On September 11th 2001, the America was hit by one of the worst tragedies imaginable; the attack of the World Trade Center. As much as the victims and their families and friends were affected by the horror, so too were the families of a small group of the nation's troops.
The very next day the government formed Task Force Dagger; a team of 12 soldiers including CIA paramilitary officers and a US Special Forces group called the US Army Green Berets Operational Detachment Alpha 595 (ODA 595).
They would be immediately deployed to Afghanistan under the leadership of Captain Mitch Nelson (played by Chris Hemsworth and inspired by the real life Mark Nutsch), who is determined to bring every single one of his comrades back home alive. To have any hope of taking down the Taliban forces that have turned their conflict on to the States, they must team up with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, who provide the overseas team with some much needed companions: horses.
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It's 1963 and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) has spent her life trying to be as normal as possible, despite the fact that people rarely see her that way. She is a mute, which means there are few career opportunities for her at that time. But she does manage to land a job at a top secret government laboratory as a janitor, her brief being to get in, clean up and get out. Her life of silent solitude has left her curious to what's going on at her workplace, however, and she soon discovers that her bosses are hiding something deeply disturbing.
In a large tank of water she discovers a humanoid alien of sorts (Doug Jones), scaly and amphibious, and something about him makes her feel sympathy for him. She decides to visit him everyday, teach him about the world and how to communicate in the only way she knows how. She feels a bond with him; both of them are essentially trapped in the same lab, and both are thought of by society as outcasts in one way or another. But Elisa is in no danger of being dissected for science.
Her boss, Strickland (Michael Shannon), has no empathy for this incredible Amazonian creature. He is only interested in what he can gain from his prisoner. Elisa has no choice but to plan an rescue mission, though if she succeeds she'll surely be caught and arrested. But this isn't about being brave, it's about being human.
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Michael Shannon and Kate Arrington at the 89th Annual Academy Awards (Oscars 2017) held at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center - Los Angeles, California, United States - Sunday 26th February 2017
While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America, it's also a remarkably involving true story about a couple tenaciously holding on to each other in the middle of a storm of oppression. By taking such a personal approach, writer-director Jeff Nichols grounds the movie in authenticity, eliciting fine performances from the entire cast, with especially notable turns from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.
It's 1958, and cross-racial marriage is illegal in Virginia. So Richard Loving (Edgerton) takes his pregnant black girlfriend Mildred (Negga) across the state line to Washington D.C. to get married. When they return to the family farm, they're immediately arrested and exiled to Washington, where they start a family. But Mildred longs to raise their three children back in their rural hometown, with their extended families around them. When Richard consults a civil-liberties lawyer (Nick Kroll), he finds that there may be some legal hope for them if they are willing to take on the system. This requires the help of a constitutional expert (Jon Bass) and the tenacity to stand up to a century of ingrained prejudice.
The film is written and directed with a sharp attention to detail, which means including some facts that are rather messy. This sometimes leaves scenes feeling unfinished, but the point is that real life isn't as tidy as it is in the movies. This also means that the film never tries to build a melodramatic sense of momentum, remaining intimate and somewhat reticent, echoing Richard and Mildred's personalities. Many of the biggest scenes take place off camera, while we are instead watching these steely, softspoken people who changed American law by quietly remaining true to their love for each other. Both Negga and Edgerton deliver subtle, wrenching performances as everyday people who express their strong views mainly in telling glances and touches that say more than words ever could.
Continue reading: Loving Review
It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing debut A Single Man, and it's no surprise that his second film is just as exquisitely beautiful to look at. What's unexpected is the complexity of the storytelling. Adapted by Ford from Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, this movie has three sides to it: a romantic drama, a darkly personal odyssey and a freaky thriller. These elements kind of fight for the audience's attention, but they're sharply played and packed with intense emotion.
Set in Los Angeles, everything revolves around gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams), who lives in a spectacular home with her banker husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), who's facing financial problems. Susan is shocked when she receives a manuscript by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has finally finished his long-gestating novel. But as she reads it, she realises that their break-up inspired the story, and she pictures Edward in the central role as Tony, a man travelling through Texas with his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), who are kidnapped and brutalised by roadside thugs led by the unstable Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). So Tony teams up with jaded detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) to track them down.
The film's central narrative is Susan's deeply internalised discovery of her own dark soul, which plays out both in her scenes with Hutton and figuratively in the fictional thriller narrative. All of these things take complex twists and turns that have vivid moral shadings. But of course the Wild West action element continually steals focus from the more understated personal drama. In this sense, Gyllenhaal has the trickiest role, or rather two roles, as the story's catalyst and victim. Meanwhile, Adams is strikingly transparent as Susan, engaging in jagged interaction with both Gyllenhaal's enigmatic Edward and Hammer's eerily heartless Hutton.
Continue reading: Nocturnal Animals Review
This movie is based on a real meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon in the White House in December 1970. The only details about this collision of two icons come from a few eyewitness accounts, as well as the photograph they took together. So the screenwriters have some fun with it, weaving in quite a bit of comedy that encourages actors to chomp merrily on the scenery. It's entertaining to watch, but the script misses the chance to add meaning on the situation.
Elvis (Michael Shannon) is the one who initiates this meeting, concerned about the growing protests on the streets of Washington, DC. So he flies to Los Angeles to collect his long-time friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) then heads to the capital to meet with his nutty colleague Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) and pitch himself to President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) as an undercover FBI agent who can infiltrate the nation's youth. Since it's obvious that all Elvis wants is a federal ID badge, Nixon brushes the whole idea of a meeting aside until his advisors (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) convince him that it would be a great PR move. So just before Christmas, the two men finally meet up, and they discover that they have more in common than either expected.
Because of the absurdity of the set-up and the wackiness of the period styles, the movie feels rather a lot like an extended sketch comedy that's largely improvised by an up-for-it cast. These two men are both such big personalities that a meeting like this would be hard to believe if it weren't for the photographic evidence. The conversation between Presley and Nixon is surreal and hilariously random (and largely fictionalised). Shannon and Spacey are having a great time prowling around each other, pouncing with a punchline at every opportunity, so watching them is riveting. Mercifully, they underplay the impersonations, capturing the men with tiny details of movement and vocal inflection rather than relying on lots of make-up. Although Shannon does have that hair and costume.
Continue reading: Elvis & Nixon Review
It may seem like a bizarre fantasy, but Elvis & Nixon is based on a true event in 1970, when Elvis Presley visited Richard Nixon in the White House.
Inspired by an iconic photograph of Nixon shaking Presley's hand and appointing him as an honorary federal drug-enforcement agent, the screenwriter spun the meeting into a full-on screwball comedy. Kevin Spacey plays Nixon in the film, and notes that "while this was such a famous meeting, it wasn't recorded. So in a way it allowed us, and certainly the screenwriter, to be able to imagine what a lot of this conversation was. First-hand witnesses were helpful in terms of snippets, but I think it was expanded. And that's sort of the fun of it, that we could imagine it."
Michael Shannon plays Presley in the movie, and Spacey says that both actors decided not to do impersonations on-screen. "These are two figures who, obviously, people know," Spacey says. "There's so much public stuff but not that much private stuff, so we tried to find an essence of each of these figures and then allow them to respond to each other genuinely. I think what was most interesting was the fact that these two people you wouldn't think would have anything in common actually, at the end of this meeting, had sort of an appreciation for each other."
Continue reading: Michael Shannon And Kevin Spacey Bond As Elvis & Nixon
Ever since Chris, Ethan and Isaac were young, the trio of friends have always spent the run-up to Christmas together, as the years have gone by their Christmas eve reunion has become harder to manage and this year is no exception, with Chris living the highlife as a celebrity and Isaac soon to become a father, the trio decide that this year they're going to have a huge blowout.
The three guys might be approaching middle age but that's not going to stop them from having fun, this year they're convinced that they're going to find the Nutcracka Ball - piece de resistance in Christmas Parties.
The Night Before was written and directed by Jonathan Levine who also directed 50/50 and Warm Bodies starring Nicoholas Hoult. The film also sees the one and only Miley Cyrus making a cameo appearance.
This harrowing morality play is timely and riveting, but never remotely subtle. The setting is the mortgage crisis, during which savvy fast-talkers figured out how to make a fortune on the back of other people's tragedy. It's strikingly written and directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani with an attention to internalised detail, revealing an aspect of Western culture that's deeply disturbing.
It's 2010, and the economy is in freefall as families and small businesses struggle to survive. When Florida builder Dennis (Andrew Garfield) loses his job, he has no idea how he'll support his mother and son (Laura Dern and Noah Lomax). Unable to pay their inflated mortgage, they're evicted from the family home by ruthless estate agent Rick (Michael Shannon). Then Rick sees something in Dennis that he admires, and hires him to do some building work, eventually taking him under his wing and teaching him how to profit from the record number of repossessions. But this means taking advantage of government grants, banking loopholes and people whose lives have collapsed. And it isn't long before it starts eating away at Dennis.
Garfield gives an open, searching performance as this desperate young father who's grasping at any lifeline he can find for his family. It's a complex, difficult character, mainly because his moral dithering sits in contrast to Shannon's flashier, shark-like Rick, who's often scary in the way he's able to avoid empathising with people in pain. In a much smaller role, Dern is the polar opposite, a warm blast of straight-arrow morality who continually prods her son to do the right thing. Yes, these characters are somewhat constructed as three points in a triangle, but they beautifully highlight the issues involved. And the actors dig deep into the emotional ramifications.
Continue reading: 99 Homes Review
Dennis Nash is a struggling single father whose life is turned upside down when he's evicted from his home by a corrupt real-estate broker named Rick Carver. Facing life on the streets, Dennis is forced to work for Carver in the hope of reclaiming his home, but how will he cope carrying out the same ruthless eviction techniques that were used on him? As Dennis falls deeper into Carver's web, relationships suffer and his situation becomes more dangerous than he could have imagined.
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Laurel Hester is a high-ranking New Jersey police detective who is hugely respected at work. While she never fails to earn recognition for her police services, she also manages to catch the eye of a young woman almost 20 years her senior. Stacie Andree's career is less high-flying but the pair find themselves connecting over their shared idyllic fantasies of a home and true love. However, their dreams are about to be shattered when Hester is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, but she wishes to soften the blow by passing on her pension benefits to her Andree, so that she can afford to continue living in their new home. However, under Ocean County laws this is not possible for domestic partners - only married couples, and this is pre-marriage equality reforms. The couple implore the New Jersey Board of Chosen Freeholders to help sort this issue out, but as Hester grows ever weaker, it seems they're running out of time. With the help of Hester's supportive colleague Dane Wells and a gay Jewish activist named Steven Goldstein (the founder of Garden State Equality), they set out to defend the rights of same-sex couples across the state.
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