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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 Martin

Wiener-Dog (2016)

Anyone else a little hungry?

A cute, lovely and adorable dachshund puppy finds himself shuffled around a wild list of wacky individuals – some good, others, well, maybe not so much. The first suitors for the dog is a little boy and his two parents (Julie Delpy and Tracy Letts). The kid loves the dog, going so far as to call him “Wiener-dog”, but the parents aren’t too stoked about the pooch. Eventually, the dog gets shipped to Dawn Wiener (Greta Gerwig), who is now a veterinarian and meeting up with an old classmate of hers (Kiernan Culkin), who takes her on a weird trip. Then, the dog meets Dave Schmerz (Danny DeVito), a film historian who hasn’t made a decent script in nearly two decades, hates his job, is constantly under pressure from the people around him, and has no clue what the hell he wants to do with the rest of his life. And then, finally, there’s an aging, nearly blind lady (Ellen Burstyn), who gets an unexpected visit from her needy and relatively bratty granddaughter (Zosia Mamet), who may or may not have some sinister intentions with her popping-up.

Oh, Danny. Do your thing, guy!

Oh, Danny. Do your thing, guy!

Todd Solondz is obviously not an easy writer or director to get used to. However, when you do actually “get used” to him, magical and wondrous things can happen. Rather than feeling as if he’s being salacious and vile for no apparent reason other than just to be so, the dirty and sometimes disgusting material and themes in his stories take on a new light and seem honest. Honest about the human condition and just honest about the world we live in. Solondz is subtle with what he’s trying to say, but at the same time, not. He tells these stories of these odd, leftovers of society, giving them all the attention and focus that they probably don’t deserve and, well, making them seem at least somewhat compelling.

Yeah, he’s dirty and all that, but yeah, it works.

That’s why with Wiener-Dog, Solondz gets another chance at approaching an ensemble tale, with all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters to play and toy around with. The results, as anyone can expect from his other ensemble pieces like Storytelling and Happiness, are interesting; you can tell that Solondz is more comfortable when he has a lot more space and room to work and stretch his legs out in. Anything where Solondz is tied down to one particular story, doesn’t quite cut it.

And when he has the chance to play elsewhere and not be tied down, you get a sense that Solondz is having fun; in Wiener-Dog, there’s the usual cruelty and cynicism that we’ve come to expect from Solondz, but it’s all become so expected by now, that it’s actually kind of fun. You know that his characters are all going to be horrible to one another, saying things that they shouldn’t say, and deadpanning some pretty silly dialogue. And yet, it all works. We have come to learn and expect this from Solondz and he isn’t hiding behind anything.

That’s because, if you get right down to it, Solondz is a real sweetheart deep down inside and truly does want to show these character’s lives as being, yes, the butt-ends of jokes, gags and puns, but at the same time, earnest and heartwarming; he likes to poke fun and kick people when they’re down, but the fact that he’s showing these characters at all means that he at least has some bit of respect for them. So it’s obvious that when he has the chance to work with more characters, on a bigger playing-field, he can go anywhere he wants and however he wants, giving us all sorts of small, but detailed stories of these weird people’s lives.

That's Ellen Burstyn over there. Just chillin' as always.

That’s Ellen Burstyn over there. Just chillin’ as always.

But it’s also why Wiener-Dog isn’t as good as it should be.

There’s at least four stories in Wiener-Dog, two are meh, one is good, and one is terrific. Through it all, the cast is perfectly game for this material and great for it. Some people far better off than others, but mostly, everyone seems like they knew what to expect from a Todd Solondz film and brought the right amount of craziness, mixed with surrealism that plays out in almost every performer’s benefit.

But really, it’s Danny DeVito’s performance, character and story that steals the show. In literally 20 minutes or so of the movie, DeVito’s story is the most compelling, interesting and entertaining, because we actually want to see what happens with this character. There’s never a sense that we know where his story is going to go, nor do we get a full idea of who he is; we know he’s a sad sack and more than depressed with his life, but what’s he going to do with that? And better yet, at what cost? DeVito’s character is the strongest, which helps his performance in some light, but still, it’s the best of the movie and shows what can happen when Solondz is on, and darker than ever.

But like I said, there’s the other stories here and they’re not all that to hoot about. The first involving the upper-class family gets very weird, very quick and sort of feels as if it could have taken up the whole film (even if it is fun to watch Tracy Letts curse constantly and Julie Delpy act like a casual nut-job). The second involving the new and slightly improved Dawn Wiener may be interesting for Dollhouse fans, but can get so slow and meandering at times that it can kind of drag the movie to a halt. Then, there’s the last story with Ellen Burstyn’s granny character and it ends the movie on a solid note. While it’s definitely crazy, there’s some real truth to it and feels like Solondz is, once again, in his wheelhouse and enjoying it all.

If he was like that for every story, Wiener-Dog would be Solondz’s best since Happiness.

But, unfortunately, the wait goes on.

Consensus: As usual, Wiener-Dog highlights Solondz’s odd brand of surreal humor and characterization, even if he doesn’t always deliver at the end.

7 / 10

Not Dawn, but whatever. It's Todd Solondz we're talking about here.

Not Dawn, but whatever. It’s Todd Solondz we’re talking about here.

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

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Sisters (2015)

Family homes were always the best ones to trash.

Kate and Maura Ellis (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) are sisters who clearly love one another and get along swimmingly, even if their own, respective lives have taken a bit of different turns. For Kate, being the crazy and wild party girl that she is, had herself a kid, hasn’t been able to secure a sustaining job, and seems to be going from couch-to-couch. Whereas for Maura, who was always the over-achiever of the two, always used her kind skills for the greater good of society, even if it did cost her her own marriage. However, all of these years later, they come back together and reunite in their family home, now that it’s being put on the market by their parents who just want to sit down, relax, and retire in place. Seeing as how this house is their one last chance for any sense of fun or memorable excitement, Kate and Maura decide that it’s time to throw a huge bash, where friends from the past and present, all come together for an unforgettable night of booze, sex, and drugs. Thing is, all the great times begin to catch up to Maura and Kate, and they eventually have to come to terms with growing up and realize that they do have responsibilities in life.

The sisters that live together...

The sisters that live together…

Sisters is the kind of comedy we’ve seen before, where two women get back together after all of these years apart, and relive their glory days. Sometimes, the consequences are drastic, embarrassing, and funny, but for the most part, they always end up learning a lesson by the end that not only makes them better people as a whole, but may make the audience-members, too. This has all been done to death by now and has become something of a total convention.

However, what Sisters has that none of those other flicks has, is the wonderful pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who, honestly, haven’t been funnier.

One of the main reasons for that is because, believe it or not, Sisters is rated-R, which means that there’s more time for raunchiness, more time for cursing, and just more time for general debauchery. This all adds up to a movie made by adults, made for adults, and clearly isn’t screwing around with what it’s willing to do, where it’s willing to go, or hard it’s going to try and make you laugh. For that reason and that reason alone, Sisters is the kind of comedy that should be appreciated and held up on a high-standard when compared to most other R-rated comedies that don’t tend to go that extra mile.

Instead, most of the time (like, I don’t know, say Judd Apatow movies), they tend to just rely on crazy improvisation that seems to go nowhere and end exactly there. However, in Sisters, there’s gags that get introduced right away, continue to pop-up and, yet, believe it, actually reach a certain climax in a way that’s not only effective, not only hilarious, but actually smart. Whereas a weaker comedy would have just introduced the simple gag as a small throw-away line, Sisters continues to knock at it for what’s it worth; occasionally, this means that a gag that doesn’t land well the first time, continues to get forced down our throats again and again, but for the most part, it still doesn’t matter.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Sisters is funny.

In fact, it’s a very funny movie that, considering it’s about a party that never seems to end, is actually quite fun and exciting, just as a party of this magnitude would and should be. Granted, the near two-hour run-time of the movie (which is already too long) is filled about half-way with this party, but that isn’t a complaint: The party starts off slow and lame, but after awhile, starts to pick up and eventually, it’s an amazingly great time that, quite frankly, you won’t want to miss out on or be anywhere else for. Of course, the party does consist of funny, attractive people being both funny, as well as attractive, but still, what’s so wrong with that?

..are also the ones that shop together...

..are also the ones that shop together…

As long as it’s fun, who cares!

And speaking of funny and attractive people, Fey and Poehler are definitely at the top of the list for this movie and show that they’re deserving of any movie they ever want to make together. What’s interesting here about each one of their performances is that they’re both kind of playing a bit against-type; Fey, usually more reserved, professional and serious, takes over the role usually taken by Poehler, where she’s vibrant, rude, and brassy, whereas Poehler, with shades of Leslie Knope, seems to be taking Fey’s role. Either way you put it, both are clearly having a great time, whether they’re together or on their own – which is something that transcends well onto the rest of the movie. Of course, Fey and Poehler aren’t the only ones who have fun times here as the likes of John Leguizamo, Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Moynihan, Samantha Bee, Maya Rudolph, and most of all, John Cena, all join in on the fun, bring something to the table, and seem to go home incredibly pleased and happy with themselves.

However, where Sisters runs into a problem with itself is the fact that it is, yes, very long and definitely shouldn’t be. By the end, it becomes clear that once revelations are made and people start to get emotions and whatnot, the movie is clearly coming up on its final reel. Problem is, the movie continues to go on and on and on, until it’s almost as if the movie’s trying to imitate Return of the King, but without being satirical – it just has a crap-ton of endings, none of which are really any better than the others.

Then, it ends and everything gets a bit better. Even though there’s an annoying blooper-reel that doesn’t do much else except show that everybody involved, clearly enjoyed working with one another, the movie still ends on a sold enough that, when it’s all said and done, it’s fine. The movie could have ended way sooner than it did, but hey, at least it made us all laugh.

Which, for any comedy made in the 21st Century, is a-okay with me.

Consensus: Despite being lengthy, Sisters is still an uproarious R-rated comedy featuring smart people, doing and making jokes for audience members who deserve to pay closer attention to certain stuff that goes on.

8 / 10

..as well as party hard together.

..as well as party hard together.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Time Out of Mind (2015)

You may be jobless, dirty and smelly, but hey, at least you look like Richard Gere!

George (Richard Gere) is a homeless man and, from what we can tell, has been for quite some time. He literally wakes up in somebody’s bath-tub, only to be kicked out by the landlord (Steve Buscemi) and thrown back out on the streets. On the streets is where George occasionally lives and breathes; other times, he gets into a local homeless shelter that may be a permanent place for him, if he can get past the psyche evaluation and plays nice in general. In this homeless shelter is where he meets Dixon (Ben Vereen), a fellow homeless man who talks his ear off about anything and everything. George, however, doesn’t really care because he’s sometimes too tired, too drunk, or to “out of it” to really care. Mostly though, George cares about his daughter (Jena Malone), who basically wants nothing to do with him, even though he constantly persists in trying to get into contact with her. Because even though George doesn’t have much hope in his life, the only one around is his own flesh and blood – someone who doesn’t even want to see him.

Is this really the same guy who was named "World's Sexiest Man" in 1999?

Is this really the same guy who was named “World’s Sexiest Man Alive” in 1999?

Basically, Time Out of Mind is plot-less. It’s literally two hours of watching as Richard Gere wanders around the streets of what is, presumably, New York City, doing what most homeless people do. Beg for change; sleep; drink; eat scraps from the garbage; and sleep some more. So, if you can handle all that for, like I said, two hours, then you might find something to take away.

If not, well, you may have a more rewarding time doing something else. Like, I don’t know, actually giving money to actual homeless people on the street.

But that said, there’s a lot of props given to writer/director Oren Moverman for not at all trying to shy away from the hard reality that is homelessness in the United States of America. With his last two films (the Messenger and Rampart), Moverman has taken a sad story, and found ways to make it even bleaker; probably more so with Rampart than Messenger, but as is, Moverman likes to revel in the dark and depressing details of life. And that’s a lot of what Time Out of Mind is.

However, that in and of itself works because it doesn’t try to sensationalize or turn its back towards the true issue at hand. Then again though, the movie isn’t at all a “message movie” – it’s just one tale in the midst of a whole bunch of similar tales, most of which are just as tragic as the next. In this aspect, Moverman reminds us that homelessness, as a whole problem, takes over its cities and while there are people that are willing to help out those who may need a bite to eat or some dollar bills for whatever they decide to spend them for, it’s all too slight and gets further and further away from the real issue at hand: These people need our help.

Like I said before, though, the movie isn’t one that’s important, or simply, about something more.

It’s literally about this one homeless man, trying to live and get by in a world that, like he says, “doesn’t say he exists”. And as this homeless man, Richard Gere does a fine job portraying George as humanly simplistic as he can. Normally, when you have these attractive, mostly recognizable actors playing in these roles that are supposed to be raw, gritty and down-to-Earth, it can sometimes feel phony. But surprisingly, due to the make-up and Gere’s down-playing of the role, he fits into it well.

The only reason why I’m not more on-board and in awe of this performance as others may be, because it seems like Gere himself is stuck in a movie that’s awfully repetitive. Then again, that may be the point. That homeless people themselves seem to go through the same patterns on a regular basis, helps make all the more sense as to why Gere’s George is literally going through all the same sorts of motions, day in and day out. We see him wake up, deal with hecklers, try to get whatever money he can scrounge up, use that money to buy either booze or food (sadly, it’s mostly booze), and every so often, have contact with a fellow homeless person, or aide that just wants to give him a helping hand.

And that’s basically the whole gist of this movie.

When life gets rough, you always need a pal.

When life gets rough, you always need a pal.

There are scenes where George goes to the food stamps office to apply, but even those scenes feel like they’re being replayed where he’ll come in, argue with the clerk, and then unexpectedly leave. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with a movie that gets into a sort of rhythm that puts us in the same mind-frame as its lead character, but when it’s literally two hours if the same motions, happening again and again, it gets to become a bit tiring. Especially since Overman himself, doesn’t seem to really be going anywhere with this tale, or with George, the character.

As we see of George is a broken down, beaten-up guy who, for whatever reasons, is homeless and left without anybody to care for him. It’s sad and even though we see him try to mend relationships with those he hurt, the scenes themselves never seem to go anywhere. We just see George walk into a room, piss-off his daughter, and that’s pretty much it. He leaves, goes onto beg some more, and see where life takes him next.

Once again, I get that this was probably the point Overman himself was going for, but in hindsight, it doesn’t help the movie much, or Gere’s performance.

Because even though Gere seems to be trying his hardest to inch out any sort of humanity within a character who is just as simply-written as you can get, he, and everybody else, aren’t left with much to rock and roll with. Jena Malone’s character seems one-note in that she’s always angry when her dad’s around; Buscemi’s not in it all that much to really register; Kyra Sedgwick plays a homeless woman who strikes up a little something with George and has the only bit of humor to be found at all in this movie; Ben Vereen has the best performance as Dixon, another homeless man with a heart of gold and a personality that could charm the socks off of a real estate agent.

But, like I said, to which extent does it matter?

Consensus: Gere does a fine job in the lead role, but overall, Time Out of Mind feels too much like a repetitious slog that may, or may not have a point to go along with the story it’s telling.

6 / 10

Yup. Totally not the dude from Pretty Woman.

Yup. Totally not the dude from Pretty Woman.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire