Gifted director Jeff Nichols takes on another genre in his fourth film with actor Michael Shannon, after Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud. This one's an involving character-based sci-fi adventure made in the style of classic films like E.T. or Close Encounters. As the characters are thrown into an extraordinary situation, the story gradually reveals its fantastical secrets without resorting to the usual overblown blockbuster formula, which makes the movie remarkably resonant and genuinely thrilling.
Shannon plays Roy, a man who is on the run across Texas with his 8-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), who's now a state trooper. And the FBI is on their trail, investigating the religious cult they escaped from. Led by the defiant Calvin (Sam Shepard), the cult seems to have been centred around the unusual ability Alton has to gather information from government satellites. Which is why the FBI is so intent on tracking him down. Working with the FBI, NSA Agent Sevier (Adam Driver) is fascinated by Alton's abilities, and he begins to worry what might happen if the boy is captured. Meanwhile, Roy and Lucas have reunited with Alton's mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and are continuing their journey across the American South. And time is clearly of the essence, since Alton is growing seriously ill.
Writer-director Nichols skilfully keeps the audience gripped by the central mystery, dropping in hints and revelations along the way that slowly build up to the final big picture. This forces the viewer into the same perspective as the characters, who don't have a clue what's going on but are gripped by the possibilities of what they're witnessing. This also makes it impossible to predict where the story might go next as it cycles through action, humour, emotion and exhilarating drama. Through all of this, the actors all offer beautiful textures in their characters, underplaying even the most intense scenes to make them feel strikingly realistic.
Continue reading: Midnight Special Review
Coarse and not exactly subtle, this dark drama might disappoint viewers expecting a more traditional revenge thriller, but there's something more interesting going on here. And even though it starts at full volume and only gets more intense, the film is actually remarkably thoughtful and measured in its approach.
It's set in the Rust Belt, industrial Pennsylvania, where Russell (Bale) works in a steel mill and worries about his little brother Rodney (Affleck), who's deep in debt to a local bookie (Dafoe). Then a late-night car crash lands Russell in prison, and when he's released everything has changed. He has no job, his girlfriend (Saldana) is now dating the local sheriff (Whitaker), and Rodney is paying off his debts by fighting in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Even more perilous is the fact that all of this puts the brothers on a collision course with vicious local redneck Harlan (Harrelson), who has no intention of making their lives easier.
The film opens with a particularly brutal display of Harlan's menace, so we know what's coming. And as everything goes from bad to worse for our two heroes, the film feels almost aggressively harsh. Of course, Bale and Affleck are terrific as these damaged men whose fierce bond both helps and puts them into danger. And both actors let us see beneath the surface as their lives fall apart. In what could be the thankless ex-girlfriend role, Saldana has some surprisingly powerful moments. And Harrelson is a deeply terrifying force to reckon with.
Continue reading: Out Of The Furnace Review
Tracy Letts adapts his own prize-winning play into a blistering depiction of one of cinema's most dysfunctional families ever. It's still rather theatrical, throwing a mob of top actors into a room for what feels like a fight to the death, but it's so well written and so beautifully observed by the actors that we can't look away. And of course Meryl Streep walks off with the show.
Everything kicks off when Beverly Weston (Shepard) goes missing, leaving his ruthlessly straight-talking, pill-popping wife Violet (Streep) to assemble the family in their rambling Oklahoma home. They have three equally feisty daughters: Barbara (Roberts) is a tightly wound bundle of anger with an estranged husband (McGregor) and surly teen daughter (Breslin) in tow; Karen (Lewis) is a free-spirited floater with yet another random boyfriend (Mulroney); and Ivy (Nicholson) is fed up with being the dutiful daughter who stayed close to home. Also on hand is Violet's sister Mattie Fae (Martindale), whose husband (Cooper) is the family patriarch now that Beverly is gone, which means their son (Cumberbatch) feels even more useless than normal.
What plot there is centres on skeletons rattling out of closets and relationships imploding spectacularly. The film is a series of brutally intense encounters between people who probably still love each other in vaguely undefined ways and express it through bitter bursts of witty cruelty. Streep has the meatiest role as the imperious Violet, who knows a lot more than she's letting on. And her chief rival is Barbara, played with unnerving intensity by Roberts. The only person we even remotely like is Mattie Fae, and the always-superb Martindale finds all kinds of layers in the character.
Continue reading: August: Osage County Review
When news gets round about a gold discovery in the Klondike region of the Yukon, Canada in 1897, it becomes one of the last great gold rushes in history. Bill Haskell and Byron Epstein are two hopeful travellers with an ambition of wealth who travel up to Dawson City (often dubbed 'The Paris of the North') to receive their fortune. However, digging up a life of luxury becomes less straightforward as they are forced to face bitter sub-zero temperatures, gold-digging temptresses and men who won't think twice about killing for profit. Making an easy fortune is one thing; surviving long enough to use it is another.
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Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor star in the drama about a dysfunctional family reunited.
John Wells' August: Osage County adaptation premiered last night at the Toronto International Film Festival after years of being performed as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts play. The movie boasts a star-studded caast, including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis and Sam Shepard.
Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts Serve Up Roaring Performances In August: Osage County.
The plot centres on outspoken matriarch, Violet (Meryl Streep), who is addicted to painkillers with the excuse that she has mouth cancer. Her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) hires a Native American housekeeper (Misty Upham) to take care of his wife and he moves away. Upon her husband's absence, Violet summons her three grown-up daughters who have each moved away from the isolation of their family home, set in the desolate landscape of Oklahoma.
Russell Baze lives in a rundown, underprivileged neighbourhood where he works full-time at a steelworks while also trying to support his wife and take care of his dying father. His spirits lift, however, at the arrival of his brother Rodney, a soldier, who has finally come home after serving in Iraq. Unfortunately, he brings will him a burden - he's in need of money and has approached a ruthless crime boss in order to get it. They arrange for him to take part in a bare-knuckle boxing match, but when he fails to comply with the winning/losing arrangements he made with his new boss, he suddenly disappears without a trace. Russell goes to the police who are less than helpful and have been unable to find his brother and so he decides to go after the gang himself, determined to seek justice.
This gripping crime thriller has an all-star cast and has been directed by Scott Cooper ('Crazy Heart') who also wrote the screenplay alongside Brad Ingelsby ('The Dynamiter'). It's a story of desperation, justice and loyalty and just how far people would go to save their loved ones. 'Out Of The Furnace' is set to appear on UK cinema screens on November 29th 2013.
Writer-director Nichols continues to get inside the heads of his characters with this involving but overlong dramatic thriller. Like his previous film Take Shelter, this is another fable-like movie, this time harking back to Huck Finn with a boys' adventure story set on the waterways of rural Arkansas. It's impeccably shot and edited, with terrific performances even from side characters. But at over two hours, the long running-time tries our patience.
Our hero is Ellis (Sheridan), a shy but steely 14-year-old who dreams of one day escaping his backwoods community. For entertainment, he explores the rivers with his pal Neckbone (Lofland), and when they hear rumours of a boat stranded in a tree, they have to investigate. Sure enough, there it is, then inside it they discover the fugitive Mud (McConaughey). Even though he's wanted for murder, they decide to help free the boat so he can escape with his battered girlfriend Juniper (Witherspoon), who's hiding in a local motel. But Ellis and Neckbone need some help with this elaborate plan, so they turn to the scary old man (Shepard) who lives across the river.
Cinematographer Adam Stone beautifully captures both the evocative settings and the expressive faces of the actors, who all bring an introspective touch to their characters. Sheridan and Lofland are excellent in the lead roles, which are pretty demanding as these two teens have to grow up quickly. And McConaughey and Witherspoon dive fully into their much flashier roles, constantly surprising us with sparky details that take these people in unexpected directions. There's also a telling smaller role for Nichols' regular Shannon as Neckbone's haunted, sidelined guardian.
Continue reading: Mud Review
Ellis and Neckbone are two young boys from Mississippi who spend their time exploring the wilderness and river near their home. When they discover a sizeable motor boat stuck in a tree after a flood, they think they've hit the jackpot of all discoveries and claim it as their own. However, they soon notice that food has been left there, leading them to believe that someone has been sleeping there. Unnerved, they leave to find their boat and venture home, only to come across a new neighbour on the isolated island, Mud. Mud is hiding from some bounty hunters who want to arrest him for killing a man in Texas who attempted to steal his girlfriend Juniper. Initially, wary of him, the boys soon warm to him and agree to bring him food if he helps them mend their motor boat before Juniper arrives to meet him. However, things aren't as easy as they seem when the boys start becoming suspicious of Mud and Juniper has problems of her own.
Continue: Mud - Clips
Ellis and Neckbone are two fourteen year old boys from Mississippi who, after crossing a river in a small boat on one of their regular explorations, discover a larger motor boat stuck in a tree on an island after a previous flood. They claim the boat as their own but soon begin to discover that someone has been sleeping there and they come across Mud. Mud is a man who has been hiding from a group of bounty hunters who have been hired by the family of a man he murdered in Texas for attempting to steal his beautiful girlfriend Juniper. The boys are sympathetic and captivated by him and agree to help him mend the boat while he makes plans to meet Juniper, who is hiding out in a motel, and run away with her. Things don't go as smoothly as planned and deceptions and suspicion causes tensions to rise between Mud, Juniper and the boys.
'Mud' is an emotional journey tackling issues about right and wrong and good guys and bad guys. It has been directed and written by Jeff Nichols ('Take Shelter', 'Shotgun Stories') and received a last minute nomination for the Palme d'Or award on its showing at the Cannes Film Festival. It is set to hit cinemas on April 17th 2013.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Continue: Mud Trailer
Sam Shepard, Christine Buckley and Aislinn - Sam Shepard and Christine Buckley, director of the Aislinn support and education group Friday 7th December 2012 receive an Honorary Degree from Trinity College
Moral murkiness makes this hitman thriller gripping to watch, mainly because we're never quite sure where it's going. Even though it's set in 2008, Australian director Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James) shoots it like a 1970s thriller, which gives the whole film a superb sense of moral murkiness. And since it's based on a 1974 novel (Cogan's Trade by George Higgins), the film has an almost timely feel to it, using offbeat rhythms and complex characters who refuse to do what we want them to do.
At the centre is Jackie Cogan (Pitt), hired by a bookish mafia executive (Jenkins) to clean up the mess after a mob card game was robbed. The problem is that the two guys behind the heist (McNairy and Mendelsohn) are dimwits who have no idea what they've stumbled into. But Cogan is also annoyed by mob bureaucracy, which takes far too long to get anything done. And he's even more short-tempered with his old pal Mickey (Gandolfini), who he brings in to bump off a middleman (Liotta), except that Mickey is too interested in alcohol and sex to get the job done properly. Clearly, Jackie will have to do everything himself.
Pitt plays the role with a terrific sense of world-weary charm. He has no time for the losers around him, but takes pride in his work, preferring to kill his targets softly rather than causing pain. Meanwhile, Gandolfini is playing an alcoholic twist on Tony Soprano, Jenkins is doing his usual officious schtick, and Liotta is a more soulful version of the mafioso he's played many times before. By contrast, McNairy and Mendelsohn are hilariously clueless. Like characters from a Coen brothers movie, they're likeable even though we never have any hope that they'll get anything right.
Continue reading: Killing Them Softly Review
Gifted director Jeff Nichols takes on another genre in his fourth film with actor Michael...
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Coarse and not exactly subtle, this dark drama might disappoint viewers expecting a more traditional...
Tracy Letts adapts his own prize-winning play into a blistering depiction of one of cinema's...
When news gets round about a gold discovery in the Klondike region of the Yukon,...
The Weston family know they are probably one of the most dysfunctional families around, but...
Russell Baze lives in a rundown, underprivileged neighbourhood where he works full-time at a steelworks...
Writer-director Nichols continues to get inside the heads of his characters with this involving but...
Ellis and Neckbone are two fourteen year old boys from Mississippi who, after crossing a...
Moral murkiness makes this hitman thriller gripping to watch, mainly because we're never quite sure...
Jackie Cogan is the enforcer in an organized mob. He becomes the key investigator when...
Plaintive and perhaps too slow-moving for mainstream audiences, this finely made Western cycles through a...
Beth and Joseph Winter have been married for several years but lately, she feels that...