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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Peter Fonda

The Most Hated Woman In America (2017)

Say what you want. Except if it’s about God. People really seem to like that person.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair (Melissa Leo) was known for being a bit of a shit-stirrer. She was one of the most vocal and well-known atheists in the country, who not just spoke out against the war when it wasn’t generally accepted to do so, but also made her case known about the separation between church, state, and most importantly, the state’s public schools. Due to this, a lot of people had issues with Madalyn, constantly threatening her and her family’s lives, leaving her to fear that she’d die eventually, and not by natural causes, either. But throughout all of the ranting and raving she did, some good came through it with the foundations she created for those who were in desperate need – something she continued to do until her death. And oh, about that death, well, that in and of itself is already a pretty odd and confusing spectacle. Then again, the same could have been said about Madalyn’s whole life.

Say cheese?

The story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair is perfect for a movie, just not for this one. Even though there’s already a documentary on her life, there’s still no reason you couldn’t do a full-length, scripted feature-flick, with this cast, and this story, but for some reason, the Most Hated Woman in America just doesn’t seem to be that one movie. It’s an confused movie about who it wants to be about, what it wants to say, and as a result, sort of muddles through everything in O’Hair’s life that makes her such a fascinating person to watch and listen to in the first place.

But thankfully, Melissa Leo does a slam-bang job as her.

Then again, are you surprised?

Probably not. Leo’s always been a solid actress who takes on rough and challenging roles like these, making them her own, and in a way, somehow making them sympathetic, in only the slightest bit. With O’Hair, Leo has the hard task of making this loud, obnoxious, and often times, incredibly rude woman, seem somewhat courageous and smart in her methods – it’s not like the way she is and goes about getting her point across makes her a bad person, but in any other movie, O’Hair would be the worst person ever. But because it’s Leo playing her, she gets by on pure charm from the actress who can do, essentially, anything.

And the rest of the cast is pretty stacked, too, surprisingly. Adam Scott shows up as a journalist who wants to discover the truth about O’Hair’s disappearance; Michael Chernus and Juno Temple play her two weird grand-kids; Vincent Kartheiser plays her son that goes through all sorts of expected problems, growing up with her as a mommy; and Alex Frost, Josh Lucas, and Rory Cochrane, despite playing conventional types, do what they can to make their kidnapper-characters more than just soulless creeps. They sort of are, but that’s not the point.

Yup. Still yelling.

But then again, with this movie, there doesn’t seem to be much of a point.

Director Tommy O’Haver makes the biggest mistake of taking this interesting and challenging subject, this person’s life, and all that they had to say, and not really saying anything about them. We get a nice history-lesson on who this woman took on and what she achieved, but how does the movie feel about that? And better yet, when does a movie such as this become less and less of a history-lesson, and more of a story being told to us? One with heart, emotion, and excitement in the air, as opposed to being just a slow, rather meandering WikiPedia entry put to film?

Either way, O’Haver misses a great opportunity here and it’s weird, too, because for a little over 90 minutes, the movie seems like it should have gone by so much quicker and had so much more to say. O’Haver’s story does, after all, deserve justice and is still a very relevant one, where certain politicians are, once again, using the big man in the sky to get away with discriminating against those who may be different than them. O’Haver fought for these people who didn’t have a voice as loud as hers and, somehow, yeah, she sort of came out on top.

Now, why can’t we get a movie that comes out on top, too?

Consensus: For all of the history it covers, the Most Hated Woman in America still feels like a missed opportunity that features great performances, but aside from that, not much else for O’Haver’s interesting life.

5 / 10

“Hug it out, son. Who needs faith when you have a mommy?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Daily Beast, Washington Square News, Tampa Bay Times

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3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

The Runner (2015)

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

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

Does Nic Cage believe that he's Nic Cage?

Does Nic Cage believe that he’s Nic Cage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, Sarah. I…uh….yeah..”

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

But he’s just sort of there.

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

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

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

3 / 10

What is going on inside that crazy head?

What is going on inside that crazy head?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, High Snobiety

The Harvest (2015)

Think your kid’s sick? Think again!

After the death of her parents, young Maryann (Natasha Calis) is in desperate need of someone that she can play with. Her grandparents are there and trying to make her feel at home, but honestly, for someone as spunky and as energetic as Maryann is, there needs to be more. Initially, that’s what Maryann thinks she finds in Andy (Charlie Tahan), a boy who is around her age and has been bedridden for most of his life, for reasons unknown. Maryann and Andy do the normal things most young kids do – play baseball, play video-games, and, generally, enjoy one another’s company. That all changes, however, when Andy’s mom, Katherine (Samantha Morton), steps in and lets Maryann know that she is not welcome; Andy’s father, Richard (Michael Shannon), on the other hand, isn’t too bothered by Maryann’s presence, but clearly has no say in the matter. Maryann is shocked and upset, but being the little persistent gal that she is, she decides to see what’s fully going on with this family she lives next door to. What she discovers, not only shocks her, but may also shock Andy and may finally make sense of everything that’s going on with this family.

Somebody's literally on the verge of exploding.

Somebody’s literally on the verge of exploding.

The past few months have been pretty awesome for low-key, indie film makers looking to make a name in the horror genre. It Follows and the Babadook were, seemingly, two underground sleeper hits that showed you didn’t need to be associated with some sort of popular name-brand, or even have a gimmick that makes your material seem cooler; all you needed was to have chills, thrills and plenty of surprises for the audience to fully get invested in. Both films were not only solid pieces of work, but reminded me, a non-horror lover, that when done right, horror movies can still be as terrifying and as exciting as they were way back when in the days of the Michael Meyers’ and Freddy Krueger’s.

The Harvest may not be a full-on, full-out horror flick in the sense of the name, but it is a solid piece of work that reminds us, once again, horror movies can be fun, even without having a large budget to work with. Sometimes, all you need is enough shocks and spills to keep things moving and interesting for all to pay attention to, and you’re good. Anything else added on is just cheap, meaningless garbage that deserves to be placed in something like Paranormal Activity or Saw, where, even though they make plenty of money at the box-office from people who don’t know much better, still don’t add anything new or fun to the genre whose sandbox they’re playing in.

Once again, the Harvest is not necessarily a horror movie, but there is something inherently creepy and odd about this movie and that’s where the real strength of John McNaughton’s direction comes into frame.

For instance, the Harvest‘s tone is wild and over-the-top, but that’s kind of the point; rather than trying to explain why someone, or somebody is acting in an insane way, the movie just sort of hints at the fact that they’re might be something deeper, darker and more disturbing going on that we have to stay glued into finding out. This journey in and of itself is what keeps the Harvest unpredictable, even when it seems to just be all about having scenes where Samantha Morton acts out in outrageous manners. That’s not to say that these scenes are boring, but after awhile, you can tell that McNaughton is sort of just letting Morton get as crazy as she wants as he sits back, reels us in and allows for that final, big reveal to come and hit us all in the face.

Don’t worry, the surprise does work, however, getting there is a bit of a pain, if only because it seems like there’s not much heart or humanity to these characters, or even the situation we’re seeing them involved with. Once again, this may be the whole point to begin with, but it seems like, with these actors, more could have been done.

Like I said though, most of the movie does contain just Samantha Morton continuously getting mad, yelling, screaming, and causing harm to those around her, for reasons that don’t make sense right away. It’s interesting to see Morton take on an unlikable, sometimes maniacal character that is literally all-over-the-place in terms of mood and actual physical presence at times, because it’s so hard to see her in some movies and not fall in love with her charms. But here, she seems to be playing against all of that in a way that’s both shocking, as well as fun; she not only seems to be reveling in the fact that she doesn’t have to please anyone, but also, still seems like she’s interested in getting down to this character’s inner-core. It sort of works and sort of doesn’t, but the effort that Morton gives is credible.

Assuming they just watched Murderball.

Let’s hope they didn’t just watch Murderball.

The reason this is all the more surprising is by the fact that with Morton acting like such a whack-job here, we get to see a more dialed-down, cool, calm and collective performance from Michael Shannon as her husband. Shannon, like Morton, seems to be playing against type as the kind of guy who seems like a nice person, but also seems like he’s got something strange going on behind those dark circles underneath his eyes. Whatever it is, though, it’s cool to see Shannon at least try his hardest to find more emotion within this character, even if it sometimes goes nowhere special.

But, then again, I’ll take some effort over none.

As for the young workers here, they’re both fine in that they’re characters are written in such a way that they’re not annoying, nor are they boring – they’re just kids. Tahan and Calis share a nice chemistry that makes it clear early-on that this movie clearly isn’t going to be heading for any sort of romance anytime soon and because of that, we are spared. Instead, we get more shouting from Samantha Morton and honestly, it’s something I wish I continue to always see in movies.

Whether she’s in them or not.

Consensus: While not necessarily a horror flick, the Harvest still delivers on some disturbing, oddly-placed moments where you don’t know whether to laugh, be terrified, or a little bit of both, which makes it actually pretty exciting.

7 / 10

"Please. Stop. Yelling."

“Please. Stop. Shouting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire