Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Liana Liberato

Novitiate (2017)

Trust in God. Not the nuns. They’re a little mean.

Once she turns 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides that it’s time to leave her old life behind and join the Catholic Church to become a nun. It’s a decision that her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is agnostic, doesn’t quite understand or fully support, but she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter – Cathleen believes that she’s had a calling from Jesus and has fallen in love with him. Cathleen enters a Catholic convent as a postulant under the tutelage of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is known for her passion and grace in the world of religion. While there, Cathleen meets fellow nuns who are doing their best to stick with it, even if the responsibilities and rules are quite demanding and not all that understandable. But specifically at this point in time, during the early-60’s, the Catholic Church itself was going through a bit of a change, what with the planned reforms of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church would show a much more open and accepting image to all those who wanted to have faith in God. Most within the Church got behind these rules right away, whereas Reverend Mother doesn’t, fearing that it may change the community forever and for the worst.

Still looks like Andie Macdowell, in a nun outfit.

Novitiate doesn’t necessarily come off as a scathing indictment on the Catholic Church, or even faith in general, and it’s much better off for that. Writer/director Maggie Betts, making her directorial debut, seems to understand and respect those who actually fall in love with God, or whoever they praise, are willing to throw their whole lives completely away, and devote everything to prayer, abstinence, and spreading the good word of the Lord. While it may sound like a boring life to a normal layman, to those who are involved with the Church, it’s the greatest honor they can bestow and Betts doesn’t seem to be making fun of these people, as much as she easily could have.

Instead, she shows a certain sweetness to these people who devote their lives to God. But then again, she also realizes that there are a few bad apples who either, misinterpret the word of God and act out in heinous ways, or can’t keep up with their sacred notions and never seem to give up. Betts seems to be saying that while having God in your life can be a good thing, having it run your each and everyday life, isn’t, and it can drive people to pure insanity.

And as we all know, living in the world that we live in, this isn’t much of a stretch for Betts to make.

That said, Novitiate is an overall smart movie that doesn’t necessarily have an agenda, but shows us the Catholic Church during a transnational period, that they don’t even know or understand is quite as severe as it’s going to be. It’s not necessarily a stylish, or fully exciting movie – there’s a lot of walking, praying, sitting in silence, crying, and hushed-tones – but the movie creates a certain uneasiness just by doing this, that it’s easy to get compelled by. The movie is deathly serious and understated, therefore, never quite goes overboard or as insane as you’d expect it to be with some of these religious types, and it feels a lot more realistic for that. It’s less of a sympathetic-portrait of the Catholic Church, and much more of a humane one, where we see all the good, as well as the bad, within it.

Uh oh. Someone’s talking during prayers.

The only pure instances in which the movie goes slightly a bit overboard is with Melissa Leo’s performance as Reverend Mother, but it still works. Leo’s presence here is a little shocking because you can always tell that she’s about to crack loose, but because she’s a nun and has to set a good example for the fellow nuns out there, she has to stay cool, calm, and collected. There are instances in which we see Leo lose all control and it’s scary, but not in the horror movie kind-of-way – it just seems like a person slowly losing grips with her own form of reality, and coming to terms with the all-too real one.

It’s a scary and powerful performance, and from Leo, I wouldn’t expect much different.

Everybody else is quite good in this supporting-cast, but really, it’s Margaret Qualley who remains the heart and soul of the whole project. As Cathleen, Qualley gives us a sad, somewhat scared character who keeps to herself, but is so in love with God and the Jesus, she can’t hold it all in. Through Cathleen, we see just how one can misinterpret The Word and it’s Qualley that keeps us on-edge, not knowing whether she’s going to crack and lose all control, or if she’s going to stay her meek and mild self. Through it all, we still sympathize with her; we know that she means well and even if she is throwing her life away, it’s her life to throw away. We just want her to realize that there’s more to life than the Church and to stand outside, in the real world, if only for a bit.

Consensus: Slow and a little languid, Novitiate surely follows its own pace, but is also a well-acted and compelling look at the Catholic Church, that’s neither judging, nor entirely sympathetic. Just honest and realistic.

7.5 / 10

“God? You spoke to Madonna. Why can’t you speak to me?”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classic

Advertisements

To the Bone (2017)

Thanks, supermodels! What influences you all are!

Ellen (Lily Collins) is an unruly 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. There’s no real rhyme or reason or why she’s stopped eating and allow for her body to get so frail – it’s just something that happened and has forced everyone around her to take notice and wonder what they did wrong. It’s even gone on to influence Ellen’s art which, as a result, even influenced a fellow girl her age, to kill herself. Once again, why? No one really knows, so Ellen gets sent away to find some sort of a solution to a group home for youths, led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves), who believes much more in talking and getting to the root of the problem, rather than diagnosing it and expecting all sorts of issues just to go away. Through this home and the people she meets, Ellen begins to grow up a bit and start think about the life she has and why it’s actually worth living. And also, why it’s best to just chew down, as opposed to not at all.

Handshake, or pound it? Make up your mind, kids!

To the Bone is a step above the usual, cookie-cutter movie-of-the-week junk we get on TV nowadays. But it’s still a small step that features cursing, sex talk, drug use, and some other disturbing material that also makes it seem like it’s trying a bit hard, but at the same time, not, because it’s actually giving us real teens, with real issues, talking the way that real teens talk. Does that make it great? Nope, not really. But if anything, that makes it more noble than anything that Lifetime can offer you.

And if that’s the standard, then really, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, To the Bone mostly gets by on Lily Collins performance in which, not only does she totally dress herself down in an unhealthy and scary way, but also allows for her character to grow over time. It helps that Ellen is more than another angsty teen who has family-problems and doesn’t really know how to express herself, as she’s much more of a teen who just doesn’t know what to do with her life; the fact that she was mostly pushed to the edge of her life through someone else’s suicide, already makes her a tad different than other protagonists like her, in other movies. And yes, Collins is quite good, too, showing a great deal of sadness, as well as fun and light in a character that, honestly, should have just had a whole movie dedicated to her and to her alone.

Because it’s in the supporting characters that the movie sort of plays its hand a bit too much and, dare I say it, get a bit annoying. For instance, Alex Sharp’s romantic love-interest character, while well-intentioned, comes off a bit goofy and pretentious. It’s as if he jumped right out of the Fault in our Stars and decided to give this movie a bunch of annoying comedy that, quite frankly, it didn’t really need. We get it, he’s different and a bit light on his feet, but does that really mean every line he has, has to be some sort of lame joke that sounds like it came from your weird uncle?

You’ll get there. Have a steak.

Probably not and it’s why To the Bone struggles to figure out just what it’s about.

Either it’s about anorexia and what draws a person to this way? Or, it’s about this one girl, trying to live, trying to survive, trying to find happiness, and just trying to be herself, even when she doesn’t know how to be? The movie flirts with both angles and after awhile, it makes you wonder where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or what it even what it wants to be about. Both stories are interesting and could work, but side-by-side, they don’t and it ends up making the movie feel like a bit of a mess, even if yes, it’s one step above something from Lifetime.

But then again, is that really the peak?

Consensus: Though it flirts with some interesting ideas about anorexia, depression, and coming-of-age, ultimately, To the Bone feels a little melodramatic and light to really dig deep into what it wants to develop.

5 / 10

“Like, uh, woah.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Best of Me (2014)

Funny how true love always seems to come around while on the verge of dying.

After an explosion on a rig that nearly kills him, Dawson Cole (James Marsden) catches wind of news that his mentor of sorts (Gerald McRaney) has tragically passed away. With this, Dawson decides it’s time to head back home and see what needs to be taken care in the estate. While he’s doing this, an old-love of his, Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), is doing the same. Which would be great if they wanted to catch up and be cool with one another, however, considering where they last left things, that can’t seem to happen. But because the recently-deceased wishes was for them to see if they can be friends again, they decide to give it a try and with this, we get to see, through flashbacks, how they got so acquainted with one another in the first place and where exactly they went wrong in the process. Which begs the question: Are they too damaged to get back together one last time for all? Or, are they just beginning on another romance of theirs that they can make into something serious? Oh, the melodrama!

Here we go again, people – another year, another Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. And as most of you may know, I for one do not take kindly to these movies; they’re poorly-done and yet, still make so much money because young teenage girls can’t seem to get the fact that hardly any of these movies are good. Sure, the Notebook was serviceable at best, but other than that rarest-of-rare example, there’s not much else to write home about.

In fact, the only times that these movies are at least watchable, at that, is when they’re absolutely crazy and over-the-top that it doesn’t matter how manipulative and corny the final-product turns out to be. As long as you’re having fun with it, that’s all that matters. Safe Haven showed small signs of this, as well as the Lucky One, but regardless, those movies are still terrible. Like I said before, there’s some fun to be had in how ridiculous they can get, but for the most part, they’re just a bunch of overly-sappy, rather boring romantic-melodramas that not even some housewives can get through.

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

Is there really any need for the shirt to be off?

And trust me, I live with one and she hates these pieces of garbage!

Which is what brings me to the Best of Me, yet again, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, but with a slight twist: the two lovers here are actually a bit older than we’re used to seeing with these adaptations. Usually, Sparks’ adaptations like to appeal to a young-ish crowd, so therefore, they include two hot, young, in-the-moment stars to ring in the dough, but here, the story is a bit different in that the two stars this movie is being advertised with having, are older and definitely not huge stars to begin with. No offense to either James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan (who actually receives top-billing, thankfully), but they’re not the sorts of movie stars that I could see ranking #1 at the box-office, with or without the Nicholas Sparks name attached.

All that said, it’s sad to see them in something like this because, unsurprisingly, they do both try and do succeed in making this material seem genuine. They have a nice chemistry together that is challenging and believable, which is probably a testament to how talented these two pros are. But, as one could imagine happening, even they eventually succumb to the beast of this movie’s script and just how terrible it is.

But most of what makes this movie so bad isn’t the script and how horrendous it is (although it’s definitely a key-factor), it’s the non-stop flashbacks that this movie uses to enhance the emotions of this story, and just constantly annoyed me everytime it showed up. Some of that has to do with how hackneyed the dialogue is between all of these teens, but most of it has to do with the fact that they cast someone who looks like Luke Bracey, in a role that’s supposed to be a younger-version of a James Marsden character. Seriously, look at the two and tell me if you can see one bit of a similarity in how they look.

Not one?

Well, don’t worry, because you’re totally not alone. See, rather than actually searching the landscape and finding a person that looks somewhat like a young-ish James Marsden, the creators here make it seem like they had enough money and time to get a young-stud like Luke Bracey and just decided to cast him in the role, regardless of if he shared any similarities in terms of look or personality with Marsden. This isn’t just a glaring problem with the movie, but it’s constantly distracting because you never for one second believe that one would eventually grow up to be the other. It’s like they’re two different characters, who just so happen to share the same name.

Nicholas Sparks' view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Nicholas Sparks’ view of what a grizzled, ex-convict looks like.

Which is to say that had Bracey not been playing the same character as Marsden’s, the performance probably would have been viewed better, but sadly, that is not the case. Even though he tries to make us believe in him as this Dawson character, he can’t help but seem like just another one of those bumble, redneck-like characters. But you know, this time, has a heart of gold. Haven’t seen that before, I’ll tell ya!

Thankfully though, Monaghan and the one playing a younger-version of her character, Liana Liberato, are better-off; not because they actually look the least bit alike, but because the personalities of the two characters match and make you believe that one could actually grow up to be the other. That said, Liberato is probably the most memorable part of this movie because she makes a young gal like Amanda, not just seem like she could fall in love with somebody as troubled as Dawson, but because she actually seems like a young kid. She’s reckless, spirited, and lets her emotions get the best of her – a true-to-form, high school girl.

But it’s just a shame that it all had to get wasted in something that doesn’t once feel “honest”, or even “believable”.

Consensus: Like most of Sparks’ other adaptations, the Best of Me is sap-tastic in every which way, meaning that those who usually love this kind of stuff, will continue to do so, whereas everybody else, just cringes and laughs away.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!"

“James, take my hand. AND WE OFF TO NEVA NEVA LAND!! BOOM!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

If I Stay (2014)

It’s Ghost, but with no Swayze. Points already deducted.

Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), her mother (Mireille Enos), her father (Joshua Leonard), and her little bro (Jakob Davies) all go out for a trip during a snow day. What starts off as promising day, suddenly turns to tragedy when they are all involved in a very serious car accident, leaving all four of them in critical condition. However, Mia ends up having an out-of-body experience where she’s not able to actually get into any contact with those around her, but is still able to see and hear every little thing. She doesn’t know whether she’s going to die or not, but she puts up no matter what and decides that it’s best to reflect on what got her here in the first place, and those who matter enough that she’d want to be alive for them. One person in particular is her indie-rockin’ ex-boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) who she’s had a rough history with, but realizes that she loves and wants to spend more time with. All she has to do is fight, or something like that.

Every once and awhile, there comes a movie that totally blinds me by surprise. Not because it’s amazing or downright Earth-shattering that it makes me re-think my love for movies, as well as my whole life leading up to seeing it – nope, it’s because a movie that I didn’t expect to like in the least bit, let alone go into already hating, does something and that’s “has an effect on me”. Once again, I’m not saying that If I Stay is the one movie this year, so far, that’s made me think about those who are in my life, or has forced me to listen to the National for a whole week – I’m saying that it’s a movie I dreaded going into and about ten minutes realized that, “Oh shit, this is gonna be good.”

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad's supposed to be dead in real life.

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad’s supposed to be dead in real life.

With the incredible amount of movies I see (all good, bad, new and old), this so rarely often happens. But when your movie is another, run-of-the-mill young adult adaptation, especially when that’s coming a month or two after the Fault In Our Stars, then me actually liking, let alone, enjoying something along the same lines is downright unbelievable. In fact, if you had come up to me about a month or two ago, slapped me on the back and told me that, believe it or not, “I’d actually like this new Chloë Grace Moretz-starring young adult tale in which she plays a dying girl vowing for her love”, then I would have not only called you crazy and beat you up, but I would have probably acted like I never met you in my whole life.

But, here we are: A movie seen, a few friendships broken and more than a few assault charges added to personal record, and I actually liked If I Stay.

And what surprises me more now than ever before, isn’t that I actually liked it, but I seem to be the only one who actually does give a hoot about its existence. Sure, the audience who this is clearly made for in mind will absolutely run to the hills and then some just to see this, but for the critics and “professionals” of the movie world out there, I’m surprised by the lack of any love for this movie. That’s not me saying that every person, professional or not, should agree with whatever my opinion on a movie is, or isn’t, but it’s surprising to me on this occasion, that not only do I end up being the ultimate super fan for something I didn’t even care for seeing in the first place, but that I actually find myself wanting to tell others to check it out, even if they were in the same frame of mind I was going into it.

Typically, I would only go to one of these flicks if I had nothing else better to do, or if I was trying to impress with a girl with something other than my masculine body, but here I was, sitting in a room full of sappy teenage girls who were just looking for a cry, and the old dudes that probably were, too, but I won’t even bother going deep into that. But see, while they were all expecting a good cry, I was just expecting something that would have me laughing my ass off non-stop at all of the ultra-serious moments and, as a result, get an awful bunch of glares from those around me.

However, that didn’t happen. In fact, dare I say it, I actually joined the rest of the crowd in the tearing-up because, for what it’s worth, this is what happens when sap is done right. You can tell that throughout this whole movie, director R. J. Cutler is just pulling and peeling away at our souls in such an overly-manipulative, cloying way, but it somehow got me. Most of that has to do with the fact that when Cutler has to give us these small, bare moments of actual human connection and insight, he delivers. He doesn’t try to over-do the fact that these two teens in the middle of this love are ill-matched for each other in the first place – instead, he just lets it tell itself, with a few flashbacks to Mia herself running around, yelling at people, and being upset about everything that’s happened to her, those she loves and what is waiting for her if she ever wakes the hell up.

Actually, that was probably the worst aspect for me with this movie. Not only did it feel like a kid version of Ghost (hence the joke up above), but it’s rule are never made clear to us. Can Mia herself actually physically make herself come alive? Or, is she just supposed to stand around, yelling at those who clearly can’t hear/see her, and just wait to see how the whole medical procedure plays out? It was never made clear to us and although you could make an argument that the movie wasn’t trying to focus on this as much as they were with the characters and their relationships with one another, I would also argue right back and say then don’t even have the whole angle included in the first place. Just have her in some strange after-life sequence that lasts all of five minutes, have it all happen at the end, and get us to the point of what it’s trying to say.

It would have been a whole lot simpler, but since it was done in the book, I guess it makes sense to do it here. Although there is definitely a thing such as, “Sometimes what reads well on paper, doesn’t always play out so well on film”. Don’t know who said that or when, all I know is that it’s a saying and it’s one I live by for all these novel adaptations.

Anyway, back to the good stuff about this movie. What it does do so well is that it presents us with a believable, relatively likable relationship that makes you want both sides to be together and happy in the end. However, it doesn’t start off that way, because when we’re introduced to Mia, we get the idea that she’s a band weenie that enjoys Bach, Mozart and all that classical stuff that’s made for old people and rich, snobby teenagers, so when she and this Adam dude meet and he’s automatically attracted to her and making all sorts of moves on her, it’s a bit too sudden and not entirely understandable. He says that the reason he noticed her in the first place was because how she played the cello, was with exact precision and passion, something that he clearly wants in his life. Or something like that. Honestly, people, I don’t remember, nor do I know. All I do know is that it was stupid.

"Clear out! Ghost coming through!"

“Clear out! Ghost coming through!”

That’s why after awhile, when we do begin to believe in these two as a couple, it’s surprising, and a delightful one at that. Moretz and Blackley are charming personalities in their own rights, but together, they have a solid chemistry that feels all full of love and sympathy, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye on every decision the other makes. They’re a typical couple and because of that, they’re worth fighting for when all seems to go bad for Mia.

And speaking of Mia, the character, she really is a nice launching-pad for Moretz to prove that she truly is a young and bright talent to look out for. Sure, she’s gotten plenty of chances in the past to prove that she’s got what it takes to be the next Mandy Moore, or even Lindsay Lohan (neither roads end well, but you get my point), but with a performance like this, I see something of a Jena Malone. She’s cute and definitely has a certain amount of sex-appeal to the way she makes herself look, but she’s too smart and wise to get carried down by all that sappy bullshit mostly connected to stuff like high school, or love, or anything like that. Moretz definitely has an even brighter future ahead of her and now that she seems to finally be growing into her own woman, I can’t wait to see what she planned next.

But like I was saying before, because they’re a believable couple, there’s a feeling of romance in the air, but it’s the sweet and tender kind that you can only find in a romance-melodrama about two kids on the verge of graduating high school, where anything and everything seems possible. I too once was in this same position and while it didn’t quite work out well for me, it was nice to see it play out once again in front of my eyes, but this time, with something feeling of honesty that wasn’t made just to ensure that the audience would sob their guts out in the end. It’s made to have us remember the young love we may have once felt in our lives and remember that life, no matter whose, is precious.

And just like that, the sappiness got me.

Those meddling kids.

Consensus: With most of its faults lying in the gimmick it presents, If I Stay can be a bit messy, but when it wants to deliver some heartfelt, emotional scenes of young love, and people in love in general, it works well. And clearly not just for its target audience, either.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Nothing says "millennial teen-romance" quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Nothing says “millennial teen-romance” quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Trust (2011)

It’s official, my kids are never going to have any communication devices whatsoever.

After curious and vulnerable teenager Annie (Liana Liberato) falls into a trap set by an online sexual predator named Charlie, her family begins to disintegrate, uncertain how to cope with such a devastating tragedy. Utterly consumed by rage, her father (Clive Owen) sets out seeking vengeance.

This is the sophomore directorial effort from David Schwimmer, aka Ross Geller, and it’s pretty strange to see him go from a comedy like Run, Fatboy, Run to a film with little or no comedy at all. However, I don’t think you could have said the same about Run, Fatboy, Run.

Schwimmer doesn’t really bring anything new to this subject material other than the IM’s between Annie and Charlie popping up in the corners of the screen. It also shows how such devices like Smart phones, internet, and blackberries have made teenage crushes constant and almost all time consuming. My problem with his direction is that the cinematography seems like it was done by someone who just got out of film school, and looks like a TV-movie almost.

Now the problem with this film that I had was the script where it became very frustrating at points because so many times it won me over and other times where it just had me roll my eyes. The goods about this script is that the scenario is believable thanks to To Catch a Predator and how Charlie reels Annie in completley making her seem incredibly vulnerable and totally clueless to everything seems realistic since a lot of kids don’t know what to do with their first “love” and just go along with what the other person says.

However, my problem lied within the fact that the actual “rape” itself could have been avoided as soon as Annie figured out that this dude was a little creepy in the beginning. Take it for granted, there are girls out there who don’t actually think that every guy they talk to on the internet is a total creep but it seemed so obvious here when the dude started changing his age from 17 to 23 to 28 and then till she found out he was 35. When they actually meet up too, and she sees him for what he is, she could have easily just ran the fuck out of there, called daddy, and Mr. sex offender would have had a nice little meeting from a certain Mr. Chris Hanson.

This may all sound a bit biased since I’m not a very well-known on the subject of girls going through puberty and everything but there were so many red flags here that just seemed completely obvious and I thought she had a bigger head on her shoulder, other than just showing me complete stupidity when she was talking to this Charlie dude in the first place.

Although this is a big problem, the film kept winning me back when there were just completley dramatic and moving scenes that really kept me glued to the screen. Sometimes family dramas can be totally cliche, corny, and predictable but Trust has scenes where the family just lets it all out on one another, whether it be a hissy fit, a cry-fest, or a screaming match, grief is shown very well here from all of the family members, including the parents. Parents coping with grief isn’t something that’s shown very often, except for in maybe films like In the Bedroom, but the way the film plays out a lot of the scenes actually worked for me and made this more than just another touchy subject film gone wrong.

Schwimmer does know how to direct actors though, and very well I may add. Annie is played by new-comer Liana Liberato, who’s very good and I’m pretty sure we will be hearing her name a lot more due to this performance. She’s very good here because she channels all the emotions that a teen going through a crisis like this would and she does is believably rather than just soaking up the cheesiness. Although her character made a lot of dumb choices throughout the film, Liberato made me believe her more as this teen and never let’s anybody from the rest of the cast steal her spotlight.

Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are amazing as Annie’s parents and make so many of the scenes these two have together, alone, or with Annie, just perfect. Owen has always had that sense of rage and misery within all of his characters, but he does it so well here and Keener just does what she always does in every film but it never loses it’s flavor. Another good performance is from Viola Davis as Gail, Annie’s therapist and although I would have liked to see more scenes with her, Davis still owns.

Consensus: Director David Schwimmer makes Trust a very well-acted and at times emotionally honest film about coping with grief, comforting one another, and getting past a terrible happening within a family, but the problems here lie within the script as too many moments feel too obvious to believe and just seems like with a lot more better touches, could have had so much more tension.

6/10=Rental!!