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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: James Blackburn

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

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The Astronaut Farmer (2007)

AstronautposterThe moon landing never happened anyway. So keep on dreaming, bro.

For as long as he’s been alive, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has always wanted to travel to the moon. Although he was a NASA pilot for a little while, he had to step out due to personal issues at the time. Now, Charles is trying to create his own spaceship that he can launch into space. It seems like a pipe-dream, but Charles is inspired so much, that he won’t take “no” for an answer; even though friends, confidantes, and hell, even his wife (Virginia Madsen), tell him it’s impossible, he doesn’t listen. When Charles’ plans get leaked to the world wide web, eventually, as they tend to do, the FBI finds themselves getting involved. Though Charles is not, from what people know, a terrorist planning on nuking the entire Earth, the government still doesn’t want to take any chances and keeps track of Charles’ everyday comings and goings. And hell, even though Charles has got the rest of the world behind him and his journey, the government still does not want to budge. This is a challenge that Charles accepts and stands against, even if it risks his own life, as well as those that he loves and cares for so much.

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

The whole time while watching the Astronaut Farmer, I kept on waiting for the subscript to start/end the movie saying something along the lines of, “based on a true story”. Does a story about some small-town farmer creating his own rocket and trying to launch it into space sound plausible? Not entirely, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen nor that I’ve never heard about it before. Crazier things have happened in this land we call Earth, right?

But the subscript never shows up.

The Astronaut Farmer is literally an idea written by Michael and Mark Polish, which is interesting to say the least. Silly? Sure, but it’s obvious that they’re both trying to aim for that you-can-do-anything-that-you-put-your-mind-to sensibility that so many Disney films seem to rely on. Through Farmers’ own journey of trying to get into space and do what he’s always wanted us to do, the Polish bros. are trying to get us to think of our dreams and have the idea that we too can make them come true, so long as we have enough heart and inspiration deep down inside of our souls.

And this is all fine and good, but the movie never seems like it earns that feeling of absolute and divine inspiration. Instead, it’s just a really old-timey, almost-retro story that may have a heart to work with, but never seems to go any deeper than the surface. Which is kind of a shame considering that the Polish bros. debut (Twin Falls Idaho) also dealt with the same sort of strange premise in a mindful way, but also gave us more to the story than just what was presented.

Here, it just sort of feels like everything and everyone is one-note, without there being any gray area left for the audience to decipher themselves.

The only interesting aspect of this story where it seems like the Polish bros. themselves are conflicted of a certain character-trait is with Farmer himself. While the Polish bros. clearly love and adore the character of Charles Farmer, his ambition, his heart, and his never-say-never attitude, the idea that, if he isn’t successful with his trip to space and does end up dying in the process, what will he leave his family back on Earth with? Because he’s put so much gosh darn money into this spaceship, he’s already bled them dry, so what could they possibly do without him around to keep the money flowing in? Will they be left high, dry, and without a fork to use? Or will they get by just fine because, well, Charles Farmer always has a tricky plan up his sleeves?

Take a guess of which conclusion the Polish bros. come to.

"It's okay, honey. If you die, don't worry, cause we're all screwed."

“It’s okay, honey. If you die, don’t worry, cause we’re all screwed.”

Like I’ve said though, I don’t mind the simplicity of most tales, but this one in particular doesn’t seem to really concern itself with much else other than, “dude wants to travel to space and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that”. While it would have been interesting to see a complex, almost flawed-figure presented, Charles himself is painted in such a lovely portrait, that it’s almost like they’ve could had him run for president at the end, win, create his own world where everybody and their grand-mothers are allowed to travel into space, and it would seem uplifting, smart and, above all else, believable. It’s painfully clear that the Polish bros. don’t have much of a narrative-drive to go any further and it hurts the characters so much, that even the ones who may have some sort of interesting plight to show, it just makes it seem like a waste.

For instance, Billy Bob Thornton, surprisingly playing a good-guy, does what he can as Charles, but because the dude is so blue-eyed and optimistic, it just becomes irritating. Virginia Madsen, despite her character seeming as if she initially has something interesting to say, doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect her to, except by her husband as he possibly kills himself in the process of living his life-long dream. And then, as her daddy, Bruce Dern shows up as the voice of reason who, you might expect to be against the idea of Charles going out into space and risking his own life, but is instead happy that he’s doing it because, as he says, “he shares the dreams with his family”.

Yawn.

The only people in this movie that I could identify with were the FBI themselves – which, for a movie such as this, is not what’s supposed to happen. The FBI, as written by the Polish bros., are painted to be these sort of big brother, negative Nancies that are always trying to get on Charles’ case and tarnish his dreams forever, but in all honesty, they have a point for thinking the way that they do. Though Charles may not be a huge threat to the government per se, there’s still something incredibly dangerous and crazy about his idea of going out into space with his own, homemade spaceship that makes it understandable why they wouldn’t want him up in the sky to begin with. This may seem like I’m thinking too hard, but honestly, the Polish bros. want us think of this as some sort of “could-happen” tale that, if someone puts their heart, mind, body and soul into an idea long enough, that it and the rest of their wildest dreams can all come true.

Yawn again.

Consensus: Though its heart may be in the right place, the Astronaut Farmer is too implausible and one-dimensional to really inspire the people that it wants to, but instead, make them feel happy that there aren’t more Charles Farmer’s trying to release DIY spaceships into the sky.

4 / 10

"Kids, don't be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can't possibly happen to anyone."

“Kids, don’t be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can’t possibly happen to anyone.”

Photos Courtesy of: Superior Pics

The Homesman (2014)

The old west was kind of creepy.

Single, middle-aged women living all by her lonesome, Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank), is looking to make something of a name for herself, so when she hears about the opportunity to take three town’s crazy women all the way to Iowa, for something of a rehabilitation, she jumps right on it, even though most people don’t think it’s a job most suited for a woman. But that doesn’t faze Mary Bee, so she decides to travel to Iowa anyway! While on the trip though, she encounters a man by the name of George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), who was tied-up, hung, and left for dead by a group of men. She doesn’t know whether or not to trust him, but rather than just leaving him there, she decides to take him in under her wing and the two kind of work together. However, as the trip continues on, there begins to become more and more problems for the both of them, some that are near-deadly and life-changing.

Westerns can sometimes be incredibly hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they can be fun, exciting, bloody, brutal, and altogether, a meaningful tale that could have literally been in any other genre of film, yet, isn’t, which makes it all the more important of a film to watch. Then again though, they can sometimes be incredibly slow, boring, and not at all interesting, except if you like horses a lot. There’s hardly any in between with the genre; either you’re very good, or you’re just a downright snoozer.

"It's alright, honey. Nobody's gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby."

“It’s alright, honey. Nobody’s gonna mess with the girl from Million Dollar Baby.”

But that changes a bit with the Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’ second time behind the director’s chair, who does something neat with the genre that I haven’t seen in a long while.

For example, take the story itself, the fact that it’s main protagonist is a woman, is definitely shocking and new, but the fact that she isn’t one of these rough and rugged women who want to be just like the rest of the men, is all the more refreshing. But to make matters even better, she’s one of these strong, independent women who doesn’t want to be looked at in a judgmental, or demeaning way; she just wants to be treated like your or I. With that said, she also has the same feelings as you or I, and doesn’t want to be looked down upon for that reason, either.

In a way, Mary Bee Cuddy is the type of strong, free-thinking woman that the western genre has been waiting for all its life, and it’s only made better by the fact that Hilary Swank is quite good in the role, too. It’s been a long time since the last time we see Swank in something worth watching (or simply, something in general), and her performance here makes me wonder why that is. She’s always been a talented gal and one that’s made sure people know she’s willing to test her limitations as an actress. And even though this may not be the most demanding role of her career, it’s still a strong one that allows her to dig deeper and deeper into the psychosis of this Mary Bee Cuddy girl and show us that, underneath all of the brooding and tough love she presents on the outer-surface, she’s just a woman who wants to be loved, have a family, and be happy for the rest of her days.

On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones plays something of a down-and-out bastard with George Briggs, and it’s not just a funny role, but a rich one that Jones works well with. Jones has played slime balls before, but this one’s different in that he feels like he’s a genuinely good guy when he’s given the right amount of inspiration to do so. Jones digs deep with this character, too, but it’s the chemistry between him and Swank that’s really the heart and soul of this movie and keeps it moving, even when everything around it seems to sort of slow down and just take its good old time.

Speaking of which, the movie may get a tad slow at times, but it was hardly ever boring for me. Super insane, for sure, but boring? Definitely not. Most of that is thanks to Jones’ insistence on never allowing this material to get as strange as you could imagine it getting. I’d sit back here and spoil every instance of weird occurrence, but to do so would be a total crime on my part and probably rob most of you of a movie that definitely deserves to be seen, wanting the best, but expecting the worst.

Round 1! FIGHT!

Round 1! FIGHT!

Because seriously, random characters will pop up, act strange, and then something even more wild will happen moments later. But the movie never over-does it in a way that feels gratuitous or over-the-top. Okay, maybe definitely the later, but the former, totally not. The weird stuff that happens here, actually feels like it would happen in this part of the West and allows us to get a glimpse of a certain place in time, we don’t see too many movies about. Makes sense why, but the more westerns we get like this, I can assure you, the better.

However, at the end of the day, the movie is still disappointing, especially when it comes to Jones and his way of figuring out what to make of this story. Though he seems to take some sort of pleasure in exploring the craziest, darkest depths of this strange world he’s created, he never knows what to make of it. Though some may say that there doesn’t need to be a message here, the fact remains that there should be and it was a bad decision on Jones’ part not to make that clear enough to us.

Then again, he did offer plenty good, so I guess I can’t rain on his parade all that much, either. I’ll just take it for what it is, and that’s a weird fuckin’ movie.

Consensus: Strange and eerie, yet constantly interesting, the Homesman is a refreshing change-of-pace for the western genre, without ever trying too hard to be seen as such.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

In today's market, this would not be allowed.

In today’s market, this would not be allowed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB