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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: John Benjamin Hickey

Hostiles (2017)

Wish I could say we treat Native Americans any better.

It’s 1892 and legendary Army Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is coming closer and closer to retiring once and for all. He’s seen and done a lot of crap that would take its toll on any man in his own right, and for Blocker, who is no doubt messed-up in the head, he’s done. But, asked by his superiors, there’s one last mission for him to take out and it’s one he reluctantly agrees to on the basis of self-respect: Escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal land. Why does he not want to do it? Well, it’s the near-end of 19th century and let’s just say that Native Americans weren’t all that loved by practically anyone in the deep and dirty West. But still, orders are orders, which means Blocker, along with a great deal of his most trusted-soldiers, embark on a journey from Fort Berringer, N.M., to the grasslands of Montana. On the way, they encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was killed on the plains. But that would only turn out to be one small surprise, on a journey that would soon bring many, many more to come.

Give him a gun and he’ll run wild. Trust me.

Hostiles is the rare kind of Western that isn’t really a Western, at least not in the general sense. There’s not much gun-play, there’s not all that many trips to small towns, or even really that much conflict. It’s a movie that plays by its own rules and moves to the beat of its own drum, which is cool in a sense, but when it’s actually playing out on-screen, shocker, it’s kind of a bummer.

Like a huge bummer.

And coming from director Scott Cooper, it’s a bit of a disappointment, because even though he doesn’t have the best track-record around, he’s still a solid enough director to keep things interesting, even when they’re not. In Hostiles, the story is moving at such a slow, languid pace, it almost feels like it’s going to end up everywhere, but nowhere, even if we’re already told a clear-objective up front. Sure, it’s admirable that Cooper’s trying to make the anti-Western, in that there’s not many conventions and the movie’s much more about grief, sadness, and depression, but when you’re movie’s a little over two hours and feels like it’s about three, it’s a bit of a problem.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of good stuff to find in Hostiles, cause like with Cooper’s other flicks, there’s always a few great sequences every so often. The only issue is that they’re strung along this rather long and melodic movie that never picks itself up. It can, often times, be gruesome, intense, and a little dramatic, but these scenes, how few there are, happen about ever ten minutes or so – the rest of the time is spent watching as these characters travel from one spot to another, all to a slow-tune. That may work for some people who are expecting a whole heck of a lot different from their Westerns, and usually I’m in that boat, but here, it just didn’t get me as involved as I would have liked.

Hitchhikers have never looked so beautiful.

The only real benefit to this direction is that there’s more attention on the performances, all of which are great, including Christian Bale in a shockingly un-showy role.

For one, it’s nice to see Bale dial things down, almost to the point of where he’s practically a mute. But his silence works well for a character who, we’re told early on, was a bit of a reckless savage in his war days and has done all sorts of hurtful, dangerous, and downright violent things. He gets celebrated and praised as a “hero”, but you can tell, just by looking into Bale’s eyes throughout the whole thing, that there’s something truly messed-up about him and the movie, as well as Bale himself, are both very subtle about that. It’s the kind of performance that saves a movie, because it makes you interested in seeing what happens next, if not especially to the rest of the movie, but to him.

And the rest of this ensemble is pretty good, too, although, it’s such a huge ensemble, there’s only so much love and praise that can go around. Rosamund Pike, like Bale, plays her role very grounded and quiet, to a devastating affect; Rory Cochrane has some truly powerful moments as a fellow-soldier of Bale’s who may be just as messed-up as he, if not more; and Ben Foster, about halfway through, shows up to be crazy and almost steals the show. The only disappointment of this cast is that the Native Americans here (Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Q’Orianka Kilcher), don’t really have all that much development to them, except that their stoic and in-touch with their spiritual side, or something. Maybe that was the point, but it seemed like a waste to just have them around, not give them much to do, and that act as if the movie truly cares about them at the end.

After all, it’s kind of their story, isn’t it? When will Hollywood ever learn?

Consensus: With such a slow-pace, Hostiles can take awhile to get used to, but with such a great cast, including a spectacularly subtle Bale, it’s hard to fully not be interested in.

6.5 / 10

Cry it out, Chris. Go for that Oscar.

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

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The Ice Storm (1997)

Cheer up, suburbia. Have some sex.

1973 is winding down and you know what? Maybe it’s time for a little break. It’s Thanksgiving break and those living in the suburbs of Connecticut, when they’re not dealing with the cold temperatures and snow on the ground, are also dealing with one another. Ben (Kevin Kline) is a frustrated father who doesn’t like his job, but also doesn’t know how to seek love or happiness from his wife Elena (Joan Allen). So rather than trying to actually solve it by talking to her like the old days, he’s currently seeking fulfillment from his neighbor Janey (Sigourney Weaver). Meanwhile, his teenage daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), has some issues going on of her own, too. She’s currently playing weird sexual games with Janey’s son Mikey (Elijah Wood), making him act out in the usual ways that young, adolescent kids do. And there’s the older brother, Paul (Tobey Maguire), who has a huge crush on some girl in his class (Katie Holmes), but doesn’t know how to go about it, nor does he quite know how to even talk to girls, but is going to try anyway.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

Though it doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for this, the Ice Storm was actually one of the first “suburbia sucks” movies to start the boom that sprung in the late-90’s-to-early-aughts. Of course, a lot of the movies to follow were bland, unoriginal, and just downright depressing, but the Ice Storm, even without it being the starter-package, still sails above the rest. See, it does something with its message and its sadness, and it actually builds off of them; so many of the other movies that were soon to follow, seemed to just focus in on this aspect of suburbia and not go anywhere else.

It was just one emotion, the whole way through.

And sure, you could also kind of say the same about the Ice Storm, but it’s a much more deliberate mood-piece. It’s a slow-burner for sure, but it’s also a movie that takes its time for certain reasons, like building up characters and each of their relationships to one another; the fact that the movie has about five-to-ten core characters, really gives off that feeling of repression and suffocation, but in a way, draws us closer to these character. Ang Lee may be known for paying extra attention to the ways his movies look, but here, he shows that there’s a certain attention paid to characters that just can’t be matched.

What Lee shows is that, beyond all of the sadness, repression and claustrophobia, is that there can be some bittersweet moments of pure love and joy. At times, when it’s not trying to get us down in the dumps, the Ice Storm can actually be a funny movie, poking fun at both growing old and growing up, in a time and place where it seems like the experiences and feelings are almost identical. That’s not to say that the movie’s a dramedy in any sense of the term, but the movie isn’t just one long funeral – there’s bits and pieces of sheer happiness and joy, but because they are indeed so scattered, they truly do make those said moments all the more lovely and emotional.

And then, yes, there’s the ensemble who are all, as expected, pretty great.

Kevin Kline is so perfect as Ben, the upset and constantly nervous father who clearly wants the best for him and his family, but just also doesn’t know what to do anymore. With Kline, there’s always this feeling that he’s the cool and hip dad who never gets the respect he deserves and watching him here, you totally feel that – he’s just waiting to be noticed, recognized and if anything, appreciated. If he has to go out and find that for himself, then so be it.

Joan Allen plays his wife, Elena, and has a far more subtler role than him, but is still very effective in it. There’s this lingering sense of anger underneath everything that she does and it’s exciting just waiting around to see when she’s going to crack and lose her cool, once and for all. Sigourney Weaver’s Janey may also seem like a total villain at first, but the movie does humanize her in certain ways that’s not just surprising, but refreshing; here’s a woman, having sex with a married man, and while she doesn’t feel regret for it, she’s also not very happy about it, either.

Like everyone else, she’s just trying her absolute hardest to get by.

Sorry, Tobey. Don't have to go home, but can't stay here.

Sorry, Tobey. Don’t have to go home, but can’t stay here.

As for the kids, they all fair-off pretty fine, too, especially since most of them were the premiere young actors at the time. Christina Ricci is great as the sassy, overtly sexual Wendy; Elijah Wood is very fun to watch as the fellow teenage boy she constantly teases and plays around with; Tobey Maguire plays the older college student who isn’t sure just how to go about picking up girls and because of that, his awkwardness shines through in every scene; and Katie Holmes and David Krumholtz, in only just two scenes, really do come close to stealing the show, highlighting a great deal of adolescent sincerity that they were able to match in the following years to come, but not with the same amount of rawness.

But the real takeaway from the Ice Storm and these characters is that, yes, they’re performed and written well, but they’re also never judged. Because these characters are so sad and in such huge funks, they don’t always make the best, or brightest decisions – in most cases, they’re doing just whatever they feel will make them happy at that one exact moment in time. It would have been easy for a movie, let alone, its director to shine a light on them and frown, but instead, Ang Lee embraces them for all of their faults and realizes that they too, just like your or I, have issues and they’re just trying to wade through them all. They aren’t perfect, hell, they’re not even nice, but they’re real people and those are the kind that are very hard to find movies nowadays, or in general.

Consensus: With extra attention paid to its troubled characters, the Ice Storm is a sad, dramatic, but rather moving mood-piece about suburbia and all of those imperfect beings who inhabit it.

9.5 / 10

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in the Gutter, Awards Circuit

Tallulah (2016)

tallulah-posterStick with your own babies.

Tallulah (Ellen Page) has had a pretty rough life for a girl her age. Been on the streets and living in her van for a year now, she finds solace in her boyfriend (Evan Jonigkeit), who helps her out in ensuring that they continue to live on the street and be as free as they want. However, the two break-up one day and Tallulah is left with nowhere to go and absolutely no one to turn to. So, the next best thing, she believes, is her boyfriend’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), who is surprised to find Tallulah on her door-step in the first place. After being denied once by Margot, Tallulah decides, for one reason or another, to visit her again, but this time, with a newborn baby in her arms. Why? Well, just because she knew that the baby’s mother (Tammy Blanchard), didn’t give a damn about it and was more or less not going to take care of it. However, Margo doesn’t know this and instead, believes Tallulah when she insists that it is her and her son’s baby. Meanwhile, the police are looking everywhere for Tallulah, trying to find this baby, while Tallulah and Margot get more acquainted.

Oh god. Ellen Page and her baby troubles.

Ellen Page and her baby troubles? Again?

Personally, I love the new entertainment-industry we live with today. It’s interesting that online streaming-devices like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and all of them, can not only create their own content for the world to see, but actually offer up something to see. Many people have ranted and raved about why this is such a big issue for the entertainment-industry as a whole, but it’s my own belief that it’s a good thing for the industry, as it allows for smaller, lesser-known stories to be told, talents to be seen, and products to be watched. Sure, you can make the argument that some of them aren’t even all that good (Crackle’s the Art of More, anyone?) and probably don’t deserve to ever see the light of day, but isn’t there something special about getting a chance to see what every provider can offer?

Even if the results happen to be as “meh” as Tallulah?

Cause after all, even though it definitely wasn’t produced as such, Tallulah is a low-budget, Sundance indie that would have probably never gotten the kind of audience, had it gone through the same old, usual crap of screenings and theater-showings. Is there anything wrong with going out to the movies to see a flick? Definitely not. But more and more people are getting scared of actual, big-time theaters themselves because, quite frankly, it’s really hard to promote your small movie if it’s just “meh”.

That’s why Netflix is here to save the day with Tallulah, a movie that is, in case you couldn’t tell by now, perfectly “meh”; it’s the kind of flick that wants to deal with real-life issues, like love, divorce, and motherhood, while also trying to develop its own characters. It’s successful in the later-portion, mostly due to the fact that the cast is so good. However, while watching Tallulah, there was a strange feeling I got where I thought to myself that I was supposed to be liking it more than I actually was.

See, it’s the kind of indie that’s so conventional, but likable, that you can’t really hate it. However, by the same token, it’s hard to really praise and love it, because you know that there’s plenty other better movies out there, sometimes, with the same cast. Obviously, I’m talking about another Janney-Page team-up involving a plot-driven baby movie like Juno, but still, that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m trying to say is that Tallulah, is fine.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

Eh, whatever. Watch your baby better next time.

It can be funny and it can be heartfelt at times, but it never tries to aim higher than that, and it kind of brings itself down because of that. For instance, there’s this weird dream-sequence involving characters floating through the air, that’s supposed to be some sort of symbolism for how they’re getting torn-apart by life, or something, and it just never connects. Same goes for the whole subplot involving Tammy Blanchard’s mother character; while it’s nice that the movie bothers to even include this in the first place, it also takes up a lot of time and doesn’t really bring much to the movie. Blanchard is a good actress, however, her character is so thinly-written and boring, that after awhile, I was rooting against her, more than I was rooting for her and her possible reunion with her baby.

Then, of course, there’s Ellen Page and Allison Janney who are, as expected, great. Page’s role as Tallulah isn’t all that different from what we’ve seen her do before, but she still nails it and makes me glad to see her so charming and lovely again, as opposed to how moody she was in Freeheld and Into the Forest (that’s another movie that came out this week and I’m not doing a review on it because, honestly, it’s bad – like, really bad, so stay away). Janney is also great, showing a different side to her than we usually see, as a stern, and sometimes stand-offish woman, yet, we also grow to love her, the more we get to know about her.

Together, the two are the best thing about Tallulah. They’re relationship builds over time and feels real, honest and organic; they don’t start by loving one another, but they grow to learn how to do so and it helps their characters grow over time. While I would have probably loved to have seen a movie about them connecting, even without the baby, it still doesn’t matter – the baby serves a purpose and allows for them to come back together. The movie itself can sometimes feel like it’s bringing them down, but if anything, the two get past it and allow for themselves to be great.

Even if the movie they’re in, isn’t necessarily “great”.

Consensus: Easygoing and well-acted, Tallulah is a fine dramedy, even if it’s script isn’t always strong as its actors.

5.5 / 10

Jason Reitman - look what you're missing.

Jason Reitman – look what you’re missing.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Truth (2015)

Just get a blog. You can make anything up!

As producer of the well-known and landmark news program 60 Minutes, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) had plenty of huge stories to work with and break to the public. One in particular came around the time of the 2004 Presidential Election, in which files were leaked to Mapes that practically said that then-President George W. Bush didn’t actually complete any of prerequisites needed to become a member of the National Guard and instead, received special treatment. Knowing that she has something hot, heavy and ground-breaking on her hands, Mapes goes through all of the proper channels to ensure that the story is in fact true, but also worth sticking her neck out for. After time, she does find out that this story is true and, without any more time wasted, she gets the national news anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford), to break the story once and for all. Which it does and it breaks down as many barriers as CBS expected it to, if not some more. But then, people start questioning the evidence, which means that it isn’t before long until they start questioning every aspect of the story, from the information, to the leaks, and to Mapes’ own personal political beliefs themselves.

"Is my eye-shadow fine?"

“Is my eye-shadow fine?”

There’s about one too many speeches in Truth that feel just like that: Speeches. In Aaron Sorkin pieces, whenever somebody breaks out into a speech, it may sound so incredibly random and obvious, but you roll with it because Sorkin’s writing can be so compelling, that people stopping whatever they’re doing to lace into a five-minute monologue about die-hard Republicans, for some reason, feels believable. It’s Sorkin’s universe and if somebody wants to ramble on and on for no reasons other than to get a point across, then so believe it.

Problem is, Truth wasn’t written by Sorkin and could have definitely benefited from that. Not just because there’s so many speeches here that feel ham-handed or silly, but because they come at inappropriate times that don’t add much to the actual story the movie’s telling, other than to get some a political viewpoint across. And within Truth, there’s a very interesting story to be told and more often than not, it does get told; however, because it has such an agenda to get across, it feels like it’s doing a dis-justice to said story.

Then again, though, it is a movie about journalism and as most of you may now, I’m an absolute sucker for those kind,

That’s why, whenever Truth focuses in on the pre-publishing sides of getting a story together (mapping everything out, finding sources, following the money, etc), it’s a very entertaining look inside how a news outlet as widely-known and ginormous as 60 Minutes, gathered up all their info to make a story. Once again, you don’t have to be a journalist to appreciate these scenes, but if you are one, these scenes will all add a certain level of excitement; though we all know how the story ends when everything is said and done, there’s still a slight feeling that things may go down smoothly that makes it all the more enjoyable. Take away all of the political maneuvering the movie does tend to take, and deep down inside, you have a solid piece of how 60 Minutes brought together one of its biggest stories, decided to go with it, and watch as all the pieces fell.

Had it stayed like this, too, Truth would have been great. However, it doesn’t and that’s when it starts to get very preachy and become something else entirely.

To say that writer/director James Vanderbilt may have had an agenda when creating this movie, is an absolute understatement – the dude has an ax to grind and wants everybody to know! Which, in a way, is fine. Had this movie been about a fictional story, that closely follows this actual, real life story, it probably wouldn’t have felt pushy. But, because Vanderbilt is using this true 60 Minutes story, and the eventual fallout, as a place-mat for his thoughts and feelings, it comes across as off-putting.

While it’s fine that Vanderbilt had a point to prove with this story and didn’t just go through the same motions of telling it as straight as possible, there’s still a feeling that he’s taking more away from the actual impact the story could have had. Take, for instance, Cate Blanchett’s Mary Mapes, someone who feels as if she deserves her own biopic by now, starring Blanchett, of course. Mapes, from what we’re told in this movie, is a tough, rugged, and dedicated journalist who is so willing to go to the deepest, darkest depths to make sure that her story is heard, that she sometimes risks losing those closest to her.

Gasp! Journalism!

Gasp! Journalism!

Sounds corny? Well, that’s because it is.

However, Blanchett being Blanchett, is so terrific here, that I hardly even cared to notice. Instead, I just let her do her thing and see what more I could find out about this character as the story rolled along. But, as the movie continues, we start to get more and more scenes of Mapes breaking out into yammering speeches about the state of journalism, politics, and ethics – all of which don’t feel pertinent to telling the story and instead, the perfect time for Vanderbilt to get on his soapbox and yell for a little while. The movie does bring up some interesting points about political bias’ mixing with journalism, but at the end, all they do is hint at the possibility that Mapes may, or may not have, overlooked some facts with this story, just to get her political point across. Whether or not this is true to begin with, remains to be seen, but it’s not really a point that seems to work or feel well-thought out.

The same problem goes for Dan Rather, who is, oddly-enough, played by Robert Redford. The movie never really digs any further into portraying Rather as anything more than just a great, lovable guy who is willing to tackle any story, so long as Mapes was there to okay it. Redford’s fine here, however, it’s too distracting to see him play someone else who is already so famous to begin with. And given that they aren’t given a whole lot to do, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, and Topher Grace all do fine in their respective roles as the fellow journalists who helped to layer-out this story into being more.

But honestly, Truth is mostly Vanderbilt’s time to stand up, speak and drop the mic.

And that’s it.

Consensus: Boasting a solid cast and interesting look inside an infamous event in journalism history, Truth is two-halves of a great movie, until it gets preachy and can’t seem to keep its mouth shut.

7 / 10

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire