Oftentimes, we yearn for simplicity in movies. There should be good guys, bad guys, and a happy ending. Maybe it was all those fairy tales we heard growing up. Unfortunately, for those looking for the next great American fairy tale, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is not it.
The first part of the movie plays out like any stalker-thriller movie does. Strange man comes along, takes an unusual interest in a woman or a couple, drops by often for unexpected visits, and is generally creepy (even when trying to help out). In this case, it is Gordo or “Gordo the Weirdo” (Joel Edgerton) an old classmate of Simon (Jason Bateman) who just can’t stay away from him and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after they move back to California.
It all starts out harmless enough, despite Simon’s constant insisting that Gordo is, in fact, a “weirdo” and they should tell him off. When Simon finally does tell Gordo to leave him and Robyn alone, the situation, not surprisingly, turns from creepy to dangerous.
Continue reading The Gift (2015)
At one point Jeff Nichols was slated to direct Aquaman. Let’s let that oddity sink in for a moment, try to picture a big-budget superhero tentpole in the hands of a small-scale operator, compare it to that one time Edgar Wright was going to direct Ant-Man. Oof — too soon. If you don’t know Jeff Nichols (or just confuse him with Mike Nichols) then there are two movies you have to see. The first is Take Shelter, about a family man plagued by apocalyptic visions. The second is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey in one of his McConaissance roles, about a backwoods constellation of intersecting characters. If you’re sensing that neither of those exactly scream underwater trident-wielding badass, don’t panic! This indicates only that you are still sane.
One commonality between the films is Michael Shannon, a forceful actor who’s risen to prominence with the likes of Boardwalk Empire and Man of Steel, and yet still the kind of guy who seems underrated. Nichols certainly doesn’t make that mistake, recognizing his talent to such a degree that he can’t seem to make a movie without him. He’s something of a bit player in Mud, but Shannon leads Take Shelter and returns to the fore in Midnight Special, Nichols’ latest film.
Continue reading Midnight Special (2016)
Fun fact: Nick Nolte, of all people, was nominated for an Academy Award for this film.
Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior, starring Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton, is an emotional tale detailing the effects of an alcoholic father on a pair of brothers and how they ultimately overcome the damage done. One aspect of the film I particularly enjoy is the use of mixed martial arts simply as a frame for the telling of the story, rather than as the true focus of the film. Warrior is about family and pain and forgiveness and regret and utilizes the intensity of physical battle to make these themes come across all the more powerfully. How could one feel Tommy’s (Hardy) mix of confusion and fear more effectively than by watching him punch another man in the face?
Tommy is the most interesting character in Warrior because he, quite clearly, is the most emotionally sensitive; his resentment of his father is immense, the pain he has felt at the death of his mother and his brother-in-arms is excruciating, his confusion about what he should do and where he should go, and the fear caused by this confusion all translate into his ferociousness in the cage. O’Connor’s decision, as screenwrter, to turn in a quiet character in Tommy is brilliant — Tommy desperately wants to be the “tough guy,” despite being deeply affected by the events of his life. He holds his emotions inside, they bubble, and are frighteningly released in the ring. Had Hardy spent the film blabbering, that interesting character would have collapsed completely. Tommy really would be perceived as the “tough guy,” had he not been so introspective and obviously distressed.
Continue reading Warrior (2011)
Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.
But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.
Continue reading Black Mass (2015)