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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jean-Marc Vallée

Demolition (2016)

DemolitionposterSometimes, you literally just have to destroy your life.

After the tragic death of his wife, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) shuts down. Everything in his life has been so calculated and planned for so long – from the time he wakes up, to who he talks to on the train, etc. – that when it seems like he has nothing holding him back or together, he just loses all control. He starts slacking off at work, stops shaving, begins saying inappropriate things in public situations, working for free at construction sites, and seems to be channeling all of his sadness and insecurity through countless letters he sends to a local vending-machine company. Why? Well because, when his wife is in the hospital, he tried to get a pack of M&M’s and it didn’t budge. Regardless, an employee at the vending-machine company, Karen (Naomi Watts), finds these letters touching, which leads her to reaching out to Davis. Even though they’re both a bit awkward with one another at first, eventually, the two start to hit it off, with Davis hanging around the house more often, getting to know Karen’s son (Judah Lewis) who’s going through his own identity crisis of sorts. Together, the two figure out life and where to go next.

Jake is sad.

Jake is sad.

As with mostly every movie, there’s three-acts in Demolition; two are pretty good, but one is quite awfully terrible. The first and last act both work well, balancing a fine line between comedy and tragedy that never plays one hand too much, nor does it seem to overstay its welcome. There’s actual sadness to the drama and a heart to the comedy, as dark as it may sometimes get.

But in between the first and last act is the middle, and man oh man, it’s pretty crummy.

No matter how hard I get on Demolition, there’s no denying that Jake Gyllenhaal is great throughout it all. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen Gyllenhaal come into his element as one of our more solidly interesting actors who isn’t afraid to screw around with his image, just for the sake of taking on a role that challenges him to go deeper and further than ever before. Here, as Davis, Gyllenhaal doesn’t really stretch his wings nearly as much as he’s done in say something, like, Prisoners, or most especially, Nightcrawler, but he still does an effective job. Because Davis is, essentially, sleepwalking through his life when we first meet him, the transformation he goes through and makes from being a sad, relatively repressed person, to letting loose, having fun and acting wild, is believable, if only because of Gyllenhaal’s talents as an actor. We shouldn’t totally care for Davis, but because Gyllenhaal gives us an actual, bleeding heart to the character, we feel a lot closer to him and understand the pain and sadness he’s feeling.

But sadly, the movie isn’t always up to Gyllenhaal’s talents. For example, it has a very odd tone that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, do, or say. At first, what Demolition seems to be is a tragic-comedy that deals with certain serious issues like death and depression, but also wants to look at them with a witty eye. At first, the mix and mash between humor, heart and sadness, actually works; the jokes poke fun at the idea of being sad, while also not insulting the characters all that much to where it feels or seems inappropriate. There’s a fine line that’s tread here in Demolition, and director Jean-Marc Vallée, for awhile at least, doesn’t overstep.

Until, of course, he does.

What happens in the middle-act is that the movie gets rid of its serious and sometimes depressing tone, and instead, just totally go for the comedy. This can sometimes be fine, as ling as your comedy is funny, effective, relatable, and most importantly, not annoying. Issue is, the comedy in Demolition, without any sort of dramatic or serious context, can be unfunny, ineffective, unrelatable, and incredibly annoying.

Obviously, this is a problem for the characters, as well as the plot. Gyllenhaal’s Davis begins to act out so erratically, whether he’s dancing through the busy streets of New York City, or getting nails stuck in his foot without getting tetanus shots, which are all played up for har-har laughs, that you never for a second believe it. Sure, the character is sad and needs some sort of release to get his spirit out, but there comes a point when you overdo it and you’re just trying to make as many laughs as you can happen, without ever retaining any of your original sense of heart or drama.

But the movie introduces Naomi Watts’ and Judah Lewis’ characters and, yes, it gets a tad bit worse. Watts’ character almost doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and because her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is so weak, it sort of feels like she doesn’t even need to be here. Granted, it’s nice to see Watts play with a lighter, more fun role for a change, but her character is so ham-fisted into the plot that she almost doesn’t feel like a real person, despite saying that she’s sad and heartbroken just like Gyllenhaal’s Davis.

Naomi is happy.

Naomi is happy.

And Judah Lewis’ character, despite seeming very well-intentioned, does not work in this movie.

Nothing against Lewis, or his acting abilities, but the character is the typical, conventional angsty teen who is having a bit of an identity crisis, clearly has daddy issues, curses a lot, thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is, and doesn’t always know how to handle his emotions. While the scenes between him and Gyllenhaal are supposed to be sweet and endearing, they somehow feel oddly off, where it seems like every scene could lead to Lewis’ character either trying to kiss, or kill Gyllenhaal’s. It even gets to a point where the characters go out into the middle of the woods to shoot a pistol and I couldn’t help but think someone was going to take a dirt nap by the end of the scene.

But thankfully, as bad as it gets, eventually, the movie does pick itself back up in the last act, ending on a sweet, somewhat heartfelt note. The comedy starts to fall back a bit more, the heart starts to get bigger, and the acting gets toned down a tad bit. Oh, and Chris Cooper starts to show up more and remind us why he’s everyone’s favorite father-figure. If anything, Demolition feels like the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but at the end of the day, still has enough to say to where it works.

Just not nearly as much as it should have.

Consensus: An odd, mostly uneven tone and weak middle-act keep Demolition from really hitting as hard as it wants to, even if the cast does try and there are some small moments of pure joy and sweetness.

5.5 / 10

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Wild (2014)

I just walked from my living-room to the kitchen, so why am I still addicted to heroin?

One day, 30-ish-year-old Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to do a 1,000 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, all by her lonesome-self. Why is this? Well, after years of drug abuse, random sex with strangers, the loss of her mother (Laura Dern), a few pregnancy scares, and her recent divorce, Cheryl has about had it up to here with life and finally realizes that in order for her to finally change it all, she has to get away from it all and focus her attention on another part of her life: Survival. This means, for Cheryl, she has to eat a lot of cold oatmeal, stay hydrated, stay warm, not die, and sure as hell not get raped by any of the huge creep-o’s that may, or may not be out there in the wilderness, just waiting for a little thing like her to come around into their little wooden-hut. Mostly though, Cheryl just wants to change her life and along her journey, she meets people that are sometimes in the same situation as her, or are just simply hiking for the hell of it.

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going....

Just like the Energizer Bunny, she just keeps going….

You know, like we all do.

On the outside looking into a movie like Wild, I cannot help myself one bit to not just scoff at a piece that includes someone played by Reese Witherspoon hiking on an Eat Pray Love-style journey of self-discovery, all because she shot up heroin, had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s, and got a divorce, because she had promiscuous sex with a bunch of Randy’s. To me, not only does it sound like not “my type of thing”, but it seems like pure Oscar-bait for Witherspoon to show her “range”, and also to see her as a bad-ass kind of gal. Call me harsh, call me what you will, but I know when a movie intrigues me and this was not one of them.

But, from the inside of this movie looking out, I can easily say that not only did it turn out to be “my type of thing”, but Witherspoon more than proved herself capable of being hot, sassy little mama who screws, shoots up, and divorces, whatever she wants, when she wants, and how she chooses to do so.

I never thought I’d ever be typing that in my life, but such is the case when you have a little surprise like this on your hands.

And most of that is due to director Jean-Marc Vallée’s handling of this material and not just letting it tell itself; Vallée gets us inside the mind of this Cheryl Strayed character, shows us what she’s thinking, when she’s thinking, why, and how it affects her current journey in life. Though it gets a bit over-the-top with all of the constant smarmy-narration from Strayed, Vallée still does a nice enough job of putting us slap dab in the middle of this woman’s life and the journey she’s embarking on, and making us actually care for her. Sure, he may utilize more flashbacks than two whole episodes of Lost, but they’re flashbacks that work and allow us to grow closer to this character, the more and more that we know about her.

And trust me, that’s not an easy feet, especially when you have Reese Witherspoon playing the main character, but there’s something about her here that really shocked me and actually puts her whole career into perspective, as a matter of fact. See, it’s not that I dislike Witherspoon as an actress – I think she’s immensely talented and, in the past, has proven to be quite versatile in what she’s chosen, and for how much cash. But lately, it seems that the Reese we all once knew and loved as Elle Woods (or as Tracy Flick, for all you cool 90’s kids out there), has gone the way of the Dodo and would much rather take a huge pay-cut to star in movies where dashing, handsome-as-hell men fight to the death for her and leave her going, “Oh, golly!”

Well, my friends, you no longer have to be scared because it seems like the Reese Witherspoon we all loved is back and this time, she’s rawer than ever! Meaning, that yes, Witherspoon does get quite naked in here and shows us elements to her abilities as an actress that none of us have ever seen before, and it all works. She’s compelling, smart and gives much insight into the type of damaged woman you can still like and care for, even if she’s made some pretty dumb mistakes in the past, and especially to people who don’t at all deserve it. The role could have easily been another large check for Witherspoon, but she puts so much effort into it that it actually pays off and has me so excited to see what she has next. Because, quite frankly, with all of the hits on her hands, by now, she can do whatever she damn well pleases with her career.

....and going......

….and going……

Quite like Cheryl Strayed.

Anyway, all that aside, Wild isn’t perfect. There are moments where it seems to fall back on “are they, or aren’t they rapists” aspect of its story and while it may bring tension to the story, it feels constantly thrown in there, if only to just keep peoples eyes open and watching the screen. But that isn’t to say Cheryl Strayed’s adventure isn’t, as is, already intriguing, or even, ever so slightly, inspirational, because, yes, it is. Though Vallée doesn’t hit us over-the-head too many times with making us feel like we should love this person more and more as she goes on with our journey, it’s still easy to do so. Not because she’s been through a whole hell of a lot to begin with, but because she actually wants to make amends for it all.

The real reason as to why she actually gets up one day and decides to say, “Aw, fuck it! Time for a 1,000 mile hike”, is a question that the movie brings up, never explicitly answers, and leaves hanging like a sad flower that’s been without water for too long. But it doesn’t need to. With giving us many insights into Strayed’s past-life, we get the impression that she needs this more than anything. However, rather than being a total baby and seeming like she’s running away from her problems, it seems more like she’s walking towards a new life, that will probably have its fair share of problems. However, she’s constantly learning and understanding that life will always get better. Sometimes though, you just have to take advantage of it, get up, and see what’s out there in this huge canvas we call “Earth”.

Okay, now I’m definitely getting sappy here. Damn you, Reese!

Consensus: With a compelling lead performance from a very dedicated Reese Witherspoon, Wild gets past any of the problems it may have with its narrative and reminds its audience about the small pleasures in life, even if they don’t always come right away.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...and, yup, you guessed it, still going......

…and, yup, you guessed it, still going……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Guess Advil and getting your recommended nine hours doesn’t cure everything.

The true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a hard-partying rodeo-man that doesn’t take a single ounce of his life for granted, that is, until his life is about to be cut-short after he receives news of contracting the HIV virus. Woodroof is the type of good ole’ Southern boy that likes to party hide, with all sorts of women, drugs and booze, which is why he responds so violently and angrily thinking that only homosexuals contract the virus. Basically, he thinks it’s a mistake, until he realizes that his body is only deteriorating by the day, which is when he ultimately wakes up, smells the cauliflower and realizes that he has a life that’s worth living, and he will do whatever he has in his might to keep it going. Especially even if that means he has to get involved with illegal drug-trading with the rest of the gay community through local cross-dresser Rayon (Jared Leto). Especially then, even if he is a total homophobe that wants nothing to do with men, or their penises. He just wants to make some easy cash and just keep on living, man.

There have been plenty of movies in the past that have touched upon the HIV virus and for that, we have Philadelphia to thank. Now, I know that Philadelphia sure as hell wasn’t the first flick ever to discuss the HIV virus with such bluntness, but it was the first mainstream movie to do so, all in order to get people’s attention and wake them up to the real problems that people were facing on a daily-basis, the same type of problems that you may or may not have heard on the six o’clock news. That’s why it is only fitting that 20 years later, the HIV virus still continues to get the movie’s it deserves to have people look up, take notice of what’s happening and try to band together and find a cure, dammit!

Hey! Remember me from Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past? Yeah, neither does anybody else.

“Hey! Remember me from Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past? Yeah, neither does anybody else.”

What surprised me the most about this movie was, aside from the fact that it is awfully emotional when it wants to be, is how much of a light-hearted approach it takes to a very serious subject, yet, it isn’t out-of-place or in bad-taste at all, because the subject that this movie is basically all about, was that type of person: Fun, exciting, jumpy and always in a rush to get whatever he needed to get done, done. The movie gives us its story, gives us a reason why it all matters, why we should care and basically lets it all breeze-by right quick, where we see how this underground drug-trading may have been illegal as illegal can be, but yet, benefited those who needed it the most.

In a way, despite Woodroof being a very homophobic man that wants nothing to do with the gay community whatsoever, starts helping out that same community and becomes something of a savior to them. Granted, he still wants his money right up-front, and if he doesn’t get the known-amount, it’s your ass to the curb, but you can still feel like this guy wants to do right for the world and for people who need it the most, even if he is a bit of a prick that’s in it just for the money and to keep himself alive. So yeah, he’s not the most sensitive guy out there in the world, but the movie still has you on his side right away and begins to build up this whole “him vs. the rest of the world” argument that the flick takes a little too one-sided, but still utilizes effectively in getting you inside the minds of so many people that were. and probably still are, having the same exact thoughts as to why they weren’t getting the treatment they oh so desired, and if they were, why wasn’t it legally FDA approved?

Basically, what it all comes down to is that people want to make money, and that’s that. Or, at least that’s what I got from this movie which was a bit of a lame-ass way of telling both sides and giving them their story. I get it, the movie is more on the side of Woodroof who literally did all that he could for the same community he all but banished, but there could have been a bit more juggling in terms of view-points and sympathy. For instance, the strangest aspect behind this movie is that the only openly-gay actor in the whole movie (from what I know of) is Denis O’Hare who, believe it or not, plays the most detestable character in the whole movie as the main doctor who doesn’t really care much about Woodroof’s drug, only that it takes away his patients that he wants using his approved-drug, AZT, the same type of drug that also happens to be doing more harm, than actual good for those said patients.

What’s odd about O’Hare’s character is that you’d feel like since this man himself is part of the same community that his character is against, that you’d get more dimensions to him than just meets the eyes. But nope. Instead, he’s just a schmuck who is all about the money, getting the rewards benefits at the end of every year and doesn’t give a lick what actually benefits his patients. He’s not alone in those regards as the DEA agents who continuously crack down and grow suspicious of Woodroof’s “business” he is attending to, also seem like a bunch of cold, heartless a-holes that don’t give two shits about whether or not these homosexuals he’s helping actually live or die, they just want to prove that the law, no matter what, always prevails. Except for Steve Zahn’s character, but then again, he’s Steve Zahn. What? Did you actually expect him to play an unlikable dude? Come on!

Since the antagonists are such ever loving douchebags, this gives the protagonists plenty of leg-room to show their likable features which, in essence, also allows the actors themselves to strut their stuff and give some of the best performances any of them have had in a long, long, long while. The main person who is getting the most attention out of everything else that has to do with this flick is Matthew McConaughey, and for so many justifiable reasons. For starters, the cat lost close to 50 pounds here to give us the impression that yes, this man is dying; yes, his skin is all wrinkly; and yes, his clothes barely fit him. Not only does this add a huge sense of realism to his performance, so much so in a way that it’s uncomfortable to watch him much like Christian Bale was in the Machinist, but also makes you feel like the guy is literally dying right in front of our eyes, just as each and every day goes by.

Someone give him a burger already.

Someone give him a burger already.

McConaughey’s boyish charm comes into play many of times, giving Woodroof a playful, fun feel that works well for him when he practically becomes a small-time drug kingpin, but also gives us a man that feels like, despite all of his cracks and screws being shown to us on countless occasions, is all doing this for the right reasons. Like I said before, he’s not perfect, but he does eventually grow into becoming an receptive, nice, kind and generous man that knows when business becomes more than just business, and humanity begins to take over. Of course, this transition from bastard-to-good-guy never, not even for a second, rings false, because McConaughey always shows him as the type of hardened-soul that wants to keep on living on, just as for long as he can, with as many pleasures as he can, without having sex and infecting others around him. Plenty of buzz has been made about McConaughey here, and it’s all deserved because not only is this his most-demanding performance yet, but it’s also probably his richest, giving us the type of lovable, enthusiastic character we love seeing him play, and giving him a darker side that shows layers, upon layers, upon layers, just as his life-watch continues to keep on tick, tick, tickin’ away.

However, plenty of buzz is also being made about Jared Leto’s huge transformation as well, playing Rayon, the local crossdresser Woodroof starts business up with, and that’s definitely deserved too. And that’s a huge surprise coming from a person like me, especially considering that with every new album or song his shitastic band 30 Seconds to Mars releases, I continue to grow less and less fonder of him, not just as an artist, but as a person. Thankfully though, Leto comes back from shadows and gives us a performance that’s not only captivating in the way that he shows this Rayon character as being a saddened, rendered soul, but one that’s still strong and will find a way to end this epidemic, along with the homophobic Woodroof. Together, they form a nice bond that isn’t like buddy-buddy, but more that it’s business-partner relationship, that has some ties in friendship, but nothing too much that crosses boundaries; the way that Woodroof clearly likes it. I would not be the least bit surprised if Leto gets a nomination for his work here, not only because of what he does with his character, but how, now two, totally opposite times, he has done a full-on transformation, embodying his character’s soul anyway he can.

Let’s just hope this means that he’ll stick with movies from now on in, and keep away from making anymore crappy music. And no, I will not even throw a link in there. I refuse to.

Also, Jennifer Garner’s here trying to earn some street-cred playing a nurse that not only joins the cause that Woodroof is fighting for, but works as something as conduit that gets him bits and pieces of information in order to help him continue what it is that he’s doing to save these people. Garner is good, but in all honesty, her role is stretched-out a little further than it needs to be; and the only reason it feels like that is because it’s Jennifer Garner in that role, and not somebody like say, my sister, Siobhan, or my dog, Pearl. Either one of them, no attention whatsoever. What’s wrong the movie-business these days, dammit?!?!

Consensus: There may be a lot of emotional-baggage that it certainly can’t handle, but nonetheless, Dallas Buyers Club is still a heartfelt, poignant and somewhat inspiring take on a little-known, but very important story about Ron Woodroof, played to perfection by an Oscar-worthy, and nearly-starving Matthew McConaughey.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Out-method the other on the count of three. 1.....2....go!!"

“Out-method the other on the count of three. 1…..2….go!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net