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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Earl Billings

One False Move (1992)

Small towns always need a little excitement.

Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), an immoral thief who always seems to question everyone and everything around him; Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray’s girlfriend who doesn’t always seem to take the violent way out, but more than often, doesn’t know what else to do; and Pluto (Michael Beach), an smart, yet, cold and calculated killer who isn’t afraid anyone, are all criminals who have been on the run for quite some time. Together, they’ve taken out friends of Fantasia’s, either to get money, drugs, or a whatever other valuables they can find, not only leaving a huge and disturbingly long trail of blood behind them, but making them public enemy number one, essentially. Eventually, the LAPD gets more and more involved, the more and more bodies start turning up, leaving them to trigger and target Fantasia herself. On the case are two detectives, Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings), who both travel out into the middle of nowhere in Star City, Arkansas, because it’s where they believe Fantasia will bring her fellow criminals to. While there, they meet the eccentric and sometimes silly police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who has always dreamed of one day becoming a big city cop and seems to finally be getting the chance to do so. However, the case itself may be way too out of his league.

See what I mean?

One False Move starts off with perhaps the most disturbing first 15 minutes of as movie I have seen in quite some time. It’s a family, watching the home videos that they just filmed moments ago on their video-cameras, get a knock at the door, go to see who is at the knock, and slowly, but surely, each member of the family is either stabbed to death or killed, all while these tapes are playing the background. In fact, one person’s lifeless body lies right in front of the TV, while tapes of said person talking about how happy they are continue play. It’s harsh, brutal, unrelenting, and just downright mean, but it’s also the rare case of an indie-thriller really taking itself one step further to get down underneath our skin.

That said, it’s also the darkest and perhaps most ugly One False Move gets, which thankfully, doesn’t keep it away from being a solid flick in its own right. It’s just not nearly as upsetting.

Anyway, director Carl Franklin does a nice job here with the script from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, by letting and allowing for everything to play out. Rather than trying too hard to focus on certain details of the story, the case, the murders, or even the characters, he sort of sits idly by and let them tell us themselves. And because of that, we get a lot of interesting material that we don’t often see in thrillers of this nature; we get an slew of interesting, three-dimensional characters, we get a plot that could literally go anywhere, at any time, we have a story that has, at the very least, more of a meaning than just “bad people deserved to be locked-up”, and oh yeah, bloody, surprising violence that matters more because, well, all of these things work and they matter.

It’s important to note what works here, because One False Move could have been a very easy movie to figure out, in terms of where it’s going, or what it’s going to be about. Had it been so easy, the movie would have just been another, typical action-thriller with plot twists and turns that don’t actually matter; instead, it’s a movie with some heart, emotion, crime, violence, and oh yeah, tension. It comes together mostly all perfectly well by the end, showing that in order for a crime-thriller such as this to work, all you really need is extra attention paid to the things that matter most.

“Stop thinking about the pony-tail, baby. It’s what’s in.”

Like, once again, characters, all of whom are played exceptionally well by all involved.

As the three criminals, Thornton, Beach and Williams all do good jobs in helping us get inside the mind of these sometimes cruel and unforgiving characters. While they’re never sympathetic or nice, they still at least show some colors you wouldn’t often get in a movie like this. Like, for instance, rather than seeming like a simple peon who is tired of the whole world stepping on him, is actually more of just a sissy who has a gun and some homicidal tendencies, which mostly has to do with the fact that he’s egged on by those around him. Beach is also impressive as Pluto, who is more detestable and downright evil, but shows signs of reasoning for it all. Meanwhile, Williams is effective as Fantasia, showing that there’s some sadness there, which makes her the most sympathetic out of the three, even if we’re never sure we can trust her.

However, the real standout of the movie has to be Bill Paxton, who on pure sheer charm and excitement, basically steals every scene he’s in. Sure, it helps that Paxton’s working with the most well-drawn character of the bunch, but Paxton shows some true heart, soul, and energy here and brings it to a movie that’s so drab and depressing at times, it’s a wonder if it knows what humor it is. Thankfully, it does and Paxton is the one to bring it, showing a real spirited soul within Dale Dixon and makes you not only see him as a good cop, but a good human being in general, who wants to make the world a better place, and intends to do so, all with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

Man, Bill. We miss you already.

Consensus: Dark, intense, and unpredictable, One False Move proves to be an effective thriller, but also gives us great performances and characters to help even things out, too.

8.5 / 10

Small-town cops get no respect.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, The Fanboy’s Perspective, Paperblog

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American Splendor (2003)

Believe it or not, Stan Lee isn’t the only guy who writes comics.

Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) works a dead-end job as a file clerk, his second wife leaves him, and he has a debilitating vocal impediment. The two things that keep him going are his collections of jazz records and comic books. After becoming friends with animator Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak), Harvey finds himself inspired enough to write his own type of comic book, which turn out to be just the depressing, yet amusing accounts of his everyday life.

Whenever people hear of a comic book movie being made, they automatically shoot their minds to Marvel and think of names like Iron Man, or the Hulk, or Captain America, or whoever gets the next big-screen adaptation. But hardly do we ever get to see the sort of comic book movies that are made for people who could care less about superheros and all of those wonderful tales of fantasy. Sometimes, comic books have the opportunity to hit closer to home and it’s this fact, this reality that American Splendor hits hard each and every second it gets.

He's perfect.

He’s perfect.

Of course, in a bit more depressed manner, but still. It’s a little more refreshing than watching another Marvel flick.

Co-writers and directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini know that they’re working with simple material here, so it makes sense that they’d add a little comic book touch to the look and make it feel as if we are looking at an actual comic book on the screen. It doesn’t happen all of the time, because that would just get gimmicky after awhile, but the way they do use it when needed, works and puts you in the mind-set of how this guy looked at the world through his own eyes.

But the style isn’t just what works, as there’s a whole lot of interesting scenes where we actually see the real Harvey Pekar early on, through interviews, and even see all of the other real people in his life as well, show up every once and awhile. It’s a bit surreal at first, considering we are essentially watching a movie about the real life story of these people, they know it, and are standing there just giving their input when needed. It’s definitely weird, but after awhile, seems pretty cool as it looks like Berman and Pulcini both wanted to keep this story as close to the real thing as possible, so what better way than having the real people themselves, you know?

Honestly though, American Splendor is as interesting as it is, all because of the subject at the center: Harvey Pekar. There’s no way of dancing around that fact.

What’s interesting about Pekar is that, other than the fact that he’s a pretty miserable dude, there’s a lot more to him than just that. Does he know it? Not really, but that’s where the intrigue is; while everybody looks at him as a lovable, self-loathsome loner, he doesn’t even know it, think about it, or better yet, give a hoot. This is especially evident in how he describes his comic book creations, the stories he writes about, and how he allows them to approach life, the way in which he sees it. To him, it’s just his own thoughts and opinions getting scribbled onto a piece of paper – whether hundreds of people see it or not, is totally their call.

But then, what makes Pekar even more of engaging figure here is that he’s played by the one and only Paul Giamatti himself. Once again, Giamatti seems to be playing his “kvetching, neurotic Jewish guy”-role as we usually see in his films, but there’s more to that than just being a miserable sad-sack. Pekar seems like the perfect role for Giamatti cause not only does the guy have a general distaste for a lot of what happens throughout his day, but when he starts to realize the happiness that’s out there, it’s very nice to see and Giamatti handles it so well. In fact, when Pekar himself shows up on-screen, it’s almost hard to tell them totally apart. Whatever Giamatti himself had to do to prepare for this role, clearly paid-off as he got down every mannerism that Pekar has, wonderfully.

She's perfect.

She’s perfect.

Though, there is more going on here than just Giamatti’s great portrayal of Pekar, as Hope Davis does a charming job as Pekar’s third wife, Joyce Brabner. Because the real-life couple of Joyce and Harvey is so odd and unique in its smallest details, Davis and Giamatti must have really had to be hard-at-work to ensure that they got everything down perfectly between the two; not just when they’re together on-screen, but how their own respective characters grow throughout the movie. Cause obviously, they are their own person, but together, they feel oh so perfectly united, that it’s hard to imagine either one of their miserable selves being with anybody else.

Basically, they were stuck together, forever. Till death did them part and I couldn’t had been any happier for them.

So if anything, American Splendor not only serves a fine send-up of all the superhero/comic book movies that seem to flood the airwaves everywhere you look nowadays, but a touching tribute to the legend of Harvey Pekar. While some may have a problem with the fact he was so ticked-off and angry for no apparent reasons whatsoever, there’s still some hope and humanity to be found in that. Cause as hard as it may be to stay happy all throughout your life, it must be even more incredibly difficult to stay as mad, either.

So here’s to you, Harvey. Rest well. And smile for a damn change!

Consensus: Though it has style to boot, what makes American Splendor so lovely is how it approaches life the same way as Harvey Pekar himself did: Not quite sure what to make of it, but couldn’t wait to find out, even if the results didn’t always make him the happiest bee in the hive.

8.5 / 10

Together, match made in heaven.

Together, match made in heaven.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins