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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Drake Doremus

Newness (2017)

These millennials and their sad hook-ups.

Martin (Nicholas Hoult) and Gabi (Laia Costa) meet late one night through a hook-up app and they do just that. They go out, have a few drinks, hit it off, go back to one of their places, have sex, and move on with their lives. However, both feel as if there is something far more serious and meaningful at play here, so they decide to give this relationship thing a shot. At first, it works and they’re both incredibly happy. But as time goes on and on, they begin to start feeling the separation from the rest of the outside world and decide that instead of closing themselves off to one another, they’ll have an open-relationship, where either is able to do what they want, with whomever, so long as it’s okay with the other person. Gabi finds comfort and solace in an older gentleman (Danny Huston), but Martin, already reeling from a divorce, seems to be having a much tougher time getting used to the dating world and doesn’t know what he wants. Gabi doesn’t either, but they’re both two young, attractive people living in L.A., during the 21st century, so why float around from person-to-person?

Always looking at screens. Damn kids.

Director Drake Doremus has a rather hushed, muted style that’s worked well for his past two features (In Secret, Equals), because they could have both been very over-the-top, loud, and soapy melodramatic pieces of romance in anybody else’s hands. However, in his hands, he decided to play everything down in a much moody style, where he paid much more attention to how the camera flowed and how the movie sounded; the script came second and while that’s not always the best idea, it worked for him. The movies aren’t perfect, but they’re a sure sign that whatever bad blood he received with Like Crazy (a fairly underrated film, honestly), he knows how to dial it back – sometimes in a manner that alienates his audience more so than it invites them into his sad, sad world of repressed emotions.

But all that seems to be lost with Newness, his latest with writer Ben York Jones, in which the emotions are felt, only because they’re projected bright, big, and loud for the whole world to see. In fact, it’s as if Doremus wanted to hit back at the haters who have been getting at him for his movies being so quiet and decided that the best way to shut them all up was have an extra-talky movie, where characters went on and on about how they felt, and whether something was bothering them or not. That’s fine for most romantic-dramas and hell, it worked for Doremus with Like Crazy, but here, it’s way too over-the-top.

So much so that it feels phony.

It’s weird because you get the sense that Doremus understands and knows how real people, in their day-to-day lives, talk and communicate with one another. He’s not smarmy, nor is he cynical – he just has a knack for catching on with dialogue. But with Newness, the characters speak in such an mannered-way, it’s as if they’re reading off of cue-cards written by Nicholas Sparks. Think a character’s upset about an action caused by their partner? Don’t worry, they’ll spend 15 minutes yelling about it.

Three’s a party.

This isn’t to say that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life relationships, but to see a movie about it, where the only real objective is to show how awfully painful relationships can be for Gen-Y, it doesn’t quite work. It’s all too depressing and meandering and makes it feel like Doremus and York Jones are just stretching an hour’s worth of material to nearly two, which makes all of the arguments and yelling seem overblown and sappy. It can be a bit of an annoyance after awhile and all you really want for the characters to do is shut up, break up, and move on already.

In fact, it’s that simple.

The only possible saving-graces are the performances, but even they aren’t enough to save the day. Nicholas Hoult is hot and charming, but he’s sort of a blank-slate here; Laia Costa, despite being cute and spunky as hell, feels out-matched when the movie gets sappy and silly; Danny Huston shows up as a genuinely nice guy, who then turns into just being fodder for another argument Martin and Gabi can have; and Matthew Gray Gubler, showing up again as the voice-of-reason for our male romantic-lead, does just that.

Wait, does that role for him sound familiar? Stick with what ya know, I guess.

Consensus: Newness tries its hardest to be smart, insightful, and disturbing, but mostly feels like a melodramatic, over-the-top piece of sap that’s given some indie-cred because it’s shot beautifully.

4.5 / 10

Like relationship, or Tinder? Ugh!

Photos Courtesy of: Giant Interactive

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Equals (2016)

So much feels.

In a futuristic dystopian/utopian society, all sickness and diseases (including cancer) have been eradicated. At the same time, however, so has human emotions, where everyone acts, sounds and interacts with one another just about the same. Because of that, nobody really knows one another and whenever they do start to feel anything resembling “emotions”, they’re made to get it fixed and forgotten about. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is a member of this society who is now a victim of “feeling” something for a co-worker/confidante of his, Nia (Kristen Stewart). Silas doesn’t know how to channel these feelings without getting in any sort of trouble, which leads him to talk about it with fellow people who are going through the same issues as him. But little does Silas know, is that Nia is going through the same thing that he’s going through and it’s only a matter of time until the souls collide and they make something of their shared-feelings for one another. Although, when you’re stuck in a society that doesn’t take too kindly to people who think, feel, or love for themselves, it’s kind of hard to express one’s love in absolute fullness.

Who's she looking for?

Who’s she looking for?

While watching Equals, I couldn’t stop but think that it was a better adaptation of the Giver, than the actual adaptation of the Giver actually was. Of course, yes, I know that the two stories are different, but there’s a lot that they have in-common; the dystopian, futuristic society, the forbidden romance, the rules and regulations to keep people from acting out in a certain way that most humans should, a depressed tone, and yes, a powerful government that seems to strike fear in all of its citizens who dare not get out of line. One is clearly more adult than the other, but still, watching Equals, there was that constant feeling I had that I needed to either re-read the Giver, or watch the movie again, and see if my mind can be swayed.

Then again, I probably won’t do that.

All in all, Equals is fine enough because it presents us with a society that, yes, may not be all that believable, or make even much sense in the long-run, but is still compelling because of what it offers us to think about. For instance, how come in this society, one where all disease has been eradicated, is everyone made to be walking, talking robots, who don’t feel anything? Why are some of them committing suicide? Better yet, why are some of them cool with others committing suicide? How does anyone get pregnant in this society if no one is really supposed to feel anything, especially not love?

None of these questions are ever answered and I guess that’s why it’s easy to get a little frustrated, but for director Drake Doremus, what this society offers is just another chance to give us a forbidden romance that’s easy to feel something for, even if they exist in a world that doesn’t want, or accept them. In fact, Doremus’ past two flicks, Like Crazy and In Secret, have both been about Doremus’ obsession with forbidden love, or in ways, lust; while he doesn’t necessarily care about giving any sort of conclusion on these ideas of these stories, he also doesn’t stray away from portraying them in some of the drabbest ways imaginable.

But honestly, that’s why a part of Doremus works for me.

He takes his material as serious as can be, without hardly an ounce of humor to be found, but it surprisingly works in the long-run. In Equals, you get this claustrophobic feeling where, no matter how hard you try, your love will never be allowed and will always be frowned upon. Or, well, maybe. Honestly, it’s hard for me to fully make up my mind about what Doremus is trying to say here, but because his camera/attention never strays away from this one single idea of unwanted and secret love, it’s hard to turn away from.

Then again, there is the first half-hour or so that does a lot of world-setting, and yeah, it’s a bit of a bore. Mostly, this has to do with the fact that we never quite understand just how we got here and how things work out in this society. Also, there’s something mysterious about the jobs that these two characters have and while Doremus gives us some hints about what it is that they’re doing, it never really gets the full attention it should have probably gotten. Sure, call me nit-picky, call me what you will, but certain things like this bother me.

Who's he looking for?

Who’s he looking for?

Give me a futuristic society and don’t try to explain all that much about it to me?

Well, uh, no thanks.

Regardless, what works best about Equals is that its central love, between Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, surprisingly works. Because the two characters are so repressed, the brief moments of actual personality that the two share one another, make a huge impression on the rest of the movie and their relationship as a whole. Hoult’s Silas may seem like a bore, but there’s a little something more to him, just as there is to Stewart’s Nia. Together, the two have something sweet and heartfelt, even if the world they’re trapped in, doesn’t really accept them together. It’s your traditional love story, but a little sadder.

And really blue, too. Literally.

Consensus: A bit dark and repressed, Equals may test some viewer’s patience, but also works because of the attention paid to its central romance.

6.5 / 10

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Breathe In (2014)

Just let the middle-aged, suburban-daddy live a little, dammit!

Keith (Guy Pearce), Megan (Amy Ryan), and Lauren Reynolds (Mackenzie Davis) live a relatively simple, carefree life. Keith is a music teacher at a high school and sometimes steps into to play cello in the local orchestra; Megan stays at home, drives people everywhere, collects cookie-jars and always seems to have a smile on her face; and Lauren, being that she’s on the verge of being legally considered an “adult”, is going through some growing pains that consist of drinking, parties, loud music, boys, having sex and keeping her self-esteem up (you know, traditional, high school girl stuff). They also live in a big old house in the middle of the suburbs, so they live pretty comfortably; that is, until foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) walks into their lives and kind of, sort of, maybe screws everything up. Not really, because while she clearly is reeling from a tragedy and just wants to live life in the city, Sophie tries to fit in at the school, get along with the family and see if she can get more and more away from her life of pursuing a music career. A music career that, mind you, Keith is very fond of. Maybe a bit too fond of.

Yeah, you know where this is going.

"Freebird?"

“Freebird?”

Which is exactly why I’m bringing this up here and now, because it’s the one aspect behind this movie that ruins it: The fact that you’ve seen this story done a gazillion times before. Oh, let me guess, the patriarch of the family must be going through some mid-life crisis where all he does is want to bask in the greatness of what was once his younger-years; oh wait, no, don’t tell me that his wife doesn’t really care for his aspirations that dive away from what she wants him to be and look like; and no, no, no, do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell me that the new girl that starts living with this family just so happens to be a bit wiser for her age and starts flirting all over the place with Keith! No, no, no! You’ve got to be kidding me!

And the reason why I’m being so over-dramatic, is because I don’t know why writer/director Drake Doremus didn’t decide to shake things up a bit with this simple-premise. You know, rather than just giving us a straight-laced, obvious story about the possibility of a family-man being unfaithful to his wife, under his own roof no less, he could have thrown a little twist or two here and there. But nope, it’s all pretty simple from the start – Keith’s eyes will begin to wander towards Sophie, they’ll begin to chat, flirt a little, and eventually, it will get so strung out of control that he’ll come to a crossroads in his life where he doesn’t know who he wants to be with for the rest of this life: The young, blissful 18-year-old Brit, or the middle-aged, boring and more controlling house-wife he’s been with for the past 20 years?

Ugh, ugh, ugh! Conventional, conventional, conventional!

However, maybe I am being a bit too hard on this movie, because while Doremus may not fully run away from the conventions of the overly-familiar plot-line he’s working with, he still finds some ways to breath new life into them (pun intended). Rather than focusing on the sexual-tension between Keith and Sophie, and how much of it continues to boil and boil over time, we get a sense as to why, in a way, they should try to spark something up with one another. I know it sounds all wrong and immoral for me to stand behind an act of adultery, but that’s only because the movie makes a pretty good case for me as is; Keith is a bit of a sad-sack that has lost all of the joys that his life once was, what he wants it to be once again. Whereas Sophie, on the other hand, sort of wants the same thing, even if her main-objective is to get out into the city and feel the high-life, which she makes a mention of many times, but instead, has to sit around this house that’s literally in the middle of suburbia and be bored to death.

Not only do we feel bad for them both, but we also see why they’d need one another for a sort of escape from the outside world. Sure, we don’t need to necessarily support the act of sneaking around and, for the most part, getting away with it all, but we can still understand it, and I think that’s the idea Doremus was trying to get across. For that, I can at least forgive him for some of the conventions he still falls for with this story, but I still feel like there could have been so much more potential reached, had he decided to do something a little different here and there. Nothing too much, just a shock once or twice and I would have been fine.

But, like I said before, this is less about the plot-devices and how they’re used, and more about the actual characters, and the actors and actresses playing them – all of which, are fantastic. Guy Pearce seems to always be great in anything that he does, but really sinks his teeth into this character of Keith Reynolds, the kind of aging-daddy you want to share a beer with and just let him know it will be alright, rather than going out and chasing some tail. Sure, he’s a bit of a nerd, but he’s a likable, if sympathetic, nerd that just wants to break loose, if only for a short bit. Nice to see him still be able to get some quality-roles, even at his age and his star-power. But then again, this is the indie-world, and anybody can be in a lead-role; just as long as they’re good, that is.

Yuck! You three and all your happiness make me sick!

Yuck! You three and all your happiness make me sick!

The rest of the Reynolds family are good: Amy Ryan seems like she could somebody like Megan really annoying and cloying, but instead, makes her a sympathetic, small-minded woman that just wants best for her family, even if that means breaking down her hubby’s spirits every once and awhile. Actually, no, scratch that, ALL OF THE TIME! Damn women! Am I right, guys? And also, the gal who plays Keith and Megan’s daughter, Lauren, seemed very familiar to me, if only because I knew the face and the voice and knew I saw it/heard it from somewhere quite recently, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. That is, until about half-way through, that I realized Mackenzie Davis was the little lady playing Lauren and I remembered that she was in That Awkward Moment, which I saw a couple of months back. Crazy how the world works, right?!?!? Needless to say, the girl is quite great and gets a lot more to do here, than she did in that movie where you had Zac Efron flexing his hardcore-abs just about every second of every day.

God, if only I was young again.

While the ones who play the Reynolds clan are great and all, the real stand-out is who plays Sophie, Felicity Jones. The weird fact surrounding Jones and the fact that she’s playing Sophie, is that Jones is 30 years old, whereas the character she’s playing, is supposed to be an 18-year-old. However, what works well and sort of connects the two strands of detail together, is that Sophie is shown to be a lot smarter and wiser than the many other 18-year-olds around her, which not only makes us believe her character a little more, but see why she’d hover over towards a man like Keith, and vice versa. She has those eyes that makes you think she’s thinking about a hundred-million different things at the same time, and you’re always on-edge with whatever choice she makes next, and how it will affect those around her. Jones was great in Doremus’ last flick, Like Crazy, and here, she seems to only be growing and growing with each and every role. I really hope that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes her a huge name, because the woman definitely deserves it. Also, I hope that means she’ll start playing ladies her own age.

Consensus: There’s absolutely no doubt that the story, or the themes presented aren’t the least bit inventive, but where Breathe In doesn’t get points for originality, it does get it in well-written characters, fine performances from the cast and an attention to setting and mood that has us at least believe in what we’re seeing.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"So, uh, you ever heard of the Replacements? Pretty dope, right? That is what you kids are saying nowadays?"

“So, uh, you ever heard of the Replacements? Pretty dope, right? That is what you kids are saying nowadays?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Like Crazy (2011)

Note to self: don’t date chicks with British accents.

American Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and British Anna (Felicity Jones) meet and fall madly in love atcollege in Los Angeles, but must make their relationship work long distance when Anna returns to London. With an ocean between them, their trust is tested, forcing them to confront the idea that their love may be impermanent. Or can it survive against the odds?

After seeing all of the trailers for this film, I had a feeling this was going to be my kind of film considering it was like a ‘Blue Valentine’ for teens. Except this one didn’t make me want to chop my head off so much.

Director and co-writer Drake Doremus does a sensational job here with this film because it runs at a brisk 89 minutes, but he somehow is able to jam in 5 years of these kids relationship into that run-time without any real problems. Months almost past in between scenes and although it never tells you when time has actually changed, I knew right away exactly when and where this story went.

Everything here seems pretty natural because being in love and being young, I know how it feels to have that young love. It’s something beautiful, something grand, something unlike any other, and something that just takes you away from the rest of the world and almost make you feel like nothing can tear you apart. However, sometimes love can be very hurtful and ugly. This film shows that as these two have to go through many hurdles being away from each other so much and at times it’s painful to watch since they just don’t know what to do and wait to see where life takes them. It takes them together, it takes them apart, and other times it takes them to places they would have least expected, but either way, everything here felt natural and real as if this would happen say two people fell madly in love and had to go through a huge problem such as this.

The problem Doremus runs into with this film is the fact that I do think that he runs into the occasional problems of falling into the usual romantic-drama schmaltz. There are moments that feel so natural and real that I started to believe it, but then there were other moments where something would happen and it would seem totally random, but that one person would make the biggest deal about it.

Without giving away any major spoilers something here happens in this film that has to do with a bracelet that comes off of Anna at a very serious time and she makes the biggest stink about it, when in reality, I highly doubt somebody would care especially “at that certain moment”. I know I’m being incredibly vague, but I just can’t say it. I also barely ever saw Jacob actually working on his job as a furniture designer. Yeah he makes a chair here and there but he’s always out doing something and leaving for Britain, when nobody else is there. That’s gotta be a great business he has going for him!

The performances of Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin is what really kept me into this film. Yelchin has always been playing these sort of little child-like roles like in ‘Charlie Bartlett’, or ‘Fright Night’, or even ‘Terminator: Salvation’ for that matter but here he shows a great growth in maturity with his role as Jacob because he has to act like a normal adult would but still have emotions as if he just got stood up at the carnival. Trust me, I know how that shit feels. Jones is even better as Anna who doesn’t know what she wants, needs, or even believes in anymore and has so much emotions going through her facial expressions that it’s almost hard to not shed a tear watching her shed one as well.

They are both great together and they feel natural because as time goes on, they both start from something funny, cute, and a little goofy, but then go to sad, frustrated, mad, and hurt. All of these emotions come out perfectly between both of them together, whether they are speaking or not speaking, you know that something is right about them together and although the story may have some unbelievability to it, Yelchin and Jones really made me believe in their relationship together.

I think that this film really misused Jennifer Lawrence as Jacobs on-and-off again lady friend, Samantha because shes really cool and chill. I didn’t see why Jacob was thinking so hard when he was with her because in all honesty, all she ever wanted to do was just love him and make him happy and I also want to know what she was doing with such a sad sap in the first place. You see how he is without Anna and it’s a surprise that he actually starts going out with Samantha in the first place.

Another and final problem I had with this film is not just a problem with this film but also plenty others. What I’m trying to say is that I’m getting real damn tired of these ambiguous endings. I usually like them but lately it seems like almost every film I run into every day has one and this one has the worst of all considering the note they end on is not only pretty sad but also abrupt as if the film was not finished. This bothered me a lot but its a new occurrence in the film industry and I hope if more and more films are going to have these ambiguous endings, then they should at least not be as abrupt and random.

Consensus: Like Crazy has its fair share of schmaltz, cliches, and unbelievability, but it’s honest look at young love that is beautiful but sometimes hurts is refreshing, as well as the unbelievable chemistry and performances from Jones and Yelchin.

8/10=Matinee!!