Tag Archives: Sam Shepard

Quick ‘n’ Dirty: February at home

Very belatedly here are my speedy reviews of the films I’ve watched at home in February. They are a mixed bag both as genre and as quality.

The Right Stuffthe chronicles of America’s race to the stars: from the daredevil test pilots to the first astronauts. Based on Tom Wolfe’s book on the history of the U.S. Space program, it starts with the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and then moves on to the selection and training of the seven astronauts for the Mercury missions. Thrown in the mix there are the rivalries between the pilots/astronauts, the technical difficulties faced by the rocket engineers and the need to beat the Russians. Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward are convincing in their role but Shepard steal the scene every time as the taciturn, gifted pilot Yeager. This film can be slow at times but it gives the viewer the opportunity to know better the numerous characters and their motives and aspirations. Nostalgic–7.5/10

 

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The Bang Bang Club: four photographers always find themselves where the bullets are flying, during the chaotic struggle for power in South Africa in the early 1990s. This film is based on real-life experiences of Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaardsveld) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), when they were working as freelancers for a local newspaper. The point of view is quite captivating since the audience sees what’s going on in South Africa only through the lenses of these men. The conflicts that take center stage are the internal ones between the good of documenting the violence versus doing something about it. Interestingly, it’s when two of them win the Pulitzer Prize that their moral fibre is called into question. Steven Silver’s sure hand on the helm and the cast’s solid performances, Kitsch in particular, make it worth of your time. Compelling —7/10

 

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Cinderella: This live-action version of the Disney animated feature has lavish costumes and stunning set design but follows to the letter the edulcorated version. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are… well, wicked in Disney fashion! The fairy godmother is an oddball. The animals are not as endearing as or as scary (I’m looking at you Lucifer) as their animated version. The Prince is just a cardboard character. Cinderella is, of course, charming, kind, loving and with a sunny disposition towards life. She is really convincing because of Lily James, who find her perfect foil in Cate Blanchett’s stepmother (stunningly dressed in 1940s style). So it’s a nice and sweet film if you are in the mood for fairy tales. I’m still waiting for someone to have the guts to do the original story, foot maiming and all. Mellow —5.5/10

 

 

The Raid: If you need a dose of intense martial arts fights with a side of family drama (brother vs brother!), corrupt cops and a evil kingpin, this film is for you. Our hero, Rama, is a young policeman that joins the SWAT team in Jakarta. Their mission of the day is the “removal” of a dangerous crime lord, unfortunately things go from bad to worse very quickly and the cops are the ones fighting for survival. Rama finds himself in a John McClane situation but with his mad fighting skills and some help he’ll make it. I found interesting the setting in a run-down high rise building, it enhanced the claustrophibic mood and the “trapped-like-rats-in-a-maze” feeling. There are some impressive stunts and very well choreographed fights that keep the adrenaline rush going. The plot may be quite simple but the tight pace keeps you engaged.  Raw —6.5/10

 

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No Reservations: this rom-com is harmless fluff with a very predictable plot and nothing particularly new. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a talented chef, she’s focused, determined and a bit of a control freak. Her life is changed by her sister’s death, leaving her to take care of her young niece. To add more drama, the owner of the restaurant hires a new sous-chef (Eckart) who is chaotic, charismatic and charming. I’ll let you fill in the blanks on what happens next. The film mildly redeeming qualities are thegood on-screen chemistry of the two leads and Abigail Breslin being endearing, however it retreads old ground without adding anything interesting. Nothing to write home about —5/10

 

No-Reservations

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Bloodline (season 1)

Main Cast: Kyle ChandlerBen MendelsohnLinda CardelliniNorbert Leo ButzSissy SpacekEnrique MurcianoSam Shepard;

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“All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and it applies very well to this family drama set in  beautiful Florida Keys. The Rayburns are well-respected and pillars of the community of Islamorada. The patriach  Robert (Shepard) and his wife Sally (Spacek) own and manage a renowned inn. Their grown-up children are quite arrived and leading a nice life: John (Chandler) is a detective for the sheriff department with a lovely wife and two teenager kids, Kevin (Butz) owns a marine services facility and he’s married and Meg (Cardellini) is a gifted lawyer with a charming boyfriend Marco (Murciano), who is also John’s partner.  The exception is the eldest: Danny (Mendelsohn), who seems to always find himself in trouble and he’s the only one who’s left their hometown. Danny’s return for the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the inn is both expected and dreaded by the rest of the family, since there’s clearly something in the past that hangs over all of them. After a little back and forth, Danny decides to stay in town, although his father and his siblings are ambivalent about it (to say the least!). The story is intertwined with flash-forwards that give you hints of what’s to come but not to the detriment of the plot. I liked the juxtaposition of the bright sunny weather for the current tale and the dark rainy one for the future tidbits. This is a slow burning tale, that takes its time flashing out the characters and moving along the plot, and it is more a “whydunit” than a whodunit, since it is clear from the beginning that something has gone terribly awry and who is responsible for it. It should be seen as a very long film so stay away if you are impatient and want episodes that make sense as stand-alone. If you, on the other hand, like getting to know the how and what and why for each main character then this is your cup of tea. The cast is incredibly good (Chandler, Spacek and Shepard in particular) but Mendelsohn is spectacular! Worth watching just for him. Riveting —7.5/10

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August: Osage County

Director:  John Wells, Main Cast: Meryl StreepJulia RobertsChris CooperMargo MartindaleEwan McGregorSam ShepardJulianne NicholsonJuliette LewisBenedict Cumberbatch;

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Tracy Letts adapted his Pulitzer winning play for the screen and it is a very interesting study of characters and family dynamics. With John Wells at the helm, an old and honest hand at the craft, we get, alternatively, dark, stuffy interiors and burning summer light on the plains of Oklahoma, nice juxtaposition that underlines the inner turmoils and difficult relationships of the Weston family. The family members reunites under rather gloomy circumstances: the disappearance and then death of the patriarch, Beverly (Shepard). It appears clear to his eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) that he committed suicide, having made arrangements such as hiring a help for his cancer-suffering, pill-popping wife, Violet (Streep), two days before vanishing. The audience slowly learns about the past of each character and how they became what they are, in particular we get an deep insight into Violet: the harsh childhood and difficulties of her early life, and her sister Mattie (Martindale), turned them both into strong-willed, unforgiving women and relentless mothers and wives. It is a rather dismal portrait of what people can do to the psychological health of their children. Barbara is the eldest and clearly the favorite but, being an opinionated, strong woman herself, keeps locking horns with her mother, unfortunately, in turns, she is alienating her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill (McGregor) and teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Nicholson) is the mild-mannered, submissive daughter, who does everything to help her mother (she is the only one who lives nearby) and avoid confrontations (which seems a self-defense technique). Karen (Lewis) is the free-spirit but insecure one, always undervalued and dismissed by Violet, who either runs away from her problems or desperately tries to fix them finding the “right” man. Among this gallery of “terrible” women the men seems both helpless (and hapless) and the only ones who can achieve some redeeming qualities. While longtime alcoholic and poet Beverly finds that the only way through is to walk out of this raw deal, his brother-in-law Charlie (Cooper) attempts to be level-headed, patient and kind, proving to be the most balanced person of the whole family. Little Charlie (Cumberbatch) is the most pitiful of the lot: disliked and verbally abused by his mother Mattie, with zero self-worth and self-esteem, still shows a gentle nature and a kind soul. As always, family reunion will bring up old stories and things that rub the wrong way, including long-kept secrets. It is very far from the Brady bunch and not a edifying picture of familiar relations but, nonetheless, an amazing study of human nature with all its ordinary flaws. The cast as an ensemble is spectacular and makes the film, the lion share is, of course, taken in equal parts by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both stretching their acting chops very effectively. Special kudos to Cooper and Cumberbatch for their portrayal of decent men. Intriguing —7.5/10

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Out of the Furnace

Director: Scott Cooper, Main Cast: Christian BaleCasey AffleckZoe SaldanaWoody HarrelsonSam ShepardWillem DafoeForest Whitaker;

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A story of brotherly love and loss in a small town of America’s Rust Belt. Russell Baze (Bale) works a dead-end job at the local steel mill, takes care of his very sick father with his uncle’s (Shepard) help and his younger brother Rodney (Affleck) has been stop-lost and will soon go back to Iraq. Being a decent, hardworking man and wanting to built a life with his girlfriend (Saldana) is not something that is usually rewarded in life and Russell’s fate is only about to get worse. He ends up in prison for drinking and driving, after being involved in a car crash in which people lost their lives. When Russell has finally paid his debt to society, a few years have gone by and his world has changed: his father is dead, his girl has moved on and shacked up with Wesley Barnes (Whitaker), the chief of Braddock’s police, and his brother is broken, lost and in deep with the wrong crowd, after coming back from his tour in Iraq.  Since the audience has met early on both the town’s small-time crook Petty (Dafoe) and the ruthless, all-round criminal DeGroat (Harrelson) from up north (Bergen, NJ), it is very clear that things will end bad, at this point it is just a matter of seeing how grim the story will turn out. Rodney is using his fighting skills as bare-knuckled boxer in illegal matches, trying to earn money to pay back a debt he has with Petty and have something left. Once he goes up in the Ramapough Mountains to fight in a match organised by DeGroat, he will never come back. This sends Russell over the edge and on a path of revenge but as Confucius said: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”, which is quite an apt description of the ending. The slow burning pace of the movie, along with the rural and desolate settings, increase very effectively the foreboding mood of the story and a good characterisation keeps the viewer engaged. Although all the cast is excellent, I’d say that this is a Bale and Harrelson film, the latter in excellent form as the villain of the piece. Relentless 7/10

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