On the latest episode of CinemAddicts, we review several movies (Brightburn, John Wick 3, Booksmart) that made a respective splash back in May and we also provide a preview for this month’s biggest releases (Dark Phoenix and Toy Story 4).
Also reviewed on our program is The Biggest Little Farm, a first rate documentary about a couple who purchase a 200 acre farm in Moorpark, California. Emmy winning documentarian John Chester, who directed the film, and his wife Molly left the confines of Los Angeles to create an organic farm filled with animals, vegetables and fruit. Since the land is essentially barren and abandoned, the Chesters’ ambitious goals won’t be achieved overnight.
The Biggest Little Farm chronicles eight years in their journey, and watching their respective victories and heartache makes for immersive and ultimately inspiring viewing. For more information on the film as well as Apricot Lane Farms, check out their official site.
In 2014’s Equalizer, we were introduced to Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall, a presumed dead former CIA operative who has left his former life while haunted by the death of his wife and ready to while away his golden years working at a hardware store. But when human cruelty presents itself in the form of a teen prostitute on the run from bad guys, McCall uses his skills for good and finds new purpose in his life.
Four years later, we catch up with McCall as an observant Lyft driver, opening his heart to an elderly Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean) in search of a portrait of his sister from his childhood home, offering encouragement to a soldier heading off for his first tour of duty, and, of course, using his skills for those in need – like a near lifeless girl dropped in his vehicle by some partying businessmen who meet with a violent comeuppance. McCall’s kindness carries over to his everyday life, where he recoups a young child used as a pawn in a divorce and sets about handling the defacing of his apartment building while befriending an impressionable teen (Ashton Sanders) with artistic talent and burgeoning gang ties.
McCall has seemingly settled into his new life and found some contentment, but the loss of his wife still haunts him, as we learn when his old friend Susan (Melissa Leo) comes to visit on her birthday. It seems that McCall has refused to return to the home they once shared and make his peace with his former life and Susan is there to urge him to do so.
Much like McCall, Susan still has some ties to her former life, being called in to investigate a killing that has been staged to look like a murder-suicide in Brussels. She reunites with her former colleague, Dave (Pedro Pascal), who is now working for Interpol, and it’s not long before their investigation leads to a fatal attack on Susan. Though she managed to keep his status off the radar for years, Robert is forced to re-enter the world he was once part of in order to track down her killer.
This leads to McCall having to make his presence known to those who presumed him dead, making this a second “homecoming” he had to come to terms with. As we’ve seen across two films, McCall is a principled man. But events change people and a reckoning for past actions must be met. The themes of answering to the past reign heavy over this film, with McCall serving as the beacon of justice in a chaotic world, and he soon finds it’s not so easy to go home again.
It’s interesting that in their distinguished careers, this is the first time that Washington or director Antoine Fuqua have been involved in a sequel, but to their credit, it feels like a more fleshed out script and a settled-in-his-skin character. While violent, McCall’s character is more strategic in his retribution, while providing a character you can root for given his heart and spirit as a man. It took four years for a sequel to be made, but Washington and Fuqua have a history of taking solid projects, and sure enough the script makes it worthwhile. Where does Robert McCall go from here? We’re not sure, but the Equalizer is a film series we’d like to see continue.
Seen last month in the first rate suburban nightmare Mom and Dad, Nicolas Cage continues his run of excellent work with Looking Glass. Directed by River’s Edge filmmaker Tim Hunter, the feature centers on Ray and Maggie (Nicolas Cage, Robin Tunney) a dysfunctional couple who buy a motel that’s housed in a mysterious, and possibly dangerous, small town.
The motel has a crawlspace that connects all of the rooms in the motel, and thanks to double sided mirrors Ray is able to explore his voyeuristic tendencies. Ray’s thrills are short-lived after a murder takes place on the property, and a sheriff (Marc Blucas) believes Ray might be the number one suspect!
Cage is at his unhinged best with Looking Glass, and Tunney (just like Blair in Mom and Dad) proves she’s more than up to the task to verbally spar with the actor (their scenes together are electric). Hunter infused Looking Glass with a graphic comic book, B-movie style aesthetic, and that pulpy flavor absolutely works with Looking Glass. Coming out February 16 in theaters, On Demand, and Digital HD, Looking Glass is a must see for Cage fans and, more importantly, devotees to well executed, if not lurid, thrillers.
Other films discussed on CinemAddicts is the Rebecca Hall/Dan Stevens relationship drama Permission and the punk rock feature Bomb City. Both open February 9. Take a listen below to the latest episode of CinemAddicts!
In another era, John Hawkes (The Sessions, Four Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) would be a leading man who’d line them up at the local movie theater. But this isn’t the age of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, or even Gene Hackman, and if one doesn’t have “movie star” looks that person plies his trade as a character actor .
But Hawkes is one example of how character actors often have more presence than the actual star of the project, and it’s great to see him front and center in Small Town Crime. Directed by brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms, the feature focuses on an ex-cop named Mike Kendall (Hawkes) who has turned his life into a living hell thanks to his alcoholism. Drinking like a fish on a daily basis, Mike often wakes up with no idea of his location, and his decision to go behind the wheel while drunk should irritate many a viewer.
Mike may have affection for his adopted sister (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson), who’s also his drinking buddy, but they can’t stop his downward spiral. Upon the discovery of a dying woman who’s abandoned on a deserted road, Mike immediately rushes her to the hospital but to no avail. Determined to find her killer in hopes of actually rejoining the force, Mike gradually becomes reengaged with life, proving that when halfway sober he’s actually a great detective. Daniel Sunjata and Michael Vartan play cops who don’t want Mike anywhere near the investigation, with Robert Forster and Clifton Collins Jr. helping Mike out as the victim’s father and an all too confrontational pimp. Caity Lotz (Legends of Tomorrow) also stars a prostitute who may be hiding a thing or two from Kendall.
Fans of such neo-noirs like Blood Simple, where the hard boiled crime is slightly tempered by comedic undertones, should gravitate towards Small Town Crime. Running a lean and mean 91 minutes, the effective thriller is powered by a charismatic and memorable performance by Hawkes. Credit goes to the directors for filling out their narrative with a talented ensemble, but unfortunately their ultimate purpose is to service the narrative’s top dog. That’s a minor quibble, as it’s great to see Hawkes anchor his own film for once, and the Nelms brothers prove they have no trouble delivering an engaging narrative.
Small Town Crime may not reach the big stakes level of some of its cinematic influences, but that’s just fine. If you didn’t already know Hawkes is a star, then Small Town Crime should lead you in the right direction.
The film hits select theaters and On Demand January 19.
As witnessed in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and the overlooked noir The Killer InsideMe, Casey Affleckknows how to command the screen. With Manchester by the Sea, he plays an emotionally withdrawn custodian, but even in the narrative’s most silent spaces it’s hard to look away.
Whether or not you believe that Affleck has the “it factor” or is even one of cinema’s finest actors, it’s hard to beat the world that’s built around Manchester by the Sea. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who penned the script after brainstorming ideas with Matt Damon (the pair worked together on This Is Our Youth and Margaret), has crafted a subtle yet resonant story about living through our respective tragedies. Shot in the Cape Ann region of Massachusetts, the film gives an expansive, cinematic look at the fishing towns, shorelines, and the blue collar people that inhabit the area. Cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes oftentimes poetic compositions are juxtaposed with production designer Ruth De Jong’s verité approach, and it’s a dynamic that gives Lonergan’s film an organic, lived-in feel.
As for the story, it’s a deceptively simple one. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a custodian who left Manchester-by-the-Sea years ago to lead a solitary existence, returns home after his sibling’s (Kyle Chandler) death. Serving as the guardian of his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Lee gradually reconnects with his loved ones, including his ex-wife Randi (an absolutely heartbreaking Michelle Williams) and former sister-in-law Elise (Gretchen Mol). Reestablishing ties for Lee is a herculean task due to a past tragedy, and whether his family can pull him out of his emotional hole is the story’s major focus. Blessed with a talented ensemble (including Matthew Broderick, who plays Elise’s new husband), the film also features a star making performance from Hedges. Williams and Affleck will receive a healthy share of award nods for their work, and hopefully critics will also acknowledge Hedges come Oscar time.
Though clocking in at 137 minutes, Manchester by the Sea isn’t a bloated story, and by the film’s closing moments you might be asking for a little more story. Parts of Lee’s story is told in flashback, as we see a formerly cocksure yet well meaning individual transform into a shell of a man. As he undertakes the funeral arrangements for his brother and gradually becomes a surrogate father for Patrick, Leemight be actually taking a turn for the better.
While Lonergan’s finest work Margaret (please check out the director’s cut!) featured an operatic finale between a teen and her mother (Anna Paquin,J. Smith-Cameron), Manchester by the Sea rests on much stiller waters. Life isn’t an easy deal for anyone in this world, and coping with grief can be an often insurmountable challenge. Lee ventures back and forth from his job to his home, doing his best to support his nephew in his time of need. We hope that Lee finds a bit of peace whenever he takes his nephew out to sea, even if reality tells us otherwise.
Manchester by the Sea opens in select theaters Friday, November 18th.
It’s episode 36 of CinemAddicts, and thankfully it’s a great week filled with must see movies – two of which star Tom Hanks! First up is Sully, director Clint Eastwood’s insightful look at the pilot and hero Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (Tom Hanks). Come awards season, Hanks should nab another Oscar nomination for his work in the titular role. Aaron Eckhart, who plays Sully’s loyal co-pilot Jeff Skiles, is also excellent and memorable in the film. Laura Linney, who previously worked with Eastwood in Mystic River and Absolute Power, plays Sully’s wife Lorraine.
One of this year’s most arresting documentaries is Author: The JT LeRoy Story, which details Laura Albert’s creation of a fictional scribe named JT LeRoy. Under the fake moniker and identity, Albert penned novels (including The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things) which turned LeRoy into a literary sensation. Bono, Billy Corgan, director Gus Van Sant, Winona Ryder, and Courtney Love are among the artists who fell under LeRoy’s spell, and the documentary spotlights the writer’s rise and fall in a compelling and oftentimes feverish fashion.
The third film is Ithaca, Meg Ryan’s directing debut that’s based on the William Saroyan novel The Human Comedy. Set in World War II, the story centers on Homer Macauley (Alex Neustaedter), a 14-year-old telegraph messenger who initially loves traveling around town and meeting new people. His disillusionment begins during his first day on the job, as he must deliver a message to a woman about her son’s passing. Ryan is Homer’s loving yet often distant mother, as she continues to mourn her husband’s (Tom Hanks) passing, and Sam Shepard and Hamish Linklater play Homer’s advice-giving co-workers. As a director, Ryan is adept at capturing the story’s more intimate details and also displays a strong visual eye, and Ithaca, if anything, shows that the actress is a promising filmmaker. Though Hanks and Ryan’s screen time is at a minimum, Ithaca’s talented ensemble, which also includes Ryan’s son Jack Quaid playing Homer’s solider brother Marcus, help deliver an oftentimes heartbreaking yet subtly uplifting narrative.
Anderson’s streaming pick of the week is EXPO: Magic of the White City, a documentary about the Chicago World Fair of 1893. My Blu-ray picks this week is the kidnapping thriller Saving Mr. Wu and the baseball drama The Phenom which stars Ethan Hawke, Paul Giamatti, and Johnny Simmons.
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