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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 Finn

Gifted (2017)

Math is hard. But man, it sure can bring families together.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy named Mary (Mckenna Grace), who also happens to be his niece. His sister/Mary’s mother, unfortunately, killed herself due to issues with the family and it’s because of this that Frank has taken it upon himself to ensure that Mary doesn’t turn out to have too much pressure put on her. However, she’s incredibly brilliant, is very good at math, and doesn’t just know it, but also allows for everyone around her to know it, too. It’s both a blessing, as well as a curse – a blessing because she’s smart and will always be successful, but a curse because going to the public school that she’s at, doesn’t really challenge her. Like, at all. Eventually, people around Mary begin to take notice and worry that she’s not being challenged as much as she should. Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who sees it as her task to help get Mary the right treatment she deserves for her genius brain and ensure that her career is an accomplished and masterful one, much like hers was.

You can find out what the square-root of 3,005 is, but you still can’t read? What child prodigy you are!

Everything about the way Gifted looks, feels, hell, even sounds, just brings gags to my throat. It’s not that I don’t mind these schmaltzy tales of hot, attractive people battling happiness and love, but it’s that so often, they aren’t done correctly. Of course, Nicholas Sparks is definitely to be blamed for that, but it goes one step further than that – it almost feels like these kinds of movies are bound to fail, right from the instance that they are announced, filmed, and released to the wide public. The only kind of schmaltz that seems to work nowadays is the pure Oscar-bait that cares about as tears, as much as they care about votes, which means that they want people to cry, by any means necessary.

And then, like I’ve said before, there’s Gifted, a movie that should have absolutely despised and hated, yet, somehow, came away thinking, “Man, why can’t all these kinds of movies be like this?”

Which is to say that, yes, Gifted works. Is it a perfect movie? Nope. Is it an original one? Not really. Is it still kind of schmaltzy and manipulative? Sort of, yes. But everything about it still kind of works in the way that you wouldn’t expect it to. For one, it actually has a heart and soul that you can feel, not just because it’s telling you to feel it, but because the characters are so lovely, the relationships are so well-drawn, and yes, the actual story is worth getting wrapped-up in.

It’s not a very complex tale, but it didn’t need to be; Sparks’ movies are always so bogged down in silly twists, like alcoholic, abusive ex-husbands, or plot-contrived cancer-scares, that after awhile, it’s nice to get a movie that gives us characters, a conflict, and allows it all to play out, without trying too hard to add too much into the rest of the mix. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Nick Flynn know what they’re working with here and because of that, it doesn’t feel like they’re taking any cheap shots.

Essentially, what we see is what we get.

Don’t worry, everyone: Octavia is just the sassy black neighbor. Not the sassy black nanny. For once.

Of course, that sounds so easy when put like that, but honestly, it’s just nice to get one of these movies. Flynn’s screenplay is solid in that every character has at least one funny-quip to use at their disposal, but everyone still feels like well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, not made out to be god-like creatures, of fire-breathing devil-worshipers – everyone here is a human being, and in that sense, they’re all complicated. Flynn doesn’t forget to overdue the cute nature of his story, but hey, it’s not cloying, which is all that matters.

And Webb, while no doubt trying to get back in his good graces after the two Spider-Man movies, finds himself giving us a smart, humane tale about humans again. Sure, it’s nowhere near (500) Days of Summer, but then again, not many movies are; it’s just nice to have him back, directing original flicks for a change. Hopefully, he’s here to stay and not ready to get sucked up by the machine that is known as Hollywood.

Because what better way to stick it to the man than have your movie star Captain America himself, Chris Evans?

No, I kid. Regardless, Evans is good here in that he’s his usual charming, snappy-self, but there’s also more to him than meets the surface; the relaxed, chill nature he gives off, eventually starts to show signs of sadness that’s deeper than you’d think. Evans has been looking for a hit outside of the Marvel universe for quite some time and it’s nice to see him finally get it here. Of course, though, the movie is definitely Mckenna Grace’s for the taking and as Mary, she’s quite great. Sure, the character is a type, in that she’s precocious as hell and seems like a 30-year-old trapped inside of a 7-year-old’s body, but it works because you believe in her as this character. If she ever is annoying, or a bit of a pain, it’s because she’s meant to be and not because the movie thinks that she’s just way too cute for our own good.

She is, surprisingly enough, like a real kid. And we get so very few of them in movies nowadays.

Consensus: As schmaltzy and sappy as it can sometimes get, Gifted also works because it has a heart, well-written script, and most of all, solid ensemble of characters who all feel realized and interesting, despite the eventual conventions of the plot.

7 / 10

Like uncle, like niece. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: SlashfilmThrifty Jinxy, Indiewire

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The Human Stain (2003)

Cleaning-ladies love them some Hannibal.

For one second, Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) seems to have it all: A fancy job as Dean of Faculty of a liberal arts college, the respect of his peers, and a loving-wife by his side. However, another second later, he loses it all: The job, the respect, hell, even the wife. Once Silk’s life practically falls apart in front of his own, very eyes, he decides to run away and retreat to a cabin in the Connecticut woods where writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), is searching for inspiration for his next book. Silk then finds himself happy, reborn, and back-to-speed with his life, and decides to start up a relationship with the local college janitor, Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who’s a lot younger and illiterate than he is. Zuckerman sees this as the perfect moment to let his inspiration run wild, but what he doesn’t know is that underneath Silk’s whole look and facade, there lies something very painful and mysterious.

Philip Roth is perhaps one of the best writers the world has ever been graced with. That’s why, I constantly wonder: Why aren’t there all that many adaptations of his work? Better yet, why are the ones that do get made, not all that great?

And unfortunately, the Human Stain is just another perfect example of the great Roth just not getting the right treatment.

Showing that tat off? She's just asking for the "d" now.

No man can resist that tat.

Where the movie really finds its biggest issue with itself is with the character of Coleman Silk, and the fact that, even by the end of it, we still never get to actually know him even if we totally should. The only real snippets we get to see into his soul and character is through the flashbacks of him as a young adult, which I must say, were far more interesting than anything going on in his present life. Without spoiling what the real mystery behind Silk’s personality and what makes him tick the way he does, all I will say is that the flashbacks are handled with enough emotion, delicacy, and heart, to where you actually feel as if the movie cares for this character and his side of the story.

It should also be noted that Wentworth Miller does a nice job at portraying the younger version of Silk, as well as Jacinda Barrett as his young sweetheart who gets a first taste of who Silk really is and what he’s all about. Together, they form a realistic and heartfelt chemistry that may just get you all weak in the knees and warm inside because they may remind you of what young love was all about. No further discussion about that aspect of the story, because once I get going, I might not be able to stop and I’ll be in a risk of losing my Critic’s License (doesn’t exist, but I like to feel as if it does).

But still, it almost doesn’t matter because the rest of the movie just never flows perfectly together.

In fact, what’s supposed to be important and emotional in this movie, actually isn’t. I guess that Silk’s later-life’s transformation to a crotchety, old man to a happy, free-willing dude was supposed to really connect, but it just doesn’t. Hopkins is great, as he usually is, because he’s able to get us to believe that this old man would find out more about himself as he got older and a tad wiser about “the real world”. However, actually feeling for this dude was a bit harder than I expected, because he doesn’t really seem to have anything about him that’s worth caring about.

It sounds harsh and all, but there was just something about Coleman Silk that doesn’t really jump out off of the screen. Sure, he’s sad and sure, he’s banging a younger gal that definitely has a shady-past coming along with her for the ride (figuratively and literally), but is there really anything else to the guy? Oh, yeah, he does have that mysterious fact about him that’s insightful into who his character really is, but it can only go so far to interest a person, especially one who has seen it all with film (points to self).

So happy, yet, so random.

Why so happy? Uh, I don’t know. Life?

Even Kidman’s character gets the short end of the stick, as it also seems like she has nothing really going for her in terms of character development. Kidman is surprisingly good at playing the town skank that has a checkered-past with ex’s and family, but it doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. She’s pretty much the whore with a heart of gold-type of character, without the license or occupation of actually being a whore. She just bangs to get over any type of pain or problems she has had in her life. It doesn’t really work when you put her character and Silk together, try to make us feel for them both, and understand where they are both coming from. Instead, it just seems shallow, as if they both took each other to bed, because, well, who else was there really?

Well, I can definitely say that Ed Harris’ character was definitely not there. Harris plays Faunia’s ex-husband who is a disabled war vet, obviously suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, which makes him come off as the bad guy in the story who’s there to just fuck everything up for the happy, loving-people in the story. However, there’s more to him than just that and Harris makes this character work in a chilling way, rather than having him be some one-dimensional prick. Well, he definitely is a prick, but at least he’s a sympathetic one at that.

At least.

Consensus: For a drama full of context and emotion like the Human Stain to work, you need complexity, heart, and understanding, which is something that neither this flick, nor the cast seems to have, no matter how hard anybody tries. And trust me, they try very, very hard.

5 / 10

Gotta love that exciting sport of fly-fishing!

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Glory (1989)

Yes. People did go to war over the Confederate flag.

During the Civil War, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the more infamous troupes, due to the fact that they were, for the most part, filled with black men. Some were freemen from the North, others were slaves, but all of them were under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a commander who is still reeling from the affects of the warfare he’s experienced in his lifetime. Already, before they even set out for battle, there was already plenty of trepidation towards the 54th, because some believed that blacks could not be controlled, or commanded in such a way that would have them prepped and ready for war. Despite this, Shaw, along with his second-in-command (Cary Elwes), try their hardest to not only discipline the soldiers, but even relate and connect with them, as hard as it may seem to do. Some soldiers, like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), are more than willing to go along with all of the problems they encounter fighting for a country that doesn’t accept them as human beings, whereas others, like Trip (Denzel Washington), aren’t and want the whole unit to know that they aren’t fighting for freedom at all – they’re just fighting to die. Obviously, this causes problems between each and everyone and all culminates in the disastrous attack on the Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C.

Goofy-looking 'stache.

Goofy-looking ‘stache.

Glory is, as most people say, a “classic war film”. Not to take any spit out of that statement, but that’s sort of true. It’s a very good movie, in fact, and one that shows both the humane, as well as harsh realities of the war. At the same time, however, it’s also a film about slavery, and how two races can simultaneously connect to one another, while also having to prepare for a war that they may not actually win and come away alive from. Edward Zwick clearly had a lot on his plate here and it’s one of the many things that makes Glory a solid war film that deserves to be seen by any person out there who either, loves film, history, or a combination of the two.

But, that doesn’t make it a perfect movie, as some may call it.

For one, its extremely dated in the way the story is told. What I mean by this is that rather than getting a story about black people trying to get by under extreme war-conditions, told by a black person, we are told the story through their white commander, as played by Matthew Broderick. It’s understandable that the reason for this is to show how the black soldiers are helping to make Shaw open his eyes a bit more to the realities that, well, believe it or not, African Americans are humans, too. Even though he lives in a world where slavery does exist (although, not for much longer), he knows that these black men are just as honest and humane as he is, which is why we see the tale told, in his own words, through his own eyes, and in his own way.

However, at the same time, it sort of feels like a disservice to the actual black folks in the story. Why are we being told that these fellas are all magical and lovely people, when we can clearly see that happening, right in front of our very own eyes? Did we really need to deal with Shaw’s voice-over to begin with? In all honesty, probably not, because it’s already understood that Shaw will start to warm up and grow closer to these black soldiers that are under his command. So, for anything else to be thrown on, makes it feel like stuffy and, well, a bit schmaltzy. Not saying that it didn’t happen in this way, but the way Shaw is used as our heart and soul of the story, makes Glory seem like it’s taking the easy road out – rather than letting the story be told by those who are most affected to begin with.

But, everything else about Glory, aside from that little nugget of anger, is great.

Like I stated before, Zwick clearly had a lot to work with here, and he does so seamlessly. He gives enough attention to the black soldiers that matter most and show how each and every personality can, at times, clash, while at other times, rub against one another to create a far more perfect and in-sync union. No character here is made out to be a perfect human being, and because as such, it’s easy to sympathize with these characters early-on – and makes it all the more tragic to realize that, in all honesty, they aren’t really fighting for much.

There’s one scene in which this is presented perfectly when Denzel Washington’s Trip goes on about the fact that even when the war is over and everybody goes home, he’ll go back to whatever slum he’s been forced to stay in, whereas Shaw and his white counterparts will be able to head back and relax in his big old mansion, and continue to live his life of total luxury. This scene, above all else, drives home the point that these soldiers may, yes, be fighting for their lives, but are doing so in a way because, quite frankly, they have nowhere else to go, or nothing else better to make up with their time. Most of the soldiers are slaves, so therefore, they have no freedom to begin with; however, even the ones that are free, don’t really have much to do except still be treated as minorities and non-equals, although not as harshly as slaves.

Mediocre 'stache.

Mediocre ‘stache.

So yes, it’s a very sad tale, if you really think about it. But Glory shows that there is some light to be found in the folds. There’s heart, there’s humor, and above all else, there’s humanity here that shows that each and everyone of these soldiers were, race notwithstanding, human beings. And because of this fact, the performances are all the more impressive by showing the depth to which these characters are portrayed.

Though Broderick’s Shaw didn’t really need to be the central figure of this huge story, he’s still solid enough in the role to make me forget about that fact. Ever since Ferris Bueller, it’s known that Broderick has always been trying to get past that image and, occasionally, he’ll strike gold. This is one of those times wherein we see Shaw as not only a clearly messed-up vet of the war, but also one that has enough pride and courage to still go back to the battle and ensure that each and everyone of his men are fit for the same battle he will partake in. Cary Elwes is also fine in showing that, even despite him being more sympathetic to the slavery cause, still has to push his men as far as he possibly can, without over-stepping his superior, obviously.

But, as expected, the best performances come from the three cast-members who get the most attention out of all the other black characters: Andre Baugher, Morgan Freeman, and of course, the star-marking turn from Denzel Washington. As an educated, smart and free black man, Baugher’s character faces a lot more tension from the rest of the black soldiers, and his transition from being a bit too soft for all the training, to becoming a far more rough, tough and gritty one, is incredibly believable. Freeman, too, stays as the heart and soul of the black soldiers and proves to be the one who steps up the most when push comes to shove and a leader is needed. Freeman, in just about everything he does, always seems to become a leader of sorts, so it’s no surprise that the role here fits him like a glove.

However, the one that shines above the rest is, obviously, Denzel Washington as the rebel of the group, Trip.

And the reason why I said “obviously”, is because it’s well-known by now that Denzel was given an Oscar for his work here and understandably so; not only does he steal every scene, but when you get down to the bottom of the story, you realize that he’s the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without him, this would have probably been a normal tale of blacks and whites coming together, to fight the obstacles set against them, and fight a war, but it’s Trip who’s the one that hits everybody’s head and wakes them up to the harsh realities that is the world they live in. Denzel is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest, and it’s his voice that keeps this movie’s humanity afloat.

Now, if only the movie had been about him to begin with and not the white dude.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, and well-acted on practically all fronts, Glory is a solid war picture, that also happens to have a message about racial equality that doesn’t try too hard to hit you over the head.

8.5 / 10

No 'stache at all and guess what? He's the coolest one.

No ‘stache at all and guess what? He’s the coolest one.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins