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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Kathy Lamkin

Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

Need a better outlook on your life? Call up a hooker.

James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play the titular Doug and Lois Riley, a married couple whose relationship has become lifeless and frozen due to both of their reactions to the death of their daughter Emily. An encounter with Mallory (Kristen Stewart), an underage stripper in a dingy local club, where Doug only wants to pay her to talk to him, eventually leads to a cautious friendship between the two and a realization of life for everybody.

There’s not much of a story to Welcome to the Rileys and it never really offers any surprises, but it’s not boring, or better yet, all that conventional. Because where the movie excels in, is the smaller, more low-key moments in this story that make it more than just your typical tale of a sad person, helping out another sad person, who also just so happens to be a hooker. It’s a simple, tried and true story we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but writer/director Jake Scott, the son of Ridley, does all that he can to make it so much more.

"Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?"

“Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?”

Still, it is a pretty simple tale and because of that, it’s hard to fall in love with it.

If there is anything to be found here to fall in love with, it’s each of the performances from the key three leads.

James Gandolfini is great here as Doug Riley, because while there’s something deep and a little dark about him, there’s also something very sweet, earnest, endearing and relatively compassionate about him that makes you believe that he could do something as oddball as this. Every time the guy smiles, you feel a certain drip of happiness pour out from the screen and because of that, you cannot help but just love him and enjoy his presence on-screen. There’s no doubt that Gandolfini was the king of playing mean, nasty and downright grotesque thugs, but he did also excel at giving us characters with hearts and it’s nice to get that reminder – one which, unfortunately, we never quite got the chance to see more of.

Gandolfini almost gets his own show taken away from him though, from Melissa Leo who gives off a very natural and realistic performance as the still-grief-ridden mother, Lois. Leo’s character starts off as a bit of a nutcase as she never comes out of the house because of what happened, but as time rolls on you start to see a more round human-being come out of her and the things that she does and as soon as her pretty face pops into the story big-time about half-way through, the story itself hits a big boost that made it more of a delight to watch. It’s also nice to get a movie where the couple at the center, despite all of the hardships that brought them to this point, still do love and trust one another with all their hearts. Leo and Gandolfini, as a married-couple, would have probably been a great movie on its own, but here, they get a chance to create something lovely and nice. It’s something you don’t usually see in movies and it’s great to realize that trust is still one of the biggest elements in a relationship in order to make it work.

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

And yes, Kristen Stewart is also good as Mallory. Granted, she does have the more clichéd role, as whom is, essentially, “hooker with a heart of gold”, but this also helps make her performance much better and impressive. There’s something sad about her character that makes you want to reach out to her, too, but there’s also some sort of mystery, too. The scenes between her and Gandolfini’s character could have easily been creepy and cringe-inducing, but the two have a solid chemistry that truly does seem like a loving, lasting relationship that isn’t played so one can get their kicks off, but so that they both can feel some meaning in their lives.

It’s all so sweet, simple and obvious, but that’s how life works and it’s why Welcome to the Rileys works.

Consensus: The story and message may be a bit of your usual, hokey pokey, after-school special stuff that we are used to seeing in these types of dramas, however, the strong performances from the trio of leads make Welcome to the Rileys one-step above the ordinary stuff we are used to seeing with human-dramas such as this one.

6.5 / 10

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde

The Astronaut Farmer (2007)

AstronautposterThe moon landing never happened anyway. So keep on dreaming, bro.

For as long as he’s been alive, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has always wanted to travel to the moon. Although he was a NASA pilot for a little while, he had to step out due to personal issues at the time. Now, Charles is trying to create his own spaceship that he can launch into space. It seems like a pipe-dream, but Charles is inspired so much, that he won’t take “no” for an answer; even though friends, confidantes, and hell, even his wife (Virginia Madsen), tell him it’s impossible, he doesn’t listen. When Charles’ plans get leaked to the world wide web, eventually, as they tend to do, the FBI finds themselves getting involved. Though Charles is not, from what people know, a terrorist planning on nuking the entire Earth, the government still doesn’t want to take any chances and keeps track of Charles’ everyday comings and goings. And hell, even though Charles has got the rest of the world behind him and his journey, the government still does not want to budge. This is a challenge that Charles accepts and stands against, even if it risks his own life, as well as those that he loves and cares for so much.

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

The whole time while watching the Astronaut Farmer, I kept on waiting for the subscript to start/end the movie saying something along the lines of, “based on a true story”. Does a story about some small-town farmer creating his own rocket and trying to launch it into space sound plausible? Not entirely, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen nor that I’ve never heard about it before. Crazier things have happened in this land we call Earth, right?

But the subscript never shows up.

The Astronaut Farmer is literally an idea written by Michael and Mark Polish, which is interesting to say the least. Silly? Sure, but it’s obvious that they’re both trying to aim for that you-can-do-anything-that-you-put-your-mind-to sensibility that so many Disney films seem to rely on. Through Farmers’ own journey of trying to get into space and do what he’s always wanted us to do, the Polish bros. are trying to get us to think of our dreams and have the idea that we too can make them come true, so long as we have enough heart and inspiration deep down inside of our souls.

And this is all fine and good, but the movie never seems like it earns that feeling of absolute and divine inspiration. Instead, it’s just a really old-timey, almost-retro story that may have a heart to work with, but never seems to go any deeper than the surface. Which is kind of a shame considering that the Polish bros. debut (Twin Falls Idaho) also dealt with the same sort of strange premise in a mindful way, but also gave us more to the story than just what was presented.

Here, it just sort of feels like everything and everyone is one-note, without there being any gray area left for the audience to decipher themselves.

The only interesting aspect of this story where it seems like the Polish bros. themselves are conflicted of a certain character-trait is with Farmer himself. While the Polish bros. clearly love and adore the character of Charles Farmer, his ambition, his heart, and his never-say-never attitude, the idea that, if he isn’t successful with his trip to space and does end up dying in the process, what will he leave his family back on Earth with? Because he’s put so much gosh darn money into this spaceship, he’s already bled them dry, so what could they possibly do without him around to keep the money flowing in? Will they be left high, dry, and without a fork to use? Or will they get by just fine because, well, Charles Farmer always has a tricky plan up his sleeves?

Take a guess of which conclusion the Polish bros. come to.

"It's okay, honey. If you die, don't worry, cause we're all screwed."

“It’s okay, honey. If you die, don’t worry, cause we’re all screwed.”

Like I’ve said though, I don’t mind the simplicity of most tales, but this one in particular doesn’t seem to really concern itself with much else other than, “dude wants to travel to space and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that”. While it would have been interesting to see a complex, almost flawed-figure presented, Charles himself is painted in such a lovely portrait, that it’s almost like they’ve could had him run for president at the end, win, create his own world where everybody and their grand-mothers are allowed to travel into space, and it would seem uplifting, smart and, above all else, believable. It’s painfully clear that the Polish bros. don’t have much of a narrative-drive to go any further and it hurts the characters so much, that even the ones who may have some sort of interesting plight to show, it just makes it seem like a waste.

For instance, Billy Bob Thornton, surprisingly playing a good-guy, does what he can as Charles, but because the dude is so blue-eyed and optimistic, it just becomes irritating. Virginia Madsen, despite her character seeming as if she initially has something interesting to say, doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect her to, except by her husband as he possibly kills himself in the process of living his life-long dream. And then, as her daddy, Bruce Dern shows up as the voice of reason who, you might expect to be against the idea of Charles going out into space and risking his own life, but is instead happy that he’s doing it because, as he says, “he shares the dreams with his family”.

Yawn.

The only people in this movie that I could identify with were the FBI themselves – which, for a movie such as this, is not what’s supposed to happen. The FBI, as written by the Polish bros., are painted to be these sort of big brother, negative Nancies that are always trying to get on Charles’ case and tarnish his dreams forever, but in all honesty, they have a point for thinking the way that they do. Though Charles may not be a huge threat to the government per se, there’s still something incredibly dangerous and crazy about his idea of going out into space with his own, homemade spaceship that makes it understandable why they wouldn’t want him up in the sky to begin with. This may seem like I’m thinking too hard, but honestly, the Polish bros. want us think of this as some sort of “could-happen” tale that, if someone puts their heart, mind, body and soul into an idea long enough, that it and the rest of their wildest dreams can all come true.

Yawn again.

Consensus: Though its heart may be in the right place, the Astronaut Farmer is too implausible and one-dimensional to really inspire the people that it wants to, but instead, make them feel happy that there aren’t more Charles Farmer’s trying to release DIY spaceships into the sky.

4 / 10

"Kids, don't be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can't possibly happen to anyone."

“Kids, don’t be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can’t possibly happen to anyone.”

Photos Courtesy of: Superior Pics

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB