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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Tzi Ma

Arrival (2016)

If they can’t speak English, can’t trust ’em. Right?

On one random day, for unexplained reasons, multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe. What do they want? What are they? And what the hell could they possibly do? No one quite knows, which is why, as expected, the government gets on it immediately. And in doing so they, they put together an elite team including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to help investigate these matters and see if there’s any harm going to be done to planet Earth. No one quite knows how to communicate with these extraterrestrial beings, but Louise believes that she’s able to and starts figuring out what they’re language is, how to decipher it and yes, how to figure out all that they’re feeling or saying. It’s not an easy task, and with the rest of the world watching, sitting on pins and needles, not sure of what to make of these things, it becomes extra stressful for Louise. However, she has a plan and knows that it’s always best to treat outsiders with the utmost respect and dignity, especially if they could exterminate your whole population with the drop of a hat.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Another year and guess what? Another Denis Villeneuve movie. While saying that may make it seem like I’m discouraging the fact that one of our brighter, more inspired directors of today’s day and age continues to make a movie each and every year, it’s not meant to. As opposed to someone like Woody Allen, who churns out flicks because he’s got nothing else better to do and well, has the money, Villeneueve’s movies seem like they took forever to direct, are handled with care, and yes, for the most part, pretty damn good. Sure, at the same time, they’re dreary, sad, sometimes, violent, and yes, a little disturbing, but hey, they’re mostly all good movies and they deserve to be appreciated as such, right?

Anyway, with Arrival, it’s interesting to see Villeneuve sort of in a new light. He’s tried out the thriller genre by now, so instead of just focusing his sights on that, he goes towards sci-fi and it’s actually surprising how different this flick is from his others. While it’s still thrilling and sometimes unpredictable, it’s not dark, it’s not dreary, and it sure as hell isn’t ultra-violent – it’s actually quite heartfelt and inspiring.

Yes, for a movie about so-called aliens, I’m as shocked as you are.

What it all mostly comes down to though, is that Villeneuve himself never keeps us as informed as viewers, as we ought to be. Like Louise and all of these other characters, we don’t quite know what these beings what, or what they’re put on this planet for – what we do know is that they’re here, on Earth, and they may pose something of a threat. However, it’s interesting to watch as Louise and all of these other scientists get together and try to communicate with these beings in a relaxed, peaceful, and sometimes civil manner.

Most of the time, with sci-fi flicks especially, we see that the alien-beings up in the sky are evil and out to get the human race, but it’s a little different here; the aliens here look different, for sure, but they also have different intentions that we haven’t quite seen, or heard before in sci-fi movies of this nature. Even the layout of the pod is interesting; it’s literally one dark room, with a clear-glass and totally left up to our imagination – it’s dreamy, beautiful, but also terrifying, and seeing this on the biggest screen possible, honestly, the better.

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Oh and yeah, Arrival is quite thrilling, but not in the way that you’d automatically expect. There’s some guns, there’s some explosions, there’s some running, there’s some running, and yeah, there’s some cursing, but it’s not all played-up for dramatic-effect because Villeneuve had nothing else better to do – it all feels earned. The movie’s main source of tension and excitement mostly comes through not knowing what to expect next and constantly waiting for this situation to get out-of-hand and spiral out of control, which it sort of does, but not in the way that you’d expect. Villeneueve and writer Eric Heisserer are constantly flipping the script on sci-fi conventions here that it is, yes, smart, but also interesting to watch, as we never quite know where they’re going next, nor does it seem like they know, either.

They’re just having way too much fun living life in a sci-fi flick and well, I can’t blame them.

The only aspect the movie sort of falls a tad apart in is the fact that it relies a little too heavily on this final-act twist that, for all the red herrings, curve-balls, random dream sequences, and symbolism, is still obvious and doesn’t quite pull the rug from underneath us. It’s hard to really be mad at a movie for not having a solid final-act twist, but there’s also something to be said for a movie that seems to harp on it so much and so often, that after awhile, it becomes annoying. We get what the movie’s getting at and because of that, it feels overdone.

Still, the cast is quite great here. Amy Adams is a sweet and peaceful presence as Louise, but also hints at having something of a darker side to her; Jeremy Renner plays the hip, cool and joking scientist that aids her in all of her work and has a nice bit of chemistry with her; Forest Whitaker shows up as the as the army Colonel, making it seem like he’s going to be the evil, dispirited villain of the story, but surprisingly, doesn’t turn out that way; and Michael Stuhlbarg, despite not being given a whole bunch to do, still has some fun as the coordinator of this mission and it’s just nice to see him around.

Consensus: Despite a weak final-act, Arrival is interesting, thrilling and smart, while also feature another win for Denis Villeneuve, one of film’s more compelling talents who seems to be challenging himself more and more with each flick he does.

8.5 / 10

Yeah, so what?

Yeah, so what?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, TwiCopy

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Rush Hour (1998)

Oh, odd couples.

When a Chinese diplomat’s daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and his ass-kicking ways are called to the scene to help and assist the FBI with the case. However, seeing as how they’re incredibly stubborn and self-righteous, the FBI doesn’t want anything to do with Lee. As a result, they dump Lee off on the LAPD, who assign wisecracking Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) to watch over him. Carter is already in the doghouse of sorts for botching a case where explosives went off, people were hurt, and his career was in jeopardy. But Carter doesn’t know that he’s the laughing stock, so he takes this babysitting job of Lee as serious as a heart-attack, having no clue just who Lee is, or what he’s actually capable of doing. And even though they can’t stand one another, they choose to work together to solve the case on their own when they put two-and-two together and find out that the case is a whole lot shadier than they had expected.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

Rush Hour, in no way, shape or form, tries to reinvent the buddy-cop genre. If anything, the movie’s pretty generic by those genre’s standards. Two incredibly different people, both cops, come together on a ridiculous case and bring their two, very different backgrounds to help one another out, solve the case, and even possibly, grow closer as human beings and friends. We’ve seen this formula time and time again, however, what makes Rush Hour so damn charming about it all is that Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker really do, surprisingly, make a great team.

Not only does it seem like they get a long great in real life, but it works out well for the movie. The twist here is that while Tucker’s Carter starts out as being awfully racist and thinking hardly nothing of Chan’s Lee, he soon grows to learn to appreciate Lee for not just being a human being, but also being one that kick some ass and just wants to solve crimes like him. Sure, you could say that it’s awfully corny and generic, but this at least somewhat makes up for the fact that most of the jokes aimed at Chan are racist and a tad offensive. Then again, this is the brand of comedy to expect from Tucker, and it’s pretty hard to sneer at when it’s actually pretty funny,

That’s why a movie as conventional, uneventful, and simple as Rush Hour, despite being awfully stupid when it comes to its plot and its jokes, still works.

It’s obvious that the studio here was trying their hardest to try and make Jackie Chan a big hit in the United States by partnering him with someone like Tucker, in a buddy-cop comedy no less. But as manipulative as this may be, it still works because, from what it seems, Tucker and Chan really do have great chemistry that shows both stars working well off of one another and adding a nice dose of heart to the proceedings as well. One scene in particular features Chan unknowingly calling a bunch of black characters the infamous “n-word”, where he then starts to battle and brawl each one, unbeknownst to Tucker who is elsewhere. While this scene may have all the social commentary of a rock, watching Jackie Chan lay the smack down on a bunch of black dudes for calling them an offensive word, somehow works.

After all, this is a movie directed by Brett Ratner, so you get what you come for.

That said, Ratner doesn’t get too much in the way of this material here. All he really has to do is set the camera down so that stars like Tucker and Chan can do their things, be fun, be exciting, be charming, be funny, and leave it all that. With that all taken into consideration, yeah, Ratner does a fine job. He doesn’t need to add his own directorial-spin onto the sometimes silly material, but instead, just allow enough time and space for Tucker and Chan to do what they do best.

"Daaaaaaamn."

“Daaaaaaamn.”

And because of this, the action scenes do tend to work. While they mostly rely on having Jackie Chan fly around like a wild goose with its head cut-off, it’s still awfully exciting to watch, and see how it incorporates itself into the story. There’s one sequence in which Chan has to fight a bunch of guys, but meanwhile, also ensure that a bunch of priceless, almost rare Chinese artifacts don’t break. It’s a nice spin on the typical kind of action-sequences we’re so used to seeing with movies like these, but made only better by the fact that it’s Chan himself doing all of his own stunts and seeming to put himself into harm’s way, every chance he gets.

Of course, Tucker gets to work his shine, too. However, as is mostly the case with Tucker, the enjoyment of the humor here will mostly rely on whether or not you’re a fan of Tucker in the first place. For me, I love the guy and feel like he’s a comedic genius, so yeah, obviously I was hooked here from the very beginning. But yeah, he’s definitely of an acquired taste and it makes sense why some people who don’t like Tucker’s brand of humor, may not like Rush Hour.

But it’s also pretty hard to hate Rush Hour when it’s just trying to be a fun movie that entertains you, makes you laugh, and offer you up an odd pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

The kind of pair that nobody ever thought would see the light of day, let alone, actually work.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel by any means, what Rush Hour does best is that it offers up a fine blend of humor, action, and fun, also made better by the wonderful chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

8 / 10

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie's taking over!

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie’s taking over!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Million Dollar Arm (2014)

Yes, citizens from other countries: Play the sport where just about everybody is injecting needles into their buttocks, just to “get ahead”.

J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a down-on-his-luck sports agent that’s trying to make it big, with all of the right clients, and all of the fine amounts of cash just stream-lining into his fancy office. However, it just isn’t. Instead, he’s finding himself more and more up against the walls and without a clue as to what to do next. However, one night, he gets the brilliant idea: Go to India, and a hold a contest called “the Million Dollar Arm”. From there, Bernstein and fellow other scouts would be able to find the next hot talent from India, a place that has yet to even be looked at by MLB prospects, while also gaining enough notoriety to keep Bernstein’s agency afloat and actually still heard of. Eventually, Bernstein has the competition come down to two hopeful prospects: Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma). Though Patel and Singh remain hopeful for the future, they still have no clue how to play baseball and have never left their native-land before until now. So yeah, it’s definitely a bit of culture-shock for these guys, but Bernstein thinks he’s got all of the right resources to make sure that these two do just fine in the try-outs. Because hell, even if they don’t, at least Bernstein will have enough money and fame to his name, right? Well, yeah, sure, but there’s a price you have to pay for that; a price Bernstein is about to face, head on.

It’s obvious what this movie is trying to be: Think Jerry Maguire, but with a twist of Slumdog Millionaire. And rather than their being any famous lines like, “Show me the monay!”, or, “You….complete me”, we just have a bunch of scenes where Jon Hamm acts surprised that something didn’t go his way, throws his head in his hand, and just lets the world know that even someone as handsome as him, can look gritty. You want to know how?!? By forgetting to shave for what seems to be a little bit over a week!

Okay, I get it. Now stop smiling.

Okay, I get it. Now stop smiling.

Oh, the range.

But no, in all seriousness, folks, the problem with this movie isn’t Jon Hamm – in fact, he may have been the best aspect that kept me watching – nope, it was that the film itself is so obvious and predictable, that the fact that it’s also cloying and in dire need of love and sympathy, just really pushed me over the edge. I got what this movie was trying to do: It’s trying to give us a inspired tale of fulfilling your dreams, that most of us probably have never heard of before. I sure as hell didn’t, and I think that’s what this movie wanted to tap into the most, the surprise-element that this actually happened.

The problem with the movie is that every beat it goes for and hits, can be seen from a mile away. Don’t tell me that the neighbor J.B. lives next to, who we get a brief snippet of time with in the beginning, shows up every now and again throughout the movie! Or, better yet, don’t tell me that the old, grumpy, wise-cracking character played by, you guessed it, Alan Arkin who, at first, doesn’t seem like he gives a shit at all about these kids or the sport of baseball in general, actually seems to care a lot and help J.B. out when the time comes that he needs it the most! And please, whatever you do, don’t try and tell me that J.B.’s boss also happens to be a bit of a money-grubbing, attention-loving a-hole that doesn’t care about these kids, the sport of baseball, and whether or not he and J.B. stay as business-associates!

So yeah, as you can tell, all of the plot-developments that happen here, in front of our eyes and ears, can be predicted from a mile away. However, where that usually works for some movies, because the movie itself is so pleasing and enjoyable to begin with that it predictability itself almost doesn’t matter, it doesn’t here. Mainly because it seems like the movie just us wants to love everything about it – J.B., his neighbor, the sport of baseball, India, keeping tradition, baseball scouts, smart sports-trainers, these two possible-prospects – everything about it just screams, “Love me! Love me!”. And while I was more than willing to going into this movie, during it, I just wanted them to stop pestering me and get on with the story itself.

Which, for a nearly two-hour movie, is a bit much, especially when everything can be seen coming from a mile away.

However, with most bad movies, there’s usually the cast to make things a bit better, but even most of the familiar-faces here can’t do much to help make matters a bit better. As I stated before, Hamm is fine in this role as J.B. Bernstein, although I did find it a bit hard to see him to go from “I just want my money, like NOW”, to, “You know what? This baseball stuff is silly. Let’s just love one another, man!”. I didn’t really see the transition work as well as the movie wanted me to think it did, ad I found it even more annoying that they continued to force down our throat the supposed “romance” Hamm’s character has with Lake Bell’s.

No seriously. Stop!

No seriously. Stop!

Bell plays her usual ditsy, witty and charming-self that nobody ever seems to get tired of, but here, she seems like a plot-contrivance to keep the plot moving, give us a reason to make sense of why J.B. would go soft all of a sudden, and to sympathize with these two guys from India a whole lot more. Bell tries and tries again, but the chemistry between her and Hamm just never seemed believable to me. Also, not to mention the fact that the whole angle in which Bell’s character constantly bothers J.B. through Skype, felt very tacked-on and a bit creepy. Even if the girl is Lake Bell, I wouldn’t want some gal constantly bothering me while I’m trying to do work, a couple of countries over, just to talk about the washing-machine. Like come on, woman! Give a man some privacy!

Where the cast does get a bit better is with Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, the two actors who play these professional baseball-hopefuls from India. Both definitely seem like bright-eyed, innocent, young fellas that don’t really know what they are getting themselves into, but go through it anyway because it’s in their lap and they think, “Eh. Might as well.” Though the movie tries to cram their squeaky-clean cleanliness down our throats, these two definitely make it worth while because they just seemed that way. It didn’t matter if they smoked crack, banged hookers, or murder people when the camera’s weren’t rolling; they seemed like nice, young and pleasant-enough fellas that I wanted to see this story about them, and whether the end-result would be good or bad for them. Didn’t care about the movie their story was in, but I cared about them, and that was almost enough to keep me going. Almost.

Consensus: You can’t deny that Million Dollar Arm‘s heart is in the right place, but it wants us to know that in just about every scene, that it gets really annoying, real quick, and takes away from what could have been a really endearing, inspirational tale that we haven’t really seen before. Except for the fact that we have.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Oh, fine. I guess you guys can be happy and smile. But don't over-do it!

Oh, fine. I guess you guys can be happy and smile. But don’t over-do it!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Ladykillers (2004)

Not the type of lady-killing I do at the clubs, but same idea. I guess.

A charlatan professor by the name of Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, PhD (Tom Hanks) moves into the house of an older, African American woman widow (Irma P. Hall) for what seems to be a nice place for him to relax and jam with his gospel band. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth as Dorr is up to no good with a cast of criminals that plan to rob the bank of a gambling casino, just through an underground tunnel. It may work, or it may not, but with the widow around, things prove to be pretty tense for the boys. Well, that and the fact that they are also a gang of misfits that don’t quite come together so perfectly on what they need to do next in their two dollar-plan.

The Coen Brothers love to have fun. I know that, you know that, Frances McDormand knows that, your parents know that, hell, in fact, I’d wager that even a person whose only seen one Coen Brothers flick could tell you that. That’s why the opportunity for them to remake a somewhat-classic film, may bring groans and moans from their dearly-beloved fans, but it’s what the Coens want to do, and they do have a knack for choosing their fine pieces of material, so yeah, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us, right?!?!?

Well, kinda, sort of, not really, but yeah. Here, I’ll explain:

What these two guys specialize in is taking a genre that can be tired and conventional and spin it totally on its head. That’s sort of what they do here with this movie, but even when they don’t, it still seems like the guys know exactly what they’re doing, any given moment; it’s just whether or not we like seeing them go through the motions with it. For the most part, there was some enjoyment in seeing them go through the motions as they made their steps in the mud, here and there, but other times, it felt like they could have been doing so much more with this material. Almost like they took this job because they had nothing else better to do during ’04, so they thought, “Why the hell not?!?!?”

Could totally just see them sitting around for a cup 'o tea, if they weren't robbing some casino.

Could totally just see them sitting around for a cup ‘o tea, if they weren’t robbing some casino.

Still, I have to give it to the guys for at least knowing how to enjoy themselves, where they allow others to join in the fun as well. Even if the movie does feel repetitive, predictable and slightly unoriginal, you never get the sense that this wasn’t made by the Coens. Their trademarks are still in full-force (quirky characters, heist-gone-wrong, gospel music, long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue), but they don’t win you over quite as well as they used to, especially once the heist begins to get going.

Once the movie begins, we are introduced to the older, black widow, then we meet Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, then we get a montage of the other cats that will be joining in this heist, and that’s about it for the hype-up. Then, once we see them all, it’s on with the heist. It felt quick and ready-to-go, but for me, I need my heist to take it’s time of where it goes, just so I can get a feel for the characters, the plot and the actual heist at-hand. Here, it just seemed like the Coens weren’t ready to settle down and wanted to get right into the action, which makes sense since this isn’t a very serious piece of work, at first. However, once it does become that way and we start to see that these are characters we’re supposed to care for and understand, it never fully comes together as we’re never given anytime whatsoever to be with these guys or see who they are before the heist, during it, and after. Maybe I was asking a bit too much, but with the way things turned out at the end, I kind of felt like my feelings were understandable. At least to me, that is.

But these characters are memorable in their own ways, all because they have their own set of quirks that make them stand-out from the rest. However, they aren’t the finest creations the Coens have ever brought to screen. Take for instance, the character played by Ryan Hurst, Lump: The dude’s the quintessential dummy that plays football, doesn’t have much going for him in the brain-department and just stands around with his mouth open, barely saying anything at all. Why? Well, it’s simple: It’s because he’s too dumb to even know what’s going on. Once or twice, it’s funny, but knowing the Coens and knowing how they role with their goofy characters, by giving them a set of quirks and trademarks that fit perfectly well together with the rest of the movie, it feels as if these guys ran a out of ideas, and decided to go down that obvious-route. Nothing ill to say against Hurst because the dude is fine with this role, it’s just that the character gets annoying after awhile, and seems like the Coens were scratching their heads for ideas and just crapped the most conventional one out onto paper.

But, not everybody suffers from the same problem that Hurst does as Lump, because they all have good characters to work with and do what they can to make them work. Tom Hanks was a freakin’ laugh-out-loud riot as the silver-tongued gentleman, G.H. Dorr, and shows that the guy can practically play anything and make it work ten times better than you’d least expect it to. I know, it sounds crazy that I’d ever be doubting Hanks’ role in a movie, but there have been the occasional times where things haven’t always worked out for him. Here though, he’s fun, entertaining, charming and interesting to just listen to as you know there’s mroe than just a caricature behind that whole facade. You just know it. He uses a lot of big words, most of which will probably go over the smartest person’s head, but Hanks handles it all with perfection and seems like he actually does know these words, rather than just reiterating them in a way that’s attractive enough for the camera. Hanks is the anchor to this flick, and always seems to be having the time of his life. As he should, cause the dude’s one of the best working right now.

A random bit of casting here is Marlon Wayans as the brass, black dude that works at the casino these guys are planning to rob and is funny, but also a bit sympathetic as well, despite him always cursing and going on about one dude bringing his bitch to the Waffle Hut (trust me, it’ll make sense once you see it). I’m really surprised that Wayans gets choice roles in movies like this and Requiem for a Dream, yet, always goes back to making shit like this and that. I’ve never understand why so many acclaimed directors choose this guy to be in their movies, never understood why he’s been so good in them, but most of all, I’ve never understood why the hell he doesn’t just stay away from the crap he makes with his family. I get that you are supposed to be there through thick-and-thin with the familia, but when they begin to take your career down; you gotta move on and tell them you’ll see them at the next Christmas party.

Does knitting really excuse hearing?

Does knitting really excuse hearing?

Then again though, that’s just me. I guess I didn’t learn a single thing from the Godfather.

Rounding out the cast of characters is J.K. Simmons and Tzi Ma as the other fellas apart of this heist, and are both good. Simmons has impeccable comedic-timing that usually works in everything he does, and Ma rarely ever speaks but is funny, a bit goofy, and slightly intimidating as well. Both are good, but don’t leave much of an impression on you, as much as Irma P. Hall does as the widow these guys are staking out in. Hall is funny because she’s always yelling and complaining about something new, but also has a bit of a sweet side to her as well, where you can see that she’s a nice lady, but she’s just getting all old and alone. Sort of like all elders out there in the world. Difference between them and her, is that most of those folks aren’t getting robbed blindly by a bunch of random misfits.

Consensus: The Coens have done way, way better and far more original movies than the Ladykillers, but they still seem to be having fun, and allow the cast to do their thing. Not the most memorable one out of their flicks, but still a bunch of joy to be had.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

I'd prefer it to be raining this, but that's just me.

I’d prefer it to be raining this, but that’s just me.