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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Danny Mastrogiorgio

Sleepers (1996)

Never mess with a hot-dog stand, kiddies.

Lorenzo “Shakes” Carcaterra (Jason Patric), Thomas “Tommy” Marcano (Billy Crudup), Michael Sullivan (Brad Pitt), and John Reilly (Ron Eldard), are all childhood friends from Hell’s Kitchen who, after many years, haven’t really kept in close contact. Most of this has to do with the fact that, when they were younger, they were all sent to a juvenile delinquent center, where they were both physically, as well as sexually abused by the wardens there. Many years later, one of those wardens (Kevin Bacon), gets shot and killed in a bar late one night and guess who the shooters allegedly are? Yup, John and Tommy. Seeing as how they’re buddies are in the right to have shot and killed the warden, Shakes and Michael concoct a plan: Get Michael to defend the dead warden and have their old local mafia gangster, pay-off a lawyer (Dustin Hoffman) who will do the job that needs to be done, where both John and Tommy shine in a positive light and aren’t convicted. However, moral dilemmas eventually sink in and make everybody rethink their decisions – not just in this one particular moment, however, but through their whole life in general.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he's doing.

Trust Dustin, guys. He knows what he’s doing.

There was a constant feeling I had while watching Sleepers that made me think it was just so “movie-ish”. Like clearly, a case like this couldn’t ever be true – and if it was, it sure as heck didn’t deserve the oddly-sentimental tone that Barry Levinson gives it. Despite there being a chock full of talent both behind, as well as in front of the camera, Sleepers just never resonates, mostly due to the fact that it all feels too sensational and over-wrought – something I would expect material of this nature to be.

However, that isn’t to say that Sleepers is a bad movie, because it isn’t. For at least an hour or so, Sleepers is actually a smart, disturbing, and interesting coming-of-ager that doesn’t necessarily try to reinvent the wheel of the kinds of movies that have come before it, but at least put you in the same position of these characters, so that when they do all eventually get back together some odd years later, we’re already invested in them enough as is. When the kids are transported to the juvenile delinquent center, it’s made obvious that the movie’s going to get a whole lot more heavy and mean, and it still worked.

Though maybe the big reveal of having these kids sexually abused was a bit campy, it still worked because it added a certain sizzle to a story that, quite frankly, needed one. Whenever you put young kids and pedophiles in the same story, most often, the stories tend to get quite interesting and thankfully, that’s happening with Sleepers. While I sound terrible for typing what I just did there, it’s the absolute truth; in hindsight, Sleepers is two meh movies crammed into one, with one being a lot more gripping to watch, then the other. That’s not to say that the courtroom stuff of the later-half doesn’t bring about some form of excitement, but because it all feels so phony, it never quite works.

Now pedophiles being in-charge at juvenile delinquent centers? That’s something I can definitely believe in!

Still though, the later-half of the movie brings Sleepers down a whole bunch. For one, it’s hard to ever believe, not in a million years, or even in places like Syria, that there would be a case as blatantly perjured and/or one-sided as this. Sure, the movie tries to make it understandable that a public-defender could get away with doing something like this, so long as he kept-up appearances, but I don’t believe I heard Brad Pitt’s character stand-up and yell “Objection!” once. For the most part, he’s just sitting there, looking determined, tense and most of all, pretty. That’s what we expect from Brad Pitt, of course, but it doesn’t help make the case seem at all legit, even though the movie seems to be depending on that.

"I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore."

“I do solemnly swear to yell at Focker anymore.”

Then, there’s Levinson’s direction that, honestly, is pretty odd. Though Levinson makes it clear that the boys killed a person that raped them when they were kids, the fact remains that they still killed plenty of other, probably innocent people. So, to just stand by them and say, “Well, that guy had it comin’ to him”, seems a bit weird; the guy whose death is being contested over was a bad person, but what about all of the others? What if these two guys are just, regardless of what happened to them when they were younger, bad apples that need to cause some sort of ruckus by killing others? Does that make them worthy of being stood-up for?

The movie never seems to make that decision and it’s a bit of a problem.

But, like I said, the cast on-deck is fine. It’s just unfortunate that most of them don’t have a great deal of heavy material to work with. Jason Patric and Brad Pitt both seem like they’re trying hard to make everybody take them seriously, but sadly, it just ends up with them being a bit dull. Ron Eldard and Billy Crudup, on the other hand, also don’t have much to do except just look mean, mad and ready to pull out a pistol at any second.

The more seasoned-pros of the cast do what they can, too, but as I said, they get lost a bit. Kevin Bacon is in full-on sicko mode that’s fun to see him playing around with, even though his character is quite the despicable human specimen; Dustin Hoffman gets some chances to shine as the inept lawyer of the case, which works because of how laid-back his persona is; and Robert De Niro, with the few scenes he gets, seems to inject some heart into this story that’s definitely needed. He doesn’t help push the movie over that cliff it so desperately seemed to be searching for, but he does the ticket just enough.

And that’s all any of us want from Bobby D, right?

Consensus: Sleepers is, essentially, two movies into a two-and-a-half-hour long one that is occasionally interesting, but ultimately, ends up seeming to silly to be believed in or compelled by.

6 / 10

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Each one of your careers are going to go in some very different directions.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

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The Mend (2015)

Brothers will always compete against one another. It’s just nature.

Because he’s known for pissing-off quite a lot of those around him, Mat (Josh Lucas) gets kicked out onto the streets by his girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen). This leads Mat to many places, the last one of which is his brother’s apartment. It just so happens that on this one fateful night that Mat happens to be lurking around New York City, his brother, Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) are throwing a small get-together of sorts filled with booze, cigs, good jams, and most of all, weed. Mat walks in and becomes apart of the party. The next morning, however, Alan and Farrah head out to Canada for a trip they’ve been planning for quite some time, leaving Mat home, all alone, without TV, or working electricity for that matter, either. It’s just Mat and his brother’s apartment for a short awhile and then Andrea and her kid show up, using the apartment as their own source of comfort because their place is currently crawling with bed bugs. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Alan comes back, clearly heart-broken and upset, which adds a bit more tension and unease for everybody in the who are setting up shop in his residence.

It’s very rare to get a movie about unlikable, self-loathing assholes who, believe it or not, stay unlikable, self-loathing assholes. So often do we get flicks that present a these characters as the kinds that we start off hating the absolute hell out of, and all of a sudden, the revelations begin to come out, the tears begin to stream, and the “sorry’s” are exchanged, and before we know it, these rather detestable human beings become completely different people. Even if it only took an-hour-and-a-half, the characters that we have learned to despise, soon become the ones that we love and want to give a hug to, rather than hold an argument or brawl with.

How I imagine the ladies always smother Josh Lucas at parties. Lucky bastard.

Not hard to imagine this is what happens to Josh Lucas at every party. Lucky bastard.

The Mend is not that movie and it’s great for that exact reason.

Sure, there is plenty else to praise and adore about writer/director John Magary’s directorial debut, but the fact that it takes these not-so-lovely characters, gives them the light of day, allows them to be who they are, and doesn’t hold back on their sometimes unforgivable actions, made me so happy to actually see play-out. Such as is the case with real life, the Mend has no real “villains” or “heroes” – everyone’s just sort of a person who makes mistakes, tries to make up for them, and will occasionally learn a lesson or two about life. However, they don’t always learn lesson, because, quite frankly, they don’t need to; they’re fine just being who they are.

And that’s one of the smarter aspects behind Magary’s craft. Though there’s an awful lot of direction in terms of how quick his camera can jump and move from one scene to another (with an over-aching score to boot), Magary’s more concerned with allowing these characters to show themselves off to the audience, rather than having him do so. This is especially evident in the first-half, where we literally thirty or so minutes stuck in this one, two-room apartment, with a party going on of hardly anybody we know. While it’s obvious that budgetary-issues may have been the cause of this, Magary makes it work because everything and everyone feels realistic.

Conversations, people, beer, and weed, come and go as they please. Sometimes, the conversations are fun, light and chock full of sensible witticisms that only artists from NYC could come up with; at other times, however, the conversations can take dark, serious turns where people begin to argue, yell at one another, and be on the brink of tears. And of course, there are people who oogle at one another one second, only to then be sucking face the next. Basically, this is a lot like many parties I’ve been to in my life and it’s great that Magary was able to work wonders with something as simple and easy-to-film as “the party-sequence”.

But, like I’ve stated before, that’s not all the Mend works well with.

At the center of all the yelling, the anger, the crying, the bleeding, the banging, and of course, the drinking, is a tale of two brothers who, despite not seeing each other a whole lot, still know one another well enough that it makes it easy for them to clash heads, as well as get along and have great times together. Though Magary likes to focus on the fact that these two brothers are different in many aspects, he also likes to point out that they’re actually a lot alike in others. While Mat may not have as much ambition with his career as Alan does, they still have problems satisfying ladies to the fullest extent, in their own respective ways; Alan may be able to socialize with more people than Mat, but at the same time, they’re still able to piss a lot people off because they always seem to voice their unwanted opinions on anything; and, well, if there is one similarity they have, through and through, they both don’t like to hear from their mom and would much rather like to not talk about her, or their dad for that matter, either.

Don't have a clue of what's going on here, but considering that they're brothers, I know that it's nothing pleasant.

Don’t have a clue of what’s going on here, but considering that they’re brothers, I know that it’s nothing pleasant.

Basically, anybody who has ever had a brother/sister, will know that this is exactly what a relationship such as that is like. And that’s why both Stephen Plunkett’s and especially, Josh Lucas’, are so good; in even the smallest details, they’re able to make us think of and see these characters in different lights than we probably did a scene or two before. While they’ve both got their problems, they’ve also got their traits that make them the least bit sympathetic, as small and as unnoticeable as they may be.

It’s probably more in the case of Lucas’ Mat, who is quite the abhorrent human specimen, but also has that “something” about him that makes you want to watch more of him. He’s lazy, rude, mean, and uninspired with just about every apple life offers him, and yet, why? Why do we want to sit and watch him interact with those around him? Why, even though he’s made it clear that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life (except for maybe a web designer), do we want him to get his shit together, pick up a job, make some money, move off of people’s couches, and live on his own? Why, despite the fact that he sorts of treats her and her son like total shit, do we want Mat to end up starting something meaningful with the lovely Andrea (played wonderfully by Lucy Owens).

Why oh why?

Well, it’s simple: He’s a character we can believe in.

Mat’s someone we could definitely meet in real life; whether it’d be at a party, roaming the streets of the city, or just by pure chance. Would we want to meet him? Probably not, but the fact is that we definitely could strike something of a conversation up with him, realize he’s a miserable person, and move on, happy that we’re done to be talking to him, but wouldn’t mind watching how he interacts with those around him. Lucas is amazing in this role because he plays up the whole aspect that Mat is indeed a dick, but also, one that knows he is and makes no apologies for it. He’s the perfect anti-hero and it’s Lucas’ role to run wild with, which isn’t something I’ve seen him do in recent time. Whether that be because his name may not carry as much weight now that he’s older, or just because he doesn’t choose to be in those huge, mainstream projects, this role makes me hope and pray that there’s more interesting roles from this guy to come.

And the same goes for Magary. Even though the final-act does get to be a bit over-the-top and showy, there’s still so much here that promises that character studies such as the Mend are still alive and well. It’s just a matter of who wants to make them, what they have to say, and whether or not the character’s stay who they are throughout, without trying to smile nice for the camera.

Because that’s how most of people in real life are anyway.

Consensus: Despite the sloppy wrap-up, the Mend still shows a new, bright talent in John Magary, as well as a bright new awakening for the career of the supremely talented Josh Lucas.

8 / 10

E-cigs aren't cool, but Josh Lucas finds a way to make it so.

E-cigs aren’t cool, but Josh Lucas finds a way to make it so.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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

God’s Pocket (2014)

Philadelphia is full of scum. Take that from a person who lives there and yet, loves it so!

Philadelphia, circa the 1970’s where the mob has practically taken over all business. And a fella by the name of Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of those mobsters who does his business, moves on, and goes back to his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), to make sure she’s happy and pleased with the life he’s made possible for her. However tragedy strikes for them both when Jeannie’s kid ends up dying in a surprising “freak accident” at work. Though there’s a lot of speculation concerning that “accident” and whether or not it was actually a cover-up, Mickey has to find enough cash to make sure that his wife’s kid gets the best funeral possible and also, that he’s able to do so without having to split any heads in the process. Problem is though, he’s owed money by a lot of people, and there comes a point where you have to stop being nice, and start taking action in order to get what you want.

Or you know, something like that.

Honestly, though there seems to be a plot on the surface here, the truth is, there really isn’t. I mean yeah, this Mickey fella has to find a way to squander up a certain amount of cash so that his wifey-poo’s kid can get the funeral she wants him to have, but you can sort of tell about half-way through that the movie doesn’t really know if it wants to pay much attention to that, or anything else in this movie for that matter.

Most of that has to do with the fact that this is the directorial-debut by one John Slattery who, if you don’t know by now, so charmingly plays Roger Sterling on Mad Men. And that’s why it’s really hard for me to trash on this movie because you can tell that Slattery wants to make a good movie and definitely has the potential to make one in the near-future if he decides to continue to go down this road of being behind the camera, but this sadly, is not that film.

5 o'clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

5 o’clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

Because honestly, it’s just that Slattery doesn’t quite know how to make the blend between comedy, drama, and bits of violence, seem all put together in a cohesive manner. To say this thing is messy, is to say you get wet when you step out in the rain without an umbrella; it’s pretty obvious. But what makes this movie worse than just something of a mess, is that it’s too dull to ever be considered “an interesting mess”. And this is where, as much as it pains me to do so, where I get a tad mean on Slattery because it just seems like he doesn’t really know where to go with this material, nor does he know of what to actually say about any of it, or the characters that inhabit it; he’s sort of just a pedestrian to all that’s happening.

And honestly, that’s not so bad for some movies out there, considering they have a great cast on their hands. Which is why this is an even bigger surprise to me, considering the ensemble Slattery’s been able to cobble up together here. Of course we all know that John Turturro is good at playing the sneaky, gangster-type, but rather than doing anything interesting with that role here, it’s more of a case in where you can sort of see him going through the motions without much heart or inspiration. Same goes for the always lovely Richard Jenkins who plays a journalist with a bit of a drinking problem. Though it’s a pleasure to see Jenkins on screen and acting like his usual smarmy-self, his subplot really doesn’t add much to this movie and feels unnecessary, especially when you consider how much time it’s actually taking away from the real story at-hand here, which is Mickey getting all of that money for this funeral.

And yes, while that plot seems ripe with all sorts of excitement and fun, Slattery’s direction doesn’t really get to portray any of that. Instead, it’s just a slow, uninteresting bore that you can tell wants to say something about these low-life characters, but in the end, isn’t really saying anything at all. In fact, if I had to really dig deep underneath this story, I’d say that Slattery actually glamorizes these characters a bit as being constantly funny, cool, and able to use violence whenever they want. Now that’s fine and all when you have well-written characters, but here, there’s nobody to really care for, nor even really pay much attention to.

Well, at least she's still like Joanie in THAT sense.

Well, at least she’s still like Joanie in THAT sense. Heh heh.

Same goes for the character of Jeannie who we’re supposed to care for the most, but instead, don’t really care for, because we don’t get much of her to begin with. We just see that she’s devastated with the news of her son’s passing and we’re supposed to build our opinions about her around that idea. It didn’t quite work and although you can tell Christina Hendricks is clearly trying to break away from her Joan Harris-image, it more or less feels like she’s not trying hard enough. Or that she doesn’t have much to really work with in the first place.

That could definitely be the sole reason and it’s an even bigger shame, too, because this movie will also go down as one of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s films. And, above everything else, is the true disappointment of this movie – giving one of the most compelling presences of the past decade or so, and hardly giving him anything to work with. Though Hoffman is totally trying his hardest with this Mickey character, in the end, he’s just a weak-character that’s like any other, low-time, two-bit gangster: He’s a nice guy, but also has some dark shadings as well. That in and of itself is a total convention of the mob-tale and it’s made even worse by the fact that a person who could do something with that convention and spin it in an interesting way, doesn’t get a chance to do so.

Not his fault of course, just bad material that he didn’t deserve.

Consensus: Everybody involved with God’s Pocket seems to be trying, but in the end, is just a disappointing mess that makes the mortal sin of not bringing anything interesting to the audience’s heads while on screen.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin'.

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin’.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz