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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Josh Charles

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)

Can’t trust anybody. Not even randomly kind Jewish men.

Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. He also can tend to be a bit overzealous and, as a result, begin to scare more people away, than actually bring them in and closer. Often too, his tactics can be a little odd and rub certain people the wrong way. But then again, those are the kinds of people Norman doesn’t want to really work with, which is why when an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes and seeing if they can build on some sort of friendship. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, and it helps him when Eshel becomes Israel prime minister a few years later and, get this, actually remembers Norman and wants him to help out in his office. Norman accepts, but also wishes that he was a lot closer to Eshel and the inner-workings. Eventually, this causes issues for both men and will ultimately prove to be Norman’s unraveling, where his real life, all the secrets and lies that he’s kept throughout the years, finally come to lie.

“Trust me, it’s cold out.”

Norman feels like it’s based on a true story, but it really isn’t. In a way, writer/director Joseph Cedar seems to be basing this story off the numerous individuals who work in the strategy-world portion of politics and he doesn’t seem to be frowning upon them, nor even glamorizing them – in fact, he’s more or less just giving them the fair-shake they probably deserve. Political fixers, so often, are seen as heartless, tactful, and evil-doers who find a way to win and keep at it, no matter what. Why on Earth we look down upon these people as less than human, when in reality, they’re just really good at their jobs. And in Norman, the idea we get about political-fixers, as well as the title-character, is that being good at your job is one thing, but being a good and smart human being is another.

Although, that’s what I think.

See, the small issue with Norman is that the movie never really knows just what proves to be his actual fall-from-grace, because honestly, we never really get to see the rise, either. Of course, the word “Moderate” in the title probably says it all, but honestly, when your movie is built around the fact that your lead character doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, yet, still falls down dramatically off the social-ladder, it’s hard to really feel any pain or emotion. We may care for this character, or even what he’s doing, but if we really don’t get the sense of what’s being accomplished and lost, then really, what’s the point?

Well, Israel’s got enough problems on its plate, honestly.

If anything, Norman proves to be another solid showcase for Richard Gere who, so late in his life, almost doesn’t care how big the movies he’s doing are. By now, he’s so happy to be able to work with these three-dimensional, interesting characters, that he’ll take the budget on, regardless. And as the title-character, Gere’s quite good here; he has every opportunity to play it silly and cartoonish, but thankfully, he strays away from that. In fact, what we see with Gere’s portrayal is a small, rather smart man who also just wants to be recognized, praised, and above all else, loved.

In a way, if you look closer and closer into Norman, the movie does show itself as an intimate character-study of this one relatively troubled man who, despite seeming to have it all, still wants a little more. Cedar is a smart director to know when to get in the way of his ensemble, but because he doesn’t and they’re all good, we see more sides to these characters than ever expected, especially Gere’s Norman. He begins to show his true shadows and signs that, once broken down, unveil a very unexcited and disappointing man. The movie doesn’t really hit as hard, or as heavy as it should, but considering there’s Gere here, it’s safe to say that he’s still an interesting enough character to watch wheel-and-deal for over two-hours.

Anybody else, anywhere else, probably would have been a pain.

Consensus: Though it never really delivers going any deeper than it should have, Norman still works as a smart, interesting character-study, anchored by an even better Richard Gere performance.

7 / 10

Someone give him a hug already!

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

War can be funny, right?

Kim Barker (Tina Fey) works as a boring cable news producer and needs something more out of life. Even though she has a serious relationship with her boyfriend (Josh Charles), it’s still not nearly as fulfilling and there’s that feeling in the pit of her stomach where she knows that she can do more with her life – she just doesn’t know where that’s at yet. That’s why, in 2002, when the opportunity presents itself, she decides to take up a daring, but ultimately ambitious new assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she’ll not only cover the war, but experience more to life than what was waiting for her back at home. And while it takes her some time to get used to her uncomfortable surroundings, eventually, Kim finds herself not just inspired to go out and find the best story possible, but to also open herself up to those around her. This is when she befriends the likes of Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), a fellow journalist, Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), a Scottish war correspondent, and Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), a citizen of Afghanistan, who is also there to help her navigate throughout the city and understand the ideals. While this seems hard at first, Kim eventually gets the hang of it all, until it becomes almost too real that the situation’s she’s dealing with are very serious, and almost scary.

Tina or Margot? A lot harder than you think, men and women!

Tina or Margot? A lot harder than you think, men and women!

You know, just as you’d expect from a war.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a very odd duckling of a film. For one, it seems a lot like Eat, Pray, Love in that it features a relatively middle-aged woman, coming to a crossroads in her life, not knowing what she wants to do with it, where she wants go with it, or who she wants to spend it with, so decides to take one giant leap that her old formal-self would have never even imagined. On the other hand, it tries to be a serious, melodramatic and important statement about the war, Afghanistan, and relations between both countries. Both movies, work fine on their own, but together, well, it’s unfortunately a huge mess.

It also just so happens to be one that no matter how hard she tries, Tina Fey just can’t seem to get past. Though Kim is, essentially, a lot like the other protagonists Fey has portrayed in the past, she still is, at the same time, a “type” that we’re pretty used to seeing. She’s got a bit more attitude and sass to her than usual, but really, Kim is made out to be our conduit for this great new environment that so many movies have discussed and portrayed in the past, but not nearly as much as in a comedic-light. Fey does a fine job as standing in for us and just allowing for the movie to happen, but really, it’s a forgettable performance that basically gets lost in the fact that this movie has way, way too much going on in it.

None of which, mind you, actually gel together in a cohesive manner.

While it’s admirable that directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa want to make something considered to be “funny”, out of the Afghan war, it doesn’t work well. Mainly, this is due to the fact that the jokes are, yes, very stale and not to much, quite offensive and odd. I’m all for jokes hitting a hard spot and not being in the best taste imaginable, but when you’re dealing with the war, Afghanistan, and their certain ideologies that aren’t shared by the rest of the world, there’s a fine line you tread between being “funny”, or “mean-spirited”.

In all honesty, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t seem like a very mean-spirited movie, per se, however, its casting proves otherwise. Not only does the movie feature an Italian-Spanish actor like Alfred Molina, as a native, but even goes so far as to make us think the same of Christopher Abbott as one, too, who isn’t just Italian and Portuguese, but, as you can clearly tell by looking at the color of his skin throughout the whole movie, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, white.

"Now, please. Tell me what this war is all about? Because really, the script didn't actually tell me. In fact, nobody working on this movie did, or actually seemed like they could."

“Now, please. Tell me what this war is all about? Because really, the script didn’t actually tell me. In fact, nobody working on this movie did, or actually seemed like they could.”

Heck, at least Molina’s got a tan going on – Abbot’s still pale as if he just walked off of the set of Girls!

And while the movie tries to make these two characters at least somewhat endearing, it still feels very weird to watch them work with these accents and, at the same time, still make us believe that they’re playing these natives who are much wiser and understanding than the other, whiter characters in the movie. This is all to say that no cast-member does a bad job, really, it’s just it’s obvious that the movie doesn’t care about what they have to do, and instead, allows them pass-off poor jokes about race, war, and sex.

And none of this would have been a problem, had the movie been the very least funny, but it isn’t. Not to mention, it’s also not very smart, either. All of the points it tries to bring up about the war (which come very few and far between), don’t really seem to make people think anything differently than what we see in the news. Fey’s character is made out to believe that Afghanistan can be and is starting to become, a brutal place – not just for women, or white people, but for everyone who is living there. While this is especially true of their environment, the movie touches on it every so often, as if it feels like it’s inclined to do the job, rather than actually wanting to do so.

If anything, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot wants to discuss the Afghanistan war, nearly as much as Our Brand Is Crisis wanted to talk about the FNB and Bolivia.

And when your movie is being compared to that movie, well, let me just say that you’re not in good company.

Consensus: By working both a whimsical rom-com, as well as a super serious, meaningful war-drama, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a lot to deal with and doesn’t know what to do with either side, nor its talented cast.

2.5 / 10

Who wouldn't fall for Watson over in Afghanistan?

Who wouldn’t fall for Watson over in Afghanistan?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

I Smile Back (2015)

Drugs, sex, booze, and other stuff is bad. Remember that, kids.

Laney (Sarah Silverman) is going through a bit of a rough patch. For one, she’s a housewife who doesn’t know what to do with her time, except do drugs, drink, and have sex with a married-man (Thomas Sadoski). Obviously, this is fun for a little bit of time, but after awhile, it begins to not only take a toll on her life, but her husband (Josh Charles)’s as well. This leads to plenty of fights and random shouting matches, but what this really gets down to the bottom of is that Laney, no matter if she wants to admit it or not, needs help. So, she seeks it out by going to rehab and finds out more about her life than she had ever expected. Through rehab, she realizes that due to her poor childhood, she’s never learned to love anyone else or even herself, for that matter. Knowing this now, she wants to get back into the groove of her normal life, but sometimes, that’s better said, then actually done, leading Laney possibly back to her old life of risque raunchiness where nobody is happy, including especially, herself.

Hubby?

Hubby?

For the past few years or so, Sarah Silverman’s been itching herself into far more deeper, more challenging, and overall, more dramatic roles as of late. But none of them have ever been nearly as dark or as demanding as her role in I Smile Back. Not only is Silverman hardly cracking a joke here, but she’s crying, doing drugs, having crazy, wild sex, humping teddy-bears, and basically seeming like she’s about to crack open at any second.

And yet, it’s not enough to fully help I Smile Back from being what is, basically, just another Lifetime movie, but with more nudity, more cursing, and most importantly, more sex.

This isn’t to discredit Silverman herself as she portrays what it’s like for a woman, who clearly has manic depression, in the most honest, raw way she can possibly do without sinking herself almost too far into such a role. Laney herself seems like the kind of woman who, at one point in her life, may have been a sweet and endearing gal, but now, seems as if she doesn’t understand much about life, its pleasures, or what exactly she’s supposed to do with it. That’s why, watching Silverman go from scene to scene, making it seem as if Laney herself is lost in some sort maze she can’t get find the nearest exit out of, is relatively hard and, at times, disturbing.

But that’s mostly because Silverman is a good actress. The rest of the movie, I’m afraid, isn’t nearly as up-to-par as she is, or smart, especially because it never really draws much more about her character, other than that she’s a pissed-off housewife who’s got a lot of problems in her life. Sure, there’s no problem with highlighting that aspect of a character’s life, regardless of how depressing it may be, but the movie doesn’t really give us any more context other than that.

Or boyfriend?

Or boyfriend?

Also, as good as Silverman is at creating this Laney character, we still don’t understand much about her to begin with, or how she was before she started feeling as depressed as she currently is. We get a certain idea through her troubled relationship with her estranged father, but it’s so late in the game and so tiny, that it almost doesn’t register. So instead, we’re left to watch as this character, one we don’t know from Adam, do all sorts of troubling, downright terrible things to herself, as well as those that surround her life.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with having these kinds of stories, about these kinds of complicated figures, but there has to be more behind all of the events. To just place someone in this role and leave it at that, without any added-on info or anything, just doesn’t quite work. There’s one scene between Josh Charles’ husband character and Laney that’s supposed to give us at least some background info on how the two met and got together, but like it was with the father character, it’s too little, too late, in a film that’s already just relying way too heavily on Silverman herself to pick up the pieces.

Which she does, but it’s really obvious what’s going on here.

But if anything that surprised me about I Smile Back, in an at least somewhat positive way, was that it had an ending that, believe it or not, is way different than from what you’d get from a Lifetime movie. For one, it’s not pretty and it sure as hell isn’t the feel-good, happy ending some may expect, like I myself did. However, it also brings up the smart idea about people’s life stories and how, in most cases, not everything it tied-up in a neat little bow. Sure, certain movies may have you think that, but in reality, that’s not the case.

In fact, life can be very messy. There’s no real beginning or ends to an issue, instead, it’s always existing and controlling your everyday life whether you want to admit it or not. But what I Smile Back deals with, at its end at least, is that Laney’s life, as well as everybody else’s, will continue to live on as they were before. Some things may change, some things may not, but most of all, life will continue to be just how it is. Sometimes sad, and also, sometimes happy.

Even though the movie itself doesn’t quite work, I Smile Back at least has something to say when all is said and done.

Consensus: Despite Silverman’s raw, challenging performance, I Smile Back doesn’t seem to really have much to say about any of its upsetting material, even if it does end on a solid, if surprising, note.

5 / 10

Or family? Pick your poison!

Or family? Pick your poison!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Freeheld (2015)

Love one another. Also, stop being dicks.

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was a loyal, dedicated and passionate cop in Ocean County, New Jersey. She was respected and adored by her peers, was best-friends with her partner (Michael Shannon), and when it came down to getting the job done, she did everything she could to make that happen. However, the one fact about her life that she had to hide and, ultimately, caused her to lose a lot of respect from those said peers, was the fact that she was gay. Nobody knew about this little tidbit in her personal life until she was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to pass off her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Problem was, board of chosen freeholders didn’t see that as “right”, due to the fact that Hester was gay, so instead, decided to shut it down. Devastated by this news, Laurel knows that there’s nowhere else to go with her voice then to the court again, but this time, with more and more people by her side, voicing their opinions on her, and showing how she is granted this god-given right, no matter who she holds up a home or romantic relationship with.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

It’s a shame that, no matter how kind, or smart, or meaningful the message they’re trying to get across may be, message movies, generally, suck. Actually, that’s not correct; they’re just not all that good. Most of the time, message movies come off like after school specials that you’re more likely to see on Lifetime or TLC, than actually anywhere on the big screen, where your money, attention and time is absolutely needed.

And Freeheld, like other message movies, feels just like that. However, that’t not to say that the movie, to use a word I used earlier, sucks, it’s just that, considering its good intentions, its solid cast, and an interesting director (Raising Victor Vargas‘ Peter Sollett), it’s disappointing. That doesn’t mean that they’re message isn’t worn across their sleeves, or that they don’t get it out clear enough, it’s just that it feels lacking in an actual story, with genuine, relateable characters.

Everybody here, from Laurel, to Stacie, to Laurel’s partner, and especially to the freeholders, all feel as if they’re stand-ins for a message. Laurel, of course, is the hero of this story who, after all of these years of putting her life on the line for the greater good of Ocean County; Stacie is the misunderstood little girl who is in desperate need of love, comfort and a hug; Laurel’s partner, Dane, is the gold-hearted friend of Laurel who stands by her no matter what; and the freeholders are, as expected, mostly just a bunch of ignorant dicks, with the exception of Josh Charles’ character, who feels a little more conflicted than the rest, but also begins to break into speeches that people probably think how conservatives actually talk. This isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t at least try with these types, but by the same token, it’s just a shame to see them all having to perform within these compounds where, maybe, just maybe, they’re allowed to branch out and make something new or interesting of these characters.

But sadly, they’re mostly all one-note.

Moore’s Laurel has hardly a bad bone in her body; Stacie doesn’t get as much attention as she should, but seems like she means no harm to anyone; and Dane is just a nice guy. Moore’s fine, as well as is Page and they share a nice bit of chemistry together, but Shannon is really the only one who seems like he’s really giving it his all here and coming out just fine. Well, it was especially nice to see Shannon play, once again, a normal, everyday dude, but to also see him shed some of his more sensitive angles that we don’t usually get a chance to see him dance with. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when he’s yelling and giving people those crazy eyes of his, but it’s always nice to see it when he plays a guy who seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly because he wanted to.

No, this is not some unsold CBS pilot.

Not an unsold CBS pilot.

And for some reason, even though Freeheld‘s been hiding him in all of the ads, but Steve Carell is actually here as Steven Goldstein, the founder of the well-known advocacy group, Garden State Equality. Carell is funny here and constantly makes every scene he’s in, exciting and entertaining, but still feels like he’s just playing more of a caricature you’d see in a parody of Goldstein on SNL, rather than an actual person himself. Still, he made me laugh and his constant use of “sweetheart” and “honey” makes some of the most masculine-of-masculine men in the movie shiver, which is always fun to watch.

Homophobia. Fun? Who knew!

Anyway, other than the cast who clearly seem to be on their A-game here to make something work, Freeheld is all too concerned with passing its message along, that it just feels like a conventional bore. There are more types here than just the ones I mentioned up-top; there’s the overly-homophobic, downright rude cop who disowns Laurel from the very beginning, there’s the angry people who come to intimidate Laurel and Stacie for causing such a ruckus, there’s the closeted cop who begins to find courage once Laurel pleads her case, and yeah, there’s probably more that I forgot to mention.

But you get the point – this movie is as cliché as you can get. It has a nice heart and I more than agree with the point it’s making, but it does so in such an ordinary, run-of-the-mill way, that it makes me wonder why they even bothered making this movie to begin with? Because surely, they wanted to bring some interesting points up about humanity and the way of life, right? Or did they just want to make a movie about a lesbian woman’s final years and how she fought for equality, without any grey areas thrown in whatsoever?

I’m thinking more of the latter in Freeheld’s case, sadly.

Consensus: Not without its heart in the right place, Freeheld brings an emotional story to the big screen, but doesn’t seem to do much with it that’s interesting, challenging, or anything that we haven’t already seen before many, many times before, in many other message movies in the same vein.

6 / 10

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Adult Beginners (2015)

Big sisters both rule and suck at the same time.

After his tech startup ultimately fails and not only puts him, as well as the many investors he was involved with, in debt, Jake (Nick Kroll) decides that it’s time to take a break on everything for awhile and retreat to the one place he can depend on: His childhood home. However, when he walls into to surprise his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), of his visit, he realizes that maybe he’s only complicating things a bit more. For instance, Justine is a few weeks pregnant, having issues with money, with her work, and even with her husband (Bobby Cannavale). Jake sees this, but he doesn’t really care and just needs a place to stay for a few months or so, which he does, but at a price: Watch Justine’s youngest son, Teddy, each and every day while she and her husband are off at work. Jake isn’t too happy about this, but decides to do it and finds out that having any sort of responsibility is hard and takes a whole lot of effort. Not just from his part, but everybody else’s, too.

A few days ago, I reviewed the little-seen indie Alex of Venice, and while I appreciated the cast apart of it, I felt the plot and direction to be the same old tale of “someone trying to reinvent themselves and get their lives back on-track”. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories in the first place, as anybody will tell you, there are many instances in real life where people need to change things up, it’s just that, sometimes, these stories can get so conventional and middling that it doesn’t feel like anything is being taught or learned in the process. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad, and at the end of the day, making themselves happy in some way, or fashion.

Wonder who he's calling? Hm....

Wonder who he’s calling? Hm….

Once again, not saying that these stories don’t happen in real life, but I don’t really want to see an hour-and-a-half movie about it where I feel the wheels are turning, but that there’s no driver.

Adult Beginners is that type of movie. But instead of being a boring mess like Alex of Venice, Adult Beginners gets by because, for the most part, it’s funny, and it should be. It’s got some very funny people in it, doing and/or saying funny things, but also deals with real life, grown-up issues about maturity, gaining independence, and marriage. A lot of the same ground was covered in Venice, however here, because it’s given a slight comedic-switch to it all, the pill goes down a lot easier and isn’t as rough to swallow; in fact, there came a point where I wanted to see more of where these characters went and just how exactly they were going to get by whatever situation they were thrown into.

Director Ross Katz makes many nice decisions in not giving us, the audience, the easy answers, but it still works in giving the impression that we’re dealing with characters here. Even if a good majority of the time they spend talking, joking around, bitching, moaning and just walking around, there’s still something interesting to all of that here that worked and kept me engaged. Some of the subplots that come in and out don’t quite work, but rather than taking the movie down with their mediocrity, they just sort of feel like leftover strands that can be forgotten about.

Unlike in Venice where every subplot took away from the main story and made it feel longer than it should have been.

But another reason why this movie works as well as it does, given that it’s like so many other movies, is that it has a fine and charming cast to make the material come off a bit more weighty. Lately, we’ve seen the evolution of Rose Byrne, the charming and hilarious screen-presence that is more than willing to hang with the guys when it comes to delivering any sort of gag, and here, as Justine, there’s no exception to the rule. Byrne is funny, sweet, endearing, and challenging as Justine where she makes some bad decisions, as well as some definite good ones, but no matter what, she’s watchable beyond belief and reminded me a bit of my own big sister in the way that she carried herself from day-to-day activities and with her little bro.

Bobby C. just can't right now.

Bobby C. just can’t right now.

Speaking of her little bro, Nick Kroll gets a chance to finally show the world that he may, or may not be capable of weighty, dramatic material, and the results are, well, uhm, fine. I guess. See, the thing with Kroll is that while he’s definitely fine with all of that snarky, obnoxious humor of his, when it comes down to creating a character and becoming this Jake guy, he leaves much to be desired. It isn’t that Kroll isn’t bad, but by the end of the movie, it sort of feels like we don’t really get this character, nor do we ever understand where the transition from him being a “prick” to a “nice dude” ever occurred, or how it happened. Kroll mostly gets by though because the company he keeps.

Which is to say that, yes, Bobby Cannavale is great here, too, but in a way, I found his subplot to be the most frustrating. Early on in the movie, there’s a slight hint at the fact that Cannavale’s character may be screwing around and while Jake’s character approaches this subject as well as a brother-in-law can do, the way it’s resolved left me wondering, “What happened between point-A and point-C?” See, we get a few scenes where words are exchanged and dicks are measured, but then, that’s pretty much it. Cannavale’s character is wonderful and honest, but the situation he’s thrown into never gets explained well enough to where it makes all the sense for him, or his character.

However, you win some, and you lose some. Whatever.

Consensus: Like many others of its kind, Adult Beginners is funny, heartfelt and benefits from solid performances from a cast who are all willing to make material seem a bit deeper.

7 / 10

All convincing smileys.

All convincing smileys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz