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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jayson Warner Smith

Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Thanks for defending our country. Now beat it!

Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Specialist Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Kole), and Will Waller (Joe Cole), are all soldiers finally returning home after a year-long stint in the war. It was a rough time for all of them, but now they’re just happy to be home and, hopefully, re-adjust to the lives they left behind. However, that’s not so easy for them, especially considering what each one had to go through while they were over in the battlefield. For Schumann, he doesn’t know how to connect with his wife (Haley Bennett), or the rest of his family; for Aieti, he’s also having issues with his wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but also seems to be suffering from incredibly psychological problems, too; and Waller, after returning to an empty and abandoned home, with no wife and kids, struggles to make sense of what his life is. Each of them possibly want to return to the battlefield, but have to be medically-cleared, which is a whole other issue and of itself.

Coming home to Haley Bennett? See, home-life isn’t all that bad!

Thank You for Your Service is a movie that deserves to be seen because it reminds us, as a nation, what the men and women who went over to war, protected our country, in our honor and name, have to go through when they get back home, supposedly safe and sound from anymore of the troubles and evils of the world. Whether or not you agree with the war, almost doesn’t matter; the people getting involved with the war and fighting, deserve our sympathy. Not because they almost died and saw some horrific stuff, but because when they get back home, they’re not necessarily welcomed back with open-arms – it’s mostly a pat-on-the-back and shrug off to the side, without as much as a goodbye-note. It’s saw, awful, and above all else, disturbing and it deserves to be seen from all the world to see.

Does that make it a good movie? Eh. Not really.

That isn’t to say it isn’t well-intentioned, because it is. Writer/director Jason Hall, who wrote the script for American Sniper, seems like he has a good look and feel for getting his point across, without totally hitting us over the head with it all. That these soldiers, when they aren’t on the battlefield and at home, where there is no action whatsoever, seem trapped and confused, already tells us everything that we need to know, without so much as a piece of dialogue. It’s a smart move on Hall’s part because while you could see this direction as workman-like, the fact that he doesn’t get in the way of the real heart and message helps, too.

But then there are bits and pieces where it seems like Hall is getting a little over his head. For instance, a lot of the movie is just sitting around and watching as these guys try to adjust back to the life they once knew and as such, it’s interesting. Seeing how the system turns a blind-eye to them, or how their family-members, try as they might, just don’t seem to “get it”, is already enough action. Meaning, we don’t really need much of a plot, or even over-arching conflict – these guys trying to be normal and everyday like, is more than enough.

But then, like I said, Hall injects too much. There’s a whole subplot concerning Aietit’s character and the darkness he goes through, which not only feels phony, but a little silly. Why would this guy, who clearly seems to be suffering from major-trauma, continue on as something of a drug-peddler, where he’s not really acting violent, or getting all that much money. Also, there’s a lot of hallucinations and moments of pure insanity that, yes, get the point across, but do so in such a ham-fisted way, it feels like a disservice to those real soldiers who have actually been out there, fought, and lost their minds, as a result.

Miles Teller: A true American hero for us all.

It’s as if Hall wants to be as subtle as he can be, trusting the audience to make up their own conclusions, but then turns the other cheek and doesn’t.

It’s messy and shows us that perhaps Hall could have benefited from the help of another director, who may have taken this already-compelling material, and kept it as such, without trying to do too much else. Thankfully, though, what Hall does well is that he gives his cast ample opportunity to make these characters seem like real people, even despite his sometimes odd direction. Miles Teller, for instance, gives another great performance as a young man trying to make ends meet in this world, one week after he already did the same thing in Only the Brave, a much better and more accomplished movie that deals with the same issues of honor, tradition, and brotherly love.

But really, it’s Beulah Kole who’s the stand-out, giving us a performance of incredible subtlety, whenever the movie seems to be doing the opposite. Half of his scenes are just him, sitting there, looking confused, out-of-whack, and having no clue of what the hell’s going on. It’s a brutally sad performance, but it’s a very good one and shows that the best way to get a message across, is by not having to say anything at all.

Once again, show, don’t tell.

Consensus: Despite its good intentions and emotional look at the lives of these soldiers, Thank You for Your Service also suffers from a rather messy direction that does a lot more telling, than showing, when it shouldn’t have.

5.5 / 10

“Bro, this sucks.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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The Birth of a Nation (2016)

Wait, which movie is this?

Ever since he was a little boy growing up on a slave plantation in the early 19th century, Nat Turner (Nate Parker), has always wanted to be more than just your typical slave. He was literate, could preach the word of God and most of all, saw himself as one with white people. However, little does he know that, outside of his plantation, where everything’s bad, but not awful, lies a cruel, dark and unforgiving world that doesn’t take kindly to black people, free or not. And Nat gets to witness a good portion of it, first-hand, when he and his owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), go out on a few trips where they stop at fellow slave plantations and Nat preaches the word of God. For some reason, the owners see this as a way for their own slaves to get riled up and do the work that they were “supposedly” put on this God’s-green Earth to do in the first place. But after witnessing one too many brutal acts of sadism, Nat decides that it’s time to turn the other cheek, gather up all of the other slaves that he’s come to know and love, and fight back. 

Symbolism? Right?

Symbolism? Right?

A lot of the discussion about the Birth of a Nation, oddly enough, hasn’t been about the title, the movie’s depiction of slavery, its message, or hell, even whether or not it’s actually good and worth watching. Instead, it’s been all about what director/star/co-writer Nate Parker and co-writer
Jean McGianni Celestin did on that one fateful evening, nearly 17 years ago when they were students at Penn State. This review is not about what did, or didn’t happen, and whether or not Parker and Celestin are, or aren’t guilty of their supposed-crimes (even though Celestin did actually plead “guilty”, but that’s neither here, nor there) – in fact, it’s actually going to be about the movie itself, the Birth of a Nation.

And well, it deserves to be talked about. If not exactly for the reasons people imagine.

If there’s anything I have to give Nate Parker credit for here is that you can tell that there’s a fiery, burning-passion deep inside of him that makes this movie hit as hard as it should sometimes. By telling Nat’s story, especially from the literal beginning to the literal end, he’s giving us a small, but important tale of, sure, rebellion, but also of so much more. The tale is definitely about racism and how slavery was terrible, but it’s also a little bit about religion and the way in which slavers back in those days would use it to somehow justify all of their terrible wrong-doings.

Parker could definitely lean into the realm of preaching the masses (which Nat literally does), but he chooses not to; instead, he opts for keeping the focus on Nat, his story and his mission in his all-too short life. It’s a sad story, as most slave-tales are, but Parker shows that there could have been some hope in a dark and foreboding tale such as this. Even for all of his shortcomings as a director, writer and, yes, even human being, he’s still got something here that makes me interested in seeing what he has to do next, because he has a story that he wants to tell here and he doesn’t back down from getting into the nitty, the gritty and the downright vile of it all.

But at the same time, the movie is awfully troubled.

See, for one, it seems as if Nate Parker, the director, has a bit of work to do. A part of me feels the raw and inspired emotion coming from Parker’s direction, but a part of me also notices how much of that emotion seems to be getting in the way of actually creating a good movie, where there’s a nice narrative-flow and a compelling plot-line to make sense of, what with all of the terrible slave-stuff going on. The issue here is that Parker doesn’t seem all that focused; he has a lot to speak out against and say, but it never quite means anything.

There’s one great scene in which Nat has an argument with Mark Boone Junior’s preacher character, in which they literally battle one another with scripture-passages, showing how the other has misunderstood the message of the Bible and Jesus’ teaching. It’s brilliant, smart, tense, exciting, and most of all, important; it shows that the idea of slavery and the business of it all, while a very successful one at that, was based on a huge plain of lies. Parker uses this one scene, to show that he’s worthy of bringing on a discussion about this tale and what he’s got to tale, but the flip side of it all is that he doesn’t quite do much with that.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Friends for life. Until the work needs to be done.

Instead, he sort of just leaves the scene there and focuses back on Nat Turner being a hero to us all.

In a way, I don’t argue with the movie in that respect; Nat Turner fought for what he believed in and was going to die if he had to. It’s an admirable act on his part, however, the movie seems to back away from discussing, or even shining a light on some of the more troubling aspects of his story. Like, say, for instance, how he uses the Bible as a way to justify his slaughtering of men, women and children (even if we don’t see the women and children actually killed on-camera here, although it did happen), or how there are literally two rapes that occur in this movie and, for some reason, they all seem to be made-up for the sake of adding some sort of theatrical tension that may not have already been there.

What’s odd about this is that it seems like all of Parker’s emotion and intensity in telling this story, also blinded him to the fact that Turner’s story is a lot more complicated than he thinks. Slaver was awful and Turner had to be around it his whole life, but at the same time, the movie doesn’t ever seem to present anyone, or anything else differently. Every slave-owner, with the exception of Armie Hammer’s Samuel, are dirty, foul-mouthed, drunk and always looking for a fight. Granted, there was quite a number of them in the far-superior 12 Years a Slave, but at least there was some humanity to them in that – here, they just seem like cartoons who haven’t bathed in decades.

That’s why, as a director, Nate Parker has a lot of work to do.

As a whole, the Birth of a Nation has a powerful story to work with, but the execution is surprisingly tame. Parker gets all wrapped-up in actually telling the story, once and for all, that he forgets how to actually construct a whole, feature-length film about it and loses track way too quickly. It’s a movie definitely worth seeing, but yeah, don’t believe the hype.

Consensus: While brave, the Birth of a Nation is a bit too messy to really hit as hard as it wants to, even if Nate Parker’s debut is an interesting one that makes him someone to keep an eye on.

7 / 10

"For freedom! Obviously!"

“For freedom! Obviously!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

I Saw the Light (2016)

If only Sr. had a chance to be ready for some football.

Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) was just another up-and-coming country singer from a troubled home in Alabama. However, through all of the pain and the hardship, the only way he got through it all was through song, which is why he decided to take his soul, his lyrics and most importantly, his voice out there on the road, for all sorts of people to love, praise and adore, even all of these years later. Backed by his supportive, but sometimes aggressive wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), Hank seemingly had it all; the fame, fortune, wife, and a nice house to-boot. Problem was, Hank had a pretty big problem with drinking and this often lead to erratic, wild behavior. For instance, he stopped showing up to shows that he was initially booked for, much to his fan’s dismay. And then, he started flingin’ around and looking at other dames that didn’t so happen to be his wife. Yes, it was all so self-destructive, but somehow, even at the end of a long day filled with booze, cigarettes, and women, he always finds a way to come back to his guitar and sing his heart out.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

There’s only so much one can do with the musical biopic genre. That’s why, every so often, when we do get some rare exceptions and changes to the rule, they’re not only a breath of fresh air, but make it feel as if any musician’s life can be possibly covered in a film version. Many were skeptical of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton movie, however, that turned out to be one of the more exciting flicks of the past year. Now, it’s time for Hank Williams to get his time in the spotlight and unfortunately, it’s more of the same.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

In I Saw the Light director Marc Abraham goes for a darker route than we’re used to seeing with these kinds of movies. While we’re so used to getting a rise-and-fall story, where the highs are incredibly how, and the lows hit the bottom of the barrel, Abraham seems to really aim for the deep-end with this tale. And honestly, I think Williams’ story is more than deserving of it; you read his story, whether in a book, or on the internet, you can tell that Williams’ life wasn’t a very happy, nor pleasant one.

Sure, he did get a paid a whole slew of cash for creating some wonderfully catchy and soulful country tracks, and yes, everyone around him (who, let’s be fair, didn’t actually know him), wanted his talent and his life, but little did they know, that deep down inside, the man was hurting. That isn’t to say that he was perfect, which Abraham definitely embraces, but that also isn’t to say that his life was pretty unfortunate and watching the flick, it’s hard not to feel some ounce of sympathy for the guy.

Yeah, he cheats, he lies, he steals, he drinks too much, and he doesn’t always treat those around him in the besy ways imaginable, but how different is he from so many other people out there?

Regardless, yeah, I Saw the Light has taken a lot of flack for being a slow, sometimes boring movie – this is a point I won’t necessarily disagree with. However, I will also note that the slower, more meditative pace actually worked for me, as it brought me down to the same level and pace that Williams was living his life. Sure, the concerts and performances may have been chock full of fun, excitement and high times, but when the show was over, the lights were dimmed, and everyone went the hell home, what else was there for Williams to go back on home to? You can call him “selfish”, you can call him “a dick”, you can call him whatever you want, but there’s something compelling about Williams, his life off the road, and his home life that drove me to want to see more about him.

Then again, the movie also doesn’t really give us all that much to really work on and draw more conclusions about how terrible his upbringing was. There’s one key scene in which he shows up late to a concert, performs, and decides to spend a solid portion of it, going on and on about his family, his parents, and his childhood. It’s a sad scene, but it’s one that really brought home the idea of just how troubled this man was, hence why he was acting-out so much now that he was a fully grown-man. Issue with that scene is that we don’t really get much more insight into his life, or his childhood after that.

Keep the mic on you man.

Not every couple needs to have duets, Hank.

Basically, it’s just one scene, after another, of Hank Williams drinking, smoking, sexing, and acting like a brat, way too much.

Are these scenes all that interesting, or better yet, entertaining to sit by and watch? Not really, however, I will say that the movie gets a lot of mileage out of these scenes because Tom Hiddleston does a really great job portraying a broken-down, beaten-up soul in the form of Williams; someone who could charm the pants off of a sailor, yet, also make you hate him for doing so. Hiddleston gets a lot of the singing right, which helps add a certain level of legitimacy to the performance, but it’s also the things that he doesn’t sing or say, that really made me feel more for him and his character.

Why he couldn’t have been served with a far more attentive movie, really is a shame, because Hiddleston has got it in his bones to make a run for an Oscar.

There’s others in the cast who are pretty solid, too, like Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, and most of all, Elisabeth Olsen, as Hank’s former wife who not only wanted to manage his life, but be apart of his career as well. It’s actually interesting what the movie brings up about how Audrey couldn’t really sing, yet, she always insisted on lending her vocals on records and in performances – so much so that a lot of people heckled Hank about it. The movie seems like it wants to go down a more detailed path than just showing them arguing and fighting all of the time, but nope, it just leaves them at that.

Maybe there was more. But maybe, there’s more in another movie.

Consensus: With more attention placed on the sadder aspects of Williams’ life, I Saw the Light works as a more melodic musical biopic, yet, also doesn’t give its talented cast and crew enough material to really make wonders with.

5.5 / 10

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.

Message!

So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Joneses (2010)

If they came into my neighborhood, they’d be “outed” in a week. Nobody’s cars are that nice.

The Joneses are the stereotypical, suburban family that has it all, and then some. Steve (David Duchovny) plays golf very well, wears nice clothes, and even hangs out with the dudes as much as he can; Kate (Demi Moore) is sort of like the same person, except she’s more about her looks; and the two kids, Jenn and Mick (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth), are living the lives of your simple teens that have it all and show it all off to their friends. They’re goods and resources are so pricey and good-looking, that almost everybody in their neighborhood has to latch onto them as well and buy it for themselves. But where did all of these valuables come from? Something’s up with the Joneses and nobody knows, except for the Jones family themselves.

Here’s something that seemed like nothing more than a cheap scam to make a rom-com, but with a tad bit of an intriguing plot going for it. And yes, even in the dead heat of 2010, a plot where a bunch of sales-persons are put together in order to lure consumers towards their products that they are “showing off”, was pretty intriguing and probably hit a lot harder to home for some. I mean, it was what, only two years since the recession hit so why not remind everybody that paying for all of these fancy, shiny things isn’t worth the hassle and hustle because at the end of the day, all that money you once had is now lost on something made to make you look better and a lot better-off than you actually are?

"Can you believe this isn't the 90's anymore?"

“Can you believe this isn’t the 90’s anymore?”

Come to think of it, I’m pretty surprised that this movie was even made in the first place, but I guess that’s why they call them “surprises”.

What took me so by surprise with this movie was that it actually had me thinking and wondering what would happen if something were to ever happen like this around me. Yes, any type of human being gets a little bit interested when they see somebody with something nice-looking, or pretty, but rarely do they ever shell out the money to copy-cat the same way. However, that’s just my view and apparently I’m wrong. The idea that this movie touches on is the simple fact that people will go for anything that’s considered “cool”, if you throw it front of their faces and promise them happiness, even if it’s not everlasting. Because if you think about it: Yes, you may have that shiny, new Convertible, but what about the housing, the electric, the heating, and the phone bills you have to pay, each and every month? The movie taps into this idea that human beings, as a whole, will more than likely take the bait if they are thrown a little meat, and that’s more of a condemnation, then it is a point of life.

That’s why this flick may take some by surprise with it’s cynical view of the way the world works, and the people that inhabit it. It’s not easy straying away from the rest of the crowd, especially when the rest of the crowd is drawing the most attention because of the way they dress, look, or act in public. Those are the types of people that the Joneses are made out to be and I wouldn’t be surprised if some sales-companies out there actually thought of pulling off a stunt like this. It may work, you never know. I guess you just have to worry if the family’s around this “fake one”, are as easily persuaded by the jewels and the pretty things in life, rather than the things that actually matter like love, happiness, and just living in general.

By the end of the movie, it starts to tap into this idea that you don’t need all the clothes, the money, and all of the riches in the world to be happy, you just need a little bit of life and you’re all fine and dandy. However, by this point, the movie does start to get a little conventional and drop away from the smart plot-line it was working on before. Of course it feels like a total missed-opportunity once the flick goes back on it’s word and hits the low road of being soapy, but it was still enjoyable nonetheless and not anything that I couldn’t believe in. The movie gives us enough attention to these characters and their relationships, so that when they actually do start to show a little bit more emotion that may have been easily calculated from the beginning, it feels reasonable, and not meant as an attempt for the creators of the flick to make everybody leave with a smile on their faces, and a happiness in their heart. Even if it does seem like the intentions right from the start.

Now they all understand why Ashton was so smitten. You know, until he wasn't.

Now they all understand why Ashton was so smitten. You know, until he wasn’t.

Even if.

With that said, the characters work more than they should because David Duchovny and Demi Moore in the leading-roles as both Steve and Kate Jones. Together, they seem like two people that get along and work well when they have to, but also have a bit of under-lining sexual-attraction going on between one other, and it’s obvious to a fault that they’re eventually going to shack up in the end. However, watching them as they continue to play little mind games here and there, was always a treat; not just because they work well together, but because they also feel like the types of people that would get stuck in this sort of dead-line of work, even if they didn’t go to sleep knowing it was the right thing to do. But still, they’re characters that are fleshed-out just enough that they’re worth caring about, just as soon as things go for the obvious.

The only people in this cast who really don’t get much time to shine or show off their skills are Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth as the two kiddies of the fam-squad, Jenn and Mick. Heard is hot, as always, and will leave plenty of the dudes who watch in many hot sweats just by being on the screen, but leaves a lot to be desired with her titillating character, especially by the end once we’re supposed to feel glued to her character and what’s going on with her, but instead, feels slightly random and melodramatic. Same goes for Hollingsworth, who shows off some charm, but isn’t given enough time for us to care about him or remember he’s even part of the family for a little while. Nope, it’s all Steve and Kate, which I was fine with because Moore and Duchovny can put in solid work when they want, but a little more roundness of the rest of the family would have went a long, long way.

Consensus: The Joneses is conventional, but it deals with some honest issues about corporations, selling-out, and being one with the crowd, even if you don’t feel like wanting to anymore, that makes it feel like a step above most rom-coms.

7 / 10

Way too attractive to be a real family. I'm sorry.

Way too attractive to be a real family. I’m sorry.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Footloose (2011)

Kevin Bacon can still dance. Don’t be fooled.

Slick and cool kid from Boston, Ren McCormack (Kenny Wormald) moves to a small town where rock ‘n’ roll and dancing have been banned, and his rebellious spirit shakes up the populace. However, Rev. Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid) won’t stand for it and he lets Ren know about it, every step of the way.

For all of you loyal readers and followers of DTMMR, you all may be a bit shocked to find out that I have never seen the original, Kevin Bacon headliner in it’s entirety. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it, including the awesome dancing-sequences that had me inspired for a day or so, but nothing more than just that really. However, apparently director Craig Brewer has seen it all, and loved it so much that it was the one movie to inspire him to make movies. That’s right: not Casablanca, not Citizen Kane, not even The Godfather, Footloose is the one movie that made this man inspired to make such flicks like Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan, and now, this remake of his old-school passion. It’s weird, I know, but hey, if you’re going to have a guy do a remake of a classic, have a guy that loves the hell out of the movie in the first-place do it. Then maybe, most remakes won’t suck nowadays.

The idea of featuring a town that actually “bans public dancing” seems a bit too 1984 the dog days of the 21st Century, but somehow Brewer has it make sense and seem a bit believable. This is a small, earnest town that all know each other, know whats going on, and have an idea of what’s best for the whole community. They aren’t some sort of small-commune that’s sheltered-off from the rest of the world because of their hard-earned beliefs of God, faith, and religion, even if those themes do hit-hard in where this story is coming from. Still, the idea of keeping the original premise in this updated remake isn’t as goofy, as well as a couple of other ideas as well, mainly because Brewer knows what does and does not work in today’s day and age.

Brewer, like his last two flicks before this, definitely knows how to work in a great deal of Southern-grit to his stories, no matter how wholesome or sweet they may be. For instance, the opening title-sequence where we see everybody’s shoes moving around, is a trick that was pulled-off in the original but updated in a more standard, gritty way that would be expected by kids of today’s generation, due to there being a crap-load of dirty, kegs, and beer being thrown-around as if somebody was throwing an old-school banger in the middle of the corn-fields. Oh, those were the golden days. Anywho, that’s not the only aspect of this flick that Brewer updates with his gritty look-and-feel, there’s a couple of other cool instances where we see how the world around us has changed to where these kids could easily want to rebel by dancing and sticking-up for themselves, but in the end, Footloose is about one thing and one thing only: cuttin’ loose and gettin’ foot loose.

No matter how much it may seem like Brewer is putting his own, personal stamp on this story, he still never forgets to remind us that this is a dancing-movie at it’s heart and core, and that’s all that mattered to me. Nowadays, dancing movies are usually recognized by two words: Step Up. But thankfully, Brewer shoves a little bit of his fist in the way of those movies and give us a great deal of fun and entertainment to watch, as all of these kids just shake their asses off like no other. The stunts, moves, and choreography are off-the-charts and as goofy as it may be to see a bunch of 18-year-old kids, dancing like Michael Jackson on crack at their high-school prom, you still can get past it and have a great-old time no matter what.

Also, to make matters even better, the soundtrack is awesome and definitely worth a listen. They start-off things so perfectly by keeping the old-school, Kenny Loggins track in the movie, and then start to dive-away from that and giving us a rawer, southern-bound edge to music, filled with the eclectic likes of David Banner, Quiet Riot, Zac Brown Band, and most surprising of all, and probably used the best: The White Stripes. Yeah, his days of giving Terrence Howard some key rap-tracks haven’t gone away in the slightest-bit, but Brewer still shows that he’s got a knack for putting in some cool-tracks, into scenes that you would not expect to gel so well with. Basically, when you put the combination of awesome music and awesome dancing together, you are bound to get some fun and entertainment, and if you do not for one second tap your toes to at least one second of this movie, you have no soul and need to get this soundtrack, ASAP.

As fun as this movie may be, there are a lot of goofy moments in this flick that seem so damn earnest and self-important with itself, that it’s just really hard to swing-by (see what I did there?). There are so many instances in this movie where I just had to roll my eyes by how silly things were, such as when Ariel, or lead-gal, feels the need to play chicken in front of train to show how much of a lost soul she truly is. That’s stupid, as well as all of the scenes with her deuchebag boyfriend named Chuck, who comes into disrupt things between Ren and Ariel’s hormones, and does exactly that, but yet, it’s annoying as hell. Whenever the guy shows-up, he’s just hammy, obvious, and way too violent for his own-good, almost to the point of where I felt like the guy made the story a bit too dark by some standards. Anytime he shows up, and this movie tries to get all serious and dramatic with me, I rolled my eyes, scoffed at it all, and pretty much didn’t care. But as soon as the dancing started-up and the music began to blast, then I just forgot about it all and had a fun-time. Isn’t that what dancing’s all about?

Casting this movie must have been a total bitch for Brewer, considering the guy has to fill in the shoes for so many iconic stars like Bacon, John Lithgow, Chris Penn, and even Sarah Jessica Parker, among many others, but he does a nice-job in picking just the right names, for the right people, no matter how well-known or unknown they are. Kenny Wormald is a nice-fit for the rebellious and cool kid known as Ren McCormack and handles a lot of the dramatic-stuff, just about as good as his amazing dancing. His infamous infamous “freak out” dance scene seems a bit like parody at-first, but it just goes to show you just how talented this kid is at shaking his rump, and hey, I gotta give him credit for that because lord knows I’d never be able to achieve that. I just hope that Matt Damon or Ben Affleck didn’t catch a glimpse of this movie, or else they’d have a thing or two to teach Wormald about doing an official, Bawhstan accent.

As good as Wormald may be as Ren, the one who really impressed the hell out of me was Julianna Hough as Ariel, the preacher’s daughter. Her character is the most obvious and predictable out of everybody here, but the gal’s still very, very talented when it comes to dancing and being sexy, but she’s also very good in the dramatic scenes as well that makes a lot of her pain and anguish seem real and reasonable. Sadly, I don’t think the girl’s going to get many dramatically-acting offers any time soon, but it’s always good to know that there’s more to her than just a pretty face, a nice body, and a couple of sweet-ass dance moves.

Playing her old daddy O, is non-other than Dennis Quaid who is terrific as the preacher of the little town of Bomont, that not only wants what’s best for his little town, but for his daughter as well. Quaid is good in this role because as much as he may seem like a bit of a stiff that doesn’t budge on anything that concerns going against the sacred book of God, you can start to see a change in him by the end that’s as believable or moving as anything the guy’s done in the past couple of years. Seriously Dennis, you need to get back-out there, man, and show the world what they’re missing-out on. Everybody else is in this movie is interesting, entertaining, and likable, but the only one that really seemed to struggle is Andie MacDowell as Shaw’s wifey. To most of you, this may come as to no surprise whatsoever, but it’s a bit of a surprise to me considering that this chick has been acting for over 30 years by this point, and still has yet to churn-out a good performance. What the fuck, Andie?!?!?

Consensus: Some moments seem obvious, tacky, self-important, and earnest, but in all honesty, it doesn’t matter all that much since Footloose is a fun and entertaining movie that shows some nice/believable character-development, as well as a love and passion for the original source material, courtesy of Craig Brewer.

6.5/10=Rental!!