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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Craig Johnson

True Adolescents (2009)

Grow up, or don’t. Just don’t stop listening to indie.

Sam Bryant (Mark Duplass), for lack of a better term, a bit of a loser. He’s jobless, homeless, and oh yeah, his hopes and dreams of one day breaking it in the music-business seem to be dwindling more and more each day, but for some reason, he just doesn’t seem to know, or understand that just yet. And now that he’s getting up there in his 30’s, it’s time for him to do a bit of growing up, even if he’s too stubborn to ever figure out how. Which is why when he ends up staying at his aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo)’s place, he thinks he’s got it made. He tries to get a job, he tries to clean up after himself, and oh yeah, his younger cousin, Oliver (Brett Loehr), he gets along with quite well, even if there is a bit of an age-barrier and different understanding between what’s “cool”, and what isn’t. Then, they head out on a small hiking trip along with Oliver’s friend Jake (Carr Thompson), who seems to be really close with Oliver, and Sam doesn’t want to get in the way. Until, well, he feels that he has to.

Always stick with the hipster bands.

The “man-child” subgenre of movies, or better yet, indie movies, is a bit old and slowly, but somewhat surely, beginning to die. There is, of course, every few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, it seems like watching a tale about a mid-30 dude not holding down a job, having a place to sleep, and just never allowing himself to grow up is, well, a tad bit boring. That’s not to say that it isn’t true and isn’t definitely the case with most dudes out there, but as far as indie-movies go, yeah, they can tend to be a bit repetitive.

But True Adolescents is a small and somewhat rare exception to that rule, if only because it seems to have a tad bit more something to say about these man-children; instead of getting down on these people and showing why they’re losers, writer/director Craig Johnson does realize that there’s more to these kinds of people than we initially expect. For one, they’re not all terrible people – immature, sure, but definitely not immoral, evil human beings who have no clear mind about the law, or how to exist in a governing society. If anything, they’re just sort of babies, the kinds that need to be coddled and cared for, as opposed to kicked out and thrown onto the streets.

And in a way, this makes Sam Bryant a tad bit more sympathetic, than we’d normally expect.

It does help that Mark Duplass is great in this role and can practically play this character in his sleep, but it’s interesting to watch someone like Sam develop over time, as we begin to realize more and more that he’s just a total tool, and less of an actual baby. Okay, maybe he’s a huge mixture of both, but still, Duplass never makes him unlikable – he’s always someone we enjoy watching and want to see more over time, whether he’s learning a thing or two about the world, being nicer to those around him, or even getting a job. No matter what this character does, or says, Duplass is always there to pick up the pieces and remind us that, oh yeah, he’s one of the most likable presences on the screen today.

Coolest aunt ever? Probs.

In a pre-Oscar role, Melissa Leo is also quite charming as the smart, understanding, and stern Aunt Sharon who doesn’t really take much of Sam’s crap, but also knows to listen to him more and not judge him for who he is, or what it is that he represents. Even the two kids, played by Brett Loehr and Carr Thompson, are good, too, but their characters is where the movie starts to confuse itself and get a little odd. Without saying too much, there’s a small revelation made about halfway through that doesn’t necessarily come out of nowhere, but also doesn’t seem pertinent to the story and what we’re going for, either. Johnson seems to start True Adolescents out in a familiar way, then puts more of a focus and attention on the characters and their relationships, only to then, halfway through, make it about something else completely.

Which is hard for me to say, without spoiling a whole lot about this movie.

It just seems that Johnson was fond of throwing us for a loop, did just that, but also as a result, forgot to keep his story cohesive. It becomes a whole entirely different beast in general and honestly, lost me a bit, almost as much as it seems to lose itself. That said, a solid first and middle half are fine enough, so whatever.

Consensus: True Adolescents loses itself after the halfway-mark, but still keeps itself interesting with good performances and a smart approach to the whole nauseating “man-child” subgenre of indie flicks.

7 / 10

I’d hike for days with Mark Duplass. Maybe not Jay.

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…., Filmwax Radio

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Rendition (2007)

How sad is it when the only thing you remember from a movie is the water-boarding?

Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst based in North Africa is forced to question his assignment after he witnesses the brutal and unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American by secret North African police. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is an Egyptian-American chemical engineer whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and who is now suspected of a terrorist act. And his very pregnant wife Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon), does everything in her power to find her missing husband. All three stories are connected in strange, if tragic ways.

"You can trust me. I've never played anyone sinister before."

“You can trust me. I’ve never played anyone sinister before.”

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the act the U.S. Government calls, “Extraordinary Rendition”, is not relevant, hell, it’s not even needed to understand or appreciate this movie anymore. It’s basically just a way for Hollywood to preach and say how they are so against the war in Iran and how George Bush is a big, old dummy. There’s no issue with these statements, but when it seems like that’s all your movie’s got to say or do, then you don’t really have a movie.

You just have a soap-box you can’t get off of.

It’s safe to say that Rendition‘s plot is, for the most part, intriguing and deals with all sorts of political questioning and intrigue that makes political-thrillers like this so appealing. Taking all of these different stories, from different continents and having them all make a lick of a difference of how they all connect, is what keeps the interest-factor of this alive and well for about the first 30 minutes or so. Director Gavin Hood is a skilled-enough guy to make it seem like he has a clear head and idea of what he wants to do and where he wants to go, but also what he wants to talk about.

Hood shows that, while our anti-terrorist tactics in America may be considered “necessary” they are, in no ways, the most pitch perfect way to infiltrate any terrorist or their activities. In ways, just picking up a person off the street because of what they look like, torturing them, prodding, teasing them, and having them think that they are terrorists, well, believe it or not, can sometimes create terrorists in the first place. While there’s plenty of torture-sequences that go a bit far and beyond what you’d expect from a glitzy, glamorous Hollywood production, it still serves enough of a purpose to matter in what Rendition, the movie, is trying to get across.

Which is why the next two hours seem like a total slog.

Pondering the day of when he'll win an Oscar.

Pondering the day of when he’ll win an Oscar.

But what’s worse about Rendition is how it seems like it had a lot more going for it, but for some reason, none of that’s to be found in the two-hours-and-two-minute run-time. For instance, certain plots go unresolved and there actually seems to be more questions, than actual answers in the long-run. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the studio wanted to trim down some of the run-time to not scare people away, but really, the damage can kind of already be done. Those who veer-off in the leftie territory, may still find themselves a bit troubled with how far this movie goes with it’s preaching, to where it seems like its main concern is letting people know how it feels, and less about actually telling a real, compelling story.

This is all the more of a shame, due to the fact that the cast here is actually pretty solid and definitely deserves better.

Jake Gyllenhaal really nails the part of the young, brash CIA agent that can’t get past the fact of all the crazy stuff he’s seeing right in front of him and it’s another great role for an actor that was really climbing the totem pole at the time. Now, on the other hand, everybody knows what to expect from the guy and that’s pretty cool considering this is Donnie Darko we are all talking about here. Reese Witherspoon has top-billing here as the wife of Anwar El-Ibrahimi, but doesn’t do much mainly because she is probably in the film for 20 minutes. That didn’t bother me much, mainly because every time she’s onscreen, she really seems like she’s struggling to be taken seriously and it even gets to the point of where she’s just screaming at the top of her lungs, “WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?!?!?”.

Yeah, sorry gal. No Oscar for you this time around.

Peter Sarsgaard is probably the most memorable out of the whole cast, since he really does seem like a genuinely nice guy (change of pace for the dude), and one that feels really convicted of doing the right thing, regardless of how much trouble it will get him in with the higher-ups. Sarsgaard is always great with every role he’s given and he’s probably the most believable character out of the whole bunch, mainly because his problem can’t be as solved easily. Meryl Streep seems like she’s tailor-made for the queen bitch role as Corrine Whitman, a powerful women that makes men soil themselves with the sound of her voice, and as good as she may be with this role, it still feels like a bit of an undercooked character, that could have been used so much more and so much better than what she really was. Alan Arkin also shows up and does his thing, and that’s not so bad, but it’s kind of a waste of a dude that literally won an Oscar a year before this even came out.

Consensus: Rendition deals with plenty of interesting ideas about the then-current political world, but really, despite a solid cast, doesn’t fully come together.

6 / 10

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Good thing I don’t have a twin. Too much trouble as is with one me.

Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) haven’t spoken to one another in ten years, yet, they both attempt suicide on what seems to be the same day, within a few hours or so from one another. Though, Milo is the one who seems to be at least the most successful with his attempt and lands himself in a hospital, where Maggie comes to see him and urge him to come back to her small place in New York, with her husband (Luke Wilson) and, hopefully-soon-to-be, children. While there though, Milo begins to realize that Maggie and her hubby aren’t having the best of marriage and he believes that most of this might stem from the problems they suffered as kids, with their hapless mother and deceased father. Either way though, they count on one another to get each other through the thick and thin, even if one likes to think they have a better life than the other, as untrue as that may actually be.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

My same reaction to whenever anybody catches me in drag.

There’s something rather nerve-wracking about watching a movie in which, the people involved are most known for their comedic-sensibilities, and spend a good majority of the movie doing the exact opposite of that. That’s the feeling one can get with the Skeleton Twins, because although we know Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as two of the latest members of the SNL cast to leave onto bigger and (hopefully), better things, most of the screen-time here is dedicated to them being downright serious. Sure, they goof around at times, and make jokes at others, but for the most part, what Hader and Wiig do here is keep it dramatic, sad, and most of all, serious. Not all of the time, of course, but a good part of it.

However, while I may make this sound like a problem, that couldn’t be further and further away from the truth.

With the Skeleton Twins, and through Hader’s and Wiig’s performances, we get an inside glimpse into the lives of two very sad people who are, for lack of a better term, fed-up with the lives they have. One is upset about a recent love of his breaking his heart, whereas the other is tired of living a life that she doesn’t even know she can continue on with any longer, and while this could all be labeled down to “white people problems”, co-writer/director Craig Johnson does a very fine job at keeping clichés to a minimum of maybe five or so. But even when he does seem to be travelling down the used far too often road of “Cliché Land”, Johnson finds a way to spin it on its head and not just surprise us, but himself as well.

Take, for instance, the scene in which Hader lip-synchs “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” to Wiig; a scene which, in most movies, is so corny and tired, it had me wondering whether or Johnson himself even realized this, but was going to stick with the scene anyway. Well, thankfully, he does because it gets better and better as it goes on, and pretty damn funny, too. So much so that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear that lovely track by Starship ever the same again.

No joke, either.

But that’s why there’s something so charming and surprising about what Johnson does here – though he sets every scene up the way you’d expect him to (there’s even a scene in which Maggie and Milo get stoned and speak their true feelings), he changes it up at the last second and takes a surprising left turn. Though his swerves in the road don’t always work, for the most part, they’re effective enough to where they at least deserve credit for trying, rather than falling flat on their faces and having Johnson look silly. But you can’t even hate on a director for being ambitious, if even in the slightest, teeniest ways.

Same could be said for both Hader and Wiig who, like I mentioned before, aren’t really being all that funny in this movie. Okay, that’s kind of a lie because yes, in this movie, Wiig and Hader are very funny, but not all of the time. Then again though, they aren’t trying so hard to make you realize that they’re actually acting, and more or less, just become their characters. Maybe this is less of a challenge for Wiig because, ever since she left SNL, we’ve seen her wade through heavily dramatic characters, one after another, and there’s always something surprising about how well she’s able to pull it off.

But I guess the one who gets called into question the most about his actual abilities as an actor is Bill Hader who, much like Wiig, has done some dramatic-fare in the past, but never as deep or as dark as he plunges into here. As Milo, an openly-gay character, Hader doesn’t over-do it with the gay eccentrics, like as if it were done for jokes, but more so, as we’re supposed to see the type of person he is and feel bad for him as a result. Hader excels in this role and it has me excited to see what he could possibly due next, not just because he seems to have finally get that role which will have him be taken more seriously as an actor, but because he doesn’t have to worry about being around and free on Lorne Michaels’ schedule and can do what he wants, whenever he wants.

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Look at that face! How could you hate it?!?

Same goes for Wiig, but having seen her in many others movie, I’ve known this for quite some time. The real beauty here though, is that her and Hader are so believable as a brother-sister combo that it actually feels like how they were written – they were close for so very long, only to then fall out of touch with one another. But, what the real beauty behind their relationship is that, whenever they get the chances to do so, the inherent spark that’s usually there in any family, still shows and it allows these two to play-off of each other so perfectly. And I don’t mean in that they get to be funny, but more so in the way that they’re able to reveal small, tender insights into the people they are, solely by their interaction.

It’s the kind of performances most movies would kill for, and it’s made all the better by the fact that these aren’t the types of roles we expect these two stars to have.

Away from those two though, it was also lovely to see Luke Wilson in here; not just because he’s good, but because he’s actually working again and showing off that likability of his that hardly ever goes away, no matter what he’s in. Most of this has to do with the character and the way he’s written – Lance is a guy who is quite eager about the life he’s lived and the life that may be in front of him and though that sometimes may be off-putting to those around him in the movie, the movie never plays it up for laughs, or seems to be making fun of him for the way he is. He’s just an all around, simply put, nice guy who, sadly, seemed to marry the wrong woman. May have been for the right reasons, but there’s still a bit of sadness that we know it may end well between Lance and Maggie, but the chance that it may not, is incredibly sad.

Although, at the end of the day, all he has to do is laugh it off, smile, and get on with his day. Much like everybody else on this planet.

Consensus: Anchored by two wonderful performances from Hader, Wiig and Wilson, the Skeleton Twins gets by because it presents conventions, but hardly ever falls for them, no matter how tempting they may be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

The separation I have with everyone around me at family reunions.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbizGoggle Images