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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 Walker

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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The Cobbler (2015)

Soles and souls. Get it?

Small-time cobbler Max Simkin (Adam Sandler) lives a simple life to where he goes about everyday the same. He goes to work; fixes shoes; has coffee; talks to a neighbor of his (Steve Buscemi); and continues the same pattern, the next day and so on and so forth. It’s not great, but Max is a very relaxed dude, so he doesn’t fret about it too much. That’s why, when suddenly, he puts on his father’s old pea-coat and jumps in somebody else’s shoes and realizes that he can look, sound and be somebody that’s not him, but the shoe’s owner, then he can’t help but give this newfound trick a whirl and have some fun with it. However, what starts out as a little bit of fun to get him out of his somewhat boring, uneventful life, Max then finds himself way in over his head when he gets involved with some shady gangsters, and even shadier real estate agents who might be looking to destroy his old neighborhood. This then leads Max to spring into action and use his talents for the greater good of not just those around him, but society as a whole.

It’s understandable why a lot of people despise Adam Sandler and what he’s become. At one point, he was the brightest, best thing to hit the comedy world, but slowly but surely, he began to take on vanity projects that literally just became humorless paid-vacations for him and his buddies, that people, for some reason or another, would still throw shackles of money at, just so that they could see what variation Sandler and co. would make on the fart joke next. However, with last year’s Blended box-office receipts not being exactly what he maybe originally had hoped for, Sandler seems to be, ever so slightly, heading back to his old ways, taking up smaller-projects that not only challenge his audience to see him in a new light, but also challenge him as an actor.

You've been caught, Crawley!

You’ve been caught, Crawley!

And I, for one, am all down for this. Punch Drunk Love is not just one of the better rom-coms of the past decade or so, but also shows that Sandler isn’t just a good actor, but one that can really take over a film, while also showing us darker, more frightening sides to his persona that may have not been there before. Of course, in the years since, Sandler’s hands at drama haven’t always paid-off, but more often than not, he finds his own ways back to the genre, reminding us all that Sandler, first and foremost, is an actor. Even if Men, Women, and Children wasn’t everybody’s favorite, but you can’t discredit Sandler for that, as he was fine in it.

So, with all that being said, I think it’s obvious to know that I was definitely looking forward to the Cobbler. Not because it featured a premise that didn’t seem something out of Sandler’s wheelhouse, but because it was directed and co-written by none other than Thomas McCarthy himself; the kind of film maker that doesn’t just take a paid-gig for the hell of it. He takes time with his movies, which is why a huge part of me had high hopes for this movie and seeing where it took Adam Sandler, the actor, next.

Sadly, it all blew back in my face.

See, the Cobbler may seem like it has promise on the surface – it’s a whimsical take on the old saying that your mom, dad, grand-parent, teacher, inspirational-figure has said to you in the past, “Walk in another person’s shoes and then judge them.” Well, the premise here is that saying, but told literally. Adam Sandler gets in people’s shoes, turns into them, and goes around all of New York City causing all sorts of shenanigans. Sometimes, this leads to him just walking around with a shit-eating grin on his face and dining and dashing out of fancy restaurants, but for awhile, it’s entertaining.

Then, things get real weird, real quick. There’s a possible murder that may or may not happen in the middle of this movie and as soon as it occurs, the tone totally changes from being light and lovely, to dark, disturbing, and even mean. Without saying too much, the murder that occurs is bloody and in-your-face, which then hints at there being a more dangerous story to be told underneath all of this goofiness, but soon, the movie abandons that. Instead, it keeps itself going with the humor and wacky hijinx, that have all but lost their favor; in fact, they feel like a cop-out to get past the fact that we literally just witnessed some character’s murder on the screen. Now, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to laugh it off as just a simple whatever?!?

Uhm, sorry. Last time I checked, when a character suddenly gets killed in a movie, it should be treated as drama, and not just as a passing-joke amongst pals.

So, after this, the movie then decides it needs to have baddies for Max to defeat and by this point, the comedy is so far gone that it’s not at all funny, even if it tried to be. The one-joke premise of this character walking in other people’s shoes and turning into them, turns stale and gets old by about the third time he tries to steal somebody’s bundles of money. But then, the movie gets darker when we’re introduced to violent street gangs and Ellen Barkin’s character; who are both connected in a convoluted manner that I didn’t even bother to think about the second it was introduced to me. All I knew is that both sides owed each other money somehow and we’re both looking to do bad things, to seemingly innocent people.

Better than Cheese? Maybe.

Better than Cheese? Maybe.

But, like I said before, by this time, the movie had already lost me. Which makes me wonder: Just what the hell was Thomas McCarthy doing being stuck with this junk? Better yet, why did he write this to begin with? It would make sense if he was just enlisted to be the director solely for money purposes (although I generally think this was considered “an indie”), but the fact that he actually co-wrote with this with somebody else, already shows that he had some hope in these uneven, uninteresting material to begin with. Whatever the reasons behind McCarthy’s decision to take this movie and make it his own, is totally left up in the air, but all I have to say is that I’m really looking forward to Spotlight later this year.

Which brings me to the next aspect of this movie worth discussing, and that’s Adam Sandler himself. It’d be hard to hate on Sandler here, because he’s literally doing what it seems like the director’s calling on for him to do: Act bored. That’s the way his character is written and I guess that’s exactly how Sandler plays it. Not to mention, it’s a tad hard to really judge Sandler’s performance here, considering that the majority of this movie features his character playing other character, which means that Sandler’s presence gets thrown to the sidelines in favor of some recognizable character actors.

Oh, and Method Man.

Yes, Method Man is in fact a key supporting player in the Cobbler, which actually works against and for the movie. It works for the movie because Method Man’s actually a solid actor, but least when you expect him to be here. Sure, he’s good at playing an a-hole gangster that constantly seems like he’s about to beat the crap out of someone if he doesn’t get his way, but when his character’s soul gets taken over by Max, it’s actually where most of the humor of this movie comes from. Method Man has to play a sweet, more nerdier-version of his character, which is both interesting and odd, but still worth watching because he does well with it.

Then, on the other hand, the movie doesn’t know whether they want to make this character a good guy, or a bad one. He’s a dick that beats his wife, robs people, and threatens lonely, little cobbler’s like Max, but at the same time, there’s still not enough backing-information to make it okay for us to see him get treated the way he does in the later-half of this movie. And even though there’s many more supporting players in this movie (among them are the likes of Dan Stevens, Melonie Diaz, and even Dustin Hoffman), when Method Man ends up becoming your most memorable one, you’ve got something of a problem.

But you’ve got a bigger one when Method Man actually becomes the best part of your said movie.

Consensus: Promising in its premise, the Cobbler wants to be light, funny, and whimsical, yet, goes through so many tonal-transformations, that it makes it very hard to get involved with what happens, let alone actually laugh.

2.5 / 10 

Laugh it off, Sandler. You rich prick, you.

Laugh it off, Sandler. You rich mofo, you.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Unbroken (2014)

Don’t give up. You can cry a little bit, but that’s it.

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was a person who faced all sorts of adversity in his life. As a young kid, he was constantly tattered and teased for being a poor, young immigrant. Then, he grew up a bit and found out that he could run pretty well, which surprisingly took him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. However, his whole life changes once he enlists in the war and faces even more problems than he could have possibly fathomed. After his faulty-plane gets struck down in the middle of the sea, Zamperini, along with two other of his fellow soldiers, are stranded for months at sea, where they are left to survive by any means possible. And I do mean, by any means possible. But then, as soon as things start looking up for Zamperini and he might be possibly rescued, turns out, is actually the Japanese army. This is when Zamperini is taken hostage in a POW camp and is tortured in every which way possible, by the sergeant who seems to have it out for him the most – an entitled, but incredibly violent guy who goes by the name of “The Bird” (Miyavi). But, through thick and thin, Zamperini relies on his inner, as well as outer, strength to get him through even the toughest times.

"You think I'm pretty, huh?"

“You think I’m pretty, huh?”

Or, you know, something like that. And the reason why I say this is because while Angelina Jolie’s film definitely flirts with the idea of being an inspirational tale of one person’s struggle with staying alive, even through all of the adversity he may have been facing, there’s never any real moment where it becomes such. Though Jolie may dress the film up in all sorts of pretty, impressive ways, the fact remains this: Unbroken isn’t a great movie.

It’s a good one, but man, it could have been so much more.

Though, this definitely isn’t to rag on Jolie as a director, because she seems incredibly confident in staging a scene and bringing the right amount of subtle-drama to it, without ever seeming like she’s trying too hard at all, but her movie as a whole just doesn’t quite go anywhere. Which is definitely a weird complaint, considering that you’d think with Zamperini’s real life story, you’d expect a widely compelling, emotional and life-changing movie-experience, but that sort of doesn’t happen. What happens instead, is that you get a well-told story about a guy who, for the lack of a better word, should have hated everything to do with his life and the way it was dealt to him, but thankfully, didn’t and actually excelled as a human being.

While this may sound interesting being typed-out, the sad reality is that, on film, it doesn’t quite translate to being as such. Some of this has to do with the fact that Jolie’s film is by-the-numbers, but also, another part of that has to do with the fact that it just slogs along for so very long, without any real tension or suspense whatsoever, that when it’s over, it doesn’t seem to last long in the memory-banks. It may have been an important story to Jolie, but to everybody else, it seems like one we could have all lived without, even if there is some interesting aspects brough here to the screen.

For instance, when Zamperini gets taken to the POW camp, he automatically falls prey to whatever sick and twisted mind games the Bird enjoys playing and while it’s hard to watch, it brings a lot of interesting questions to the table. Like, why is the Bird focusing all of his attention on this one prisoner? Is it because Zamperini’s simply just an Olympian? Or, is there something far more bizarre, even perverted going on here? That’s not to say that the Bird is gay, but why does he go about the constant torturing to Zamperini in such a way, that it makes him seem like a jealous ex-girlfriend, who is begging and pleading for any sort of attention he can get? The movie brings up the fact that the Bird comes from a rich family, which would make sense as to why he’s automatically in control of maintaining all of the already weak, beaten-down prisoners, but why exactly is he picking on Zamperini, and solely just him?

The fact that Jolie never fully answers this question makes me feel like there was a far more intriguing film to be made here, but sadly, wasn’t as developed as I would have wished. Though, with the character of the Bird, we get someone who might possibly be humane than we want to believe, however, acts so cruelly and despicable to those he has total control over that it’s easy to list him as “a baddie”, and nothing more. But, Jolie does something neat here in that the Bird is maybe the most interesting character out of the whole bunch here, whether we want to admit it or not.

"Seriously? We're working on our tans here!"

“Seriously? We’re trying to catch some rays here!”

Although, obviously, this doesn’t pan-out too well for Jack O’Connell who plays Zamperini. Because even though O’Connell seems like he’s trying his hardest to make the character of Zamperini relate to us all, there’s a sort of sameness to him that makes him seem so ordinary and simple, that it’s almost as if he never had any other traits to him than just “brave”, “courageous”, or “nice”. Jolie doesn’t paint Zamperini out to be a saint, I’ll give her that, but she doesn’t really paint him as much else either. He’s just another guy, thrown into an incredibly terrible, unfortunate situation; one that he could have definitely caved into right away and died, but thankfully, didn’t.

Once again though, this is mainly me just drawing more and more conclusions about a film that is, quite frankly, as plain as you could get. There’s nothing wrong with being considered “plain” (that is, unless you tell my ex-girlfriend that), but for a movie that wants to be about this eventful life where one overcome all sorts of adversity, to then eventually grow up, get past the past, and move on towards a better future, there is. Not that it’s a bad movie, per se, it’s just one that you can see, be interested in for the time it is on the screen, have it end, and then leave it, without thinking about it much longer afterwards.

Sounds bad, but it isn’t. Just nothing entirely special.

Consensus: Though competently-made, Unbroken suffers from hardly ever being more than just a slightly compelling tale of surviving and excelling in life, even when it seems like everything has been stacked-up against you.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Relax, bro. You've got two more laps.

Relax, bro. You’ve got two more laps.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz