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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Neal Huff

Beach Rats (2017)

Some places are still behind with the times.

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is just another young teenager, living in Brooklyn, with his mom, his sister, and his dying father, aimlessly getting by another summer. He spends most of his time with his friends, drinking, smoking, running around, playing hand-ball, and generally just doing whatever it is young guys do nowadays. Frankie also has something of a girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein), who he doesn’t quite know if he wants to make into something more seriously, or just keep doing whatever it is that he’s doing. Cause whenever no one is looking and he’s all by himself, Frankie also likes to go on men-only chat-rooms, find men, talk to them, meet up with them, and oh yeah, hook up. It’s something that Frankie is still confused about, but it’s also something that he’s doing his best to keep to himself, particularly because his friends would probably hate him and his girlfriend would break up with him. But honestly, Frankie doesn’t know what he wants yet.

Boo ya sell-out!

As she did with her first movie (It Felt Like Love), Eliza Hittman perfectly captures the teenager’s gaze, where everything surrounding you is big, bright, beautiful, shocking, and surprising. While her direction is definitely aimless and in ways, a little meandering, it’s worked for her so far because she’s getting us inside the heads of these young characters, who don’t really know or understand the world quite around them just yet, but look and listen to everything with amateurish eyes and ears. It’s a brave directorial-style to work with, but especially so since this is her second flick so far and shows that she’s got a niche and going to stick to it.

Does it help that her story is a little wonky?

Probably not, but Hittman’s able to get past that, cause Beach Rats is less about the story, the twists, and the turns, as much as it’s about the mood, the look, and the overall feel. The constant images flowing past our eyes, while carefully crafted and put together, also feel a little random, but work; putting is closer in the mind-set of it being summer, where anything and everything is possible. It’s a moody flick, for sure, but it’s the kind of mood that has you longing for youth, while also hating youth, too.

So yeah, it works like that.

It’s okay. Make-out with that dude. Please.

But no matter what happens with the story, Harris Dickinson is pretty great and it’s through him that Hittman is able to get the most mileage out of this movie. Dickinson, despite being British, fits into this role perfectly; he’s hunky, chiseled, handsome, and ridiculously masculine, just like the guys around him. But he’s also rather sweet and sensitive, and Dickinson shows us a real raw and sympathetic edge to a character who could have easily been conventional and boring. Rather than just turning out to being the self-loathing guy gay who acts out violently because he doesn’t want to like what he likes, he turns into a much more sad character who doesn’t know what he wants to be and is constantly being told to look, or be in one way that he can’t quite relate to just yet.

It’s a smart direction from Hittman, but an even smarter performance from Dickinson, because they both cancel each other out. We never know exactly what he’s thinking, or what’s going through his head, but his body-language shows it all. Hittman seems to love and respect this character, warts and all, and it helps us see him for just another lonely, confused, and rather depressed kid who’s constantly having to hang out with all of these rough, tough dudes, when in reality, he just wants to be himself.

Damn. Growing up sucks. But being young is even worse. Glad I’m past that.

Consensus: Not much of a real story, Beach Rats plays out more like a compelling mood-piece, capturing youth, angst, and self-identity, with a great performance from Harris Dickinson in the lead.

7 / 10

Put a shirt on dammit! Making us all look bad!

Photos Courtesy of: NEON

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Nasty Baby (2015)

Babies are a pain, both before and after they’re around.

Freddy (Sebastián Silva) and Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) have been together for quite some time and they feel as if now is the right moment to finally start the family they’ve always wanted. However, considering that they are both men and aren’t able to get pregnant, they decide that their best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig) is the perfect person to go through with the procedure, especially since she doesn’t at all mind and considers both men to her best friends. However, as Freddy, Mo and Polly continue on and on to get pregnant and have this damn baby that they’ve been craving for all these years, certain issues arise. For Polly, she is having problems actually getting pregnant, with some sperm working and some others, not. As for Freddy, well, he’s starting to get a tad crazy. With pressures at work and at home, Freddy is finding himself constantly acting out in an erratic manner where he’s lashing out anybody around him, even if he knows full well that he’s being a terrible person. Still though, what keeps them all together is the idea of this baby, regardless of if it actually is conceived or not.

The director?

The director?

There’s at least two movies within Nasty Baby, one is fine, whereas the other shows promise through and through, until it eventually just plays itself out and becomes oddly placed in a film that, quite frankly, can’t be bothered with it. What I mean by saying this is that whereas one half of Nasty Baby plays out like a funny, rather insightful tale about sex, gender, and the idea of a modern-day family, the other half seems like a tense thriller, where we don’t have a full grasp on what’s going to happen next, nor what’s going to happen to whom. All we kn ow is that things are getting more riled-up as they move along, and in ways, it’s interesting to see how writer/director Sebastian Silva places it throughout the movie.

At the same time, however, it still causes an issue for the film’s tone.

Cause, for one, it’s incredibly uneven. One scene, we’ll be sitting back and watching as a bunch of characters pal around with one another and just seem to chew the fat, but then, in the next scene, we’ll get one where Reg E. Cathey’s homeless character is terrorizing characters because, well, he’s crazy and homeless and that’s how all homeless men act, apparently. Regardless of whether or not this makes any sense, Silva does present this character enough times to make it clear why he’s around, but never seems to actually make better sense of why he exists. It seems like Silva wants this character around to create some sort of obstacle, or better yet, villain for these characters to overcome? Which is fine and all, but this is an indie that’s supposed to be about a anybody’s lives – having Cathey around to just be an evil nut-job, constantly causing havoc wherever he goes, feels a bit silly and over-the-top.

Cathey himself is fine in the role, but really, all he has to do is act like a crazed lunatic and have you feel like he could fly off the handle at any second. Cathey’s effective at this aspect of the character, but still can’t make it clear why his character, or his character’s subplot, needs to exist in Nasty Baby after all. After all, the movie would have been fine, had it just paid sole attention to what was going on with Kristen Wiig’s character.

But considering we didn’t get that movie, it’s probably best not to talk “what ifs”, and more about “what’s actually on the table”.

Or, the guy from TV on the Radio?

Or, the guy from TV on the Radio?

And what’s on the table for Nasty Baby is a promising tale about fertility, starting a family, and deciding whether or not you’re actually fit to be a parent in the first place. If anything, Silva brings up some interesting ideas about what constitutes the normal, American family of today and, in a way, sort of skewers it. There’s a scene involving a family dinner in which the idea of a gay marriage comes into play, and rather than coming off as preachy and obvious, it actually plays out both sides quite well. One side has reasoning for being against gay marriage that doesn’t have to do with the fact that their just bigots, and the other side who is for gay marriage, doesn’t go around spouting about it and how everybody should feel the same as they do.

And even the scenes with Kristen Wiig’s character, where the situation tends to get more and more awkward when more sperm needs to be produced, but really, it all goes away once Silva sets his sights elsewhere with the story. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Silva himself, despite being a talented writer and director, isn’t quite the best actor. Some of that has to do with the fact that he hasn’t quite perfected his English just yet, but another good portion of that has to do with the fact that his character is kind of boring in that he doesn’t really seem to have much more to him than just a bunch of whining and complaining and that’s it. We get some background on his own father, but really, it seems like filler and an excuse to give Silva more time to work in his own movie.

Wiig and especially, Tunde Adebimpe, fare a lot better off, but neither are flashy here. Wiig may not be as reserved as she’s been in some of her previous indies, but still shows a lot of heart and humanity, as well as her much-adored charm. As for Adebimpe, he’s a very calming and relaxing presence on screen, that goes a long way whenever it seems like Silva’s character is getting on our nerves and doesn’t really have anything interesting to say. It’s not just the character he’s playing, but also Adebimpe himself, who keeps Silva, as well as the rest of Nasty Baby grounded, even when it seems to go absolutely bonkers at some of the most random moments.

Consensus: Essentially two movies into one, Nasty Baby works better with the more insightful of the two, whereas the second story comes in, goes and then feels forced, making everything feel off and disjointed.

5 / 10

Either way, Kristen's gonna continue to be Kristen.

Either way, Kristen’s gonna continue to be Kristen.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Spotlight (2015)

Of course Thomas McCarthy would know a thing or two about journalism.

In 2001, with the internet slowly rising to become the top source for news and information, the Boston Globe felt as if they had struck gold. Through their investigative unit known as “Spotlight”, the Globe came upon a bunch of sources and stories about Massachusetts priests molesting children and then covering it all up with fancy lawyers and lingo that made it seem like a crime wasn’t committed. While the Spotlight team realizes that they’ve got something really strong and ground-breaking to work with here, they’ve got to do more uncovering and following to get the full story. And, well, due to the fact that Boston is a primarily Catholic-based city, it makes sense that just about everyone and their mothers are pleading with the Globe not to release this story. However, these journalists know better than to let such issues get in their way of telling the full story and uncovering what the truth about these priests are, what they did to these kids, who are mostly all now adults, and try to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It's the dude with the tie.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It’s the dude with the tie and facial-hair.

As most of you can probably tell, Spotlight is the kind of movie that’s made exactly for me. Not only do I love journalism movies that feature journalists, doing journalism-y things, but I also love it when the journalists in the journalism movies use their job, their smarts, and their skills, to take down big institutions. Whether it be the government, hospitals, or the Catholic church – any huge institution that gets a much deserved dressing-down, then you can count me in.

Which is to say that, yes, Spotlight is not only a great movie, but possibly, for now at least, my favorite flick of the year.

One of the main reasons why Spotlight works as well as it does can all be traced back to writer/director Thomas McCarthy, who is hot of the heels of the disaster that was the Cobbler. What’s so interesting about McCarthy’s previous films (even including the Cobbler, sadly), is that they’ve mostly all been small, simple, and understated human stories that deal with the big emotions, but in a very subtle kind of way. While much of the style is still the same, with Spotlight, McCarthy is now dealing with a bigger story, that takes on a whole lot more fronts and ends than he’s ever worked with before. Still though, despite what troubles this may have caused any director in the same shoes as he, McCarthy handles it all perfectly, making sure that the story that needs to be told, is done so in an efficient, understandable and most importantly, compelling manner.

That the way Spotlight‘s story begins to unravel once more revelations come to fruition, as well as the way it begins to blend-in together, makes all the more reason why this movie is a true testament to the art of journalism, as well as those who work within it. Just like the best parts of a movie like Truth, Spotlight loves that feel and utter rush someone can has when they feel as if they’re walking upon something that could make their story, as well as the certain heartbreak and utter disappointment they can feel once they walk upon something that could feasibly break their story. There’s a certain bit of joy and pleasure one gets from watching people, who are not only great at their job, do everything in their absolute power to make sure that they keep doing their job to the best of their abilities, while also not forgetting the true reason for it all.

And while a good portion of this movie is a dedicated to the world of journalism, it’s also a dedication to those who are passionate and inspired to uncover the truth.

But, trust me, it’s not as hokey as I may make it sound; while McCarthy’s movie definitely flirts with certain ideas of self-importance, he never falls for the fact that the story he’s telling is BIG, EMOTIONAL and IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. There’s an argument that Mark Ruffalo’s and Michael Keaton’s characters have where they’re combatting between the two different oppositions of this story; whether it be to tell it to sell some copies, or to expose the problems that have been going on for so long. It’s not only riveting, but also very smart, as it definitely reminds us why this story matters, but does so in a way that gets us back on-track for what needs to be told – which is, that the Catholic church covers all their wrong-doings up, and it’s time that somebody called them out on it.

Once again, though, this may sound all incredibly melodramatic and corny, but trust me, it isn’t. McCarthy doesn’t let the story get out-of-hand with overt cliches, but also, makes sure that the characters in this story stay true, realistic and above all else, actually humane. Nobody in this movie is ever made out to be a superhero for what it is that they’re doing; most of them, quite frankly, are just doing their job. While they definitely feel the need to tell this story and make it so that their points are seen, they also understand the utmost importance of faith and Catholicism, which, all being residents of Boston, means a whole lot.

No! Don't go on the computer! It's the devil!

No! Don’t go on the computer! It’s the devil!

And though the movie may not dig as deep into these characters as possible, it still does a fine enough job of making us realize just who these characters are, what their part of the story is, and just why exactly they matter. Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is always jumping around and running to the next piece of information that, despite the sometimes pushy Boston-accent, is quite entertaining to watch, but at the same time, we still get the idea that this guy loves his job so much and will do anything to keep himself alive and well.

Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer is the sweeter one of the ensemble, who is there with the abuse victims when they’re airing their disturbing stories out in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable; Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron doesn’t have much of any personality whatsoever, but still feels like the voice of reason for this story, when it all seems to get a bit haywire; John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. also feels like the voice of reason, but at the same time, still very much like Roger Sterling (which is a compliment); Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll has a neat little subplot about finding out one of the accused priests live in his neighbor and how he goes about finding that out is well-done; and Stanley Tucci, is very energized here, but also seems like the most understandable character in the whole flick, showing a person who not only cares about the cause he’s fighting for, but also knows that he has a civic duty.

However, as great as everyone is, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show, with just one look.

There’s a scene towards the very end of Spotlight where it becomes very clear just what this story means and the sort of effect it’s going to have – and it’s all on Keaton’s face. Though I won’t get into the nitty, gritty details of what occurs during the end, but after everything that has come along with the story – from the facts, to the sources, to the edits, to the fragments, to the re-writes, to the push-backs, and to everything else that has to do with it – the movie makes us understand what it was that these journalists were fighting for. Keaton, who is superb, as expected, throughout the whole movie, doesn’t fully want to believe that the Catholic church would have been involved with something so dastardly and maniacal as the evidence proves. However, though, he eventually does come to believe that evil can be real, not to mention that it can take all forms, shapes, and sizes. But rather than pissing and moaning about it, late night at the bar, he, as well as his fellow co-workers, are doing something about it. There’s a look in Keaton’s eyes as he sees this all happen and then, he accepts it, metaphorically pats himself on the back, and moves on with his job.

That’s what journalism is all about and that’s why Spotlight is one of the best flicks of the year.

There. I’m done.

Consensus: Gripping, intelligent, and above all, important, Spotlight takes on its subject without ever editorializing or leaning one way, but instead, telling its story as it was ought to be told, with some of the best actors in the game today.

9.5 / 10

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Meek’s Cutoff (2011)

The Indie version of ‘Unforgiven’.

Set in 1845, this drama follows a group of settlers as they embark on a punishing journey along the Oregon Trail. When their guide leads them astray, the expedition is forced to contend with the unforgiving conditions of the high plain desert.

I never thought that the computer-game that I had so much fun with back in the days of computer class, that the real story its based off of was so depressing. I mean having to kill all of your livestock right from the get-go for food and having people die of the chicken-pox all the time wasn’t very fun in the game, but in real life it must have really blown.

The poster right there is pretty bad-ass but it gives you the wrong impression. You think that Michelle Williams is going to be blowing fools up this whole time but you soon realize that it takes about an hour to reload the gun in the first place, and killing fools is the last thing on these peoples minds. Honestly, this whole story is just about these settlers looking all over the place for some water. That’s it but for some odd reason it actually works.

Director Kelly Reichardt seems like she was pretty fed-up with all of the non-stop, gun-slinging, and bar-hopping cowboy fools that take over Westerns in today’s world, so she makes this whole flick make it seem like real life. The film is terribly slow and within the first 5 to 10 minutes where nobody’s speaking, you wonder just what the hell you got yourself into in the first place but Reichardt does well with this considering she’s not trying to sell us something fake, she’s actually giving us something that we could use as a “source” for our next history project. The Oregon Trail was real boring and this film moves at just the right snail-pace to give us that feel of just how damn bored and thirsty these effers really were.

Let’s not also forget that this film has some very beautiful landscapes that almost remind me of some wallpapers I would have for the backgrounds on my old computer. We see all of these huge sheets of land where there is barely anything but sand and then it shifts right towards another shot of the sun shining on a prairie giving us this feel of they were totally alone and had nowhere to go. Considering that actual dialogue is pretty rare in this film, the shots actually add a lot to this flick when it comes to its mood and how its approached.

The problem with this film is that since it is so damn slow, there are plenty of moments where I just dozed right off. I mean I don’t know if I wasn’t in the right mood for this film or what, because I did like this film but there were moments where it just felt like this film dragged on and on and on to the point of no return. I get the fact that Reichardt was trying to do something new and hipsterish with this material but in all honesty, there has to be some sort of tension for this flick to actually keep us involved. I also could have done without the whole score because even though it was a tad eerie, I think they placed it random times and really could have been even more effective had there been no music at all.

Also, don’t let me forget the ending which just pissed me off. The film leads up and up and up until we finally get to a place where we weren’t expecting one bit and then it just ends without ever telling us anything about what happened to these settlers. This ending bothered me because I felt like the whole time this film was just leading up to its tension-fueled final moments, but instead it just sort of ended and lost all of the momentum it somehow gained, which was something I was not expecting in the least bit. Another problem was that we never actually get any info on what happened to all of these settlers and I guess we were just supposed to go look it up ourselves, which I did do so I guess I’m the sucker really.

The characters were pretty good and everybody is pretty good, they just don’t have much dialogue for it. Michelle Williams is obviously the star of the show and she’s very funny, realistic, and brave and she does a great job with the material she’s given. One performance I was not expecting to be so good was the one given by Bruce Greenwood as Stephen Meek . Greenwood is almost unidentifiable with his huge beard, wild hair, and mountain-man look but every time he’s on screen, you see him as this dude and it shows a real talent with his acting. I’ve never ever really taken Greenwood as an acting threat but he’s very good here and his scenes with Williams are great, I just wish there were more of them really.

Consensus: Meek’s Cutoff is very good to look at and features a very cool approach to the whole Western genre, however, the slowness may bother a lot and put them to sleep, and the ending isn’t a satisfying conclusion really.

6.5/10=Rental!!