Curtis (Shannon) lives in small-town America with his wife Samantha (Chastain) and their young daughter Hannah (Stewart). He has a good job in a quarry, which provides insurance so Hannah can get an operation to restore her hearing. But Curtis begins to suspect that his mind is slipping, rather like his schizophrenic mother (Baker). As his nightmares become increasingly horrific and vivid, he starts to become paranoid about a coming storm. And no one understands why he insists on building an underground shelter next to the house.
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On paper, the treacle-meter for The Soloist is nearly off the charts. But while Wright (Atonement) hasn't fashioned anything like a classic, and the screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) is frequently thin on motivation, the film is not even close to the disaster that it should have been. This is higher praise than it may sound.
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This is a film that starts off with some agreeable, professional trashiness before settling into routine. This is not to say that the opening, with meek, lonely accountant Jonathan (McGregor) striking up a friendship with the slick Wyatt (Jackman), is entirely smooth going. Almost immediately, the movie suffers from casting the sly, handsome McGregor as a fumbling nebbish. The guy has both acting chops and charisma; naturally, several of his Hollywood roles ask him to trade both for an American accent. Hopefully he meets up with Colin Farrell and James McAvoy to commiserate -- or maybe he swapped stories on-set with Jackman, another good-looking overseas bloke who has alternated terrific performances with bouts of blandness.
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As usual with Sayles, there's a hard knot of a good story here. The film is named for the town's Honeydripper Lounge, a ramshackle affair that serves up a good fried chicken affair but whose old blues singer can't compete with the jukebox R&B getting blasted by the competition down the street. Danny Glover plays the owner, Pine Top Purvis, a piano player with a violent past who's in debt to everyone in town and about out of chances. His last one is a New Orleans hot shot named Guitar Sam who's got a radio hit and is booked to play the Honeydripper on Saturday; only problem is, when the train shows up, Guitar Sam is nowhere to be found, even though Purvis has plastered the town with ads. The whole thing is a scramble, with Purvis frantically (well, not frantically, maybe busily; it is the old South, after all, and things take time) working every last hustle he can to stay ahead of the creditors and the corrupt sheriff (Stacy Keach, playing it more for laid-back humor than menace) who will shut him down if he can't find somebody who looks and plays like Guitar Sam to show up on Saturday. Maybe that handsome fella who just hopped off the train and is chatting up Purvis' daughter could do the trick...
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The stories are all over the map. Alicia Witt tells a short piece about her first time. Kimberly Williams tells a long piece about a tryst with a Greek waiter. Most of the stories involve being spurned by the man -- whether it's a one-night stand or a long-time relationship. While they're all fictional (and I'm assuming Rodrigo García is a man), they come off as extremely real, with a good half of the actresses appearing on the verge of tears during their monologues.
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Jackie Brown is a potboiler, and a fairly good one at that, but those looking for slam-bang Tarantino action like that seen in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs will be disappointed, and sorely so.
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Nine Lives opens strong on Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), an imprisoned mother. Mopping up a floor, she's threatened by fellow prisoners, and harassed by a guard (Miguel Sandoval) who's convinced she can give him information. Everyone tells Sandra she's not going to make it, but you think she just might be able to, hunkering down turtle-like and just plowing through the rest of her sentence. But then her daughter visits, and the phone doesn't work, sending Sandra into a stunning explosion of rage, like a mother bear kept from her cub. It's a short, unrelentingly powerful story, and done by itself it would stand as a sublime little tragedy. The same goes for the final piece, in which Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning (hardly a better match could be imagined) visit a cemetery and talk with sublime ease about not much at all. But then comes the rest of the film in between.
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This new version of Hamlet, directed by Campbell Scott (The Spanish Prisoner) and Eric Simonson does just that, and beautifully so. The setting is Americanized (the post-Civil War-era South), the production design simple, and nobody is forcing an accent unknown to them. It makes you want to scrounge for the books you packed away in high school because you didn't feel like figuring them out at the time.
Continue reading: Hamlet (2001) Review