Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Tag Archives: James Ransone

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Silly cowboys and dames.

A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog journey toward Mexico through the barren desert of the Old West. For some reason, Paul has seen a lot in his life and just wants to get away from the rest of civilization, so that he doesn’t have to deal with anymore darkness. In a way to make something of a shortcut in their trip, Paul and his dog take a stroll through a little town called Denton, or, as some people like to call, “a valley of violence”. While the town, at one time or another, was a happening hotbed for all sorts of folks, it is now run by a bunch of criminals and dimwits who like to shoot guns and cause violence because, well, why not? One such rebel is Gilly (James Ransone), the trouble-making son of the town’s difficult marshal (John Travolta), who decides to challenge Paul to a battle. He gets his wish and Paul knocks his rear-end on the ground. Gilly doesn’t take kindly to this, so he decides to get back at Paul in one of the worst ways imaginable, forcing Paul to have to react in violently indescribable ways.

It’s nice to see a writer/director like Ti West try something new and branch out a bit. While in the early stages of his career, he was seen as an exciting, new voice in horror who was ready to breathe some life into a dying genre, he has now decided that perhaps making a Western is the way to go for his talents. Why is that? Well, no one really knows, except for probably West himself (hey, it’s all in the name), which is fine, because as long as he continues to make exciting and fun movies like In a Valley of Violence, he can do whatever he wants.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

Nobody gets between a man and his dog.

So long as it’s good.

And that’s In a Valley of Violence is: Good. It’s not miraculous, it’s not a game-changer and it sure as hell isn’t perfect – but considering West’s age and experience, it’s a surprise to get something as audacious and well put-together as this. Rather than making a smart-lipped, quick and fast-paced Western, a la Django Unchained, West prefers to go back to the golden old days, where Westerns took time with their stories, allowing for them to play-out in a much more slower, more melodic way.

It works, but at the same time, it sort of doesn’t. It works in that it helps us see the movie in small, little details that make it more than just another shoot-em-up, slam-bang action-thriller without any reason for doing what it does. At the same time, however, the small details don’t really add up to much; it’s still a pretty conventional Western that may want to be something more than what it presents itself to be on the surface, but look closer and well, there’s not much there.

Which isn’t to say that every Western has to break new ground and state something about the human condition, like Unforgiven or Open Range, but it does have to do a little something more than just shoot and kill, if what it really wants to do is focus on the characters. And because a lot of the characters are pulpy, over-the-top cartoon-figures at times, it can’t help but feel like West, despite obvious good intentions, may get a little too wrapped-up in the weirder aspects of his story. While it’s nice and all fine to make jokes at the expense of your characters and at Westerns in general, after awhile, if they get in the way of the story itself, it can get annoying.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Listen to daddy, kid. He knows a thing or two about being a cool-as-hell gunslinger.

Thankfully, West kicks everything into high-gear by the final-act, realizing what he was originally setting out to make and giving us a fun, exciting and very violent Western.

And it’s also great to see him work with such a talented and likable cast, even if some of them are playing despicable people. As our main protagonist, Ethan Hawke does a good enough job being mysterious and cool enough, even if his recent turn in the Magnificent Seven can’t help but overshadow this a bit. Then, as the fast-talking and quick-witted sisters, Karen Gillan and Taissa Farmiga are both fun, showing that their tongues are firmly in their cheeks. And also, John Travolta gives one of his best performances in quite some time as the politely tense sheriff who may have a moral code, but also doesn’t mind blowing people up every once and awhile. It’s a shame we don’t see more of Travolta challenging himself as an actor, because he actually is a very good one when he wants to be, but here, it’s great to see him have some fun.

But really, the stand-out is James Ransone playing, once again, a cowardly, almost sheepish villain who wants to be considered rough, tough and evil, but in reality, is just a softy with daddy issues. Ransone is great at playing these kinds of characters (season 2 of the Wire) that you love to hate, but hate to love. Here, as Gilly, he gets to over-act a whole lot, but still keep himself grounded in some level where he seems like a real person, but never a real threat. It works in the movie’s favor, as well as in Ransone’s, considering that he’s always the butt-end of whatever joke that may come his way.

Consensus: Even if it is a little too slow and could have definitely been tighter, In a Valley of Violence still offers up an impressive change-of-pace for young and improving talent Ti West. Lets hope it continues on.

6.5 / 10

World's cutest movie dog? Close.

World’s cutest movie dog? Close.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Tangerine (2015)

The streets are hard for a girl out there.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a Trans who just finished her short stay in prison and automatically, wants to find out just what her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransome) has been up to and who he’s been up to it with. Issue is, she doesn’t have a working-phone to call him with, nor does she have any clear way of finding him on the gritty, but bright streets of Los Angeles. That’s why she enlists the help of her best friend, fellow prostitute, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who doesn’t want to be apart of any of this drama, but clearly, doesn’t have much else to do except jerk dudes off in the front seats of cars for a couple of bucks. While this adventure is taking place, another one is occurring with local cab-driver Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), who, despite being married with a wife, actually prefers the company of trans prostitutes, something his mother-in-law is suspicious about and wants to catch him in the act of doing. This is all, of course, happening on Christmas Eve, where joys may be merry, but for the most part, everybody’s just trying to live and survive another holiday season.

See plenty of this walking around Philadelphia. Trust me.

L.A. New York. Philadelphia. It don’t matter. Every city has the same people. 

Co-writer/director Sean Baker likes to focus on the smaller parts of the Earth that we don’t necessarily pay attention to. With Starlet, his last feature flick, Baker shined his lens on a relationship between an 80-year-old woman and a small-time, young porn star. With Tangerine, Baker is focusing on the lives of two trans prostitutes – both of whom, honestly, we’d never see in a mainstream, big-budgeted flick because, well, producers get scared of that and would much rather focus on white people, doing white things, so that other white people can go out and watch these white people do these white things. However, as snobby as I may sound, Baker actually isn’t; instead of making it seem like he’s trying to get a point across about the people he focuses on in his movies, he actually seems invested in where these character’s lives go and just how easy they are to relate to, regardless of what gender, race, or sexual preference you are.

And that’s one of the main reasons why Tangerine works as well as it should.

Not only does Baker keep things moving with this story at a fine pace to where we get to know everything about these characters from the very beginning, so that the reasons for why they act the way they do throughout the movie makes sense, but also gets us wrapped up in the excitement of this adventure they’re having as well. Baker infamously filmed all of Tangerine on an iPhone and while it may seem like a unnecessary gimmick, sooner or later, you totally forget about it and, if anything, realize that it’s perfect for capturing L.A. and these characters as they roam about the streets of it. There’s a certain tone that an iPhone catches, that most other digital cameras can’t, which allows for us to feel as if we’re not only right there with Sin-Dee and Alexandra, but feeling and smelling everything, too.

If anything, Baker’s success with filming Tangerine the way he wanted to, shows that up-and-coming film makers can probably do the same and make their own film. Who says they need a fancy, schmancy camera to do it with?

They can just reach in their pockets, after all!

But speaking of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, both Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are quite solid here, which probably has to due with the fact that they’re actual trans actors, playing trans characters. This may not seem like much, but considering that every movie nowadays that seems to tackle the subject of trans-sexuality and what it actually means to be “trans”, they cast a well-known, straight celebrity in the role and act as if said celebrity is really gritting their teeth by getting deep, down and dirty with such a role like that. Here though, Baker wisely makes the decision of having Rodriguez and Taylor portray these characters and it helps add another sense of realism to a movie that’s already sweating in it.

James Ransome playing a bad person? You don't say?

James Ransone playing a bad person? You don’t say?

Also, too, both have great chemistry that clearly seems to transcend well onto their characters, as both even each other out in surprising, but sweet ways. Sin-Dee is a bit reckless, dramatic and over-the-top with her emotions, whereas Alexandra is more reserved and about keeping her reckless feelings to herself. Watching these two pal around and walk throughout the grimy streets of L.A. is entertaining, especially since both actually seem like best pals in real life and not just two people forced to work together because they filled a certain look or image.

The only issue that I have with Tangerine has nothing to do with either Rodriguez or Taylor, but instead, with the supporting character who constantly jumps in every so often – Mickey O’Hagan’s Dinah.

Nothing against O’Hagan as I think he’s quite solid in a role that seems like it wants to be much more than just a subplot, but his role could have easily been taken out of this completely and Tangerine would have probably worked fine. It’s understandable what Baker is trying to do with this Dinah character from the very start, but after awhile, once he breaks apart some real exciting moments that push the story forward, it becomes clear that he’s just getting in the way of what could be a much more intimate story. But because Dinah exists in this story and is given so much focus, he ruins a lot of the swiftness and fast-pace that both Sin-Dee and Mya seem to really bring here. Once again, not saying that O’Hagan is bad here, or even that his character is given bad treatment – it’s just that maybe he doesn’t need to be here at all.

Which is a shame because really, Tangerine is all about Sin-Dee and Mya, as well as it should be.

Consensus: Despite an odd bit of plotting from Sean Baker, Tangerine still works as an entertaining, quick romp of a ride with two characters who, quite frankly, we don’t get to see a whole lot of focus on in movies.

7 / 10

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Red Hook Summer (2012)

Does this count as Sunday Mass?

Flik (Jules Brown) is 13-year-old, spoiled-brat who is forced to live with his grand-daddy (Clarke Peters) for a whole Summer. However, Flik isn’t doing exactly what he dreamed of this Summer when he’s with his Grandfather Enoch, who just so happens to be a pastor and trying to get Flik back in the eyes of God.

After giving us two, relatitvely-solid mainstream movies (Inside Man, Miracle at St. Anna), Spike Lee finally returns to his roots, in more ways than one. Firstly, he’s going back to indie-filmmaking which he seems to have abandoned for the longest time, and secondly, he’s back to filming in his native Brooklyn, where it just so happens that Mookie is still delivering pizza’s for Sal. However, cool your jets while you still can, people, because even though Mookie is in this flick and shows-up for about 3 minutes, this is nowhere near a Do the Right Thing sequel, or even a Do the Right Thing-caliber movie. Heck, it’s not even a Spike Lee-caliber movie, if we’re not including She Hate Me.

In the past, Lee has been attacked for being too self-indulgent with his material and not knowing how to separate style from substance, and in the past, I have stood-up for him and said, “nay”, to those attackers but here, he makes me look like a fool. The usual trademarks that we see with a Lee flick are here, however, there’s no driving-narrative to really help it out. Instead, there’s just a bunch of scenes where kids are being kids, and a crap-load of sermons about God. And for all of you people out there who were pissed about Michael Parks’ over-long sermon in Red State, don’t worry, it’s even worse here as I would say about 30 minutes of this flick is probably dedicated to these preaches about everything from God, technology, being black, being poor, being white, Obama, and so on and so forth.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

No, just let them talk it out. Maybe, just maybe, the kid will become a better actor after.

As usual, the points that Lee bring are up are reasonable and very smart, considering that this is a guy who has a big brain and a very big mouth, but they aren’t done well-enough here to be considered in your mind. Instead, all of the smart views, points, general ideas Lee has in his head and tries to get out on-screen for all of us to see and get into our minds, just fall-flat on the ground as if somewhere after the 4-year hiatus from filmmaking Lee has taken, he lost his sense of telling an important issue, with an important story. In ways, this doesn’t really feel like a Lee flick because it’s almost as if the guy just lost his skill and if that is the case, then damn. It’s disappointing to see a filmmaker of these heights just get so high up there, in terms of knowing what he’s doing, how to do it, and master his craft, to just fall-apart right in front of our eyes. You can talk as much shite on Tarantino as much as you’d like to, Spike, but the fact is: he’s making better films than yo ass.

The film runs a very long 130 minutes (that actually feels twice as long) and for about the hour-and-45-minutes, I was bored stiff-less. However, the last 20 minutes or so of the flick came-around and automatically, I found myself alive and interested in what Lee was bringing to the table. Without giving too much away, there’s a curve-ball that Lee throws at us that shows us more about Enoch than we originally thought and really livens up the story and gives us a new-perspective on all that we see. Yeah, it could be viewed at as a cheap-way for Lee to make a conventional-story, seem less conventional and more thought-provoking, but at the same time, it didn’t matter to me because it kept my interest, almost all the way until the ending, and then everything fell apart once again. But hey, those 20 minutes still kept me watching and that’s a hell of a lot more than I can say about the rest of the flick.

Get back to work, Mook!

Get back to work, Mook!

Everything in this flick may suffer, big-time, but the only person who really gives it his all and actually comes out on-top is Clarke Peters as Da Good Bishop Enoch. There is a lot about this character that could be terribly annoying and terribly one-sided, as he spends almost half-of-the-film just constantly yelling and preaching to people about how they need to get “the big man” in their lives, but Peters shows more effort than that. Peters makes this guy seem very nice, very comforting, and like a relatively normal guy that just so happens to be so high-strung on the G-O-D, that is is a rather off-putting, to say the least. Still, once this twist by the end is actually shown to us and comes into our minds, Peters handles the material very-well and gives us a glimpse at a real man, with real problems, and real, deep, dark secrets that can come out at any time. Peters is definitely the flame that keeps this fire moving and without this dude, doing his own thing, the flick would have definitely been a lot worse and painful to watch.

The reason I say that, is because when the flick isn’t focusing on Peters and all of his sermons, it’s about the forming of love between the two kids in this movie, played by youngsters Toni Lysaith and Jlues Brown. Now, as much as I hate to get on kids’ case about how they can’t and handle the material that’s thrown at them, I still can’t get past the fact that in this movie, where half of the film/story revolves around them, Lee actually gave the “okay” on some of these final-cuts, because being a director that knows how to direct actors and give some of the best performances of their careers, this is almost an embarrassment  Seriously, these kids are drop-dead terrible and the stuff they say to each other not only doesn’t feel genuine, but seems like Lee has lost his touch and should have just stuck with Nate Parker and the gang of Bloods that he lead. To be honest, and I hate to say this, but his performance, his character, and his gang, would have probably been a lot more of an interesting story to focus on, and probably a better-road for Lee to go down considering the guy is one of the best at writing stories for them. However, when it comes to kids, I think he’s got to stay away, as dirty as that may sound.

Consensus: It’s great to see Spike Lee finally back in-front of and behind-the-camera, but Red Hook Summer is not the type of flick that I was imagining all that glee coming from. It’s long, poorly-scripted, boring, and to be honest, only good and worth a recommendation for the last 20 minutes where a phenomenal performance from Clarke Peters, gets better and better by each scene.

5/10=Rental!!

"Please God, don't let Oldboy be a bust."

“Please God, don’t let Oldboy be a bust.”

Halloween Horror Movie Month: Sinister (2012)

If you hear a bump in the night, don’t worry, it’s just the ghosts of the murdered family who once lived in your house.

The premise puts Ethan Hawke in the shoes of a true-crime novelist struggling to find his next big story. He moves into the home of a recently murdered family and discovers a box of home video footage that might reveal exactly what happened to them.

Why any certain interest has sparked up in me about seeing this flick is for one reason and one reason only: the co-writer himself, C. Robert Cargill. Okay, most of you who see that name probably have no idea who the hell I’m talking about and wondering what all of the hype around him is, and that’s fine because this guy is making his writing debut with this movie. The reason why I care about him so much is because most people out there, probably know him by the name of Carlyle from Spill.Com, as I did, and because of that, he has remained an inspiration for me and my movie-review wring ever since I first stumbled upon those guys’ site. However, now that Cargill is outta there and in the big-leagues, it’s finally his time to shine and show everybody why he loves watching shitty movies as much as he does and thankfully, the guy somewhat capitalizes on that idea.

The one element of this film that sort of killed my hype for it was the fact that it’s directed by Scott Derrickson, aka, the guy who remade The Day the Earth Stood Still over 4 years ago and gave us Keanu Reeves’ most boring performance to-date. Seriously, when you have Neo practically falling asleep in a movie, you know that’s bad! Anywho, that’s why this movie was a very mixed-bag for me going in but surprisingly, Derrickson actually does a nice job with this material and gives it that old-school, horror vibe we all love so much, especially around this time of the year.

Everything starts off very slow, in an almost melodic sense of pacing, until it starts to show us tiny bits of terror and freakishness starting to happen, and that’s where the dread and the fun of this movie start to hit. Most people will probably be wondering if this is your typical horror movie, with jump-scares and moments of silence, that all of a sudden get one big “boo!” at the end, and it sort of is like that type of horror movie but with a more effective use of it’s scares. The scares here, although timed, do not feel cheap one-bit and may actually catch you off-guard a couple of times to when, where, and how they get you. I never like jump-scares, quite frankly, and it’s not because they actually scare me but because they just feel like an over-used way of making people jump when manipulate the sound too much and honestly, who likes to be manipulated? Especially when you’re watching a horror movie? But, even though they do use a couple of jump-scares here and there, it still feels deserved and still does a nice job at putting me into this atmosphere where nothing seems to ever go right.

However, as much fun and freaky this horror movie may be, it still never seems to really branch-out of the typical horror-conventions, and be it’s own, original-self. Even though Cargill does seem like he’s playing around with the conventions of the horror movie a bit, he never seems to be able to fully let himself go and instead, a lot of dumb and silly things happen over the course of the film that may make this come off as a bit unintentionally goofy in it’s own way. There’s a random scene with a dog that only seems to be in there for a scene of tension and suspense, but doesn’t offer anything new; the ghosts here are portrayed in a really goofy-way that’s more funny to point and laugh at, than to actually be running away from, had you have to deal with them in real-life; and then there’s the actual monster himself, Mr. Boogie, or whatever the hell they call him, that really disappointed me.

All of the hype around this movie, is mainly because of that one scary image of the main ghost-like monster of the whole movie. Seriously, it’s so eye-catching that it even has it’s own poster just dedicated to it (look to the top-right), and whenever you even see him in these little, short shots in the film, he’s pretty scary and makes you very curious as to what the hell it is. Is it a man? Is it a killer? Is it a monster? Is it a ghost? Is it a piece of Hawke’s imagination? We never know and I liked that about this film, but what really made me feel like they dropped the ball with this monster-like character, was when they eventually get on to showing him in the movie more and more, and for longer periods of time, where he just starts to get goofy after awhile. I was scared at first when they would show it for a couple of a seconds on-screen, but then they start to over-show him that makes him resemble the WWE wrestler Kane, with a slightly more, effed-up mask for a face. That bummed me out because he started off so scary, but after awhile, all those shrieks and scares just begin to go away and turn to laughter.

No matter how silly or stupid this film begins to get, Ethan Hawke never, ever seems to lose his belief in what he’s doing here as Ellison, the writer that seems to get himself caught-up a bit too much in his own work. Hawke has never done a horror movie role before and it’s a surprise because the guy actually makes all of his scared/terrified looks seem real enough to actually have us believe why this guy still does the stupid things he sometimes does. However, Ellison isn’t a perfectly lovable character: he lies, he drinks way too much, he continues to stay in a house that obviously means huge-harm to him and his family, and manipulates a cop into being his buddy, in order to get info out of him. These all sound like perfect ingredients for the perfect, dick-head character but for some reason, due to Hawke’s charm, we believe in him, we root for him, and we actually like him when it’s all said and done. He’s a flawed dude, no doubt about it, but then again, aren’t we all?

Consensus: With a great sense of dread, fun, and suspense to it, Sinister comes off as being a better horror flick than what we are used to seeing, but still doesn’t fall short of being a little silly here and there, or by falling for the typical conventions we are used to seeing with horror movies in today’s world.

7/10=Rental!!