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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Shelley Hennig

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Don’t let the system get you down. Even though it eventually will.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is a defense attorney living in Los Angeles who, despite his pure and inner-genius, doesn’t really know how to deal with other people. It’s why his mentor, for the most part, handles the clients and all that jazz, whereas Roman handles all of the paperwork, the stats, and so on and so forth. It’s what’s made them both successful over the years, while also allowing them to stay true to themselves as strong-willed, independent, and powerful black men trying to prove injustice within the system. However, that all changes when Roman’s mentor dies, the firm is sold, and Roman is left without a job. That is, until corporate lawyer, George Pierce (Colin Farrell) shows up, likes what he sees in Roman, and decides that he wants him there for his firm, but obviously doing what he did before: Handling paper-work, stats, and all that jazz. It’s what Roman does best and because he’s at a much better firm, he’s making a lot more money, which also means that there’s a lot more temptation to do the wrong thing and get swept up in all of the fame, fortune, success, and most of all, corruption.

“So uh, nice weather we’re having. I think? I guess? I don’t know.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a few different movies rolled into one and jammed in altogether, they don’t really work. One is a character-study about a guy, who is essentially “on the spectrum”, trying to get by in a world that doesn’t know what to make of him. Another is a formulaic, crime-thriller about a lawyer and his shady-dealings. And lastly, the other is about an older black man, trying to stay true to himself and the cause, even while it seems like the world around him could care less about him or what he’s fighting for.

Through all of the mess, however, Washington remains a shining glimmer of hope. Not only does Washington take this role on, head first, but he makes Israel’s constant quirks and trademarks, interesting. We get the feeling that this man’s had an issue with people all of his life, but when it started, why he’s still like that, and what he does on any normal day, is very interesting to watch. We get a sense that Israel’s a very sad man who wants to do what is right, but at the same time, can’t really make sense of how dark and evil the world can truly get. He’s almost like a child; loud, a little bratty, rude, and despite dealing with some awful crimes, from even more awful people, a little naive about how awful the world is.

White man employing a sad, somewhat mentally-disturbed black man, all for the sake of profit. Anyone see a problem with this? Gilroy?

It’s a terrific performance that is, unfortunately, trapped in a movie that, like Israel himself, doesn’t always know what to make of itself.

That said, writer/director Dan Gilroy knows how to make this material, for the most part, work. You can tell that Gilroy wants to go deep into the mean and dirty corruption of the justice-system, but also wants to discuss race-relations, how a certain SJW can also lose themselves to a system that sucks them all up and spits them back out, while also not forgetting about Israel himself. The movie, for lack of a better word, isn’t dull; Gilroy keeps things moving and compelling, even when he himself seems to be spiraling a tad out of control. Had the movie featured one or two dull subplots, then yeah, it would have been a problem, but they all do remain worth watching and paying attention to it.

It’s just that, once again, in the context of the rest of the movie, it just doesn’t fully come together. Washington, Farrell, and Carmen Ejogo, all remain great and help the material jump off of the screen, but Gilroy also gets a bit carried away, going down different avenues for his story, then back-peddling to his original story, when it’s almost too late. It reminds me of that episode of Community when Abed was looking for a B-story to fulfill the whole episode, but rather than finding one, the A-story just continued and was interesting enough, therefore, making the B-story, inessential. That’s how Israel feels: It’s in search of more stories, more plots, and more conflicts, when really, one is enough.

One is all it needed.

Consensus: With all the different strands of plot going on, Roman J. Israel, Esq. can’t help but feel jumbled and stuffed, but also gets by on being a compelling look at the justice-system, as well as an interesting character-study on its titled-character, played to perfection by a charming Washington.

6.5 / 10

Denzel, preparing for all those damn awards-speeches.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures

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Ouija (2014)

Causal Saturday nights with friends has never been so much fun.

Following the sudden death of her best friend, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Laine (Olivia Cooke) miraculously stumbles upon an antique Ouija board in her room. In a way to say goodbye to her long, lost friend, Laine plays around with it, but somehow, wakes up an evil spirit that begins to toy around with her and all of her friends. The spirit itself is called “DZ” and as more and more strange events begin to occur, Laine tries to figure out just what the spirit wants, rather than fighting with it and basically, getting nowhere. But as Laine and all of her friends delve deeper into DZ’s intentions and history, they suddenly find that Debbie’s mysterious death was not unique, and that they will suffer the same fate unless they learn how to close the portal they’ve opened.

What’s worse than movies based on board-games? Bad movies that aren’t totally even based on actual board-games. If anything, Ouija may have been a commercial to get the old school, retro and hip Ouija-boards back on shelves for a younger, much cooler audience of kids, but if anything, it just shows us why Hollywood, or most importantly, horror movies have been running out of ideas.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

What’s next? A Monster Trucks movie?

Oh wait.

Anyway, in his directorial debut, co-writer/director Stiles White seems as if he’s trying to make something, almost out of nothing; the premise is tired and boring, but for whatever reasons, he sets everything up in an interesting manner. There’s a whole lot of exposition thrown at us from the beginning, like the rules and regulations these evil spirits and monsters have to follow in order to kill these kids, which may seem monotonous, but actually works, as it helps us get in the mind-set of what to expect. So often, horror movies just assume people know what they’re dealing and let creepy stuff happen – to understand what our evil forces are going to do to our protagonists for the next hour-and-a-half, and what can stop them, actually helps in the long-run. It shows that White at least had some nugget of an idea of what he wanted to do with this movie, because surely, the rest of the movie doesn’t show it.

Though it is interesting to have these characters all come together after a friend’s death, the movie doesn’t do anything with any of them to really flesh them out, or even make them slightly interesting. Sure, it’s a horror movie and often times, it’s best to just forget about characters and just let the spooky stuff happen, but honestly, there’s not enough spooky-stuff in this 90-minute movie to really make the lack of actual character-development fine. If anything, it’s far more jarring and noticeable, what with the movie featuring one too many scenes of these characters sitting in rooms, chatting with one another, and not really seeming as if they’re friends at all – they all seem like actors, meeting for the first time and forced to speak some cheesy lines, so that they can collect their paycheck, go home, and continue reading whatever script is up on the coke-infested table next.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Nothing wrong with that, actually. In fact, that’s a pretty great life.

But of course, Ouija itself doesn’t show many signs of life. With the exception of the initial scene of the teens messing around with the board and blaming one another for moving it around and playing jokes, the movie never really seems to have much of any fun. If there’s any tension or suspense in the air to be had, the moment that White senses it, he jumps back and instead, continues to plod his way, further and further into silence that goes little to anywhere. It reminded me a lot of Annabelle (another Fall 2014 horror flick that clearly was made for brand-name recognition) in that it had everything that resembled a movie – protagonists, antagonists, story, conflict, etc. – but for some reason, there’s just nothing there. It feels like White and his crew all knew that the movie just had to make some money, so it didn’t matter if it was actually effective, scary, or even the least bit entertaining.

As long as the kids are still lining-up to buy tickets to see it, then who the hell cares, right?

Consensus: Without hardly any tension or fun to be found, Ouija feels like a waste of a potentially solid premise, all in favor of studios making more bank.

3 / 10

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Unfriended (2015)

Always use Trojan. Not that Trojan, but yeah, that’s always a safe option, too!

On the one-year anniversary of Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman), a fellow classmates, suicide, Blaire Lily (Shelley Hennig) chats with her boyfriend and friends about all sorts of high school stuff that doesn’t really seem all that important. That all begins to change when Blaire’s boyfriend, Mitch Roussel (Moses Jacob Storm), gets a strange message from a online user claiming to have all sorts of dirty secrets on them. Nobody has any clue who this person is, or even what it is, and even though they try so very hard to get it away from them and their chat, it never seems to leave. Eventually though, the user gets more and more deadly, which leaves these kids spooked and having no clue what to expect next. Not to mention that this mysterious user seems to be having quite a ball in getting these kids to participate in humiliating games of “Never Have I Ever”, where their dirty laundry fully comes out in spades.

Oh, to be young again.

In a cheap knock-off the already cheap found-footage horror subgenre, Unfriended takes place solely on a laptop computer-screen. While this is absolutely a gimmick, it calls into question whether or not it’s one that deserves to exist for the sole purpose of selling the story? Or, if it’s just there to help sell tickets and make people say, “Wow. Neat.” In all honesty, it seems like a bit of both, but there’s something smart about what the movie is able to do with so little.

"Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!"

“Dude? Like toates three-wheeling here!”

That we’re literally watching some sort of mystic virus constantly mess around with these young, seemingly stereotypical teens is actually a bit of fun. While none of them are despicable enough that we want to see them all perish in a lovely blaze of glory, there’s still something inherently enjoyable when there’s a loud-mouth teen getting his comeuppance because he picked-on somebody way back when. Though the movie mistakes this for being “important”, there’s still some fun to be had in watching how a normal night, goes drastically crazy in a matter of less than an-hour-and-a-half.

But, like I said, Unfriended is trying to say something here about technology, cyber-bullying, and how, while we may not think about it, the negative things we write about someone or something on the web, do have an effect on those we are speaking out against. There’s no problem with voicing your opinion in the first place, but there’s always a risk that you may, or may not negatively affect someone in a way you didn’t expect to do so. That’s just the way the world works and with technology being as sufficiently smart and accessible as it is, the chances are only heightened.

Then again, though, this doesn’t matter and serves no real purpose in a horror-thriller such as this. Maybe in a Lifetime, made-for-cable movie, but here, it seems like it’s trying a tad too hard.

However, a movie that’s definitely being sold to teens, and actually gives a fair shot at trying to teach those said young, impressionable teens about how their actions do have consequences, is pretty admirable. The movie mistakes itself for being a message movie than it probably should have, but rather than just making the whole story go down to just, “Ghosts are bad, yo.”, it becomes more of, “Ghosts are bad, yo. But causing someone to kill themselves because of a bad decision you made is even worse. Yo.” It’s a corny sentiment for sure, but it’s one that puts Unfriended one step above most of the horror flicks we see come out around the year.

Doesn’t make it perfect, but hey, at least it’s worth something.

Meaning that there is a lot to be scared by in this movie. Somehow, the movie’s able to make such elements like a Facebook chat, or a trip to the infamous Chat Roulette, or even a phone-call, very tense. Not because it’s smart filming, but because this story doesn’t make itself clear as to where the hell it will go and why. Sure, we know that there’s a mysterious presence spooking these kids, but just how much power does it contain? And with those powers, what is it able to do? The movie keeps these questions coming and even though not all of them add up to a reasonable answer, the ride to the end is still exciting enough that it’s not a pain in the arse whenever the movie leaves the question-marks hanging on at the end.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Hate when this happens in chat.

Which is to say that the characters in this movie, as thinly-written as they may be, still hold enough truth to the way they are portrayed with what they’re given that they’re at least believable and compelling enough to watch. Even though it’s painfully obvious that she’s well-above an 17-to-18-year-old virgin, Shelley Hennig still does a solid enough job as Blaire, where we don’t know if she’s a good person, a bad one, or simply put, just a person nonetheless. We don’t get much background on her here, as is the case for most of the other characters, but throughout this whole conversation these peeps have, we get to learn little more details that are sometimes clever, and sometimes there just to create drama for the sake of doing so.

Sounds like high school, for sure.

The only other one in this cast that’s worth talking about, and less for what he does here and more of how great he’s been in past flicks, is Jacob Wysocki as Ken Smith. Wysocki’s given the role of the comedic sidekick who comes in every so often to make a smart-ass remark, sex joke, or smoke a bowl to break the tension and while he’s fine in the role, it’s nice to see more of this guy that isn’t in roles that are just made to talk about his weight. Terri and Fat Kid Rules the World are both examples of this, and while the fact that they point out his weight isn’t a bad thing, it’s made obvious that he was chosen for those roles because of that and hardly much else. Here though, Wysocki shows us that not only does he have more material to show us he’s able to do, but it doesn’t matter what he looks like.

You keep it going, kid.

Consensus: Maybe not as important as it thinks it is, Unfriended takes its message a tad too seriously, but still delivers on the fun thrills, chills and excitement, in a way that’s heightened by the gimmick of taking place on one computer-screen, practically the whole time.

7 / 10

Everybody's always got that one friend.

Everybody’s always got that one friend.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz