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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Brian Van Holt

Wild (2014)

I just walked from my living-room to the kitchen, so why am I still addicted to heroin?

One day, 30-ish-year-old Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to do a 1,000 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, all by her lonesome-self. Why is this? Well, after years of drug abuse, random sex with strangers, the loss of her mother (Laura Dern), a few pregnancy scares, and her recent divorce, Cheryl has about had it up to here with life and finally realizes that in order for her to finally change it all, she has to get away from it all and focus her attention on another part of her life: Survival. This means, for Cheryl, she has to eat a lot of cold oatmeal, stay hydrated, stay warm, not die, and sure as hell not get raped by any of the huge creep-o’s that may, or may not be out there in the wilderness, just waiting for a little thing like her to come around into their little wooden-hut. Mostly though, Cheryl just wants to change her life and along her journey, she meets people that are sometimes in the same situation as her, or are just simply hiking for the hell of it.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going....

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going….

You know, like we all do.

On the outside looking into a movie like Wild, I cannot help myself one bit to not just scoff at a piece that includes someone played by Reese Witherspoon hiking on an Eat Pray Love-style journey of self-discovery, all because she shot up heroin, had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s, and got a divorce, because she had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s. To me, not only does it sound like not “my type of thing”, but it seems like pure Oscar-bait for Witherspoon to show her “range”, and also to see her as a bad-ass kind of gal. Call me harsh, call me what you will, but I know when a movie intrigues me and this was not one of them.

But, from the inside of this movie looking out, I can easily say that not only did it turn out to be “my type of thing”, but Witherspoon more than proved herself capable of being hot, sassy little mama who screws, shoots up, and divorces, whatever she wants, when she wants, and how she chooses to do so.

I never thought I’d ever be typing that in my life, but such is the case when you have a little surprise like this on your hands.

And most of that is due to director Jean-Marc Vallée’s handling of this material and not just letting it tell itself; Vallée gets us inside the mind of this Cheryl Strayed character, shows us what she’s thinking, when she’s thinking, why, and how it affects her current journey in life. Though it gets a bit over-the-top with all of the constant smarmy-narration from Strayed, Vallée still does a nice enough job of putting us slap dab in the middle of this woman’s life and the journey she’s embarking on, and making us actually care for her. Sure, he may utilize more flashbacks than two whole episodes of Lost, but they’re flashbacks that work and allow us to grow closer to this character, the more and more that we know about her.

And trust me, that’s not an easy feet, especially when you have Reese Witherspoon playing the main character, but there’s something about her here that really shocked me and actually puts her whole career into perspective, as a matter of fact. See, it’s not that I dislike Witherspoon as an actress – I think she’s immensely talented and, in the past, has proven to be quite versatile in what she’s chosen, and for how much cash. But lately, it seems that the Reese we all once knew and loved as Elle Woods (or as Tracy Flick, for all you cool 90’s kids out there), has gone the way of the Dodo and would much rather take a huge pay-cut to star in movies where dashing, handsome-as-hell men fight to the death for her and leave her going, “Oh, golly!”

Well, my friends, you no longer have to be scared because it seems like the Reese Witherspoon we all loved is back and this time, she’s rawer than ever! Meaning, that yes, Witherspoon does get quite naked in here and shows us elements to her abilities as an actress that none of us have ever seen before, and it all works. She’s compelling, smart and gives much insight into the type of damaged woman you can still like and care for, even if she’s made some pretty dumb mistakes in the past, and especially to people who don’t at all deserve it. The role could have easily been another large check for Witherspoon, but she puts so much effort into it that it actually pays off and has me so excited to see what she has next. Because, quite frankly, with all of the hits on her hands, by now, she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her career.

....and going......

….and going……

Quite like Cheryl Strayed.

Anyway, all that aside, Wild isn’t perfect. There are moments where it seems to fall back on “are they, or aren’t they rapists” aspect of its story and while it may bring tension to the story, it feels constantly thrown in there, if only to just keep peoples eyes open and watching the screen. But that isn’t to say Cheryl Strayed’s adventure isn’t, as is, already intriguing, or even, ever so slightly, inspirational, because, yes, it is. Though Vallée doesn’t hit us over-the-head too many times with making us feel like we should love this person more and more as she goes on with our journey, it’s still easy to do so. Not because she’s been through a whole hell of a lot to begin with, but because she actually wants to make amends for it all.

The real reason as to why she actually gets up one day and decides to say, “Aw, fuck it! Time for a 1,000 mile hike”, is a question that the movie brings up, never explicitly answers, and leaves hanging like a sad flower that’s been without water for too long. But it doesn’t need to. With giving us many insights into Strayed’s past-life, we get the impression that she needs this more than anything. However, rather than being a total baby and seeming like she’s running away from her problems, it seems more like she’s walking towards a new life, that will probably have its fair share of problems. However, she’s constantly learning and understanding that life will always get better. Sometimes though, you just have to take advantage of it, get up, and see what’s out there in this huge canvas we call “Earth”.

Okay, now I’m definitely getting sappy here. Damn you, Reese!

Consensus: With a compelling lead performance from a very dedicated Reese Witherspoon, Wild gets past any of the problems it may have with its narrative and reminds its audience about the small pleasures in life, even if they don’t always come right away.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...and, yup, you guessed it, still going......

…and, yup, you guessed it, still going……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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Black Hawk Down (2001)

Did the U.S. Army actually screw up for once? And come close to admitting it?!?! What is this?!?

It’s the fall of 1992 in Mogadishu, Somalia, and just about every citizen of that city is starving to death. Why? Well, powerful warlords are using starvation as a fear-tactic to knock down the weak, get the strong ones, and find out who is most loyal to fighting the good fight. This doesn’t seem like such a nice thing in the eyes of Americans, so it’s seems obvious that the next the U.S. army would take would be to go over there themselves and show them the right way to live and be socially acceptable. In order to do this, they need to capture a powerful warlord named Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the same warlord who declared war on the remaining U.N. personnel still left in his territory. Together as one, the U.S. Army Rangers, Delta Force soldiers, and 160th SOAR aviators all gang up to capture him in what is snow-balled as a “30 minute mission”, no more, no less. However, when one soldier (Orlando Bloom) makes the rookie mistake and gets badly injured in the heat of the battle, that’s when all of the forces begin to fall apart, lose formation, balance, and sight of what they’re in this land for anyway. Suddenly, a 30 minute mission becomes a whole day-affair with more than a few casualties, and families with members taken away from them, as a result.

"Exposition, exposition, oh, and before I forget to mention it: Exposition."

“Exposition, exposition, oh, and before I forget to mention it: Exposition.”

So marks the fifth and most likely not going to be my final, viewing of this movie and needless to say, time has not done this one well. That’s less of a hit on this movie, and more of a hit on the type of pretentious movie reviewer I have become, but so be it! The fact of the matter is that even though the film has lost its steam in certain spots over the years, the spots that worked so well for me in the first place, still do work. And that all goes back to Ridley Scott’s direction which is, once again, nothing short of spectacular.

It’s common-knowledge now that Scott doesn’t just take a piece of material because he wants to get a new cover for his Jacuzzi; he takes it because he wants to, and feels so passionate about it that he’ll put his whole heart, mind, body, and soul into it. Sometimes, that can usually backfire on him, which is why he is one of the very few filmmakers working today to have director’s cut editions on almost all of his movies, but for the most part, the guy knows what he is doing behind the camera, and it allows for the viewer to take a peak inside of his mind, see what he sees, and wonder just how the hell he was able to cobble all of these pieces of film together to make one, long, cohesive story.

Maybe that’s why the movie won Best Editing all of those years ago. Just maybe.

But anyway, the landing-point for this tangent is that Scott, no matter how hollow the stories he works on may be, he himself, as a director and visual artist, is not. As soon as the movie begins, you feel as if you’re right there with each and every one of these soldiers just shooting the shit, cracking jokes, trying to prove whose ding-a-ling is bigger than the other’s, and so on and so forth. This starts things off on the right, if not more relaxed, foot, so that when things do start to get all crazy and jumpy, not only do we get hit with a sure rush of energy, but make us feel like all of the nice, happy, and playful vibes have gone elsewhere. This is where the material gets serious, and pretty damn violent as well.

However, the violence in this movie never oversteps its boundaries into “gratuitous” territory. Whenever a soldier dies, Scott clearly cares for this character and puts the spotlight right on them for however long that may be, and it gives you the general idea that yes, soldiers did die in this ill-planned raid, but also, fellow human-beings died as well. It’s sad, no questions about it, and that’s why Scott never takes his attention off the gruesome, gory details of this war/raid and has you feel as if you are right there, ducking every bullet within an inch of your life, just hoping that you have the upper-hand on your enemy, and it’s not the other way around. Sort of like warfare, isn’t it? Except that you aren’t actually participating in a war, you’re just watching it all play out, which is both comforting and tense at the same time.

So for right now, I think we’ve pretty much hammered in the fact that Scott is not to be blamed for any of this movie’s short-comings, because trust me, trust me, trust me: There are plenty to be had here. First of all, while I do respect that Scott shows the same type of respect and gratitude to those soldiers who lost their lives during that fateful raid, you never care for any of them. Or, let me try it like this: You’re never really given much of a reason to care in the first place. Sure, it’s easy to feel sympathetic as it is because they’re humans just like us, and were fighting a war, for us, however, nobody really seemed to be the most separate from the pack. Instead, every soldier, with the exception of a whole bunch of familiar faces, feels like the same person and they’re thinly-written persons at that.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeah. Sorry, bud. Not buying it.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeah. Sorry, bud. Not buying it.

Take for instance, our lead guy in the midst of this whole battle, Josh Hartnett as SSG Matt Eversmann. Now, obviously Hartnett has never really been the type of actor to carry a film on his shoulders, which makes it strange and relatively reasonable why Scott would make him the main leader in an ensemble feature, but the kid’s never given a chance here with the lame character he has to work with. Not only does Eversmann start off with the most dull and plain motivations any character, in any war movie has ever had, but his whole arch never changes over time. He just sees the war for all of its gory, bloody despair and detail. Once again, another thoughtful pretty-boy who looks at the world as one big bargaining chip where discussion and finding a middle-ground is daily accepted among society, finds out that the world actually isn’t like that? Really?!?! Is that the type of writing we want to accompany a movie about a raid that the U.S. wrongfully envisioned and got caught with their wankers in their hands more than a few times? I don’t think so, but hey, I guess if you have Ridley Scott on-board as director, not much can really go wrong. That’s if you don’t listen to the characters when they speak, which is exactly the problem here with everybody.

Hell, even the most talented actors among this ensemble can’t even save some of these lines from coming off as terribly corny. Tom Sizemore comes close as the bad ass, tough-as-nails commander that, get this, casually walks to wherever he goes on the battlefield. This whole character gets by on Sizemore’s nasty charm, but it’s so ridiculous, that it almost makes you forget about the rest of the stars in this cast that get stuck with even worse characterizations. Jason Isaacs has a really, REALLY thick Southern drawl that never catches on; Eric Bana’s accent is even worse and makes him seem more like a surfer brah, than an actual self-righteous soldier; Jeremy Piven and Ron Eldard love to crack jokes to one another while they’re getting ready to drop off fellow soldiers into a play land full of guns, bullets, explosions, death, and all sorts of viciousness; Sam Shepard yells out orders from a comfy, cozy bunker somewhere very far, far away from where this is happening, and seems like the type of dick nobody wants to be around, on-or-off the battlefield; and Ewan McGregor’s desk-jockey character, as charming as he may be, has that one skill of being able to make a great cup of coffee. Dude would have been hella popular with Buddy the Elf, but in the middle of Mogadishu, where all sorts of guns are being discharged and explosions are, ahem, doing exactly that, does that really matter? Does that even need to be included in here? Actually, those are all rhetorical. The answer is no!!!

Consensus: Scott’s inspired, jumpy, frenetic, and chaotic direction makes Black Hawk Down a thrilling, exciting, and sometimes, scary war flick, but the script never goes any deeper with its message, motivations behind the actual proceedings, or even the real-life soldiers who were involved with it, most of whom deserve better attention and writing. Except for the coffee guy. Seriously, why was he around again?!?!?!

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Must have been gnarly waves........dude.

Must have been gnarly waves……..dude.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Confidence (2003)

Audiences that go to see a movie always loved getting lied to, especially if it’s from the movie itself.

Jake Vig (Edward Burns) is a sharp and polished grifter who has swindled thousands of dollars from the unsuspecting Lionel Dolby (Leland Orser) with the help of his corrupt crew. However, Lionel wasn’t just any mark, he was an accountant for eccentric crime boss Winston King (Dustin Hoffman). Never one to shy away from a challenge, Jake offers to repay The King by pulling off the biggest con of his career.

Con movies are just so much fun to watch no matter who or what is involved and this flick is no different. However, something also tells me that it should have been a little bit more different.

Director James Foley doesn’t try to do anything new, cool, or improved with the whole con man/heist genre but he does know how to still jazz it up a bit. Although the film deals with a lot of dark subjects such as death, scamming, and robbing, the film still maintains a great deal of humor that keeps it moving with a pace that not only tells the story but also gives you something to laugh at. It’s a heist film that doesn’t really try to take itself too seriously and even though it may get a little carried away with trying too hard to be humorous, in the end, I still found myself laughing and enjoying myself.

What usually makes and breaks these heist flicks is if the actual heist at hand can be taken seriously and could actually happen in real-life with just the right amount of detail the flick is giving it. In this film’s case, it works and it’s very entertaining to see how much detail this film goes into with its actual heist. Some people may not be able to believe that everything here could have happened as neatly as it does here, but the film makes a comment about that and says that if everybody is on the right page and has the right lines, then everything will basically go according to plan. With this flick, that statement is very true and not only was the heist very well-planned but it was also neat to see all that had to go into this one as well.

My problem with this flick is that it isn’t exactly the most original one out there and I think that the lack of surprises was what took me out of this flick. Here and there, the film would give me a little surprise/twist that would catch me off guard, but too many other times I knew exactly what was going to happen, why it was going to happen, and just exactly what the aftermath was going to be. I mean it’s kind of hard to pull out something incredibly original when you got heist flicks like The Sting, The Italian Job, and even The Grifters just showing you all types of originality.

I also think that the reason there were barely any surprises whatsoever with this flick was the way that it was structured. The film begins with Jake being held by gun-point by Morris Chestnut (of all intimating black dudes out there) and he is basically telling us how and why he is in the mess that he’s in. That was fine considering it gives us a bit of mystery to why he is close to being killed but then we see Weisz’ character, who obviously has something to do with the reason he’s being held-up and it sort of just makes it pretty obvious that nothing is going to end up going right for this heist no matter what these guys try to do and that things are basically going to go down as planned. Then again, sometimes it’s not so bad knowing exactly what’s going to happen because it can be fun, but sometimes you can’t just spell out everything that’s to come within the first 5 minutes.

The cast is actually what raises this film higher and made it a lot more fun to watch. Edward Burns is great as the smart, charming, and just straight-up cool con artist here as Jake Vig, and it’s a real wonder as to why the hell this guy hasn’t gotten bigger roles considering he’s actually very good at holding a film down on his own; Rachel Weisz is pretty good here as his main squeeze, Lily, and she gets to show some comedic chops as well; Andy Garcia is pretty strange and goofy as the detective who’s tracking down Vig, named Gunther Butan, and he’s good as well; and Dustin Hoffman is very good as this creepy and snarky kingpin known as The King, and it was really cool to see Hoffman in a role that was not only funny but also very sinister and evil as if this guy could just go crazy one second and blow your head off right away. There’s a whole bunch of other people in this cast that are great too and they all elevate this film from just being another heist flick.

Consensus: Confidence may not be the most original and surprising heist flick out there, but the cast is charming, the direction from James Foley is fun and fast-paced, and the whole heist itself has just enough attention to detail and believability that it makes this film a hell of a lot better than it had any right to be.

6.5/10=Rental!!