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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Rebecca Dayan

Novitiate (2017)

Trust in God. Not the nuns. They’re a little mean.

Once she turns 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides that it’s time to leave her old life behind and join the Catholic Church to become a nun. It’s a decision that her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is agnostic, doesn’t quite understand or fully support, but she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter – Cathleen believes that she’s had a calling from Jesus and has fallen in love with him. Cathleen enters a Catholic convent as a postulant under the tutelage of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is known for her passion and grace in the world of religion. While there, Cathleen meets fellow nuns who are doing their best to stick with it, even if the responsibilities and rules are quite demanding and not all that understandable. But specifically at this point in time, during the early-60’s, the Catholic Church itself was going through a bit of a change, what with the planned reforms of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church would show a much more open and accepting image to all those who wanted to have faith in God. Most within the Church got behind these rules right away, whereas Reverend Mother doesn’t, fearing that it may change the community forever and for the worst.

Still looks like Andie Macdowell, in a nun outfit.

Novitiate doesn’t necessarily come off as a scathing indictment on the Catholic Church, or even faith in general, and it’s much better off for that. Writer/director Maggie Betts, making her directorial debut, seems to understand and respect those who actually fall in love with God, or whoever they praise, are willing to throw their whole lives completely away, and devote everything to prayer, abstinence, and spreading the good word of the Lord. While it may sound like a boring life to a normal layman, to those who are involved with the Church, it’s the greatest honor they can bestow and Betts doesn’t seem to be making fun of these people, as much as she easily could have.

Instead, she shows a certain sweetness to these people who devote their lives to God. But then again, she also realizes that there are a few bad apples who either, misinterpret the word of God and act out in heinous ways, or can’t keep up with their sacred notions and never seem to give up. Betts seems to be saying that while having God in your life can be a good thing, having it run your each and everyday life, isn’t, and it can drive people to pure insanity.

And as we all know, living in the world that we live in, this isn’t much of a stretch for Betts to make.

That said, Novitiate is an overall smart movie that doesn’t necessarily have an agenda, but shows us the Catholic Church during a transnational period, that they don’t even know or understand is quite as severe as it’s going to be. It’s not necessarily a stylish, or fully exciting movie – there’s a lot of walking, praying, sitting in silence, crying, and hushed-tones – but the movie creates a certain uneasiness just by doing this, that it’s easy to get compelled by. The movie is deathly serious and understated, therefore, never quite goes overboard or as insane as you’d expect it to be with some of these religious types, and it feels a lot more realistic for that. It’s less of a sympathetic-portrait of the Catholic Church, and much more of a humane one, where we see all the good, as well as the bad, within it.

Uh oh. Someone’s talking during prayers.

The only pure instances in which the movie goes slightly a bit overboard is with Melissa Leo’s performance as Reverend Mother, but it still works. Leo’s presence here is a little shocking because you can always tell that she’s about to crack loose, but because she’s a nun and has to set a good example for the fellow nuns out there, she has to stay cool, calm, and collected. There are instances in which we see Leo lose all control and it’s scary, but not in the horror movie kind-of-way – it just seems like a person slowly losing grips with her own form of reality, and coming to terms with the all-too real one.

It’s a scary and powerful performance, and from Leo, I wouldn’t expect much different.

Everybody else is quite good in this supporting-cast, but really, it’s Margaret Qualley who remains the heart and soul of the whole project. As Cathleen, Qualley gives us a sad, somewhat scared character who keeps to herself, but is so in love with God and the Jesus, she can’t hold it all in. Through Cathleen, we see just how one can misinterpret The Word and it’s Qualley that keeps us on-edge, not knowing whether she’s going to crack and lose all control, or if she’s going to stay her meek and mild self. Through it all, we still sympathize with her; we know that she means well and even if she is throwing her life away, it’s her life to throw away. We just want her to realize that there’s more to life than the Church and to stand outside, in the real world, if only for a bit.

Consensus: Slow and a little languid, Novitiate surely follows its own pace, but is also a well-acted and compelling look at the Catholic Church, that’s neither judging, nor entirely sympathetic. Just honest and realistic.

7.5 / 10

“God? You spoke to Madonna. Why can’t you speak to me?”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classic

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From Paris with Love (2010)

Paris really should start advertising the Royale with Cheese more.

A personal aide to the US Ambassador in France, James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has an enviable life in Paris and a beautiful French girlfriend, but his real passion is his side job as a low-level operative for the CIA. So when he’s offered his first senior-level assignment, he can’t believe his good luck – until he meets his new partner, Special Agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta).

After striking gold with his semi-Europa thriller Taken, director Pierre Morel teamed up with producer Luc Besson to give us exactly what we would want from these two dudes: Loud action, loud guns, loud people, and a story that makes no sense whatsoever, but was still loud enough to where we think there was something going on that resembled a story.

Then again though, with these two dudes, it’s all you need.

The whole film makes it seem like Morel and Besson just had so many wild and insane ideas for action sequences, that rather than just trying to fit them into a cohesive story, they just went the other way and allowed the action scenes to go first and have the story come second. This would have been terrible for most movies out there, however, From Paris with Love has this great sense of fun and excitement in it, that it’s hard to be too mad at it for forgetting about something of a story. Basically, the story is just there to service the action and help speed things along. It doesn’t get in the way too much, which makes the run-time go on by a whole lot smoother, and even allows for the action sequences to hit a lot harder.

Of course he has a smokin' hot, European girlfriend! It's Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

Of course he has a smokin’ hot, European girlfriend! It’s Johnathan Rhys Meyers!

One scene in particular where the action really kicks ass is when Travolta’s character goes into a Chinese restaurant, asking where coke is, and eventually getting so sick and tired that nobody will admit it to him, he decides to blow-up the whole place with a machine-gun of his, taking out Chinese drug-dealers left and right. It’s a pretty memorable action sequence and there are plenty of other ones that may not be as memorable as this one, but definitely some that add a whole level of “fun” to this film. Just exactly what you need.

However, the main problem with this film is that when the action isn’t going on, the story does eventually take over and can be a bit of a snoozer. Because the movie’s action scenes are so rad, and the fact that both Besson and Morel know this, the story comes off as total second-nature to this movie, which means that a lot of the scenes spaced-out for character and plot development, all come and go with a whimper. It’s understandable that movies like this need something of a story to help measure things out and make sure it’s not a constant barrage of guns, explosions, and death, but to me, this movie could have probably cut-out at least twenty minutes of scenes where people are just talking, left everything else, and it would have been fine. I know that certain movies need that breather or two, but From Paris with Love isn’t that terrific of a movie to get away with any downtime.

It needs to keep going and going, no matter what!

But, where some of the scenes involving people talking get something of a slide is because they feature what can be seen as a return-to-effin’ form from John Travolta as the loose-cannon, Charlie Wax. Travolta hasn’t had the best career in the past decade or so years, but he shows that with roles like these, he still has some of the best delivery when it comes to one-liners, can still come off as a pretty intimidating dude, and has a way of making himself so likable, that it doesn’t matter what sort of violence he’s causing; as long as he’s got that winning-smile of his, all is well.

"Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is."

“Give me Idina Menzel. Or whatever the hell her name is.”

Though, there is something to be said for Travolta’s electricity in this movie, and that’s that he actually sort of ends up working against the movie. Sure, he’s over-the-top and clearly having the greatest time of his life chewing into this role, but he turns out to be the film’s double-edge sword – because we can’t wait to see when he’ll pop up next, or what he’ll do when he does show up, he steals the movie from mostly everybody else around him. In this example though, I guess the one person he mostly steals it from is Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is, sadly, saddled with the straight-man role that I don’t know if he’s quite up to handle.

Rhys Meyers is fine because he’s handling the material exactly as it was probably presented to him, however, he’s a tad dull, in a role that was probably written that way to begin with. So I guess that maybe some of the discredit here should go against the writers who decided to give this character barely any personality to be found whatsoever (except for “boring”), but it also brings up the key fact that maybe they could have given Rhys Meyers’ character more moments that were his, and his alone. The majority of the movie is spent with him playing second-fiddle to Travolta and whatever the hell his character’s doing at that given point in time, so we rarely get to see him really branch out and show anything resembling an attribute the movie. Maybe playing it stiff and straight was all that Rhys Meyers needed to do, but here, there’s still a feeling that there needed to be a bit more, just to help us identify with him slightly more.

Then again, things do blow up here, so I guess it’s not all that bad.

Consensus: Though it has a weak story, From Paris with Love mostly gets by on its insane, balls-to-wall action that helps give John Travolta’s lively performance a perfect suitor in his wrath of absolute mayhem.

6 / 10

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

A Mexican stand-off, but with no Mexicans. Ironic?

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

Chicks got to make up their minds.

Best friends and lovers since high school, Jesse (Andy Samberg) and Celeste (Rashida Jones) got married in their twenties and, after a few years of wedded bliss, woke up to discover that they love each other as pals but not as husband and wife. So Jesse moves on, while Celeste is left to wonder just what the hell did she do.

It’s a surprise that this flick hasn’t gotten a bigger distribution than what it already has, because the material here could probably end up making this a sleeper hit of the late Summer, much like (500) Days of Summer did way back in ’09. No, it’s nothing as brilliant and original as that, but it says the same stuff and makes you feel the same emotions, except there’s no Hall & Oates in this one. That already puts it a step-below.

What I think touched me about this story right off the bat was how honest it was about itself. I don’t know how much Jones and co-writer/co-star Will McCormack have experienced in their lives from the past, but it seems like they know a whole lot about relationships, how you make them work, and sometimes, how you can make them fall-apart just by trying to change that other person. There’s a lot here that speaks out to people who think they are too good for their soul-mate and think that it’s time to call it quits just because they aren’t up-to date with them, as much as they are with everything else in the world. There are plenty of people out there just exactly like that, and 9 times out of 10, those people start to realize that they made a huge mistake because they never once thought that the person they’d tried to get rid of, would eventually come back and be the person they always wanted them to be.  It’s a very true testament to not just how relationships work, but people as well, and Celeste and Jesse are no different from that.

What I liked most about this script was how every single part of this flick was set-up as a rom-com cliché. Gay best-friend? Check. Chick that needs to get her love-life back on-track but ultimately fails? Check. Witty best friend that tells it like it is? Check. Big speech at the end where the character tells everybody all that they have been through? Double check. The difference here is that this film sees those conventions, and sort of spins them on its head and give us a true tale of love being lost, love being unrequited, and love almost being found once again. The story I have been describing to you for the past 3 paragraphs now, may seem like a total drag but I can assure you that it’s not. There is a lot of material that is funny here and even though every once and awhile this film will show us something we have seen done before in thousands of other rom-coms, it still feels true to itself and to the situation these characters are in.

By the end, when this story started to show it’s true colors and what it was really trying to say, that’s when I actually started to feel a little emotion here and there. The whole idea of this chick getting fed-up with her old husband because he won’t grow-up and then wants him back, doesn’t seem that sympathetic, but the way it’s played out here makes it seem so and you feel for this Celeste character. Not only is she a very realistic female character that you could easily meet at a bar or somewhere in a downtown night club, she’s also a gal that feels some sort of emotions whenever her feelings are hurt and when she wants to just be loved. You don’t really see female characters in rom-coms go through the type of shit Celeste goes through here, and I think that’s what makes her development as a character, all that much better and smarter.

My problem with this script was that I did feel like they took a little bit too much away from Celeste, just in order to give-up some time to random side characters that could have honestly been cut-out. I liked Elijah Wood as the stereotypical gay boss/best-friend, but he doesn’t add a single thing to this whole product and if they were to get rid of him, I don’t think much would have been missed. Not saying that he’s bad or anything, it’s just that there isn’t much to hold onto when it comes to his character. The same could be said for Emma Roberts who plays a Ke$ha-like teen-star that just wants to rock-out with her whatevers out. Roberts is fine in this role too, but she doesn’t add anything either other than a bunch of dumb dick and butt gags that seem tired by the third time they even mention it. Other characters like Chris Messina as a hopeful boyfriend that will take Celeste out of her funk, and Will McCormick as the stoner buddy named Skillz, are all fun to watch but also seem like another example of this film having too many ideas and too many side characters that eventually take away from Celeste’s real problem at-hand: the chick can’t move on.

Andy Samberg finally gets his real taste at drama and plays it up very well, when he gets the chance to. Samberg, at-first, plays Jesse as his usual jocky, young-minded, goofy persona that always seems to take over his characters but by the end changes it up a bit and starts to grow-up into his own person that is just as confused with what he wants as Celeste is. Jesse’s whole story development seems a little forced (the guy already wants to have a family with this one girl after one date?), but Samberg makes it seem believable with a nice amount of honesty and sensitivity that is unlike anything we have ever seen from him before. It’s not one of those roles that really stands-out and shows that this guy can almost do it all, but it’s a nice way of showing that maybe there is a life for this guy after leaving SNL and doing a shit-fest like That’s My Boy.

The real star of this whole movie, as you probably predicted since she co-wrote it, is Rashida Jones as Celeste. Jones is an actress that we all know can be funny (just watch Parks & Recreation), but she has never really been given that great amount of drama to work with that makes her stand-out from the rest. This performance here is that game-changer for her as Celeste is not only a great character to play, but is also a great performance for Jones where she shows that she can make any character likable and easy to root for just by using her mysterious charm that she has about her. The scenes her and Samberg have are dead-on, as their chemistry is as perfect as you could get it, but when it’s just Jones allowing herself to be shown in such an uncomfortably sad light, it feels real as if Jones is just reliving a past break-up that she still feels terrible about. But even when she has to do the comedy act with her performance as well, she nails it there too and it just shows you that this lady has a very bright future in Hollywood. Hopefully, this is the film that shows it off, too.

Consensus: Celeste and Jesse Forever may suffer from too many ideas and characters but never feels too jumbled up due to a great script that shows the emotional turmoil you go through during heartbreak, as well as what can happen to one person when they realize that the person they got rid of in the first place, was probably the best person for them in the end.

8/10=Matinee!!