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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Paul Calderon

Girlfight (2000)

Girls can do anything as good as boys. Including kicking butt.

Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is a no-nonsense, take-no-crap teenager who has a bit of issues. For one, her mother’s dead, so she’s forced to live with her disapproving father (Paul Calderon), and her rather meek brother (Ray Santiago). Needless to say, Diana is very angry with the life she has, and her only way of actually getting any bit of intensity out, is through boxing at her local gym. While her father would not allow for Diana to box, he still pays for her brother to box and train at the gym – funds that she uses in her favor, while he goes off and does his own thing. Eventually, Diana starts to get better and channel her anger in a way that’s a lot less hectic, but more controlled. This leads Diana to start boxing in actual, small-time matches, but because she’s a girl in a very male-populated sport, she’s never taken nearly as seriously as she should be. Looking through this all is fellow boxer Adrian (Santiago Douglas), who takes a liking to Diana right away. However, their love for the sport of boxing eventually comes between them and their left with thinking of whether or not they should go on further together, or separate and allow for their own boxing-careers to play out.

Watch what you say about the third season of Lost!

Watch what you say about the third season of Lost!

Everything about Girlfight just screams “cliché”. Angry, young adolescent finds a way to channel her anger through boxing; father disapproves; nobody else takes her seriously; eventually, she starts to train more and get better; and, oh yeah, she then finds herself a love-interest. If anything, people will probably see Girlfight as the female-version of Rocky, however, they would be totally wrong; though the movies aren’t wholly different, they still differ in terms of their perspective, as well as their heartfelt take on a subject we’ve seen one too many times before.

And they’re also both pretty great movies in their own right, without ever being too showy or flashy about it.

Where Girlfight gains most of my respect is through the way in how writer/director Karyn Kusama uses a lot of her very limited resources to her advantage. From what I’ve read, the budget was around $1 million and because of that, it leaves Kusama dealing with a lot of low-budget issues. Certain shots seem too grainy, or poorly-choreographed, and yeah, certain scenes go on a lot longer than they probably should because it’s too expensive to take a scene elsewhere, but for some reason, it all works. You can feel the bleeding heart and love Kusama has for this story, these characters, and, surprisingly, this sport, that all of the raw emotions you get, feel and see, all come together so perfectly.

It’s also worth mentioning that even if the story does seem to be a bit conventional, Kusama defies all of the predictable aspects that we’ve come to expect with stories of this same nature. Not every fight is an absolute, balls-out, gory slobber-knocker like we’re used to seeing movies portray them, just like Diana herself isn’t an unstoppable, can’t-be-tame beast; sometimes, she loses, and other times, she loses her cool. But she will, on some occasions, win a fight, if not in the most spectacular way imaginable. While, for some, this may not be the most exciting bit of action, it still provides a nice layer of realism that makes us feel closer and closer to this world than ever before; Kusama could have easily lost her head and just made the movie all about the ass-kicking, the bloody faces, and the crushed-souls, but instead, she uses boxing as a way for Diana to channel her emotions and make herself something of a better person.

It also helps that Diana is a great character from the very start and Michelle Rodriguez, in her debut role, is spectacular.

What works so well about Diana is that she isn’t asking for our love, our sympathy, or our hearts. If anything, she just wants us to shut the hell up, let her do her thing, and lead us to make up our own conclusions about her. While the movie may make it seem like she’s going to be a typical, moody and angsty teenager (with a dead mother and daddy issues, no less), the movie instead shows that she’s got a lot more to her. Sure, she uses boxing as a way for her to vent out all of her frustration with the world she lives in and the life she’s been given, but at the same time, she also wants something a tad bit more out of life than just kicking ass, taking names, and getting fit. If anything, she wants a better life, to feel loved, to feel needed, and above all else, to be respected.

Boys?!?! Ew!

Boys?!?! Ew!

After all, the boxing-world in which she moves around in isn’t so accepting of her in the first place. While they don’t necessarily push her to the side and show her the way to the kitchen, nobody also takes her all that seriously. Kusama isn’t trying to make some sort of feminist-heavy statement, but at the same time, she’s also showing just how much this adversity can lead to someone wanting to prove themselves a whole lot more. Yes, this all sounds so very corny, especially for a sports movie, but I trust you, it’s very far from.

And yeah, it goes without saying that Michelle Rodriguez is amazing here. While in recent years, Rodriguez has become something of a “type” (the bad-ass, take-no-names female supporting character), it’s nice to see where she got her start and why she’s become known for that kind of role. As Diana, Rodriguez shows a very rough and tough side to a character who you’re clearly scared of, but also want to know more about. Through Rodriguez, we get to see more of a vulnerable and sweet side to this character than we ever expected; some of the best scenes are between just her and the love-interest, where instead of trying to be all cutesy, they’re just two kids, feeling one another out and figuring out whether or not they want to make a go of this thing that they’ve got going together. Rodriguez allows us to see all sides to this character and it’s a shame that she doesn’t really get nearly as many juicy roles in today’s day and age.

But I’ll forever and ever continue to hold out hope that she one day reaches the same great acting-heights that she did with Diana Guzman.

Aka, my kind of lady.

Consensus: On paper, Girlfight may seem like every other sports movie ever made, but with attentive and smart attention to details, characters, a sheer avoidance of clichés and conventions, and a star-making performance from Michelle Rodriguez, it’s anything but, and then some.

9 / 10

Corn-rows are enough to make any opposing male-figure squeal.

Cornrows are enough to make any opposing male-figure squeal.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDB, Indiewire, Cineplex

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Four Rooms (1995)

People will do anything for a tip.

It’s the first day on the job for Ted the bellhop (Tim Roth), and from what it seems like, it won’t be a very pleasant one. Early on, he gets told the ins, the outs, the what to do’s, and the what not to do’s on the job by an aging, supposed retiring bellman that gives him an idea of what he should expect taking people’s luggage up to their room, answering their phone calls and the most important of all, waiting on them for a tip. So with this all out of the way, Ted gets ready for one of the biggest and most hectic nights of the year, New Year’s Eve. And what do you know it? Ted’s night ends up being an eventful one, albeit one that he finds his life threatened on more than a few occasions. But it’s all in the good name of a sizable tip, right?

Like with most anthology films, the idea here seems smart and somewhat nifty: Get at least four low-key, up-and-coming indie film-makers, give them a budget and give them free reign to basically just strut their stuff for no less than 20 minutes each, slap the Miramax logo on it, and release it to the mass-audience. Seemed like a really promising idea that could have worked wonders for all of the film-makers involved, but somehow, it more or less just ended up killing two promising careers, while just injuring two others.

Take a wild guess as to whose career’s were killed, and which ones were just injured for a short while. Not that hard I guess, but let me just tell you through my usual-way of reviewing anthology films; taking it one-by-one, segment-by-segment. Shall we?

Random twitching example #2.

Random twitching example #2.

1. The Missing Ingredient – This is the one that starts it all off, and that’s not a good thing at all. In short, this segment is easily the worst. It made me feel like I made a huge mistake actually even bothering with this movie. Director Allison Anders gives us a cool idea in which a coven of witches who need male sperm to complete their ritual and just so happened to choose Ted as he comes stumbling on in. While the ground-work was there for this to be not just hilarious, but all sorts of weird and cooky, in a fun-way, Anders doesn’t even bother going anywhere with this. Sure, for horny dudes, there is plenty of hot boobage to be seen, but for anybody who wants a little bit of craziness mixed with their covens, will be most likely disappointed as Anders seemed to really drop the ball with this, and not know what’s considered “funny”, and what’s considered “boring.” Easily the worst out of the four, but it’s not like the next one is a peach neither.

2. The Wrong Man – Things seem to get a bit better with this segment, however, not by much. Director Alexandre Rockwell keeps things small and subdued, but not anywhere near being considered “sweet”, as this whole segment just meanders endlessly, without ever really moving outside of the actual hotel room it’s placed in. The whole story is in which a married-couple (Jennifer Beals and David Proval) basically plays this little sex-game where he pretends that she’s been screwing around him and picks out whatever poor fellow just so happens to stroll through that door, interrogate him, wave a gun in front of his face, take his pills, and basically, just scare the shorts off of him. There are moments in this segment where the wheels seemed to be turning and there seemed to be some moments of promise, but once the segment is all said and done with, I couldn’t help but feel like it went on a bit long. Especially once Beals’ character just started yelling out any term for the word “penis” she could think of right away. Sure, it made me laugh (probably my first one), but it was only because it was a random moment of creative spontaneity that the first segment didn’t seem to have.

Thankfully though, it does get better from here and begins to feel like something worth watching, rather than the first two awful-pieces.

3. The Misbehavers – Antonio Banderas plays a tough and sinister father-of-two that wants to take his wife on a night out on the town, in hopes of getting laid and therefore, igniting the spark in their marriage that probably sizzled-out once kids came along and screwed everything up. But, knowing that these same kids can’t come out with them, he decides to intimidate Ted intoi watching over them, and making sure that they “don’t misbehave”. It seems easy, and with the price for this little mission being $500, it seems even easier. However, with these two kids, nothing is quite as easy as it seems and eventually, the room itself starts to smell and once that happens, all hell breaks loose. So yeah, the plot-line for this segment is dumb, but with Robert Rodriguez behind-the-wheel, it’s anything but. Actually, that’s not true. It is still dumb, but in a “fun” way in which one can only associate with Rodriguez and his style of film-making. It starts off simple and small, but as time goes on, and Rodriguez really gets the brain working, you can see just how much havoc he can throw on top of the other and once all is said and done and we get the final-line of this segment, you know that, if anything, the whole movie was it at least worth it for just this whole time-span of 15-20 minutes. It doesn’t even matter if the last segment blows, all we know is that this is the segment people should be wanting to see and talk about.

When you do have a movie in which "the chick from Say Anything" gets and stays topless for more than five minutes, I guess you have something "to watch".

When you do have a movie in which “the chick from Say Anything” gets and stays topless for more than five minutes, I guess you have something “to watch”.

But of course, the last segment is done by none other than Quentin Tarantino himself and, as we all know, the guy has a bit of a thing for stealing the spotlight of movies, and his segment here is no different.

4. The Man from Hollywood – The plot-line is simple: Ted stumbles upon a bunch of fast-cat, Hollywood big-shots (Bruce Willis being among them), who con him into doing something for a hefty price, as idiotic as the act may be. Oh, and there’s a bet involved somehow, someway. Basically, being that this is a Tarantino-segment, you can expect a lot of witty lines that involved pop-culture, violence, sex and a bunch of other talk that doesn’t sound like it’s coming from actual human-beings who grace us with their presence on the same planet we call Earth. That said, considering the rest of the film that came before this, it’s a blast to watch, keeps you interested, laughing, a bit tense and overall, entertained as if Tarantino was the one they really were leaning on for this to work and that’s exactly what they got. In hindsight, it’s not the best thing that Tarantino has ever done or touched (especially when also speaking of his acting), but when you place his segment against the three others, his definitely comes out on-top and a reason to see this whole film. Although you do have to get through two shitty segments, and one pretty good one.

And through all of these segments, there’s none other than Tim Roth himself acting his ass off through them, which is not a good thing. For some odd reason or another, Roth is given the order to carry-out this overly-used, spastic-twitch of his that carries on throughout most of his segments in which he stammers and bumbles more than Hugh Grant on a bad day. It gets old real quick and just becomes random, as if there was no other reason to make this character interesting than to just have him do and say all of these odd things. Roth tries, but he can’t help but suffer due to doing whatever it was that he was told. However, when he’s told to dial it down a notch and just let the segments for speak themselves, is usually when he’s at his most watchable, as well as the same could be said for the movie itself. And mostly, this occurs during the last two segments. Strange how things work themselves out, right?

Consensus: If you counter in the fact that only two of the four segments in Four Rooms work, then I guess you could consider this “watchable” in the least bit. But, then again, if you want to save yourself some precious time, effort and/or money, then just watch the last two segments somewhere on YouTube. I’m sure you’ll be able to find them somewhere.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Talk about a party I'd like to involved with on New Years Eve. Speaking of which, Happy New Years Eve everyone. Get out, get trashed, but most of all, don't do anything I wouldn't do! Woo hoo!

Talk about a party I’d like to involved with on New Years Eve. Speaking of which, Happy New Years Eve everyone. Get out, get trashed, but most of all, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! Woo hoo!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

The Last Castle (2001)

Maybe if Paul Newman had tagged along, than this would have been a cooler prison.

Robert Redford stars as a three-star general who has just been sentenced to 10-years for unknown crimes. He’s sent to a prison that houses military convicts nicknamed the castle. Running this institution is Colonel Winter (James Gandolfini), a meek-looking bear of a man who’s unafraid of doing what ever it takes to maintain order.

With any prison movie, you have to make us care and feel something for the prisoners that we are supposed to watch for the whole 2 hours. And even if you don’t do that, you have to at least try to and make somebody look much, much worse than they already do. This is something that director Rod Lurie couldn’t seem to get his head behind.

I can’t say that I hated this film because I sort of enjoyed it, even though it’s basically another generic prison flick with plenty of problems when it comes to its script and one of its biggest problems is it didn’t make much sense. First of all, why does this huge break-out even go down in the first place? Why, because a murderer didn’t follow an order and in doing so, he got shot in the head? I mean I can understand retaliating against something that is completely and utterly unfair but this dude wasn’t listening when he should have been and instead got blasted for it. Does that mean that a whole jail full of people should just go insane, destroying millions and millions of dollars of government money, killing/hurting prison guards, and losing other prisoners in the mix, just so you could prove a point? Come on people, isn’t there a better way to solve this rather than just going full-on coo-coo for Coco Puffs?

Speaking of these prisoners going crazy, it also seemed unbelievable that these prisoners could pull off such an invasion as the one they pull in the last sequence of the flick. It’s not like I’m giving much away by saying this because it’s pretty damn obvious just by looking at the trailers and posters, but what bothered me was how they could pull such an invasion like this that would require so much planning, so many coincidences, and so many close calls of actually having another prison snitch on them, or having a guard picking up on the plan. It also didn’t help that they pretty much planned all of this shit out within a week, which made it even harder to believe that it would work out THIS well.

But don’t get me wrong here peeps, this film isn’t a total waste, actually, it’s pretty entertaining once you can get past all of those holes. The last half hour, where the invasion goes down, is actually very entertaining to watch and it actually feels a bit unpredictable as to who’s going to live and what’s actually going to go down. I don’t want to say that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time because most of this does come out as some pretty predictable stuff, but I still think that Lurie had a good eye for action and knowing how to keep the energy pumping, even if it only was in the last 30 minutes. Also, if you’re a big patriotic person, you’re going to love all of the several themes about war, soldiers, and showing pride for the country you love. Hoooorah!!

The cast is pretty good here, even though I think they are sort of wasted on cheap material. Robert Redford is basically playing Robert Redford in a very stoic role here as Gen. Eugene Irwin. I could easily buy Redford as the hero and the guy that everybody in the prison basically looked up to as if he was Santa Claus himself, but I do think that by the end of the flick, they start to get a little carried away with his random montages about the good old days of being trapped as a POW. Oh, the war torture! Those bring back the memories. Mark Ruffalo is also OK in a role that seems like it deserved more development, just to suit Ruffalo’s acting.

However, the other problem I left out with this film earlier came back to me just now and it was that this flick didn’t have much character depth to these members of the “chain gang” and even when it did, it came off as way too contrived to be taken seriously. Basically, every prisoner here has a heart of gold. This is a person, which means that this is a place that is full of drug dealers, killers, rapists, smugglers, pedophiles, and all sorts of other baddies, which made me wonder why not one of them ever shows any signs of giving these guys some trouble. I get it that not every person you put in prison is a mean s.o.b., but everybody sure as hell isn’t a disciple of the lord himself, either.

I think out of this whole cast, I really liked James Gandolfini here as Col. Winter. Gandolfini is basically playing Gandolfini but it works and gives this character a very self-conscious look that isn’t sympathetic at all, but still makes you look at him more than just another piece of shit warden that only gets off on watching these prisoners suffer every day. Wish Gandolfini got more roles like this because he can play a good villain that has a bit more to him than people may see at first. Then again, the dude was the leading man on one of TV’s biggest shows of the past decade so he can’t complain too much I guess.

Consensus: With a lot of holes in its screenplay when it comes to its characters and plot, The Last Castle doesn’t hit you as hard as it should, but with a reliable cast and entertaining feel to it, especially with the last 30 minutes or so, it still will keep your attention. Especially, if you love America.

5/10=Rental!!