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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: David Cale

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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James White (2015)

WhiteposterSome kids just need to grow up. Especially when they’re nearly 30.

James White (Christopher Abbott) has been through a lot in his life, but at the same time, not really. While his father basically abandoned him at a young age and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) has been going through frequent battles with cancer, he has no job, no girlfriend, and no real place to live. But James feels as if life has chewed him up, spat him out and left him for dead, even if that hasn’t actually happened. But in order to get his back in-check and be prepared for what life has to throw at him, James decides to go to Mexico with his best pal (Scott Mescudi) where they drink, party, and do drugs, while also meeting the very young Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh). However, all of the fun comes to an end when James is called back home to tend to his mother and his needs – something he’s not quite ready for, especially when it turns out that her cancer has returned and it’s rougher than ever. Now, for James, it’s time to grow up and shut up, even if he can’t seem to do either.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

We all know someone like James White. That self-pitiful, bratty, almost immature guy who cares only about himself, his needs and always has something to whine about. He’ll complain about not getting what he wants and being asked to do too much in his life, when, if you look at it, he’s not called on for anything. He is, for lack of a better term, a bum.

But that doesn’t make him any less interesting.

What’s neat about James White, both the character, as well as the movie, although, what’s the difference, is that the movie never tries to make any amends for the way James acts. In the first fifteen or so minutes, we see him pick a fight in a bar, let it settle down, and then start it all back up. Then, we also see him outright threaten a family member with violence at his father’s wake. There’s something to James that’s so despicable, yet, he’s so relatable that it’s hard to actually hate him; if anything, I quite enjoyed my time with James

Sure, you could say that writer/director Josh Mond is using James White as a way to spend time with an a-hole, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. In a way, there’s always been something inherently compelling about what drives and draws a person to always constantly being an a-hole; something about how that character doesn’t give a crap about what people think of them or their actions, is, in a way, very intriguing. These types of people in life may bother us, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, which is why every second spent with James White, watching as he navigates through his life filled with sex, booze, drugs, hotel rooms, and couches, I quite enjoyed.

You could say that I wasn’t supposed to, but somehow, that actually happened.

Mond keeps his focus so tight on White that it’s hard to stray away from him and to anyone else here. The movie uses close-up like its day job, where we are right up James navel cavities, not seeing what’s around him, but only peering down at him, seeing his eyes and that’s it. This is an effective, if very suffocating device, as it really draws us closer to this character; we may not get greater ideas of what kind of person he is, but it makes us feel trapped and alone with this guy, the way he would probably love and enjoy.

It also helps that Christopher Abbott is pretty damn great in this role, too. Even though Abbott was probably best known for his stint on Girls, time will probably change after this, and we’ll start to see more of him, which is great because he’s a naturalistic talent. As James White, Abbott gets a chance to do a lot, with seemingly, so little; while we get small outlines of who this character is, the movie leaves a lot up to Abbott to pick up the pieces and he does a good job with it. There’s this unpredictable feeling with James where we don’t know if he’s going to do something nice, or better yet, relatively sweet, or downright reprehensible, and screw-up his life anymore that he already has.

Just can't handle it right now.

Just can’t handle it right now.

Abbott, as well as Mond, keep us guessing, which is definitely a testament to the fine acting-display from Abbott – someone who deserves every role that’s probably getting thrown his way about right now.

Cynthia Nixon plays James’ mother, and even though a lot of what she has to do her is look and act sickly, especially given that her character is battling cancer, she does a good job with it. You get the feeling that she’s the warmth and love in James’ life that he so desperately holds onto and needs – not just to keep him alive, but to keep him from sleeping on the streets. They have a nice chemistry that isn’t always love-love, nor is it always hate-hate – as with any mother-son duo, they have issues, but they also have qualities that make them love the other and it’s nice to see.

If anything, James White doesn’t so much as lose focus by the end, as much as it just narrows it down more. To me, this was perhaps the weakest parts of the movie; while I understand that a story like this needed to narrow its focus down even more than it already has, there was still a part of me that was missing watching James go out into late night-NYC, cause all sorts of havoc and chicanery wherever he want. Then again, that’s not the movie I continued to get – instead, I got something that showed him more as a human being who, of course, may not be perfect, but still has any qualities like you or I and because of that, should be seen as a human being.

A very troubled, almost imperfect human being that I wanted to hang around more.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe I see a little bit of James within myself.

Consensus: With a stellar lead performance from Christopher Abbott, James White is an interesting look at a person’s life that we don’t always see portrayed in the movies.

8.5 / 10

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire