Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: John Teal Jr.

Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Advertisements

The Big Short (2015)

Now I literally have no clue what to do with my money.

The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 will always and forever be considered one of the most heart-breaking, tragic moments in recent memory. But even though it may have came as a shock to most normal, everyday working people whose lives were affected the most, a few within the financial world saw it coming from a mile away and tried to do whatever it is that they could do to fix it all and stop it from happening in the first place. There’s Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager who is definitely an odd person, but knows of the issue right away. Then, there’s Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager who, along with his trusted band of confidantes, are trying to figure out what the problem is. And last, but certainly not least, Charlie Ledley (John Magaro) and Jamie Mai (Finn Wittrock), two friends and business partners who are risking all that they’ve got by going out there and making these issues open to generally anyone who will listen. But as they, as well as everyone else here finds out, it doesn’t matter how right you are about what’s set to happen, rich people won’t listen because they don’t want to think of losing their money, for whatever reasons.

Yeah. Just give up already.

Yeah. Just give up already.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the Big Short is that it’s dealing with some very challenging and dry topics. While I’m sure that everybody knows about the financial crisis of 2008 and has a general idea of what went down and why, nobody really knows for sure and that’s exactly what the Big Short sets out to do, which is already enough reason to run for cover, hold up one’s arms, wave that white flag, and give up all hope on ever being informed about anything ever again. After all, you, just like many other average citizens in this world, probably don’t have a single clue what yield curve, or synthetic CDO actually is – instead, you just know what you’re having for dinner, who the President of the United States is, and well, maybe, how many days are in a year. The housing market, banks, mortgages, and all of that other serious, financial stuff isn’t needed in everyday life, so why bother with hearing it at all?

Well, that’s why there’s something brilliant about the Big Short in that it understands all of these issues it may face with appealing to a bigger audience out there and does something totally out of the ordinary: It explains it all.

And by “explains it all”, I mean exactly that; rather than having the movie try its hardest to find a way to finagle in meanings of certain definitions through needless exposition, characters in the film will literally turn towards the camera, or use their narration, and tell you what something means, or have someone else who is perhaps more appealing to do the same. Yet, none of these people ever matter to the actual movie itself and more or less, just seem like glorified cameos, which is fine because, well, they absolutely are! That’s why, when seemingly out of nowhere, we get a scene of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, telling us about subprime mortgage lenders, it’s definitely, but necessary and much-needed, so instead of throwing it away, you just learn to accept it, learn a few things in the process, and move right on along.

By the way, random celebrities showing up in the movie to explain something happens about three times in the movie, but it works each and every time because, well, it perfectly explains what we need to know about what happens to the housing market and why the U.S. economy was hit so hard. Co-writer and director Adam McKay is very smart allowing for the bulk of the film to just be about what’s going to happen and give us a general idea of why, and then allow for us to watch once all of the cards fall into place and how all of the people who notice it first, act and try to fix it all before it’s too late. Clearly, we know the ending, so the film’s spin on “based on a true story”, is actually quite funny, but that doesn’t take away from any of the tragedy, either.

Still, at the same time, McKay being a director with a heavy background in comedy (Anchorman, Step Brothers), understands that the best way to cope with a tragedy of any kind, is still add an element of funny, sometimes hard-hitting comedy, that makes the pill go down smoother. But whereas with McKay’s other films where it seemed like a lot of the comedy was just about how far certain actors could go to ad-lib without breaking a sweat, here, each and every actor spouts colorful and fiery line of dialogue as if Aaron Sorkin had written the script after he did a few lines. So this isn’t all to say that the Big Short’s funny, but it’s also quite hilarious and smart in that it’s created this all-too-real universe where people talk fast, walk fast, are fast with their comebacks and generally prefer to be harsh to one another because well, they have a lot of money and they can.

But once these people start to realize that all of their money, as well as a lot of other people’s, is going down the drain, they realize that there’s no more playing around and it’s time to knuckle up or shut up. Sad thing is, we know how the story ends and McKay does, too.

That’s why, he never allows for us to forget about it.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

If anything, the Big Short shows who is to blame for the financial crisis, but at the same time, still doesn’t give any closure onto why those responsible let it go on for so long, nor does it resolve the issue of whether they knew about it forever and didn’t care, or if they were just too stupid to realize? Either way, the movie definitely points its long and hard finger directly at the shooter and it helps give a sense of satisfaction even if, you know, those same said baddies are the ones who ended-up getting away with it all. Still though, when watching all of this unravel, you almost forget about that fact and just allow for the story, as well as the characters, to tell itself.

That’s why it helps that the Big Short has such a talented ensemble who, even when it seems like they’re just speaking like my Economics professor, still add enough fun and flair to the proceedings, that they make it a little more compelling. Christian Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry is perhaps the only character who hardly ever moves from one location, but because Burry’s persona is based on weird tics and traits, Bale runs wild with the role and seems to be enjoying himself. Though he’s still enraged by what he’s seeing, there’s still a sense that Bale wants to be light enough to where it helps us get through this pain and sadness.

Same goes for Steve Carell as Mark Baum, someone who seems to live a lovely life inside this financial world, but at the same time, doesn’t want to sit so idly by, that he forgets about it all, either. Carell’s really enjoying this role here and it should be noted that, even despite all of the names and characters popping-up, he’s the clear star of the show and with good reason; not only is his character given the most backstory out of everybody else here, he’s also the most humane one out of the bunch. Though the whole dead-brother angle goes on a bit too long and is an obvious arc capable of being seen from a mile away, Carell still shoulders through it to where it’s okay – we just want to see him be more pissed-off and curse because Carell’s pretty good at that.

And well, for the matter, so is Ryan Gosling.

Gosling’s character, despite not being the meatiest of the bunch, is still probably the most memorable because he’s exactly what every young, rich and vain hotshot in the financial world probably is like. Gosling not only looks the part because he’s Ryan Gosling, but he’s also got the smooth charm and tongue to make him work all the more; while we’re never too sure if he’s a good or bad guy in this equation, we know that he definitely knows a whole lot about money and is capable of being trusted. That said, every scene he’s in, he steals and just about every line he delivers, is hilarious; even the scene where he describes the housing market with a Jenga set, while smart and interesting, is still funny because Gosling’s character is so in love with himself, you just know that he thinks it’s the most simple thing to ever explain. Even though we all know, for sure, it isn’t.

Brad Pitt shows up, too, as Ben Ricket, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do, except just serve Finn Wittrock and John Magaro’s characters bits of info that they need to make this story move more. Wittrock and Magaro are both great here and definitely give us a nice, small-time view of what this financial world looks like from the ground-up; because even though they don’t know it’s all going to crash just yet, we still wait and wonder to how they’re going to react and just how exactly it’s all going to affect them.

Because we know what happens to everybody else on the face of the planet, but what about these two schmucks?

Eh, who cares? The economy’s in the crapper and that’s all worth caring about.

Consensus: For all its difficult financial babble, the Big Short is, surprisingly, easy-to-comprehend in ways, well-acted by its huge ensemble, funny, and most of all, insightful into how this world works and why it all matters to what happened over seven years ago.

8 / 10

Get it yet?

Got it?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

99 Homes (2015)

Don’t ever trust a landlord.

As soon as the crash of 2008 occurred, everyone in the United States was left without a paddle. One such person was Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who, after much fighting and arguing with the court, gets evicted from his Orlando home. Seeing that he has lost his family-home, Nash sets out to do whatever he can to get it back – even if that means having to join up and work for the same man who kicked him out of his house to begin with: real estate broker Rick Carver (Michael Shannon). Carver has certain practices that aren’t what some would call “ethical”, or better yet, “legal”, but the money’s so good that Nash doesn’t care. Eventually though, Nash begins to move up the ladder, which takes him away from working on the homes, and brings him now to actually having to interact with the tenants who are in the actual homes. This mostly involves Nash posting notices on doors, warning tenants of being vacated, and, as time rolls on, even having to kick some tenants on his own. Clearly this is something that Nash doesn’t feel comfortable with, but once again, it’s all about the money and the prospect of getting his family back in order to the way they once were.

Message!

So message-y!

Have you ever been stuck in a lecture at all in your life, whether it be with your parents, a teacher, or one of those Jesus-nuts from off the street, and not want to leave? Instead, you hold on to every single word that they say, even though you know the end-point? You know that they’re not going to start off by stating something like, “Gay marriage is bad”, and then end with, “Well, you know, you can do what you want.” The lecture is, most definitely, going to start with an agenda, continue on with that agenda, and, you guessed it, end with that same agenda. And yet, something about the lecture is just keeping you on your toes and surprisingly interested.

That’s how I felt with 99 Homes – a long lecture about the housing crisis and all the evil-doers behind it, yet, I never wanted to turn away or leave.

Eventually, that time did come around, but that’s not till later, so just wait dammit! Listen to me lecture about stuff now!

For one, Ramin Bahrani seems to know what he’s talking about here. Clearly, he’s put his heart and soul into material that, for a good majority of people out there, will not find an easy way to handle. It will, most likely, hit too close to home, hard, and re-open old wounds that were probably still healing. However, Bahrani seems to be interested in what these wounds still hold. Are they sadness? Are they grief? Or, are they wishes that something better occurred?

Well, 99 Homes is, in a way, that fantasy being played-out. One thing is certain about the movie, and that’s that it’s not totally a drama. I mean, yes, it’s most definitely a drama that’s emotional, sad, and for a good portion, filled with lots of interesting talking-points, but in all honesty, is really a thriller. Once we see Garfield’s Dennis Nash start picking up work as one of Shannon’s Rick Carver’s lackeys, then it’s balls to the walls from there. This Nash fella is taking away pools, air-conditioners and handing out eviction notices to people who have no clue just what the hell kind of storm has hit them dead-on in the face. While, at the same time, he’s making all of this money and seeming to be loving it.

Sure, he’s morally-conflicted by the fact that the person he’s getting rich off of, is the very same person who got him kicked out of his house, but because the money’s continuing to come in and the dreams seem promising, he lets it all slide by. And you know what? It’s hard to watch this and not want him to, either. Dennis Nash, as he’s presented to us, is nothing more than just your average, blue-collar dude who, like many others just like him, was short-shifted when the crash of 2008 came around and had no idea of what to do next with his life, his family, or his career. All he knew was what he was good at and tried to go where the money went.

That’s why, when we see Nash get thrown out of his house, it’s disturbing and visceral. Many people had to go through the same ordeal he’s going through and it was most definitely 100% more tragic to them. And that’s why, when we see that Nash is clearly pleased with himself making all of this cash money, it’s great to see him happy and enjoying himself. After all, he’s just a normal dude who isn’t under normal circumstances, so why continue to act normal? Why not try something new and go with that from there?

"When you said, 'movie with Spider-Man,' I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who's this damn kid!"

“When you said, ‘movie with Spider-Man,’ I thought you meant Tobey Maguire! Who’s this damn kid!”

Clearly, Rahmin Bahrani thinks this is a bad idea. However, his movie proves otherwise.

Bahrani has crafted a nice little thriller that takes you through everything one may need to know about the housing-crash, how it was operated, who was responsible, and those who were affected the most. But at the center of it all, is probably the most realistic character of the bunch, who also seems to be the most sinister: Michael Shannon’s Rick Carver. There’s no denying the fact that Michael Shannon’s a good actor, but here, as Rick Carver, he gets to stretch his wings a whole lot more and show, that even despite his character being a pretty despicable human specimen, there’s still something we want to watch and see more of him.

We know that he’s a baddie, but we also know that he, like many others, are just trying to get by with what he knows and what he’s best at. But what’s best about Carver is that he doesn’t try to make any excuses or apologies for the way he is – he just is. For instance, there’s a scene in the middle of the film where Carver laces into this tirade about how, “America was built on winners. Not losers.” It’s not just hard to take your eyes off of him because it’s literally just a single-shot, zooming in on his face, but also, because some of what Shannon is spouting on about is true. You may not want to believe it as being such, but it is and it makes this movie feel like a smart bit of preaching, rather than just preaching for the sake of it.

And don’t let me forget Andrew Garfield, because the man is great here! What with him being forced to play Peter Parker, it’s hard to remember that, at one time, Garfield was a very promising, young, and talented actor that seemed primed and ready for some very interesting material to come his way. Now with Spidey out of his way, Garfield seems like he’s enjoying some time being able to dig deep into characters that aren’t the kind you’d expect someone of his good-looks to play; you know, such as a middle-aged, middle-class single-father.

However, as good as Garfield may be, his character sadly falls prey to an ending that, honestly, came close to ruining the movie for me.

I won’t spoil much, other than to say that it felt like Bahrani, throughout a good majority of 99 Homes, was making a movie that wasn’t going to play it nice, sweet and kind, and instead, go for the gritty-realism that’s expected of source material such as this. However, he does the bait-and-switch and decides that maybe he wants some melodrama, messages, and red herrings thrown into the mix. I’ve already said too much, but just know, when the ending comes around, it may disappoint you more than please.

That may just be me, though.

Consensus: 99 Homes is a timely-thriller that gets by on the excellent performances, however, is a bit short-shifted by a weak ending that keeps it away from being a whole lot better.

8 / 10

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Big houses. Big cars. Big women. The life of a real estate agent, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Fantastic Four (2015)

Any person looking to direct movies one day, stay away from Marvel.

Ever since he was a young kid, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has always wanted to use science for the greater-good of the world and one day, during his high school’s science fair, he finally gets the chance to do so. When Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) walks up to Reed and propositions him with the idea of working for him, in his laboratory, on a full-time scholarship, Reed has no chance but to accept the offer. Reed soon joins in with the likes of Storm’s two children, Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and the adopted Sue (Kate Mara), and an intelligent recluse by the name of Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell). All of these intelligent brains combined, work on a teleportation device that takes them to a dark and scary world full of clouds, rocks, and lava. Eventually, their project works, but one day, when they decide to travel out into the world on their own, things go awry with everyone involved. Reed becomes a floppy man that can stretch any part of his body, Sue can become invisible and create force-fields, Johnny can fly and light himself on fire, Reed’s childhood buddy, Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), becomes a huge, rock thingy, and von Doom, who sadly gets left behind, is able to control things using his mind and power. After this incident, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Why we're people pissed-off at this casting-choice.....

Why we’re people pissed-off at this casting-choice….

So yeah, there’s already been lots and lots of problems surrounding Fantastic Four and mostly all of it can be chalked up to the fact that, once again, Marvel and a director of their choosing, don’t seem to get along. In this case, it’s Josh Trank who had to suffer from all of the chipping, chopping and rules of Marvel. Which is a total shame because Trank’s first flick, Chronicle, was a fun, entertaining, and surprisingly smart superhero movie that fell back on its genius ways of telling a story, rather than relying on a big brand-name that people can spot on any billboard from a mile away. And while it would make sense that Trank getting a chance to make another movie about young people becoming superheros would be another home-run, sadly, that doesn’t happen.

Except it’s not always as bad as it may have been said to be.

For at least the first hour or so, Fantastic Four seems like Trank’s movie full and through. It takes its time building characters, showing their relationships with one another, and giving us a certain amount of time to get used to them, the story they’re involved with, and get a chance to see just what may occur once everything goes South (as we know these movies tend to do). This earlier-portion of the movie is where Trank’s, Simon Kinberg’s, and Jeremy Slater’s writing seems to be at their best; not only does it seem like we’re going somewhere with this story, but we’re getting a chance to get a feel for these characters so that it’s easier for us to connect with them and relate. It may take awhile to get where it needs to get, but it’s funny, entertaining and, at the very least, interesting.

Then, things go awry.

After the gang goes to this parallel universe lazily titled “Planet Zero” and everybody’s got their own, respective super powers, then something strange happens to the movie. For some reason that I can’t explain other than the mandatory re-shoots that were needed for this project, the government somehow gets involved, Reed Richards runs away, and out of nowhere, Doom finally comes into play and starts blowing up each and every person’s heads. Why that is, we never get a chance to know, but when we see Doom get put back into the story after being away from him for about a half-hour, it’s as sinister and as scary as scenes with Dr. Doom should be.

..when they should have been pissed-off at this one?

..when they should have been pissed-off at this one?

But then, all of that seems to go down the drain once we get an eventual battle with Doom and the Four, and eventually, it becomes as clear as day that he’s so easily beatable. Rather than feeling like a film where an opponent seems to get the better of his rival(s), whoever edited the final-half of this movie make it seem like a boss fight in a video-game. Before defeating the bad guy and beating the game, you may have to go back and restart the level a few times, trying different combos and buttons out, all before you do get the chance to beat him and moving on with your day as if you have truly accomplished something revolutionary.

I’d expect that with a battle between Mario and Bowser, but not Dr. Doom and the Fantastic Four.

And it’s a shame too, because with the ensemble that Trank was able to get together for this, it seems like a missed-opportunity that he wasn’t able to get more out of each and everyone of them. Don’t get me wrong, everybody here is fine and seem like they’re on the same page when it comes to reading the script and performing it, but each and everyone of their own talents get lost in a mess of a final-act that doesn’t know how to wrap itself up. In the end, everything that happened before makes it feel like it was all just a lead-up to next week’s episode, where the Fantastic Four will, once again, battle against a certain evil, have problems along the way, break-off, get back together, and once and for all, beat the super, duper villain.

And even though there’s already a sequel planned for this, something tells me plans may get scrapped. Which, to be honest, isn’t something I want. To me, deep down inside, there seems to be a good, entertaining, and relatively smart Fantastic Four movie just lurking around somewhere in the darkness. But because the powers that B from Marvel got involved, everything went to shit and we’re instead left with an incredibly mediocre superhero movie that serves more as a cautionary tale, rather than a celebration for the fans of these comic book characters getting to see them on the screen once again.

Only time will tell though.

Consensus: After about the first hour or so, Fantastic Four becomes the trainwreck you’d expect it to be, but for a good while, it’s entertaining and compelling, until all of the fun times go away and we’re left with plenty to be desired.

5 / 10

So, what else can he stretch?

So, what else can he stretch?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz