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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Tom McGowan

12 and Holding (2005)

Small towns are way too weird.

Jacob and Rudy (Conor Donovan) are identical twins, in terms of the way they look and sound (sort of), but they are different in their own ways. Rudy is far more outgoing and considered “the golden child”, whereas Jacob, mostly due to a birthmark covering a large portion of his face, is forced to mostly stay indoors and keep to himself. However, they both get along well enough to where they spend as much time together and even build a tree-house, for them and all their friends to hang. But disaster strikes one night when, after messing with some bullies, the tree-house is lit on fire, with Rudy inside, trapping him and, as a result, killing him. Now, it’s up to Jacob to take most of the attention from his brother and he uses that attention to make a name for himself. Meanwhile, Leonard (Jesse Camacho), another friend, is overweight and trying to lose it all, while Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) tries to befriend an adult named Gus (Jeremy Renner), who is in town and doesn’t quite know what to make of this new friendship, as inappropriate as it may be.

Uh, like step away?

12 and Holding is another odd movie from the likes of writer/director Michael Cuesta and I mean that in the best way possible. Granted, compared to his debut, L.I.E., 12 and Holding doesn’t quite hit the same emotional notes, but it’s still interesting in that it focuses on a small, core group of people, gives them some development, a sense of conflict, and allows their stories to just be told to us. Sure, the stories don’t always work, but at least Cuesta’s trying something, right?

Well, yes. And no. Sort of.

See, one of the issues with 12 and Holding is that it tries a lot harder to be an outright comedy this go around, unlike L.I.E., that was far more serious and disturbing. There’s still that sense of dirt and grit here, but not nearly as in-your-face as it was with Cuesta’s debut; this time around, the disturbing-features are played up more for cringe-inducing and awkward laughs. Occasionally, Cuesta will hit a high spot for comedy, but often times, it can feel as if he’s maybe trying a tad too hard, as if the material itself wasn’t, on the surface, funny enough.

Which is odd to say, I know, considering that in the first 15 minutes, a kid literally gets burned-to-death, but still, you can tell Cuesta is going for the darker-laughs this time around and he doesn’t always hit his mark. He does develop these characters and give them enough to work with, however, he also can’t help but give us the occasional quirk, too. It would have helped if these quirks were, at some point, funny, but they aren’t and because of that, it can feel straining.

“So, how’s the food?”

That said, the drama still works and had the movie just been with that, then yeah, it probably would have been a slam-dunk.

If there’s one thing that Cuesta gets right, is the small-town, suburban malaise that, in a way, American Beauty dealt with. Sure, that movie did it a whole lot better and effortlessly, but 12 and Holding does something interesting in that it shows how grief messes with each and everyone of us, regardless of if we are willing to accept it or not. Cuesta shows that we all deal with it on our own terms and because of that, we act out in somewhat rather outlandish and insane ways; we can’t really diagnose it, or even excuse it, as it’s just in our human nature.

If anything, 12 and Holding is much more sad and depressing than anything, and had the movie focused on this much more, it would have been better. However, it didn’t and it dealt with comedy a tad too much. Still, the ensemble is pretty great with nearly all of the child and adult-performers putting in solid work. Perhaps the most shining star in the whole thing is Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee, the incredibly curious and sexually vivacious teen that makes a good half of this movie pretty uncomfortable. However, she’s so charming and lovely to watch, with Renner’s Gus helping out, too, that it makes these scenes go down a lot easier.

Not like L.I.E., of course, Nothing can quite be as disturbing and as off-putting as that.

Consensus: Uneven to a fault, 12 and Holding tries to be way too funny, when it probably didn’t need to, but still works as a small, sad and thought-provoking indie about small-towns and grief.

6 / 10

Gonna grow up to be some awfully weird adults. Just like the rest of us.

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

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Freeheld (2015)

Love one another. Also, stop being dicks.

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was a loyal, dedicated and passionate cop in Ocean County, New Jersey. She was respected and adored by her peers, was best-friends with her partner (Michael Shannon), and when it came down to getting the job done, she did everything she could to make that happen. However, the one fact about her life that she had to hide and, ultimately, caused her to lose a lot of respect from those said peers, was the fact that she was gay. Nobody knew about this little tidbit in her personal life until she was diagnosed with cancer and wanted to pass off her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Problem was, board of chosen freeholders didn’t see that as “right”, due to the fact that Hester was gay, so instead, decided to shut it down. Devastated by this news, Laurel knows that there’s nowhere else to go with her voice then to the court again, but this time, with more and more people by her side, voicing their opinions on her, and showing how she is granted this god-given right, no matter who she holds up a home or romantic relationship with.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

Awkward first encounters between two very attractive people. So sad.

It’s a shame that, no matter how kind, or smart, or meaningful the message they’re trying to get across may be, message movies, generally, suck. Actually, that’s not correct; they’re just not all that good. Most of the time, message movies come off like after school specials that you’re more likely to see on Lifetime or TLC, than actually anywhere on the big screen, where your money, attention and time is absolutely needed.

And Freeheld, like other message movies, feels just like that. However, that’t not to say that the movie, to use a word I used earlier, sucks, it’s just that, considering its good intentions, its solid cast, and an interesting director (Raising Victor Vargas‘ Peter Sollett), it’s disappointing. That doesn’t mean that they’re message isn’t worn across their sleeves, or that they don’t get it out clear enough, it’s just that it feels lacking in an actual story, with genuine, relateable characters.

Everybody here, from Laurel, to Stacie, to Laurel’s partner, and especially to the freeholders, all feel as if they’re stand-ins for a message. Laurel, of course, is the hero of this story who, after all of these years of putting her life on the line for the greater good of Ocean County; Stacie is the misunderstood little girl who is in desperate need of love, comfort and a hug; Laurel’s partner, Dane, is the gold-hearted friend of Laurel who stands by her no matter what; and the freeholders are, as expected, mostly just a bunch of ignorant dicks, with the exception of Josh Charles’ character, who feels a little more conflicted than the rest, but also begins to break into speeches that people probably think how conservatives actually talk. This isn’t to say that the cast doesn’t at least try with these types, but by the same token, it’s just a shame to see them all having to perform within these compounds where, maybe, just maybe, they’re allowed to branch out and make something new or interesting of these characters.

But sadly, they’re mostly all one-note.

Moore’s Laurel has hardly a bad bone in her body; Stacie doesn’t get as much attention as she should, but seems like she means no harm to anyone; and Dane is just a nice guy. Moore’s fine, as well as is Page and they share a nice bit of chemistry together, but Shannon is really the only one who seems like he’s really giving it his all here and coming out just fine. Well, it was especially nice to see Shannon play, once again, a normal, everyday dude, but to also see him shed some of his more sensitive angles that we don’t usually get a chance to see him dance with. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when he’s yelling and giving people those crazy eyes of his, but it’s always nice to see it when he plays a guy who seems like he wouldn’t hurt a fly because he wanted to.

No, this is not some unsold CBS pilot.

Not an unsold CBS pilot.

And for some reason, even though Freeheld‘s been hiding him in all of the ads, but Steve Carell is actually here as Steven Goldstein, the founder of the well-known advocacy group, Garden State Equality. Carell is funny here and constantly makes every scene he’s in, exciting and entertaining, but still feels like he’s just playing more of a caricature you’d see in a parody of Goldstein on SNL, rather than an actual person himself. Still, he made me laugh and his constant use of “sweetheart” and “honey” makes some of the most masculine-of-masculine men in the movie shiver, which is always fun to watch.

Homophobia. Fun? Who knew!

Anyway, other than the cast who clearly seem to be on their A-game here to make something work, Freeheld is all too concerned with passing its message along, that it just feels like a conventional bore. There are more types here than just the ones I mentioned up-top; there’s the overly-homophobic, downright rude cop who disowns Laurel from the very beginning, there’s the angry people who come to intimidate Laurel and Stacie for causing such a ruckus, there’s the closeted cop who begins to find courage once Laurel pleads her case, and yeah, there’s probably more that I forgot to mention.

But you get the point – this movie is as cliché as you can get. It has a nice heart and I more than agree with the point it’s making, but it does so in such an ordinary, run-of-the-mill way, that it makes me wonder why they even bothered making this movie to begin with? Because surely, they wanted to bring some interesting points up about humanity and the way of life, right? Or did they just want to make a movie about a lesbian woman’s final years and how she fought for equality, without any grey areas thrown in whatsoever?

I’m thinking more of the latter in Freeheld’s case, sadly.

Consensus: Not without its heart in the right place, Freeheld brings an emotional story to the big screen, but doesn’t seem to do much with it that’s interesting, challenging, or anything that we haven’t already seen before many, many times before, in many other message movies in the same vein.

6 / 10

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Pictured: Good vs. Evil

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ghost World (2001)

High school may have blown, but post-high school, sucks even worse.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are a pair of outsiders who have just graduated from high school and are trying to figure-out to do with their lives. There’s the possibility of college, getting an apartment together, making money, having boyfriends, spending time together, getting jobs, and all of that other, annoying crap that you have to deal with after the days of high school. However, Enid is more concerned with her friendship with a strange man she met through an ad in the classifieds, a nerd named Seymour (Steve Buscemi).

People may make fun of it a lot and write it off as it’s some sort of plea for help or pity, but seriously: it’s hard being a teenager, let alone, a young adult. It really is, especially after you hit that ripe-part in your life where not only are you out of high school and have the rest of your life to think about, but also realize that for the past 4 years of your life, you’ve been sleep-walking in a state of normality, without any ideas or consequences of what you want to do next with your life. I know this all comes off as very angsty and straining, especially when you know that this is coming from a 19-year-old male, who lives with his parents, goes to a city college, and makes a living off of Craigslist, but it’s the truth and that’s what resonated with me so much throughout this whole flick: it’s just like me, in one way or another.

I’ve never read or even given a look at the original graphic novel that this flick is based-off of but from what it seems like, the author, Daniel Clowes, definitely knows a thing or two about being stuck in the middle of your life and having no idea how the hell to get out of it. I was never an outsider throughout school, hell, not even life, but I really connected with these two gals in the ways that they weren’t able to connect with the rest of the world around them. They sulk around their days as they go-by, make fun of every person they see, and never seem to be happy with anything that comes their way. They are just the typical, normal, neo-cool teenagers that are way too hot for their britches and act like everybody else around them are a bunch of idiots and as annoying as that may sound to watch a whole, hour-and-50-minute long movie about, trust me, it’s a lot darker and dramatic than it may have you think.

Nothing spells-out, "Confused and Lonely", quite like two people laying on one another.

Nothing spells-out, “Confused and Lonely”, quite like two people laying on one another.

The flick never really gets down on these girls for being such a bunch of bummers, it actually, more or less, shows them-off as being true, near, and dear human-beings that just go about their lives in different directions than say, you or I. Watching them interact with one another was great because I felt like they were two friends that knew everything about one another, and loved each other for all of it, but yet, it was also sad to see at how rapidly they were changing and how things between the two become a bit hostile, once one person’s laziness gets in the way of the other person’s happiness. It shows that these two are friends that love each other for all that that are, but maybe not for all that they are going to be, considering that their lives may soon be changing, as well as their personalities and whatnot.

That “friendship” aspect is what really touched me in a way, but the whole idea of not knowing where to go when your life of high school is all said and done with, well that, really got to me. Not only is it done in such a way that’s pitch-black humorous with all of it’s insights on how stupid and annoying people who give into conformity can be, but it also done in a way where life doesn’t always hand you out questions, as if they were lemons. It’s sort of like that old saying, “You get more out of life, by what you put into it”, and in a way, that’s sort of truthful. You can sit around all day, watch movies, critique them, talk shit on other people because they aren’t like you in every, which-way, and at the end of it all, just go back to your bed and be peaceful with your own anger and self-misery. In a way, that’s sort of my life story, but yet, it isn’t because I actually do a lot more than just all of that boring, dull shite that I just mentioned. I like to be happy with friends, hang-out, go to parties, listen to some neat-o music, and just do all of the typical things that make a person happy, no matter how old or young they may just be.

That’s why the old saying that I just mentioned up there, is, relatively true to the point of where you understand where you’ll life will go if you don’t do anything with it, and yet, still expect it to give you the happiness and pleasure that you so rightfully desire. If life can’t do it for you, then you just have to do it for yourself and it’s a lot easier said, then actually done, but it can, and it will be done if you give yourself the time and pace. This main theme resonated with me very well and I love how everything played-out here in a very brutal, honest way that made me laugh, made me a bit emotional, and also, made me realize that there is more I can do with my life than just sitting around and talking shite on people. I don’t want to say this movie is a “life changer” by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that will definitely connect with you, if you have ever felt out-of-place in the world, or just don’t have any sense of general direction of where you want it to go.

However, I felt like that main theme was sort of ruined by the ending that plays it almost a little too safe. Without giving too much away, there is this red herring that continues to pop-up throughout the whole story and at first, it seems like a sweet, little quirky touch from the writers and director, but after awhile, it becomes so insistingly obvious, that you sort of just want them to get it over and done with. It got so annoying that by the time the actual ending came about (which there seem to be 2 of, mind you), I was left a bit more dry than I originally expected. Yes, the thoughts, ideas, and messages that this movie made me think about were still left in my head, but did not impact me as much as if the film just knew the right time and place to end, exactly when I thought it should have. Oh well, not everything can be perfect I guess.

Going back to my point about the friendship between these two gals, the main reason why it works so well is because Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are so good in the roles, whether they are together, or not. Johansson is the type of actress that doesn’t seem to get cut-enough slack, but as of late, she’s been proving that, time and time again, she can knock it out of the park and shut all those naysayers up, but here, in one of her earlier roles, she’s great. She’s young, brass, full of attitude, but also a bit different from Enid because she has more of an inspiration for what she wants to do with her live and understands the concept of, “Having money, allows you to buy the things you want, and therefore, you are happy”.

Even though she was about 17 in this, she was still foxy, don't even lie you pervs.

Even though she was about 17 in this, she was still foxy. Don’t even lie you pervs.

Enid, on the other-hand, does not roll that way and god bless her for that. After American Beauty boosted her to stardom, Thora Birch seemed to go straight for the same, exact role she played as the misunderstood outsider, but this time, with more of a comic-edge to her here, than that role. Birch’s comedic-timing is just perfect with her deeply deadpan, sardonic delivery that makes you feel like this girl is way too smart to hold a conversation with, or let alone, even be around in the same area with. That doesn’t make her the loveliest of lovely characters to watch grace the screen, but it still makes her a very honest character, albeit, a female teenager in a teen-dramedy. She’s full of angst, but not in the way you’d expect, she’s pissed at the world, angry at how it doesn’t accept it, and and mad at how it’s not making her happy. It’s a very honest-portrayal of a girl that has no sense of direction and doesn’t really care to have one, and it really makes you wonder just why the hell Birch left the spotlight after this and hasn’t really done a movie, as big as this? Seriously, Thora! Come back to us and show these whiny, little teenaged, Twilight-girls what going through angst is all about!

The highlight of this whole cast, mostly has to be Steve Buscemi who plays the endearing nerd, Seymour. When we first see Seymour, we see him as this type of loser, that doesn’t really talk to many people, have great-enough social-skills to be bothered with the rest of the world, and even better, doesn’t give a shit about anything, really. It’s sort of sad, but Buscemi plays it up so perfectly to where you really feel for the dude, especially when things start to really come-out of his soul and character that at first, may seem a bit strange, but once you get to thinking about it, realize, that maybe, just maybe, it’s what was going to happen to this guy all-along. Buscemi has such a great look and feel to him that doesn’t make you cringe at how awkward or weird he can be sometimes, but more or less, at how he’s just sad dude, who’s nice, but still very sad that the rest of the world hasn’t fully been able to make sense of him, either. It’s a wonderful performance from Buscemi that basically shows the guy can do anything, especially a comedy where he’s all about being subtle, and way, way too serious. But hey, that’s the Buscemi charm!

Consensus: Ghost World may end on a bit of a dinker, but it’s themes and central-message hit harder than any, other teenage-dramedy of the past decade or so, and the performances from everybody feel fully-realized, and never used as caricatures even though that’s definitely the type of direction this film could have gone in.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

RED HERRING ALERT!!!!!!

RED HERRING ALERT!!!!!!