Tag: jeff daniels

Paper Man


Paper Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Temporarily moving to Montauk was supposed to help Richard (Jeff Daniels), a writer working on his second novel, overcome writer’s block. Instead, he ends up not doing much and is interminably stuck on the first sentence that will shape the rest of his book. His wife, Claire (Lisa Kudrow), visits on the weekends and when she is away, a high school student named Abby (Emma Stone) comes over to babysit Richard and Claire’s non-existent child.

There is an effective drama about loss and loneliness in “Paper Man,” written and directed by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, but they are buried underneath lame and awkward attempts at humor. Though it wishes to embody a bittersweet comedy-drama about two people with a significant age gap, it fails to reach a balance and a proper rhythm necessary to convince us that whatever is unfolding is consistently genuine.

The comedic elements prevent the picture from reaching great heights. I felt embarrassed for Daniels, a very good actor, because his character is often the joke. He rides a bike that is too small for him. The camera lingers on how he struggles to make the bicycle move. He throws a party for teenagers and decorates the entire place as if he were hosting a child’s birthday celebration. The camera scans the house for flashy ornaments. The screenplay is desperate for a laugh.

One quirk that works is Richard, almost fifty years of age, still having an imaginary friend. Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero, cape and all, and he is there whenever Richard requires a boost of morale. Though Reynolds’ exaggeration tends to hit some bad notes, I was interested in the idea that our protagonist is so lonely and struggles so much with relating to people his age that he is willing to hold onto Captain Excellent even if the latter has hinted that maybe it is time to let go.

The central relationship is between Richard and Abby. Though separated by age and gender, they are alike in many ways. The picture dares to walk the line between a friendship and a sort of romance. For the most part, it is effective: Stone and Daniels have a way of playing upon their charm and using it almost as a defense mechanism when their respective characters are hurt by circumstances. However, I was disappointed that the screenplay takes a predictable avenue in that what Richard and Abby have is discovered by Claire—seeing them in an awkward position, no less.

“Paper Man” has great trouble remaining fresh. Though a person experiencing writer’s block and finding inspiration from a source he least expected is not new, there are moments here that ring true. It just does not seem to be aware of when to let go of a template. I liked the way Abby’s story involving a tragic loss is handled. Before she and the published author met, Abby confided with Christopher (Kieran Culkin) who eventually tells her that she is his life. Though the line may sound silly, just about anyone can tell he means it with every fiber of his being, that maybe she should be Christopher instead of Bryce (Hunter Parrish), the latter having a nasty habit of treating his girlfriend like a plaything.

Heartburn


Heartburn (1986)
★★ / ★★★★

Rachel (Meryl Streep) and Mark (Jack Nicholson), both single and successful, meet at a wedding. Rachel, a food critic, cannot help but notice Mark’s aggressive glances every time she looks his way so she asks her friends about him. It turns out that Mark is a hot shot columnist and has a certain… reputation with the ladies. The next thing she knows, he asks her for a drink, she coyly accepts, and they are married.

“Heartburn,” based on the novel and screenplay by Nora Ephron, surprised me because even though its core is about a wilting marriage, it is very much in touch with the effervescent angle of their relationship. That is, the comedy in the details of what Mark and Rachel share which show us that, at least for a time, it makes sense that the two of them decided to get married, that they did not jump into something for the sake of consoling an itch.

I enjoyed that the couple are painted as adults taking a part in a mature relationship but they are far from perfect and their situations, from the stresses of the renovation involving the dilapidated house they purchased to the increasing annoyance and ennui they start to feel toward one another, are not always ideal. Even though it appears as though they have more money and means than most couples, the screenplay allows us to identify with them through problems that a lot of partners, married or otherwise, have gone or might go through.

Streep and Nicholson are joyous to watch because there are times when their dialogue does not come across as scripted. For instance, when the two of them eat pizza and burst in song, I felt very awkward, at least initially, then gradually got into it and found the whole thing charming and delightful. Eventually, however, the film focuses on the heartbreak Rachel experiences when it finally clicks that her husband is having an affair and he is making a fool out of her.

I found the writing one-sided—which is frustrating. Since all the scenes of the affair happens off-screen, the blow of the infidelity, at least from our perspective, is softened. While we might feel bad for Rachel, we do not feel betrayed by him. Our lack of connection to the husband is strengthened further by the screenplay not allowing us to see or experience what he feels after his wife confronted him. There is almost a sense of unfairness because we watch them get into a relationship as two people coming together but the fallout is dealt with by taking sides.

Lastly, the friendship between Rachel and Richard (Jeff Daniels) is worth delving into but the picture does not make time to establish what makes their friendship work. And so when Rachel turns to Richard for consolation during her darkest trials, we are not moved or touched by what they share.

Nevertheless, I am giving “Heartburn,” directed by Mike Nichols, a marginal recommendation because there are moments in it that do ring true. The performances are strong but is incongruent with a screenplay that lacks consistent wit and focus.

Looper


Looper (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) does not mean for him, his future self, to get away, a momentary hesitation that allows Old Joe (Bruce Willis), sent from year 2074 by a criminal organization using a time machine to be executed and disposed of in 2044, to escape which prompts the boss (Jeff Daniels) to initiate a hunt to kill the two. It is the only way to minimize further changes in the future. The problem is Joe wishes to live a full life even though he already knows that being a looper, an assassin of the present assigned to murder people sent from the future, comes with an expiration date of age thirty. Meanwhile, Old Joe hopes to alter the past by killing a person called The Rainmaker in order to undo the death of his wife.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, “Looper” explores a handful of interesting and intertwining ideas about the people affected by time travel, outlawed by the government upon its discovery, and avoids many details and technicalities of the concept itself. There is a difference and it is an important one because by focusing on the former, the writer-director constructs a story that we can, first and foremost, invest in or care about and, secondly, appreciate a fictionalized world of flying motorcycles and people with the ability to move objects using their minds due to a genetic mutation that affects ten percent of the population.

I enjoyed that the interactions between current and future Joe are kept to a minimum. Their one conversation set in a diner is imbued with an electric dialogue that is ironic and funny but serious and intelligent, too. This scene is not only a stand out because of the script. It is the point when we can observe how alike–or different–the actors are with respect to them playing, essentially, the same person. One is able to match the other not simply in terms of quirks but, for example, how one delivers a calculating gaze to a threatening or curious figure. The way in which they place stresses on particular words are also fun to pick up on.

Though it was easy for me to divorce between actor and makeup, I would have preferred that Gordon-Levitt was not given prosthetics so that he would look more like Willis. Since the picture functions on a relatively high level of imagination, it would have made sense for the filmmakers to assume that we had the initiative and the capacity to imagine the two actors, given that their performances complement each other well, playing a variation of one character.

What works less effectively is that the script does not give enough details about the organization led by Abe (Daniels). Is its goal more related to business like running a drug cartel and strip joints or is its objective more concerned about the bodies that come from the future? Furthermore, while Abe is nicely played by Daniels because he tends to choose quiet over hyperbolic menace, we do not see the character do much other than give orders. For someone who is supposed to be the leader, he does an awful lot of waiting for everyone else to do their jobs right. Ultimately, watching him does not feel like we are being engaged with a character who has much purpose underneath the archetype of a mob boss of some sort.

“Looper” may be and is faulted for its irregular pacing particularly when the story takes a detour on a farm. I respected this change of pace because it ties in to the idea that the picture is not just a sci-fi action film padded by chases and bullets flying. It takes a risk worth noting. It gives itself a chance to turn its attention toward one or two moral questions by setting aside almost half of its entertainment value. This approach is not common but it sure is admirable.

Something Wild


Something Wild (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

Charles (Jeff Daniels) left a diner without paying for his lunch. Lulu (Melanie Griffith) ran after him and started asking him questions about his unpaid bill. Charles, guilt-ridden and insistent that it was an accident because he had a lot of things on his mind, assumed she worked in the diner. But she didn’t; she just happened to eat at the same place. She was attracted to his inner rebel so she invited him for a ride. Expecting that she would drop him off where he worked, Lulu took him to her hometown, the two posed as husband and wife, and attended a high school reunion. “Something Wild,” smartly written by E. Max Frye and skillfully directed by Jonathan Demme, was a fun and breezy romantic comedy with an edge. It started off like a typical screwball comedy with mistaken identities and an amusing trip to a cheap motel. Charles and Lulu were different but the same. Charles was bored of his life’s painful routine and more than welcomed Lulu’s exciting impulses. In bed, she liked to use handcuffs. Charles laughed with disbelief (and pleasure). I related with Charles more than I thought I would. Like him, I depend on routine because it’s safe and predictable. But then there are those moments when I crave to do something so out of character to remind myself that I’m alive and still in control. Half-way through, the tone turned darker when Ray (Ray Liotta), Lulu’s husband who recently got out of prison, bumped into the fake couple at the reunion. He wouldn’t believe that the two only met the day before. He was determined to show Charles and Lulu that despite being sent away, he still owned the girl like she was his convenient plaything. Demme’s direction was key. There was a critical transition between the light and dark tones. I find that most filmmakers, when handling pictures of hybrid genres, forget the importance of flow. Sometimes it makes or breaks the picture. Despite the thriller aspect in which Liotta was allowed to work his devilish magnetism, it stayed grounded in reality. Lulu wasn’t just a quirky girl prone to crazy antics. She knew when she crossed a line and wasn’t afraid to apologize for it. Charles was somewhat wimpy but he wasn’t promoted to vice president of the company he worked for if he didn’t know how to fight for what he wanted. As for Ray, despite his intense jealousy, there was complexity in his eyes. Jail hardened him, disappointed that life had moved on during his institutionalization, and he was desperate to find something that stayed the same. He expected Lulu would be that constant thing. She just wasn’t. We believed the growing affection between Charles and Lulu and we believed that their lives were in danger. Unpredictable, astute, and subtle, “Something Wild” had been unjustly forgotten. It reminds us that we should always be mindful of that rebel in us.

The Answer Man


The Answer Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Arlen Farber (Jeff Daniels), the author of the very popular book “Me and God,” decided to hide from the world because he was sick of people coming up to him and asking him questions about the being above and what they should do with their lives. When his back went out, he decided to see a chiropractor (the always charming Lauren Graham), unaware of the author’s identity, who happened to be a very protective mom of a boy (Max Antisell) who believed his father would come back for him in two weeks (he actually hasn’t returned in three years). Furthermore, a recovering alcoholic (Lou Taylor Pucci) learned who Arlen was and constantly asked guidance concerning where his life was going. The film had a very slow start and I have to admit that I almost gave up on it. Luckily, things finally started coming together in the last two-thirds of the picture and I eventually had an idea about what the movie tried to say about coincidences versus the actions we put in to achieve certain goals. However, the movie was supposed to be a comedy. I did not find it particularly funny or witty. I thought it was unfortunate because spirituality was a big part of the picture but it did not take advantage of that topic. It could have easily have been a satire (millions of people worshipped Arlen) but the movie had no idea what to do with itself. In the end, it was just a series of scenes that were sometimes awkward, sometimes cooky (considering Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings had small roles but both characters were very underdeveloped), and often forced. There was supposed to be a romantic angle between Daniels and Graham but they were in critical need of chemistry. I did not see why they would be interested in one another in the first place so when one of them finally made a move, I had a difficult time swallowing what I saw. I thought the movie worked best when there was friction between Daniels and Graham or when Daniels was just being a much-needed father figure for the boy. Written and directed by John Hindman, “The Answer Man” would have been a stronger project if it offered more answers than questions. For the past twenty years, Arlen lived a life of a recluse but the movie did not really peel away his layers. For instance, why was he so compassionate toward Graham’s character (aside from the fact that he had a crush on her) but the opposite toward others? Thinking of all the missed opportunities for the movie to be great makes me feel more disappointed. It had small moments of brilliance but they were not enough to save the entire work.

Arachnophobia


Arachnophobia (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

I love spiders. I used to capture and raise them when I was a kid. When I was bitten, it didn’t stop me from wanting to capture more, make them battle, and observe the way they ate. In “Arachnophobia,” an undiscovered killer spider from Venezuela hitched a ride in a coffin to terrorize a small town in the United States. The killer spider mated with a typical house spider and lived in the barn next to the house that a doctor (Jeff Daniels) and his family recently moved into. It didn’t help that the doctor had a great fear for spiders. Despite my adoration (and respect) for spiders, the film gave me the creeps. The director, Frank Marshall, craftily balanced horror and comedy. As the picture went on, it became scarier but at the same time the laughs were that much more pronounced. The comedy scenes worked because it relieved a lot of tension such as when a spider would sneak up on someone taking a shower. John Goodman’s performance was a catalyst because his mere presence elevated the funny bits. The picture expertly and confidently took advantage of vulnerable situations such as when a character would reach into a cereal box and expect to get food or when they would sit in a toilet. I didn’t find those scenes cheesy because the film established how dangerous the spiders were within the first few minutes. But at the same time, we were aware that these spiders did not take pleasure in killing; their actions were simply means of survival and colonization. What impressed me most was the final duel between man and spider. The filmmakers did a fantastic job weaving three elements that scared people most: darkness, enclosed spaces, and bugs. It was terrifying to watch but I couldn’t look away because I wanted to see how the protagonist could wiggle himself out of another dangerous position. The scene was relentless. I caught myself holding my breath when the doctor did not know where the spider was and voicing out advice about what he should have done next to lure or trick the spider. The jump-out-of-your-seats moments were efficient. Lastly, but most importantly, the film had an after effect. After I finished the movie, I headed to the bathroom and from the corner of my eye, I saw a black figure on the floor. For a split-second, I thought it was a spider and I became very alarmed. For a person who normally adores spiders and then suddenly be scared of them, that’s when I know the film had done something right.