Nicolas Cage gives a rare internalised performance in this atmospheric drama, which has a stronger sense of its location than it does of its story. It's been so long since Cage has been this good that we've almost forgotten that he can do it (see Adaptation or of course Leaving Las Vegas). And he shares the screen beautifully with rising-star Tye Sheridan (Mud) in this strikingly observational tale about second chances.
It's set in the rural South, where Joe (Cage) is an ex-con who has rebuilt his life as a contractor. His big job at the moment is to kill trees on land being developed outside a small town. While Joe is haunted by his past, he is respected by his work crew. His only companions are his faithful dog and a prostitute (Adriene Mishler) who serves as his makeshift girlfriend. Then the 15-year-old Gary (Sheridan) arrives looking for work, and Joe takes him under his wing. Gary's father G-Daawg (Gary Poulter) is a waste-of-space drunk who causes trouble everywhere he goes, leaving the family to live squatting in a falling-down house. Joe can identify with this troubled situation, and Gary needs a real father figure, so the two begin to rely on each other.
This is about as far as the film's narrative goes, apart from a side strand that cranks into gear to push things into a somewhat overwrought final act. This relates to Joe's violent past refusing to fade away, as a local thug (Ronnie Gene Blevins) continually goads Joe to revive a long-simmering feud. Which of course threatens the delicate balance of his positive friendship with Gary. Cage and Sheridan are terrific as the soft-spoken tough-guy mentor and his fiercely determined protege who help put each others' lives into focus. And the surrounding actors are strikingly authentic, especially non-actor Poulter as the relentless loser G-Daawg, a performance made even more poignant with the news that Poulter died while living on the streets shortly after filming finished.
Continue reading: Joe Review
For this low-key comedy-drama, writer-director David Gordon Green harks back to the quirky charms of his 2003 gem All the Real Girls (rather than the overt silliness of Pineapple Express or The Sitter). This is an astute story about two men who are begrudgingly forced to look at the truth about themselves while isolated from the rest of society. It's a simple idea, beautifully shot and acted.
Set in 1988, the story centres on Alvin (Rudd), who hires his girlfriend's brother Lance (Hirsch) to work with him one summer repairing a rural stretch of Texas highway that was damaged by wildfires. These two guys have nothing in common, but share a tent as they move along the road and work through their private issues. Lance just wants someone to love, and is annoyed that he can't get a girl during weekend trips to town. And Alvin is so devoted to his girlfriend that her break-up letter comes as a deep shock. So now there's nothing really holding these two guys together aside from their pathetic loneliness.
Both Rudd and Hirsch give offhanded, natural performances that play up the comical clashes between them while hinting at much darker issues gurgling beneath the surface. Neither is very good at striking up a conversation, and their awkward interaction is both hilarious and realistically messy. But they don't have many other people to talk to. Although there's a trucker (LeGault) who provides a super-strong homemade hooch, and they have a haunting encounter with a woman (Payne) who lost everything in the fire.
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Even though he's essentially a pampered slacker, Abe (Gelber) exudes confidence, relentlessly going after the depressed Miranda (Blair) despite her hesitance. Living in the shadow of his successful doctor brother (Bartha), Abe works for his father (Walken), but does virtually nothing and resents the fact that his hard-working cousin (Booth) gets the credit. But then Abe feels hard-done by everyone he encounters, creating an arch-rival in Miranda's ex (Mandvi). But at no point does Abe's inner life come close to the reality around him.
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With an all-new cast, it feels almost like a jazz riff, playing with the characters and themes and sending them in new directions. And it's both hilarious and clever.
When she realises that her husband (Williams) hasn't overcome his urge to make obscene phone calls, Joy (Henderson) heads to Florida to see her sister Trish (Janney), who has told everyone that her husband Bill (Hinds) has died. But he's actually in prison for abusing a young boy. Trish is now seeing a nice Jewish man (Lerner) and being a bit too honest with her son Timmy (Snyder).
Continue reading: Life During Wartime Review
Directed by Rolf de Heer, Alexandra's Project is minimalistic and very formal. The actors, after a brief introductory section, have almost no interaction together, and it's basically a one man show as husband Steve (Gary Sweet) attempts to figure out exactly what his wife is going on about, and ultimately where she is. The wife, Alexandra (Helen Buday, whom some may recognize from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), starts out simply, discussing their basic problems, but eventually it gets into issues of sexism, fidelity, and ultimately compassion. She does, ultimately, take off her clothes for him, but the effect is strangely unnerving after she's brought up her mastectomy, and the possibility that another person (and not her husband) may be behind the camera watching her undress.
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Imagine hateful movies like Ladder 49, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle as being one kind of deceptive lie about the world. The kind that oversimplifies human beings, pretending we are more beautiful or powerful or good or wholesome than we actually are. Imagine sitcoms that paint a picture of us as having perfect jobs, clothes, houses, and bodies. Those are the kinds of films and media that independent film purportedly rebels against. And Todd Solondz takes it so far in the opposite direction that he paints pictures of the ugly and the lost, then asks us to mock them, and say that there's no hope. Palindromes is just as loathsome as the worst kind of lie Hollywood or television has duped us with, because it's duping us just as much in a different way. It smears us in cinematic dogshit, then says, "Isn't that horrible?"
Continue reading: Palindromes Review