Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: James Gray

The Lost City of Z (2017)

Just stay home. Much safer.

At the dawn of the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an extremely talented and well-known soldier who, by the word of some fellow Britishmen, state that he was “unfortunate in the choice of ancestors”. Whatever that means, doesn’t spell out anything good for Percy who, for some reason, always feels like his life is leading towards something wonderful, but what that is, he hasn’t quite faced or figured out yet. So, when the opportunity to journey into the Amazon, where he is assigned to figure out the border between Brazil and Bolivia. It’s not something he planned on wanting to do, but he takes the opportunity and realizes that there’s truly something more to this land than he anticipated. On his journey back home, he lets everyone know about the evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. However, all those around him shrug him off as a loon and now Percy, along with his wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland), and fellow journeyman (Robert Pattinson), set out to prove them, as well as the entire world, wrong. It’s the decision that would change his life for good.

All that dirt, yet, still so handsome?

The Lost City of Z is a hard movie to really talk about because my feelings are still kind of mixed. For one, it’s a very well put-together movie; big, bold, beautiful, and sometimes enchanting, it has the look and feel of one of those action and adventure flicks from the 60’s-to-70’s, where the jungle had all sorts of dangerous mysteries for man to discover, and even more possibilities for the men to discover about themselves, too. It’s the kind of movie you sort of just sit back, watch and admire, because there’s so much art and craft put into the way the thing looks, sounds, hell, even the way it’s paced.

And of course, all of the praise deserves to go to James Gray who, after making so many small indie flicks, now seems to be making a giant leap towards bigger-budget fare, although, while still containing the kind of artistry we expect from him. We can tell why he took on this infamous story and better yet, you can tell he really cares; it’s not as if it was some hack studio job he did solely for the sake of money. There’s some real feeling and heart to his storytelling, that feels genuine.

That’s why it’s still hard for me to have problems with this movie, even though I definitely do.

See, it seems the biggest issue with the Lost City of Z is that, even despite it being nearly 140 minutes, it still feels underdeveloped and under-cooked. It’s almost as if it could have been a TV pilot about halfway through, where we get an understanding for the characters, the relationships, and the central conflict, and the rest of the movie could have been further explained and given more time to develop over the next 12 or so episodes. However, there’s just so much going on here, with so little explanation, or time taken to put on it, it honestly feels like a rushed job, as if Gray himself felt like he had to hit all the points to make sure he got what he wanted and didn’t leave anything out.

No problem with that if you’re adapting a non-fiction book, but it’s a problem when it doesn’t feel like all we are watching, are events and simply just that. 12 Years a Slave did the same thing where it felt like one thing happening, after another, but that was more meaningful and understood, as that’s probably how it would have been for a slave; a tale as tall and as wide as the Lost City of Z, deserves more momentum building within itself and it just never gets that. Gray tries and tries again, but honestly, there’s just so much on his plate here from Fawcett’s first trip, to his second, to WWI, to his kids being born, to his discovery of the possible “savages” and realizing that they aren’t “savages”, and etc., that it’s just so much, with so little background.

Watch out, Twi-hards.

It’s a PowerPoint presentation, but without any facts or other bullet-points, it’s just the titles and that’s about it.

Then again, it’s still a hard movie to take your eyes off of, no matter how slow or meandering it can get. It also helps that the cast is pretty solid, too, albeit, save for Charlie Hunnam, which I find myself having a hard time to type, because I do truly feel like he’s a good actor. However, with Sons of Anarchy and a few of his latest film-roles since he started work on that show, I’m not quite sure what it is about him that’s not quite connecting with me. He was great when he was younger, in much more comedy-based stuff like Queer as Folk, Undeclared, and even Nicholas Nickleby, but I don’t know, for some reason, there’s just no real conviction to him here, as there may have been in the old days. He tries, but yeah, it just didn’t connect.

Thankfully, it left room for others to work well, like especially, Sienna Miller in one of her best roles yet, as Percy’s wife, Nina, who is so much more than just a stay-at-home, put-upon wife. She’s smart, brave and actually wanting to travel and discover this world with Percy, and the scenes she has with him, honestly, feel as real and as raw as anything else. Robert Pattinson is also quite good because he basically downplays his role and does the best Keith Richards impression ever, whereas Tom Holland is good as the son who rightfully despises his father for leaving him and his family for all those years, away in the sunny-side of England, but for some reason, instantly forgives him and is on the next trip with him.

Yeah, needed more clarification. Or better yet, a longer running-time altogether.

Consensus: Even with the pure ambition put on by James Gray, the Lost City of Z still feels like an under-cooked tale that has so much going on, but without much behind all of the big events.

6 / 10

Dirty, but once again, still so handsome. How do they do it?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Advertisements

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Immigrant (2014)

Becoming a hooker and spending money on hospital bills. Ah, the American Dream.

When Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) comes over on a boat to America, she automatically runs into problems. Her sister (Angela Sarafyan) gets taken away and put into intensive care because she is believed to be “sick”; her aunt and uncle don’t want her staying at their place; and she is desperate fear of getting sent back to her country, which seems to be going through a wild period of violence, death and bloodshed. However, in comes walking the mysterious Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who makes her a deal: Come along with him and live in his place, as long as she agrees to work. Seems simple enough, until Ewa realizes that the job she’ll be doing is as a prostitute – the kind of job she doesn’t want to do, but pretty much has to, because she has nowhere else to go and needs to pay for her sister’s medical bills. So, Ewa goes along with the job, screwing, making money and staying loyal to Bruno; however, that all changes once a local magician by the name of Emil (Jeremy Renner) takes a bit of a liking to her and is not going to leave her alone. Bruno doesn’t like this and, as expected, leads to a bit of a strange love-triangle that spurs out of control, with devastating results.

James Gray loves these types of small, slow, and intimate character-pieces. With most of his movies, you get a sense that the premises should have the pace going a-mile-a-minute, but somehow, Gray finds a way to keep them mellowed-out and calm by paying attention to his characters. Violence and action does usually rear its ugly head, but its done in a way that feels realistic, if only because we’ve invested so much time and patience to these character’s and their lives, that it makes total sense why one would decide to commit an inappropriate act of sorts.

A rare case in which somebody as looked at Joaquin Phoenix as "their savior".

A rare case in which somebody looked at Joaquin Phoenix as “their savior”.

And in the Immigrant, Gray is in top-form, for lack of a better word. You get a sense that Gray isn’t trying to talk about one story in particular, but a plethora of stories that stem from the idea of the American Dream. As our world has made it out to be presented as, America usually seems like the type of country where dreams are made of – the kind of country that embraces individuals that want to do when they want, how they want to, and wherever they want to, because it’s a free country and just about everybody is allowed to be themselves to a certain extent. To be honest too, there’s nothing wrong with that vision – I live in America and, despite a couple of questionable decisions made on our President’s behalf more than a few times, I love it. Not to say that there’s any problem with other countries out there, but for one thing, I’m glad I was born and bred in the good old U.S. of A.

Gray doesn’t necessarily have a problem with America, either, however, he understands that the means for which a person needs to survive by, can sometimes be immoral and dehumanizing. Even in a place like America, the land of the free and the home of the Brave.

With Ewa’s story, Gray shows what it’s like for a person to feel as if they are leaving their troubled, horrible past behind themselves, only to then be thrown into a new world, better yet, a new life, where it seems like things may be even worse than before. Those who come to America, expect happiness, beauty and all sorts of pleasures that they may have not been able to receive in the previous country, however, the harsh reality is that sometimes, that’s not really the case. It’s a shame to say, but it’s the truth; and while times may have gotten better for those who want to come into America and become a “citizen”, some of it still sort of sucks, almost to the point where it makes sense why one would divert away from the standard, typical professions one expects another to take in for means of survival. And by that, I mean taking a job that would require one to have sex, deal drugs, or be involved with any type of immoral behavior, all for money.

Like I said before, I love my country, but there are sometimes certain aspects of everyday life that even I have to admit are in my country and cannot look away from.

Anyway, I know I’ve gotten past the fact that this is, yes, a movie, but it’s one that’s very thought-provoking. In fact, that’s all it may in fact be. Gray presents a well thought-out idea of what people perceive the American Dream to be, and allows it to live through the story of Ewa’s – a pretty sad one, I may add. However, the sadness gets to a point of where it’s almost too bleak to really be anything else except for that; we get that Ewa doesn’t have much of a chance to get a high-paying office job of sorts, but is it really that bad that she can’t practically go anywhere else without being taken in by police and thrown back on Ellis Island? I don’t know, but to me, it seemed like a bit of a stretch; almost as if Gray used it as a ploy to keep Ewa with Bruno, and try to create as much tension between the two as he could. It works, but it does seem deliberate, and because of that, a little less realistic.

However, with this small, but effective cast Gray assembles, we get fully-realized, understandable human characters that seem like they could exist even in today’s day and age, except with maybe fancier clothes and a knack for taking selfies. Leading the cast as Ewa is Marion Cotillard and, believe it or not, she is great. There’s just something about those expressive eyes of hers that you can feel the pain, the remorse, and the agony that’s going through this character at every point in time, that you want to hug her like you’d want to embrace a sad, little and lost puppy. But once Ewa starts to embrace this newfound lifestyle for all its worth, there’s a change in Cotillard’s eyes and her demeanor as a whole, and it’s astonishing to watch. Once again, it’s all through the eyes in which Cotillard lets us know and understand what Ewa is going through, and it’s a riveting performance, from one of the best actresses working today, who makes me feel like a failure at life for not being able to complete a full sentence in Spanish, let alone any other language for that matter.

"Ignore the top-hat and guy-liner, and you'll see that I'm a really cool guy."

“Ignore the top-hat, villainous-mustache and guy-liner, and you’ll see that I’m a really cool guy.”

Another one of our finest workers in the biz today, Joaquin Phoenix, gets plenty of chances to run wild with this material. Gray and Phoenix have done four films together now, and you can tell that both completely know and understand each other’s strengths and weakness as creators. Gray probably wrote a lot of this material for Phoenix to work with, but by the same token, it also seems like Phoenix just decided, “Aw heck with it!”, half of the times and just went crazy. That’s not a bad thing, because if there’s anybody I feel comfortable with doing that in any movie, it’s Phoenix, somebody who is probably a lot more bonkers behind the camera, than the characters he plays in front of it. Together, him and Cotillard create a relationship that’s weird and clearly not the best thing for either of them, but as time goes on, you can tell there’s a strong connection between the two and by the end, they feel almost inseparable, despite the circumstances made in how they met and how they stayed together for so long.

Another great actor in general, doing exceptional work here, is Jeremy Renner who shows up every so often and brings just enough charm and loveliness to this movie, to keep it away from being a total drab-fest. You can clearly see that he has affections for Ewa that are just and realistic, but you can also get a sense that maybe, just maybe, he has another trick up his sleeve and is trying to fool her, like Bruno fooled her. Then again, she’s not wrong in thinking that, nor are we as an audience: The world is full of selfish, manipulative and distasteful liars. Even in America.

Consensus: While, at times, exceptionally slow and dark, the Immigrant poises an interesting anecdote to the general perception of America with a well-written script, and a pair of exceptional performances from its cast, especially the always amazing Cotillard.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Welcome to America. Now please, hand over your dignity."

“Welcome to America. Now please, hand over your dignity.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

The Yards (2000)

Screw family! I’d just stay in prison!

Leo (Mark Wahlberg), a recently released convict, finds himself on the right track as he has a job lined-up for him and everything. But that all goes South once he finds out that his boss and company are up to some shady-business. The business is owned by his uncle (James Caan) and ran mainly by his bestie (Joaquin Phoenix). So yeah, basically the guy is having a lot of problems being able to separate right from wrong and family from enemies, but to top it all off: His mother (Ellen Burstyn) is sick, and not getting any better. Isn’t coming home just grand?

This is one of those rare movies that somehow found it’s way of sinking in beneath the cracks, without anybody ever knowing about it or even mentioning it, unless they were some prestigious film critic that had the privilege to see it in theaters, or some ultra-fan of Marky Mark. It was just one of those movies that had its stars and its premise, but didn’t have the backing it would have had, had it been released in today’s world. Thankfully, that’s what On Demand is for – to remind me what an idiot I was before when I watched this movie.

In case some of you don’t know what I mean by that, I reviewed this movie a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away and thought that the movie plain and simply blew. Now, maybe those weren’t my exact words or anything, but the fact of the matter was that I was bored, annoyed and just tired from watching this movie about a bunch of a-holes, act like bigger a-holes to one another, and make it seem as if family is some sort of reason for allowing a person to almost die. I wasn’t having any of it, and gave the movie a low rating. But after these years, I think I’ve come to realize that this is just one of those movies that’s a nice watch, but you got to be in the mood for it.

Still has that Dirk Diggler cut on and everything.

Still has that Dirk Diggler cut going on? Oh, now I see what type of living he’s going to be making nowadays.

Even though the movie may be advertised as a slam-bang, action-thriller with Marky Mark, guns, violence, crime and Johnny Cash acting all sly on us, it’s totally not. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of Marky Mark, guns, violence, crime, and Johnny Cash to be found here, but it’s not the way that most mainstream movies would paint it as. Writer/director James Gray is a step above that in the way that he has everything all slowed down so that not only can you get in the mood for what’s about to unfold, but also get involved with the characters as well.

If anything, that’s what the movie really blew me away with: The characters. Gray captures what it’s like to be and live in a close family that does almost everything and anything for each other, even if that means sticking their heads in a little bit and killing some people in the mean time (hey, it’s family, right?). He shows how everybody interacts with one another, who likes who, who doesn’t, what their type of relationship is, the why, the where, the who, and the be, being, been. All of that fun and nasty stuff is included here to give us a full picture of what to not only expect from these family members, but why.

That’s why once everything gets all wacky and crazy at the end, it’s still somewhat believable because we feel like we know these characters, and can come to expect them to commit dumb actions, given the circumstances. Some are conventional and obvious with their actions, but the way they are painted with morally-corrupt souls, than just normal, generic assholes, is what takes you for a left turn. Not everybody is bad, but the ones that are, stay in your mind and really mess with it, especially just as everything begins to boil down as to “who is going to betray who next?”. That aspect of the movie is fun to see, but given the character-development, it’s more than just a bit entertaining.

However, Gray’s sense of style doesn’t always work with me. For my first, initial-viewing, the slowness bothered the hell out of me to the point of where I was snoozing left and right. After these years of seeing worse movies that take it’s slo-mo pill for the sake of being slow; I thought I’d get used to it. But that’s where I was slightly wrong. See, Gray’s style is that he lets a lot of scenes just linger on and on until they really get under your skin. That works for a good couple of scenes, but after awhile, it goes on too long and seems like it’s the only trick in the book that this guy had to play. I don’t mind when my action isn’t non-stop guns and explosions, but don’t slow everything down just to have it all settle in. With time, it will. Trust me, my friend.

A bastard, a bitch, and a poor child with no morally-right future. Now say cheese!

A bastard, a beotch, and a poor child with no promising-future. Now say cheese!

As slow as the movie was at times, it still didn’t take away from the final-product, nor its performances. Marky Mark was pretty solid as Leo because he isn’t called on much to do except to look concerned, and to brood the whole time with his angry face. He does it very well, even if it does feel like his character’s blandness gets lost in a sea of overly wild members of the cast like James Caan and Joaquin Phoenix. Caan is great as the slimy, untrustworthy step-uncle that seems like he means well and all, but in all honesty: Just wants money and fame. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get that dream of his. Whatta bastard. Joaquin Phoenix is fun to watch as Leo’s best buddie because he gets a chance to show that wild side we always see so much, but also show you how much a person can get so tangled in a web, without ever having a clear enough head to know when the hell to get out. Phoenix is good at showing those contrasting sides, and it’s what makes his character more than just a fuck-up. He’s a sympathetic fuck-up, at the most.

For the ladies, you still have a pretty solid troupe, but nobody really worth going crazy about. Charlize Theron is good as Erica, Leo’s cousin and Joaquin’s girl, because she’s able to get past the fact that she is a beautiful woman underneath it all, and just let her character win you over. She’s a bit grimy and dumb for staying with a d-bag like Phoenix’s character, but you see where she’s coming from and it’s not hard to feel for her once everything goes South. Theron’s always a capable actress, and doesn’t let herself get up-staged when she’s right next to vets like Faye Dunaway and Ellen Burstyn. Both are good for what it is that they are called upon to do, but that doesn’t seem as if it’s really saying much, once the ending hits you like a ton of bricks.

Consensus: James Gray may use a couple of the same tricks a little too much, but he still keeps The Yards interesting and compelling with it’s three-dimensional characters, the situations that they are put in and the decisions they are forced to make. Some of which, won’t make you too happy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh Charlize. How you always love to make men think you don't look like this.

Oh Charlize. How you always love to make men think you don’t actually look like this.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo,

We Own the Night (2007)

Marky Mark and Johnny Cash fighting off crime together!

Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix) manages a hot New York City nightclub, while his estranged brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg), has followed in their policeman father’s footsteps. But the two are reunited by dealings with the Russian mafia, which has a foothold in Bobby’s business. As Joseph puts pressure on the mob, its members turn the screws on Bobby.

I love cop films. Not actual cops, just the film’s that have to do with them. I just love cop films that can give me a good story, some nice acting, and fun action. This film is sort of like that.

This is the third film from writer/director James Gray, and he does a great job of keeping the pace going, as well as the tension within this story. Gray does a great job of going along with this slow pace enough to build up a huge amount of tension, to where when the action starts going down, it’s just insane. I also must add that there are a couple of action scenes here that are so perfectly filmed, that they really had me on the edge of my seat.

The one problem with this film is that the script starts to delve into some predictable places. To be honest, I don’t mind seeing something that isn’t crazy new or original, as long as it keeps me interested, but this film is nothing new from the cop genre film. I didn’t think the writing was as terrible as others felt but I just felt like it could have been better.

Also, the film was going so well for awhile until that last act came up, and they just sort of didn’t know what to do with it. I was having a great time following this story, the action, and the constant tense feeling this film gave me, and then by the end, something just happens where the story starts to lose control of itself and gets very predictable. This had me disappointed because the first couple of acts were good, which had me getting ready for an awesome ending, but instead, it was just pretty anti-climactic and nothing special.

I think Joaquin Phoenix took the role of Bobby Green because he knew he was going to be in every single scene here, and I’m not pissed that he was. Phoenix is awesome here as Green and shows a lot of depth into a character that needed it for us to actually stand behind him, and believe in everything he was doing. This performance sort of makes me forget that dumb shit he did in I’m Still Here. Mark Wahlberg does a good job as Joseph, and although isn’t in this much, still does not refuse to bring depth to his character. Eva Mendes is smoking hot in this film, but also very good and shows just why she is more than just a nice body, she can actually act it all out. Robert Duvall also does a very good job as Bert, and although isn’t in it as much, still does bring that signature cool old guy feel he brings to every role.

Consensus: We Own the Night is well-acted, and very suspenseful with it’s tense direction from James Gray, but starts to fall into predictable territory by the last act, and started to lose me and less as the film went on.

7.5/10=Rental!!