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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Shannon’

Amy Adams

Amy Adams…the ice goddess in her art gallery

“NOCTURNAL ANIMALS” My rating: B-

116 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” is a fascinating failure.

But even if it doesn’t quite work, it remains so ambitious, so daring that it overshadows other films considered “successful” simply because they aim so much lower.

Ford, the celebrated fashion designer whose first feature directing effort was “A Single Man” back in 2009, wastes no time bitch-slapping his audience. Under the opening titles of “Nocturnal Animals” Ford gives us slo-mo footage of obese women dancing.  They’re naked except for marching band kepis and thigh-high drum majorette boots.

These images are part of the latest exhibit in a trendy LA art gallery operated by Susan (Amy Adams),  a cooly coiffed and clothed woman who lives in a multi-million-dollar minimalist glass house overlooking the city.

Susan is rich — she’d be richer, but her faithless hubby Hutton (Armie Hammer) has managed to blow a big chunk of their nest egg — and her inner life seems about as sterile as her modernist home. After all, what kind of person keeps a bowl of real artichokes on the counter of her spotless, soulless kitchen? It’s not like anyone’s going to grab one up for a quick snack.

“I feel guilty not to be happy,” she laments. Poor little rich girl.

Susan’s outwardly comfy, inwardly anguished world makes up one of three levels of reality explored in Ford’s movie.

Out of the blue she receives a manuscript from her first husband, Edward, whom Susan hasn’t seen in 19 years. It’s a soon-to-be-published novel accompanied by a note that suggests Susan was at least in part the inspiration for the story.

Flattered, Susan takes advantage of a week without her husband (Hutton is off to New York with his latest girlfriend) to dive into Edward’s novel. The story that unfolds becomes “Nocturnal Animals'” second layer of reality.

In this book within a movie we find Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber) driving across West Texas in the dead of night. They fall victim to a gang of young rednecks led by the scary Ray (an almost unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and soon the family members are fighting for their lives. (more…)

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Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving

Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving

“LOVING”  My rating: A

123 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

An emotional powerhouse that will leave audiences drained and exultant, “Loving” is the best film I’ve seen so far in 2016.

This latest film from Jeff Nichols, the poet laureate of rural Southern life (“Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter,” “Mud”), is a lightly fictionalized depiction on the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, who in 1959 were convicted of violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.

Eventually their case led to a Supreme Court decision that dismantled legislation banning mixed-race marriages.

“Loving” works so well as much because what the film isn’t as for what it is.

Writer/director Nichols eschews courtroom maneuvering and big speeches about civil rights. “Loving” is almost exclusively told from the vantage of the Lovings, two unremarkable individuals in extraordinary circumstances.

The film may be about big issues, but it is a spectacularly intimate experience.

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter (he’s white, she’s black and Native American) grew up in a corner of Virginia where different races were united by limited educational and economic opportunities.

Richard (Joel Edgerton) is a crew-cut bricklayer who spends his weekends backroad drag racing with his African American brother-in-law.

Mildred (Ruth Negga) is an expectant mother radiating quiet grace and dignity.

They know Virginia law bans mixed-race unions, which is why they drive to nearby Washington D.C. to be married. But, really, who in their bucolic backwater cares?

That complacency is rudely shattered one night when police officers storm into their rural home, drag them from their bed and lock them up in the county jail.

Richard — shy and unassertive — is shamed by the sheriff (Marton Csokas) for betraying his race and violating God’s law: “He made a sparrow a sparrow and a robin a robin. They’re different for a reason.”

Richard can only hang his head and take the abuse. He hasn’t the intellect or the words to defend his love. (more…)

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Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz

“COMPLETE UNKNOWN”  My rating: B (Opens Sept. 9 at the Tivoli)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Some films dole out facts.

Others, like “Complete Unknown,” trade in mood.

Joshua Marston’s film isn’t a thriller exactly…more like a character study…except that’s not quite right either, since the main character of Martson‘s screenplay (written with Julian Sheppard) is a sort of human chameleon.

In a brilliantly assembled opening sequence we see a woman (Rachel Weisz) in a variety of situations. She’s a grad student renting an apartment. A magician‘s assistant in what appears to be China. An E.R. nurse.

The woman is Alice (at least that’s her current name) and we slowly realize that she is a master imposter, someone who every few months or years changes her identity, personality and career.

It isn’t like Alice is antisocial. She’s witty, charming, entertaining, and has terrific stories about the various jobs she’s held all over the world.

Now she shows up at a dinner party as the date of Clyde (Michael Chernus), a schlubby government paper pusher and colleague of Tom (Michael Shannon), whose birthday is being celebrated.

Tom immediately realizes that this woman calling herself Alice is in fact Jenny, with whom he was living when she vanished 15 years earlier. Tom is now married (though that union is shaky). Nevertheless Alice/Jenny has befriended Clyde precisely so she can reconnect with her old flame Tom.

“You were the last person who really knew me before I left,” she explains.

(more…)

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midmaxresdefault“MIDNIGHT SPECIAL”  My rating: B

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There is almost no element of “Midnight Special” that hasn’t been already thoroughly mined by other science fiction/fantasy films over the last 40 or so years.

And yet through some sort of cinema alchemy writer/director Jeff Nichols makes it all fresh and compelling.

Nichols is the Arkansas auteur of oddball down-home dramas like “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud.” Here he ventures into full-blown genre moviemaking, and for the most part sucks us in and leaves us wanting even more.

The film begins with three individuals on the run. Roy (Michael Shannon), his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, the scene-stealing kid from “St. Vincent”), and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are making their way across Texas and into Louisiana in a beat-up car that has more Bondo than paint.

Alton is a strange kid who sits in the back seat wearing sound-damping headphones and blue swimming goggles. Since they travel only at night he uses a flashlight to read a stack of comic books.

Turns out the trio are the object of a massive manhunt, not only by the feds (FBI, CIA, whatever else you got) but by the members of a Texas religious cult with whom Elton has lived for the last two years.

Apparently the kid has had visions which have now become as much a part of the sect as the shapeless sisterwife dresses worn by their womenfolk. Incensed that Elton’s dad has snatched him up, the cult leader (Sam Shepherd) dispatches a couple of heavily-armed members of the congregation (Bill Camp, Scott Haze) to recover the boy in the few days remaining before a prophesized day of judgment.

Nichols’ strength as a storyteller is that he doesn’t drop too much up front. His films are voyages of discovery in which audiences pick up the characters’ backgrounds and info about the plot in dribs and drabs.

(more…)

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Julianne Moore, Ellen Page

Julianne Moore, Ellen Page

 

“FREEHELD” My rating: B-

103 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

A great tale trumps — just barely — mediocre delivery in “Freeheld,” a fictional version of the same story told in the 2007 Oscar-winning documentary of the same name.

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) is a police detective in Ocean County, NJ. She’s a tough, creative and much-honored cop, admired by her peers and especially her womanizing (so we’re told) partner, Dane Wells (Michael Shannon).

Laurel is also a closeted lesbian, so worried that her career will stall if her sexual orientation becomes public that she has virtually no personal life.

Then she meets tomboyish Stacie Andree (Ellen Page).  Love blossoms, although the very out Stacie has a hard time dealing with Laurel’s secretive ways.

When Laurel is diagnosed with late stage cancer, she goes public with her sexuality by asking the Ocean County Board of Freeholders (basically the county commission, which runs the local police) to assign her pension benefits to her partner Stacie, who will at least be able to keep the house they have purchased and rennovated.

But all this takes place a decade ago, at a time when local pols weren’t about to set a precedent by giving a gay employee rights normally reserved for married heterosexuals.  So begins a long and painful legal and public relations process as Laurel becomes ever more frail.

 

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Iceman“THE ICEMAN” My rating: B- (Opening May 17 at the Barrywoods 24, Cinemark Plaza and Studio 30)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Michael Shannon’s trademark creepiness is put to good use in “The Iceman,” the story of real-life mob assassin Richard Kuklinski, who by the time he was arrested in 1986 was believed to have been responsible for at least 100 murders.

Though originally nicknamed The Iceman for his cool, unemotional work methods, Kuklinski also avoided the authorities by dismembering and freezing the bodies of many of his victims, which made it impossible to pinpoint the time and cause of their deaths.

Ariel Vromen’s film begins in 1964 with the dry, stolid Kuklinski wooing Deborah (Winona Ryder), the neighborhood virgin. He’s totally respectful of her — to the point that he cuts the throat of a barroom pool player who makes fun of her no-sex-until-marriage attitude.

At this stage, though, Kuklinski is a mere amateur. His day job is working in a film lab duplicating porn reels, which is how he encounters mid-level Jersey mobster Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta).  Roy recognizes talent and before long Kuklinski has a full-time gig murdering people.

What’s interesting about “The Iceman” is not so much the mayhem — there’s relatively little depicted — but Kuklinski  himself. Talk about a compartmentalized life!

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Michael Shannon...madness in the Midwest

“TAKE SHELTER”  My rating: B+  (Opening Nov. 4 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There’s a certain kind of movie that almost drives you nuts but which, if you stay with it, leaves you transformed through a process you really can’t quite figure out.

The great Australian director Peter Weir had two such idiosyncratic masterpieces early in his career: “The Last Wave” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” films that defy rational analysis but have haunted me for more than 30 years.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols (the underrated “Shotgun Stories”) may have created a similar effort in “Take Shelter,” a big winner at this year’s Cannes and Sundance film festivals.

This might be a movie about a man going mad…or perhaps it’s about a man who simply senses things — bad things — that the rest of us cannot.

(more…)

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