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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Marion McCorry

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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She Hate Me (2004)

She hate me, she hate me not.

Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is a young, brash hotshot at a large biotech company that’s on the verge of creating a vaccine for AIDS. However, a whole swirl of controversy surrounds him and the company for supposed wrongdoings, when he’s the one who blows the whistle. Obviously, Jack’s bosses aren’t too happy about him opening his mouth, so they make him the one to take the fall, which the leads the government to look further and further into Jack’s life and freezing all of his accounts. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, however, Jack leads the life of a young, New York bachelor. So now, Jack needs some way to make any bit of cash he can find – that’s why when his ex-girlfriend (Kerry Washington), comes by with her girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), in desperate need of a sperm donor, he’s more than willing to accept the offer. But because Jack is so good at what he does, word has spread about him and now, every lesbian who wants to have a baby are hitting Jack up for sex. Of course, they give him money and all that, but really, what Jack wants, is a love in his life and some meaning.

Is this love?

Is this love?

Deep down inside the dark, fiery hells of She Hate Me, lies, believe it or not, a funny movie from Spike Lee. What with all the impregnating of lesbians and such, Lee finds a certain bit of energy that he’s utilized in practically every film, but actually seems to be having fun. There are some small points he seems to make about gender-politics and homosexuality, but really, none are too preachy to where they take over what Lee’s trying to do – basically, he’s setting out to make us laugh. It’s not the kind of Spike Lee we’re used to seeing, which is why She Hate Me, for a meager amount of time, feels like Lee’s funniest flick where, he doesn’t care about preaching or yelling at the audience, but instead, having them chuckle.

Then, it’s all downhill from there.

See, while a good portion of She Hate Me is about this young guy having sex and impregnating lesbians, there’s also another good portion of the movie that concerns itself with being about AIDS, about Congress, about big, Enron-like corporations that swallow-up the middleman and don’t take the blame, about the mafia, about sexuality, about Italians, about African Americans, about Caucasians, about racism, and well, so much more. Really, She Hate Me is packed to the gills with numerous subplots, ideas, themes, statements, and viewpoints that, after awhile, it all becomes tiring.

But I sort of liked that.

Spike Lee hasn’t always been known as the easiest director to follow or like; most of his films are preachy and one-sided, but are still, for the most part, compelling to watch and be apart of. While some may not agree with his general viewpoints on certain issues like race, sex, or class, there’s no denying that his movies are entertaining and get you thinking harder than most other film-makers. So what if Spike Lee creates a mess? If the mess is, at the very least, interesting and seems to want to say something, no matter how muddled it may be, then so let it be!

That’s why, no matter where She Hate Me goes, tries to say, or ends up, I wasn’t pissed. I was confused and a little befuddled, but I was never bored and there’s something to be happy about with that. While Lee could have made a drag of a movie that goes from sexuality-to-politics at the snap of his finger and not really done much with it, he does, at the very least, push it to its extreme limits where we can see where he’s going – we may not know why he’s going there, but hey, at least he’s keeping us watching. Once again, it may just be me who feels this way about She Hate Me, but I don’t care: A mess is a mess, no matter what.

Or this?

Or this?

But sometimes, it’s all a matter of just how well you dress that mess up to appear like something extraordinary or, better yet, smart.

And in the midst of all this havoc that Lee creates, Anthony Mackie does a great job as Jack Armstrong. Now, Mackie’s a force to be reckoned with and constantly shines in everything he shows up in; however, back in 2004, he wasn’t known for much (except for getting chewed the ‘eff out by B-Rabbit), but here, for what appears the first time, he gets a chance to show his range and just how well he can handle and adapt to Lee’s idiosyncratic style. Because there’s so many different flicks going on at once during She Hate Me, Mackie has to handle each and everyone with a certain level of believeability, as if this is in fact, the same character, going through all these sorts of different transformations and situations – all of which, Mackie does quite well with and actually comes out on top. Of course, there’s a very interesting movie to be made about what Jack’s life and romance, but Lee is less concerned with that at times.

This allows for the rest of the ensemble to show up and, in some ways, light the screen up just as much as Mackie, even if it seems like they may be showing up from the sets of other flicks. Kerry Washington is sexy and dangerous, both at the same time, but also has a nice bit of chemistry with Mackie; Dania Ramirez is sympathetic as her girlfriend who, despite wanting a baby and being a lesbian, is willing to have sex with a man, even if she doesn’t really want to; Ellen Barkin and Woody Harrelson are, oddly enough, hammy and over-the-top as Jack’s former bosses who get rid of him and seem every bit as detestable as Lee wants them to appear to be; John Turturro shows up as an Italian mob boss that has an interesting scene, but once again, appears literally out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to add much to the final product; and yeah, there’s plenty more where they come from. Everybody’s fine and trying to do what they can do, but really, they’re stuck trying to work within Spike Lee’s mind.

And what a crazy, but watchable one it is.

Consensus: Jumbled, odd, sometimes confusing, and always interesting, She Hate Me is the kind of mess we expect to see from Spike Lee, even if it does occasionally lapse into being one too many films for one movie.

6.5 / 10

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Salt (2010)

What about Pepa?

CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) has served and protected her country for many years, so when she’s accused of being a Russian spy, she’s absolutely baffled. Not just by the claim itself, but the fact that people who know and have worked with her for so many years, would actually start to believe this claim to be a fact and hunt her down as if she was some sort of Splinter Cell. But Salt knows that she can’t just sit around while she’s being thought about, so instead, she decides to take matters into her own hands by going on the run. This puts the CIA on a heavy, electrifying chase of sorts, where they find out more about Salt’s history/background and also see if they can get in contact with her husband (August Diehl). However, what’s strange is that he’s nowhere to be found, but what’s even stranger is that Salt’s past does seem a bit sketchy. Almost as if she could be some sort of spy who, for all these years, has been feeding off countless bits of info to her homeland of Russia. Then again though, nobody knows for sure and that’s how Salt plans on keeping it.

While this seems like a general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller, that would more than likely star either Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in the lead roles, all of a sudden becomes something of a different beast when you get rid of those two, manly-men and replace them with none other than a woman. Better yet, a woman by the name of Angelina Jolie who, despite what you may think about her questionable choices in her personal life, is a movie star in every sense of the word.

Yup. Toates Russian.

Yup. Toates Russian.

She’s not only proven herself, time and time again, that she can in fact act with the best of them, but is also able to kick some fine ass and even have us believe that a skinny little thing like her would be capable of doing so, too. Sure, most of her action-movies are the typical fodder for dudes who are just begging to see her naked to love and adore, but what she does well is that she can turn her “action-mode” off, as well as on, and have us believe her every second. She may not have many fans out there, but for me, Angelina Jolie is the exact kind of Hollywood star I want head-lining my major blockbuster; not just for the major dough involved with having her name attached to something, but because she always seems to put in the best that she can.

That, and the fact that she’s a woman who reminds us why girls can be tough, too.

All that said, this movie isn’t really trying to go out on a limb and make some sort of grand, feminist-statement – much rather, it just wants to be exactly what it sets out to be in the first place: A general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller. However, what’s so different here, is that something feels slightly “old school” about it all. Most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the writing is something of pure 80’s cheese, in which the CIA is running rampant all over the globe and Russians are still the bad guys, but another part of that can be chalked up to director Phillip Noyce, the kind of director that is able to bring us back to the good old days of action-thrillers.

You know, before Bourne had to come around and shake things up a notch. I mean that literally, and figuratively.

But what’s so interesting here that Noyce does, that not many action-thrillers do, or just seemingly forget about because they just want explosions and bullets, is that there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of simple, yet exciting action-sequences; it’s actually a mystery of sorts and adds more to the final product. Sure, the action-sequences are great and all, and more often than not feel as if they are riding the thin line between “absolutely absurd” and “somewhat believable”, but it’s the mystery as to who the hell this character is that really keeps it moving. It also keeps the movie interesting, because even when they do call it a lunch on all the action and decide to explore more and more about this main’s character life, it’s still compelling to figure out. Not that the writing for these flashbacks are great at all, but what they are able to get away with is being placed in at the right times, for the right reasons.

They're still holding a grudge over who's getting paid the most here.

They’re still holding a grudge over who’s getting paid the most.

That said, Salt herself is a bit of a bland character. I get the fact that since she’s a woman and she can kick more than a few asses on a good day is supposed to make her “different” from the rest of the other ass-kickers out there in a genre filled to the brim with them, but here, she does begin to feel less and less human as the movie goes on. And I don’t mean that because of the fact that she jumps on moving, speeding cars while on the highway and hardly ever gets a scratch; I mean that just because the writing never allows us to get to know as much as we should about her, in order to have us fully care for her journey into clearing her own name. Yeah, it kind of blows that everybody around her would all of a sudden go gung-ho after hearing that she may possibly be a Russian spy, but is that it? I needed a bit more, and maybe that’s asking too much as is.

That’s not to say Jolie isn’t bad here, because it’s quite the opposite – she’s good, meaning that she’s capable of having us believe her as both an ass-kicker, as well as a woman thrown into a disaster of a dilemma. The rest of the cast is pretty fine too, with the likes of Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Corey Stoll showing their faces and letting everybody know that they can hang with Jolie, too. However, most of the time, especially for the first two names I mentioned, they’re just spent staring at monitors and spitting in each other’s faces when everything starts to go haywire for them and this mission of tracking down Salt. It’s fun to watch these guys scream and yell, like most of us imagine CIA officials do on a daily basis, but the fact that they’re both technically fighting and hollering over a woman, makes it even funnier.

Better yet, make that woman Angelina Jolie and you’ve got yourself a comedy. Except one with a lot more running, jumping, killing, explosions, shooting, bleeding and death. Does that still qualify as a “comedy”?

Consensus: Exceptionally well-made as an action-thriller of yesteryear, Salt feels like it’s constantly keeping us, as well as itself moving, and while that may not make it more than just a standard action flick, it’s still a good time regardless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"That'll take care of that fly."

“That’ll take care of that fly.”

 

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.AuGoggle Images