Film Review : Blue Ruin (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 96%

Directed By – Jeremy Saulnier
Starring – Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, and David W. Thompson

A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Revenge stories. You thought that they couldn’t do anther one that is both unique and engaging but along comes “Blue Ruin” to prove that it isn’t true. It’s been a pretty great year for film so far and while I didn’t get a chance to see this is a theater, I’m still glad I was able to watch it on DVD. There are some films from three years ago that still haven’t managed a DVD release and thankfully this wasn’t one of them.

The film stars Macon Blair, who is almost a split image of Nathan Lane, as Dwight, a homeless man living out of his car on the shores of Delaware. It’s pretty much inferred off the bat that Dwight is troubled by something as he makes no attempt at panhandling or other form of making money. He doesn’t like people and he likes to keep it that way. A friendly police officer brings Dwight in to inform him that a certain person is getting out of jail and the story slowly begins to unfold from there. I say slowly mostly because I mean just that. Jeremy Saulnier took great care with his breakthrough film, telling the story in a slow burning and delicately paced fashion. We aren’t getting spoon fed details and I had to rewind the film twice to make sure I caught turns in the plot. The film has minimal dialogue as our protagonist Dwight is very soft spoken and a lot of the film takes place with only him.

Saulnier, who started his career as a cinematographer, composes some pretty beautiful shots in a barren Virginian landscape. They way he approached the violence reminded me of another filmmaker, Ben Wheatly, in which what we get isn’t stylized, but rather highly realistic. There were some real shockingly violent moments in this film that just hit harder due to the realism.

Saulnier is a promising filmmaker that should be due some serious budget for his next film. That is the way Hollywood is going now. You have Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards, James Gunn, and Rian Johnson all at the helm of big franchises. It’s only a matter of time before a talent such as Saulnier gets his due and if it is anything like Blue Ruin, I’m going to like it.

4/5

Suggested Viewing – Kill List, Ain’t Them Body Saints, Death Sentence



Film Review : Nebraska (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 92%

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach

An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

I’ve finally been able to get to the theater this week and while I still have to see “American Hustle” and “Wolf of Wall Street”, I decided to see this first in case it is no longer in theaters next week. I think I still have plenty of time to see the other two. My local art theater was still running it albeit in the smallest theater imaginable but I left satisfied.

Alexander Payne has always been a director whose work I enjoy. I haven’t seen a single film of his that I didn’t like and while he doesn’t have a flat out masterpiece in his body of work, he never fails to entertain or tell a good story. I think Nebraska might just end up being my favorite film of his.

First off, the cinematography in this is amazing. Phedon Papamichael did a phenomenal transforming the dull bland landscape of Nebraska and Montana into very pretty images of desolation and despair. I live in New Jersey. I have always lived in New Jersey. When I decide to move away from here I’m either going north/south or all the way out west because I don’t think I could last in that environment. I’ve never seen streets that empty besides Christmas morning and even then there are still people buzzing about. The minimalist way they decided to shoot this film, with the long wide angle shots of rolling hills and baron landscape made for a very relaxing and peaceful watch. I just don’t think I could live in such a place.

The film ended up being a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be as it captured the “culture” of living in such places hilariously. Mundane conversations and one worded answers have never been so funny. One review I read claimed that the film was like visiting his relatives so I’m guessing the film portrayed life out there pretty well. Bars with the same people in it that have been going there for 40 years and shops and stores that went out of business decades ago litter the main drag of the town of Hawthorne, where most of the film takes place. Bruce Dern, who plays the character of Woody, stops there on his way to Lincoln to collect his million dollars which he is convinced he won. Woody grew up there and the people he used to be around are still there after all these years, not having moved or changed an inch. It is there that the bulk of the story takes place as old friends and family try to cash in on their friends recent claim to fortune.

The acting was fantastic in this. Bruce Dern and June Squibb, who plays his crass and resentful wife Kate, were both hilarious. Dern did a remarkable job playing a lost and confused old man trying desperately to find meaning in his life. Squibb stole pretty much every scene she had as more and more horrible things came out of her mouth as if she had no idea anybody else around her would be offended. One particular scene at a cemetery had me dying as the respect for the dead was just non existent. Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk, two actors who are known for their comedy work, did a great job portraying the sons of Dern and Squibb who are trying to distance themselves from their old stomping grounds. Forte was especially charming.

The film displayed themes of family and greed while also sticking to the comedy that is just oozing out of the midwest. People from the area might not even find the humor in it because it was just so subtle. The whole theater was cracking up watching eight men sit and stare at a television without saying a word until somebody asks another “you still got that old chevy?”…”Yep.”

If you can get out to see it please do. It’s going to be a wonderful rainy day film for me when released on blu ray and is a gorgeous film to be seen on the big screen. Its Payne at his absolute driest bbut also at his funniest.

4.5/5




Film Review : About Schmidt (2002)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor – Jack Nicholson
Academy Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress – Kathy Bates

Cannes Film Festival Nominee for Palm d’Or

Directed By – Alexander Payne
Starring – Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Kathy Bates, June Squibb, and Dermot Mulroney

A man upon retirement embarks on a journey to his estranged daughter’s wedding only to discover more about himself and life than he ever expected.

I’ve been meaning to get out to see Alexander Payne’s new film Nebraska, which has been playing in my local art house for two weeks now. I’m going to have to get motivated or else I’m not going to be able to see it due to the five or so films that I still have left to see in this waning year. I’m a new fan of Payne. I saw Election about eight years ago and only recently revisited it on this site. I rented Sideways the year it came out and couldn’t finish it before I had to bring it back to the rental store. The Descendants was the first of his films I saw in theaters and while I loved it, I still haven’t revisited it since. There does seem to be a bit of a strange relationship I have with his films. On the one hand I find them unique and enjoyable and on the other I just can’t seem to watch them and appreciate them like some have. Hopefully Nebraska breaks that mold but until then I wanted to round out his mainstream filmography by watching About Schmidt.

The film is completely centered around the character of Warren Schmidt, played beautifully by the amazing and legendary Jack Nicholson. I don’t really know of anybody who isn’t a fan of of Jack and while his recent “retirement” from film have left most of us saddened, it’s honestly been a long time coming. We’ll still have his giant body of work to go back to and relive again and I hope his performance in this film is included because it was one of his best. The film is a character study focused directly on what happens to people when their age forces changes in their lives. Nicholson’s Schmidt goes through death, retirement, and the realization that his only daughter is getting married to somebody whom he finds intellectually substandard. It’s something that millions of Americans have gone through in their lives and will continue going through. Nicholson handles the role with subtle sadness and obvious disdain for the situation he’s in. He’s not ready for life on his own and it’s not going to get any easier. The only thing that is keeping him balanced is the six year old Tazmanian child whom he is supporting through a televised charity agency. He writes letters to this poverty stricken child like he’s writing an old friend. It’s more of a way to grasp his reality than actually wanting to inform his “foster child” of what’s going on in his life. It’s like therapy for him. This is the driving theme in this story…dealing with sadness.

Payne is used to this. His films have always been layered with emotion and usually feature somebody who is on the brink of a breakdown. George Clooney could have won an Oscar with his performance in The Descendants. Paul Giamatti SHOULD have won an Oscar for his performance in Sideways. He wasn’t even nominated. Now Bruce Dern is winning awards left and right for his portrayal of man who thinks he won a million dollars in Nebraska. Payne brings the pain in almost every film (Horrible pun, I’m so sorry) and he didn’t break that mold when making About Schmidt.

The supporting cast was great as well as most of the comedy came from them. Kathy Bates plays a free spirit with horrible marriages she doesn’t mind talking about and Dermot Mulroney plays a lovable but completely annoying and lame brained man who is to marry Schmidt’s daughter. The film has a bunch of those little awkward moments that make you squirm and writhe with unease but it never breaches into unsettling. It’s like little moments of watching Steve Carell on the Office.

Overall a very good film that should be remembered as one of Jack Nicholson’s best roles in a lifetime of amazing roles.

4/5

Film Review : Elephant (2003)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 72%

Cannes Film Festival Awards
Palme d’Or
Best Director

Directed By – Gus Van Sant
Starring – Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson, and Elias McConnell

Several ordinary high school students go through their daily routine as two others prepare for something more malevolent.

I was in school when Columbine happened. I remember getting nightmares and daydreaming during the day what I would do if such an event occurred. I researched the event non stop in order to be prepared if anything like that happened to me. It got to the point where I knew the names of the victims and where they died. I knew the time table of events. I could probably walk through that high school right now and find my way around. I was that frightened by that event. I became obsessed with my fears. I got a lot of those feelings back when I viewed this film.

As much as I was disturbed to the core by this film, I ended up loving every second of it. I’m not a big Gus Van Sant fan but this is one of those films that transcends the rest of his work. It’s one of the most realistic yet absolutely surrealistic views of high school I have ever seen. Van Sant decides to ditch traditional narrative and story telling and instead decides to following his actors as they go through their every day life in high school. I’m so glad he decided to film this way because it makes the impact of what everybody knows is going to happen even more terrifying. Long takes following students down hallways and into lunchrooms puts the viewer right back into those four years. While the school is ultimately different than my own high school, the feeling and tone of the scenes hit a chord with me. I was a happy neutral in high school. I was friends with the popular kids and friends with the freaks. I’ve seen my share of bullying just as our main shooter Alex endured in the beginning of the film. It’s terrifying to know that not only my school, but any school could have an event like this. It was eye opening.

I loved the long shots. I loved the minimal score that really only included Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, No. 2 Moonlight. It’s really the perfect piece of music to brings the subtle tension leading up to the climax to life. It was like feeding off my fears and is probably one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. It was damn near perfect. The fact that in won the Palme d’Or at Cannes is evident that this is a highly important film and should be viewed by as many as possible to fully understand these school shootings. I can exhale now.

5/5



Movie Trailer : All Is Lost

OH MY GOD I WANT TO SEE THIS SO BAD. It’s seriously looks fantastic. I’ve been waiting for Robert Redford to get back into serious acting and I think this is going to be it. Apparently it was a huge success at the Cannes Film Festival and should be hitting theater circuits soon but not soon enough.