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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Lucky Johnson

Kidnap (2017)

Kidnap (2017)

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is just another single mother doing whatever she can to get by. Her job as a waitress can be a little demanding, with her also battling over custody for her son with her ex-husband, and yeah, she tries. But to add another wrench in her life is the moment when her son is kidnapped by a bunch of random rednecks. Karla has no clue why they kidnapped her son, but you know what? She’s not going to hesitate for a single second to find them and get her son back. Which is something she does, although it becomes readily apparent that Karla’s going to have to do a lot of driving, yelling, running, maneuvering, thinking, and oh yeah, possibly even killing. See, Karla’s life just got a whole lot more complicated, but it’s her son and she’ll fight for him any day.

So happy….UNTIL!

Just like with the Call a few years ago, Halle Berry is once again stuck with a B-movie where all she has to do is show up and give it her all. Which is exactly what the Oscar-winner does; there are brief moments where she really has to let loose on her emotions and well, it actually kind of works. Granted, she’s practically crying and yelling throughout the whole movie, but no one does that quite as well as Berry does and she actually elevates the material, just by showing up and putting in solid work.

It makes me wonder why she’s doing stuff like this, when in reality, she’s still a tremendous actress and downright beautiful to-boot.

But once again, why is she here?

Always check your blind-spots.

And this isn’t to say that Kidnap‘s a terrible movie; it’s exactly what you would expect in a late-summer diversion. It’s fast, fun, and incredibly stupid. The fact that the plot-line never goes beyond “Halle Berry chases kidnappers” for the whole 86 minutes, should really show you what you’re getting yourself into. And it’s not necessarily a problem that the movie doesn’t try to over-complicate itself with things like plot and motivations, but a part of me feels like there truly was no script here and a lot of it was just left up to director Luis Prieto and Berry to make up as they went along.

If that’s true, what they do make up can be exciting, but most of the time, a little repetitive. For instance, a good portion of the first-half is this car-chase that goes on and on and on for what seems like hours. Which is fine, because it does keep the adrenaline going, but there’s not much else to it; we just hear Berry talking to herself and wondering what the next best move for her is. After awhile, it can get a bit old and feel like, once again, there’s not much of a script.

Just action, action, and oh yeah, a little more action.

Once again, though, it’s not as if this is always a problem with movies – simplicity is, in ways, sometimes a movie’s best friend. But here, with Kidnap, it feels lazy and as if there really wasn’t anything else actually going on beneath the surface to be found. It can be fun, but even at 86 minutes, it still feels like it was stretched a bit too thin, even by its own standards.

So yeah, Halle, please get back into the mode of making good movies again. Please. We need you and miss you.

Consensus: Even as a late-summer diversion, Kidnap is fine, but also feels like it’s not really going anywhere and solely depending on the still-great skills of Halle Berry.

5 / 10

Oh. Here we go with this for an hour.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

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Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Apes on horses. That’s all I’ve got to say.

Set ten years after where the first one ended, in the wake of the ALZ-113 virus, practically all civilization on Earth has been wiped out. Now all that seems to be left is nature itself; most importantly, the apes themselves who live out in the wilderness where they belong, led by the one and only ape who should be leading them, Caesar (Andy Serkis). The apes have been living pretty comfortably there for quite some time, so when they discover that humans are still alive and living in the city, they get a little worried. However, Caesar does not want to start a war, so he keeps the peace so long as the humans stay on their side of the bridge, and they will do the same. However, the humans need some help that makes it difficult to stay out the apes’ way: There’s apparently a generator that can bring back all of the electricity to the city, that also happens to be located right underneath the major dam. Which, in case you couldn’t tell by now, is located directly in the woods. Caesar is not happy with this, but he’s able to connect with a human (Jason Clarke) that shows the two species can trust each other. That is, until one ape, Koba (Toby Kebbell), sees Caesar’s willingness to allow the humans on their turf as some sort of weakness and decides that it’s his time to shine and take things into his own hands.

Meaning one thing and one thing only…..WAR!!

So yeah, Rise was a pretty solid re-boot that showed not only was there some life left in this near-extinct franchise, but that there was plenty more opportunity to build from there. Because, if you think about it, you could make any story seem fresh or inventive, just so long as you have the apes involved. Take out the apes, and you have a pretty standard movie that we’ve seen a hundred times before. But with the apes, though, well there’s something special about that and I think that’s exactly why this movie works just as much, if not more than the first.

"What? Is it something on my face?"

“What? Is it something on my face?”

And I think the main element to what makes that such is the fact that Matt Reeves is director here and the guy’s got some chops. Say what you will about Cloverfield, but he’s probably the only guy who can easily say he’s made one of the best American horror-remake of the past decade, come from writing a such a sappy, melodramatic show like Felicity, and yet still be able to deliver on a big-budget, action spectacle such as this. But what makes Reeves’ direction so much more impressive is the fact that he has to do a whole lot here, without losing focus – he has to keep the action, the violence and the overall carnage up to keep people satisfied, while still be able to give us those spare emotional moments that have us feel something for these characters when all goes wrong. Because, as we all know, it certainly will.

And while it’s evident that Reeves sort of slips up on giving this movie more of a point than just, “Don’t be mean to others, guys!”, there’s still a whole lot more emotional baggage that I felt delivered in ways I wasn’t expecting. Sure, we’ve seen the story of Caesar before, but what about him now as a leader? An ape that has a lot more on his plate than before. Because not only is he the head ape of this whole clan, he’s possibly the head ape of his whole species and it’s all up to him to keep the peace amongst the group, make the right choices, and ensure that not all of it goes to waste because of a mess-up here, or a mess-up there.

In a way, too, Andy Serkis is a lot like Caesar; not only does Caesar himself play a way bigger role this time around, but Serkis’ name even gets top-billing as well. To me, Serkis will always be remembered for what he does in these motion-capture performances and rightfully so: He’s able to give a voice to these characters who seemingly have none. Though Caesar does do an awful lot of a Hulk-talk throughout this movie (“Human bad. Ape good.”), there are still many moments in which we just see Caesar either speaking to others in sign-language, or just by looking at someone, for some reason. However, the reason is never a mystery to us because with every stare, every glance that Caesar the character gives a fellow character, Serkis brings so much drama; so much so that we never exactly know whether Caesar is going to lose his shit, or just take a much-needed nap.

That said, it should definitely be noted that Serkis isn’t the only one donning the green spandex-suit and getting away with it, because there are quite a few other relatively big names that do splendid work as well. Though Koba is essentially a one-note bastard, Toby Kebbell does a great job at giving him enough reason behind the menace to make you understand why an ape like him would take absolute matters into his own hands, as risky as they may sometimes be. Judy Greer is also using mo-cap here as Caesar’s wife/baby-momma and is fine, although it is unfortunate that we don’t actually get to see her in this movie, because what a pleasure that would have been.

Oh well, I guess these annoying-ass Sprint Family Plan commercials will have to do for now. Ugh.

Anyway, mostly everything I said about the ape characters, can be said for the human characters, although they’re filled with more recognizable faces and names. Jason Clarke is practically filling in for Franco as a peacekeeper named Malcolm. We never really get to know much about his character other than that he lost some of those close to him when the virus swept the nation, as well as that he’s able to at least communicate and stay calm with the apes, but with Clarke, that’s enough as is. The dude’s a solid actor and always makes it seem like he’s a genuinely nice guy, who just wants what’s best for his people, so long so as nobody has to get hurt. And as for Franco, well, much has been made about him apparently showing up in this movie, and I have to say, without saying all that much, he does. And unsurprisingly, it’s the most emotionally-wrenching scene of the whole movie.

Damn that Franco. The dude isn’t even credited as being in the movie, yet, somehow leaves the biggest impression.

Typical Franco-fashion.

As for the rest of the human characters, they’re fine, though not as deep as Clarke’s Malcolm in the middle – Keri Russell plays his gal-pal who also happens to be a doctor at the most opportune times; Kodi Smit-McPhee plays the teenage son who draws pictures and reads Charles Burns’ Black Hole (highly recommended read from yours truly), which already gives you the impression that this kid has seen some messed-up stuff and is trying to express himself in any creative way to block it all out, or just that he’s a messed-up kid in general; Kirk Acevedo plays, yet again, a spineless dick that has some truth to what he says, but is so aggressive about it, you sort of just want to give him a Benadryl; and Gary Oldman does what he can with his limited-role as the leader of these humans by digging deep into what makes this human, well, human.

"Come on, bro. You're an ape, I'm an ape, let's just be ape for one another."

“Come on, bro. You’re an ape, I’m an ape, let’s just be ape for one another.”

Typical Oldman-fashion. So suck on that, Franco!

However, I’ve realized that I’ve gotten further and further away from the point of this movie, and that’s that it’s a pretty solid summer blockbuster if I’ve ever seen one. Reeves doesn’t back down when he has to allow his movie to get a tad bit insane (apes on horses, that’s all I’m saying), but he finds a neat balance in allowing there to be these small, quiet humane scenes of drama that feel honest, rather than thrown-in to give this story some more of a purpose. Many blockbusters nowadays are guilty of this, but somehow, Reeves is smarter than that; he knows his story is about apes and humans trying to get along, but somehow just can’t. Yet, he isn’t afraid to go a step further and show us that the fear isn’t with these apes coming over to our land and taking over, but how most of us humans would react. Some would run and hide, while others would probably stay and fight for what they believe in.

Whatever your choice is, it doesn’t matter. Because these apes, they’re kicking ass, taking names and, occasionally, being nice to those humans who realize there’s more to them than just a bunch of hairy specimens. They have souls, feelings and all sorts of emotions. That’s not to say that they’re like you or me, but hey, they come pretty close.

Got your back, Darwin.

Consensus: While it’s not nearly as deep as it clearly wants to be, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes still messes around with plenty ideas, while simultaneously giving us enough action, spectacle, fun, and emotion to make this story, as well as these characters, human or not, feel worth getting invested in.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Caesar here!"

“Caesar here!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images