Tag Archives: Jason Clarke

Steven Knight’s Serenity

I’m not sure why an imaginative, original concept film like Steven Knight’s Serenity got the unanimous critical beatdown it did, but I didn’t find it anywhere close to as bad as I’d heard it was. It’s uneven as all hell, bizarrely staged and written like a soap opera gone postal, but in a sea of sequels and remakes it goes a long way that they even tried something this ‘out there.’ Like a warped bastard child of Black Mirror and the sultriest stuff that Brian DePalma has to offer, this one plays out on a specifically fictitious Florida destination known as Plymouth Island, a place where reality might not quite be as it seems.

Matthew McConaughey gives another intense, haggard turn as Baker Dill, a commercial fisherman reduced to ferrying tourists around to catch tuna with his even more intense second mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou in Cajun mode). Baker spends his days banging local beauty Constance (Diane Lane in yet another role that’s beneath her) and trying to catch a giant rogue tuna he’s nicknamed Justice. Anne Hathaway shows up in a blond dye job, squarely in femme fatale mode as his ex wife who has married one tyrannical, abusive monster played by Jason Clarke in a performance that I genuinely was confused whether to find hilarious or be terrified by. Hathaway wants Baker to take hubbie out fishing and feed him to the sharks, Baker wants nothing to do with either of them and Clarke wants to get hammered, insult everyone and do some other things I dare not repeat here. It’s a lurid, noirish snake-pit of sweaty sex, deception and indecent human behaviour, but there’s something more high concept going on beneath the film of scum on the upper layer of the script. A mysterious suit (Jeremy Strong) pursues Baker around and there’s just this gnawing feeling that what’s happening isn’t quite… real, at least in the traditional sense. That’s all I’ll say in that arena.

McConaughey isn’t doing anything revolutionary here and the hangdog, lady’s man drunk is nothing new for him, but he puts on a good show and is clearly having fun. Hathaway and Lane curl around the dialogue like the pros they are and do fine as well. Clarke is something else though, and has to be seen to be believed. He’s a misogynistic, blustery, abusive, hard drinking lunatic who seems to be channeling Lee Majors, Lee Marvin and The Devil all in the same note. I can’t tell if it’s great character work or more a bull in a china shop scenario, but he certainly makes an impression.

This isn’t a great film and certainly seems at odds with itself, I’ll concede that. The reality bending, the sleazy noir and some surprising sentimental notes later on all seem to be culled from various other sources and sort of clash onscreen in the same film. But there’s something so alluring about the ambition of this thing, the sheer ludicrous dedication to a concept that seems more at home in the Twilight Zone than a big budget theatre release. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bored once during it and it’s well made, scored (unusual, invigorating composition from Benjamin Wallfisch) and acted into oblivion by the ensemble cast, all clearly self aware and having a blast. This thing got royally shredded by everyone and their mother upon release, prompting me to put off watching it for quite a while. Safe to say it was unfairly assessed, I found it to be a good time.

-Nate Hill

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Amy Canaan Mann’s Texas Killing Fields

Whenever people say there isn’t enough gritty, messed up modern neo-noir (which there’s some truth to, but that’s another article) I like to dig up ones like Texas Killing Fields, an unforgivably overlooked crime drama from some years back that went by mostly unnoticed. Directed by Amy Canaan Mann, who is none other than Michael Mann’s daughter, and starring a talent trio of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Worthington and Chloe Grace Moretz, it’s a dark-boned, nihilistic murder mystery set in the deepest south and populated by the kind of folks you’d actively avoid entire sections of the barroom to get away from. There’s a killer loose in the low income doldrums of Texas, as if they didn’t have it bad enough in life, and two scarily mismatched cops are on the case. Intrepid idealist Morgan sees the light in darkest corners, while faithless misanthrope Worthington adopts a hopeless, devil may cry attitude. Caught between them is a wayward teen girl (Moretz), a homeless sitting duck who wanders the byways, a prime target and unfortunate default bait for this monster to come skulking out of the shadows. This is a downbeat, chilling flick with scant rays of humanity here and there, but bleakness takes over the screen like the portentous clouds in the storm-swept skies of the rural Americas, bringing danger and decay in their wake. The suspect list is a mile long because of how many wicked character actors there are in the supporting cast, but the culprit is oddly obvious from the get go. This isn’t to say the narrative is weak or they failed at a whodunit, as one can scarcely say that was there intention at all. It’s less of a whodunit and more of a ‘dunit’, as every character has some evil to hide or stain on their soul, and when the killer is revealed, they’re just another in a long line of wayward beings out there. Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee is great as Moretz’s destitute, promiscuous mother, Jason Clarke roars in for a terrifying cameo as a violent pimp with an otherworldly blond dye job, Stephen Graham is dangerously quiet as a psychopathic local yokel, Annabeth Gosh has a brief role and Jessica Chastain gives an early star-making turn as an out of state cop who reluctantly aids Jeffrey and Sam. Dread is the word that seems to be on both Mann and her cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh’s mind, as every shot is composed primarily of darkness, shadows and claustrophobic grain, giving the fields and flatlands of Texas a hellish, oppressive lacquer. Darkness is explored both literally and thematically, and more fervently than most mainstream films care to get, which may be one reason the film wasn’t well received at all, or at least by most. It knowingly plunges headlong into the eye of the hurricane surrounding the hopeless heart of humanity, without much light on the other side or any to guide it, but there’s a bravery in that that I respect. One of the best crime dramas in recent history, a film that should be brought up more in discussion and a treatise on how to make a lasting impression in a genre that sees entries fall through the cracks on the daily. Brilliant, searing stuff.

-Nate Hill

John Hillcoat’s Lawless 


John Hillcoat’s Lawless is the very definition of badass. Bathed in blood and moonshine, gilded by Nick Cave’s rustic, textured musical score and brought alive by vivid and varied performances from an eclectic, grizzled cast, it’s one of the most enjoyable gangster pictures to come along in recent years. It follows the rough and tumble Bondurant brothers, fabled bootleggers who defy prohibition and run their product all over the aptly named ‘wettest county in the world’, until the greedy and very corrupt arm of the law snakes its way into the territory. The eldest and toughest is Forrest, a grumbly, shambling Tom Hardy who’s something of a gentle giant, until the straight razor comes out and he’s not. Jason Clarke is Howard the booze hound, who has sour mash coursing through his veins and a temper to prove it, and Shia Leboeuf, somewhat miscast, does his best as the youngest of the three. The three of them run an idyllic little manufacturing and distribution ring spiralling out of their county into the nearby area, until trouble comes looking for them, in the form of a monster played by Guy Pearce. Now when I say monster, I mean it.. when the villain in your film is scarier than Gary ‘Scary’ Oldman’s roguish supporting work, you know you have one hell of an antagonist. Pearce, sporting a sour look and parted hair that Moses could lead his people through, is Charlie Rakes, some kind of government dispatched deputy whose sole purpose is to make out heroic trio’s lives exceedingly difficult. Cheerfully sadistic and ruthlessly corrupt, Rakes is a bona fide moustache twirling psychopath and Pearce milks the role for all it’s worth, as per usual in his case. Oldman does appear briefly but memorably as lively gangster Floyd Banner, a shark of a businessman with a fondness for tommy gun tantrums resulting in vehicular mayhem. The film walks a line between two distinct tones, which can be seen in the characteristics of the pair of older brothers: Hardy is laid back, laconic and ambles along at his own pace, which any film set in the south just has to have a bit of, whilst Clarke is volatile, fired up and hot blooded, also needed in crime fare. So you have a relaxed, violent, wistful piece with a mean streak that sneaks up on you more than a few times. Any Ozark tale wouldn’t be complete without a romantic flair, as Hardy is swept off his feet by mysterious, plucky Jessica Chastain and Lebeouf has an eye for a beautiful Amish girl played by Mia Wasikowska. The film looks visually magnificent, shot in broad, sturdy rural strokes by Benoit Delhomme, and strict, impressive attention to detail is paid throughout. While maybe not as gritty or mythic as it wants to be, or at least as far as Hillcoat’s previous work has been (The Proposition remains the stomach churning gold standard), it’s a full blown, R rated crime picture, something more than welcome in an age when the genre has had its blood somewhat watered down. Highly recommended. 

31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Centerpiece Film: Terrence Malick’s KNIGHT OF CUPS

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“You don’t want love, you want a love experience.”

Despite the little we collectively know about Terrence Malick, it has become apparent since THE TREE OF LIFE that he has been telling us his own story through the guise of abstract filmmaking.  His new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS, was this year’s centerpiece film at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it is one of the best films I have ever experienced.

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Set in modern day Los Angeles, the camera follows a screenwriter, Rick (played by Christian Bale as a placeholder for the filmmaker), who hasn’t so much lost himself, because he doesn’t know who he is.  He has been wandering through his adult life, questing through money, drugs, and women.

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This cast is huge, it’s akin to THE THIN RED LINE.  Bale is the mainstay, but the abundance of recognizable actors in miniscule parts is awesome.  Malick’s producer, Sarah Green, was on the red carpet for the premiere and I asked her what it’s like casting a Malick film and what the actor’s responses are to Malick’s interest.  She told me that even though this film did not have an orthodox script, Malick has reached the point in his career where if there is interest shown in the actor, they immediately say yes.

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KNIGHT OF CUPS producer Sarah Green on the red carpet for its US premiere at the SBIFF

This film marks Green’s four collaboration with Malick, with an addition two more films pending release.  I asked her if there was something about KNIGHT OF CUPS that sets it apart from her other films with Malick, and she said that this film was set modern day (like TO THE WONDER) but was set and shot in LA.  And that this film was shot on a whim, run and gun style. 

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KNIGHT OF CUPS is a journey through Malick’s subconscious.  It is a remembering of faded memories.  Some are reconstructed, some a fantasy.  Rick is a placeholder for the camera, who rarely interacts with anyone or anything.  He watches, he broods, and most importantly he remembers.  When he does interact with others, maybe it is real, maybe it is what he thinks is real, or maybe it is what he thinks he should have done. The film chronicles life–his life, our life.  Success, fame, love, emotion, family, safety – that doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

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A Malick film is like Hemingway’s iceberg theory but reversed.  We are shown everything, yet we know nothing.  We piece it together through an overwhelming abundance of emotion captured on screen, and what’s beneath the water is Malick’s intent.  His answer, his reasoning, his life.  KNIGHT OF CUPS is a painfully beautiful and personal journey of escaping the darkness and finding the light.

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“You gave me peace.  You gave me what the world can’t give.  Mercy.  Love.  Joy.  All else is cloud.  Mist.  Be with me.  Always.”

BALTASAR KORMAKUR’S EVEREST — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Other than the various physical locations on display during Baltasar Kormákur’s matter-of-fact mountain climbing film Everest, the star of the show is ace cinematographer Salvatore Totino, who clearly went to huge lengths to accurately portray the harrowing conditions that the various individuals faced during that infamous summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Every single shot in this film feels authentic, if there was any CGI used its seamless, and there are some sequences that defy understanding, as it truly seemed that people’s lives were in jeopardy. You also get some vistas of overwhelming beauty, with Everest’s sense of scale never lost on the viewer; this film feels epic in scope yet intimate in the fine details. We’ve seen over the top action films set on a mountain (Vertical Limit) and there have been some great docudramas (K2 and Touching the Void come to mind), but in Everest, the verisimilitude becomes one of the key selling points, with the audience never taken out of the picture due to hokey staging or poorly constructed moments of adventure. Totino’s visceral camerawork covers the action with a great sense of danger and exhaustion, never betraying spatial geography in order to get “a money shot,” always allowing for the natural beauty of the images to take center stage over camera tricks or a generally over-stylized aesthetic. The helicopter rescue sequence towards the end is riveting, with more than one instance of “how is this being done” running through my head while watching, and the last shot of the film has a poetically haunting quality that feels very resonant in light of all that has come before it. Totino’s work is Oscar-caliber, and my hope is that his smart and incredibly composed work gets the attention it deserves.

It’s a miracle that anyone survived at all, and the film certainly reinforces the notion that the will to live is buried deep within all of us, and when put to the test, we’ll do just about as much as we can in order to keep breathing for another day. But hey, when you reach the roof of the earth, you’re bound to face some challenges, if not stare death itself directly in the face. The fact that many climbers lost their life during this particular ascent is no surprise; the details of this story were first outlined in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling novel Into Thin Air. Kormákur and his screenwriters, William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy, effectively set the stage during the brisk first act in a very traditional fashion, as we get to know the various people who have decided to pay a small fortune to risk their lives. The cast is led by an excellent Jason Clarke, one of the various group leaders who made it their job to bring people all the way to the top of whatever mountain they were scaling, but who prided himself in always bringing people safely back down. Death hangs over this film, as it does in so many man vs. nature survival dramas, and its inescapability can sometimes feel suffocating and overly sentimental. Not here. Kormákur doesn’t over-play the sudden moments where people meet their fate; they’re simply here one minute and gone the next. Yes, you get scenes were loved ones make their final phone calls, but from what I’ve read, all of this occurred in real life, making these sequences all the more emotionally accessible and relatable. Keira Knightley destroys her one “big” scene, eliciting tears because of how honest the entire moment feels, and because you know that she’s trying her hardest to be strong in the face of all but certain tragedy. Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson, and Robin Wright are all terrific in their supporting roles, but it’s Sam Worthington who really surprises during the final act, becoming the film’s heart and soul, handling his scenes with a direct emotional intensity that keeps the film from ever becoming maudlin. Everest gets the job done with class and respect.

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