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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Naeem Uzimann

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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Breathe In (2014)

Just let the middle-aged, suburban-daddy live a little, dammit!

Keith (Guy Pearce), Megan (Amy Ryan), and Lauren Reynolds (Mackenzie Davis) live a relatively simple, carefree life. Keith is a music teacher at a high school and sometimes steps into to play cello in the local orchestra; Megan stays at home, drives people everywhere, collects cookie-jars and always seems to have a smile on her face; and Lauren, being that she’s on the verge of being legally considered an “adult”, is going through some growing pains that consist of drinking, parties, loud music, boys, having sex and keeping her self-esteem up (you know, traditional, high school girl stuff). They also live in a big old house in the middle of the suburbs, so they live pretty comfortably; that is, until foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) walks into their lives and kind of, sort of, maybe screws everything up. Not really, because while she clearly is reeling from a tragedy and just wants to live life in the city, Sophie tries to fit in at the school, get along with the family and see if she can get more and more away from her life of pursuing a music career. A music career that, mind you, Keith is very fond of. Maybe a bit too fond of.

Yeah, you know where this is going.

"Freebird?"

“Freebird?”

Which is exactly why I’m bringing this up here and now, because it’s the one aspect behind this movie that ruins it: The fact that you’ve seen this story done a gazillion times before. Oh, let me guess, the patriarch of the family must be going through some mid-life crisis where all he does is want to bask in the greatness of what was once his younger-years; oh wait, no, don’t tell me that his wife doesn’t really care for his aspirations that dive away from what she wants him to be and look like; and no, no, no, do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell me that the new girl that starts living with this family just so happens to be a bit wiser for her age and starts flirting all over the place with Keith! No, no, no! You’ve got to be kidding me!

And the reason why I’m being so over-dramatic, is because I don’t know why writer/director Drake Doremus didn’t decide to shake things up a bit with this simple-premise. You know, rather than just giving us a straight-laced, obvious story about the possibility of a family-man being unfaithful to his wife, under his own roof no less, he could have thrown a little twist or two here and there. But nope, it’s all pretty simple from the start – Keith’s eyes will begin to wander towards Sophie, they’ll begin to chat, flirt a little, and eventually, it will get so strung out of control that he’ll come to a crossroads in his life where he doesn’t know who he wants to be with for the rest of this life: The young, blissful 18-year-old Brit, or the middle-aged, boring and more controlling house-wife he’s been with for the past 20 years?

Ugh, ugh, ugh! Conventional, conventional, conventional!

However, maybe I am being a bit too hard on this movie, because while Doremus may not fully run away from the conventions of the overly-familiar plot-line he’s working with, he still finds some ways to breath new life into them (pun intended). Rather than focusing on the sexual-tension between Keith and Sophie, and how much of it continues to boil and boil over time, we get a sense as to why, in a way, they should try to spark something up with one another. I know it sounds all wrong and immoral for me to stand behind an act of adultery, but that’s only because the movie makes a pretty good case for me as is; Keith is a bit of a sad-sack that has lost all of the joys that his life once was, what he wants it to be once again. Whereas Sophie, on the other hand, sort of wants the same thing, even if her main-objective is to get out into the city and feel the high-life, which she makes a mention of many times, but instead, has to sit around this house that’s literally in the middle of suburbia and be bored to death.

Not only do we feel bad for them both, but we also see why they’d need one another for a sort of escape from the outside world. Sure, we don’t need to necessarily support the act of sneaking around and, for the most part, getting away with it all, but we can still understand it, and I think that’s the idea Doremus was trying to get across. For that, I can at least forgive him for some of the conventions he still falls for with this story, but I still feel like there could have been so much more potential reached, had he decided to do something a little different here and there. Nothing too much, just a shock once or twice and I would have been fine.

But, like I said before, this is less about the plot-devices and how they’re used, and more about the actual characters, and the actors and actresses playing them – all of which, are fantastic. Guy Pearce seems to always be great in anything that he does, but really sinks his teeth into this character of Keith Reynolds, the kind of aging-daddy you want to share a beer with and just let him know it will be alright, rather than going out and chasing some tail. Sure, he’s a bit of a nerd, but he’s a likable, if sympathetic, nerd that just wants to break loose, if only for a short bit. Nice to see him still be able to get some quality-roles, even at his age and his star-power. But then again, this is the indie-world, and anybody can be in a lead-role; just as long as they’re good, that is.

Yuck! You three and all your happiness make me sick!

Yuck! You three and all your happiness make me sick!

The rest of the Reynolds family are good: Amy Ryan seems like she could somebody like Megan really annoying and cloying, but instead, makes her a sympathetic, small-minded woman that just wants best for her family, even if that means breaking down her hubby’s spirits every once and awhile. Actually, no, scratch that, ALL OF THE TIME! Damn women! Am I right, guys? And also, the gal who plays Keith and Megan’s daughter, Lauren, seemed very familiar to me, if only because I knew the face and the voice and knew I saw it/heard it from somewhere quite recently, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. That is, until about half-way through, that I realized Mackenzie Davis was the little lady playing Lauren and I remembered that she was in That Awkward Moment, which I saw a couple of months back. Crazy how the world works, right?!?!? Needless to say, the girl is quite great and gets a lot more to do here, than she did in that movie where you had Zac Efron flexing his hardcore-abs just about every second of every day.

God, if only I was young again.

While the ones who play the Reynolds clan are great and all, the real stand-out is who plays Sophie, Felicity Jones. The weird fact surrounding Jones and the fact that she’s playing Sophie, is that Jones is 30 years old, whereas the character she’s playing, is supposed to be an 18-year-old. However, what works well and sort of connects the two strands of detail together, is that Sophie is shown to be a lot smarter and wiser than the many other 18-year-olds around her, which not only makes us believe her character a little more, but see why she’d hover over towards a man like Keith, and vice versa. She has those eyes that makes you think she’s thinking about a hundred-million different things at the same time, and you’re always on-edge with whatever choice she makes next, and how it will affect those around her. Jones was great in Doremus’ last flick, Like Crazy, and here, she seems to only be growing and growing with each and every role. I really hope that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes her a huge name, because the woman definitely deserves it. Also, I hope that means she’ll start playing ladies her own age.

Consensus: There’s absolutely no doubt that the story, or the themes presented aren’t the least bit inventive, but where Breathe In doesn’t get points for originality, it does get it in well-written characters, fine performances from the cast and an attention to setting and mood that has us at least believe in what we’re seeing.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"So, uh, you ever heard of the Replacements? Pretty dope, right? That is what you kids are saying nowadays?"

“So, uh, you ever heard of the Replacements? Pretty dope, right? That is what you kids are saying nowadays?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

Dan does typing. Dan likes typing. Dan continues typing.

Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a meek, mild and closed-off guy that doesn’t really ask for much from others, so therefore, he never gets asked of much in return. He’s sort of just there, without really bringing anything to the table or to the world, even though he does have a pretty fine job as a limo driver. Through mutual friends, Jack gets set-up with a woman who is a little bit of the same as him (Amy Ryan), although a tad more scared of a human-connection, which she apparently has a dark history about. Together, they meet, they hit it off and Jack suddenly becomes interested in cooking, being a better guy and even learning how to boat, so that he can take him and his girl out on it. On the other hand, we have Jack’s best buddy, Clyde (John Ortiz), who is having a bit of his own lady problems; except in his case, it’s his long-term wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). All four do spend time together, hang out, eat food, get drunk and try to have fun, but eventually, problems do begin to arise for both couples and lead to some very sad, very upsetting truths being unearthed.

Usually when an actor goes to make that jump from being in front of the screen, to trying their hand at the back of it, most of the time, they tend to go for the small, sweet and simple stories that aren’t that big, or ambitious to pull-off well with a lot of skill. All they need is just a simple idea of how to handle a camera, and basically, just know how to film a movie, of which most actors-turned-directors have a clear idea of. Or at least they should have.

"So....uh, should we kiss? Or, I mean, we don't have to? Not if you don't want to, that is. You know? Okay...uhm yeah. Kiss, right?"

“So….uh, should we kiss? Or, I mean, we don’t have to? Not if you don’t want to, that is. You know? Okay…uhm yeah. Kiss, right?”

So, that’s why when Philip Seymour Hoffman decided that he wanted to try and shake things up a bit with his own career and get behind the action, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d not only adapt a play he starred in back in the day, but also not try to really reach out of his limits as a director. Which, for some directors, would be rather lame, but for him, it works in its own condensed, easy-going way.

Sure, there’s nothing here about Jack Goes Boating that’s really life-changing or revolutionary in terms of what you’ll be thinking about when it ends, but does every movie need to change your life? Especially when all it’s about is a bunch of people with some very closed-off personalities who just so happen to know one another, and talk and fall in love? Yeah, I don’t think so and I have to give Hoffman at least credit for not really trying to over-step his boundaries as a director. If it was somebody like Scorsese, or Spielberg, or even Spike Lee behind the mantel, then yeah, I’d be a little ticked-off and disappointed considering I usually expected them to make something, out of anything, no matter how small or large; but as for Hoffman – the guy never over-steps anything that’s given to him. Instead, he just focuses on our four characters and gives them a chance to show us why they deserve to be looked at, thought about and discussed.

And even if you don’t go that far into your thought-process with these characters, there’s nothing all that wrong with that because each and everybody is good with their own respective roles, which is something to applaud Hoffman for in at least handing over the spotlight, on many occasions, to his supporters in this rather tiny cast. Even so though, it’s apparently clear that Hoffman really owns the screen whenever he gives himself a chance to do so, and it’s great to see him play this nervous, awkward and twitchy guy, but not done so in a way that we’ve seen him do before in something like Magnolia and Happiness (where he was a lot more creepier). Jack’s just a simple guy, who wants to impress this lady of his that he just met and practically fell head-over-heels for and we can’t help but want to see the big lug get his happiness, get the love of his life and best of all, get his boating-license. There are small goals these characters set for themselves, and just being able to watch them as they try their hardest to get to that point, truly is something worth seeing, especially in Jack’s case.

However, as much as this story may be Jack’s, it could have easily been Clyde’s as well, and it still would have been just as compelling, if not more. Most of that has to do with the character is written so richly to where you get a general idea that he’s a different person everywhere he goes, but that’s also because John Ortiz himself is so damn good in the role, making you think just what the hell he is going to do next every time he shows up. Ortiz has been one of my favorite character actors since I first checked him out in American Gangster, and I’m happy to see that not much has changed; especially here with his role as Clyde where he gets to show all sorts of sides to his character. Clyde can sometimes be too touchy and put people in an uncomfortable situation; sometimes too open to the point of where he’s revealing stuff his wife sure as hell wouldn’t want revealed in a million years; sometimes too happy and spirited to where he’s just simply over-bearing; and sometimes, he can be a bit of a dick, saying and doing the wrong things, to the wrong people, at the wrong moments. However, I never hated Clyde for doing these things because I truly did feel like he always meant well and never meant to hurt those around him. Mainly Jack, though.

Women: Always driving us men to drink.

Women: Always driving us men to drink.

The ladies get to do some fine work as well with both Daphne Rubin-Vega and Amy Ryan putting in some fabulous work that clearly challenges the guys in how well they can developed and looked-at. Rubin-Vega is great here and seems like the type of wife that can put up with Clyde’s crap for as long as she has, but also seems like the type of woman who doesn’t want to be tied-down too much, regardless of if it hurts her hubby’s feelings or not. We should dislike her for that, but we sometimes see just how pushy Clyde can be, so instead, we sort of sympathize with her and hope the two work it out. As for Ryan, she has a bit more of the “shticky” role where she gets to be odd, off-kilter and slightly neurotic, but never to the point of where it’s annoying. Rather, we always feel like we’re seeing a truly messed-up person who definitely wants love in her life, but just can’t get past that point into intimacy where she has to giver her whole-self to that one and only person. That’s why her scenes with Jack truly are nice to watch, especially their little kiss in the snowfall. Only Ryan and Hoffman could pull that scene off so well, but with Hoffman directing that, it feels all the more sweeter.

Poor guy. He truly will be missed. Another legend gone from the silver screen. But at least we have the memories. At least we have the memories.

Consensus: Essentially, Jack Goes Boating is the type of small, uneventful directorial-debut we expect to see from a well-known actor trying to make that stride over to the other side, but Philip Seymour Hoffman still shows that he was a good director, and definitely understood the tiny, simple and easy-going pleasures of these character’s lives, as well the fact of life itself.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

At least he got a chance to reach his goal. Good for Jack.

At least he got a chance to reach his goal. Good for you, Jack.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net