All posts by nlclement

After spending close to a decade working in Hollywood, Nick Clement has taken his passion for film and transitioned into a blogger, critic, and entertainment reporter. His work has been published in Variety Magazine, and at numerous websites, including Hollywood-Elsewhere, MovieViral, Back to the Movies, Taste of Cinema, and Awards Daily. Some of Nick's favorite filmmakers include Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Billy Wilder, with favorite films including The Tree of Life, Goodfellas, Heat, Back to the Future, Fitzcarraldo, Zoolander, and Enter the Void. He's currently writing a book on Tony Scott's filmmaking career.

DAVID GORDON GREEN’S STRONGER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

9

Stronger is emotionally potent true-life cinema, a cautiously inspiring film about grotesque physical and mental tragedy, and a film that resists easy sentimentality which would have cheapened the overall package. Directed with a strong sense of focus by the eclectic filmmaker David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Snow Angels, Joe), the film was written by first-time screenwriter John Pollono, who adapted the novel of the same name by Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter. Stronger is anchored by the customarily intense and all-together fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal, who in film after film over the last 10 years, has demonstrated some of the best acting chops and taste in material without ever truly getting his full due from critics and audiences.

1

Consider this list of recent films and performances: Prisoners, Nightcrawler, Okja, Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, Zodiac, Rendition, Brothers, Source Code, End of Watch, Enemy, Southpaw, Everest, Demolition, and Nocturnal Animals. This guy is on creative fire like few others in recent years. In Stronger, he plays it close to the vest and gets extraordinarily intimate with both Green and versatile cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (The Place Beyond the Pines, Shame), as well as his superb co-star Tatiana Maslany, who I’ve never seen on-screen (not viewed Orphan Black yet…), but hope to see a lot more of in the future. She’s absolutely spectacular in a fully-fleshed out “girlfriend role” that feels just as important and moving as Gyllenhaal’s gutsy lead performance. They have genuine emotional and sexual chemistry, and share one scene of extreme intimacy which is heightened because of the tragic circumstances of the situation.

3

The film centers on the harrowing in-the-moment trauma and grueling rehabilitation process for Bauman, who had his legs blown off below the knees during the Boston Marathon bombing a few years ago. Playing like an excellent counterpart to Peter Berg’s riveting and underrated procedural Patriots Day, in Stronger, the filmmakers zero in on one man, and the people that surround his orbit, giving an extremely personal side to this far-reaching event. And yes, you get to find out about “that guy in the cowboy hat,” who in those iconic photos, could be seen rescuing Bauman at the point of impact, his legs a distorted bloody mess, and clinging to life with all that he had left. The invisible and fully seamless visual effects used to show Gyllenhaal moving without his real legs is astonishing, and entirely convincing in every single shot.

5.jpg

Miranda Richardson is unrecognizable and depressingly excellent as Jeff’s alcoholic mother, while Clancy Brown gets some effective scenes as Bauman’s hot-tempered father. The on-screen family dynamics that are depicted feel honest and true to the lower-middle class Boston neighborhoods that are on display, while the “Boston Strong” theme is echoed multiple times, but it never comes off as annoying or pandering, because Pollono’s script never tries too hard, and Green never injected any unnecessary directorial blustering into the proceedings. This is the sort of topical film that audiences have been sadly shunning of late, and its low box-office and early-in-awards-season release date isn’t going to help when trying to get Gyllenhaal a much deserved Oscar nomination (for those who care about these things; I personally don’t, but just making an observation…) or the film any sense of commercial traction.

0

Advertisements

ANDREW NICCOL’S LORD OF WAR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

Andrew Niccol is a very smart guy. He wrote The Truman Show, the first draft of The Terminal for The Beard, and wrote and directed the supreme sci-fi noir Gattaca, which has to be one of the most prescient pieces of entertainment of the last 20 years. In 2005, he released Lord of War, which came and went in theaters, but it’s a film that I feel is widely undervalued, an action-flick with a brain (however cynical…), and it’s a title that deserves reconsideration and a second life. It sits at 61% overall at Rottentomatoes, which isn’t terrible. But I really feel that way too many critics missed the boat on this one, and that’s a shame, because with more support it might’ve had a better chance at connecting. Some people loved it and saw the film for what it is – a dry, ironic, and savage indictment of military policy and the worldwide demand for guns and wholesale death. Lionsgate, who released the film after it was produced independently, did a poor job of marketing (aside from the incredible one-sheets), selling it as a straight-forward action tale and showcasing the film’s explosions in the trailer, totally making it out to be a standard blow ’em up, something that Lord of War most definitely is not.

Lord of War

Based on true events, the busy narrative concerns international arms dealer Yuri Orlov (Cage) as he travels from war zone to war zone, looking for potential buyers. He supplies whole armies, ruthless mercenaries, and sometimes entire nations with their guns and tanks and battle-field equipment, and he gets paid cold hard cash – lots and lots of it. Yuri has zero conscience; these people, no matter how poor or uneducated, want their guns and they’re going to get them one way or another, so why not have them buy their goods from him? He’s just giving the people what they want. On Yuri’s trail is an FBI agent played by Ethan Hawke who is always one step behind, and there’s some B-story action involving Yuri’s model wife (hottie Bridget Moynahan), which isn’t as engaging as the material that deals with Yuri’s inherently dangerous profession, but by no means sinks the movie. He’s also got a coke-head brother played by wide-eyed Jared Leto who might become Yuri’s undoing.

3

Niccol’s poison-arrow satire darts hit all of their intended targets in Lord of War. This is a purposefully cold and pessimistic movie about a merchant of death, a “lord of war,” a guy who most likely isn’t going to learn anything by the time the narrative comes to a conclusion. He’s happy to be doing what he’s doing; thrilled, actually. Yuri isn’t likable, but Cage makes him engaging, and it’s one of his better performances, and came during that solid run of work which included Matchstick Men, Adaptation, and The Weather Man. He seemed very much attuned to the script’s tonal shifts and he appeared right at home playing an amoral, greedy hustler. The film also has a note-perfect ending that I just love, which comments bitterly on all that has come before it. The story really couldn’t have ended any other way if it wanted to be taken seriously, and I love how Niccol didn’t back down from the nasty truth that his movie displays.

Lord of War also has a scary-brilliant opening title sequence, one of the best I’ve ever seen to be totally honest, giving the audience a front-row, bullet’s-eye view of the birth of ammunition, from melted metal all the way to being placed in the chamber of an M-16, before being fired into someone’s skull. The camera positions itself on the side of a random bullet, and we follow that bullet’s life from creation to eventual resting place; it’s a small tour de force of filmmaking, announcing right up front that this movie isn’t playing by the normal set of rules. Working with extra-slick images from ace cinematographer Amir Mokri (Bad Boys 2, Man of Steel), Niccol crafted an exceedingly photogenic film, a work that shows how sexy guns can be, but one that’s also unafraid to show their deadly capabilities. Lord of War is a damn good movie, always very entertaining, and consistently thought provoking and politically resonant in ways that few might expect. Available on Blu-ray and DVD.

2

NICK’S NOTES: JOHN MADDEN’S MISS SLOANE

2

Miss Sloane is an entertaining movie, despite the fact that I never fully believed all of what debut writer Jonathan Perera and veteran director John Madden were selling. Jessica Chastain anchors the cast, with a more robotic performance than I’m accumstomed from seeing from her; maybe it was the (purposefully?) stilted dialogue that felt awkward? The film felt Sorkin/Mamet-lite, and while I definitely admired the abundance of intense sociopolitical speechifying that was on display, the entire piece played more like a Hollywood concoction than the morally ambiguous insider-politics drama that was likely intended. Still, the film has some brains, it’s got some icy-cool style, and Chastain looks striking in her hard-red make-up, heels, and business suits. The strong supporting cast including Mark Strong, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Michael Stuhlbarg all help to push the material over with class and integrity. Madden has had an odd career, definitely inconsistent but peppered with some strong efforts (I really like The Debt and Mrs. Brown, and his adaptation of Proof is underrated), and while Miss Sloane is eminently watchable, it never blossomed into the movie that I was hoping it would. Available on Blu-ray/DVD and via various streaming providers.

1

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA’S TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

It’s true that Francis Ford Coppola had a rough time after the first two Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, but that’s not to say that the films that would follow would all be without merit or importance. 1988’s deeply underrated Tucker: The Man and His Dream deserved to do better than it did at the box office ($19 million on a $25 million budget), and despite solid critical response, it’s a late 80’s gem that not enough people seem to have seen, but once you’ve seen it, it’ll be hard not to be a fan. Jeff Bridges gives a warm, winning, and hugely sympathetic lead performance as Preston Tucker, a dreamer, schemer, and all together believer in his own mystique and passionate ideas. He wants to build a car, a special car for the people, but has to fight corrupt business partners, shady journalists, and government meddling all in effort to get his dreams realized for real and on a national stage. In a career filled with underappreciated performances before he finally got his Oscar, this is one of my favorites from Bridges.

2

Vittorio Storraro’s expansive cinematography is lush and vibrant (this film is screaming for a Blu-ray upgrade) and Joe Jackson’s uplifting score hits all the right notes of “feel good” inspiration without becoming overly cloying or cheaply sentimental. The Oscar nominated production design by the absolutely amazing Dean Tavoularis is stunning, and the film certainly bears the optimistic thematic imprint of long time Coppola buddy George Lucas, who served as producer, and ultimately rescuer, when Coppola was having problems getting the film financed.  The excellent supporting cast also includes Joan Allen, Mako, Martin Landau, Elias Koteas, Frederic Forest, and Dean Stockwell, while the strong script by Arnold Schulman (Funny Lady) and David Seidler (The King’s Speech) really keeps this one on firm narrative ground. A passion project since childhood, you can smell the love that Coppola brought to the entire, lavishly appointed production. Tucker: The Man and his Dream is available on DVD.

1

RIC ROMAN WAUGH’S SHOT CALLER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

Damn. Shot Caller is a piece of hard-as-nails cinema. I’d love to see the expression on Walter Hill’s face after viewing this testosterone drenched display of movie machismo; the fact that it’s basically air-tight from a conceptual level only helps to make the film feel all the more spectacular overall. Written and directed by Ric Roman Waugh, a former stuntman turned indie filmmaker who apparently has a fetish for prison narratives (previous credits include the very good Felon; Snitch, which I’ve not seen; and the intriguing sounding In the Shadows, which sounds like a riff on Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man), and it’s abundantly clear he understands this milieu extremely well. Maybe too well, as Shot Caller made me quite afraid of spending any amount of time in jail, which I would have to imagine was Waugh’s intent. Circular in its construction and devised with a driving sense of forward momentum despite a non-linear presentation, Shot Caller is never unnecessarily gory or over-plotted, instead relying on smart and explosive moments of graphic violence to punctuate the gritty story. Waugh’s anxious and dangerous little B-movie transcends its trappings as a result of dynamic acting from everyone in the beefed-up cast, with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau turning in a transformative piece of acting that elevates the picture to an even higher plateau. The film pivots on a successful family man who causes a deadly traffic accident. He’s sent to prison, and when he gets there, he realizes that nothing will ever be the same, and must fight to stay alive by any means possible. And yet, there’s so much more, none of which I’ll hint at or spoil.

2

Add in Joe Bernthal (love this guy!), Jeffrey Donovan, Emory Cohen, Holt McCallany, Benjamin Bratt, Evan Jones, Omari Hardwick, and Lake Bell and you’ve got rock-solid support from a deep supporting cast. Everyone registers with authority, and Bernthal has definitely got the market-cornered in terms of playing hot-tempered alpha-males who love to get physical. The matter-of-fact cinematography by Dana Gonzales gets down and dirty with all of the bloody shankings and hand-to-hand killings, and there’s a prison yard brawl where nearly everyone is brandishing some sort of shiv that feels as visceral and fucked up as what was shown in a similar scene in The Raid 2. Michelle Tesoro’s strict editing keeps a fast pace and goes a long way in escalating the inherent tension in Waugh’s scenario, while the film belies its likely low budget with a terrific sense of verisimilitude in and out of lock-down, with some great nocturnal locations chosen for maximum atmosphere. Shot Caller is an R-rated actioner made for people who really appreciate this type of hard-nosed entertainment, and a total rebuke of the homogenized, PG-13, CGI-jizz-whiz culture that the major movie studios are so obsessed with. So naturally, that means that Shot Caller was entirely funded by independent sources of money, with Direct TV helping to pull it all together and showcasing the end product on their service a few weeks before anyone else. Whatever it takes is my motto. I’m so happy that these new outlets are catering to the people whose interests have been abandoned by the big-dollar suits.

1

DANNY BOYLE’S TRAINSPOTTING 2 — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

Trainspotting 2 (I simply refuse to refer to this film as T2 as there is only ONE T2) works way better than I ever expected. I am very wary of long-lead sequels, especially sequels to masterworks, so this one had a lot to prove. The story is really good, the performances are all excellent, it’s beautifully photographed by Anthony Dod Mantle, and director Danny Boyle again proves that cinema is part of his DNA; I really love him as a filmmaker. The narrative has more of a reason to exist than I could have imagined, with everything feeling organic enough as to make contextual sense. And while certainly nowhere near as impactful as the first effort (but how could it have been?), it’s an extremely entertaining film that reignites old characters in ways that could have felt forced or unnecessary but never does thanks to the conviction of the script and the heart it shows for the various characters. Sequels, as a rule, are typically designed with one thing in mind: To make money. And with this one, that never feels like it was the guiding motivation, as Boyle is too smart for that, and given that he could make nearly anything that he wants, I’m glad he brought back the gang for one more wild round of debauchery. John Hodge’s script is sharp, funny, and perceptive of where these characters would realistically be at this point in their manic lives. This most definitely wasn’t a “safe-bet.”

2

NICK’S NOTES: WARGAMES

3

I used to watch WarGames all the time as a kid. It aired constantly on HBO, my dad was a big fan, and it was edgy in just the right spots but never overly offensive as to be objectionably in my mother’s movie-watching eyes. Released in 1983 and directed by John Badham (who had replaced Martin Brest), this cold-war era piece of vintage entertainment centers on a young computer hacker (Matthew Broderick) who accidentally infiltrates a top-secret government computer program, resulting in a series of escalting “war games” being conduced by a super-computer between the U.S. and Russia. You gotta love this idea! Co-written by Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker, the film sports some gorgeous cinematography by William A. Fraker, and is very well-paced by editor Tom Rolf. Shot for $12 million and grossing $80 million, the film was a big hit and was well-received by critics, and has become one of those staple catalog titles that people still adore to this day. Extra-cute Ally Sheedy POWER and big-time Dabney Coleman POWER like a cherry on top.2