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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Jeanine Serralles

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

If Mumford & Sons weren’t featured on the soundtrack, this would have been a total slap-in-their-faces.

It’s New York City in 1961, and Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) doesn’t quite know what to do with his life. He knows that he wants to continue being a musician, so that he can make the money, to get the house, to have a roof over his head that’s actually his, to have food to eat, to not rely on others, and basically, to just be left alone from the rest of the outside world. In case you may have not been able to tell now, Llewyn isn’t the type of guy people enjoy being around, or vice versa. He’s got a stingy attitude towards everything and everyone in his life, and with an ex of his coming out and saying she’s pregnant (Carey Mulligan), it seems like most of it all may be coming back to bite him in the rear-end. However, Llewyn Davis has a dream and he knows that if folk music isn’t the biggest thing since slice-bread in the Big Apple, then it may just be the case somewhere else, which is why he decides to venture out into the rural country-side and see if he can land some steady gigs, get a record-deal, get some nice cash-flow and eventually, settle into his own secluded life.

Need I remind you, this is a movie about folk music in the early-60’s? If you don’t already know the significance of that time-frame and genre of music, then I’ll just allow you to let it sit around and linger in your mind and see what I mean for yourself.

Get that cat a nomination too!

Get that cat a nomination too!

Here’s the thing with me and this movie: I love the Coen Brothers. Absoloutely, positively adore them, and if this past week was any indication of that whatsoever, then you’ll realize that I feel very strongly for these guys because of what they’re able to do with any plot or genre that comes their way. They’ve always had a knack for re-constructing genres to the best of their creative abilities and it’s never seemed to fall-back on them. They’ve always came out unscathed of something that may not have gone over so well with critics and audiences alike, but it doesn’t matter. You know why? Because they’re Joel and Ethan Coen, baby. And they can do whatever the hell they possibly please.

That’s why when I saw that they were making a film that’s was going to chronicle the life and times of this folk singer, during its hey-day in the early 60’s, something didn’t sit too well with me. I know that they appreciate folk music, but I don’t, and that’s where I was a little bit worried with this flick. I didn’t know what to expect, whether it be a love-note to this era of some sorts, or another one of their “stories that start out normal and simple, then turn into a complex tale of love, sex, lies and violence.” However, I got, neither. Instead, I just got a simple, slightly steady tale of a dude that practically hates almost everyone and everybody around him, yet makes some of the most beautiful folk music I have ever heard.

May not sound like much coming from my finger-tips, but trust me, if you’ve grown up in a day and age where hack bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers are being called “the best rock bands around”, then you’d at least sympathize with me. Or at least see what angle I’m coming from. At least.

But that’s where this movie really caught me off-guard, in the best way at all possible. The Coen Brothers take this conventional story of a down-and-out folk singer, and rather than spin it in a way that has him reach some life-changing prophecy or realize that there’s more to life than just pissing and moaning about useless things in day-to-day life, we just get a story about a down-and-out folk singer, who pisses, moans and has a problem with everything, and/or everyone that comes at all into his path of wrath. Sounds like it would be one of the most grueling and uncomfortable experiences to have to sit-through the whole year, but knowing the Coens, like I know the Coens: They manage to pull it off perfectly and make this guy’s life one that’s full of all sorts of interesting and entertaining happenings, even if there’s nothing really happening in his life at all.

More than likely, we’ll get a scene or two, in a row, where it’s just Llewyn walking from one destination, to the other, with his guitar case in hand and sometimes a cat in the other, and we’ll just follow him. We are never told where, why or when this is all happening, but we just watch and keep our eyes peeled to the screen because everything that’s said, heard or felt, is raw and realistic. Sure, there’s plenty of colorful and hilarious moments of comedy that usually come from the Coen’s writing-style, which goes to make sure that this thing isn’t a total drab to watch, but overall, I didn’t care too much about that. All I did care about was, believe it or not, this guy Llewyn Davis; the type of person he was, is and what he sees himself as being in the near, not-too-distant future.

Sounds crazy, I know, but it just so happens that I fancy myself a Coen Brothers movie where practically nothing happens, and yet, so much does seem to be happening. It’s just all about looking closer at the way a certain somebody does something, how they say something or just how they are in general. I know I’m getting all emotional over here, but really, this flick will surprise you with how compelling it is, without really doing anything at all. I guess the Coens finally got tired of killing people, and decided that maybe it was time to take a chill-pill and just let their actors and mood do the talking.

And if my prediction is correct and that was their thought-process when making this movie, then smart move on their parts because it’s one of the best casts I’ve seen this year.

You’ve seen him many times before, but you can never match the face with the name. After this movie and this star-making performance, you better remember the name Oscar Isaac and you better be able to match the face. Why? Well, for starters, he’s in my profile picture (that’s always a plus in my book), and well, let’s just say that the guy is the total package: He can sing, play guitar, act, be funny, be sad, be mean, nasty, hilarious and do all of these sorts of things, and find a way to incorporate them all so perfectly into the character that is Llewyn Davis, one character I didn’t expect to like or even come close to caring for, but as time goes on and you realize that there’s a lot more simmering beneath this guy other than bouts of rage, you just can’t help but want to give him a high-five. Nothing too touchy feeley. Just yet, that is.

Anyway, what makes Isaac so amazing here is that the dude nails every aspect of this character that he needed to, and gives us the impression that we’re seeing a man for all that he is. Sometimes we can see a fictional character, and sometimes we can see a character made upon other elements of other people; but the whole time, I saw Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a guy who was not only a huge dick in his own right, but an entertaining dick that realizes all of the problems he causes in his life, and is trying to the best of his ability to make up for them. While he definitely doesn’t go about doing so in the best of ways, it’s the thought, in his mind, that counts, because while he is trying to make end’s meet with whomever is on the opposite end of his deal, he’s still never losing that edge that makes him such a smart guy that you want to be around, but never get into an argument with. Not only to top that off, but the dude can freakin’ sing his heart out and when it came right down to it, the guy brought a tear down my eye more than a few times. Not just with the weeping of his guitar, but with his soft singing voice, that shows more depth into his character than any back-story we ever hear about.

Oh, the good ol' days. You know? When you actually USED TO BE ABLE TO SMOKE ANYWHERE!

Oh, the good ol’ days. You know? When you actually USED TO BE ABLE TO SMOKE ANYWHERE!

And I could go on and on and on about how great the soundtrack is, but in all honesty: I won’t. The reason being is that the soundtrack is so good, that it should already speak for itself as is. And I’m telling you now, if “Please Mr. Kennedy” doesn’t walk away with the Oscar this year, then I’m straight-up protesting! You heard it here first, people! Mark my words!

Anyway, while Isaac is amazing in the lead role, as expected, so is everybody else in this supporting cast, which just goes to show you that the Coens never make a bad move on their parts. Carey Mulligan gets down, dirty and mean as the ex Llewyn screwed over and ever single chance she gets, she lets him have it in a very funny, entertaining way. However, once we do get past her usual tantrums of anger-spouting, we do get to see a gal that loved Llewyn, and probably still does, for the sad-sack, asshole that he is, which gives their scenes more emotion than I ever expected it to. Some may shiver and scratch their heads at the thought of Justin Timberlake showing up in a Coen Brothers flick, but the dude holds his own quite well, especially when most of what he does concerns singing and just being charming as hell. Same goes for Adam Driver who is another reason why that song up top mentioned is such perfection.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: Oscar-gold, baby! Oscar-gold!

However, the supporting cast doesn’t just begin with Mulligan and end with Driver; there are two other peeps in this cast that get a lot of attention for quite some time and are great at what they have to do, yet, don’t feel wholly in-sync with everything else that’s happening. In case I’m being too vague as it is, the two performers I’m talking about are John Goodman as an aging blues musician who gives Davis a bit of a run for his money in the insults department, while Garrett Hedlund plays his brooding and mysterious driver, Johnny Five. While both were a treat to watch, especially Goodman who just revels in playing a total dick whenever he sees fit, they fit more with the Coens’ more off-kilter flicks like Barton Fink, or Blood Simple, or if you really wanted to get crazy, Raising Arizona. Nothing against them as performers, but they felt more like caricatures, rather than actual living, breathing human beings that had hearts, emotions and feelings, like Llewyn and the type of people he hated to surround himself with. Like I said though, nothing against them and their performances, it’s just that they could have easily been placed in another Coen Brother flick, and probably fit like gloves. Here though, they just seem a tad too goofy, especially since you know Dylan’s just around the corner.

Consensus: Rather than giving us a strange, slightly odd flick that just so happened to involve the folk music scene and singers, the Coen Brothers make Inside Llewyn Davis a sad, heartfelt, but overall, complex look inside the life of a guy that you’d never thought you care about or want to spend time with, yet, with Isaac’s superb performance and the Coen’s writing, you never want to leave his side.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Just a man, his guitar and his voice. Who just so happens to not be Bob Dylan.

Just a man, his guitar and his voice. Who just so happens to NOT be Bob Dylan.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net