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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Dances with Wolves

The Upside of Anger (2005)

Always depend on the neighborhood drunk to come in and save an upper-class, tense family-unit from falling apart.

Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) can be considered a “housewife”, however, she doesn’t act like one. She doesn’t work outside of the house and spends most of her day cleaning, getting ready to make dinner, talking to her daughters, and planning out their futures, but she has an icy-cool demeanor that’s very stand-offish, and doesn’t allow her to take any crap from anyone. Good for her, but not good for her husband who has apparently left her and the family to gallivant with his young secretary in Sweden. Terry, as hard of a lady as she is, starts to breakdown, liquor-bottle-by-liquor-bottle, and finds it hard to adjust to this new life of responsibility and action. But once former Major League Baseball star, now turned radio DJ, Denny Davies (Kevin Costner) shows up at the house looking to get drunk with her, Terry doesn’t find it all that hard, yet, she still has to accept the fact that her husband may be gone, and may never, ever come back.

While family-dramas don’t really do much for me unless they’re totally satirical or as dark as night (American Beauty), I do appreciate watching a family-dynamic on screen every once and awhile. My family, for instance, is a bit weird considering we all do our own thing, don’t eat dinner together at the table, and just go about our day but still talk, get along (relatively), and enjoy one another’s company when granted. That’s why most movies about your regular, suburban-family don’t do much for me in terms of emotional-connection, but I’m always open for the simple things in life; hence why I liked this flick as much as I did. Much to my surprise actually.

All women eventually succumb to the "Costner-charm".

All women eventually succumb to the “Costner-charm”.

Where I feel like writer/director Mike Binder’s script worked so well is in the ways he avoids all of the types of conventions we expect from family-dramas of this nature, and continues to just evolve its characters. Some are more interesting than others, yes, but most of the characters here are people worth watching, caring about and worrying to see if they’re ever going to reach their final-peak of happiness or not. You know that they can be happy, and have ways of being happy, but to see most of them go through this little raft in their lives makes you a bit uneasy to see and only hope for the best. Binder may not be the greatest writer out there when it comes to giving all of his characters dimensions and personalities, but the ones that he does get it right is with making you feel apart of the family.

For better, as well as for worse.

But like I was saying about the way he avoids all of those types of conventions, Binder doesn’t force-feed us characters that we should like and need to like, we just do, even if there are some reservations involved. For instance, try Denny: The dude’s not only a bit of a schmuck, but he’s bumbling one as well. Yes, his heart is in the right place, but it’s so obvious that he wants to bang Terry as soon as her hubby leaves her, it’s almost too much so to really be true. How the girls don’t kick his ass as soon as he walks through that door, day in and day out, was totally surprising. I knew I would have, but that’s just me. I’m a dick.

Like I was mentioning, though, Denny may have these problems that are more than noticeable to us, however, we don’t necessarily hate him, nor do we feel like he’s a reprehensible person that one could not believe Terry being attracted to in the least bit. He’s got a charm, he’s got a sweet-aura about him, and he likes to do good things, for people that deserve it the most. Sure, he doesn’t speak his mind when he should and how he should do it, but there’s still something sweet and endearing to this dude that makes him more than just that the wacky neighbor next-door that likes to do himself a little bit of drinking; although it is obvious that Binder likes to use that side to his character for yuks and chuckles, most of which fail.

However, I could also say that most of the charm and likability that comes out of Denny’s character, is mainly channeled through Kevin Costner who gives probably his best performance, post-Dances with Wolves (which isn’t saying much, but still). Costner’s got the shaggy-look, feel, and act down pat, and makes you feel for this bum, knowing that he could turn his own, as well as this family’s life around at any given moment. He just needs to put the bottle down for a second. And while Costner is great, no doubt about that, the one who really walks away with the show the most is Joan Allen, giving one of her best performances ever, among which there are many. How she did not get an Oscar nomination for this, I may never understand!

That Joan Allen: Takin' a drag and just lookin' spicy!

That Joan Allen – takin’ a drag and just lookin’ spicy!

Anyway, Joan Allen’s great as Terry for the sole reason that she’s not afraid to be a bitch, while also embracing her age. By the time this movie came out, Allen was pushing 50 and while she still shows that she’s hot in a fiery, “I’ll kick your ass” way, there’s no hiding behind prosthetics or a wig with this character. She’s 50, she looks it, she feels it, and quite frankly, she’s downright pissed-off about it. And how could you blame her? Not only is she getting older by the days that go by, but her hubby of 20 years just left her for a younger gal, and most of her kids can’t stand to be around her, nor have a conversation with her because she’s so mean and nasty at times about the decisions they make and the ideas that they have, that they just don’t even bother. I don’t blame them, but once again – Terry is a human being, and you know that there’s something nice and sweet about her. Allen is great at playing-up Terry’s mean, cold, vindictive side that comes out more often than it probably should, but allows us to see who she really is underneath all of that anger, and make us realize that she was once a happy lady at one time, and can still be again. It will just take some time, that’s all.

The gals playing her daughters are also very good, even though it’s obvious which ones Binder cares about the most, by giving some more interesting plot-lines and more screen-time. Alicia Witt plays the oldest, Hadley, and doesn’t have much to do her, mainly because most of her time in the film is spent-away at college where she soon falls in love and gets pregnant, giving us some of Allen’s best moments in the whole film due solely to her reaction this bomb being dropped; Keri Russell is good and sweet as Emily, the one who blows off college for a life in ballerina-dancing, and while Russell’s good in the role, she was about 30 when it was filmed, making it a bit hard to believe her as a young, 20-something college drop-out; Erika Christensen plays Andy, another daughter who doesn’t want to go to college, but has more of a promising future ahead of her because of the job she gets at Denny’s radio-station, where she begins a relationship with a much-older dude (Mike Binder himself, in a surprisingly touching role), and gets a chance to stretch her wings as well, giving us the most interesting gal out of the four; and Evan Rachel Wood is once again playing the young, angry, and rebellious teen we’ve all seen her play, but this time, to sure boredom and angst as the youngest, Popeye (yup, you heard me right), even though the “love-interest” that they set-up for her gives it a bit of interest every time she’s on-screen.

Consensus: While a lot of the melodrama that plays during the last half-hour does kill some of the momentum the Upside of Anger had going for itself, for quite some time, there’s still plenty of heartfelt, emotional moments between these characters to be seen, especially because most of them are written so well and in a way that isn’t just ordinary, or casual. There’s meaning to the way they are, and it works.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Nothing like the opera to bring a dysfunctional family, along with their drunken friend, together, one for all.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Stargate (1994)

Let’s just stay in this universe and not fuck anything up. Thanks.

Prof. Daniel Jackson (James Spader) believes there is more to our humanity but yet, nobody will care to listen to him because they feel as if he is just another nut with a microphone, and a head that’s a bit too big for his britches. That said, somebody takes notice to this freak-o and makes him apart of a secret mission to uncover an ancient portal known as the Stargate. Along with a couple of soldiers, lead by Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell), they take a trip through this other dimension to see what’s shaking and baking and the answers they come up with are sure as hell not pretty.

We can all come to terms with the fact that Roland Emmerich isn’t the type of guy we can expect to see new-bread, highly-intellectual classics from, but at least we can expect one thing from him no matter what the story may be that he is tackling: fun, fun, and more fun. That’s all there is to it with Emmerich and even though Godzilla pissed almost everybody and their Chinese relatives off, and 2012 didn’t quite predict the future so well, at least the guy had fun with it, right? I’d say yes, but then again, I’m usually a sucker for these movies that don’t lose their enjoyment, no matter how stupid or idiotic they may actually get. This movie is the one where I drew the line with Emmerich and all of his stupidity that follows.

What I’m about to say is probably going to lose me a lot of street-cred but hey, so be it. The problem with this movie, right from the start, was that it was just so damn terribly boring, almost to the point of where I was actually contemplating turning it off, checking out another movie, and acting as if this one never came anywhere near me or my mind. I was very, very close to doing this but sadly, I stuck with it and it rarely ever got better for me. Emmerich tries his hardest by building up a story, showing us all the details, but also trying to leave some out for good fun, but it’s almost too much to where we don’t even feel like we know what the hell is going on at all.

Cool cut though.

Fresh cut though.

We get that these guys have to go to a different dimension, look for species, figure shit out, and take notes down, but that’s about it. Oh, and need I forget to tell you that Russell’s character has actually been given the direct order to bring a bomb with him and detonate it whenever he senses danger on this other universe. You know, a universe that may have human-beings alive on it and other materials that may be useful for the world we live in. Nope, just blow that shitty place up and act like it was all good in a hard day’s work. Because let’s face it, that’s what the military does, right?

That aspect of this movie seemed really stupid, but I was willing to drop my pants and my brain for a healthy-dosage of fun and entertainment, and I barely even got that. The first half of this movie is simply dedicated to these dudes running around this strange land, being acquainted with the natives, and trying to figure out what the hell is up with this land, even if there isn’t really anything wrong with it in the first place. This all plays out as if it was a shitty, low-budget remake of Dances with Wolves, but instead of having Navajo natives, they got these weird, slightly-colored people to speak total gibber and gabber, and consider that a “foreign language”. Seriously? That’s the best you could come up? Give me a damn break!

Don’t worry though, because it does get worse. As soon as the problems do actually show their faces, the movie still continues to make no sense as to why this person they have to face-off against is evil, why the hell he cares about these dudes showing up on their land, and just what does it all mean in the grand scheme of things. Sure, you could probably say that I was looking for a little bit too much in something that was just a typical, sci-fi yarn, but when a movie that is so focused and hell-bent on describing it’s ideas, plot, and exposition, I at least expect there to be some sort of reasonable explanation to it all. Not a whole lot, but just some, and this movie just never gave me that nor did it do anything to excite me. A couple of action scenes here and there fly by, but that’s about it and something felt like Emmerich just wanted to cut-loose, get crazy, and start blowing the shit out of random things like people, pyramids, and most of all, hairy monsters that are just there for show.

If there was any hope in this movie that it wouldn’t be the total shit-box I was expecting of it to be, it was at least that the cast could save the day, and apparently even that was asking way too much. James Spader is a very talented actor that can usually make any type of role work, but he just is so nerdy, so gullible, and so spazzy, that it gets to a point of where it’s annoying. I didn’t look at this guy in any other way, other than just by seeing him as the usual bookworm that thinks he’s way too smart, doesn’t know how to act in situations where the shit gets hot, and worst of all, doesn’t know how to talk to girls. Something tells me that a dude like James Spader doesn’t quite need help with the ladies but I guess Roland Emmerich saw something that I didn’t. Strange.

Okay, maybe he does need some help.

Okay, maybe he does need some help.

Thankfully, this is where Kurt Russell shows up to pick the slack up from here and shake things up, Snake Plisskenstyle. Okay, maybe his character here isn’t that awesome or cool for that matter, but it’s Kurt Russell being Kurt Russell, and for a movie and role like this: we really needed to see that come alive within the dude. Russell is constantly cool, a bit dangerous, a bit mysterious, but always bad-ass and shows that he can take even the shittiest-material, and make it his own little bitch. He seems like he really wants to get wild at some points, but he keeps it grounded and humane, just the way I like to see Russell play it. Although it doesn’t hurt to want to get up and start hacking people off left and right. Especially wouldn’t have hurt in this movie, anyway.

The strangest person in this cast, who still has me scratching my head as to whether or not he was actually good, or just plain and simply ridiculous was Jaye Davidson as the Egyptian king that wants this pretty place to himself, with nobody else’s grubby paws getting in the way. Davidson is the person most of you may now from the Crying Game (yeah, you know who the hell I’m talking about) and is fine here, but dresses so strange, looks so weird, and has this voice that’s a mixture between Barry White and Satan, that it just didn’t do a single thing for me and had me laugh at him the whole entire time. It seemed as if Davidson just got back from a drag-queen show every time he showed up on set and decided to now waste the time getting ready to suit-up, and kept the clothes he had on originally. Does it work? Yeah, maybe in a campy-way, but this movie isn’t campy enough and is always so self-serious that this villain, this performance, and this look that Davidson carries on throughout the whole movie just seems idiotic and totally out-of-place. Still have no idea why the hell this dude jumped off the face of the Earth after this movie hit, but who knows. Maybe he got stuck in another universe after all!

Consensus: Sci-fi junkies will probably eat this shit for breakfast, spit it right back out, and chew it up again for fun, but for a person who just wants a good story, realistic characters, and a bunch of fun and action, Stargate doesn’t even fill me up after the appetizers. It feels as if it wants to be a goofy, over-the-top movie but plays it so serious and so dramatic, that it never gets off the ground. It just stays there and sinks into the sand.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Trust me, it's a dude. I think...

Trust me, it’s a dude. I think…

Dances with Wolves (1990)

They usually call me this on Saturday nights, but you didn’t hear that from me.

Wounded Civil War soldier John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) tries to commit suicide — and becomes a hero instead. As a reward, he’s assigned to his dream post, a remote junction on the Western frontier, and soon makes unlikely friends with the local Sioux tribe.

Basically this film has always been on mind, and for the reason because it beat out Goodfellas for the 1990 Best picture Oscar. However, I can’t say that it wasn’t a close fight.

While watching this film I found myself entranced with emotions I always feel when watching movies, utter beauty and emotional. The film is not just an Epic Western of this mans survival and communication with the Natives, but also has a great message about the relation between two different cultures, as in the white man and the Native.

The film is not only starring Costner but it is his directorial debut, and what a debut it is. Costner knows exactly how to film this movie with all his knowledge of this tribe the film is less and less stereotypical. In films we usually see the Natives talking like “how” and thats all they say, but Costner basically makes half of the film is in the Lakota language, and is all subtitled. He take a lot of drastic and daring steps here to make this film amazing and I can say that he succeeds. The film treats its subject with generosity and makes these Indians seem more than what we see from any other movie of this subject.

The film also has some of the best looking territory ever as well. There are images and sights in this film that are just great. This setting of 1860s rural South is just beautiful because of the way its filmed, and the most simplist of scenes, look even better cause of the setting. Also, the little things such as the score is just so enchanting that the emotions that come out of this music makes you feel it even more.

The film does have its problems though, that can be pointed out. It is a Western but doesn’t add anything new to the genre other than the fact it is just features less action and gun fights. Also, the film categorizes the broadly villainous Union soldier characters, which in my mind wasn’t very original. And in a film that seemed so touching about who’s right and who’s wrong.

The acting here is what makes this film utterly phenomenal. Costner anchors this film, and when for the most part its only him on-screen he is so believable and so great to watch that I couldn’t see anybody else playing this role. Almost everybody in this film gives a great performance but the side performances from two special ones are the best and anchor the film. Mary McDonnell plays the only other white person in the tribe, and hasn’t spoken English in about 15 years, and is forced to speak it again. She handles it like reality, because she doesn’t get right back in the mode to speaking it, and still stutters, and doesn’t understand the language fully, and has some great touching scenes with Costner. Graham Greene who plays the Sioux chief is even better and has some great scenes with him and Costner, where he is actually highlighting the screen every time hes on it.

I feel bad for Dances with Wolves because honestly now that I look at it, it doesn’t get its rep. it should. Yeah, it beat out Goodfellas but you have to look at it, they are two completely different movies and this one in all honesty, had a lot more of an emotional connection to it. Also, two other films that I have reviewed (Avatar, The Last Samurai), all have basically stolen this idea of guy changes cultures and becomes entranced with it. Honestly, they were good films but now that I see, the story really doesn’t relie on originality, mostly on who can do a better similar story to Dances with Wolves without being too close.

Consensus: Dances with Wolves has its fair faults, but ultimately is anchored by the great performances, inspired and authentic directing debut from Costner, and featuring themes that add on to a story of how beautiful and touching two different cultures can be.

9/10=Full Pricee!!!!!