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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jane Adams

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Some shows we just never want to end. Looking at you, Freaks & Geeks.

For as long as he can remember, James Pope (Kyle Mooney)’s life has been run on “Brigsby Bear Adventures”, a children’s program that teaches James about recycling and not masturbating more than twice a day. Weird stuff like that, but hey, James loves it so much that he doesn’t care or even see the weird message. Then, the series abruptly ends and James doesn’t know what to do with himself. And to make matters even worse, he’s moved into a new house, with a new family, and doesn’t quite know how to fit in with the rest of the world around him. Still though, everybody pretty much already accepts him for what he is and they decide that it’s time to help James finish up Brigsby’s final adventure. James hopes it will bring him some closure on the TV series, whereas everybody else hopes that it will allow him to move on and come to terms with the real world.

Blow it up, Brigs!

So yeah, I’m being a little coy about Brigsby Bear because there are some parts of the plot that are kept secret and with good reason: It’s dark. But in a way, it’s shocking and it works; it gives you the idea that this movie’s going to go far and beyond just being another silly, over-the-top indie-comedy about a childish man-baby trying to finish off the final episode to a cult-followed TV show.

It also helps allow for there to be real some tension in the air, even when in reality, there isn’t. There aren’t bad people, or insanely good people in Brigsby Bear and it’s kind of sweet. It’s the kind of movie that cares much more about characters, their relationships to one another, and how they treat the outside world, as opposed to just being all about the plot and riffing on everyday life. Had this movie been taken in the hands of someone like Will Ferrell or Steve Carrel, who knows how centered and focused it would have been.

But without them, and instead, with Kyle Mooney, it’s much far better off.

Never break character.

And that’s why Brigsby Bear, while it could have easily just been a spin-off of Mooney doing goofy and crazy things, like he does on SNL, it’s much different. He has this character that, despite having the general facade of being a weirdo, is actually kind, earnest, and so innocent, he could literally kill a cat and you wouldn’t be upset with him. He’s just getting used to a new world and it’s Mooney’s performance that really works wonders, enthusing a great air of mystery of this character, but also a great deal of sympathy too.

And of course, the same sentiments transcend to the rest of the characters, too. Matt Walsh is funny as the dorky dad who tries to relate to James; Michaela Watkins does the same; Claire Danes, playing probably anything resembling a villain here, is fun to watch; Greg Kinnear’s nice cop role gets better once we discover he’s got a bit of the acting bug; Ryan Simpkins plays James’ sister who seems like she’s going to be an embarrassed pain in the rear-end, but eventually lightens up; Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays one of James’ friends who seems lik he’s going to be a deuche, only to then not be and probably be the best character in it all; and Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, well, the less said about them, perhaps the better.

Either way, just know that they’re all good, because they’re given characters to work with and not just the sitcom-y kind, either.

Real people, who also seem to be kind of funny to watch.

Consensus: A little odd, but overall, Brigsby Bear is a very funny, sweet, and well-acted comedy that actually takes its time to work.

7 / 10

Brigsby’s mid-life existence.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics

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Happiness (1998)

Is all sex good? Or only some? Ugh! High school didn’t teach me anything!

Three sisters (Jane Adams, Laura Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson) all seem to be facing problems in their lives, but they aren’t the only ones. A husband (Dylan Baker) is struggling with being the right role model for his son, while also struggling with his pedophile-like ways; a socially-awkward man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can’t bed the woman he wants the most; and an aging, married couple (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser) run into problems when one-half decides to sleep around and see whether or not they can be happy.

As is usually the case with Todd Solondz’s movies, almost every aspect of these stories are in some way, form, or shape, disturbing. It doesn’t matter whether they concern two people coming together, finding love, or some aging-couple trying to figure out if they are good enough for one another, because somehow, someway, Solondz is going to find his way to make it as disturbing as he can. For most writers/directors, this blatant attempt at really messing with our general taste for decency would seem rather showy and annoying, but for Solondz, it can sometimes works very well because the characters in his flick tend not to have much decency, either.

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Then again, when you’re human, who needs such a silly thing as “decency”?

And that’s basically the whole point of Happiness: What it means to “be human”. A lot of the movie has to deal with sexual coming-of-age, masturbation, pedophilia, aging, philandering, and all of that other happy, joyful stuff, but the movie still treats all of these matters with some respect. Rather than having each story seem like it could only happen in a movie, where people speak and act as if they are in a movie, Solondz makes it seem like every character is a real-life person, you just don’t know it because underneath the whole charade and appearance, their real selves are waiting to come out.

Solondz knows that he is uncovering some real, brutal truths about what makes us human here, and he does not shy away from it in the least bit. This is refreshing to see because you need a guy who’s going to slap you in the face, tell you what’s going on in reality, and never let you forget about it. Sometimes, the grotesque dirty talk can be a tad overboard, but he still kept it grounded to where you could see people having conversations like this everyday. It’s just all a matter of what type of people I’m talking about because, as this flick will show you, there are some strange human specimens out there that are just waiting to be noticed, loved, and find happiness.

But hey, we’re all human, so don’t we all deserve a little bit of love, respect, and, well, happiness? Solondz argues this idea, but because his writing is so smart, it works. We care for these characters and understand them, even if we know that they’re sad and sometimes vile creatures.

And yes, the cast is so good that it helps us watch them more and more.

Out of the whole flick, Dylan Baker probably has the hardest role to make work, because of how creepy and unsettling his character is, but yet, also has to stay relatively sympathetic as well, to sort of make us feel like we can see where the hell he is coming from when he wants to touch little boys. It’s not supposed to work, but somehow, he makes it work. As the perfectly-named Bill Maplewood, Baker plays that type of dude you see in the park with his family, that looks so regular, happy, and joyful, but, deep down inside, is the most dark and disturbing soul imaginable. He’s that one in a million dude that seems to find away to hide who he really is from the outside world. Baker not only makes this guy creepy as hell, but also makes him seem like a real person in the way he is so desperate to make himself pleased and happy, that he will go to the end of the Earth to achieve it. It’s not an easy role, but it’s one that Baker plays with effortlessly, allowing us to see everything there is to see about this man.

But yeah, he’s not the only solid one in the cast, as there’s plenty more.

The era of blind dates; they'll never end.

The era of blind dates; they’ll never end.

Playing another creep in this movie is Philip Seymour Hoffman as that weird dude in high school, who you never talked to, got shoved into lockers, was too afraid to take showers after gym class, and never spoke a word to anybody. However, the thing about Hoffman’s character in this movie is that he seems like the quintessential geek that always looks at porn and breathes down the hot girl’s neck, but you feel as if there is more to him than just that heavy-sweating and non-stop boners. Hoffman makes this guy interesting, as if more and more layers are going to be popping out of him at any second, but you never really get that and to be honest, we didn’t really need it. We see how he can be nice and find his true, inner-self, but there does come a point where you wonder just who he really is, other than that nerd you stay away from on the street.

And then there’s Jane Adams as the youngest of the three sisters who seems to be having the most problems with her life, for the main reason that she just can’t seem to get a grip on things. She knows that she wants to be happy, make money, be loved, find that special someone, start a family, and be successful, but she just doesn’t know how. The story that she has where she gets all hot and ready with a student of hers (Jared Harris, who has an odd Russian accent here) doesn’t really light up the screen, but the way she acts and looks the whole movie does. You can tell she’s confused, scared, and upset with where her life has gone, but you can also tell that she’s searching for the answers whenever they come to her quick enough.

Only time will tell with this poor soul.

But those three performances are, unfortunately, where the compliments for this cast and these characters somewhat stop, because they don’t all work. The problem I seemed to have had with Solondz’s framing-device is that there seem to be about five different stories going on at the same time, and maybe only two-and-a-half of them are even interesting. The others? Ehh, not so much.

The one story that should have really re-located our hearts to our stomach should have been the one with Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser as the old, married-couple that are hitting an incredibly rough patch. So rough, that the one thinks that it’s time they call “a break” for a bit. What’s bothersome about this subplot is that it’s rarely focused on, but when it is, it seems to bring everything else down with it because it doesn’t tell us anything new or doesn’t even seem to be turning it’s wheels. It seems to just give Solondz a bit more freedom to play around with old people banging. It doesn’t work and only took away from the film. But there’s other stories here that are at fault as well, but mainly it’s Solondz’s.

Once again, he wants to disturb us, and that works.

Mission accomplished, I have to assume.

Consensus: Not everything in the dark and disturbing Happiness works perfectly well, but it’s amazing cast really does allow for these characters to come off the screen.

8.5 / 10

Daddy's got some issues he's got to work through.

Daddy’s got some issues he’s got to work through.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aflixionado, Claude’s Corner

Digging for Fire (2015)

Buried treasure is a perfect metaphor for one’s mid-life crisis.

Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are, for the most part, a happy couple. They have a child together, and even though they can’t necessarily agree on what education is the best for him, they still love one another enough that it’s only a slight problem. But having been married for so long can make a person feel a bit suffocated; which is why Lee decides to take it upon herself to head out on a little relaxing trip of her own. This leaves Tim at home, all by himself, for the whole weekend – which he more than takes advantage of. For one, Tim throws a banger full of booze, drugs and women, and then, all of a sudden, discovers a bone and a gun in his backyard. Where it’s come from, he doesn’t know, however, Tim is more than inspired to find out just what the hell else is hidden underneath the dirt that surrounds him and his pad. Meanwhile, Lee herself is having some bit of fun as she goes out gallivanting one night, and stumbles upon the charming Ben (Orlando Bloom), who immediately takers her breath away and makes her ponder whether or not marriage is actually cut-out for her in the first place.

If he can smoke...

If he can smoke…

You could make a fair argument that Joe Swanberg tends to make the same movie, over and over again. While he does switch-around the plots, for the most part, everything is exactly as mumblecore-ish and as simplistic as you could expect it to be. When you go into seeing a Joe Swanberg movie, you expect something with a fly-on-the-wall approach, where it may seem like nothing’s happening, or that it ever will. To some, this can annoy up to high heavens, but for others, such as myself, it’s truly a treat to watch in amazement.

Even if, sometimes, the end results aren’t always so great as you’d hope.

But that isn’t to say Digging for Fire isn’t a good movie from Swanberg in any sort of fashion – in fact, just the opposite. Compared to last year’s Happy Christmas, it feels as if Swanberg has more of a story to roll with here and even though he’s only using them as a way to pass through his metaphor about growing old and marriage itself, it’s still done in such a way that didn’t seem manipulative. Are the rusty gun and odd-looking bone symbolism for how tired and worn-out these two main characters feel? Or, are they just story-telling devices that Swanberg utilizes to make us think that something crazy, or better yet, shocking is going to happen around then, until we realize that, well, not really? Does it really matter?

Nope, not really. And the reason that is, is because Swanberg knows how to tell a story by standing back and letting everyone in front of the camera do the talking for him. Though Swanberg apparently co-wrote this script with Jake Johnson, a part of me still feels like that doesn’t account for anything; there are still many patches throughout this movie where it’s evident that everybody’s just riffing on whatever they feel should come next in the scene that they’re currently filming. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint, seeing as how I usually love the spontaneity Swanberg’s able to draw-out of his performers using this directing-approach, but it does make me wonder how much better some of these films would be, with a little more push here and there in the creative-department.

But, that said, Digging for Fire still works enough as is because it is, for one thing, a funny movie. Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that, in addition to the two main stars, the likes of Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Melanie Lynskey, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Messina show up for a little while, but it also has some part to do with the fact that Swanberg takes Tim’s life and main dilemma seriously. Basically, the main question is why Tim’s going to town on digging into the yard? Does it really matter what Tim finds?

Maybe.

Then, so can she dammit!

Then, so can she dammit!

But whatever Tim does find, Swanberg makes it a point to keep himself more invested on what goes in and around Tim’s life and while they may be all a bunch of fun to laugh and be around, it’s Johnson’s Tim who always comes off as the more charismatic figure. For one, his character is given the most background info in that he seems like a bit of a boring, tied-down, but after a little while, shows that he’s capable of having a great time and being the life of the party when he’s called on to do so. Sure, he’s still got a wife and kid, but he won’t hesitate one second to snort that line of coke. Johnson does well with this character in that he shows he’s both smart, but a bit dopey at the same time, and it makes you hope that, even if it isn’t as memorable as he hopes, whatever he finds underneath all that dirt, at least gives him some satisfaction in life.

Of course, because Johnson’s role is so well-done, Rosemarie DeWitt does seem to get cheated here a bit. It’s one thing if DeWitt’s scenes just aren’t that interesting, but she hardly gets that much time on the screen. There’s the first-half of the movie and then, randomly, she’s nowhere to be seen until the final act where she’s now out on the prowl herself. DeWitt’s still solid in this role and shows that she’s able to work with not that much, but at the same time, makes me wish that Swanberg and Johnson, gave her character just as much time and effort as they gave the Tim character.

Like I alluded to before, though, there’s a lot of funny and famous people who show up here, all of whom, do fine. Rockwell is his usual killer-self; Birbiglia is nerdy and twitchy; Brie Larson is cool and full of personality; Kendrick is, for some lovely reason, a bit of a skank; and oh yeah, Orlando Bloom shows up. See, here’s the thing about Orlando Bloom: It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor, per se, it’s just that he hasn’t even really had time to grow out of being anything more than just Will Turner. You could say that he had Elizabethtown, but honestly, nobody had that movie to work with. Bloom shows up here for a short time as an object of Lee’s affection and does a solid job, given the time that he’s given to work with. He’s cool, suave, charming and most of all, not annoying. To me, this shows that maybe, given some time on his part, Orlando Bloom could start showing different layers of his acting-talent, if given the right chance and time to do so.

So, please guys! Try and do that if you can!

Consensus: Though Digging for Fire is typical Swanberg-fare, it’s still funny, insightful, and well-acted enough to where it feels like there was a bit more effort on not just the part of Swanberg’s, but the unexpectedly star-studded cast as well.

7 / 10

And they might as well, too.

And they might as well, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Poltergeist (2015)

It’s been over 30 years and electricity is still the root of all evil.

Looking for a fresh, new start, Eric (Sam Rockwell) and Amy Bowen (Rosemarie DeWitt) finally get a new home that they think can suit them and their three children. Though the money situation they’re currently dealing with isn’t ideal, they figure out that they can make it work long enough to sustain a comfort level of happiness. However, little do they know that the house was built upon a cemetery many years ago; something that’s a bit freaky, but terrifying once the angry spirits start acting-out and attacking the Bowen clan. In fact, the pissed-off spirits go so far as to kidnap the youngest, Maddi (Kennedi Clements), leading the family to turn to the only people that they feasibly can without having any sort of legal action brought in: Paranormal experts. While they initially enlist a professional in this sort of field to help out, Dr. Brooke Powell (Jane Adams), eventually, they figure out that the spirits are too deadly and powerful, so that they need to get someone more famous and understanding with this kind of freaky stuff – cue in known haunted house TV personality Carrigan Burke (Jared Harris).

Let’s be honest here, people, the original, 1982 version of Poltergeist wasn’t perfect, nor was it that much of a classic. Sure, it had its freaky moments and a smart social commentary on television and how it is corrupting our minds and souls, whether we’d like to admit or not. Whenever a remake of an older movie comes out, people like to spew on and on about how the original can, and will, never be beat, and for some reason, they make it out to be as if it’s this masterpiece that should never be touched, or toyed with in any matter.

I'm already picturing the new Poltergeist ride.

I’m already picturing the new Poltergeist theme park ride.

However, in the case of Poltergeist, it does deserved to be fooled around with, especially since the remake isn’t all that bad to begin with.

Does that mean it’s a great movie? Hell to the no! However, what it does mean is that while people may go on and and on and on about the original being practically the be all, end all to horror films, they’ll be blind to the fact that the remake actually isn’t all that bad. Mostly, that’s due to the fact that Gil Kenan doesn’t waste anytime getting to where he needs to get with this story: The spooks and scares.

Whereas most horror movies take their good old grand time developing characters, their history together and what exactly the mythology is behind all of the scary stuff that will soon be happening, Kenan gets right to it with reckless abandon. Already, in maybe the first ten minutes, we’re already introduced to a few scares that may seem like small child’s play, but are still effective, and no less than ten minutes later, we get the iconic, “They’re here” scene, that everybody says, quite like the original movie itself, is legendary. Once again, not sure if this is all that true, but who cares?

The fact is that after these initial twenty minutes, Kenan dives in deep to the story and doesn’t hold back on any of the fun that these scares may have in them. People are grabbed and thrown around; lights go on, off, and even float around; and parts of the house break or blow up. It’s all so crazy, but Kenan doesn’t forget that these elements can make the movie a whole lot of fun. In today’s day and age of horror film, it actually helps if your movie is more fun, than actually scary; sure, it helps if your movie is both, but if you can’t get the scary right, at least try to make some of it fun to watch and be apart of. We may not fear for some of these character’s lives, but we can still enjoy them trying their hardest to escape out of the poor situations they’ve been thrown into.

It’s an element that works in such movies like the Conjuring, Insidious, and hell, even Paranormal Activity, and I guess you can add this new Poltergeist to the list.

That Rosemarie DeWitt - she's so touchy feely.

That Rosemarie DeWitt – she’s so touchy feely.

Now, that’s not to say that this movie is perfect. There’s a certain element here that makes me feel like Kenan could have definitely helped himself in a way to develop these characters a tad more, rather than just relying on the audience’s previously-known knowledge, or actor’s performances to help out. Sure, some who have already seen the original will know who each of these characters are and what’s the deal with all of them are, but there’s a feeling that when shit hits the fan, we don’t really know these people. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but for the most part, it does, and that’s one of the problems here.

Then again, there is something to be said for the fact that the character’s we’re supposed to care about are played by Rosemarie DeWitt, Jared Harris, Jane Adams (somewhere, Todd Solondz must be smiling), and the almighty Sam Rockwell, among others – which is probably the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie. A part of me knows that these indie-ish names are attached in the first place for the sake of this being a paycheck gig, but it’s still neat to see mostly all of them play their type and still maintain a certain level of personality while doing so, rather than just letting the movie run all over them and take their lives.

DeWitt, as usual, is loving, caring, and smart as a woman who needs to be in a crappy situation like this; Harris is unusually charismatic; Jane Adams plays up her weirdness, but still maintains a certain level of intelligence; and Rockwell, well, is Rockwell. He’s funny, sarcastic, energetic, fun, and all around, an engaging presence. Hardly does the opposite ever happen to Rockwell where he isn’t a blast to watch, but there’s something to be recognized where he still seems to be interested, even if the material he’s working with isn’t all that heavy, or weighty to begin with. So maybe even if these characters aren’t all that multidimensional or interesting to begin with, at least they’re portrayed by people who are capable of making this happen anyway.

Now, I’ll ask again: What about the original being all that amazing?

Consensus: This new Poltergeist may not be perfect, but it’s still a fun, relatively effective, and compelling enough horror remake to sit back, watch, enjoy, and be mildly spooked by.

6.5 / 10

Don't stand too close to the screen! Didn't your parents teach you anything!?!?

Don’t stand too close to the screen! Didn’t your parents teach you anything!?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Little Children (2006)

A pedophile and a red-hot affair don’t really mix.

Two stay-at-home parents (Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet) both end up striking affair after they both realize how bored they are with their own actual lives at home. Then another story happens where a convicted sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley) moves back into his house and is soon harassed by almost every person he sees.

This is the sophomore effort from writer/director Todd Field, who some will remember from the big-smash he made back in 2001 with ‘In the Bedroom’. Somehow, he took that similar story mixed it with some ‘American Beauty’ satire and divided it with a hint of ‘The Woodsman’, then he got this crazy flick.

The film starts off very strong with these two immature parents who obviously don’t know what to do with their lives except just nag each other and hope that all their depression and angst goes away. I dug this beginning because the film showed these characters in a very interesting light while also focusing on the fact that it’s telling us that these adults are just like kids in some ways, they both forget the responsibilities they have in the world and they go with their gut-feeling rather than just using their heads.

A lot of people complained about the whole narrator from PBS thing so much that when I heard it in this film, I couldn’t say that I was too bothered. Yeah, he does spell out everything a little too much but there are times when his narration actually makes a lot of this moments in this film a lot more entertaining then they have any right to be. It seems as if he is reading a children’s story to us, like one of those audio-tapes you would get for a book if you didn’t know how to read, and it really divides the line between what’s funny and what’s sad in this film. I found myself laughing at some of the things that the narrator was saying, while others, I didn’t know how to feel.

The main problem that lies within this film is that it is very very messy because it constantly shifts back-and-forth between these two stories and they shouldn’t be in the same film together either really. There would be moments where the film would just focus on the suburbanites and their affair for a very long period of time, and then randomly go to the peddy without any real reason other than to show this dude who has obvious problems. Both stories are pretty interesting in their own rights but together, they can’t really share the same screen considering that after awhile the “affair story” becomes the same thing over-and-over again whereas the “pedophile story” becomes a lot more interesting as the time goes on. I think I would have rather watched two different films of these stories rather than just one because it wouldn’t have been so messy.

I do think Field as a writer is very talented but there are times where I think he loses himself with trying to be too smart, which I know is a weird thing to say but just bare with me peeps.. There are moments here when Wilson and Winslet are getting it on and Winslet will constantly ask him, “Is she pretty?”, she meaning his wife. She doesn’t only just ask this once but also many other times during whoopie and this to me seemed very unbelievable as some chick would just constantly ask the dude who’s mounting her about his own wife. There are also plenty of other moments where this film doesn’t feel all that realistic but not worth mentioning.

Everything with this film is all pretty messy until the last act, where the film really loses itself with the shock-o-riffic ending that seems more put-on than anything. I don’t want to give anything away really but I think Field tried a little too hard to convey these certain types of emotions for these characters to the point of where this ending came up, and it probably looked good on paper, but when it came to actually filming it up on the screen, it seemed very dumb.

The cast is very good though despite all of these other problems with the film. Kate Winslet is great as the conflicted house-wife, Sarah, and Patrick Wilson has never been more charming or conflicted as Brad. Jennifer Connelly is good as Brad’s wife, Kathy, but I wish there was more of her that gave more of her side on things. Granted, we get a scene here and there but I really did feel like her character could have done a lot more for this film if they included her just a little bit more considering Connelly is such a good actress as well.

The best out of the bunch though is probably Jackie Earle Haley as the pedophile who plays up that man-child act so well that it’s almost too hard to hate this guy when he’s being such a dirt-ball. I mean yeah, he’s a dirty dude that I would never have over for dinner around my kids but he’s also a very troubled soul that wants nothing more but to be accepted once again and feels the need to fit in, mainly because his mommy says so. Haley is great here and just by looking at him, you get the sense that this is a sad and tormented soul.

Consensus: Little Children has some good elements, such as its good acting and very strong beginning, but then starts to fall apart with being too repetitive, too unbelievable, and just by having two different stories that don’t really mesh all that well in the same film.

5/10=Rental!!