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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Michael Patrick Rogers

Free States of Jones (2016)

Turns out, most racists don’t enjoy being on the end-side of a gun.

In 1863, Mississippi farmer Newt Knight (Matthew McConaughey) served as a medic for the Confederate Army, where he treated and helped all sorts of soldiers who were either severely injured, slowly dying, or dead on arrival. Either way, it was terrible for Newt to be around and it made him see some unimaginable things that no man should ever have to see. And once his nephew dies in battle, Newt decides that he’s had it with the war and returns home to Jones County, his hometown. There, he safeguards his family, but therefore, is branded a deserter and chased by all army officials who are either looking to steal citizens goods and crops, or just looking to capture Newt and whoever else may be ducking the war. So now Newt has to run for the swamps and in there, he finds a fellow band of slaves, also trying to hide out and be free from the slavers, leading both Newt, as well as the slaves to create a union where they’ll fight-off the evil and corrupt army with all that they’ve got. It’s dangerous, but it leads to one of the biggest uprisings in U.S. history.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Always follow Matthew McConaughey, kid. Always.

Director Gary Ross clearly has good intentions with Free State of Jones; in fact, so much so that it actually comes close to ruining the movie. There’s a lot that Ross has to cover and talk about here, and because of that, the movie runs in at nearly two-hours-and-19-minutes. For some, this may not be much of an issue, because there’s plenty to watch and learn about, but for mostly everyone else, it will just be a long, boring slog that never seems to end, never knows where it wants to go, nor ever seems any interest in actually exploring anything deeper than its message, which is, essentially, slavery was bad.

That’s it.

Free State of Jones, for its whole run-time, narrative choices, tricks, trades, and detours, eventually ends on a typical note that racism was bad, hating people for their skin-color is bad, and yeah, you should just be nicer to people. While this is definitely a fine statement to have in everyday life, this doesn’t really seem to break any new ground, nor open people’s minds up, especially when the movie is as long as this one is. And while I’m sure that this makes it appear that I didn’t like this flick, I’ll have you know, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, it’s messy, odd, confusing at points, and flawed, but there were bits and pieces of it that worked and interested me, long after having seen it.

Ross definitely has a lot he wants to talk about here and because of that, the movie can sometimes feel like a jumble; it’s also made even worse by the fact that his narrative-structure isn’t always the smartest to use. For example, he uses a lot of typeface that tells us what historical moments/occurrences are happening between scenes, as well as using a bunch of old-timey photos of certain characters and settings. And heck, if that wasn’t bad enough, he also frames it all with a story taking place in 1949, where a descendant of Newt Knight is trying to argue his race and family’s history.

They’re all interesting ideas to bring to a movie that covers as much ground as this one does, but are they the right ones?

Well, that’s kind of the issue with Free State of Jones – it takes a lot of risky steps, but doesn’t find a lot of them paying-off in the end. If anything, they seem to take away from the strength and the power of the actual, true story itself, in which a lot of bad things happen to good people and for all idiotic, except that, once again, this is all from history. Ross has an agenda and has something that he wants to say about the South, America’s history, and racism as a whole, and they’re all noble, but at the same time, it also keeps Free State of Jones from being a better movie. Sometimes, it’s just a little too messy and disjointed to really keep moving at a certain pace.

But for me, the pace actually worked for me. Ross isn’t trying to cram everything down our throats and at our eye-sockets all at one time – he takes his time, allowing for certain details about the story and these characters to come out, slowly, but surely. It’s very rare to get a big-budget, summer flick that doesn’t feel the need to go all crazy with explosions, guns, violence and a big, screeching score right off the bat; sometimes, all a movie needs to do is settle itself down to keep us on-track with everything that’s going on. Does it always work? Not really, but the times that it does, it helps make Free State of Jones a more interesting piece of history that, quite frankly, Hollywood seems to get wrong, or steer away from.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he's the man.

Even while holding that gun, Matty knows he’s the man.

And this is all to say that yes, Free State of Jones is violent, bloody, gruesome, and ugly, but in all the right ways. The movie is depicting a time in U.S. history that we all don’t like to look back on with smiles, so therefore, Free State of Jones gets as graphic as it humanly can about all of the mean and nasty injustices and deaths that occurred during this time. After awhile, it all gets to be a bit jarring, but that’s sort of the point; war, or even for that matter, violence, isn’t pretty, so why should a movie depicting it so much be?

Well, to answer that question: It shouldn’t.

And yes, the cast is quite good, even if it does sometimes feel as if they don’t always have a whole lot to do. Matthew McConaughey is as charming and likable as he can possibly be as Newt Knight, and it works in the character’s favor. You want to love his winning and charismatic smile, but you also want to believe that he is absolutely willing to sink to the lowest depths of humanity to protect himself, as well as those that he loves so much. Mahershala Ali plays Moses, a former slave who has some of the more emotional moments of the movie and quite frankly, they’re definitely needed. As for the women, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Keri Russell, play two interesting characters in Newt Knight’s life that, honestly, I would have liked to see their own movie about.

Maybe in another flick, perhaps?

Or then again, maybe not.

Consensus: Disjointed, uneven and a bit nonsensical, Free States of Jones doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, narratively speaking, but still offers up plenty of interesting truths about America’s bloody, brutal, and sometimes upsetting history.

6 / 10

"To freedom! I think!"

“To freedom! I think!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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The Runner (2015)

When you’re Nic Cage, sometimes, it’s too hard to keep it in the pants.

In the wake of the BP oil spill, Louisiana Congressman Colin Price (Nicolas Cage) wants to find a way so that people can keep their jobs, as well as make sure that those who are responsible for the spill in the first place, get their comeuppance. Price is very expressive with his ideas, which already puts him on some people’s radars as, possibly, a Senator. However, there’s a couple of skeletons in Price’s closet that have been tucked away for quite some time, that are only now coming out. For one, he’s a bit of a womanizer; there’s a video that begins to float around all of the news circuits featuring Price getting frisky with a wife of a unemployed fisherman. This ruins everything in Price’s life; his wife (Connie Nielsen) leaves him, his right-hand man (Wendell Pierce) doesn’t stand behind him anymore, and his consultant (Sarah Paulson) is running out of options of what to do with Price and his political career. It’s either give up, or continue to try and make a change – either way, it’s going to take a lot of running to get through.

Does Nic Cage believe that he's Nic Cage?

Does Nic Cage believe that he’s Nic Cage?

So yeah, the Runner is aptly-titled because Cage, throughout a good majority of the film, is seen jogging up and down sidewalks. Sure, some of the title relates to the fact that Price himself is actually “running” for office, but honestly, a part of me just wishes this movie had been all about Nic Cage performing some sort of Forrest Gump cross-country run, where he met plenty of colorful citizens along the way, lost a bunch of weight, saw pretty sights, and eventually, just turned around. That, to me, would have been way better than whatever the Runner actually turns out to be.

But honestly, it’s not all that bad. Just most of it.

Writer/director Austin Stark makes his directorial debut here and while it’s easy to see that Mr. Moneybags was clearly not on his side with the budget, there’s no excusing the fact that this movie’s pretty much a mess. You can say that some of the problems Stark runs into, have to do with the fact that he is only able to do so much given the small-scale and budget he was handed, but sometimes, you just have to roll with however much money you’ve got ahold of, make the best of it, and see what churns out. None of that should ever fall onto the script, especially if your script is solid to begin with; something that Stark’s is not.

One of the main problems Stark seems to run into here with the plotting of this movie is that it wants to be so many things at once. Though it’s made somewhat apparent that this Price fella is setting out to create jobs for these unemployed fisherman during this time of crisis, it’s hardly ever touched upon. Instead, we get scenes where Price, as is often the case, runs, drinks, womanizes, and on rare occasion, talks about his feelings. One half of the movie is about how angry Stark seems to be about all those who got away with ruining the waters during the BP oil spill, but then, the other half, also wants to be a character-study of how troubled this Price man truly was. Neither movies are good in their own right, and put together, they’re even worse.

However, if there is one silver-lining to be found, it’s that Nic Cage actually seems to care about what he’s doing. But by the same token, that’s still the double-edged sword of this movie; whereas as in most movies where Cage is called upon to act like a goof-ball, he isn’t asked to do so here. Instead, he’s much more brooding than we’ve seen from him in quite some time and while it’s definitely nice to know that he’s still got those skills left in his acting repertoire, something doesn’t feel right when he’s doing it in a bore of a movie such as this.

"Well, Sarah. I...uh....yeah.."

“Well, Sarah. I…uh….yeah..”

The whole time, you’ll be wanting Cage to crack a weird smile or look in his eyes, but rather, you just get a guy who seems winded and is in desperate need of a nap. Maybe that’s just how he was directed to act, but whatever the case was, it hurts the movie, if only because there’s nothing else to really hold onto. Stark’s script is too busy running from being JFK to becoming, out of nowhere, Jerry Maguire, which leaves it all up to Cage to keep things at least somewhat interesting and cohesive.

But he’s just sort of there.

And as for the rest of the cast, everybody seems to be trying, just like Cage, but they too get side-lined with hardly anything of substance to do. Nielsen’s wife character feels like the usual kind of strict wife who still isn’t able to keep her man in line; Paulson’s character gets to have a semi-relationship with Cage’s and it’s as weird and as random as you’d expect it to be, although it does culminate in a surprisingly effective scene between the two that will come at you by surprise; Pierce is hardly here; and Peter Fonda, despite only having around ten minutes of screen, does a great job as Price’s dad. Though the movie could have played-up the smarmy and sinister charm of Fonda’s character, Stark goes a tad bit further and shows that this man, if anything, just wants his son to succeed and not become a screw-up in both his professional and personal life, like he was.

It’s a nice sentiment lost in a movie that, honestly, I forgot about ten minutes once it was over.

Consensus: Austin Stark has ideas to work with in the Runner, but they’re so jambled-up together and messy, that they end up getting in the way of what could have been solid performances from a well put-together cast.

3 / 10

What is going on inside that crazy head?

What is going on inside that crazy head?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, High Snobiety