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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Vivian Kalinov

Café Society (2016)

Hollywood was so much better when people drank all the time.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Jew living in New York during the 30’s. He’s not very inspired with his life there and even if he can join his brother (Corey Stoll)’s line of business, he opts not to, in hopes that he’ll make it big in Hollywood once he gets there and hooks up with rich and successful uncle Phill (Steve Carell). While it takes awhile for Bobby and Phill to eventually meet, when the two do get together, Bobby gets a chance to meet the nice, lovey and sweet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) – a gal Bobby becomes smitten with right away. After all, she’s the opposite of everything Hollywood stands for – she’s pure, original and not at all expecting to be rich, famous, or on the silver-screen. The two end-up hitting it off, even if Vonnie has a boyfriend already, which makes Bobby try even harder for her heart. Little does Bobby know, however, that Vonnie isn’t just going out with anyone in particular – she’s going out with someone very near and dear to Bobby. Someone that will change Bobby’s life and aspirations altogether.

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

Another year and guess what? Another mediocre Woody Allen movie. That seems to be the general theme with Woody’s past few movies over the last couple of years; while none of them have ever been “awful”, the haven’t been as nearly “outstanding” as we’re sometimes used to expecting from Woody. Gone are the days of Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and her Sisters – now, we have to get used to more Woody Allen movies like Café Society.

Which, in all honesty, isn’t such a terrible thing, because the movie is actually quite nice.

This isn’t to say that it’s “great” by any means, but what Café Society does, and does well, mind you, is give us that sense of old-Hollywood nostalgia that, yes, can be a tad bit corny, but also feels genuine and allows you to feel closer to these characters and these settings. Of course, old-timey Hollywood is no new territory for Woody to explore, but he gets a lot of mileage of this time and place, showing us how most of the people back in the day who came to Hollywood, all expected to fame and fortune right off the bat – like the sort of place where dreams are made of.

And yes, I know that Woody has already covered this sort of ground in his movies before, but it still sort of works. There’s a certain balance that he’s able to find between “nostalgia” and “corniness” that’s surprising; we’d all assume for Woody to lose his touch and just start making more and more annoying mistakes, but nope, he surprisingly knows what can work for the audience, and how much mileage you can get out of a conventional story, so long as you inject with some humor, heart and most of all, interesting characters.

Though Café Society may not have the most illusive and spell-binding characters to date, what helps most of them is that the actors in the roles are good enough that they make them more compelling than they actually have any right to be.

Case in point: Jesse Eisenberg. As a Woody Allen surrogate this time around, Eisenberg gets a few things right – he knows how to be neurotic without over-doing it, and he knows how to deliver a lot of Woody’s tongue-twisters that aren’t at all genuine, but are still sometimes entertaining to hear. But then, halfway around the midpoint, Eisenberg’s character and performance changes, to where he’s more grown-up, angrier and, well, more adult. It’s a hard transition to pull off in a Woody Allen movie, but Eisenberg does well with it, as he shows that he’s able to get as much out of this thinly-written character as he can.

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

Kristen Stewart’s pretty good, too, as Vonnie; for the third time, her and Eisenberg are together on-screen and they make it work. There’s a genuine chemistry between the two and you can tell that they help the other when push comes to shove. Though Bruce Willis was initially cast in the role, Steve Carell works just fine as Phill, a mean, sometimes conniving Hollywood agent. Sometimes, he can occasionally sound a little too modern, given the time and place of the story, but because Carell’s comedic-timing is impeccable, it still works.

And the rest of the cast is quite solid, too. That’s something that Woody has never lost his knack for, thankfully. However, if there is an issue with Café Society is that, yes, it does unfortuntaely feel like a whole bunch of previous ideas and themes that Woody has worked with in the past, cobbled-up together to make something that’s a lot like his other films and is sort of made-up as it goes along. In a way, you almost get the sense that Woody had some sort of idea to start with, got enough money and star-power to film it all, and just filled in the blanks once the last-act came around.

There’s no problem with that, but sometimes, a story needs to be mapped-out a whole lot better and not just feel like another wasteful opportunity for someone to make a movie for no reason.

Consensus: Light, funny, well-acted, and surprisingly heartfelt, Café Society hits a sweeter spot in the Woody Allen catalog that may not light the world on fire, but still works and shows that he’s got the goods.

6.5 / 10

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They're damn-near inseparable!

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They’re damn-near inseparable!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Demolition (2016)

DemolitionposterSometimes, you literally just have to destroy your life.

After the tragic death of his wife, Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) shuts down. Everything in his life has been so calculated and planned for so long – from the time he wakes up, to who he talks to on the train, etc. – that when it seems like he has nothing holding him back or together, he just loses all control. He starts slacking off at work, stops shaving, begins saying inappropriate things in public situations, working for free at construction sites, and seems to be channeling all of his sadness and insecurity through countless letters he sends to a local vending-machine company. Why? Well because, when his wife is in the hospital, he tried to get a pack of M&M’s and it didn’t budge. Regardless, an employee at the vending-machine company, Karen (Naomi Watts), finds these letters touching, which leads her to reaching out to Davis. Even though they’re both a bit awkward with one another at first, eventually, the two start to hit it off, with Davis hanging around the house more often, getting to know Karen’s son (Judah Lewis) who’s going through his own identity crisis of sorts. Together, the two figure out life and where to go next.

Jake is sad.

Jake is sad.

As with mostly every movie, there’s three-acts in Demolition; two are pretty good, but one is quite awfully terrible. The first and last act both work well, balancing a fine line between comedy and tragedy that never plays one hand too much, nor does it seem to overstay its welcome. There’s actual sadness to the drama and a heart to the comedy, as dark as it may sometimes get.

But in between the first and last act is the middle, and man oh man, it’s pretty crummy.

No matter how hard I get on Demolition, there’s no denying that Jake Gyllenhaal is great throughout it all. Over the past few years, we’ve really seen Gyllenhaal come into his element as one of our more solidly interesting actors who isn’t afraid to screw around with his image, just for the sake of taking on a role that challenges him to go deeper and further than ever before. Here, as Davis, Gyllenhaal doesn’t really stretch his wings nearly as much as he’s done in say something, like, Prisoners, or most especially, Nightcrawler, but he still does an effective job. Because Davis is, essentially, sleepwalking through his life when we first meet him, the transformation he goes through and makes from being a sad, relatively repressed person, to letting loose, having fun and acting wild, is believable, if only because of Gyllenhaal’s talents as an actor. We shouldn’t totally care for Davis, but because Gyllenhaal gives us an actual, bleeding heart to the character, we feel a lot closer to him and understand the pain and sadness he’s feeling.

But sadly, the movie isn’t always up to Gyllenhaal’s talents. For example, it has a very odd tone that doesn’t always know what it wants to be, do, or say. At first, what Demolition seems to be is a tragic-comedy that deals with certain serious issues like death and depression, but also wants to look at them with a witty eye. At first, the mix and mash between humor, heart and sadness, actually works; the jokes poke fun at the idea of being sad, while also not insulting the characters all that much to where it feels or seems inappropriate. There’s a fine line that’s tread here in Demolition, and director Jean-Marc Vallée, for awhile at least, doesn’t overstep.

Until, of course, he does.

What happens in the middle-act is that the movie gets rid of its serious and sometimes depressing tone, and instead, just totally go for the comedy. This can sometimes be fine, as ling as your comedy is funny, effective, relatable, and most importantly, not annoying. Issue is, the comedy in Demolition, without any sort of dramatic or serious context, can be unfunny, ineffective, unrelatable, and incredibly annoying.

Obviously, this is a problem for the characters, as well as the plot. Gyllenhaal’s Davis begins to act out so erratically, whether he’s dancing through the busy streets of New York City, or getting nails stuck in his foot without getting tetanus shots, which are all played up for har-har laughs, that you never for a second believe it. Sure, the character is sad and needs some sort of release to get his spirit out, but there comes a point when you overdo it and you’re just trying to make as many laughs as you can happen, without ever retaining any of your original sense of heart or drama.

But the movie introduces Naomi Watts’ and Judah Lewis’ characters and, yes, it gets a tad bit worse. Watts’ character almost doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and because her chemistry with Gyllenhaal is so weak, it sort of feels like she doesn’t even need to be here. Granted, it’s nice to see Watts play with a lighter, more fun role for a change, but her character is so ham-fisted into the plot that she almost doesn’t feel like a real person, despite saying that she’s sad and heartbroken just like Gyllenhaal’s Davis.

Naomi is happy.

Naomi is happy.

And Judah Lewis’ character, despite seeming very well-intentioned, does not work in this movie.

Nothing against Lewis, or his acting abilities, but the character is the typical, conventional angsty teen who is having a bit of an identity crisis, clearly has daddy issues, curses a lot, thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is, and doesn’t always know how to handle his emotions. While the scenes between him and Gyllenhaal are supposed to be sweet and endearing, they somehow feel oddly off, where it seems like every scene could lead to Lewis’ character either trying to kiss, or kill Gyllenhaal’s. It even gets to a point where the characters go out into the middle of the woods to shoot a pistol and I couldn’t help but think someone was going to take a dirt nap by the end of the scene.

But thankfully, as bad as it gets, eventually, the movie does pick itself back up in the last act, ending on a sweet, somewhat heartfelt note. The comedy starts to fall back a bit more, the heart starts to get bigger, and the acting gets toned down a tad bit. Oh, and Chris Cooper starts to show up more and remind us why he’s everyone’s favorite father-figure. If anything, Demolition feels like the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but at the end of the day, still has enough to say to where it works.

Just not nearly as much as it should have.

Consensus: An odd, mostly uneven tone and weak middle-act keep Demolition from really hitting as hard as it wants to, even if the cast does try and there are some small moments of pure joy and sweetness.

5.5 / 10

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

But Jake is still sad, and with a saw. So look out!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hits (2015)

YouTube: The root of all evil.

Municipal worker Dave (Matt Walsh) is pissed-off about the fact that his local government won’t listen to him when he bitches, pleads and moans about the pot-hole that is out in front of his and is clearly throwing him into violent fits of rage. He gets so angry during one meeting, in fact, that he gets taken into custody and thrown into the slammer; which is also when he becomes something of a viral-video sensation. All of a sudden, a huge array of government-hating, skinny-jeans wearing hipsters want Dave to be their image and it’s the kind of fame that he doesn’t care for. Well, at least not as much as his daughter (Meredith Hagner) does, who, in her own world, wants to become the world’s next best singer and possibly get a spot on the Voice. Though she doesn’t fully understand the behind-the-scenes politics controlling certain shows like that, she’s still inspired enough to go through with her demo, by any means possible. Even if that means possibly losing her own sense of dignity in the process.

Here we have the directorial debut of David Cross who, in case you’ve never watched anything, like ever, is a pretty funny guy. He constantly takes projects that allow him to use his sometimes odd comedic-timing to his advantage, and his stand-up, believe it or not, is sometimes even better and more hilarious. So the idea of him getting his own movie, where he’s able to say, do and try whatever the hell he wants, made me feel as if the funniest movie of the year had arrived – as early as it is, no less.

"You're out of order!"

“You’re out of order!”

Problem is, it’s far from being that. In fact, it’s quite far from even being funny.

Sure, some bits of Cross’ movie is funny, especially the bits where he really digs deep and dirty into the self-entitled, wannabe-lives of these hipsters that jump onto to the next hot-button issue like a pack of leeches, but other than that, there’s not much here to bust a gut over. This is, essentially, Cross’ hour-and-a-half soap-box, where instead of a mic and stage, he’s assembled a whole group of actors, to make the points for him. Which isn’t so bad when you have a cast as funny and charming as this, but you expect so much more. Not just from them, either – mainly him!

Mostly, what Hits is, is a chance for Cross to complain and look down on today’s generation; the kind of generation that is more willing to stare into whatever screen for hours-on-end, rather than open up a book or two and learn something about the world. While I don’t particularly disagree with the points Cross is making here, a lot of it is hard to get behind when all he seems to be doing is ranting to nobody else, but us. Sure, there’s something of a story and characters here, but does it really matter when they’re just sitting in for what it is that you want to say, and about whom? From the looks of Hits, nope, it really doesn’t.

And if you can’t already tell by now, I’m a bit winded of having new, important things to say about this movie, for a reason – about half-way nearly through its run-time, Hits has the same problem. It loses all sense of character-development, focus, or even direction. Most of it is just scene, after scene, where a character acts like an idiot for the sake of the movie, so that Cross can get right back up and say, “Hey, you youngsters really tick me off.” That’s it. Had there been anything more, there would probably be a whole heck of a lot more to write about, but such is the problem here.

A movie that loses focus about half-way through itself, has a review of it that loses focus about half-way through, as well.

But, just because I’m a nice guy, I’ll continue to go on and at least highlight an aspect of this movie that does deserve some gratitude and that’s the ensemble. I’ll give credit to Cross for assembling such a talented list of acts here, because he does allow for some people to break through all of the rubble. The one I’m talking about the most is Matt Walsh as Dave, our very unlikely lead character. What’s so neat about Walsh here is that him basically being a one-dimensional caricature, albeit with some sweetness thrown in there for good measure, is that it allows for him to run rampant for as long as he wants to. It’s fun because Walsh hardly ever gets these leading roles and it showed me that, given the right script and character to work with, he could practically do some solid stuff. It’s all just a matter of time, I guess.

Sorry, Jason Ritter. You're too good-looking to pull off "metal bro".

Sorry, Jason Ritter. You’re too good-looking to pull off “metal bro”.

As for his daughter, played by Meredit Hagner, I’m afraid that even though she’s very good-looking and clearly down to get down and dirty with this material, her character is just so one-dimensional that we eventually lose any sight of her being an actual person. Same goes for James Adomian, as one of the main hipsters that first discovers Dave and his rage-filled tensions. Though Adomian is funny, there are some instances where the character seems to be hinting at something far more emotional, but the script never fully allows for that to come out. His wife, played by Erinn Hayes, is just constantly upset and having nervous breakdowns over the fact that she can’t have any children, and even though she only gets maybe five or six minutes of screen-time, she makes it work well enough to where we get an idea of her as a person, rather than just a cartoon.

Problem is, when there’s only one actual human being, in a sea of caricatures, and they’re given the least amount of screen-time, then there’s nobody to really attach yourselves to. You’re just left all alone, without anyone to connect to or care about. Probably how David Cross would want it to be.

Grumpy old bastard.

Consensus: Without much of a direction, Hits hardly goes anywhere, except getting David Cross’ point across a bit too bluntly.

4 / 10 

"Ugh. Like that was so two months ago, guys."

“Ugh. Like that was so two months ago, guys.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

Stay away from graveyards, people. They’re creepy enough as is.

Former NYC cop Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) used to be a total alcoholic. He’d wake up, go to his local bar, have a coffee, and then down two shots of liquor. However, one fateful day, that all changes and eight years later, he’s regularly attending AA meetings, living alone, eating at diners, and also turning in some work as a non-official private eye. One night he gets an offer and decides to seek it out: Find a group of serial killers that are kidnapping rich drug-dealer’s wives/loved-ones, ransoming money off of them, and yet, still taking the liberty of hacking these women up to little pieces. To them, it’s all fun and games, so when an actual drug-dealer (Dan Stevens) calls on Scudder to do this job for him, he doesn’t back away from it. After all, getting rid of a few serial killers in this world is a job well done, no matter how you do it. But Scudder eventually realizes that this job is going to be a bit more difficult and nerve-wracking than he would have liked, which is why he, whether he likes it or not, gets some assistance from a local homeless kid by the name of TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

And yet again, here we are, people, another “Liam Neeson kicks ass” kind of movie where he, yes, is a certain man, with a certain level of skills, takes it upon himself to go about utilizing those skills, shows that he’s a nice guy underneath the sometimes questionable-decisions he makes and, well, of course, tells the villains to, for lack of a better term, “fuck off”. Yes, these are the kinds of movies we can all expect from Liam Neeson right about now and while some can say that they’re bored by this and want him to go back to making Oscar-caliber films with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, or Martin Scorsese, the fact is, nope, Liam ain’t too bothered with any of them.

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin' nuts?!?!

Is this cat trying to interrogate Liam? What? Is he freakin’ nuts?!?!

He is, as they say in the biz, striking while the iron is hot and rather than trying something daring to make sure his “arthouse”-ish crowd is pleased with him, Liam is just going to stay and continue to make these typical, run-of-the-mill action-thrillers where he, yes, kicks plenty of ass.

However, that’s not to say any of them are bad and because most of them aren’t, I’m quite happy for Neeson. He’s the type of actor who, with his tall-frame and soft, yet still intimidating Scottish-accent, deserves many movies to be made where he’s, typically, the center of attention. Which is why he seems to be a perfect choice for Matthew Scudder; the type of troubled, somewhat crooked-cop that isn’t the nicest, nor the most moral of guys, but wants to see that he gets the job done, in the most efficient way possible. Meaning, that he wants to ensure no innocent people are killed while he is completing his various shady tasks.

But Scudder isn’t just a well-written character in the way that he’s well-rounded, he’s funny and shows a charming side to his sometimes grim personality that we know Neeson is capable of high-lighting every so often. To say that Neeson is great here, would almost be too obvious for me to even state, but here I am, stating that Neeson is great here and practically carries the movie on his own two, long, lanky shoulders.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t all that bad, because while Neeson helps it get through some rough patches (whenever the serial-killers pop-up, they’re pretty conventional and spend most of their scenes just being strange, in almost too-serious way to be not kidding), it’s writer/director Scott Frank who really makes this movie work. Something about this flick’s tone, the way it’s so hush-hush most of the time and how it doesn’t seem to glorify it’s over-the-top, grisly violence, yet still shows it in a derogatory light that he makes it seem like more than just “movie violence”, is what really made me think that Frank should make more movies. The dude’s already written my favorite Steven Soderbergh movie (Out of Sight) and actually had a pretty stellar directorial-debut of his own not too long ago (the Lookout), so why wait any longer, Scott? Let’s keep this a train a-goin’, man!

Anyway, like I was saying, Frank’s direction here is really genius and it brings a smile to my face knowing that there are certain film makers out there who still care about giving us genuinely tense, sometimes unpredictable thrillers. Thrillers that, mind you, don’t necessarily rely on how many times a gun is shot, or even how many bones are broken in a particular brawl – much rather, thrillers that take time to not only build the story it is trying to tell, but also give us some context in how we’re supposed to think of these characters as. Not all of these characters are great people here (most of them, drug dealers), but the movie doesn’t simply judge them on who they are, much more than on what it is that they do.

"I'm used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you'll do."

“I’m used to saving Jews and/or family members of mine, but I guess you’ll do.”

For instance, take the character of TJ who, in a lesser-movie, would have been the stereotypical smart-aleck-y, rather adorable kid that Liam Neeson’s character not only stumbles upon by pure chance, but even takes under his wing and make his new sidekick. Add on the fact that TJ is in fact black, and you’ve got yourself a walking, talking, breathing cliché just waiting to ruin your goddamn movie, not to mention your time! But somehow, TJ, nor anything surrounding him, seems to be written that way; he’s a simple orphan kid that is a bit punk-ish, but is still curious enough about how this world Scudder surrounds himself with, not just works, but how he can be apart of it without getting him, or anybody else killed. Not to mention the fact that this young guy, Brian “Astro Bradley, is very good in the role, making you feel sorry that he’s sort of left all by his lonesome, but also happy that he may, or may not, have a future hangin’ around this tall, New Yorker, with an Irish-accent.

I know I’m getting into this a bit more than I maybe should, but there was just a feeling I got with this movie that I haven’t gotten with a thriller in quite some time. Okay, that’s actually a lie, because a little bit of time ago, when I saw the Drop, I felt sort of the same way: A crime-thriller that takes its time to build momentum, as well as character-development. While those movies seem sort of neck-and-neck in my eyes, they’re both clear-as-day examples of what can happen when you take a simple story revolving around thugs, doing thuggish-like things, and make it as detailed as humanly possible, without ever overly-boring the audience, nor giving them enough to where they can expect everything to happen as clearly as they may have predicted it as being straight from seeing the advertisements for it.

So, once again I say this: Scott Frank, continue to make movies. You’ll make me a very happy man and most of all, a very happy movie-goer.

Consensus: With extra-attention paid to the look, feel, and characters that inhabit its slightly unnerving story, A Walk Among the Tombstones is, yet again, another winner for Liam Neeson and his seemingly unfazed streak right now, except a lot smarter and wiser this time around.

8 / 10 = Matinee!! 

"Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see."

“Great. Gotta fuck more shit up today, I see.”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images