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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Reginald Footman

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Run, Denzel, run!

Denzel Washington plays Army Major Bennett Marco, a career soldier who grows suspicious about his experience in Desert Storm after Squad Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), son of the powerful Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), becomes a candidate for Vice President. Something feels very eerie about Marco, and both of the Shaw’s and that’s why Marco is going to go out and settle the truth.

Jonathan Demme is a very skilled director that can go from making movies about Neil Young, to making one about a pilled-up Anne Hathaway that loves crashing weddings, and make it all work out in his own way. Of course, like with most directors, the guy has had his fair share of blow-outs (The Truth About Charlie, anyone?), but I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely had more hits than misses and this flick is one of those rare hits, that somehow misses a mark it could have hit a littler harder.

What makes this flick work is that Demme puts us in the same state-of-mind as it’s main character is in, and has us disheveled and confused as he is, and never lets us know exactly just what the hell is going on. We get a lot of dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, ideas, drug-trips, and plenty more devices that are used to mess with our minds, just like our main character’s as well, and that’s what Demme succeeds at the most. He keeps us in the dark with what we think we know, and what we expect to happen next in a flick like this.

And yes, it most definitely works.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

There are certain places that this movie goes, really will surprise you, in terms of twists and material. The twists are good and kept on flying when I thought they would end, but still added more and more layers of tension and mystery to a story that didn’t need it, but didn’t suffer from too much of it either. But in terms of material and where this flick goes with it, it can be pretty damn surprising. Certain things happen that you don’t expect to considering this is a mainstream thriller with A-list names and Hollywood producers, and you also don’t expect certain characters to get killed-off when they do. Basically, with a filmmaker and story-teller like Demme, nothing is as what it seems and you can’t seem to trust anyone. Once again, that’s the same sort of mind-frame that our main character takes and it’s a real delight to see that work so well by the inspired hands of Jonathan Demme.

Although, something just wasn’t clicking for me in the right ways that I was expecting it to. What I mean by that, is that the movie has all of these ideas, all of these mysteries, and all of these conspiracies to it, that enhance the plot as well as our confusion of what we think is actually happening, but never seems to get off-the-ground. The reason for that being is because it feels like Demme is so considered with laying down the groundwork of this story and telling us what he feels like we should know, that he never kicks the story into full-gear and having us feel like we are on a ride that’s never going to end, and shows no signs of it either.

Maybe the problem I had with this movie and this pace, was that I think I was expecting something more of a slam-bang, action-thriller, and that’s exactly what I did not get. This is more along the lines of a psychological thriller that takes it’s good old time to get where it needs to go, and doesn’t really worry about the people watching it, squirming in their seats and just waiting for the tides to change, and start having people beat the shit out of one-another and run away. That never happens and even when it does show signs of that actually occurring and speeding everything up: it still disappoints. If it wasn’t for this snail-like pace, Demme would have really been onto something here, but the guy just never lets his material move at a speed that cannot only gain our attention, but have us more intrigued in seeing where it all goes and ends-up.

Thankfully, we have an A-list cast like this to save the day and thank the heavens for them. When you see a movie that Denzel Washington stars in, you automatically assume that he’s going to be the downright lovable, cool-as-shit Denzel Washington that we see him play, and master in just about every one of his movies. However, he’s a little different and shows that the guy can play crazy, pretty damn well, mind you. The guy’s still got some charm to where you feel like he’s a good-guy underneath all of the lost-marbles, but you still don’t know what to make of where he’s going, in terms of character and his motivations. No matter where this character ends up, Denzel is always compelling and always makes it easy for us to root him on, as if it’s him vs. the world, and we are on red corner’s side, just hoping he comes out of this alive and without a single-scratch on that voluptuous forehead of his. Yeah, I went there and I make no apologies for it either, bitches.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

The one in this cast that I was really surprised by was Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, because not only does the guy portray his character’s smugness in such a way that really had me want to punch him in his corrupt-face, but he has the most challenging-role of all. For instance, Shaw is the type of character that is typically a bad guy because he looks bad, is on the bad guy’s side, and is rich, powerful, and smart. Pretty much any person that has those qualities in a movie, or life for that matter, fit the bill of being a total and complete villain that we just don’t like and want to see dead as soon as possible. I’m talking about in the movies, not real-life. Although I do think you could arrange that if you needed to.

But I digress.

What makes this character of Raymond Shaw so complex is that yes, he does fit the role of the type of guy you would normally hate and root-against in a movie like this, but there’s more to him than just that. You sort of feel bad for him because you can tell that he doesn’t really have the brightest-clue as to knowing what the hell is going on, and feels bad that he’s being played-with as a result of all of this confusion. Therefore, he has to take the higher, and sometimes more difficult road of taking everything he sees, hears, and thinks in stride and going about his business, but still having wonders in his head as to what the hell is right and what is wrong with his life. Schreiber plays this moral-dilemma so very, very well and shows the type of dimensions you can get with a character like this, no matter how one-sided he may seem on-paper. Schreiber is always a solid actor that continues to turn in good-work-after-good-work, and his role as Raymond Shaw, is one of the glaring examples of this.

Perhaps the one who really knocks this out-of-the-park, but didn’t surprise me as much was Meryl Streep as Raymond’s “mother”, Eleanor. I think it goes without saying that we all know and love Streep for being the powerhouse-force of in almost everything she does, but her performance as Eleanor shows a darker, meaner-side to the things that she can accomplish and show-off as an actress. She doesn’t necessarily chew the scenery, as much as she takes a look at it, contemplates whether or not to take a bite, and then, decides to eat the whole freakin’ thing and spit it right back out. Streep is the type of actress that can pull-off this hard-hitting woman role like gangbusters, and it was so glorious to see her play a character that isn’t all wholesome and happy; she’s actually pretty terrible.

Consensus: Demme doesn’t allow The Manchurian Candidate to fully pick itself up off-the-ground with fun and electricity in the air, but instead allows the eerie, and mysterious atmosphere kick in and mess with your minds as much as it’s messing with the lead character’s, and many other’s as well.

6.5 / 10

Rawr!

Rawr!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images