Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Greg McFadden

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Advertisements

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au