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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Diane Ladd

Inland Empire (2006)

Wait. What?

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an accomplished actress who, after much time spent waiting and wondering, finally gets the role as the lead in On High in Blue Tomorrows. It’s supposed to be her comeback role, so to speak, so there’s a lot of pressure wearing on it, not to mention, a lot of pressure from her husband not to fall in love with her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux). Sure, it can be done, but the two are playing characters who are having an affair, making it a tad bit harder. However, the director (Jeremy Irons) trusts that both of them will keep it as professional as can be and will make sure that the movie comes out perfectly, because believe it or not, it’s been attempted before, but for some reason, the movie just hasn’t been made. Why, though? Eventually, Nikki and Devon find out and it causes both of them to start imagining weird, rather insane things, that they don’t know if is real, or not.

Wait, what?

Honestly, there’s a lot more to the premise of Inland Empire, in that there’s not just one story, but about three or four more of them, none of which make a single lick of sense, or better yet, ever seem to come together in a way that you’d imagine. Now, if sitting around for three hours and watching as a bunch of random stories get told to you in the most confusing manner imaginable sounds like a good time, then be my guest and enjoy the hell out of Inland Empire.

I, however, didn’t and just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Sure, there were things to admire and of course, this is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so I can’t be all that surprised, but still, it just didn’t quite work for me. There was so much going on, without any rhyme or reason, that after awhile, I had to sort of give up and just accept the fact that the movie’s going way beyond my intelligence and I’m best to just let it do its thing and see if I can make it up in the end.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Sure, is that more of a problem with me, as opposed to the movie? Definitely, but by the same token, there is something to be said for a three-hour movie that not only feels every bit of it, but never seems to show any signs of actually going anywhere. Lynch is well-known for doing this sort of thing time and time again, and while it’s always had me happy and rather pleased, this go around, it just didn’t work. It seemed like too much meandering and craziness for the sake of being meandering and crazy, as if there wasn’t a whole lot of story, but weird and surreal imagery that Lynch just had to get out of his system.

And okay, it makes sense, because the look and feel of this movie is, above all else, freaky. Then again, how could it not? Filmed on a hand-held digital-camera, the movie is grainy, dirty and downright gritty, but in a way, it’s also more terrifying for that reason alone, often times feeling like a documentary, than another glitsed-up flick. Film itself can do wonders, but digital-video can also do the same, especially when you’re really trying to go for an aura of realism, even if, you know, there’s nothing realistic happening here.

No seriously, what?

And once again, that’s all me. The movie gets away doing its thing, but it’s so frustrating to watch, that no matter what Lynch does behind the camera and how much inspiration may come out of him, it just didn’t connect for me. There’s a lot going on here and a lot that randomly happens, but the only thing I could remember clearly in my head was a very few haunting-images, bunny-rabbits, a dance to “the Locomotion”, and a lot of walking down hallways.

Like, a lot.

But Laura Dern, all issues aside, is great here and gives it everything she’s got. There’s no denying that Dern’s probably perfect for Lynch’s creepy, twisted and warped mind, and it’s why her performance here, with so many shades shown, is something to watch. Even when it seems like the rest of the movie has gone far, far away, she’s always there, working her rump off and making sure that everything sticks together. She allows for it to do so, too, it’s just a shame that it didn’t fully connect at the end.

For me, at least.

Consensus: Absolutely confusing, weird and random, Inland Empire is a hard movie to get into, mostly due to its frustrating plot, but there is some art to be seen here.

5 / 10

See, even Laura doesn’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Pretty Clever FilmsFour Three Film

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Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Sometimes, you just need to start anew five times straight.

After her husband dies, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) and her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), leave their small New Mexico town for California. There, Alice is hopeful that she’ll be able to make it big there achieving her one true dream: Singing. However, the town is so small and dry, that there’s hardly any work for a bartender, let alone for a singer. So eventually, Alice and Tommy end up settling for Arizona instead, where she takes a job as waitress in a small diner and Tommy is left to make friends with some mischievous locals. She intends to stay in Arizona just long enough to make the money needed to head back out on the road, but her plans change when she begins to fall for a rancher named David (Kris Kristofferson), someone she can’t help but be drawn to, even if he’s got his own problems going for him as well.

Seeing Martin Scorsese’s name attached to this flick may seem odd, until you actually see the movie and totally get it. For one, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has the same type of free-spirit, wild and rather chaotic energy that all of Scorsese’s movies seem to have, not to mention that the movie itself hardly ever seems to let-up. It’s part road movie, part romantic-comedy, but altogether, it’s an entertaining piece that would soon show the world what Scorsese could do out of wheelhouse.

alice1

Look out, world! Here’s Alice!

Which isn’t to say that this movie’s perfect, but it’s the first sure sign of Scorsese taking a risk and seeing it pay-off quite well. While I’m most definitely in the minority of feeling like Mean Streets is incredibly overrated, it’s still an enjoyable movie, considering that it’s showing-off what Scorsese could do with a story about crooks, gangsters, cops and all sorts of hectic violence – something that we would see him continue to make movies about for the next many decades. That’s why a movie like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, while seeming like an unabashed and boring chick-flick on paper, moves like a fast-paced thriller, but still doesn’t forget that characters do matter here and they are what make the bulk of the flick so damn good.

That is to say that Ellen Burstyn, in her Oscar-winning role of course, is great.

Then again, when isn’t the gal?

Burstyn’s great here, but it does help that she has such a meaty character to work and play around with; Alice is a very challenging character because she doesn’t always make the right decisions, nor does she seem to apologize for them, either. Scorsese and Burstyn both present this woman as someone who knows that whatever move she makes next, probably won’t be ideal, but she’s constantly thinking about what’s best for her and her son, meaning that every once and awhile, she’s got to make a sacrifice and suck up the stupidity. Even the smart decisions that Alice seems to make, still end-up biting her in the rump by the end, making you wonder whether or not this woman should be trusted with the care of a pre-adolescent boy in the first place. But still, there’s something compelling about this woman, flaws, warts and all that junk, as well as Burstyn’s performance that make it all the more watchable.

The happiest diner in the world it seems.

The happiest diner in the world it seems.

And it’s actually very interesting to see this movie and think about it in retrospect, as we’ve come to see Scorsese’s career grow further and further away from female-led stories, making us wonder one simple thing, “Why?” After all, he handles this story with such delicate care, never shying away from showing this woman for all of who she is, that he not just respects her as much as we do, but he loves her, even. It’s a rare sign that even though Scorsese’s movies tend to gain all sorts of controversy for their violence, drugs and crime, mostly all involving and/or against women, there’s still this small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was curious of taking this road even further.

It makes you wonder, really.

Regardless, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, all things considered, may be a bit too long for its own good, but in a way, that’s okay. We get to see and learn about more characters throughout Alice’s journey, some of whom are really fun and exciting to watch. Harvey Keitel shows up as a slimy dude Alice starts hooking up with; Kris Kristofferson’s is interesting enough of a dramatic-lead to make you want to see more of him around; Jodi Foster shows up in a very early role as one of Tommy’s friends and is very good; Diane Ladd steals just about every scene she’s in as Alice’s co-worker/best friend; and even as a young kid here, Alfred Lutter does a nice job as Tommy, mostly due to the fact that the kid’s not annoyingly written. He’s a little too smart for his britches at certain points, but that’s mostly because his mom makes him that way; there’s quite a few scenes where the two have heart-to-heart conversations about all things in life and while they may seem a little tacked-on, the chemistry between Lutter and Burstyn is so good, that you sort of believe in it.

Consensus: Not his best by any means, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore still presents a very bright and entertaining picture for the whole cast, especially Burstyn, and Scorsese, and the many years to come.

8 / 10

Keep on smiling, Ellen. You'll get that Oscar.

Keep on smiling, Ellen. You’ll get that Oscar.

Photos Courtesy of: The Soul of the Plot

Joy (2015)

So, did Jennifer Lawrence invent feminism, too?

Ever since she was a young girl, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) knew that she was always destined to do something great for the world. While it may have all started in her room where she would experiment with creating little inventions here and there, after awhile, real life started to get in the way and it’s where she found it harder and harder to let her true inspiration come out and make a difference. For one, she got married, had two kids, and then got divorced from Tony (Édgar Ramírez). Then, she moved back into her mom (Virginia Madsen)’s place, where her grand-mother (Diane Ladd) also lives, meaning that the current house situation is incredibly cramped. And now, if matters weren’t already bad, her unpredictable, but always trouble-making father (Robert De Niro), has moved back in and wants to take over the whole family again. But knowing that she’s destined for something greater, one day, Joy stumbles upon a brilliant, but all-too-simple idea: the Miracle Mop. While Joy believes her billion-dollar idea to be brilliant, the only issue here is that she doesn’t quite know how to get in the business of selling her invention to the larger masses where each and every person can see what she’s made. This is when Joy decides to really push her boundaries and take chances that no simple woman in her situation would ever take, but because she’s got nothing to lose, she doesn’t care.

Even during serious times, this family can't help but get ready to start brawling.

Even during serious times, this family can’t help but get ready to start brawling.

About an hour into Joy, after we’ve gotten through all of the wacky family drama, the random dream-sequences in the form of a corny soap opera, the flashbacks, the narrations, the exposition, etc., something happens that wasn’t quite there all along: Excitement. This starts to happen when writer/director David O. Russell decides that the next best step to take this story is to QVC which, believe it or not, ends up working out quite well for the film in the end; it’s only about 30 minutes or so, but it’s absolutely the most fun to be had in the whole two-hours here. Of course, this has to do with the fact that Bradley Cooper shows up and he and Jennifer Lawrence are as spicy and as fun as ever, but it also gives us an inside glimpse of how exactly a product is sold, what goes into getting said customers to buy something, and just how manipulative home-shopping networks can be.

In all honesty, had David O. Russell just made a movie solely based around the inner-workings and early days of QVC, there’d probably be more of something to discuss with Joy. However, the sole issue here with Joy is that it’s not always about QVC, nor is it really about Joy, the character, and her product – it’s more about those around her who constantly bring her down, never allow for her to reach her dreams, and constantly screw up. Once or twice in the beginning of the film is nice to give us an understanding of the kind of situation Joy’s in, but after awhile, it becomes clear that O. Russell has a dead horse he wants to beat, leading to a lot of situations happening the same way, over and over again, with hardly anything new, or surprising learned in the process.

Which is to say that yes, Joy is a disappointment considering what O. Russell has been able to do in the past five years with his career.

However, when you take into consideration great flicks like the Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, not only is the bar raised pretty high, but there’s also a certain expectation that O. Russell himself has already carved-out. Considering that O. Russell himself seems to love and adore dysfunctional families, and cast practically the same people, each and every time he gets a chance to, it’s almost impossible not to approach Joy, another movie about a dysfunctional family, with at least three-fourths of the cast from Playbook and Hustle, and expect the same kind of wonder and entertainment.

The thing with Joy, however, is that it’s a much different, more dramatic, and far more serious movie that, quite frankly, isn’t as bad as I may make it out to be. Disappointing? For sure, but that’s also to say that someone like O. Russell can’t switch things up every so often because of a niche he’s already made for himself; no director ever would be able to stick with one and only style, which is why, on O. Russell’s part, it’s a brave choice to take a story such as this and take it a bit slower.

And this is why there are certain parts and moments of Joy that are actually pretty wonderful.

The babies these two would create. Oh my gosh.

The babies these two would create. Lord almighty.

Of course, the aforementioned QVC-subplot works wonders, but what happens afterwards is interesting, in the way that we get to see Joy, the character, gain more confidence in herself and start to try her hand at making something of her invention and seeing where she can go with it. Because Joy Mangano is already a pretty sympathetic figure who makes it clear from the start that she’s a smart, brassy girl, it’s easy to get behind her and watch as she takes whatever challenges life tosses at her. While most of these challenges concern her family just acting like selfish a-holes, it was still interesting and compelling to watch and see how she reacted to each situation and got through.

And with that said, yes, Jennifer Lawrence is quite good in this role, because how can she not be? Lawrence, despite playing another character she seems too young for, grabs this character, shakes her up and gives it all she’s got; sometimes, it seems like she’s working with a script that isn’t nearly as up to her speed, but at the same time, she keeps things moving and most of all, believable. Though Joy’s already shoddy performance with critics may keep Lawrence away from winning another Oscar of her own, it’s still hard not to believe her getting a nomination for what she does here, as she can be, at times, the best thing going for it.

Which isn’t to hate on the rest of the cast as the likes of Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Édgar Ramírez, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, and the already mentioned Cooper don’t put in fine work, either, but clearly, O. Russell has a problem handling all of their stories/personalities and allowing for them to mix with Joy’s story in a cohesive manner. Because a good portion of these characters are so self-centered, it’s never easy to feel bad for them, which makes them also feel like they’re getting in the way of what could have been a very powerful story about one, small-time woman standing up against all of the adversity in her way to, well, make a difference in the world.

Though I’m not sure just how much of what appears in Joy, is actually true of the real person’s life, O. Russell searches far and wide to make perfect sense of it. He doesn’t always come up with any easy answers or solutions, but for the most part, he gives it his absolute best. But if anything, he just makes you appreciate his last three movies even more and also give the inclination that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for him to change things up a bit.

Not just with his cast, but subject-material as well.

Consensus: Joy is not nearly as magnificent as what David O. Russell has put out in the past five years, but because of a solid lead performance from the always radiant and exciting Lawrence, as well as some strokes of genius, it still works.

7 / 10

No matter what, that J-Law can't seem to get herself out of trouble.

No matter what, that J-Law can’t seem to get herself out of trouble.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Citizen Ruth (1996)

CitizenRuthNever would have happened if the people involved weren’t silly, and just wrapped their willies. Or, I guess just “willy”.

Poor old Ruth Stoops (Laura Dern). Not only is she homeless, addicted to huffing paint on a regular-basis, and not able to see her kids, but now she’s pregnant with her fourth child. And trust us, four is enough for her, and lord, even she knows it. That’s why she plans on having an abortion as soon as possible, that is, until the “Baby Savers” get ahold of her and try to make her keep it, all in the good lord’s name who don’t really seem to care about her or the baby, they just want the publicity that somebody is listening to their ways and not thinking otherwise. But Ruth knows that she wants to get rid of the baby, so she then gets taken in by the pro-choice group that actually had a spy (Swoosie Kurtz) in the pro-life group. At first, things with the pro-choice group seem all fine and dandy, with Ruth getting all sorts of lovely treatment in hopes that she’ll get rid of the baby and stick to their side, however, things change around once the pro-life group offers her $15,000 to keep the baby and let it live. And then, the whole deal gets changed around again once pro-choicers offer her the same amount, if not more to get rid of it. What’s poor old little Ruth to do when she has all of this money being waved around in her face, and a baby still in her stomach? My oh my, questions, questions, questions.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen just about all of his movies that Alexander Payne sure does love to poke fun at people. But already in the year 2013, we know this. Back in 1996, nobody had a clue what this guy was capable of doing, or even what his name was. All that they knew was that there was a movie out, that dealt with abortion, starred Laura Dern and that was basically it.

Exactly what I do on an airplane. Minus the blue paint. That is unless I'm not sitting in first-class. In that case, I just huff the hell away.

Exactly what I do on an airplane. Minus the blue paint. That is unless I’m not sitting in first-class. In that case, I just huff the hell away.

And over 17 years later, that’s all people still know of it as and quite frankly, rightfully so.

While I can’t get on Payne’s case too much considering that this was his first movie, I will say that he does go for the gull when it comes approaching the topic on-hand. It doesn’t matter how many years go by, the abortion debate will always be one up for much discussion and controversy, and it’s how funny Payne turned that on its side in a satirical way, highlighting both sides to the best of his ability. Of course it’s easy to poke fun at the heavy-duty Christians that pray to the lord, hail him as the almighty and banish all those who decide to kill their babies to hell, but it never seemed so easy to poke the same type of fun at the liberals on the other side of the coin, which is what really shocked me here. Rather than showing which side he’s on more, he sort of just lets them both speak for themselves, with them both seeming greedy and ill-tempered, yet well-intentioned, as if what they are doing is what they truly believe in as the right way to go about things in your daily-life. Their only problem is that they don’t know how to go about it in a nicer way.

That said, the movie definitely doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know about the subject of abortion, the people that get them, perform them or support them as an action. Mainly, the movie just gives us a story about a girl who gets caught in the middle of this whole media-frenzy where she and her baby are the center of attention, and the topic of abortion is lingering over it. While I do, once again, give Payne credit for spinning this in a way to where it plays both sides view-points in a sympathetic, fair manner, the movie itself just never got over that hurdle for me to where I was totally, and utterly involved.

Plenty of food-for-thought if you think about how far we’ve come as a society in discussing the topic of abortion, but that’s all it is: A thinking piece. Sure, we have characters, character-development, a witty script and even some heartfelt insights to the way humans interact, think and get their points across, but they all just feel like filler for the real attraction of this whole movie: Abortion. I know it sounds terrible to use that as a selling-point for a movie, but it seems like that’s what the creators behind this movie did, which doesn’t matter it any better. It just makes it a smart decision in order to get your movie seen and noticed by dozens of people, which is why I have to give more credit to Payne.

Good job on the advertising, bud. Not-so good job on the final-product itself. Oh well. You picked yourself back up in the years to come, so all is forgiven.

Like what my mommy did when I was still in her belly. And look what good that's done me!

Like what my mommy did when I was still in her belly. And look what good that’s done me!

But where this flick really feels like a total disappointment is in the way that it wastes a very talented cast, giving them material that feels like a bunch of ham-handed speeches that do have a point, but are shown to us in the wrong format. For instance, you have great character actors like Kurtwood Smith, Swoozie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place and even M.C. Gainey showing up, looking like they’re going to bring some of their miraculous personalities to the script, but in reality, all they do is become victims of Payne’s preaches. They all do what they can to make the material worth more than just a series of thought-provoking lines, speeches and discussion-starters, but overall, they just succumb to the problems and are left with nothing else to do.

And then of course we have Laura Dern as Ruth, and as talented as this gal may be, she too can’t help but become a victim to the weak-material, if not even worse due to how annoying her character can be at times. I get that Ruth is supposed to be a despicable piece of a white girl trailer-trash, however, there could have been more substance to her than what we got. Once again, Dern’s performance is another case where we have a terribly talented actress, given this piece of material that has reaching for the stars, but ends up coming down empty-handed with nothing to show. Well, except for maybe a spot on her resume that shows she’s got those indie-chops.

Consensus: Payne never chooses a side to stick with in Citizen Ruth, and is the smartest decision he makes throughout the whole entire movie, which brings up a lot of smart, thought-provoking points about the abortion debate, but ends up being just that, no substance added or involved.

5 /10 = Rental!!

Like I always say, "Bring Burt Reynolds in to liven things up. Just make sure he has his 'stache."

Like I always say, “Bring Burt Reynolds in to liven things up. Just make sure he has the ‘stache.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Countdown to Claus: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

I’m definitely not having half of my family over for Christmas now.

Hapless Clark (Chevy Chase), exasperated Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their ever-changing kids (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) gear up for Christmas. As usual, all the good intentions in the world can’t save them from disaster … or Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), whose unannounced visit throws the house into further disarray.

Since it’s “the most wonderful time of the yeaaaaarrr” I thought it would be cool to do a little Christmas-movie marathon starting with a film that I loved when I was a kid, but now realize that it’s not as funny.

John Hughes wrote this screenplay and has a great blend of some real silly humor that gets mixed in with a lot of the cartoon mayhem that occurs around the time of Christmas. Hughes is obviously not afraid to get a little goofy with this film as he throws a lot slap-stick in our faces with Clark Griswold getting hit in the chin, then falling down a ladder, then falling through the ceiling, and then basically everything else catching on fire. I like how Hughes is able to have a little fun with this screenplay and is able to show his goofy side.

My problem with the script though is that there surely is a lot here in this script that is pretty annoying and not very funny at all. The slap-stick at first was funny but then there were scenes that went on way too long that seemed too cute to actually be considered funny. There’s a long-ass scene with a squirrel running rampant throughout the whole house-hold and everybody is running around like a bunch of goons to bring out some sort of laughter, when in reality, this was just a lame way to get some laughs. This isn’t the only scene that tries a little too hard to be funny but I can easily say that it’s the one I remember mostly rolling my eyes at.

Although I may rag on this film for not being terribly funny, like it was trying so hard to be, I still think it captured a lot of the fun, warmth, and joy that goes into the holiday season. I mean you got you’re whole family right there with ya’ to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and the whole “getting the perfect Christmas tree” to the “lighting of the lights” is what really will make you feel all happy even if the comedy can’t do that much all for you.

Chevy Chase is great as as always as Clark Griswold who always seems to have everything figured out, until something changes right away to completley terrible. Chase has mastered this role and he shows no signs of a bad performance but it’s also a real shame considering that this guy doesn’t really do much now. The last time I probably saw him was actually in ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ and to be brutally honest, he was the most forgettable part of that forgettable film. That’s saying something.

Randy Quaid seems to be having a lot of fun as Clark’s cousin, Eddie, who is a total country bumpkin which is where the majority of the jokes for this film come from. I’m not saying Quaid is bad or anything here, because he’s actually one of the more delightful performances in this flick, it’s just that all of the jokes here centered around him just being this total red-neck that can’t pay for anything or even use his head right. They pulled this joke about 15 times and wasn’t funny once so I have to say that Quaid kind of got pulled under the neath the crap-shoot here.

Consensus: While Christmas Vacation isn’t funny the whole time, there is still enough silliness and warm moments to make this a great seasoned treat for anyone wanting a nice little laugh right next to the Christmas tree.

5.5/10=Rental!!