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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Ethan Embry

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Why can’t truth or dare with my buddies ever be this fun?

Craig (Pat Healy) has just become a new father, which means that there’s a lot more responsibilities on his plate, and in fact, they’re probably more than he can handle. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, for his kid, the gas for his car, and he doesn’t even have a job anymore. Basically, his life blows, but when he meets back up with old pal Vince (Ethan Embry), all of a sudden, his problems seem to go away. Sure, he’s still kind of a loser with no job or money to show for anything, but he’s hanging with a buddy who’s life is almost worse, so yeah, it makes him feel a little bit better. Then, the two meet-up with Colin (David Koechner), a very rich random dude who, along with his wife (Sarah Paxton) are celebrating their anniversary with a night on the town. They invite both Craig and Vince out to join them, to go to various places and eventually, back to the mansion, where they’ll spend the rest of the evening playing a downright brutal and sometimes vicious game of truth or dare. Except, in this case, the reward is much greater, as well as the risk.

What happens when teen-idols start doing way too many drugs.

You’d think that with a title like Cheap Thrills, a small budget, a first-name director, a group of core characters rounded-out by character actors, and of course, a premise like that, that this would be nothing more than just a straight-to-VOD crap-fest, where the only ones who bother to check it out, are the people who didn’t have anything better to do with their time, nor actually know what good movies are. But for some reason, Cheap Thrills is surprisingly much more than that; yeah, it’s scummy, dirty, disgusting, and raw, but it’s also got a little more on its plate than being just one gross-out-gag-after-another. It’s got something to possibly say about classicism and the way our economy has made normal, everyday citizens out to do the worst possible things imaginable, just so that they can stay alive and well in a world that’s constantly changing and making it harder for a normal person to just survive.

You know, in between all of the feces, hacked-off limbs, blood, gore and nudity, but still, at least there’s something there.

Director E.L. Katz and writers Trent Haaga and David Chirchirill know that they’re working with some slimy material, and because of that, they don’t try to hide it. Sure, the themes about the modern-day society are there, but only if you decide to really look deep into it all; mostly, Cheap Thrills just wants to be a down-and-out, dirty and rather shocking movie that takes a fairly simple, and almost silly premise, and go into uncharted territory with it. Think watching a bunch of grown-ass adults actually playing a game of truth or dare would be stupid and a waste of time? Think again.

Cheap Thrills is the kind of movie that probably won’t work for a lot of people, but Katz, Haaga, and Chirchirill take this material into some crazy, unpredictable areas that are hard to see coming, only because we’re so used to movies having risks and limits, all to make sure that they’re sticking by a certain set of rules and standards that are made so that movies can appeal to anyone out there. Cheap Thrills isn’t that movie and is much better off for it, as it doesn’t try to be nice, or sweet, or appeal to anyone out there – it’s its own damn beast and while I wouldn’t normally applaud that pretentious bravery, it works here, so it’s okay. The fact that Cheap Thrills doesn’t want to be the perfect portrait of what people expect to get with a movie, makes it all the more likable and, dare I say it, charming.

“Whammy!”

Of course, it is low-budget and does look like it was made on the cheap, but sometimes, that’s actually fine.

Cheap Thrills doesn’t need to be a movie that big-budgets, or studios need to get their hands on; it’s the kind of movie that’s made by people who have a sort of love and passion for these sick, twisted and almost sadistic stories. It helps, too, that those acting in it, aren’t really big names and, at the very least, seem like real people. Sure, you’ve seen Pat Healy, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, and Ethan Embry in many places before, but here, they feel like raw, real people that just so happen to be in a very crazy movie; Embry is especially realistic playing a total loser who, over the course of the movie, you just want to give a hug, even when he does and acts in despicable ways. Still, you’ve got to give credit to Katz for casting these folks, all of whom show that they may be better than the material they’re playing with, but at the same time, aren’t sneering their noses at it – they’re enjoying their time slumming and getting all down and dirty. There’s something appealing in that, and it’s why Cheap Thrills doesn’t just work for them, but for those who actually take the time to see it.

Then again, depends on what you want.

Consensus: Rough, raw, and gritty, but also surprisingly fun, unpredictable, and smarter than you’d expect, Cheap Thrills benefits from its small, but welcome surprises, as well as giving us something more to look for beyond the B-movie thrills and premise.

7.5 / 10

True pals.

Photos Courtesy of: And So it Begins Films

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The Guest (2014)

As long as they’re in the Army, let ’em in! Or don’t. Actually, yeah. Don’t do that.

One day, completely out of the blue, David Andersen Collins (Dan Stevens) knocks on the Peterson’s front-door and tells them that not only did he serve in the Army with their deceased family-member, but that he was also there for said family-member’s final breathing moment. All David wants to do is stop by, pay his regards, and keep on moving to wherever the hell he’s going, but Laura (Sheila Kelley), the mother of the family, would like for him to stay. She clearly misses her son and if there’s anything at all close to him that she can still get, she’ll keep it for as long as humanly possible. So for awhile, David stays in the house, doing chores, keeping an eye on what happens to the younger kids in the house when they go to school, and overall, just being there to lend a helping hand whenever he’s needed. While the youngest (Brendan Meyer) clearly doesn’t have a problem with this, the older sister, Anna (Maika Monroe), clearly does and isn’t too sure whether she can actually trust David. And then she realizes something very strange about his past, and it puts his whole existence into perspective.

With You’re Next, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard gave us a movie that lived, slept, and breathed the same air as an 80’s home-invasion flick. However, at the same time, it was still eerily present and because of that, it felt like something new, exciting and relatively original. Of course a good amount of the credit for that film working as well as it did was because of the unpredictable plot that kept on surprising us every step of the way, without ever throwing us down too many random hallways, but where it mattered most, Wingard and Barrett seemed to be making a movie that they clearly wanted to use as both as a tribute to the home-invasion thrillers of yesteryear. By doing so, too, they also made a near-perfect home-invasion thriller in its own right that people, like I imagine Barrett and Wingard were once doing, will be talking about for many, many years to come.

The Guest doesn’t quite hit that peak, but it does come pretty close at times.

Relax over there, ladies.

Relax over there, ladies.

As they did with You’re Next, Wingard and Barrett seemed to highlighting their love for “mysterious stranger” movies; ones where a random person shows up from out of nowhere, has an air of oddness about themselves, and also contain more than a few deep, dark, and dirty secrets that may, or may not make them a danger to whoever’s life they’re being thrown into. These are the kinds of movies that can go one way so cheaply and by-the-numbers, but with the Guest, Wingard and Barrett find a way to keep this tale moving, without ever seeming to focus on the constant cliches that usually make these kinds of stories such eye-rollers to sit through.

For instance, David Collins, the central character here, is an odd duckling, although he’s not really a cartoon. Sure, the guy gives off a strange vibe that makes you think he’s up to no good, but because Wingard and Barrett give him so many awesome scenes that high-light him as something of an endearing bad-ass, it’s hard for us to think of him as any bit of a baddie. There may be some underlining meaning behind the things that he does for this family, but whatever they may be, don’t matter because all we want to do is see him single-handedly get rid of all this family’s problems.

Dad may not be getting his promotion because of some young, hot-shot d-bag? Don’t worry about. Son continues to get picked-on by a bunch of the jocks at school? Once again, don’t worry about it. Daughter may have a boyfriend who is a bit of a shady character? Especially, don’t worry about. David Collins takes care of all these problems in his own manner, and while we want to think of all these scenes as obvious, Barrett and Wingard give them all a certain level of fun and electricity in the air that makes these tropes seem like something new, or better yet, cool.

And as David Collins, Dan Stevens gives off the perfect essence of cool, while by the same token, also has something weird and mysterious about him that we don’t know if we can fully trust. Being as how I’ve never watched a single episode of the Downton Abbey, I can’t really say I’ve ever seen much of a Stevens before, but now, that might change. The guy’s clearly handsome, but there’s something about that handsomeness that makes him almost deadly, which is why when the movie decides to have him turn the other cheek, it’s not only believable, but it allows for Stevens’ comedic-timing to really shine.

So conceited.

So conceited.

Although, the major problem I had with this movie mostly came from the fact that I couldn’t ever tell what this movie wanted to say about Collins, or how it wanted us to feel for him. First off, he’s obviously supposed to be the earnest problem-solver for this family, so of course we’re supposed to stand behind him and root him on. But then, the movie changes its mind about him and starts to throw in a convoluted back-story about his “time” in the army, which eventually brings in the government, SWAT Teams, and DEA agents out of nowhere. It’s crazy, sure, but it’s also fun to see, because you know Wingard and Barrett know better with this story then to allow for all of its wackiness to lead up to nothing.

Then again, though, it doesn’t seem like they want us to hate David Collins, either, even despite all of the evil, devil-ish acts he commits in the later-half. Maybe I’m looking a bit too deeply into this, but a part of me just wanted to know how I was supposed to feel about this guy and whether or not he’s the one I should rooting for. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to, but the movie had me fooled on maybe more than a few occasions and that was a tad disconcerting to me. Whereas with You’re Next, it was somewhat clear who we were supposed to stand behind, and who we were supposed to despise, but with the Guest, neither Wingard and/or Barrett can figure out who we’re supposed to love, and who we’re supposed to hate.

Anything in between is just strange. But maybe that’s just my problem and nobody else’s.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t quite reach the intelligent heights of You’re Next, the Guest is still fun, exciting, and a nice tribute to the kinds of movies that Wingard and Barrett grew up loving, and want to spin-around on their heads for the modern-day audience.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

That Thing You Do! (1996)

If only songs were as catchy and simple as this one.

In 1964, teenage garage band The One-ders — singer Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn), drummer Guy (Tom Everett Scott) and a nameless bass player (Ethan Embry) — become an overnight sensation when their debut song jumps to the top of the charts. But internal tensions threaten to make the group’s fall just as rapid as their rise.

Writer/director Tom Hanks is obviously a guy we all know, love, and care about when it comes to his acting but his writing and directing maybe was pushing it a little too far. However, have no fear, Hanks still is good no matter what he does.

What I liked about this flick was that the simple premise is showed in a very fun, entertaining, and nice way just like the bubblegum pop days of the early 60’s were before all of the drugs started popping on in and out. The story starts off as your usual “band gets bigger and bigger” story-line which was fun to watch because of how charming this script was, and the film keeps that charm going on throughout the whole flick. Hanks does throw in a little bit of satire against the whole music business, but it’s nothing too much to where he seems to be aiming too high.

But enough about the script, let’s just get to the real reason why anybody really remembers this movie and that is for the title song. It’s so catchy, so fun, and is played probably about 7 times throughout the whole flick but it’s not like “I’ve Got You Babe” in ‘Groundhog Day’, to where every time we hear it we want burn every single copy left of that song, it’s a song that’s just really good and actually seems like a song that would be on heavy-rotation during that time-period. There are a couple of other tracks in this flick that are pretty good, but this is the only one that I can remember having stuck in my head after it was over and while hell, even I’m writing this I kind of humming it now as we speak.

However, as good as good as this song may be, it’s also one of the bigger problems with this flick. The direction, writing, and attention is detail is fine the way it ought to be but there’s nothing else that really stands-out from this flick other than the song. It also didn’t help that by the end, there are a little bit too many parts where the film starts to dive into some lame melodrama and just gets really soapy and unbelievable. Then again, I wasn’t looking for anything that seemed like a realistic take on the lives of pop music stars during the 60’s, I just wanted a fun and entertaining flick, which is basically what I got.

I also liked how Hanks put the main focus on the dude that is essentially the back-bone of the band, the drummer. Being a drummer myself, I thought that this was pretty cool to see considering it’s always either the singer or guitarist in the band that hogs all the spot-light. Also, Tom Everett Scott is pretty good as Shades. I’ve seen this dude in plenty of other stuff but this is the only film that I can remember him best in because he’s pretty likable and seems like a dude I would love to jam with due to his love of jazz music. The guy also had a pretty good technique even though it wasn’t really him drumming obviously.

The other band-mates are all pretty good here with the likes of Steve Zahn playing his usual funny/sarcastic-ass character here as the lead guitarist; Ethan Embry being a lot of fun to watch as the semi-mentally challenged bass player aptly named T.B. Player; and Johnathon Schaech probably being the weakest of the bunch as the singer, because when shit starts to hit the fan for this band, he really just seems like he’s starting all of it, just to start it. Tom Hanks is also great as the band’s manager, Mr. White, which also probably helps considering he has the film’s best lines and seems like a dude I could trust with all of my money and fame; Liv Tyler is nice to watch, as always, here as Faye; and it was also really funny to see a very young Charlize Theron as Shades’ girlfriend. There are so many other people in this flick that I could mention but it’s honestly a lot more fun to just point at and think about who he/she is during the film.

Consensus: Though there’s nothing all that spectacular about the flick, That Thing You Do! is still a fun, charming, and well-acted tale of what all bands during the early days of the 60’s all dreamed, hoped for, and had to go through. Also, that song is just catchy as hell.

7/10=Rental!!