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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jayne Atkinson

12 and Holding (2005)

Small towns are way too weird.

Jacob and Rudy (Conor Donovan) are identical twins, in terms of the way they look and sound (sort of), but they are different in their own ways. Rudy is far more outgoing and considered “the golden child”, whereas Jacob, mostly due to a birthmark covering a large portion of his face, is forced to mostly stay indoors and keep to himself. However, they both get along well enough to where they spend as much time together and even build a tree-house, for them and all their friends to hang. But disaster strikes one night when, after messing with some bullies, the tree-house is lit on fire, with Rudy inside, trapping him and, as a result, killing him. Now, it’s up to Jacob to take most of the attention from his brother and he uses that attention to make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Leonard (Jesse Camacho), another friend, is overweight and trying to lose it all, while Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) tries to befriend an adult named Gus (Jeremy Renner), who is in town and doesn’t quite know what to make of this new friendship, as inappropriate as it may be.

Uh, like step away?

12 and Holding is another odd movie from the likes of writer/director Michael Cuesta and I mean that in the best way possible. Granted, compared to his debut, L.I.E., 12 and Holding doesn’t quite hit the same emotional notes, but it’s still interesting in that it focuses on a small, core group of people, gives them some development, a sense of conflict, and allows their stories to just be told to us. Sure, the stories don’t always work, but at least Cuesta’s trying something, right?

Well, yes. And no. Sort of.

See, one of the issues with 12 and Holding is that it tries a lot harder to be an outright comedy this go around, unlike L.I.E., that was far more serious and disturbing. There’s still that sense of dirt and grit here, but not nearly as in-your-face as it was with Cuesta’s debut; this time around, the disturbing-features are played up more for cringe-inducing and awkward laughs. Occasionally, Cuesta will hit a high spot for comedy, but often times, it can feel as if he’s maybe trying a tad too hard, as if the material itself wasn’t, on the surface, funny enough.

Which is odd to say, I know, considering that in the first 15 minutes, a kid literally gets burned-to-death, but still, you can tell Cuesta is going for the darker-laughs this time around and he doesn’t always hit his mark. He does develop these characters and give them enough to work with, however, he also can’t help but give us the occasional quirk, too. It would have helped if these quirks were, at some point, funny, but they aren’t and because of that, it can feel straining.

“So, how’s the food?”

That said, the drama still works and had the movie just been with that, then yeah, it probably would have been a slam-dunk.

If there’s one thing that Cuesta gets right, is the small-town, suburban malaise that, in a way, American Beauty dealt with. Sure, that movie did it a whole lot better and effortlessly, but 12 and Holding does something interesting in that it shows how grief messes with each and everyone of us, regardless of if we are willing to accept it or not. Cuesta shows that we all deal with it on our own terms and because of that, we act out in somewhat rather outlandish and insane ways; we can’t really diagnose it, or even excuse it, as it’s just in our human nature.

If anything, 12 and Holding is much more sad and depressing than anything, and had the movie focused on this much more, it would have been better. However, it didn’t and it dealt with comedy a tad too much. Still, the ensemble is pretty great with nearly all of the child and adult-performers putting in solid work. Perhaps the most shining star in the whole thing is Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee, the incredibly curious and sexually vivacious teen that makes a good half of this movie pretty uncomfortable. However, she’s so charming and lovely to watch, with Renner’s Gus helping out, too, that it makes these scenes go down a lot easier.

Not like L.I.E., of course, Nothing can quite be as disturbing and as off-putting as that.

Consensus: Uneven to a fault, 12 and Holding tries to be way too funny, when it probably didn’t need to, but still works as a small, sad and thought-provoking indie about small-towns and grief.

6 / 10

Gonna grow up to be some awfully weird adults. Just like the rest of us.

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

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The Village (2004)

Thanks for helping me locate my next drinking spot, M. Night!

In rural Pennsylvania (holla!) during 1897 a group of Protestants who live in a small area live happy and peaceful, in an area surrounded by the woods. However, things aren’t always so peachy and keen, due to the fact that in these woods, apparently lie creatures that kill and might possibly invade this little town. Because of this “problem”, the leader of the village (William Hurt) keeps everybody confined and safe with a set of rules that will help them hide-away from these vicious beasts. After awhile, some people begin to lighten-up and realize that there may be something else out there to find, and one of those curious citizens goes by the name of Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix), who also just so happens to be in love with the leader’s blind daughter, Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard).

Yes, it’s been known to many, many people that M. Night Shyamalan is the 21st Century equivalent to a one-trick-pony. He starts off all movies the same, with just the right amount of mystery and wonder, continues to build it all up and up, until, woolah; we have ourselves a twist on our hands. Everybody knows what to expect with an M. Night movie and most of the problems with his movies is that when you see them once, who needs them again. However, “everybody” does not mean yours truly.

Yep, believe it or not, I am one of the very few people who actually will still go-to-bat for Philly boy M. Night. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m representing my home land, or maybe it’s because I actually like watching movies that continue to challenge me with an original story, an original twist, and an original look and feel that reminds me why I love watching movies so much in the first place. I know I’m hyping this one up quite a bit, but don’t worry; this isn’t going to be one of those “I don’t see why everybody hates this movie” review, it’s just going to be me sticking up for poor, old M. Night. And with his latest-flick coming out this Friday, the dude needs all the love and support he can get.

What the hell is she looking at? Oh, never mind.

What the hell is she looking at? Oh, never mind.

What I liked so much about this flick starting off, is that M. Night doesn’t simply spoon-feed us what we need to know about this smallish-community, and he sure as hell doesn’t try to make sure that there are conversations that make it easier for us to figure out. He is simply plopping us into this setting, and just allowing ourselves to get ready and up-to-speed with all of these people and what they are up to. Of course, there’s plenty of mystery surrounding what the community is really like, but you don’t think too much about that as much as you think about just who these people are, what’s their deals, and why are they so freakin’ petrified of going out to “the towns”.

You definitely know that something is up from the get-go, but you’re not exactly sure what. However, even though the characters here tell one another that they are monsters in the woods, monsters that you even see from time-to-time, you can’t be too sure what it is that you are seeing, is in fact real or just a figment of yours, or the character’s imaginations. Throughout the whole duration of the movie, up until the last 10 minutes or so, you know that M. Night is playing a trick on you and feel as if you aren’t easily consumed by being fooled, however, something still has you questioning just what is the truth and what isn’t. M. Night does this in all of his movies, and this time is one of those rare instances where it works and makes this movie better, especially when you see it for a second time.

But then of course, there is always that big question at the top of your mind whenever you finish an M. Night flick: “does the twist really hold up when you compare it to the rest of the flick?” Well, the answer to that is: sort of. See, the movie is all about it’s twist, what it tries to make you believe in, and what is actually the truth, but it never loses focus of it’s characters or it’s sense of place in the world. Sure, you don’t quite know exactly what area of the world M. Night has placed us in, but you know it’s a strange place that could easily be in any type of forest on the face of the planet. Does that rule out every realm of possibility? Nope, not really, but it does get a bit obvious as it goes on from there.

As a whole, I do believe that the twist works and the way that holds up in the story is well-done, but what I do feel like M. Night dropped the ball on was actually handling how the twist was revealed, and what he did to us when we realized what was really going on. Slowly, but surely, odd pieces of evidence begin to shine and you not only realize that this movie is getting at itself somewhere, but M. Night can’t wait to show us either. But because of that frantic-feeling the dude must have had in the pit of his stomach, the twist almost feels too sudden, as if we should have really been hit with that “WTF?!?!?” moment that the dude has lived his career on thus far. It does eventually sink in over time, but not enough time until the full-twist is revealed and then all of a sudden, there’s a jumble of thoughts, ideas, and wonders that the brain is attacked with and as we know; the brain can only handle so much.

So, to answer the question that most people have on their minds after seeing an M. Night flick; I’d say yes, the twist does hold up and work well, but the way that it plays itself out, almost defeats any type of smart or genius that the man had to present. Not sure if I still answered the question I placed up-above or if I’m making any sense, but it worked for me. May not work for you or any other peeps on this Earth, but that’s what movies are made for: discussion, disagreement, and different points-of-views.

But it doesn’t matter where M. Night goes with this funky story, the dude always has time for character-development, as well as giving his cast some time to shine in the spotlight, especially when he isn’t stealing it from them. Joaquin Phoenix is good as the member of the community that wants to rise up and find out what’s really happening outside there in the woods, because he’s able to give us a brave and courageous character, that also has some insecurity-issues as well and isn’t just a born-and-told superhero. The same accent he uses here, that he used in Gladiator was a tad annoying since they sort of came off as the same character, but at least the dude is capable of having us forget about that memorable-role after awhile, and focus on this one. Playing the town “special buddy” is Adrien Brody who is fine with giving this character more emotion and heart than you could suspect, but considering that this movie was filmed and released two years after he came out victorious in what some call the most-stacked ballot for Best Actor in a Leading Role, it does seem like a bit of a disappointment for a dude that’s so talented and obviously can show it.

He heard the train 'a comin'....

He heard the train ‘a comin’….

William Hurt is also very good and charming as the leader of the community, because of the way he’s able to make us believe in all that he says, but yet, also not allow us to fully trust in every word he says. There’s some sexy-chemistry going on between him and Sigourney Weaver’s character, the mother of Lucius, and it’s pretty compelling to see since it gives you further and further clues as to what the hell really is happening underneath the wooden-tiles in the ground.

And last, but damn sure as hell not least is Bryce Dallas Howard as Ivy, the blind girl of the community with a heart of fire and passion. Howard has somewhat became a household name by now, but it’s so great to see where she got her start as a head-liner, and show that she was more than just “that girl, who also happened to be Richie Cunningham’s daughter.” It took me awhile to figure out that she was blind, but that didn’t matter after awhile because I could evidently see that this girl had something more to her than just being one of those disabled-peoples, that takes life more for granted now, than most people who seem to have it all. She actually is capable of loving, and to be loved, which gives us more of a reason to feel more for her as time goes on and her adventure begins to get more creepy and scary. Actually, “scary” may not be the right word, but “creepy” definitely is. Yeah, that fits.

Consensus: Even if not all of it adds up to make for a perfect-conclusion to a well-done story, The Village still works, even as a re-watch because of all the hints, clues, ideas, and themes that M. Night gives you to chew on and ponder for a bit, that is, until he shoots himself in the foot by the end once everything is brought out into the open.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

So beautiful. So quaint. So Chads Ford, PA!!!

So beautiful. So quaint. So Chadds Ford, PA!!!