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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 Curran

The Patriot (2000)

Ah. The good old days of when people could actually trust in Mel Gibson to save the day.

During the American Revolution in 1776, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the French and Indian War, declares that he will not fight in a war that is not his own. However, his oldest son (Heath Ledger) thinks differently and decides to enlist himself. Though Benjamin is upset with this decision, he knows that it is up to his son to make his own decisions and to be able to live with them, just as he has done with his own. But one fateful night, his son comes back, bloody, beaten-up, battered, and in need of some shelter; Benjamin, obviously, gives it to him, thinking that this will be the last time his son sets out for battle ever again. But Benjamin is proven wrong when, early the next morning, the British come looking for him and want to take his son away. Obviously, Benjamin is against this, as well as the rest of his family, which is when one of his young sons is shot and killed. This is when Benjamin decides that it’s time to quit being a pacifist and to pick up his sword, his gun, and his tomahawk, in order to extract some revenge, the good, old-fashioned way, baby!

Evil.

Evil.

Obviously, seeing as how this is a film from Roland Emmerich, I wasn’t expecting there to be any sort of complexity involved with the occasion. However, what’s different about the Patriot, apart from most of Emmerich’s other movies, is that it seems like he’s actually trying to make this an emotionally-gripping, detailed-story about how one man fought for the love and honor of his family, even when all the odds were stacked-up against him. This, on paper, all sounds heartfelt and kind of sweet, but the way in which it plays out?

It’s the furthest thing from.

For one, as soon as Gibson’s Benjamin Martin picks up his tomahawk, it’s go time right from there. People are shot, decapitated, split-open, spit-on, bled-out, and all sorts of other lovely actions involved with war. To be honest, I’m not one to back away from a movie that contains an awful lot of violence (especially when the violence is as graphic as it is in a big-budgeted blockbuster such as this), but there’s something here that feels incredibly off about the whole movie, that put a sour taste in my mouth.

Because, to be honest, it doesn’t seem like Emmerich gives much of a hoot about whether or not Benjamin actually feels fulfilled when every Redcoat is dead and gone away with; he cares more about how many people get killed, and in how many ways that make people go, “Aww yeah!”, or “Ooh!”. You can’t hate Emmerich for wanting to please his audience, but you can hate him for trying to pass all of that death and destruction with something resembling a peaceful; it’s just stupid and feels ill-written.

But, if I did have to rate this movie as a summer blockbuster, it’s an okay one.

It sure as hell did not at all need to be nearly three-hours, but considering the huge budget it has to work with, it’s nice to see that, at one time at least, Hollywood was willing to put all of their money into a history epic that featured as much gritty and raw violence as a single season of the Sopranos. Though the violence is oddly thrown in there with an inspirational message about standing up for your rights and taking down those who take what means most to you, it’s still effective; through the many war-sequences, we get a certain feel for just how dangerous and hellish the battlefield was, without any bullshit thrown in there.

It’s literally just blood being shed, lives being lost, and more disturbing memories for the generations to come. If anything, that’s as deep and as far as the Patriot is willing to go with any life-affirming message. For the most part, it is, like I said, concerned with just showing how many people can get killed, in all sorts of graphic ways that may, or may not please people.

Naive.

Naive.

Depends on who you are, I guess.

Though the movie tries to dig deep into Benjamin Martin’s psyche, eventually, it just stops and allows for Mel Gibson to do the leg-work for them. Which was obviously a smart idea, because even though Gibson seems to be, once again, playing another man on the search for getting justice and revenge for the loss of a loved-one (see Braveheart and/or Mad Max), the role still fits him like a glove that it doesn’t matter how old it seems for him to be playing. He has that perfect balance of being just vulnerable enough to make you think that the odds could topple over him, as well as being just mean and vicious enough to make you think he could kill whoever he wanted, how he wanted to, and whenever he saw fit. It’s actually quite scary, but it’s the role Gibson’s worked well for as long as he’s been acting and it’s only gotten more dramatic as he’s gotten older.

A lot of other people show up here and seem to be trying on the same level as Gibson, but they’re sadly tossed-away once the movie decides it doesn’t have time for them to stretch their wings out. The late, great Heath Ledger, Rene Auberjonois, Joely Richardson, and Chris Cooper all seem to have shown up, ready for work, but they don’t have anything worthwhile to do. After all, they’re in a Roland Emmerich movie, and when was the last time when of them was actually about the solid performances on-display?

No seriously – when was that? Cause I sure as hell don’t remember!

And the main reason why I didn’t include the likes of Tom Wilkinson and Jason Isaacs in that last paragraph, is because they are sadly given the roles as “the British” here, which means they play, either, nonsensical idiots, or blood-loving savages. It would make sense why the British would have a problem with this movie to begin with, but it’s made all the worse by the fact that two immensely talented actors like Isaacs and Wilkinson were given roles, so limited in their development and scope, that even they couldn’t save them. Sure, they went through the motions and collected the nice, meaty paychecks, but is it really all that worth it?

Consensus: As a summer blockbuster, the Patriot is more violent and bloodier than you’d expect it to be, but also happens to be a Roland Emmerich movie, which means it’s basically all of that, and hardly any depth beyond.

5 / 10

Heroic.

Heroic.

Photos Courtesy of : Super Marcey, Rob’s Movie Vault, Popcorn for Breakfast

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The Conspirator (2011)

Where have I heard this story before? Well, nowhere actually, but see what I’m trying to get across in a not-so subtle way?

Mid-April 1865, stage actor John Wilkes Booth (Toby Kebbell) assassinates President Abraham Lincoln during a production of Our American Cousin. We all know this, who the hell doesn’t, but what most people don’t know is the story surrounding the other conspirators in this assassination, one of which was a woman wrongfully accused all because her son was one of those conspirators. That gal’s name was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), her son was Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), and she ran a boarding house in Washington that Booth, along with the other conspirators in this assassination frequently stayed in, and where the plan was most likely hatched. Whether or not Surratt really did conspire to kill the President isn’t quite known yet, but Union war hero and attorney Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is assigned the task to defend her to the best of his ability, by any means necessary. At first, Aiken doesn’t think it matters because she’s guilty in his eyes, but after awhile, he starts to see that there is more brewing beneath the surface here with this case, and he will not stop until justice is so rightfully served.

In case you don’t know by now, Robert Redford is a pretty political guy, and he takes his liberal-stance very seriously. So seriously, that most of his flicks seem to come off more as history lessons, rather than actual movies, with real, interesting, and compelling narratives driving them along. That said, the guy’s got plenty of power in Hollywood to do whatever he wants, when he wants, with whomever he wants, and how he wants to, which makes total sense why a real life story like this would get such a star-studded cast, with such a preachy message, that it’s no wonder why it got past almost every producer out there in the world.

It’s Robert Redford, are you going to deny his movie?

Did a woman who's being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn't necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

Did a woman who was being wrongfully convicted for a crime she didn’t necessarily commit really need to be dressed in all-black throughout the whole movie?

That’s why, as intriguing as this story is, you know exactly where he’s getting at with every part of this movie. For instance, Redford is obviously making a lot of points about the similarity between this case and the ones of post-9/11 hysteria that was more about finding anybody who was even close to being guilty, and make sure they pay the price so that the rest of the country can begin to feel like a safe and peaceful place like it was meant to be. Honestly, it’s a nice analogy that Redford uses, the only problem is that we get it every step of the way. So instead of being a movie that’s filled with a compelling story, characters, and emotions, it just feels like a history lesson where we’re being talked down to, as if we don’t know all about the problems our world of politics is facing today.

And it should come as no surprise that this was Redford’s first movie since doing Lions for Lambs, which was more of a thesis, than an actual movie, so I at least have to give the guy credit for cobbling up something of a story together and making something out of it. While I don’t want to get into discussing that movie anymore than I already need to, I will say that this movie does show Redford improving more as a film-maker who has a point behind his movies, even if they are extremely heavy-handed and as blatant as you can get. While that does seem weird to say about a guy who has a Best Director Oscar to his name, as well as plenty of other great movies he’s written and directed under his belt, it seems like something that needs to be said considering how damn preachy the guy gets, both in real life and with his movies.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it’s better than Lions for Lambs.

There, happy? I rest my case!

The only way that this movie survives throughout it’s near-two-hour-running-time is because its cast is so stacked to the brim, that you can’t help but want to watch and see what they’re able to pull out of this. James McAvoy was a great choice as Frederick Aiken, the type of guy you feel like would make it big as a lawyer-type in today’s society, but just didn’t have much leeway to get past all of the head-honchos back in those days. McAvoy is good at handling the determined, passionate character that Redford doesn’t bother to cut any deeper with, but I still think that’s better than nothing consider he can get-by in scenes against heavy-hitters like Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, and most of all, Robin Wright.

"Attica!!! Oh, shit. Wrong history class."

“Attica!!! Oh, crap. Wrong history class.”

However, it should be said that it couldn’t have been too hard for McAvoy to get by in his scenes with Wright because she doesn’t do much talking really. Instead, her performance is strictly consisting of cold stares, a lot of frowning, and just looking like she’s about to lose it at any given second – which isn’t such a bad thing because the gal handles it very well. I’ve always liked Wright in all that she’s done and I feel like she gets a great chance to give it all she’s got, even in a way that didn’t need to be over-the-top or totally blown out-of-proportion. This is a especially surprising given the fact that this character could have easily gone that way, and to even worse results being that this is a Redford flick, and he usually seems to sympathize quite heavily with wrongfully convicted.

And since I’m on the subject of the cast, I have to say that the rest of this ensemble do pretty good jobs with their roles as well, even if some do feel a bit off here and there. Those two in particular are Justin Long and Evan Rachel Wood who both feel as if they’re a bit too modern for this type of material, and don’t really fit in well. Maybe for Wood’s character, that’s probably done on purpose, but for Long, whenever it is that he shows up with his fake mustache that looked like it was ripped right off the face of Burt Reynolds, it feels like a total curse on him, whoever is around him the scene, and the movie itself. Not saying that he ruins the movie just by the pure simple fact of his presence being noted, but just because it feels like a piece of stunt-casting that back-fired on Redford, as well as Long himself; a very underrated actor that has yet to be given the full-on pleasure of taking a complex role and making it his own. Maybe one of these days. Just maybe.

Just hopefully not in a Robert Redford flick, is all.

Consensus: The true story that the Conspirator is telling is a very interesting, compelling tale that may stand the test of time, but as for the preachy, history lesson disguised as a full-length feature-flick? Not so much.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, "You are innocent, until proven guilty.""

“Okay, what I want you to do in this next scene is point to the camera and say that, “You are innocent, until proven guilty.'”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Painted Veil (2006)

Women just never give the man the lovin’ they deserve. Tsk tsk.

Rich, spoiled, and bored English gal Kitty (Naomi Watts) thinks she’s met the man that will sweep her off of her feet, or at least, sweep her away from her mother, in the form of Dr. Walter Fane (Edward Norton). The two are clearly opposites and don’t seem to have much in common with one another, except for the fact that they want to be married and get away from their past lives. However, Kitty soon starts to get bored of Walter, and finds herself gravitating more towards his confidante, Dr. Charlie Townsend (Liev Schreiber), in which the two participate in a sordid affair of sorts. Walter isn’t dumb though and knows what’s going on when he isn’t around, so he makes Kitty a deal: Come with him to a cholera-infested village in China, or, get a divorce from him and see if her lover will want to get married too. Seeing as how Charlie doesn’t want to leave his own wife, Kitty has no other choice but to go with Walter where they both taste the dirt and do what they can to make time past, and maybe, just possibly even fall in love with one another. You know, like they originally thought that they did. But this time, for real.

What’s interesting about this movie, isn’t by the way it looks or sounds, it’s more about what it is. In one way, it’s a love story about a married-couple, but at the same time, it’s not a love story about a married-couple. These two may be married, but they sure as hell don’t love one another, and it was intriguing to see that play out, in a period-piece during the 20’s no less.

"Girl? Whatchu say?"

“Girl? Whatchu say?”

However, as interesting as that may have been, it didn’t really do wonders for me while I was watching it. See, even though I’m a young lad that’s chock full of hormones and energy, I truly don’t mind a slow-burner; in fact, sometimes, I more than welcome it. There’s nothing better to me than a movie in which all of the cards are laid-out on the table, shown to me in a comprehensible way, and made so that I can get a hold of everything I’m being told and just exactly what it is that I’m seeing. That’s usually what works so well about slow movies such as these, however, in order to make them fully work, there has to be something deep, hard, and meaningful burning deep down inside, and I just could not find that here.

Well, for the most part, I could at least decipher everything that was going on here, because not everything’s subtle. These two not-so lovebirds make it very clear to one another on many occasions that they do not love the other, and I have to say, everytime that happened, I couldn’t help but laugh. It’s played with the utmost sincerity, as if we’re supposed to be utterly shocked by these two characters not only fighting, but wanting nothing to do with the other. Also not to mention, the fact that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for either of these characters.

First of all, this Walter Crane guy is a bit of a geek – that’s pretty evident early on. Not only is he practicing in the medical-field, but he lets Kitty know, early on, that he’s a “bit clumsy”. Yeah, we get that. So, when they share one day together of doing Lord only knows what, he professes to her that he loves her, wants to get married, and needs an answer ASAP. Personally, I feel like maybe one or two dates is a bit too soon, but I guess if you feel it, then you feel it, and in the case of Walter Crane, it was instantly.

I guess I was supposed to feel sympathy for this nerdy guy because it’s clear that he doesn’t have a way with women (despite looking like Edward Norton whose dated gals like her and her) and maybe doesn’t have the best track-record, but it’s hard to care for him when he finds out that maybe he isn’t her type and then forces her to come on this life-changing trip of his. It’s clear he’s upset and confused, but still, come on, man, who was the one that practically threw it on her to get married. He even says at one point, “I knew why you married me in the first place”, or something along those lines. Then what the fuck!

It’s as if you brought a grizzly bear into your home and gave it honey. Then, moments later, you find out it still wants to claw the shit out of you, chomp your head off, and you still being like, “But hey! I brought you into my house and fed you!” Most bears are just wired that way, they can’t be fixed or helped in any way to think differently, so for you to bring it into your home, with your resources, and treat it your certain and expect the same in return, is just a bit dumb; bears are just wired differently. Maybe that’s a dumb metaphor, but I think its slightly understandable: It’s hard to feel bad for someone who gets a bunch of problems brought onto them, when anybody could have seen it coming from a mile away.

Now that I’m done with Crane, it’s time for Ms. Kitty who, despite being the cheater of the two, I actually felt a little bit more sympathy towards, if only because she didn’t try to be anything that she wasn’t. Sure, she was a total brat that only wanted to get out of her boring house and her annoying mom, but at least when her and Walt have their arguments, she doesn’t try to hide the fact that she was somebody else he didn’t already know about. Yes, I get that she is the one who decided to take the sanctity of marriage and shove it right down the sinkhole, but at least she wasn’t imposing upon anybody that she was anything else. If she was my wife, I’d be pretty pissed too, but that’s only because my wife would be somebody I know I’d feel safe and comfortable with loving and marrying; unlike how this Walter guy was with his wifey-poo.

God, what an idiot.

"Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning."

“Ah. Love that smell of cholera in the morning.”

Anyway, while neither character really put me in their sympathy-corners, I must say, the performances from Norton and Watts are, as expected, pretty good. Norton, despite his character being such a dunce, actually gives this Walt guy a real compassionate heart which, for what it’s worth, makes him seem like a genuinely nice guy who actually goes out of his own way to save these people all dying of cholera. He doesn’t have to, but he chooses to, and you can feel his compassion through Norton’s performance; it’s just such a shame that he wasn’t as compassionate or as smart when it came to choosing his women.

As for Naomi Watts, she gets to do a lot of pouting and staring, but she does very well with it. Though she’s the one character we’re supposed to clearly not like the most out of the two, Watts still makes us believe that there is some room for change in her personality and when that does happen, it seems understandable and barely ever tacked-on. It may be a bit corny in the way that it is presented to us, but that’s not any of Watts’ fault. Hell, it hardly ever is in her case.

Together, the two fix themselves together a nice chemistry that makes you feel like they truly do detest the absolute guts out of the other when they’re fighting; falling head-over-heels for one another when they are, well, you get it; and just happy to be in each other’s company. The movie never really throws any of this on us – it’s more about what these performers can do with the characters and material given to them, and you can hardly ever ask for a better pair than Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. All their character’s problems aside, they do what they can and most of the time, it’s good. Not great, but good enough to be seen.

Consensus: Though the Painted Veil includes the hard task of making its audience like, sympathize and understand its two relatively unlikable characters, it mostly gets by because Norton and Watts are so good at doing what it is they do: Act.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?"

Shit. Did you remember to lock the side-door?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004)

How oblivious can people be?!?!

Two married couples (Mark Ruffalo and Laura Dern, Peter Krause and Naomi Watts) who have been close friends for years find that dynamic irrevocably changed when two of them (Ruffalo and Watts) have an affair. Things get even more complicated when their spouses find out and have an affair of their own.

Director John Curran, who directed Stone, seems like he does the same thing with both films. He has great stars in their roles, interesting enough premise, and shows early promise, but then he soon loses it all. Here, he doesn’t quite lose everything but still too much than I expected.

Right from the get-go you know this film is just going to be confrontational, tense, and a tad awkward by how these two married couples inter-act with each other, and to be honest, it gets almost worse in a way. There are times when the arguments here seem so realistic and honest that it’s at a point where I wondered if the writing team behind this all just cheated on their wives at one point and had these actual conversations.

The film also does a good job at not taking sides. We get to see everybody’s view-point on all this “screwing around” and each one seems pretty reasonable. It was also a very detailed look into how each spouse treats each other differently, which can be both good and bad, but usually the later. It was kind of sad to see these people actually not care about these infidelities until it’s almost too late and the damage has already just about been done. It’s sad to see this but at the same time, very good to see because it’s believable and a film like this, definitely needed that.

However, Curran starts to get a little too carried away here and this is where I think the film falls apart. He has these random little moments of silence and odd imagery that is supposed to create some sort of background into these people’s lives and show the impact of this infidelity it has on these couples. To me, this seemed really annoying because I didn’t know what Curran was trying to get across and I wish they actually focused more on the scenes of these people having realistic arguments, which may seem a little odd for me to say but it would have worked if they had more.

There were also moments here where the film I think had times where it just dragged on and on with nothing really exciting happening. The film just feels like it moves along a steady pace with nothing really happening other than these couples being awkward with each other, and not really saying anything else other than how they don’t want to get caught or anything of that cheating nature. I also realized that there is barely any humor whatsoever in this film, and some people say you have to look closer for it. However, I looked as hard as I could, I found nothing humorous here.

The cast is the real benefit of this whole film and I have to say they did a splendid job of casting as well. Mark Ruffalo is great as Jack because the whole film he just carries this look of sadness, anger, and confusion through the look of his eyes the whole movie and gives us a lot of depth for his character. Laura Dern is also great in this role as Jack’s wife, Terry, because I never knew exactly what she was going to do next and I think that is always something you need when you’re playing the always upset wife of a dude who’s sleeping around; Naomi Watts is also good as Edith because the whole time she seems very remorseful about her actions, but just can’t stop and shows a huge deal of sadness to her character as well; and the weak link in this cast is actually Peter Krause as Hank but not because it’s badly-acted, it’s just because Hank is such a one note character the whole time and never shows any real emotions other than just being cool I guess.

Consensus: The script shows brutal honesty, powerful characters, and some sad moments of a broken-marriage, but We Don’t Live Here Anymore suffers from moments that just seem too far-fetched and others that don’t entertain as much as they do just depress the viewer.

6/10=Rental!!

Stone (2010)

Derek Vineyard in cornrows = awesome!

Edward Norton plays a convicted arsonist who hopes to get out of prison early by putting to work the seductive talents of his beautiful wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich). Robert DeNiro plays the parole officer who is the target of the couple’s cat-and-mouse scheming.

This is the second film from director John Curran, and the good thing he does here is create all this drama with a more subtle approach that you wouldn’t see in other films of this nature. It isn’t your big Hollywood picture, and the story moves very slow, but with enough detail to hold your interest as you know something, just something is not going to right.

However, while we’re waiting for that bad thing to happen the story starts to take a very odd route, and get very spiritual. It’s a very unusual film because it often shits very uneasily towards sleaze and philosophy, and it doesn’t work out well in the end. There is a lot of talk about God, second chances, and being forgiven and for the most part I thought all of this was just dumb for a story like this, because they could have taken a more simpler approach and it would have been fine the way it was.

I liked the screenplay and thought many parts where they tried to get their point across, they did and it worked well, but then there were these long stretches of just something disturbing happening, and it made no sense as to why it was put in here. By the end especially, this film starts to dive into some ludicrous situations but I won’t lie, I still found myself actually involved with this crazy story.

Robert De Niro has been getting some fragile, grand-pop figures as of late, but I was glad to finally just see him have that opportunity to lay into people here as Jack Mabry. I’m not going to say he gives an amazing performance here, but he still has the presence and the strength to hold together his character as he gets more and more emotionally involved with this story. Edward Norton plays Gerald “Stone” Creeson, and proves that he is one of the best actors out there working in the biz today. The whole gimmick behind this film is that he has cornrows in this film which he actually done to his hair, and apparently when he took them out, he looked like Gene Wilder. Little fun fact there, you can either take it or leave it, assholes. I’m glad in this film that he does over-act in such a role, instead he keeps it small, intense, and overall just believable. Stone’s wife, Lucetta, is played incredibly well by Milla Jovovich, who finally gets a chance to get away from his zombie-killing times, and actually flaunt her acting skills again. She takes what could have been a standard psycho bitch, femme fatale role and makes it something deeper because she’s needy, she’s volatile, and makes you believe that she really can be this crazy and daring.

Consensus: Stone is a slow film, that borders between philosophy and sleaziness, but the trio of leads will keep you on suspense for this whole film and you should definitely check it out, because it’s a lot better than the trailers have it look.

5/10=Rental!!