-born life. Deal? Okay, then. Let’s get started, shall I?

Honestly, it makes sense why this movie was made: A similar, star-crossed lovers romance flick, that just so happened to take place around a disastrous time, in a certain place, Titanic, made a lot of big bucks and brought home almost every statue imaginable, so why not try to emulate that success once again, but this time, with an even more tragic event in our country’s history, the attack on Pearl Harbors? Better yet, why not get an auteur who can not only bring us the emotional-cues we need to fall in love with these dream-boats, more so than they’re falling for each other, but also give us a realistic, jaw-dropping look at what the bombings most likely did feel like: Michael Bay? Yeah, that decision just never sits right with me and while I can see why they did nab him for this movie (more on that later), there’s still apart of me wondering about better, more able choices out there. I can’t really come up with any on the top of my head that would have been able to handle both the romance side of the story, as well as the action-spectacle surrounding it, but Michael Bay is nowhere near one of those names, except for maybe the later aspect (like I said, more on that later).

That’s probably why this movie gets its ass kicked so much by viewers and critics, because while it may promise you an endless array of shit blowing up to pieces, it doesn’t occur for quite some time and instead, we’re left with a romance that’s as titillating as watching you’re grand-parents celebrate their 60th anniversary together. It’s dull, it’s dry, it’s uneventful and as much as I hate to say it, but the only thing that makes these scenes a whole lot better to get through, is that you know the Pearl Harbor attack is only right around the bend. Terrible thing to think about a real-life event and actually to be looking forward to it, but when you put your mind through something like a Michael Bay movie, where all sorts of strangeness takes precedence, then you just have to hope for the best and wait to see what comes around.

Which is exactly why when the Pearl Harbor attacks happened, even though I’ve seen it about a hundred million times now (two of those times were actually watching the whole movie, all over again), it still was able to send chills up my spine, scare my shorts off and make me realize that for what it’s worth, Michael Bay can still direct the hell out of his action scenes and have them come off as something that’s close to the real thing. I know a lot of people will probably get on this movie’s case, as well as my own for even recommending it in the slightest bit, about how certain things that are portrayed in these attacks, didn’t really occur in real life, but to me, that didn’t quite hurt my feelings about this movie. I understand that with a Michael Bay movie, you have to sort of expect all types of craziness to happen, regardless of it is real or not. I know it sounds crazy to say that about the Pearl Harbor attacks, but seriously, it didn’t get into my brain as much because it was a Michael Bay movie. If it was anybody else like say James Cameron, or Steven Spielberg, or anybody else for that matter, then it would be a totally different story and predicament. However, when you have a Michael Bay movie on your hands, you sort of have to treat it like you would a five-year-old who doesn’t get their way: Just let them act-up, piss, moan and do whatever else it is that they do, just as long as you remember to make sure they get back on the right path.

May be a terrible analogy, may not be, but what I’m trying to get across is that while Michael Bay can, and does make many, many mistakes with this movie, the fact that he was able to show the Pearl Harbor attacks in the best way humanly possible back in the beginning of the New Millennium, more than makes up for those said mistakes. In fact, I’d wager that if you were really that interested in seeing what these Pearl Harbor attacks are all about and how they look, especially without even watching the rest of the crap that comes before it, then just check it all out on YouTube. Probably easier and better for your mind, eyes, soul and time-management. But I’m a movie critic and I watch full-length movies, in their entirety. Which, in essence, means that when I watch a movie, I watch the full she-bang just in case I may miss something that I do, or don’t like.

And believe it or not, there’s actually one more aspect surrounding this movie that I did in fact like: The cast.

That's more like it! I guess? I don't know?

That’s more like it! I guess? I don’t know?

Actually, let me rephrase that better by saying, “the supporting cast”. See, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Affleck (pre-directing days, people, so it’s alright to bash him if you want), though with their best intentions, absolutely suck the life out of this movie. Affleck is barely around since he “dies” in the first twenty or so minutes, only to show up an-hour-and-a-half later and do nothing else other than yell, shoot down Japanese soldiers and try to teach his best-buddy a lesson about banging his girlfriend while he was away, so I guess he doesn’t totally count. Which then leaves us to be stuck with Beckinsale and Hartness who have no chemistry whatsoever, can’t seem to get through even the shittiest of lines without struggling a bit and show no charisma at all. They just seem like they were thrown on a platter, told to talk to one another by their chaperon Michael Bay and did what they had to do so that they could collect that paycheck, go on home to their significant other, sweet-talk them into the next morning and get back to the day’s next events. Which, most likely, consisted of the same, meandering crap of boring us to death.

But since they suck so much, this does leave plenty of room for the supporting cast to charm the hell out of us, and that is exactly what most of them do, for better and definitely for worse. Alec Baldwin gets the “Affleck treatment” here as well, where he shows up for no more than five minutes in the first-half, does his bit, makes us laugh, and practically is non-existent for the next two-and-a-half hours, until he shows back up and does the same thing as before: Act nutty and steal the show. Cuba Gooding Jr. gets to do the same kind of stuff, except for the fact that he feels criminally underused in a film that could have used his warmth and charm to help the movie move along. However, he’s still fine. Same goes for Tom Sizemore who, once again, plays a gritty, raw and unfrightened military sergeant who isn’t afraid to bring out the big guns in the heat of the battle. Then we have Jon Voight as the previously-mentioned, rubber double-chin president, FDR, and is fine for giving us somebody that is obviously Jon Voight playing FDR, but is still enjoyable enough to give him a pass. Same goes for the likes of Jennifer Garner, Ewen Bremner, Michael Shannon, Colm Feore and heck, even Jamie King, who never does anything for me, EVER in any other flick. She’s just another set of beautiful, bright eyes and nice……talents, which probably made her the love of Michael Bay’s life for the whole time they were shooting. All until she got creeped out, told him to piss off and he was about done with her. Hey, not like it hasn’t ever happened!

Consensus: Undeniably hokey, badly-written, hollow and laughably idiotic at times, and yet, Pearl Harbor is still okay enough to watch, if only for the amazing Pearl Harbor sequence itself, and some supporting performances that have you forget about the awful leads practically doing nothing with what they’re given, which is even worse considering it’s a Michael Bay movie.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Convince you yet? Probably not, but so be it! Michael Bay rules!

Convince you yet? Probably not, but so be it! So I’ll just let it all out: Michael Bay rules!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

Extract (2009)

If you have Mila Kunis working with you, work isn’t really THAT bad.

Joel (Jason Bateman) is one step away from selling his flavor extract factory and retiring to easy street when all of a sudden, a freak workplace accident sets in motion a series of disasters that puts his business and personal life in jeopardy. Problems like wondering if he should stick with his stay-at-home wife (Kristen Wiig), or run off and have an affair with a fellow co-worker (Mila Kunis). Thankfully, Joel has the ability to blow-off some steam, courtesy of the good vibes and weed his buddy (Ben Affleck) presents him.

It was over a decade since the biting, work-place satire helmed by Mike Judge, Office Space, came out so it only seems right that everybody would have high expectations for this work-place satire helmed by, well, you guessed it, Mike Judge. Problem is, those high expectations are what exactly killed this movie.

Nope, sadly no staplers stolen in this one.

George Michael would not be proud.

George Michael would not be proud.

Actually, the word “killed” may not be the right one to use for this flick because it’s not necessarily anything that’s terrible or could even be considered bad, it’s just “generally okay”, which may or may not infuriate fans of Judge, depending on what you have come to expect with the dude. Judge has been able to prove time and time again, that he still has that great comedic-timing that works no matter what story he’s doing or whatever character’s are involved with it. We get plenty of gross-out gags, random acts of people being dumb, and the occasional weed joke here and there. It’s humor that Judge does so well with and what’s always great about his writing, is how everything is very subtle. There are plenty of times where I chuckled here and even had a belly laugh, which is actually a lot better than nothing, especially with some of the shitty, mainstream comedies we get almost every month. Now it’s obviously not as funny as Office Space, but then again: what is?!!? You’ll never get that movie again so you can’t really hold that against this film too much, even if it is a bit obvious that Judge is trying to harken-back to those days. Just a bit.

Anybody expecting any type of satire whatsoever, will probably be more disappointed than ever since there is barely to little of any of that. Instead, we get a pretty lame story about some dude’s life falling apart, one randomly shitty situation after the next. This could have been a whole lot funnier but it almost seems like Judge focused on it’s story way too much, which wouldn’t have bothered me as much if the story was at least somewhat interesting and if the laughs kept ‘a rollin’. Problem is, the story tries too hard and so does Judge with his jokes, to where it almost seemed like he was really struggling to get his one-liners and jokes to stick, like he would expect people to be quoting them for years and years and years. Doesn’t work and not a single moment/line in this movie even comes close.

Another factor as to why this comedy doesn’t seem to hit as well here is that a lot of these comedic scenes go on way too long. Judge has always had a knack for letting long, drawn-out scenes play to his advantage to where he could really get something ridiculous happening but here, he just seemed like he needed an editor of sorts. One scene, in particular, was when Bateman and Affleck decide to go and get smoked-up at this one dude’s place, which seems to go on and on and on with the same joke. Would have been fine if it was the least bit of humorous, but none of it was, and only there to play-up to this one big gag at the end of it, and it wasn’t even worth remembering, so when it does happen, it goes right over our heads as if it never occurred or we didn’t get the joke. Seemed like a total waste of 5 minutes for this flick, and could have been time put into random situations that actually made me laugh, or anything else in this movie for that matter.

But as disappointing as this flick may be with it’s comedy, you still can’t go wrong with the cast that Judge has assembled. Jason Bateman is fine as our main character, Joel, and he perfectly plays up that straight-man role that allows there to be a lot of opportunities for him to let loose on some of his more subtle comedic chops that we get to see plenty of, just not in films that deserve his skills. Bateman’s fine, then again, he’s always been fine, even if he does continue to channel Michael Bluth, time and time again. The act doesn’t get old, even if every movie he’s been in hasn’t been able to take advantage of it just quite yet. However, the fact of the matter still remains is that the guy has been better and probably has had a lot better characters to play, too because let’s face it: did anybody care about this guy and his love and affection for flavoring extract? I know I sure as hell didn’t, and I think everybody else shared the same sympathies as me. Quirky jobs and passions can only go so far for movies.

Gosh, I guess marriage is THAT much like work.

Gosh, I guess marriage is THAT much “like work”.

But the real stand-out from this cast is none other than Ben Affleck himself, playing Joel’s good stoner buddy, Dean. Affleck has always been the most enjoyable to watch on-screen, mainly because he loves poking fun at himself and is usually game for that type of comedy. So to be given the chance to play a total stoner that is always on another level, mentally and physiologically, and is allowed to do whatever he wants with this funny-ass side-kick, it means comedic-gold for the dude and he just runs with it, in just about every scene he’s in. Shame that that’s all he is in this flick because the guy totally steals the show and makes for a pretty great friend that would be more than willing to help you out with any problems you had. Just let him put a pill in your mouth and see what type of cooky-shit happens next.

As for everybody else, they’re all pretty fine too, but just nothing all that spectacular. Mila Kunis plays the con-gal, Cindy, and even though she may be very easy on the eyes, she’s just not all that funny here; Kristen Wiig plays Joel’s wife, and she has some funny bits but she’s been funnier too; J.K. Simmons has some great lines as Joel’s co-worker that can’t seem to get anybody’s names right; and David Koechner shows up and plays, what is essentially, the neighbor-from-hell. Good cast, but they have all been funnier in plenty of other stuff before, and especially, after this.

Consensus: It features some fine performances and funny moments that work well with the subject-material, but anybody expecting anything close to an Office Space 2 or anything like that at all, will be disappointed by Extract and just by how unfunny it can be due to some lackluster decisions from Judge, both the risky and lazy ones.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Gene Simmons cameos were funny, like back in 1985!!

Gene Simmons cameos were funny, like back in 1985!!