Tag Archives: Macon Blair

TIFF18: Hold The Dark

Three children have gone missing from a small, very small, very isolated community in Alaska, snatched by wolves. One of the grieving mothers, Medora (Riley Keough), hires wolf expert and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the wolf or wolves responsible.

But the wolves are not the villains of this story.

First, the Alaskan landscape. It’s frozen, much colder than what cold passes for MV5BODYwNTY5MDcxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjAzNDQxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1487,1000_AL_anywhere else. It’s unforgiving. It’s unknowable. It’s remote. There are only 5 hours of daylight at midday. It’s a blank canvas, a blanket of white, relentless and renewing, where even your own footprints are quickly snowed in and covered over; one wrong step can mean the difference between life or death. It’s no place for a novice like Core, but he’s got some demons of his own that keep him from making better judgments.

Second, the village. Or rather the villagers. They’re an insular tribe and don’t take kindly to outsiders. The environment is hostile in every sense of the word. They don’t cooperate with the law.

Third, the grieving parents. Grief makes a person crazy. Some people were crazy to begin with. Medora was on her own when her son went missing, her husband Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard) away at war. Injured, he gets sent home to a probably-dead kid and a mentally disturbed wife. There aren’t a lot of times when war is the preferable scenario, the kinder one, but I think this it.

I read the novel upon which this is based (by author William Giraldi) but this screenplay is adapted by the twisted mind of Macon Blair, so I know I’m in some sort of trouble. He’s beefed up the part of Vernon for Skarsgard, sure, and he also makes sure every bit of violence is as graphically gory as possible. What else do we expect from a Jeremy Saulnier movie? The man loves to taunt us with threatening, ominous images and then leave us exposed to whatever chaos may come. It’s an exceptionally tense way to watch a film, but if Saulnier isn’t throwing you into minor cardiac arrhythmia, he feels you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

Saulnier is a master of making you shit your pants, and if anything, Hold The Dark is a little lighter on the anxiety-ridden dread. But while we buckle up for a movie about wolves and wilderness, it’s actually humanity who shows itself most vicious, and that’s all Saulnier. There are so many twists in the tundra it can be hard to keep them all straight, and you’re never quite sure just what kind of movie you’re watching, but it’s a bloody, vengeful rampage and it will not have a happy ending.

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The Florida Project

Thank you New Hampshire Film Festival for bringing this beautiful film to us. We missed seeing it at TIFF and it got huge buzz. HUGE. Director Sean Baker is following up his crazy-good Tangerine and we’ve been collectively, societally waiting with baited breath for his next effort. It feels like Sean Baker is doing important work without all the trumpets and majorettes and fanfare. But I sort of hope that maybe I can blow the horn a bit here, wave a flag or two: The Florida Project is fucking awesome.

6 year old Moonee has the run of the crummy Orlando motel where she and her mother live in “extended stays.” Halley, her mom, can’t get work at Disney and has no other MV5BYjZhMDZmZjItNjcyZC00ZWY2LTkzMzUtZWM0ZDgyYzM2Nzg2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_options, so you can imagine some of the crazy things they do for money. It’s a destitute, desperate kind of life but you’d never know it to see Mooney adventuring around free-range with her comrades.

Sean Baker is a master of society’s fringes, and the near-homelessness of the people constantly scrounging for rent between scrapes with the law or family services is about as marginal as you get. Situate that beside the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth” where the wealthy tourists stay in much nicer digs and it’s an uncomfortable reminder that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Moonee, meanwhile, is seemingly untouched by her circumstances. Intellectually, you know it’s not true: that of course she’s affected by what she sees and hears and eats and meets and experiences, and that she’ll find it hard to climb above her mother’s station. But for now she’s a happy-go-lucky kid who rarely faces consequences, although that’s largely thanks to the motel’s manager and de-facto babysitter, Bobby, who is the eyes, ears, caregiver and mediator when parents just aren’t up to snuff. And believe me, this is a building where neglect rules the day. I felt real tension watching these kids be unwatched.

Halley, barely more than a kid herself, and scarcely more responsible, is tattooed with bad decisions but not without sympathy. Bria Vinaite, who plays her, really understands Halley’s sharp corners and soft underbelly. Willem Dafoe gives Bobby a complexity and edge that make his character fascinating. He’s like the beating heart of the building he supervises. But it’s little Brooklynn Prince as Moonee who just about steals the whole gosh darn movie. She is so real and raw it often feels like you’re watching a documentary, and that the stakes are indeed life-altering. Child actors can make or break a movie but Sean Baker has found not one but a trio of incredibly spirited, natural, and talented kids that make this movie what it is.

The Florida Project is audacious, authentic, absorbing. And it’s begging to be watched.

Logan Lucky

Jay-Z announced his retirement from the rap game in 2003 with his Black Album. He was back three years later. Barbara Streisand retired from public performance in 2000 but has since toured the world not once but twice. Clint Eastwood declared his intention to retire from acting after 2008’s Gran Torino “You always want to quit while you are ahead” — then appeared in the forgettable 2012 movie Trouble With the Curve. Alec Baldwin wrote “Goodbye, public life” in New York Magazine but made three movies the following year. Shia LaBeouf infamous marked his 2014 retirement with his “I’m not famous anymore” campaign, then signed up for a movie role 3 weeks later. Cher embarked on a 3-year farewell tour, then signed up for Las Vegas residency as soon as it ended. Michael Jordan retired from basketball, played a little baseball, then went back to basketball. Point being: fools keep retiring, then unretiring. Director Steven Soderbergh belongs on the list, after telling everyone in 2013 that he’d lost his passion for film making, and that was it for him. Logan Lucky is the movie that brought him out of “retirement” – was it worth it?

loganluckybros.0Having directed Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve AND Thirteen (and producing the upcoming Eight), Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies, but considers this one to be their “anti-glam” cousin. Logan Lucky’s characters are gritty, the setting low-rent, the heist a lot less slick – but not uninteresting.

The Logan family consists of brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), and little sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They’re known locally for the Logan family curse; Clyde believes the bad luck sets in just as things start to pick up for them. He recently lost an arm just as his deployment was ending in Iraq. Jimmy, meanwhile, has just lost his job at the mines where he uncovered a bunch of tubes that blast cash money from a NASCAR speedway to an underground bank vault. You can practically see the light bulb go BING! above his head. Soon he’s plotting an elaborate sting that will reverse the family’s fortunes. The one little hitch in is plan is that the heist requires the expertise of Joe Bang, bomb maker (Daniel Craig). And it just so happens that Joe Bang’s in prison. Which means to pull of the heist, they first have to break Joe out of (and then back into) prison.

The caper’s afoot! Logan Lucky has a fun ensemble cast that keep things spicy. The film works because Soderbergh reaches for his familiar bag of tricks: a zippy pace, an almost zany plot. These characters are perhaps not the cleverest, they’re reaching above their pay grade. Half the fun is watching things go wonky. Instead of plot twists, Logan Lucky is peppered with…shall we call them mishaps? Small calamities that keep you groaning, and guessing. It’s almost farcical, and to that end, it’s well-cast. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Daniel Craig is its shining, absurd beacon, stealing all the scenes he’s in and making you anticipate his next one when we’re following someone else.

Unfortunately, the movie really loses steam during its last act. Introducing Hilary Swank as the detective pursuing the case feels both rushed and drawn-out at the same time, somehow. Plus she’s kind of awful. But you know what? The film’s final 10 seconds save the whole damn thing, the cinematic equivalent of a smirk and a wink, and I fell for it.

Welcome back, Mr. Soderbergh.

 

Small Crimes

Joe Denton, a disgraced former cop, is under the mistaken impression that he can go home after his 6 years in prison and start redeeming himself. The truth is, even his own mother is wary of him. He’s clean for about 20 minutes before his old life starts digging its claws back into him.

Denton’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) dirty ex-partner (Gary Cole) tells him new evidence MV5BMzBjMDYxY2QtNWY1Ni00ZTc2LTgzYjEtYmZhNjlmMTIyMGVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_could throw him back in prison, or worse, death row. So obviously he should cast aside his plans to live a better life, and to earn back the right to see his daughters, and murder the mob boss who could ruin everything for him. Just one problem. Well, okay, just three problems: a bitter D.A. (Michael Kinny), an unhinged war vet (Macon Blair), and the mob boss’s son (Pat Healy). It’s such a shoddily erected pyramid that the very least thing could cause it all to come crumbling down – and it must come down. Things are further complicated when Denton falls for the palliative nurse caring for the mob boss: fat chance he’s going to impress her with the mess he’s in.

Denton’s no anti-hero, he’s a piece of shit. Co-writers Evan Katz and Macon Blair reveal his soiled past so slowly that it’s hard to really understand what the stakes are, and there were just too many pieces of the puzzle for me to keep track of. The script is blacker than black, and as Denton’s dad tells him (and us), the guy’s a narcissist, which makes it morally impossible for us to root for him. Great performances by Jacki Weaver and Robert Forster as his parents make this thing watchable, but not exactly satisfying. The downward spiral is slow but relentless. There’s no hope, not even really any cynicism, just defeat. Denton’s a born loser. And maybe that’s Small Crimes’ fatal flaw: it follows the least interesting character. Follows him right down the dirty hole he digs for himself, deeper and deeper.

 

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

Poor Ruth. Life is rough. A mean old client just died on her while she was in the room. Her house was broken into, her grandmother’s silver stolen. And her neighbour’s dog keeps shitting on her lawn! Somewhere in there was her breaking point.

MV5BMTQ4NjIyNzY2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY4NDE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1571,1000_AL_So she can be forgiven for recruiting a weirdo neighbour who has “ninja sticks” to “ride with her” on a mission to retrieve some of her stolen stuff. How empowering! Now Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is unleashed and creepy neighbour guy (Elijah Wood), well, he was always a little unhinged.

But wait: this movie is written and directed by Macon Blair, the actor who so unsettled me in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin and Green Room. I can’t help but suspect something a little more sinister from a man of that pedigree. And true to his spirit there will be some interesting elder abuse, some more out-of-toilet pooping, a really great church singalong, projectile vomiting, and some very unnecessary rat tails.

Now, it’s nearly always entertaining when lay people decide to take justice into their own hands. And it’s nearly always a bad idea. Perhaps they wouldn’t be so tempted if movie cops weren’t always so inept, so unwilling or unable to do their jobs. As you may have guessed, Ruth is not having ANY OF THAT.

Melanie Lynskey is a pretty underrated actress. Watching her go from meek to badass in this role is a whole lot of fun. Recently she was at SXSW and sat in conversation with her Sadie director, Megan Griffiths. She talked about sustaining her stellar indie career with a profitable recurring role on Two And A Half Men, and relying on her gut when choosing roles: “I learned that I operate very much from instinct. It has to come from somewhere that’s very truthful inside of me…” If this role comes from a truthful place inside her, well by god, this necessitates a whole other conversation!