THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018)

October 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Jim Morrison’s lyrics, “This is the end. Beautiful friend. This is the end” have been interpreted to have many meanings over the years, and they also seem just right for what is likely the final on screen performance from one of the few remaining iconic movie stars. Robert Redford claims this is probably the end of his nearly 60 year acting career. If that’s true, he couldn’t have selected a better project for his victory lap. The film itself is a nice mixture of mass appeal and the independent projects that Mr. Redford has long supported. As for the character he plays, it too fits him like a glove.

Filmmaker David Lowery (fresh off last year’s indie favorite A GHOST STORY) has adapted the story from a 2003 “New Yorker” article by David Grann, and it’s based on a true story – one that’s a bit difficult to believe … well, at least until Mr. Redford brings Forrest Tucker to life. Mr. Tucker escaped from San Quentin at age 70, and it was just one of his 16 prison escapes during a lifetime of robbing banks and getting caught. The story is that Tucker simply enjoyed the work, and went about it in the most gentlemanly possible way – often described by bank employees as polite and nice. It’s the perfect character for Redford’s trademark twinkle and grin acting style.

Most of this portion of the story takes place in 1981, and the film captures not just the era, but also the essence – something much deeper than clothes and cars. Starring alongside Mr. Redford is Sissy Spacek as Jewel, and their chemistry allows the quiet moments between their characters to work as effectively as their (sometimes) playful verbal exchanges. Tucker’s “crew” is manned by Danny Glover as Teddy, and the great Tom Waits as Walter. Waits is always fascinating to see on screen, and here he gets one especially good scene to shine. They are referred to as “The Over the Hill Gang” (in contrast to “The Hole in the Wall Gang” from Redford’s classic BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.

Casey Affleck (reunited with director Lowery for the third time) plays Austin Texas detective John Hunt, who spent a great deal of time chasing Tucker, and actually put the puzzle pieces together. Tika Sumpter appears as Hunt’s wife, Gene Jones is memorable as a Bank Officer, and for you Austin music lovers, Lefty Frizzell’s granddaughter makes a brief appearances. Other far too brief appearances include Isiah Whitlock, Jr, Keith Carradine (weirdly brief), Robert Longstreet, John David Washington, and Elisabeth Moss. The parade of familiar faces can be a bit distracting, but it’s understandable why so many wanted to work with Lowery and Redford.

Joe Anderson’s cinematography is terrific, and the film is oddly devoid of violence. If not mistaken, I believe we only see Tucker’s gun once … and that’s in a glove compartment. There is a certain easiness and warm fuzzy to the film, somewhat conflicting with what we would expect following an armed bank robber!

Of course, the reason we buy into the gentlemanly outlaw is the performance of Robert Redford. Charming and easy-going comes pretty easily to a man that is charming and easy-going. Director Lowery even treats us to a quick clip from young Redford’s film THE CHASE, and does so within a delightful montage of Tucker’s prison escapes. Few actors get such a perfect farewell tribute, and though it’s not quite Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at-bat, at least Redford gets to tip his cap to the fans. Since he’s moving his career off screen, let’s bid a fond and appreciative farewell to the man that once proclaimed, “I’m better when I move”.

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MY FATHER DIE (2016)

January 28, 2017

my-father-die Greetings again from the darkness. Pre-judging movies is just something that naturally happens for frequent movie watchers, and a pleasant surprise can create a joyous experience. Such is the case with the feature film debut from Sean Brosnan (son of Pierce). With no shortage of entries into the Family Revenge-Action-Thriller genre, it takes something special to standout, and though it targets a (very) limited audience, those that give it a shot will likely be impressed.

It’s the style that we notice from the opening black and white segment, where two brothers are hanging out and joking together as the older one offers up some typical teenager advice on “romance”. An exceptionally brutal and violent attack leaves Chester (Chester Rushing) the older brother dead, and Asher (Gabe White) the younger brother deaf.

We flash forward to a time when Asher is an adult who takes care of his mother, and prepares for revenge against his father. That’s right … the monster of a man responsible for the violence that changed the course of Asher’s life was his own father. The pursuit of revenge is something we’ve seen on screen many times before, but it’s the performances and the look of the film that make this one worth discussing. Joe Anderson stars as the adult Asher, and he conveys wide emotional swings with no dialogue. Instead, we are guided by the narration of his younger self – and this is some of the most poetic narration you’ll find outside of a Terrence Malick movie. As terrific as Anderson is, and as much as we empathize with his character, it’s Gary Stretch (former British boxer) as his father Ivan, who provides a villain so despicable that we find ourselves anxious and rooting for Asher’s violent revenge.

There is mention that serving in Vietnam destroyed Ivan’s soul, but it’s rare to see a man with no conscience and one who is capable of such carnage. Director Brosnan offsets this creature with the black & white flashbacks, and creates a contrast of beauty vs brutality. It really messes with your head and emotions. Marc Shap is the cinematographer and he shows a wonderful eye for both nature (much of the film takes place on the bayou) and personal interactions (both calm and frenzied). The film also makes good use of sound – and no sound, both of which are effective.

Make no mistake, this is not an easy movie to watch, and won’t be to the taste of most. Violent revenge is not really condoned or condemned in the movie, but it seems clear that if you are taking that path, make sure you do it right the first time! Young Asher’s narration tells us that “revenge is not noble, but it’s human” … a sentiment that rings quite true. What’s also true is that Sean Brosnan is an exciting new director to keep an eye on, and maybe the first ever to include a closing credits tribute to Irish playwright John Millington Synge.

 


HORNS (2014)

October 28, 2014

Horns Greetings again from the darkness. Every once in awhile a movie comes around that seems to have all the markings of a cult film that could become a midnight movie favorite. Since I can best describe this one as “a darkly comedic supernatural horror film”, its only real hope for staying power is that teens and young adults embrace the outlandish look at good and evil, and make it a regular on the midnight movie circuit.

Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) has long been part of the “splat pack” and this time his source material has good genes. The popular book was written by Joe Hill, son of the great Stephen King. It’s an oddly atmospheric and sometimes funny film with theological undertones, and Aja stays mostly under control until the ultra-violent ending sequence.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ig, a young man widely suspected by his fellow small town residents of murdering his true love (Juno Temple). After a visually creative opening that turns Ig’s world upside down and moves us from heaven to hell, we follow Ig’s attempt to solve the murder with the help of his attorney and long time friend (Max Minghella). And then one morning, things get really weird. Ig sprouts devil horns from his forehead. Things also get fun. This devilish look has the effect of causing people to confess their darkest inner thoughts … those thoughts we don’t even admit to ourselves!

Much of the movie plays as a basic whodunit, and the entire thing has a “Twin Peaks” feel to it … right down to the diner (Eve’s Diner with an apple logo). There are flashes of satire aimed at the news media, the drug culture, religion, and parenthood; and its core is a theme of “every devil used to be an angel“. With the satanic element, you can be sure Rock ‘n Roll comes into play (David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, The Pixies), and it’s actually kind of fun to watch Ig take advantage of his supernatural powers with a combination of evil and charm.

Radcliffe takes the role seriously and his approach adds some bite to the humorous elements. Juno Temple has limited screen time as his love interest, while Heather Graham goes full out nutso as the publicity seeking waitress, and Kelli Garner has the most frustrating role (her talents are wasted, except for a bizarre donut scene). Minghella doesn’t bring much to a role that had some potential, but Joe Anderson delivers as Ig’s drug addicted trumpet playing brother. James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan each have an extended scene as Ig’s parents, and David Morse delivers as the angry dad who has lost a daughter.

Mr. Aja throws a mixture of style and elements as he takes full advantage of the gloomy and colorful Pacific Northwest setting. Numerous flashbacks are utilized, including some childhood events that impact the current situation. The pitchfork, horns and serpents are there to distinguish good versus evil, but mostly you better be prepared for a twisted hoot that reminds a bit of Bubba Ho-Tep in the outrageous blend of comedy and horror … yep, the makings of a midnight cult favorite.

watch the trailer: