Bloodline is one of the latest original series produced by the ever-strengthening Netflix (it’s alive!), and by all accounts it’s a unique outing for the media giant. Set in and around the sweltering Florida Keys, the first season is less like fellow Netflix pal House of Cards and more like Showtime’s The Affair, another drama that zeroes in on family dynamics and household hostility. At best, though, comparisons aside, Bloodline is a true family drama with well-drawn characters and a driving central premise.
The family in question is the Rayburns, an island institution known and respected for operating the beachfront resort Rayburn House for decades. Father (Sam Shepard) and Mother (Sissy Spacek) are vitally influential in the lives of their four children and, as a bonus, are supportive of any conspiracy theories related to casting actors with alliterative fore- and surnames as husband and wife. They’re pillars of their community, and snippets of conversation and glances at newspaper headlines clue us in to the fact that the Rayburns are the public face of their little stretch of Key West. But Bloodline starts early in the slow uncovering of the real ways in which good ol’ Mum and Dad molded their children.
Continue reading Bloodline – Season 1 →
Days of Heaven is that second album that is so hard to make. The album that has so much to live up to; the album that has such large shoes to fill. Days of Heaven, however, does not fall short of its predecessor Badlands – Days of Heaven is Led Zeppelin II to Badlands‘s Led Zeppelin I. Terrence Malick manages to dazzle his audience once again with his patient storytelling and epic imagery.
Taking home the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Days of Heaven was widely considered one of the most visually appealing films to ever be made at the time of its release in 1978. Under Malick’s impeccable direction, Nestor Almendros captures some of the most impressive shots that I have ever witnessed. One particular scene took my breath away – in which the farmer (Sam Shepard) ignites his entire field of crops causing a massive fire. The screen of my laptop was engulfed in violent flames and I was truly stricken with a brief, but intense, sense of panic as I watched the fire rage.
Continue reading Days of Heaven (1978) →
Casey Affleck presented a screening of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford at the Brattle Theatre in Boston last night, on hand for a Q&A following the film. Though Assassination is still sadly much more of an “obscure” offering – at least in terms of films starring Brad Pitt – it nonetheless remains a fascinating character study of both a young man and his mythical idol.
Robert Ford joins the James Gang alongside his brother Charlie at a time when Jesse James has already achieved infamy through his brazen robberies and brutal murders. Bob is only nineteen years old at this point (although he “feels older”), and his fascination with the gang is a mixture of childish wonder, starstruck glee, and perhaps a hint of inflated self-importance. He believes he’s destined for “great things”, by which he really means he believes himself to be a worthy follower of Jesse or even one who could take his place. As his place in the gang is solidified over the course of the film and his presence at Jesse’s side becomes more and more common, Bob’s perception of his onetime hero begins to deteriorate.
Continue reading The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) →
In America you’re on your own. One of the most criminally overlooked movies of 2012 was Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, a rough-and-tumble tale of petty holdup artists, mob enforcers and the suit-and-ties that control them (or think they control them). Dominik’s follow-up to his excellent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford retains some of the same cast and makes a few substitutions, and Killing Them Softly is a very different movie from Dominik’s earlier film and from most American crime dramas on the whole.
When two smalltime down-and-outers (played with hilarious gusto by Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn) hold up a mob-protected card game (run by Ray Liotta’s Markie), the local criminal economy crumbles into chaos. It’s not so much that the robbery is botched as the criminals themselves are botched, making it a fairly simple procedure for Brad Pitt’s Jackie Cogan to arrive in town and put the pieces together. His systematic deconstruction of the situation provides the rest of the drive for Killing Them Softly, but Domnik and Co. enhance the subtleties of every punch and gunshot along the way.
An interesting feature of Killing Them Softly is the way the 2008 presidential election campaign – focused largely on the recession and the floundering economy – plays into the story. Unlike a lot of modern crime dramas, this one is very “bottom-up” – the players we watch are the lowest rungs on the ladder, broke and struggling men desperate to make any kind of score. This isn’t American Gangster or Goodfellas. The highest we go up the totem pole is a glorified messenger played by Richard Jenkins (who is fittingly out-of-place among the rest of the cast), and other than that it’s junkies, drunken hitmen, and enforcers who don’t think twice about shooting a guy. Even Dillon, a world-famous-all-over-New-England enforcer mentioned time and again by nearly every character, appears only once (and happens to be played by Sam Shepard). Addresses from Obama and McCain reach this subfloor of humanity nonetheless, but the blanket statements made by presidential candidates don’t exactly apply way down here.
Continue reading Killing Them Softly (2012) →