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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Sarah Clarke

Thirteen (2003)

Just when sending your daughter to the convent seemed like cruel punishment.

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to begin her first year in junior high and in order to do it right, she’s got to get rid of her past life. That means no more studying, no more nerdy friends, no more playing with Barbies, and sure as hell no more being lame! And in order to be seen as “cool”, or “hip”, or whatever the kids are calling it nowadays, Tracy latches right onto the most popular girl in school, Evie (Nikki Reed). This also means, that to ensure that she stays cool, Tracy will have to do all sorts of scandalous stuff that the old Tracy would never even dream of doing. Meaning, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, booze, and stealing, all of which, Evie and Tracy seem to absolutely love doing together. However, the one person who isn’t quite the biggest fan of what Tracy’s up to, or Evie either, is Tracy’s mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter). Although Melanie and Tracy did, at one time, have a very strong relationship, she sees that dangerously slipping away now and will do anything to get that love back. That is, before it’s too late and she’s lost Tracy to the deep, dark world of rebellious 13-year-old girls!

Don't do that.

Don’t do that.

Thirteen is, and also isn’t, is an after school special. If you’re going to place it in a specific sort of subgenre to make it appeal more towards a target audience, then yeah, Thirteen can definitely be considered an after school special. Kids are acting up in all sorts of mischievous ways here and ultimately, get lessons learned, and it all feels like something you’d see tuning into either on Lifetime, or TLC.

The difference between Thirteen and those other movies is that, well, it doesn’t hold back.

Thirteen is the kind of coming-of-ager that Larry Clarke would soon one day love to make, but can’t help himself to actually create because he’s too concerned with pubic-hair and unsimulated sex scenes; there’s so many scenes where barely legal (or, not at all) kids are participating in sexual activities, drug-use, cutting, hitting, and drinking, that it’s more than enough to make you want to turn away. And sure, while we know that everything these kids are doing are, in fact, fake and put-on for the camera, co-writer and director Catherine Hardwicke shoots it in such a realistic manner, that it can sometimes feel like a documentary. Which definitely works in the movie’s favor because it helps make it seem like this is a tale that any person can, has, or will, experience.

Being thirteen and going through all the sorts of problems that 13-year-old goes through, isn’t just limited to one gender, race, or belief; everybody goes through teenage angst at least once during their life. Sure, some bouts with angst are a lot more serious and vicious than others, but still, the fact remains, most people, when growing up, usually tend to face a lot of problems and commit acts that they won’t be looking back on in ten or so years, with any sorts of smiles whatsoever. But, in a way, that’s fine, because that’s just how life goes sometimes. What matters most, though, is how you bounce back from all that that makes you, well, who you are.

That’s why Thirteen doesn’t ever, not for a single second, ever judge its characters for what they’re doing, even though it would have definitely been easy to do.

That Tracy falls hook, line and sinker for Evie as soon as she sees her make fun of her, and wants to start talking, dressing and acting like her, only makes sense because when we’re young, that’s all most of us want to do. While we may not want to be the most popular kids in school, we still want to have that feeling of being accepted, or part of some clique that we can hang around with when life can get us down. That’s why when Tracy starts doing all of the things that Evie’s doing and without ever hardly putting up a fight for what she believes to be right, either, it’s hard to be really mad at her. She may be a bit of an a-hole to the rest of her family, but when were any of us ever nice to those who loved and cared for us at that age, huh?

Hardwicke is smart though in giving us every single little gritty detail about Tracy’s transformation, without ever trying to turn its head. There’s plenty of moments that she could have definitely done so and we wouldn’t have at all blamed her (like the cutting scenes, for instance), but she doesn’t, and that, above everything else, she deserves credit for. Not to mention that Nikki Reed, who also wrote the screenplay with her, deserves even more credit for not just turning in a great performance as Evie, but for also making a great script that feels smart and nonjudgmental – something that may have not been easy to do as a 15 or 16-year-old girl, which she was at the time.

But really, it’s the two performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter that I continue to come back to.

Or that.

Or that.

In the case of the former’s, Wood’s great here because she feels like a real teen, actually diving as deep as a girl like her would dive into being accepted. There’s never a moment where she seems like she’s over-acting, or demanding all eyes to be on her; and even if she does, it’s intentional, because that’s probably what her character wants people to do at that same very moment. It’s no surprise that Wood’s a great actress, but after seeing her work here, it makes me wish that she’d be making more wonders in adult-hood. She’s clearly got the talent, all she needs is another juicy role to make people remember what she’s been able to do since she was, hell, 13.

As for the later, there’s no denying that Holly Hunter is a class-act in whatever she does, but here, she’s especially so. With Hunter’s Melanie, we get the real heart and soul of the movie; while a solid majority of the movie is centered around useless acts of sex, drugs, and small-time crime, the heartbeat at the center that keeps it pulsing, is actually Hunter’s Melanie, who never turns her daughter away or down for whatever it is that she demands. While she may give her too much freedom at times, she’s only doing it because she genuinely wants her daughter to be happy, no matter what. She’s the kind of mom that every person probably wishes they had (minus the ex-drug use, of course), which makes it all the more painful to watch it when, time after time, Melanie reaches out to Tracy and, time and time again, she continues to get denied and have everything shoved back into her face.

But that’s just what growing up is all about. Be prepared.

Consensus: Despite it seeming like something you’d see after school, Thirteen is a more believable and honest coming-of-ager that doesn’t pull any punches, but is better off for that, too.

8 / 10

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can't hug her no more.

But yeah, do that. Hug mom till you can’t hug her no more.

Photos Courtesy of: Tumblr

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The Signal (2014)

Don’t ever trust hackers. Not that you ever could anyway, but just saying.

Three MIT students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Haley (Olivia Cooke) are on the road to Haley’s new place, where it’s presumed that her and Nic will eventually break-off, because a long-distance relationship just isn’t something that two 20-year-old’s can handle together. Anyway, on the road, Jonah and Nic discover that an anonymous hacker they’ve been talking to and playing around with wants to take them to a destination, where they’ll meet up for the first time ever. When the three do get to the destination, it just so happens to be a worn-down house in the middle of the desert that they go into and hear some weird stuff. Moments later, they are mysteriously knocked unconscious, and several moments later, wake up in a padded-up testing center where they are asked a series of strange questions by Damon (Laurence Fishburne), someone who seems like he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. However, Nic is tired of all this crap that he’s been force-fed and decides to take it upon himself to discover the truth about the place that he is at, and find out whether or not he can be reunited with his friends, once again.

I must say, while that may not sound like all that much of an intriguing premise, there’s something interesting about what this movie does with said premise that makes it worth watching. It’s strange, because for the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, it’s pretty much like any other indie coming-of-ager – there’s shots of young college kids in a packed-car driving down a highways, looking out from upon a mountain, discussing what the future holds for them, and trying to grasp adult-hood, while somewhere in the background M83 plays. It’s no surprise to me that this movie screened at Sundance, because honestly, it seems like the kind of movie that that sort of crowd would go bananas over.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

Not me, however. And it wasn’t that I was bored, it was because the movie just moved too slow without anything interesting to be happening at all. Sure, the idea that this hacker wanted to meet up with them was something that kept me wondering, but the characters were boring, the soundtrack was so moody and saddening, that it made me want to chug a whole bottle of Merlot, and there was no Laurence Fishburne. Sounds dumb, I know, but when you expect Laurence Fishburne to show up in a movie, because you know he’s in it, it’s a bit hard to get past the fact that his lovable mug isn’t present within the first half-hour of whatever movie is in question.

Thankfully though, that all changed once the movie reveals to us that “twist”. I use parentheses, because the movie never makes it clear to us what’s going on with these three kids, or what these people in padded-up, astronaut-like suits are actually up to; the movie just plops us down into the middle of a situation that we have no clue about and are left to fend for ourselves. Whenever that happens to me in a movie, I’m always grateful, because it’s so easy for a movie/director to just force-feed us everything we’re supposed to know or understand, in order for our eyes to stay glued to the screen at all times. Not every movie has to be so obvious with what it wants us to know to add tension or a whole understanding of everything, but not many directors out there are fine with just playing it subtle.

But director William Eubank totally is and that’s what really kept me alive and awake during the second-half of this movie. It was still slow like the first-half, but this time, there was something actually charging it and keeping it alive and interesting. The story itself could have turned out to be 1,000 different things, and as ridiculous as most of them could have been, they still worked because it was a movie that didn’t show, nor tell us everything.

Instead, we come to our own conclusions about certain characters, their motivations, and just what the hell is going on behind the sealed-doors. Because we’re thrown into the mind of our lead protagonist, Nic, we never have a totally clear clue what those in charge are absolutely up to; all we do know is that they want to extract info and play some strange mind games with Nic himself. It’s supposed to make us pissed that they aren’t telling him anything at all and practically messing with his head every chance they get, and because we’re thrown into his head, his mind, it sort of works.

There was a certain part of me that wanted to see this Nic kid to find his friends, break out of this “prison”, and find any sort of peace or safety that’s at all possible, while also exposing these mofo’s for all that they are worth. In a way, I got a rebellious spirit in the pit of my stomach and though I didn’t want to see Nic go full-Pacino and start screaming “Attica!” from the top of his lungs, I still wanted him to get out of this strange situation alive, well, happy, and at least safe from these creepy, vague a-holes.

"Whadup? It's me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out."

“Whadup? It’s me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out.”

However, there’s a problem with all this because once the movie becomes all about Nic on the run from these mofo’s, it gets repetitive, albeit, conventional. Don’t get me wrong, the reason this is an original sci-fi movie, is because of how much it keeps us away from knowing the truth; everything else, from the gadgets, to the vernacular, and even to the post-apocalyptic-ish landscape is just feels like ground covered before. But it’s how the story tells itself is what works so well and makes it seem like something of its own beast. That’s why once the final-act comes into play, it seems like an ordinary-thriller that loses its way about two plot-twists right off the bat.

It was a bummer that it happened so late in the movie, but it was an even bigger bummer that the plot-twist that it ended on was so bizarre, it reminded of David Lynch. And no, not the good David Lynch either – the bad!!

That said, the cast is serviceable, if not entirely memorable. The three younglings who play these college-grads don’t have much to work with, and as a result, feel underdeveloped despite how hard they try. Though, the one who gets away with this problem is Laurence Fishburne, which more or less has to do with the fact that his character leaves so much to be desired, it’s intriguing to watch. Not to mention that Laurence Fishburne can read any line, humorous or not, and make it seem like he’s thinking of 30,000 different things at the same time. He’s just that good and watching him ask a kid if he’s agitated or not, was surely some fun. And lord knows there needed to be more added to this.

Consensus: While its an interesting premise that goes into some very strange places, perhaps the Signal‘s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know when to stop with these strange places, and just let the story tell itself in a regular way, without any added excitement or craziness.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Whaaaaaa?

Whaaaaaa?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Happy Endings (2005)

Those only happen to women. They have all the luck and fun when it comes to massages.

It’s an interweaving of various stories, that all have to deal with issues such as money, adultery, sex, movies, relationships, being gay, being in a band, being a sperm-donor, being a parent, being a brother, being a step brother, being a step sister, and many, many more. Trust me, there’s a whole lot going on here with these people and self-indulgent their lives.

Awhile back, I was just lingering around on Netflix and I stumbled upon a little-flick called, The Opposite of Sex. Had no idea what it was, but I saw some good-buzz about it and decided to check it out. I liked it a lot and I dug what writer/director Don Roos brought to the game and how his story, as unpredictable and weird as it may be, was still pretty thought-provoking and had me interested in where it was going to go with itself. Sadly, I never got-around to actually reviewing it, but if I was to actually give it some sort of a rating, I would probably say it’s around an 8/8.5. Pretty high for a movie I just watched on a whim and that’s sort of why I was excited for this one, considering this was Roos’ return to the indie-game. Sadly, I think he left some of his “cool-parts” back in 1998, with a pregnant Christina Ricci. If only she was here, but Maggie Gyllenhaal is a good substitute, right?

What made this flick so interesting is that Roos takes all of these different stories, shows us how they relate to one-another, who these subjects are, and what exactly to expect from each and every one of them. However, it’s not just the way he sets-up these stories that make them all work, it’s how he keeps them interesting and alive through an lovely energy that is apparent through Roos’ writing and direction, right from the start. We never know where these stories are going to go and how, we just know that they’re interesting to watch, for the most-part and Roos always finds a way to add in a great-deal of ironic, and sometimes, dark humor for fair-share to keep us alive and awake.

But as the funny as the stories may be, it’s the heart of this flick that actually does work and we begin to feel that all of these characters, as goofy and weird as they may be, still have an underlining sense of humanity to them that has them come-off as believable and it’s Roos’ caring treatment of them that works so well. Yeah, not everybody here is nice person and there are definitely some people who can be declared, “absolutely despicable”, but they always felt real to me. No matter how far they may have went with their actions, and motivations for the acts that they chose, they still came-off as real people and I don’t know if that was because of the ensemble-acting, or because of Roos’ tender love and care for the actual characters themselves. It’s this frank depiction of humans, how they act, how they feel, and how they treat one another is what really resonated with me the most and even though I didn’t find myself crying as I sat and watched in my living-room, I still felt more of a connection than I ever expected.

Still, at the end of the day, I continued to think to myself, “Just what the hell was the point of all that?”. See, with Roos’ other flick, he goes to show-us that a sexual-gender shouldn’t make-up a person and their stances in life. That point is pretty obvious and not necessarily something we haven’t already seen or heard before, especially in a movie featuring homosexuals, but at least it went deeper and further than anything this movie was trying to shove-away. I don’t really even know what the whole-point of this movie was. I mean there is a lot of unpredictable moments here that sort of goes off to show how life can be so unpredictable at times, and how gay people are just like you or me, but at the end of the day, I never really “got it”.

Oh no she did not just bring up ex's?!?!

Oh no she did not just bring up ex’s?!?!

Maybe Roos was working on some sort-of higher-standard than I may have imagined, but nothing really hit me as hard as I would have liked. It’s even worse when you consider how much this guy seems to get in the way of his actors and their skills, when he constantly has a screen pop-up on the side, to tell us what happens to the characters, their motivations, and thoughts in almost half-of-the-scenes. Once, twice, or maybe even three times is fine, but it continues to pop-up every 10 minutes, just when Roos believes that his characters motivations aren’t as clear as he wants them to be. It gets in the way of actors, the audience, and most of all, the message as to what the hell is the point for focusing on all of these characters, who’s lives are as unpredictable as a sex orgy.

Even though he tries to get in the way, a bit too much I think, Roos still always allows his ensemble to give-off some great performances, especially ones from people I never expected to see ever. Tom Arnold was great as the subdued and subtle aging-father, that is sort of coming to terms with the fact that he’s getting older and starting to lose his grip when it comes to sex, love, or even being a hip and cool father like he once was. Seeing Arnold in a very-rare, dramatic-role really gives me more hope for this guy that he can do movies like these and actually make a thing or two out of not being all corny and trying to come-off as funny. Just be normal, dude, it works for ya.

Another performance here that I wasn’t expecting to like is the one given-by Jesse Bradford as the hipster-like, documentary filmmaker that is like every other young, hip person aspiring to make a living off of movies: dirty, broke, and very all-over-the-place. Bradford has never really been a stand-out in the acting-department, but the guy shows that there is more to him than just another pretty face and I actually liked his character a lot more than I ever expected to. I don’t think I’ve seen another performance from this guy that was ever really good, or hell, worth mentioning, but here, he was great with what he could do with such an obvious, and a tad thinly-written character. He still looks like he’s 15, though, I gotta give him that.

"Don't mind Uncle Stevies British-wit. They all have that."

“Don’t mind Uncle Stevies British-wit. They all have that.”

Perhaps the best out of this whole cast, and probably to nobody’s surprise is Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jude, the one and only gal that comes into this story to fuck shit-up. Gyllenhaal is great with roles like these because she uses her brass and raw-attitude to really make you despise a character who has such dirty intentions like hers, but also feel an ounce of sympathy for her as well. Jude is probably the meanest character out of this whole-bunch and ended-up staying on my mind the most, even though I have no idea just what the hell Roos was trying to say about her. At the end of the movie, we get to see these characters, where they are today, and whether or not they actually received *ahem*, “happy endings” of sorts, and there is an extra-emphasis on her character and what she’s been up to as of late. It’s weird because they make such a big-deal out of it, with very little rhyme nor reason, just the fact that she’s there to be the shit-stirrer of the whole story, for no reason. Gyllenhaal is great, but it’s really confusing as to what the hell Roos was trying to make sense out of a character like hers in the beginning of it all.

Consensus: Happy Endings starts off perfectly and keeps your attention the whole-way through, but never seems to go any further than to just make us laugh, make us feel a bit emotionally-invested in what we see, and actually realize that Tom Arnold can act. I don’t know if there was anything more than that, but if there was, I couldn’t find it.

7/10=Rental!!

"Sit back. Relax. And feast your eyes on my finest acting-performance to date."

“Sit back. Relax. And feast your eyes on my finest acting-performance to date.”