Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: RJ Konner

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Advertisements

Burn After Reading (2008)

Never trust those who are “too fit”.

When CIA Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted from his job, he decides that it’s time to start the proceedings on his memoir. Somehow, though, the disk containing all of this information falls into the hands of two gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), both of whom clearly have no idea what they’re going to do with this disk. But they both have the right idea to blackmail Cox for some money, even if they don’t know how to go about it, nor what the actual proceedings are. Meanwhile, Linda herself is in search of a better life that isn’t just working in the gym. Currently, she’s trying to fund her cosmetic surgeries, as well as someone to love in her life. Through various dating websites, she meets the charming and likable Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), and the two hit it off immediately. Strange thing is that Harry, despite being married, also happens to be shackin’ up with Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton), which leads the whole situation to end up in some real weird, sticky situations, sometimes with them leading to violence and all sorts of bloodshed.

"Malkovich? Malkovich?"

“Malkovich? Malkovich?”

At this stage in their career, the Coen brothers can practically do anything that they want and nobody is going to tell them otherwise. They have enough Oscars under their belt, have made their studios enough money, and have earned enough respect in the biz to say that they want to make about anything, and everybody will fall for it, hook, line and sinker. As is the case with most writers and directors, they’ve had some mediocre films, as well as some amazing films, but mostly, they’ve made films worth checking out and taking time out of one’s day to watch, because a Coen brother’s movie is, quite frankly, better than a lot of other stuff out there.

And Burn After Reading is the exact reason why they are so beloved.

Though, at the same time, the movie doesn’t show the Coen brothers really working with anything new, or ground-breaking; instead, they’re taking on the whole spy genre, making a farce out of it, and rather than having real, actual spies involved, the movie’s just about a bunch of regular, everyday people who are, yes, goofy and sometimes idiotic. However, they are all searching for the same thing: Money and power. To the Coens, this is perhaps the most interesting aspect about the human-condition, in which seemingly normal people, can be driven so ridiculously mad by the prospect of wealth, that they’d do almost anything to achieve it and rule their own little world.

At the same time, though, rather than being all sad and serious about it, the Coens add a lighter touch onto that whole idea, giving us characters that aren’t just colorful and likable, but also interesting. Sure, some of these characters may come off as very schticky and thin, but the Coens also show how that they’re personalities make who they are and determine every decision that they make throughout the movie. Some characters are, obviously, smarter than others, but nobody here is actually a good person, and there’s something inherently fun and entertaining in watching all of these characters get caught in a crazy web of lies, murder and deception, just for the hell of it.

It also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

As usual, the Coens work with some of their own regulars who, by now, have mastered the art of the “Coen speak”. George Clooney is exciting, but also very weird as Harry, who always seems to have an issue with the food he eats, as well as an odd obsession with wood-panels; Frances McDormand’s Linda is a total polar opposite of what we’re used to seeing her play, giving us a naive, sometimes sad character who always tries to stay upbeat, no matter what the situation may call for; and Richard Jenkins, as Linda’s boss who can’t seem to stop falling over her, makes you want to give him a hug just about every scene he’s involved with.

We get it, Brad: You're really in-shape!

We get it, Brad: You’re really in-shape!

But the newcomers to the Coen’s also handle their material well and show why they deserve to be in their movies a whole lot more. John Malkovich does a lot of cursing and yelling as Osborne, and it’s so much fun to watch and listen that I didn’t care if his character didn’t get as developed as I would have liked; Tilda Swinton’s character is a bit bitchy and mean, but also seems like she’s got more going onto her that would have been interesting to see developed more, but for what it is, this is all we get and it’s fine; and Brad Pitt, well, let’s just say he sort of steals the show. Not only does Brad Pitt seems like he’s so eager and excited to be apart of a Coen brother’s movie, but he also seems like he really wants to see what’s more to this character that he’s playing – something that isn’t quite seen in the rest of the movie.

Pitt’s Chad, for the most part, doesn’t really care about gaining any sort of money or respect, he’s just around for the fun of it all. That’s clear from the very beginning, once we realize that there’s a certain zaniness and energy to him that’s hard to ignore. This is mostly all thanks to Pitt who, using his grace and charm, shows that while a meat-head like Chad can be lovable, he can also be one you sort of feel bad for, once the situation he’s involved with gets to be a bit too crazy and over-the-top for his own good. There’s something about Chad that I wanted to see more of, but really, what I got was fine enough.

And that’s basically all that there is to say about Burn After Reading: It’s fine, and although you wish you saw more, that’s all you really need.

But hey, don’t just listen to me, let J.K. Simmons tell you all about it.

Consensus: Though it’s not exactly breaking down any barriers, Burn After Reading still finds the Coen brothers in a fun, hilariously wicked spirit that maintains their sense of odd energy the whole way through.

8 / 10

How can these two not have a ball together?

How can these two not have a ball together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, IFC

Baby Mama (2008)

Who doesn’t have baby mama drama?

Kate (Tina Fey) is a businesswoman who, for the most part, has been pleased with her life thus far. She has a good job, a nice apartment in Philadelphia, and generally considers her life simple and easygoing enough that she doesn’t have to worry about too much. Problem is, there’s one thing that she really wants to do with her life that sadly, she may not be able to do: Have a child. Due to her being infertile, Kate has not been able to, no matter how hard she has tried, to naturally have a child; so, she takes the next best step in the matter, which leads her to becoming apart of a surrogacy program. In the surrogacy program, for those who don’t know what that means, Kate’s baby will, through sperm injections and all sorts of other medical shenanigans, be conceived and born through some other woman. This other woman in question just so happens to be Angie (Amy Poehler), someone who is definitely not at all like Kate. Which is fine for Kate, so long as she can trust Angie to be smart about her body and realize that there is indeed a human growing inside of her. But after Angie runs into issues with her own husband (Dax Shepard), she begins to live with Kate, which is when the two begin to learn more about one another, even if they also have differences as well.

Tina doesn't need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she'll take him!

Tina doesn’t need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she’ll take him! And you know why? ‘Cause she can!

Of course, in Baby Mama, wacky hijinx ensue. That’s obvious from the very start, however, Baby Mama is a tad bit smarter than most of the other broad comedies out there that would have attacked this premise as dumb as possible. This isn’t, of course, to say that Baby Mama isn’t predictable, by-the-numbers, or at least, conventional, because it’s each and everyone of those things – but working behind all of those conventions and obvious story-structures is, for one, laughs, and also, a decent-sized heart that reminds you that you’re watching a female-lead comedy, that can appeal to basically everyone.

Sure, it may definitely help if you’re a woman or going through the same life event as the one depicted here, but regardless, it doesn’t matter.

Baby Mama is, first and foremost, a comedy. And a funny one at that. Most of that comes from the fact that both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have such great chemistry between one another, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in the fun and enjoyment they clearly have playing side-by-side. Even though their characters are, obviously, general opposites, not just in terms of personality, but also in social backgrounds, you still get the feeling that Fey and Poehler can’t wait for that moment in this film where their characters start to put all of their issues aside, take some shots, get wild together, and generally, have fun together.

To say that Fey and Poehler are both funny here, is doing them justice. However, there’s also another element to their performances that factor in well and that’s that their characters are actually well-written, despite initially seeming like stupid and dull caricatures from the beginning. Like, for instance, try Fey’s Kate: While she appears to be a stuck-up, way-too-serious businesswoman who is all about her job and not much else, eventually, the story goes on and we see that there’s actually a lot more fun and excitement to her life. Heck, the reasons for why she wants a baby to begin with, regardless of whether it’s naturally or through agencies, are understandable; she’s gotten to that point in her life where she wants one, she doesn’t need one, but wants one.

It's set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy!

It’s set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy! Gotta love my city!

That is, most of all, perhaps the greatest distinction this movie makes and is truly a smart piece of writing. It shows that woman like Kate, whether they be successful or not, don’t need to have babies to make their lives feel fulfilled. Does that mean that they’re not nice to have around? Of course not, but Baby Mama doesn’t believe that in order to make sure that your life is great and superb, it needs to be so with a baby by your side. It’s a small piece of writing, I know, but it’s what sets it apart from most other female-driven comedies out there that are all about getting married and having kids, because of some ill-conceived notion from many, many years ago, that says women need a certain amount of requirements to make their lives great.

But still, seriousness aside, Baby Mama is still a fine comedy.

Like what I said for Fey’s Kate, can be said the same for Poehler’s Angie: She may seem a bit white trash-y, but after awhile, the movie just shows her more off as a wild girl who not only likes to have some fun, but also wants to be a bit more serious in her own life as well. She doesn’t need to be serious, but she wants to be. There are others in this movie that show up in this movie that are funny, charming and welcome, but it’s really Poehler and Fey who make the movie work the most.

Even though the movie does admittedly get a bit syrupy and sentimental by the end, Poehler and Fey still feel fun and fresh, adding another sense of enjoyment to the proceedings. The plot does eventually get to be a bit too much and be about things happening, one after another, with random twists coming out left and right, but regardless, Baby Mama can still be funny and at times, relatively insightful. It may not be trying too hard, but in its own way, it sort of is; it’s taking the female-driven comedy and doing something with it that isn’t revolutionary or game-changing, but normal.

And hey, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Consensus: Predictable and lightweight for sure, but regardless, Baby Mama still offers up plenty of laughs and enjoyment courtesy of Poehler and Fey’s lovely chemistry.

7 / 10

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz