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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Scott Haze

Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Thanks for defending our country. Now beat it!

Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Specialist Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Kole), and Will Waller (Joe Cole), are all soldiers finally returning home after a year-long stint in the war. It was a rough time for all of them, but now they’re just happy to be home and, hopefully, re-adjust to the lives they left behind. However, that’s not so easy for them, especially considering what each one had to go through while they were over in the battlefield. For Schumann, he doesn’t know how to connect with his wife (Haley Bennett), or the rest of his family; for Aieti, he’s also having issues with his wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but also seems to be suffering from incredibly psychological problems, too; and Waller, after returning to an empty and abandoned home, with no wife and kids, struggles to make sense of what his life is. Each of them possibly want to return to the battlefield, but have to be medically-cleared, which is a whole other issue and of itself.

Coming home to Haley Bennett? See, home-life isn’t all that bad!

Thank You for Your Service is a movie that deserves to be seen because it reminds us, as a nation, what the men and women who went over to war, protected our country, in our honor and name, have to go through when they get back home, supposedly safe and sound from anymore of the troubles and evils of the world. Whether or not you agree with the war, almost doesn’t matter; the people getting involved with the war and fighting, deserve our sympathy. Not because they almost died and saw some horrific stuff, but because when they get back home, they’re not necessarily welcomed back with open-arms – it’s mostly a pat-on-the-back and shrug off to the side, without as much as a goodbye-note. It’s saw, awful, and above all else, disturbing and it deserves to be seen from all the world to see.

Does that make it a good movie? Eh. Not really.

That isn’t to say it isn’t well-intentioned, because it is. Writer/director Jason Hall, who wrote the script for American Sniper, seems like he has a good look and feel for getting his point across, without totally hitting us over the head with it all. That these soldiers, when they aren’t on the battlefield and at home, where there is no action whatsoever, seem trapped and confused, already tells us everything that we need to know, without so much as a piece of dialogue. It’s a smart move on Hall’s part because while you could see this direction as workman-like, the fact that he doesn’t get in the way of the real heart and message helps, too.

But then there are bits and pieces where it seems like Hall is getting a little over his head. For instance, a lot of the movie is just sitting around and watching as these guys try to adjust back to the life they once knew and as such, it’s interesting. Seeing how the system turns a blind-eye to them, or how their family-members, try as they might, just don’t seem to “get it”, is already enough action. Meaning, we don’t really need much of a plot, or even over-arching conflict – these guys trying to be normal and everyday like, is more than enough.

But then, like I said, Hall injects too much. There’s a whole subplot concerning Aietit’s character and the darkness he goes through, which not only feels phony, but a little silly. Why would this guy, who clearly seems to be suffering from major-trauma, continue on as something of a drug-peddler, where he’s not really acting violent, or getting all that much money. Also, there’s a lot of hallucinations and moments of pure insanity that, yes, get the point across, but do so in such a ham-fisted way, it feels like a disservice to those real soldiers who have actually been out there, fought, and lost their minds, as a result.

Miles Teller: A true American hero for us all.

It’s as if Hall wants to be as subtle as he can be, trusting the audience to make up their own conclusions, but then turns the other cheek and doesn’t.

It’s messy and shows us that perhaps Hall could have benefited from the help of another director, who may have taken this already-compelling material, and kept it as such, without trying to do too much else. Thankfully, though, what Hall does well is that he gives his cast ample opportunity to make these characters seem like real people, even despite his sometimes odd direction. Miles Teller, for instance, gives another great performance as a young man trying to make ends meet in this world, one week after he already did the same thing in Only the Brave, a much better and more accomplished movie that deals with the same issues of honor, tradition, and brotherly love.

But really, it’s Beulah Kole who’s the stand-out, giving us a performance of incredible subtlety, whenever the movie seems to be doing the opposite. Half of his scenes are just him, sitting there, looking confused, out-of-whack, and having no clue of what the hell’s going on. It’s a brutally sad performance, but it’s a very good one and shows that the best way to get a message across, is by not having to say anything at all.

Once again, show, don’t tell.

Consensus: Despite its good intentions and emotional look at the lives of these soldiers, Thank You for Your Service also suffers from a rather messy direction that does a lot more telling, than showing, when it shouldn’t have.

5.5 / 10

“Bro, this sucks.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Only the Brave (2017)

Shut up, Dennis Leary!

The Granite Mountain Hot Shots were a group of a highly-trained, elite crew of firefighters who, when they weren’t palling around, sippin’ on cold ones, and trying to make ends meet, they were saving cities from wildfires. However, it wasn’t always fun, games, or hell, even all that pretty. For awhile, the guys weren’t certified and doing their best to not just be respected, but actually accepted in a world where firefighters, despite saving lives and, in this case, whole tons, weren’t looked at as “heroes”, or even “saviors”. They were just a bunch of bros, who brought a bunch of water, and put out the fires. But in this case, it was much different. For instance, there’s Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), or as they call him, “Supe”, who handles everything, when he isn’t handling his marriage-relations. Then, there’s Donut (Miles Teller) a junkie who’s causing all sorts of trouble, until he soon realizes that it’s time to get his act together, just in time for his baby to be born, by an ex that wants absolutely nothing to do with him. Of course, the fellas get certified and while it’s a heroic and momentous landmark for them to achieve, come 2013, it doesn’t quite work out too well.

“You talkin’ bad on the ‘stache, boy?”

Only the Brave is the kind of hokey, silly, and ridiculously entertaining piece of mainstream entertainment that can, at times, feel like a Budweiser commercial. It’s got big trucks, big men, big beers, big parties, big fires, big, loud music, and oh yeah, hot women. All that’s missing are the constant shots of these men’s tight, round-butts in a nice pair of jeans, although, while I think about it, I think there may have been one or two. It’s the kind of movie that praises and sends out a tribute to those old-fashioned, blue-collar lives that, in all honesty, each and everyone of us want and this movie, in all its shining and patriotic glory, doesn’t help to cease.

And you know what? There’s no problem with that.

Sure, Only the Brave could have been the kind of movie that makes each and everyone of these men out to be heroes, through and through, with no issues, or conflicts in life, other than whether or not they’re going to bag the hottest chick at the bar, or if they’re going to be able to stop that fire before everybody else. There’s nothing wrong with that if the movie did do this, because after all, it’s based off of real people and all too-real disastrous event that ended-up taking most of their lives, but Only the Brave is a tad smarter than that. It shows us that, beyond all the machismo and ripped-jeans, they were real people who, like you or me, had issues with money, with relationships, with family, and especially with trying to stay alive for those who depend off of them.

Director Joseph Kosinski and co-writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer never seem to lose sight of the humans in the center of all the madness and carnage that, even when it does seem to be praising these guys for every little thing they do, it sort of doesn’t matter. The movie’s already done a fine enough job of getting us to fall in love with their simplistic, Americana ways that we already hooked in to whatever happens to them. And because of that, we not only grow to love each and everyone of them, but the atmosphere in which they live and exist, making it seem like all too-ideal of a life to live, but one that looks almost too desirable not to be real.

“Be the young, hunky-lead they want now, kid. Don’t take it for granted.”

And it is. That’s why we love and praise firefighters so much, because deep down inside, we secretly want those jobs.

They’re simple, but not all easy and Only the Brave doesn’t forget about that aspect, either. But because it has such a great ensemble here, with Brolin, Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, and surprisingly, Taylor Kitsch, all turning in excellent performances, that we almost forget about the real danger lurking somewhere out there in the distant. It’s a reality that the movie alludes to every now and then, but due to it being involved with these guys’ lives, it we forget about it – it’s definitely done so on-purpose and you’ve got to chalk it up to the film-makers for not relying too much on the fires themselves and much more so on the actual humans in the center.

After all, they’re the hear and soul of this tale, as well as they should be. Cause if it wasn’t the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, it would have been other hopeful, ambitious guys who wanted a better life for themselves, their family, friends, and people they don’t even know. They’re just doing the jobs that most of us will knock off as “too simple”, or “too blue-collar”, but in reality, therein lies the problem.

It’s much more than that and hell, we shouldn’t forget.

Consensus: As cheesy as it can sometimes get, Only the Brave is still an entertaining, thoughtful, and incredibly well-acted tribute to the real lives lost, as well as the countless others who fight to save ours, day in and day out.

8 / 10

Ergh! So manly!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

As I Lay Dying (2013)

It’s like the big-screen version of the Oregon Trail. All that was missing was the dysentery.

After Addie Bundren (Beth Grant) dies, she makes sure that everyone in her family knows that her dying, last wishes are to be buried in a whole other town, where she’d be transported, by wagon, with every member of her family coming along for the ride. It’s a weighty-task to ask upon someone, but everybody in her fam-squad decides to do so, all in respect to her. However, there couldn’t be anymore of a dysfunctional crew going along on this trip with the nearly-incomprehensible Anse (Tim Blake Nelson), who just wants to get the new set of pearly-whites that his wifey-poo wouldn’t allow him to have when she was alive; Jewel (Logan Marshall-Green), the youngest one who may have some anger-issues as is, so to add on the fact that his loving, adoring own mother just died, is obviously going to add some insult to injury; Darl (James Franco) is definitely the quieter one of the group, but definitely catches onto things pretty quickly and knows what’s really brewing beneath the surface with the rest of his family; Dewey Dell (Ahna O’Reilly), the only daughter that seems to be using this trip to get rid of “something” that has he so scared, that she can’t even mention it; and then there’s the handy-man, Cash (Jim Parrack) who definitely knows a thing or two about how to keep his mom’s casket from breaking wide-open, but doesn’t know a thing or two about keeping him, or the rest of his family safe when they come into some dire, near-death situations. Take all of these factors together, and you have a pretty crazy, wacky and wild trip on your hands.

Give 'em two, equally-sized farmer's hats, and sure, call them "brothers".

Give ’em two, equally-sized farmer’s hats, and sure, call them “brothers”.

However, being that this is an adaptation of a William Faulkner novel, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

And it’s pretty clear and obvious to anybody who sees this that writer/director/star/God-in-his-own-mind James Franco definitely feels passionate about adapting this pretty heavy, pretty grim material. Now, from what I hear, the source-material itself is found to be almost “unfilmable” due to the fact that the book is split-up into 59 short chapters, in which they were all divided among 15 different first-person narrators. This basically means that Franco would have to do the impossible in the effort in telling the story, getting as much insight as you could from each and every character, not forgetting about some of the most important, relevant parts of the story and most of all, making sure that the whole thing doesn’t come off as a total and complete mess.

So, in order to do this and keep a disaster from happening, Franco inhibits a split-screen format in which we’ll get to see the point-of-view of a certain situation from one character’s side, or even get to hear them as they narrate their inner-most thoughts and feelings, looking straight-on directly into the camera. This is a very smart way Franco allows the story to be told as richly, as detailed and as coherently as he can, but the problem is that it just shows up too oddly and randomly. Though the split-screen format usually shows up for more than half of the movie, the times that it doesn’t, the movie works a hell of a lot more because we’re simply focusing on one thing, and one thing only. Not a billion other things that may or may not be happening, all due to the fact that these characters either seem to be making stuff up, or not seeing the picture clearly enough.

That said, I guess I can’t get on Franco’s case too much as a director for adapting the source-material the way it was written out to be, but it could have definitely been done a lot better. Then again though, maybe it couldn’t have. Maybe this is just one of those pieces of source-material that should stay in libraries, and far away from the script-writing desk. Because if you look closely at what Franco does here, he tries so many times to have this story pop-off the pages and onto the screen itself and in ways, it works. Usually when Franco is just letting the story tell itself, with no visual-flair or camera-tricky added to the proceedings. If two characters are talking about something, no matter whatever the hell it may be, it always seems to be interesting because it’s just a simple tale.

However, when Franco begins to get a little too hot for his own guns and start to add into too much “style” to jazz the whole thing up, it feels distracting, as if Franco needed some sort of mechanism to make this story seem a lot more inviting than it actually is. Because the fact of the matter remains, Faulkner’s source-material is some pretty down-beat stuff, and it’s definitely hard to make sure that material like that always stays intriguing or surprising. But that doesn’t happen here. Instead, I always knew that Franco was going to try something tricky and yet, still have it fall right back in his face. Can’t say that this is a terrible directorial-outing from Franco, as I do think he definitely shows more promise and ambition, than failure, but it’s still very clear that he may have bit-off a bit more than he could chew here, or heck, maybe even not enough.

Glistening = tension.

Even in the deep and dirty South, women still glisten.

Maybe a two-parter, miniseries on HBO would have done the trick? Who knows?

What hurts this movie a bit more, but what also keeps it still above the line of being considered “watchable” is the ensemble cast that Franco so sadly leaves behind, lost, confused and with nowhere to go. Since Franco is so clearly enamored with whatever he is doing behind-the-camera, it kind of sucks for the others since all they have to do is emote and give us compelling characters that deserved to be seen right in front of them on a big-screen, rather than on a bunch of words on countless pages. But despite their many, many efforts, the only one who really comes-off the best is Franco as Darl. It helps that Darl is definitely the center-piece of this story that Franco clearly positioned himself as being, but Franco still shows that he is a charismatic-figure to watch on the screen, even when he’s just being a bumbling, hillbilly idiot. Surely a bit different from what he did as Gator, or as Alien, but kind of the same idea, I guess.

Everybody else does what they can, but with Franco at the helm, they’re sort of just left to fend for themselves. Tim Blake Nelson makes absolutely no sense most of the time as Anse, the head-of-the-family, but is at least entertaining to watch and brings some much needed humor, and energy to a film that desperately needed some, and quick; Ahna O’Reilly is a pretty face, but she proves that she’s more than just that with her performance here as Dewey Dell, the type of girl that seems like she’s about to have a nervous-breakdown at any given moment; Jim Parrack is a fine fit as Crash, the tough, smarter one of the family and shows that even in his most bone-headed decisions, nobody would want to pick a smarts-battle with him; and the same thing that I said about Tim Blake Nelson here, could practically be said for Logan Marshall-Green and his performance as the highly messed-up and problematic baby of the family, Jewel, but has more of a negative-energy going on about him that makes you feel like he truly is apart of this family, for better and for worse. Oh, and even though Danny McBride may be constantly mentioned in the advertisements for this, don’t be fooled; the guy literally shows up for what seems to be maybe ten or 15 minutes, says a few things, uses a weak, Southern-accent, wears a nice farmer’s hat and walks away, presumably to finish the joint that he and Franco lit-up back-stage before shooting.

Consensus: Adapting William Faulkner’s source-material was no easy-feat to begin with, but As I Lay Dying shows us that that statement couldn’t be anymore truer, especially since James Franco himself seems so passionate about getting this material perfect, right down to the nitty, gritty bone, that he forgets what makes a movie worth watching in the first place: Cohesion.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Talk about a family affair!

Talk about a family affair!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net