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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Sheila Vand

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Yep. Vampires exist. But only in Iran.

Set in some cold, dark and downright mysterious town somewhere in Iran, lurks a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on almost everyone around her, but most importantly, men who do wrong by women. So in a way, she’s a vigilante, but at the same time, begins to start to realize that there’s more to life than just killing and sucking the blood out of people. Believe it or not, the vampire meets a human being (Arash Marandi) who may not just have the hots for this blood-sucking creature, but she may even have it for him in return! After all, he’s a hot, young, hip, and chill guy, who listens to rad music and likes to be nice to those around him, so what’s there not to love, or better yet, not try to kill and suck all of the blood out of? However, it gets harder and harder for this vampire to make up its mind of what it wants to do, when it not only starts to have the need for blood, but also realizes that the city around her is getting worse, with all sorts of ugly and catastrophic violence occurring.

Got to do that make-up right for the blood-shed.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night probably deserves a lot of props for being as odd, as weird, and as original as it can be. It’s a horror movie, about a vampire, lurking on possible prey, which already sounds pretty lame and formulaic, but writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour does something neat with the familiar premise in that she adds a little zest and spice to the whole thing. She adds a unique neo-noir look and feel to the movie, that could have easily been just another tension-piece about a vampire, but instead, turns into this home movie of sorts, where it seems like Amirpour is just using whatever is at her disposal, as opposed to just making a movie, expecting for all of these things to come to her.

Obviously, that sort of stuff takes time.

And yeah, Amirpour makes it all worth it. There’s something exciting about watching a first-time film-maker show their true colors, once and for all, with absolute, undeniable style, as well as a great deal of originality, which helps Amirpour out. She tackles something easy and conventional, and puts a smart spin on it that doesn’t just keep the movie, at times, interesting, but the genre of vampire movies, as well.

Then again, there is such an issue here in that it’s so darn slow. And normally, a deliberately plodding and slow pace to a movie like this is fine for me as is the case with most tension-pieces, where it isn’t about the shocks, the scares, the blood, or hell, even the gore, but more about the suspense racking up, slowly but surely over time, without ever seeming like it’s stopping. In Amirpour’s case, it’s nice that she didn’t lose track of what she wanted to do, but there are times where it feels like she could perhaps pick up the pace a tad bit, and opts not to.

Come on, bro. Be nice to the cat! It’s just a gag, after all!

Is this a case of a first-time director just having a ball with their new toys and not wanting to stop playing with them?

Or, well, is it a little pretentious?

In a way, it’s a mixture of both. It’s sweet to see Amirpour want to play with all of the treats she has, for a much longer time, but there does come a point where all the treats have to be simmered down a bit and an actual story has to go on along. The fact that the movie does have a compelling romance-arch at the center of all the hookers, drugs, guns, murder, blood-sucking, and electronic music, is something to point out, but the movie gets so distracted by its own coolness that, sometimes, it can’t help but feel like the story itself is just playing second-fiddle to Amirpour and her coolio style.

Once again, the style is cool and definitely a nice touch, for once, but at times, it does bring the movie back from being much, much better. It works as a horror movie, that obviously has some goofier, lighter touches, but it also tries to double as a message-piece, about feminism, politics, and the drug wars, that also doesn’t feel like it gets anywhere. Granted, these are themes and ideas you really have to dig down deep for here, but they are there and well, they feel like a stretch, at best.

But hey, it’s her first movie. She’s allowed to let loose a bit.

Consensus: Rather odd and unique, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night definitely gets points for originality and style, but also loses some points for not knowing when to settle down, pick up the pace, and well, tell the story. Especially when said story is actually a compelling to watch play out and develop.

6 / 10

Vampire? Naw.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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XX (2017)

Women be shoppin’. Except not really.

A mother (Natalie Brown) has no clue what to do with herself, now that her son refuses to eat anything, no matter what’s put in front of him; another mother (Melanie Lynskey) tries to throw the biggest and best party for her daughter, only to realize that it probably won’t happen due to unforeseeable circumstances; a bunch of young whipper-snappers head out into the mountains, expecting to have some fun and catch up some history, only to discover something horrifying and dark; and lastly, another mother (Christine Kirk), seems to be hiding something from her troubled 18-year-old son, but he, nor anyone else really knows what.

In case you couldn’t tell, XX is an anthology piece, done by four women, with four different stories, focusing on, above all else, women. It’s a nice angle to take on the horror-genre and shows that it still has some growing to do, in terms of its versatility as well as its acceptance. However, it does also show that it has some growing to do in terms of its quality.

Scared

See, one of the main issues with XX, and as is the case with most anthology pieces in its same vein, is that it’s way too brief for its own good. At nearly an-hour-20, each story has at least 20 minutes each to tell its story, characters, and most of all, give us the chills. But there’s something with the horror genre that, in order for the scares to be smart, effective, and most of all, scary, there has to be some sort of build-up to it all, and at nearly 20 minutes each, none of these tales really have that.

In a way, each one of them feel like they’re fully realized and fleshed-out, but are missing a few reels, either at the beginning, at the end, or somewhere in between. A part of me wonders what the exact want and reason for making these stories actually was, considering that it doesn’t seem to be any reason other than, “Oh, well, they’re kind of scary, I guess. Oh, and they star women, written and directed by women.” Once again, nothing with this approach, as it is definitely something that the horror genre as a whole could and definitely should, work on, but perhaps XX isn’t the brightest, most shiny example of why.

If anything, it proves to be an interesting and mildly entertaining diversion from what we’re used to seeing with horror anthologies, but yeah, it’s been done better before.

And to talk about the four pieces of story here, it’s best to go on about each one of them. First off, “the Box”, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, plays with a lot of visual cues, but ultimately, isn’t about much. It’s about this family, going through a rough time when one of the children won’t eat, and has all the makings of a weird, almost surreal dark comedy, but it doesn’t go that way – instead, it plays itself very serious and dark, and sort of just ends on that note. It’s the perfect piece to start out on, because it literally won’t be remembered by the end.

Petrified

St. Vincent’s tale, “the Birthday Party”, works a little bit more because it does take a slightly comedic-edge to its story, but once again, doesn’t feel like it’s really built upon anything. It’s just sort of weird, wacky, and features a random cameo from Joe Swanberg. If anything is to be taken away from this part, it’s that St. Vincent is a competent enough director to show us that she knows what she’s doing behind the camera, so who knows? Maybe it will be nice to see more of her there.

Anyway, then there’s “Don’t Fall”, by Roxanne Benjamin, that started off promising, but ultimately, doesn’t know what to do with itself. Everything happens way too quick, we get the very smallest, slightest bit of character-detail to work with, and yeah, none of it really matters. The gore and the scares work, but they’re done in about five minutes anyway, so does it really matter at all?

And lastly, there’s Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son”, which may be the only one here that actually feels like a fully realized and written short movie about a mother, coping with whatever mystery is in her life. It helps here that Christina Kirk is a good actress and an inspired bit of casting for this dark role, but Kusama herself also shows some initiative, with enough mystery, development, and oddness to make it all work. The ending is stupid and doesn’t quite make sense, but hey, at least it is attempting at doing something.

Which, after all, is all I needed and/or could have ever wanted.

Consensus: Though not terrible, XX is more of a mixed-bag, showing why there should be more stories about women in horror, but also showing why they should be longer than 20 minutes each.

6 / 10

Numb

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Joblo

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

War can be funny, right?

Kim Barker (Tina Fey) works as a boring cable news producer and needs something more out of life. Even though she has a serious relationship with her boyfriend (Josh Charles), it’s still not nearly as fulfilling and there’s that feeling in the pit of her stomach where she knows that she can do more with her life – she just doesn’t know where that’s at yet. That’s why, in 2002, when the opportunity presents itself, she decides to take up a daring, but ultimately ambitious new assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she’ll not only cover the war, but experience more to life than what was waiting for her back at home. And while it takes her some time to get used to her uncomfortable surroundings, eventually, Kim finds herself not just inspired to go out and find the best story possible, but to also open herself up to those around her. This is when she befriends the likes of Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), a fellow journalist, Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), a Scottish war correspondent, and Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), a citizen of Afghanistan, who is also there to help her navigate throughout the city and understand the ideals. While this seems hard at first, Kim eventually gets the hang of it all, until it becomes almost too real that the situation’s she’s dealing with are very serious, and almost scary.

Tina or Margot? A lot harder than you think, men and women!

Tina or Margot? A lot harder than you think, men and women!

You know, just as you’d expect from a war.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a very odd duckling of a film. For one, it seems a lot like Eat, Pray, Love in that it features a relatively middle-aged woman, coming to a crossroads in her life, not knowing what she wants to do with it, where she wants go with it, or who she wants to spend it with, so decides to take one giant leap that her old formal-self would have never even imagined. On the other hand, it tries to be a serious, melodramatic and important statement about the war, Afghanistan, and relations between both countries. Both movies, work fine on their own, but together, well, it’s unfortunately a huge mess.

It also just so happens to be one that no matter how hard she tries, Tina Fey just can’t seem to get past. Though Kim is, essentially, a lot like the other protagonists Fey has portrayed in the past, she still is, at the same time, a “type” that we’re pretty used to seeing. She’s got a bit more attitude and sass to her than usual, but really, Kim is made out to be our conduit for this great new environment that so many movies have discussed and portrayed in the past, but not nearly as much as in a comedic-light. Fey does a fine job as standing in for us and just allowing for the movie to happen, but really, it’s a forgettable performance that basically gets lost in the fact that this movie has way, way too much going on in it.

None of which, mind you, actually gel together in a cohesive manner.

While it’s admirable that directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa want to make something considered to be “funny”, out of the Afghan war, it doesn’t work well. Mainly, this is due to the fact that the jokes are, yes, very stale and not to much, quite offensive and odd. I’m all for jokes hitting a hard spot and not being in the best taste imaginable, but when you’re dealing with the war, Afghanistan, and their certain ideologies that aren’t shared by the rest of the world, there’s a fine line you tread between being “funny”, or “mean-spirited”.

In all honesty, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot doesn’t seem like a very mean-spirited movie, per se, however, its casting proves otherwise. Not only does the movie feature an Italian-Spanish actor like Alfred Molina, as a native, but even goes so far as to make us think the same of Christopher Abbott as one, too, who isn’t just Italian and Portuguese, but, as you can clearly tell by looking at the color of his skin throughout the whole movie, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, white.

"Now, please. Tell me what this war is all about? Because really, the script didn't actually tell me. In fact, nobody working on this movie did, or actually seemed like they could."

“Now, please. Tell me what this war is all about? Because really, the script didn’t actually tell me. In fact, nobody working on this movie did, or actually seemed like they could.”

Heck, at least Molina’s got a tan going on – Abbot’s still pale as if he just walked off of the set of Girls!

And while the movie tries to make these two characters at least somewhat endearing, it still feels very weird to watch them work with these accents and, at the same time, still make us believe that they’re playing these natives who are much wiser and understanding than the other, whiter characters in the movie. This is all to say that no cast-member does a bad job, really, it’s just it’s obvious that the movie doesn’t care about what they have to do, and instead, allows them pass-off poor jokes about race, war, and sex.

And none of this would have been a problem, had the movie been the very least funny, but it isn’t. Not to mention, it’s also not very smart, either. All of the points it tries to bring up about the war (which come very few and far between), don’t really seem to make people think anything differently than what we see in the news. Fey’s character is made out to believe that Afghanistan can be and is starting to become, a brutal place – not just for women, or white people, but for everyone who is living there. While this is especially true of their environment, the movie touches on it every so often, as if it feels like it’s inclined to do the job, rather than actually wanting to do so.

If anything, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot wants to discuss the Afghanistan war, nearly as much as Our Brand Is Crisis wanted to talk about the FNB and Bolivia.

And when your movie is being compared to that movie, well, let me just say that you’re not in good company.

Consensus: By working both a whimsical rom-com, as well as a super serious, meaningful war-drama, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a lot to deal with and doesn’t know what to do with either side, nor its talented cast.

2.5 / 10

Who wouldn't fall for Watson over in Afghanistan?

Who wouldn’t fall for Watson over in Afghanistan?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire