Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Mike White

Brad’s Status (2017)

Life sucks. Then you get old. Then die. Yep. That’s about it.

Brad Sloan (Ben Stiller) has a pretty nice life. A great wife (Jenna Fischer), who’s incredibly supportive of him, a cushy job, a quaint suburban house, a few friends, and a son, Troy (Austin Abrams), who’s something of a musical-prodigy and all ready to head off to college. But Brad still has an issue with his life and where he’s been heading in the past many years; for instance, his former-pals from college are all rich, successful, and living far more luxurious lifestyles than he is, which gets him thinking. Like a lot. And it sort of begins to ruin the trip that he has with his son, where they’re off visiting colleges like Harvard and Yale, all for the hopes that Troy will join the likes of the many greats who have come and gone there before him. Brad, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about his life and what the hell he’s going to do next. Basically, he’s just going through a mid-life crisis – he just doesn’t really seem to know it yet.

See, Brad? Life’s not so bad! You’ve got Pam in your life!

Writer/director Mike White knows what he’s talking about here and because of that, Brad comes off a lot more sympathetic than he probably should have been. While no doubt everything that Brad is yelling, ranting, raving, complaining, and getting all upset about is nothing more than just white first-world problems, it still feels relevant and interesting. We may not agree with everything that he’s pissed-off about – not having enough money, wanting to see other people, wishing that he was working for a different place – but we can sort of see where he’s coming from and it helps make Brad more interesting and relatable, as opposed to just another rambling, bumbling, and angry white guy who truly has nothing to worry about.

Like at all.

And that’s why Brad’s Status both works and also doesn’t. It works because it features some smart and snappy writing about real life issues that everyone faces at least once or twice in their existences. But it’s also bad because that’s literally all Brad’s Status is about; just when we’re introduced to a new character, or possibly even, a new conflict, we know it’s only a matter of time until something irritates Brad and he has to let his mind loose. It’s a convention we see coming, again and again, and it makes Brad annoying, but the writing seem cheap and sitcom-y.

Uh oh. Time for an angry rant.

Which, coming from Mike White, is a bit of a disappointment. He ought to know better and not really fall back onto this sort of stuff that seems like a lame fall-back. And it isn’t like because Brad can sometimes be an asshole, means that he’s not watchable – some of the most compelling characters are the ones you love to hate – it’s just that he’s a bit of a bore. His issues are relevant and, at some point, understandable, but there comes a point when one has to shut up and move on, and Brad’s Status, much like Brad himself, doesn’t seem to.

The one real aspect keeping Brad’s Status moving is Ben Stiller who, once again, seems to really playing to his strengths, albeit, in a much more dramatic-manner.

But it’s a solid turn from Stiller who seems to get off on playing these overachieving, annoying perfectionists, but actually injects some real heart and humanity into him. We see a lot of that play out in the relationship he has with his son here, who is already an interesting character in the first place. Normally, with these kinds of movies where the dad’s a bit of a bummer, the kids generally seem to hate them and loathe their even existence, but Abrams’ Troy. In a way, Troy loves his dad more than even Brad knows or even notices, and it’s why Brad’s Status remains a much smarter movie than you’d expect – there’s an actual feeling of love and emotion somewhere to be found beneath all of the ranting.

Much like real life rants.

Consensus: With an exceptional lead performance from Stiller, Brad’s Status works as an interesting, if also troubling character-study of a relatable, but also annoying person that we may all grow to become one day.

6 / 10

“Dad? What are you hissing about?”

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios

Advertisements

Year of the Dog (2007)

Save the animals. Don’t save yourself.

Peggy (Molly Shannon) seems to have a pretty normal and relatively safe life going for her. She’s surrounded by friends and family, as well as her beloved beagle that she cares for each and every chance she gets. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids of her own, so basically, it’s her one and only responsibility. But after the beagle dies, Peggy soon begins to look for all sorts of ways to fill the void in her life. This leads her to getting involved with people she doesn’t quite care for, watching over her friends’ kids, and also doing other monotonous tasks that only a person in the sort of funk she’s in, would ever be bothered with. But then, Peggy gets the grand idea: “Save” all of the dogs in the world. Meaning, it’s time that she doesn’t just adopt one dog, or hell, even two, but maybe like, I don’t know, 15 at a time. Why, though? Is it grief? Or is just because Peggy literally wants to save every dog in the world and believes that she can, slowly by surely, dog-by-dog?

That’s how it all starts: With just one dog.

One of the great things about Mike White and his writing is that no matter how zany, or silly, or downright wacky his characters and their stories can get, he always has a certain love and respect that never seems to go away. In the case of the Year of the Dog, with Peggy, we see a generally goofy, sad, lonely little woman who seems like she could easily just be the punchline to every joke. And, for awhile at least, that’s what she is; Year of the Dog is the kind of movie that likes to poke fun at its main protagonist, while also realizing that there are people out there in the real world just like her and rather than making fun, maybe we should just accept them.

While, of course, also making jokes at their expense.

But still, that’s why White’s writing is so good here – he knows how to develop this character in small, interesting and actual funny ways, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard. The comedy can verge on being “cringe”, but in a way, White actually dials it back enough to where we get a sense for the languid pacing and it actually works. We begin to realize that the movie isn’t really as slow, as much as it’s just taking its time, allowing us to see certain aspects of Peggy’s life and those around her.

Hey, guys! Here’s Peter Sarsgaard playing a normal human being! Wow!

It also helps give us more time to pay close-attention to Molly Shannon’s great work as Peggy, once again showing us why she’s one of the more underrated SNL talents to ever come around. It’s odd because when she was on that show, Shannon was mostly known for being over-the-top and crazy, but in almost everything that she’s touched since, including this, the roles have mostly stayed down-played and silent. You can almost sense that she’s maybe trying to prove a point, but you can also tell that she’s just genuinely trying to give herself a challenge as an actress and show the whole world what she can do.

And as Peggy, she does a lot, without it ever seeming like it. It’s a very small, subtle performance, but there’s a lot to watch here, what with the character’s constant quirks and oddities, making her actually a very compelling presence on the screen. We don’t know what she’s going to do next, or to whom, and for that, she’s always watchable and constantly keeping this movie interesting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

But that’s sort of the beauty about a Mike White film: Nothing seems as if it’s happening, but in a way, everything is.

Consensus: With a solid lead performance from Shannon, Year of the Dog gets by despite some odd quirks, but also remembers to keep its heart and humor.

7 / 10

I think everyone aspires to have this car, with all these same types of furry friends in it.

Photos Courtesy of: Plan B Entertainment

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Never invite the help for dinner. That’s rule #120 for the upper-class.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a masseuse who has a great deal of clients. One just so happens to be Kathy (Connie Britton), the mother of a girl that Beatriz not only helped, but befriended many years before. Now, Beatriz works her magic on Kathy and in a way, they consider themselves as “friends”. Others may see it differently, but they talk a lot and get to know one another so well that they basically might as well just be friends. Or at least, something like it. Anyway, Beatriz is in a funk one day when, because of the awful day she tells Kathy about, Kathy decides to invite her to a dinner they are having a little bit later. Kathy’s doing this out of the kindness of her own heart, but her husband (David Warshofsky) isn’t too happy about it; for him, this is a business-dinner and not a very social one, meaning that having someone like Beatriz around may be odd. However, Kathy insists and she gets her way, leaving Beatriz to spend the night in the house, at the table, talking with the guests, drinking wine, and eating all sorts of lovely meals. But little does she know that one of the guests (John Lithgow) is quite the pompous ass that literally stands against everything she is for.

Looks like someone didn’t get the “rich housewife gown” memo!

Everything that Beatriz at Dinner is attempting to say, or at least, get across, I whole-heartedly agree with and stand by. In today’s day and age, with the political-climate we currently have going on, it’s great to see a movie stand up to these sorts of fat-cat, bigwigs of the upper-class that constantly seem to be getting away with filthy, bloody murder. But what Beatriz at Dinner does well and at least gets across, is that it shows us that these people are, as you’d expect, human. They may have looser morals and heavier wallets, but they are no doubt, humans, and in a way, that makes them scary.

The fat-cat, bigwig of the upper-class here in Beatriz at Dinner is played by John Lithgow and as usual, he totally immerses himself in the role. He’s compelling, powerful, takes over any room he’s in, seems like he always has something arrogant to say, and oh yeah, is quite menacing when he wants to be. But he’s also humane and feels like a real person – the kind you wouldn’t want to call “a friend”, but the guy you could see yourself sitting and having a drink with, only because he seems like a good time when he isn’t talking about big-game hunting or knocking down trees. But through Mike White’s script and Miguel Arteta’s direction, we see someone who does have a soul and a heart, as black as they may be, and because of that, they are hard to look away from and because of that, easier to indict and point the finger at.

Issue is, that’s all the movie has going for it.

Which isn’t to say that Beatriz at Dinner doesn’t have other fine qualities to it, other than shaming the rich and powerful; it can be, at times, quite funny and interesting, if only because we want to know more and more about these characters. As usual with Arteta’s movies, he’s not afraid to simmer everything down to where we aren’t getting constant jokes, every few seconds, but instead, moments to relax and focus on the finer things in comedies such as these, like characters and what’s to them. Of course, White knows what he’s doing with a script like this when it comes to writing comedy and nailing down perfectly the kind of awkwardness that would be had in a certain situation such as this.

“Cheers to whatever!”

But if anything, the real problem is that it feels unfinished. The movie, for being nearly 80 minutes, feels like it’s missing maybe a few too many reels, especially near the end. The dinner party comes around and why it takes up the bulk of the movie, it still feels rushed and not as if everything fully came together. Some of the humor in these scenes works and there’s a lot of hinting at something deeper going beyond the surface, but nope, the movie just sort of backs away and continues on with way too many ham-fisted points about current-day society.

Once again, I totally agree with what it has to say, but there’s a better way to go about it than here.

And also, if there’s a main problem here, it’s Beatriz herself. While it’s nice that we get a movie where the Latin-American masseuse is the lead protagonist, it also doesn’t help that she’s kind of a type, too. Beatriz, whenever is necessary for her and not really understanding the conversation going on around her, constantly chimes in and rambles on and on about stories from her native-land, goats, and well, mother nature itself. It’s basically one-joke, stretched way too long and it hurts because we know that there’s more to this character than just waxing on and interrupting conversations. Hayek is fine in the role, but yeah, even she feels like she may have been stuck with something that isn’t exactly a win-win for her, in the end.

Consensus: Regardless of what, or who, it speaks about and against, Beatriz at Dinner still feels like it’s missing some pieces to fully keep a cohesive, smart and subtle dramedy, even despite a good cast to help out.

5 / 10

Of course she has a guitar to jam out with.

Photos Courtesy of: Killer Films

The Good Girl (2002)

Catcher in the Rye makes everything better. Except life.

Justine (Jennifer Aniston) lives a pretty uneventful and boring life. She’s 30, working at a convenience-store, doesn’t have many friends, hobbies, and can’t seem to get pregnant with her husband (John C. Reilly) who, for the most part, seems to spend most of his time on the couch, smoking pot with his good buddy (Tim Blake Nelson). However, her life gets a little bit of excitement one day when, all of a sudden, she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young, misanthropic, somewhat depressed, and altogether interesting teen that not only takes a liking to her, but shows her that there’s more to the world than boring suburbia. Eventually, the two strike up a relationship that goes beyond hanging out and reading Catcher in the Rye, but something far more passionate and serious, which leads to problems for both of their lives, although, mostly hers.

Yeah, Wal-Mart may have been a better fit.

The Good Girl will probably always be notable for it showing the whole world that, yes, Jennifer Aniston can indeed act. While she was good before in small, almost virtually unseen movies before this, and yes, even after this, this stood as the shining-spot on her filmography that not only showed she had some indie-cred, but could help us all get past seeing her as Rachel and, well, embracing her as a down and dirty actress.

And yeah, Aniston’s pretty great here. Her Justine is a rather sad and depressed figure, that is, of course, beautiful, but also has some small charms about her that shows just how lovely of a presence Aniston is when she’s on the screen. It does also help that she gets a chance to grow and show her true colors over time, making us see her for a sad figure we can, at the very least, sympathize with, but also realize has some issues that she sort of brings on herself. But of course, all the way through, Aniston shows she can be believable in all sides to this character and it made everyone hopeful that perhaps, just maybe, she’d continue down this path of taking on smart, interesting, and rather challenging film-roles.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

But still, this isn’t to take much away from the rest of the Good Girl. Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arterta, of course, work well with one another, in that they both capture the small town boredom and malaise, while also not forgetting to make us feel a little bit closer to these goofy characters over time. And it also deserves to be sad that while Aniston herself is very good, it’s everyone else around her who assist her, too, putting in just as much great work as her.

Pictured: The perfect life

And like before with White’s writing, every character seems like a type, at first, only to then show their true selves over time. John C. Reilly’s Phil, for a good while, is nothing more than a lazy, weed-smoking, idiotic bum who doesn’t really have much going for him and because of that, we sort of sympathize with Aniston’s Justine in cheating on him. However, as the film goes on, we start to see a more human side to the guy that not only makes us understand his behavior a bit, but oh wait, also sort of want to give the guy a hug and tell Justine to stop screwing around.

There’s a lot of characters like that, but his is probably the best example, probably because Reilly himself is so good.

Just like Blake Nelson, Deschanel, John Carroll Lynch, Roxanne Hart, White himself, and yeah, even Jake Gyllenhaal. Although, for Gyllenhaal’s character, it can’t help but feel like he’s working with a boring type we’ve all seen done before, except only this time, he’s supposed to be interesting on purpose and with good reason. Personally, it would have been nice to see Gyllenhaal and Aniston together in another movie, where they weren’t essentially playing types, but hey, they work well together, regardless.

And that’s all about there is to the Good Girl – it’s not White’s best, but everyone works well in it, so why not accept that for what it is? After all, the movie doesn’t set out to change the world, or shake things up, but more or less, tell us a small, somewhat relatable story about an affair, love, and living a happy life, even when that seems downright impossible. Sometimes, that’s all you need from a movie.

Even if, yeah, we expect a smidge bit better and more coming from Mike White.

Consensus: In the lead role, Aniston gives a memorable performance as a rather depressed, but charming cashier living in a small-town, that also helps keeps this somewhat mediocre tale of love and happiness above water.

7 / 10

Just do it already, honey! He’s hot!

Photos Courtesy of: This Distracted Globe

Chuck & Buck (2000)

Names that sound-alike? Sign of true love.

When they were kids, Chuck (Chris Weitz) and Buck (Mike White) were actually pretty good friends. But now, all of these years later, they barely even know one another, or better yet, even talk. It’s like they’re two strangers, living in a world, where they both have memories of hanging out in their adolescence, but don’t really talk about it. Or, at least Chuck doesn’t, because after Buck reaches out to him, the two strike back up something of a friendship that calls back to their childhood. But for some reason, Chuck feels awkward and nervous about it; he knows that Buck is a weird fella, and though he accepts him for it, there’s still something keeping him away from fully delving into their history together. After all, he’s engaged now, so what’s wrong with catching up on his former-life, before his new one begins? Well, he’s about to get a huge dose of memories when it turns out that Buck is holding his own autobiographical play locally in town and, well, it has a lot to do with their past friendship.

Something Chuck doesn’t really want to embrace.

Go for it, Buck. He’s not so bad.

Chuck & Buck is an odd movie for quite some time. In fact, it’s so odd, awkward, and just weird, that it’s almost irritating; it feels like writer Mike White just wanted to be cooky for no good reason and director Miguel Arterta didn’t know how to tone all of that down. The two work well together, obviously, but for the first half or so of Chuck & Buck, it feels as if they’re trying a little too hard to weird, to be funny, and basically, to try and be like so many other indie flicks out there.

But then, just about halfway through, it all of a sudden changes. See, Chuck & Buck does have something resembling a heart, but it doesn’t sow itself straight away. In some ways, White’s a smarter writer than he lets on, showing an interesting amount of tact in making us believe that Chuck & Buck is going to be just another silly, off-the-wall indie-comedy about two friends catching up, with one being a weirdo, and the other, well, not being one. But eventually, the tide turns and we start to realize that there isn’t just more to these two characters, their lives, and where they are headed, but their actual relationship.

See, without saying too much, there’s some dirty, dark and odd secrets that Chuck & Buck keeps to itself and it’s worth waiting around for. Once again, White’s writing may take a little while to get used to – he doesn’t really write jokes, as much as he just sets things up to work later on, somewhere along the film – but once he gets into his groove, there’s no one better. He makes the material funny, while still retaining that odd sensibility, but also showing us more into these character’s lives and making us see just who they are, therefore, heightening the comedy, as well as the drama, that eventually takes center stage by the last-act.

Cheer up, Mike. HBO will eventually give you your own show (until they unfortunately cancel it like the evil souls that they are!)

Basically, it’s just smart writing. A bit annoying, but sometimes, you have to bother people, in order to surprise them.

And yes, it deserves to be said that White, while not just a solid writer, is also a pretty good actor here, too. Granted, it is his script he’s working with, so it’s not like he’s exactly stretching himself very far, but as Buck, he shows a hurt, rather tragic soul. Sure, the goofy act, at first, can be a bit bothersome, but it starts to show its shades and angles that not only make us understand why he is the way he is, but also grow a bit closer to him, as a result. There’s something sad just about the way White looks, but he writes Buck in such a way, that it makes us sympathize with him, even if, yeah, he is a bit of an odd duckling.

Chris Weitz, who is also a pretty solid writer/director in his own right, is also quite good here, making Chuck feel more like a human being, rather than just a boring, lame and straight-edged square. Like with Buck, his character feels one-dimensional and boring, at first, but over time, we see that there’s more to him and how Weitz acts in these small, subtle moments with White, truly are surprising and well-done. Beth Colt plays his fiancee and while it seems like she hasn’t done anything since, it deserves to be said that she’s very good here in a role that, yet again, seems too simple and boring from the beginning, but eventually shows itself over time. And the late, wonderful Lupe Ontiveros plays Beverly, the theater owner who has one of the oddest, but surprisingly most touching friendships with Buck that, like before, seems boring, but grows over time.

Notice a bit of a trend here?

Consensus: While initially seeming like every other annoying indie-dramedy ever made, Chuck & Buck begins to show its true colors and turn out to be a smart, funny, and surprisingly moving flick about love, friendship, and how we move on with our lives.

8.5 / 10

Did anyone cut a hole at the bottom of the popcorn?

Photos Courtesy of: CinemaQueer

The D Train (2015)

High school reunions are a joke and sometimes, so are the people who you see there.

Self-proclaimed chairman of his high school’s reunion committee, Dan Landsman (Jack Black), wants to be the exact opposite of what he was many years ago in the 9th-12th grade: Cool. He hasn’t ever had that feeling, because after high school ended, he got his pregnant (Kathryn Hahn), took the first job he could find, and basically, never let home in the first place. That’s why when he sees a former classmate of his, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), in a commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen, Dan gets the brilliant idea: Get Oliver to come to the reunion and have the reunion itself be a fun, memorable time, all due to Dan himself. However, what that takes is a lot of planning and maneuvering around to get Oliver from L.A., all the way back to home; although Dan is totally up for it too, he may have some problems in the way of his boss (Jeffrey Tambor). Not to mention, Oliver himself may not want to even come at all – something that Dan is able to change, but it all comes at a cost.

While this seems like a very sparse premise, the fact is that there’s something that occurs about half-way through the flick that makes up what’s to become the rest of the movie after it. It’s something I can’t discuss as it will simply spoil the rest of the movie, but do know this: What may seem like a small plot-point, something that could definitely be traded-in as a passing-gag, eventually turns the movie into something very serious and dramatic. Almost too much, would one say?

How I spend every reunion I've ever had to attend.

How I spend every reunion I’ve ever had to attend.

I’m not sure, but there’s something about this drastic step that the D Train that makes it smarter than most comedies. But in hindsight, does it work?

Well, not really. The reason being, too, is that it seems like where co-writers and directors Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel get mixed up is that they have a neat premise and know what they want to do and say about it, but instead of going anywhere interesting, or better yet, intelligent with it, they just use the most broad example they could find and figure out ways to make the jokes just string off of that. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes that both Paul and Mogel are able to cobble up work and definitely shed some light on the whole bromance subgenre of movies that I’d never see Apatow’s crew bothering to touch.

However, what it ultimately turns out to be is something of a disappoint. See, while Paul and Mogel make it seem like they’re going to discuss the whole idea about growing up, getting out of high school and doing something for yourself, the D Train instead goes somewhere else that feels lazy. It’s as if Paul and Mogel didn’t want to make its audience think too much while laughing, so instead, they just decided the best way to cure all that was to just go for the easiest jokes possible. Once again, the jokes do work and I’d be lying if the movie stopped being serious after this half-way point, but after it all, it made me wonder why there wasn’t more attention given to what seemed like the original intentions Paul and Mogel had.

Though, there is something to be said for a comedy where we get to see plenty of range come from the likes of Jack Black, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor, and most especially, James Marsden, that doesn’t just include them mucking it up. Because, for the most part, everybody here is funny and clearly shows they have a great sense of humor to work well within the confines of this script, but they also dig deep into these characters and make them seem like something more than just caricatures. They’re actual humans, albeit, ones with plenty of problems that they may not be able to ever get past.

Such is especially evident in the case of Black’s Landsman, who not only borders on the verge of being incredibly creepy, but may definitely have some self-esteem issues of his own that may not bode well for the rest of his family. I won’t divulge what it is exactly that I am discussing, but Landsman’s obsessive nature is odd and off-putting at times; however, he never becomes a terribly unsympathetic character. There’s a reason for why he acts so insufferably cruel and manipulating to those around him and it’s what keeps most of the moments where he’s just acting like a dick, therefore digging himself deeper into holes he can’t get out of, not only fun, but interesting in what it does to develop this character.

Same goes for Hahn’s character, Stacey. Not only does she love and support her man until the end of their days, but also realizes what it is about him that she loves so very much, even if he can be a bit of a sad sack. She’s not just there as window-dressing to give Landsman a reason to come back home every so often, but she’s actually a genuinely sweet person. And even though most of the easy, softball jokes constantly rely on Tambor’s boss character being present, you can’t help but enjoy what’s happening to his character, as well as sympathize with the dude.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Trust me, sit closer to the soul patch. It works well.

Then, of course, there’s James Marsden.

I’ll admit it, I’ve never been a huge lover of James Marsden; it’s not because he gets the women that I can only dream of having, it’s not because he’s incredibly handsome as hell, and it’s not because he got to do kissy-face with Famke Janssen back in the day, it’s just that I’ve never been fully impressed with his capabilites as an actor. Sure, the dude’s charming and, more often than not, is able to make me laugh, but I’ve never walked from something he’s been involved with and have gone, “Wow. That James Marsden sure is something.”

That may change now. Not just because Marsden’s hilarious here (which he definitely is), but literally gets to the bottom of the heart and soul of this character, without ever making it seem like he’s trying too hard at all. Oliver Lawless stands in the place of every high school jock who peaked in the 11th grade: Was the life of the party, everybody wanted to be friends with, and had high aspirations for, but when the time came around to actually moving on and doing something with their life, totally fell apart. Marsden’s Lawless may be cool, handsome-as-eff, and suave with the ladies, but is also pretty sad with what he’s become and how he can hardly even get Dermot Mulroney to talk to him. Marsden shows layers to this character that I don’t even know were there to begin with, and because of that, I will forever look forward to seeing what Mr. James Marsden has for me next.

Whether the movie be good, bad, or just, middling. Kind of like this.

Consensus: The D Train flirts with interesting ideas that challenge R-rated comedy standards, but doesn’t do enough justice to them and instead, relies heavily on the charming and likable cast to pick up the pieces.

6.5 / 10

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

How I imagine everybody feels standing next to James Marsden anywhere.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire