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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Shannon’

Daniel Craig…Southern fried private eye

“KNIVES OUT” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 27)

130 minutes | MPAA rating:

The genteel drawing-room murder mystery gets roughed up but emerges more or less intact in “Knives Out,” the latest from “it” director Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “The Last Jedi”).

What you’ve got here is a dead man, a house full of suspects (played by some very big names),  a Southern-gentleman detective who seems to have been dipped in molasses — and a gleefully satiric sense of humor.

Plus a lot of snarky attitude when it comes to privileged white folks.

The film begins with the housekeeper for famed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) discovering her employer’s corpse.  His throat has been cut.

Apparently the crime (if it is a crime…it might be a very bizarre suicide) took place shortly after Harlan’s 85th birthday party, an event attended by a pack of relations crammed into the old man’s semi-spooky turn-of-the-last-century mansion (described by one cop as “practically a Clue board”). Apparently the evening (which we see in flashbacks) was marked by some discord — old Harlan was no pushover and he loved rubbing his family’s noses in their inadequacies.

The local officer in charge of the investigation (LaKeith Stanfield) has his hands full with the various children, in-laws and others, all of whom seem to have some motive for killing their Sugar Daddy and a bad attitude when it comes to dealing with authority. So he’s mildly relieved when a famous private eye, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), mysteriously shows up.

Benoit, who talks with a slow drawl so thick it drips sorghum, has been hired by an anonymous client to look into the case. He won’t stop until he gets answers. Think Matlock on Thorazine with a cannabis chaser.

Murder mysteries in this  vein (“Murder on the Orient Express,” “Gosford Park”) rely on a large cast of eccentrics to keep us engaged and guessing. “Knives Out” has a colorfully hateful bunch.

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Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones

“THE SHAPE OF WATER” My rating: B+

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Blend the whimsey of “Amelie” with the sci-fi fantasy of “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” wrap it all up in Cold War paranoia, and you’ve got Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” an interspecies love story that will leave you swooning.

Horror and beauty are never far apart in del Toro’s cinema; what’s noteworthy about this picture is that the horror is generated not by the fantastic creature at its heart but by human fear and loathing. This time around we’re the monsters.

Set in early ’60s Baltimore, where it’s always raining and everything is tinted bottom-of-the-sea green, “The Shape of Water” opens with Elisa ( Sally Hawkins) awakening from a watery dream and getting ready for work. Elisa is mute and communicates through sign language (we get subtitles); she works the night shift mopping floors at a top-secret government research station that looks and feels like a giant concrete mausoleum.

Michael Shannon

The scientific staff is all agog over their new acquisition, an amphibious creature captured in a river in South American, where the natives worshipped him as a god. The current condition of this beautiful/disquieting creation (that’s frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones under the spectacular prosthetics developed by Legacy Effects) is anything but god-like; he’s in chains and is the subject of the sadistic cattle-prod attentions of Strickland (Michael Shannon), a malevolent CIA type who can’t wait to vivisect this new species.

Using her passkey to gain entrance to the creature’s prison, the empathetic Elisa brings hard-boiled eggs and a portable phonograph player with a collection of jazz LPs. This frog/man may not be able to speak, but he digs eggs and music.

Elisa soon discovers that the captive is not a mindless beast; before long they’re conversing in sign language. And and as her affections for this scaly  newcomer deepen, Elisa hatches a plan to spirit the amphibian man out of the lab before he can be vivisected. He can live in her claw-footed bathtub.

She is abetted in this quest by her co-worker, the mop-swinging Zelda (Octavia Spencer),  by her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a mild-mannered commercial artist, and by one of the scientific eggheads, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who wants to preserve this great discovery at any cost. (more…)

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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.

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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.

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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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