Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Matthew Kimbrough

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Can always count on men to be horny!

Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a single mother of three who, after losing a personal injury lawsuit, asks her lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), if he can help her find a job, since she has a pretty rough time holding one down. Because, in all honesty, Erin’s a bit of a problem for most employers out there – she’s brash, loud, and likes to speak her mind. So yeah, she can be a bit of a handful, which is why Ed hesitates to hire her, time and time again. Eventually, he gives her work as a file clerk in his office, and she runs across some information on a little-known case filed against Pacific Gas and Electric. She then begins digging into the particulars of the case, convinced that the facts simply don’t add up, and persuades Ed to allow her to do further research. Somehow, through non-stop research and eyewitness accounts on her own time and dime, Erin discovers not just a cover-up, but a potential health-crisis that has yet to be addressed in the slightest, leaving it up to Erin and Ed to have to band together and stick it against the big-wigs of the corporate world.

All the biker dudes love big boobs!

Steven Soderbergh loves to flirt with the idea of formula and most of all, mainstream film-making. Even if his most mainstream films (the Ocean’s trilogy), honestly feel more like homages and exercises in style, rather than an attempt at selling-out and just collecting a quick, easy paycheck. Granted, Soderbergh likes to have the studio money floating around for whatever weird, small, and unique indie he wants to make after the big, mainstream flick, but still, it’s not like his soul is being sold. His mainstream movies, like Erin Brockovich, still have a heart, a soul, and a passion to them that make them a step above our average, mainstream fare.

Even if it is, at the end of the day, average, mainstream fare.

That said, Soderbergh gets away with a lot in Erin Brockovich; he gets to play around with the idea of a biopic and how to tell a story, without focusing too much on the facts. See, most biopics of this nature get way too bogged-down by what happened, where, why, and the context of it all, which is dumb, because half of the stuff in these movies is just creative licenses after all. While there are still a lot of moments where it feels like we’re checking off certain facts and pieces of Brockovich’s life throughout, Soderbergh does know how to remind us that, underneath the case, is a real human being.

“Hi, I’m Julia Roberts, playing a normal, everyday gal from the South, who also happens to look like Julia Roberts.”

And as a result, it feels much more like a character-study, rather than a by-the-numbers biopic. Sure, having the case in here helps us get a better context of why she matters and why we’re having this story told to us, but Soderbergh also doesn’t forget to develop this character over time, allowing us to see more sides to her compelling, if sometimes flawed, persona. It’s neat that Brockovich was actually so involved and so accepting of this film (she actually shows up as a waitress), because the movie doesn’t always let her down easy – it can sometimes judge her and not let her forgive and forget, but that’s okay. The movie is showing us the true side to a person who, beyond all of the flaws of her character, wanted to do what was right, even if it didn’t totally convenience her.

Oh and it definitely helps that Julia Roberts was portraying her, too.

Yes, even though Roberts can mostly appear to be sleep-walking through almost every role she takes nowadays, there was a time, when the world of pop-culture and tabloids were done fawning over her, when Roberts was considered to be one of the best actresses working in the biz. And yes, even though it’s obvious to point out her Oscar-winning role here as her best ever, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a great role, as is, because it allows her to utilize all of the skills that we came to know and love her for. She’s not just beautiful, but she’s also lovely, funny, charming, and oh yeah, a bit of a hard-ass when push comes to shove and as Brockovich, Roberts gets the chance to let a little loose in a role that gives her not just enough to work with, but even dig in deeper with, too. It’s honestly the kind of role that Roberts has been working for ever since and it’s a shame that we haven’t seen another one from her since.

Steven? Will you come ‘a knockin’?

Consensus: As far as conventional biopics go, Erin Brockovich is one of the better ones out there, with an attentive eye to detail that not only remembers to develop its subject, but also give us a story to care about.

7.5 / 10

Where are these lawyers now! Get to Flint!

Photos Courtesy of: Brockovich

Advertisements

The Limey (1999)

The toughest gangsters around are the ones you mostly can’t understand at all.

Wilson (Terence Stamp), a tough English ex-con travels to Los Angeles to avenge his daughter’s death. Upon arrival, Wilson goes to task battling Valentine (Peter Fonda) and an army of L.A.’s toughest criminals, hoping to find clues and piece together what happened.

With Steven Soderbergh, there’ no such things such as conventions or formula. Take, for example, Haywire; what seems to be a pretty self-explanatory, straight-forward thriller, is played to the tunes of jazz music throughout, features barely any score music at all, and doesn’t cut-away once from the major beat-downs that occur in that film. The same could almost be said for Magic Mike, which was essentially a steamy sex film, that features a cold story and three-dimensional characters. Basically, Soderbergh plays with genre and doesn’t care what sort of rules he’s breaking.

What a view. Damn L.A.

Cause what’s the point of having rules if they aren’t meant to be broken in the first place, eh?

And like with mostly all of his flicks, the Limey isn’t just about switching things up, but being pretty cool while doing so, too. It’s a noir in the sense that it’s a deep, dark, and gritty tale about some mean, ugly people, but it’s also a revenge-tale that doesn’t always give you the most perfect idea of what it’s going to do next. Soderbergh shoots things here in a certain way, whether in an odd camera-angle, or somewhere off-to-the-side like you’ve never seen before, that makes you wonder what he’s going to come up with next. He doesn’t over-do it, either, and it can sometimes feel like he’s meshing what sorts of style bits and pieces he wants to, in order to make a sort of easy story, hit a lot harder.

And deep down inside, it really is a tale about a father trying to ask for forgiveness and wonder about what he missed out on. Speaking of Terence Stamp, this guy absolutely nails it as Wilson, the guy who we never, ever get to really know that well but for some reason, we don’t feel as if we have to, we just got to watch him. Stamp is a guy who always just sits in the background, let everybody else in front of him kick some ass, and then come in out of nowhere, steal a scene or two, and just walk off as if he was the leading man they were waiting for the whole time. The difference here, is that he is the leading man and he shows that he has all the right skills to pull that off as well. Even though he may not physically fit to pull of a scary-ass crook that would kill you the first chance he got, Stamp still makes up for that with the look on his eyes and the steps in his walk. This guy has got a mean-looking face that makes many people shiver in their beds, and when you watch him put those mean, old eyes on somebody here, you know something bad is about to go down.

Somehow, can totally see these two being the best of buddies.

A shame that Stamp doesn’t get anymore starring roles like this, but at least he still shows up from time-to-time and still steals every show.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Peter Fonda as the ex-hippie, record producer, named Valentine who seems like a gentle dude, that just mixed up in all of the wrong things. Fonda doesn’t play this guy like your typical, evil villain that just goes around with an evil ‘stache, twirling it all the time his evil pleasures get fulfilled. No, this guy actually has a certain amount of heart to him that makes you feel a bit bad for the guy, even if he does come off like the type of guy you shouldn’t trust or even like in a film like this. Great to see Fonda give off a wonderful performance and be on the look-out for a nice bit where he talks about motorcycles. Easy Rider reference, anyone?

Also, Luiz Guzman is here. Enough said.

Consensus: The Limey may be a bit too stylized and simple for its own good, but still allows Soderbergh to drench his story in a hard-boiled narrative that gives you some great performances from this cast, as well as some real thrilling moments of violence, that harken back to the golden days of 60’s and 70’s thrillers.

8 / 10

Really? Does it need to be that high?

Photos Courtesy of: Artisan Entertainment

American Beauty (1999)

Once the white picket fence goes up, consider your life over.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is going through a bit of a midlife crisis. He’s 42, in a marriage to his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), that hasn’t been passionate or loving in many years; works at a magazine that he despises has a daughter named Jane (Thora Birch) who, despite living with and seeing everyday, doesn’t actually know; and her wannabe-model friend, Angela (Mena Suvari) catches his eye and all of a sudden, he can’t stop himself from having fantasies about her. Eventually, all of this tension and turmoil in his life leaves him to just say to hell with it all and do whatever the hell he feels like doing! That means, not only does he quit his job, but he gets back onto smoking pot, drinking, talking dirty to his wife, and most importantly, lifting and getting back into shape. Meanwhile, everyone else around him is trying to work with their own lives, and some definitely succeed more than others. Carolyn’s trying to make her real estate agent career work, whereas Jane has taken up with the new neighbor, Ricky (Wes Bentley), who films stuff he finds “interesting”, sells pot to Lester, and has to deal with an overly-oppressive father (Chris Cooper). And through all of their troubles, they try their hardest to achieve happiness and realize the beauty in life, underneath all the material and glamour.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

Yes, Lester. You do rule.

There’s been so much said about American Beauty that, by now, that’s it hard to say anything really new, or better yet, ground-breaking about it. For one, it’s a great movie – there’s no denying that fact. Secondly, it’s one that helped spear-head the careers of director Sam Mendes, as well as writer Alan Ball, both who have gone on to do great, amazing things with their careers. And also, I can’t forget to mention that, you know, it’s one of those rare, small, indie-based flicks that won a whole lot of Oscars, earned plenty of respect, and also, changed the game of indie cinema and how these big award shows look at them.

Oh yeah, and it’s one of my favorites of all time. However, that’s neither here, nor there.

But even after all these years (15, to be exact), there’s still something that stays relevant in today’s day and age. Back before ’99, it wasn’t out-of-this-world to have a movie satirize the suburbs, the people who lived in them, and the general mind-set that came with being apart of a little world like that. Not much has changed on that front since, either, but still, what American Beauty was setting out to do, or say, wasn’t really revolutionary; it was more in how the movie actually went a bit deeper and further into its subjects that sets it apart from the rest of “suburban malaise” subgenre of film that, quite frankly, got pretty old once people realized they all had the same message: The suburbs suck.

Move on, already!

But like I said, Ball’s screenplay shoots for something much more meaningful than just saying, “People in the suburbs aren’t really happy, no matter how hard they try to make themselves think that”, and leaving it at that. Nope, Ball, as well as Mendes, are both a lot smarter than that and find interesting ways to tell these characters, as well as their stories, in fun, fresh ways that they’re not only hilarious, but at times, pretty heartfelt. While at one moment, we may sneer at a character for being so wrapped-up in materialistic crap that doesn’t at all matter, the next moment, we’ll see a character reveal a fact about their life that not only makes you a bit misty, but also gives you something to take in about those characters.

This is all to say that while, for the longest time, it may appear as such, American Beauty isn’t filled with a bunch of soulless, comical caricatures that are just there for us to point at and make fun of. On the surface, they may appear as such, but once you look a little bit closer (I know I’m sort of referencing the tag-line, but trust me, it isn’t on purpose), you realize that they are actual human beings; ones who breath, think, talk, and act like you or I. They may live in a different situation, or have more experience in one walk of life or another, but they’re still humans none the less that deserve to be seen as such, and it’s here that Ball’s writing really wins points.

While Ball is opening up this world and dissecting it, he’s also showing us that there’s more to it, as well as life. Lester is the perfect example of this fact because, despite living a grudgingly boring, monotonous life, he’s finally woken-up, smelled the daises, and realized that over-priced couches are what matter most in life – it’s the people you love and the time you spend with them that do! That’s why, despite Lester seemingly doing a lot of downhill things, he’s still the heart and soul of this story who, no matter what decisions he may make throughout, we still support and sympathize with him because, quite frankly, we too want him to feel happier and embrace life more to its fullest.

And honestly, there isn’t a more perfect bit of casting for Lester Burnham than Kevin Spacey.

Spacey, even before American Beauty and definitely after, has always seemed like the smartest guy in every scene he’s in. There always seems to be something on his mind that he wants to blurt out, but he chooses not to, so as a way to keep to himself for his own personal enjoyment. That’s why Lester, before and after his transformation, always feels like a real person that we could actually meet; he understands that the world he’s been surrounded by isn’t “real” and isn’t worth getting sucked-up into. So, he goes against the tide and it’s hard to not be satisfied with everything he does.

Lester throws a plate against the wall; tries to have sex with his wife in the middle of the day; gets caught masturbating in the bed; quits his relatively fine paying-job, only to then take up as a fry-cook at a fast-food joint; buys off of and smokes pot with his neighbor; and above the rest, can’t help but have really hard feelings for his daughter’s friend. Once again, these may seem like choices an unlikable person would make, but because of the way Lester’s written, and the way Spacey portrays him so wonderfully, we’re constantly rooting for him.

So yeah, in a nutshell, Kevin Spacey definitely deserved the Oscar he won that year.

However, he isn’t the only one who puts stellar work in here.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Family dinners have never been so depressing.

Annette Bening may get a more of an over-the-top role to play, but because she’s so talented, is able to find certain shadings of humanity that makes us feel bad for her, even if we don’t whole heartedly wish her to be quite as happy as Lester. Thora Birch, despite playing a misanthropic teen a whole lot better a few years later in Ghost World, is still great here as Jane, Lester and Carolyn’s kid who just wants nothing more than for them to stop embarrassing the hell out of her and leave her be. While some of her line-reads are a bit awkward, it works for her character because, like most teens her age, they’re socially awkward as hell. Mena Suvari’s Angela is also a very interesting character because while she is, in ways, a preppy, popular girl, she still hangs around with Jane. Sure, some of this may to make herself feel better, but whatever it is, it doesn’t feel wholly fake or unbelievable, which is why when the character does get a nice dose of reality, it feels deserved and helps allow us to understand this character a bit more.

And yeah, there’s also Wes Bentley as the weird kid next door who, in all honesty, may not be all that weird, Ricky. Bentley has that perfect blend between being both incredibly off-kilter, but also, like Spacey, seem like the smartest dude in the room who is just waiting for that mic to drop down from the sky, so he can just air out all of his thoughts. He and Birch have a nice little chemistry between one another that’s a big part of the movie, but also doesn’t take it over too much to where it’s just a romance about teenagers and that’s it. Though I can’t say the same for Birch, it’s nice to see Bentley back to doing movies and showing the world just the type of talent that he still is, even all these many years later.

Also, worth mentioning here is Chris Cooper who gets one of the more creepier roles in the flick as Ricky’s dad, Col. Frank Fitts. While Fitts is insanely strict dad, there’s also something about him that’s inherently interesting to sit by and watch; though he may over-do it, in no way does he feel like he’s being a bad dad, just over-protective. We come to understand more about this character and his history, but through it all, Cooper remains chilling and scary just about every second. Which makes us wonder more about Allison Janney’s wife character who, honestly, we still have no clue about these years later.

And there’s more to talk about, but honestly, the core cast here is excellent and worth chatting about.

But at the end of the day, what American Beauty represents about being alive is that it’s easy to follow the rules and do what everybody else is doing; in fact, there’s nothing really wrong with this. However, American Beauty also presents the idea of not just being a joyless, emotionless cog in the machine and instead, embracing life for the small things. The plastic-bag floating in the air may be a bit of a silly metaphor, but it’s one that’s still incredibly effective and iconic as well; while some may choose to follow life by a standard set of guidelines and rules, others choose to float freely and see where life takes them next. Whichever person you are, only you and you alone would know. So soak it all in and never take anything for granted.

And also, jam out to some of the Guess Who while you’re at it.

Consensus: For what it’s worth, American Beauty is a smart, often times, hilarious and insightful look into the lives of people we, initially, despise, but after awhile, learn to love, embrace, and sympathize with, much like life itself.

10 / 10

That's the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

That’s the future right there, everyone. Get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

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