Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LFF REVIEW 2017

“There’s no question that a great script is absolutely essential, maybe the essential thing for a movie to succeed.”Sydney Pollack

Directors are often held up by critics and audience alike as the God’s of film; controlling and pointing and designing and envisioning and corralling their mass creative power to thrust upon the cinema screen. Of course, with many directors or auteurs, the lofty praise is deserved but hey, did they create that vision or story or character arc in a vacuum? No, they had blueprint on a page first. They had a screenplay written by themselves or a determined writer or writing team sitting in a windowless office smoking a thousand cigarettes while slaving to get words on a page in some semblance of a coherent filmic fashion. It seems obvious to say but a great screenplay is the (skeleton) key for any great film; it’s the bones with which to hang the meat and muscle and later the clothes of any movie.  Without powerful bones a film will not stand strong. It will fall.

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Screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonagh has, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri constructed one of, if not the most, formidable screenplays of the year.  As a playwright he won many awards for his works and his film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential comedy-drama. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012) was a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative; which while brilliantly written and performed arguably lacked the punch of In Bruges. Now, with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has delivered his best film to date; a highly emotional human drama which contains some of incredible characterization, dialogue and zinging one-liners which bounce off the page and crackle on the screen.

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Eschewing a more traditional structure the script’s inciting event – the murder of a young girl called Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) – has already occurred and therefore we are thrust immediately into the grief of main protagonist Mildred Hayes, portrayed with an iron veneer by the remarkable Frances McDormand. Her study of a grieving Mother, who is no longer prepared to sit by and wait for her daughter’s killers to be found, is awe-inspiring. Firing a rocket into the patriarchal-dominated police department ran by Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) she sets in motion a series of unforgettably tragic, violent and blackly comedic scenes.  In using the three billboards to question Willoughby’s investigation she utilises physical media as a larger form of the ‘Scarlet Letter’; an old fashioned “name and shame” device. Because Mildred, is refreshingly traditional and old-fashioned and in rural, small-town America the Internet just won’t hack it for her. She is about direct, in-your-face and ballsy action.

As a study of grief this is similar in feel to the majestic Manchester-by-the-Sea (2016) and no doubt, like Kenneth Lonergan, McDonagh will be picking up many awards for his nuanced screenplay. He imbues each of the characters with a flawed, yet rounded humanity. He takes risks by making his main protagonist, despite her loss, kind of unlikeable. Yet we are always with Mildred because she is righteous and swimming against the tide of authority and masculine dominance. Plus, she surprises us with her actions and language and violence. Below the tough exterior though there is also a vulnerability which makes us love her too and empathise fully with her loss.

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McDonagh and his filmmaking team have also put together a phenomenal ensemble cast including: Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, and Abbie Cornish etc. Sam Rockwell is especially memorable as the immature, inept and thuggish mother’s boy, Jason Dixon. His scenes with both Frances McDormand and his on-screen Mother, played with deadpan gusto by Sandy Martin, crack with complex emotion and humour. Collectively they portray imperfect characters whose lives have not just been dealt a bum hand but their situation is exacerbated by poor decisions based on emotion and frustration with life and the world. Ultimately, this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.

(Mark: 10 out of 11 – and the script goes up to 11!)

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SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015 FILM WASH-UP

SCREENWASH by PAUL LAIGHT – JANUARY 2015

Rather than fanatically and brilliantly reviewing EVERY film I have seen at the cinema this year, I am providing bite-sized reviews of movies I’ve experienced on various mediums:  Cinema, TV, Blu Ray and Netflix et al.  Here’s the FIRST WATCH films I saw  in January 2015!

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A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014) – DIRECTOR: J. C. CHANDOR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a slow, moody and shadowy thriller screaming gimme-Oscar-nods-material. It is really very good in ALL departments but dramatically I wanted more. Critic friendly but ultimately lacking a decent ending, thrills and character development.  Oscar Isaac is impressive in the Michael Corleone style role and Jessica Chastain is terrific if criminally underused. Surprisingly, given the title there isn’t much violence either.

BIRDMAN (2014) – DIRECTOR: ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU

BIRDMAN is an intellectual and artsy dark comedy about loads of stuff involving: celebrity, identity, artistic credibility, insanity, family, f*cked up egos, vanity as well as analysing the creative process. It is NOT a superhero film but a satire on that kind of thing. I liked the stylistic device of making it look like it was shot in one take; Edward Norton taking the piss out of ‘the method’ and Michael Keaton playing himself kind of. Smart, funny and a bit up its own arse – great stuff!

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) – DIRECTOR: MARC VALLEE

Missed this great drama first time around with Matthew McConaughey as the Rodeo Electrician struck down with AIDS. Great story brought to you by a committed cast who deservedly won Oscars for their sterling performances. What I loved most in the adept screenplay was the fact Ron Woodroof essentially found a niche market within the capitalist paradigm and challenged the status quo of the corrupt government and pharmaceutical cartels. At the same time his character transformed into a globe-trotting upwardly mobile corporate executive – with AIDS!

 

FOXCATCHER (2014) – DIRECTOR: BENNETT MILLER

A powerful and haunting tragedy with incredibly subtle direction, this complex psychological thriller which shines a light on billionaire John DuPont and his fascination with fraternal Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are great but the film belongs to Channing Tatum; a raging bull of an ordinary Joe desperately trying to find an identity amidst the two surrogate fathers he finds himself trapped between.

 

THE GUEST (2014) – DIRECTOR: ADAM WINGARD

Awesome B-movie action-comedy starring Dan Stevens as a Gulf War veteran hiding a secret past.  Director Adam Wingard lays on the 80s parodic charm without veering into ultra-corn while the film contains a cool star-turn from Downton Abbey’s buffed and shiny Dan Stevens.

 

LAWN DOGS (1997) – DIRECTOR: JOHN DUIGAN

Morally ambiguous character piece which finds Sam Rockwell’s underdog gardener befriending a precocious schoolgirl portrayed by Mischa Barton. Apparently it’s inspired by the folktale of Baba Yaga but I felt we were in David Lynch territory with the offbeat characters, sexual subtext, sudden violence and dreamlike denouement.  Rockwell as usual is fantastic as an ordinary Joe caught in the crossfire of the mores of a rich and spoilt American community.

 

MALCOLM X (1992) – DIRECTOR: SPIKE LEE

Excellent true drama concerning the controversial Malcolm X played with formidable presence by the ever-excellent Denzil Washington. Spike Lee treats this political iconoclast with the respect he deserves as the one-time hoodlum is propelled to spokesperson for the Nation of Islam. It’s a modern epic and Lee imbues the film with some impressive stylistic flourishes, excellent drama and inspirational speeches.

 

SABOTAGE (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID AYER

Average actioner with Arnie’s FB-CIA-GENERIC-SWAT team colleagues dropping quicker than the Austrian Oak’s box-office takings as they get wiped out one-by-one by a rat in their dirty pack.  Agatha Christie on steroids with some chunky action and decent violence yet let down by paper-thin characters and weak plotting.

 

SACRAMENT (2014) – DIRECTOR: SHAWN EWERT

Ultra-low budget horror comedy that I watched at the Horror-on-the-Sea Festival had terrible acting, but loads of gore and violence and cannibalistic religious nuts in the Deep South (where else) of the United States.  Some fine lo-budget blood-letting and gallows humour made it great fun and highly entertaining.

 

STARRED-UP (2013) – DIRECTOR: DAVID MACKENZIE

Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn are on cracking form as father and son banged up together in this brutal slice of prison life.  O’Connell is out of control and starred-up (promoted) to the big boy’s institution as scene after scene illustrates his anger at the world; only beginning to see another way through Rupert Friend’s calming voluntary social worker.

 

WHIPLASH (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAMIAN CHEZELLE

I concur with all of the praise the film WHIPLASH has been getting. It’s a triumph in all departments from director, cast and crew. Echoes of Officer and a Gentlemen (1992) and Full Metal Jacket (1987)with the fearsome Drill Sergeant battering the young grunts for starters. But then it takes off into an incredible final act as Teller’s recruit and Simmons brutal teacher face-off to an amazing musical crescendo.  Miles Teller is great but if J.K. Simmons doesn’t win every Best Supporting Actor award this year I’ll eat my high-hat…. b’dum-dum-chh!!

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In between doing a back-to-back binge on the U.S. OFFICE (up to Season 4 so far) with Carell and the gang, I also rewatched the bastardized adaptation of LORD OF THE FLIES (1990) and Brian DePalma’s lurid Hitchcockian-slasher-giallo-homage DRESSED TO KILL (1980) with Michael Caine in a very against-type role.

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #3: SAM ROCKWELL by PAUL LAIGHT

There are some actors who just walk between the raindrops when they’re on-screen; inasmuch as everything they do seems so effortless. The magnificent Sam Rockwell is one of those actors. He’s not a big star but he certainly shines like one in most of his roles. While the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Meryl Streep and Christian Bale are tremendous actors, the audience can clearly SEE the work they are committing to; yet Rockwell just glides through a performance charming you and pulling you in with his guile and a golden smile.  He’s just good in everything. Here are five performances I particularly enjoyed. (Note: glaring omission from the list LAWN DOGS (1997) which I ashamedly have not seen. I apologise to my fan.)

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

GALAXY QUEST (1999)

THIS is the film where Rockwell first hit my consciousness and it is a wonderful sci-fi comedy which gently mocks but also affectionately homages Star Trek and its legion of fans. It has a terrific ensemble cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Allen and Tony Shalboub.  Plus, the effervescent Rockwell stealing scene after scene as the kind of sidekick/bit-part show cast member who usually gets killed first.  The film is a bona fide cult classic and I urge you to see it if you haven’t.

 

JOSHUA (2007)

I picked this because it’s a VERY effective psychological horror film which kind of fell through the cracks on release and is worth catching online or DVD.  It’s an extremely well written, directed and performed “demon child” film but done with nuance rather than the overblown histrionics of the devilish OMENesque movies.  Rockwell plays a loving father and husband and it’s one his more complex roles showing pain and confusion rather than the easy charm one has come to expect from him.

THE WAY WAY BACK (2013)

Talking of which Rockwell ratchets the charm right up to ELEVEN in this wonderful-rites-of-passage-summer-of-love-coming-of-age-dramedy.  He plays an overgrown man-child who refuses to grow up and accept responsibility – preferring to play the fool at a Water Park!  There he takes the awkward teenager Duncan (Liam James) under his wing and trains him to party, have fun and gain confidence with girls.  Rockwell’s just so goddamned likeable and acts as a positive ‘father’ figure to Duncan in contrast to Steve Carell’s negative philanderer Trent.

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007)

Andrew ‘Chopper’ Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen from the last 10 years.  It was pretty much a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; elegant pace; resonating themes and subtext regarding fame and celebrity; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas and so on and so forth.  Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt).  The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience.

 

MOON (2009)

In MOON not only do we get one Sam Rockwell but we get hundreds for the price of an admission fee.  He is outstanding as the isolated astronaut (AND doppelganger) mining the moon for helium-3, who having met another version of himself is thrown into an existential crisis.   What it lacks in budget it makes up for with the use of ‘authentic’ old-fashioned models. Moreover, the story engages intellectually, then dramatically before eventually tugging at the heartstrings; all the while introducing fascinating sci-fi concepts.  Director Duncan Jones shows Christopher ‘Interstellar’ Nolan how to make a humanist sci-fi masterpiece for a fraction of the cost and in Rockwell he has a tremendous co-pilot. A film to watch over and over and arguably Rockwell’s finest performance as an actor.