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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Terry George

Reservation Road (2007)

Still though, those little bastards gotta hurry their asses up off those buses!

Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are more than happy with the way things have been going for their lives, but all of that happiness ends when their son gets killed in a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, the person in the car (Mark Ruffalo) who caused it, knows who they are, is still stuck with the guilt, and has yet to fess-up to what he’s done. That’s when Ethan decides to take matters into his own hands and figure out just who the hell is responsible for all of this pain and misery that has been inflicted on him and his family.

Even though the idea of watching a bunch of people go through grief and suffer through pain and agony doesn’t sound like the most exciting bit of an-hour-and-a-half I’d like to spend, you can never, ever go wrong with a cast like this. People know Phoenix to be the type of guy who takes rich and hearty-material that challenges himself, Ruffalo is always a guy that’s capable of taking anything the world throws at him and make it totally and completely work in his favor, and having Sorvino and Connelly round things out ain’t so shabby, either. So, the big question on your mind may be, “How the hell did all of this go wrong?”

My answer? “Script, man. Script.”

The main problem with this script is that even though it does pay attention to the problems its characters face on a day-to-day basis when it comes to dealing with their own levels of grief, the movie still feels the need to rush things up and make this almost like a type of thriller. That sounds all fine and dandy for people who want more than just a character-based story and want some action and excitement to go along with their tears and heavy-grieving, but for a movie like this where we essentially know what happened, who did what, and what the only way to end this could be, it’s a little silly and not all that thrilling. We know who killed the kid, who’s responsible, where this could go, and that this can only end in two ways, either death or imprisonment  so what the hell is all of the tension supposed to be there for?

Pictured: A guy who just got done thinking.

“Damn. Paparazzi.”

And it’s odd, because the tension in this movie is supposed to lie in the fact that everything this driver goes through in life, always has him ending up in one way or another, connecting with the kid’s family. For example, his ex-wife just so happens to be the kid’s sister’s music teacher that is totally superfluous to the plot, except to only include the always wonderful Mira Sorvino (more on her in a bit). Then, it gets even worse when Ethan decides to take the investigation into his own hands and get lawyers involved and in case you couldn’t tell where this is going, get ready, because guess what? The man who killed Ethan’s son, just so happens to be that lawyer he asks for help.

Shocked yet?

Anyway yeah, this movie is just chock full of coincidence-after-coincidence and they don’t seem to serve any other purpose to this story, other than to keep the audiences minds awake for when the flick decides to actually focus in on its characters. You could also argue that the flick only added in those thriller-elements to appeal to a larger-audience that wouldn’t really feel the need to venture out to some movie about a bunch of people crying and being sad all of the time, and if that is the case, well then that’s a damn shame because there is a lot of promise for this type of material to work, regardless of if it’s a mainstream, or indie production.

But regardless, it almost shouldn’t matter when you have a cast like this, because they’re supposed to be able to do no wrong. And that sort of happens, but not really. Joaquin Phoenix may seem a tad miscast at first as the grieving simpleton father of a suburban-family, but shows us differently when he unleashes those raw and honest emotions we always see in each and every one of his performances. You feel bad for the guy and you just want to give him a hug and tap on the back, whispering into his ear that “everything’s going to be alright.” It’s not Phoenix’s most daring role, but it was a true sign that he could play a normal, everyday dude.

Pictured: Sad actors

Pictured: Sad Actors

The same can definitely be said for Mark Ruffalo who never seems to phone-in a performance, no matter how crappy the movie may be, which is what happens here. Ruffalo is great as the driver that kills this boy and runs away without getting caught, because he makes you feel something for the guy, even though he is totally in the wrong, through-and-through. You can sort of see why a guy like him would run away from the punishment of being arrested, but after awhile, it does start to get a bit ridiculous that it hides this all for so long, and for all of the reasons that he apparently has to himself, as well. Still, Ruffalo prevails and shows why you can give him anything, and he can make it work.

Jennifer Connelly is simply used here to be another grieving character of the whole movie and does that very well. Connelly is always good in what she does and that’s why it’s so weird to barely see her around anymore, but it should always be noted that she’s a good actress, when the material is there. It’s sort of here for her, and sort of not, so it’s hard to fully judge her.

Oh and yeah, I previously mentioned Mira Sorvino and it isn’t because she does anything simply out-of-this-world with this movie (mainly because she isn’t given much to work with in the first place), but, without any type of spoilers or giving-away major plot-points (like it really matters), there’s this one scene with her and Ruffalo that is probably the most endearing and emotionally-truthful out of the whole movie, and it really took me by surprise. Rarely does this movie ever talk about how Sorvino’s and Ruffalo’s character used to be married and a loving-couple with one another, other than when they yell, fight, and argue with one other, but that one scene, that one moment between these two, not only made this movie just a tad better, but made me feel like there could have been so much more had they just dropped the whole death-of-the-kid angle and even went so far as to focus on Ruffalo’s character trying to actually get through the divorce and make ends meet. Sure, it’s not the movie we got, but man, I imagine wonders could have been made going down this road, especially with the always dependable Sorvino who, like Connelly, needs to be in more.

Much, much more. Come on, Hollywood!

Consensus: Even with a solid cast on-deck, Reservation Road can’t get its head together quick enough to where it fully works as a small drama about sadness and grief, or as a nail-biting thriller.

5 / 10

I guess he's going to start taking after his kid. Hayyoh! Okay, I'm done.

I guess he’s going to start taking after his kid now. Hayyoh! Okay, I’m done.

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

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Hotel Rwanda (2004)

Who said Africans don’t have their own Schindler’s List?

The movie is about Paul Ruseabagina (Don Cheadle), a man who works at his hotel during the violent war between Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda. When the war goes out of control and innocent people are starting to get killed one by one, Paul risks everything to save his family and the many refugees on his hotel.

If I was a resident of Africa, I would be pretty pissed with Hollywood because it seems as if every time they always have a movie that portrays that area, it’s filled with chaos, genocide, murder, and dead-bodies left in the street. Seriously, does Africa have anything else to offer than a bunch of mobile slaughterhouses? I don’t think Hollywood has caught-on to that idea yet that maybe Africa isn’t as shitty as it once was, but damn, does it make some good-drama. I’m thinking from a Hollywood producer view-point, not my own.

With a movie about genocide and featuring plenty of innocents getting hacked-off by machetes on a daily basis, you would think that this flick would be all sorts of gruesome but surprisingly, director Terry George keeps things relatively civil and very PG-13. Yeah, I do think that the PG-13 rating sort of got over-stepped a couple of times but you know what? I’m not part of the MPAA and I don’t care either way, because George does a nice-job on not only focusing on the horrors of this 1994 massacre in a disturbing, but still respectable way, but also focusing on what made those people who lived through it all want to continue life some more.

I’m not one for these sappy, melodramatic, inspirational true-tales of a guy who fought against-the-odds and one because no matter how much of a twist you may put on it, it’s still the same old song and dance. You can have a good-guy seem like he’s never going to make it out alive, stack all of the odds against him, and in the opponent’s favor, but no matter what, the good-guy always wins, good overcomes evil, and the human-spirit always prevails. That’s why I was really surprised by how emotionally-connected I felt to this story, despite me knowing pretty much how it was going to end, where, when, and how.

George plays things very subtle on his direction, and instead, allows the story to tell itself in a way that makes you realize that this is as inspirational it they come, in terms of true-life stories. This man, Paul, literally had no chance of living whatsoever and even though he pretty much knew that from day uno, once things started to get a little shaky in home hood, but he never stopped giving-up hope, he never stopped to protect those around him, and surprisingly, he actually accepted the fact that he would most likely die no matter what the outcome of all of this strife and internal conflict would be. That’s very respectable and brave of a man to have, and you will be very, very inspired by this man after you see all that he had to do, all of the strings that he pulled, and all  of the promises he had to make, just to ensure the safety of himself, his family, and everybody else around him. Knowing me, I would have probably would have bitched-out and totally just gave-up all hope and have them cut me like ham out on my front-lawn, but watching a man like this, seeing everything that he would do to keep his people alive, and knowing that it was all a true-story with some liberties taken here and there, I felt very inspired and sure with myself. Then, I turned-off the movie and came back down to reality and realized: well, I’m still a pussy.

What makes this man so special, so memorable, and so brave, is mainly because of the tour de force performance from Don Cheadle, in his first, leading-role, if you can believe it. See, before 2004, Cheadle was not the household name that he is today and was only really known as a character actor that showed-up in random stuff, acted like the tough, sly black-guy, and that was basically it. He was good at it, don’t get me wrong, but there’s always something more to him and that’s what he shows-off here so perfectly as Paul Ruseabagina. There are so many scenes where you can just feel this man really starting to lose all hope and faith in humanity, but still, somehow is able to keep it together for his family, everybody around him, and mostly, himself. A couple of moments in this flick we just see him break-down into full and utter tears (that tie scene was amazing), and it has an effect on us because this is a guy we feel as if we can trust more than anybody else that he’s hiding in that hotel. I’ve got to give it to Cheadle, the guy handled the African-accent perfectly and even though some of his lines may have been a bit cheesy, he still works through it and has us believe in this man for all that he is. I loved Cheadle here and it’s a real shame that the guy hasn’t been given more opportunities like this to just act his off, because we all know he can. And if not, just watch this damn movie and you’ll come back a hella surprised.

But see, the problem with Cheadle being so powerful, being so memorable, and basically, being the only element to this movie that could have the waterworks moving for me, is that he’s probably the best thing this movie has going for it, in terms of acting. His wife, played by Sophie Okonedo is good and definitely shows that there is a lot more to her than just a damsel in distress that needs her hubby with her every step of the way, but everybody else seems painfully dull and just plain and simply obvious.

Nick Nolte is always an actor that I can count-on to give a solid performance but here, the guy’s character just blows, showed-up every once and awhile, delivered some piss-poor news, went-away, came back again, and it was the same thing over and over again. Nolte can handle these types of roles like nobody’s business, but his material is just too dull and boring for him to really shine above it all. Then of course, there’s another crazy-man by the name of Joaquin Phoenix in this who doesn’t have a huge-role, but it is honestly a role that could have been taken-out of the final-cut, and it wouldn’t have made a lick of a difference either way if he was in the movie or not. I should never have to say that about Phoenix and no matter how much of you out-there think (and pretty much know) that the guy’s crazy, you still can’t deny he’s a great actor that takes great-care of every role he’s given.

However, I haven’t even gotten to the actual, African-troops that are as evil, despicable, and distasteful as you can get. In every single one of these movies, the generals are always the same: big, bad, mean, corrupt, and always smoking a cigar to show how relaxed and rich they are. It’s a cliche that shows-up in all of these movies and it’s one that shows-up here way too many times, and is just obvious that it’s not working in this flick, especially when Cheadle’s playing across-of them. Each general acts as if they can’t wait to get their hands on their machete so they can just cut somebody up to little, bitty pieces and even if they were all like that, it still doesn’t mean I want to see it, over and over again. Cheadle as Paul is great, but everybody else, well, they just feel like cardboard cut-outs of characters that were supposed to be there and have real thoughts, real hearts, and real feelings but in the end, I got nothing from any of them.

Consensus: You’ll be quick to dismiss it as “obvious, conventional, and cliche”, and in a way, you may be correct, but Hotel Rwanda doesn’t let that get in the way of a true-tale of the hope, courage, and honesty of one man named Paul Ruseabagina, played oh so perfectly by Don Cheadle, in his best role ever. Yes, I did say, EVER.

8/10=Matinee!!