Tag Archives: Jena Malone

#byNWR Presents TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG. Reviewed; Part I.

Too Old to Die Young
Miles Teller as Martin Jones in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

Amazon Studios has just unleashed a juggernaut, Nicolas Winding Refn’s TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG as a new exclusive to their streaming platform. The series, which runs ten episodes wherein more than not have a feature-length runtime, is moody and stylized, and quite frankly might be the first series that one cannot simply binge. It is not that it is bad; on the contrary. Refn has developed a show that is so dense and exhilarating that some viewers might need to take a break between episodes and get back into the routine of the normalcy of their respective lives because TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is not just dark, it is pitch black.

Much like his previous two pictures, ONLY GOD FORGIVES and THE NEON DEMON, Refn has become a fierce auteur, channeling other filmmakers like David Lynch and Michael Mann, but mostly carving out his own niche within arthouse filmmaking.

Too Old to Die Young William Baldwin
William Baldwin as Theo in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

The first five episodes of the series build a world of degradation and debauchery. There are few likable characters, and the ones that are likable are fundamentally likable for the wrong reasons. The plot is loosely strung together by central events that the characters weave in and out of. Much like TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, the viewer just has to put their trust in Reft and co-creature Ed Brubaker and enjoy the ride that is wonderfully accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score.

The series is anything but formulaic, including its center characters. Miles Teller is Martin Jones, a police officer whose partner is killed in the opening scene of the pilot. He’s also a hitman for a gang, as well as dating a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose father is a beautifully coked out and wealthy investor, William Baldwin.

Too Old to Die Young Mandy
Miles Teller, TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

It absolutely, positively cannot be understated; William Baldwin gives the finest performance of his career. His introduction scene is one where he’s sitting across from Teller. Not really interrogating him, or yelling at him for being a thirty-year-old policeman who is illegally dating his daughter; he is establishing his dominance over his daughter’s older suiter through intense stares and clearing his sinuses that have surely are from an obscene amount of cocaine he did.

The four episodes that follow introduce us to new characters. The second episode is solely focused on the killer of Teller’s partner from the pilot. He’s in Mexico with his Uncle, a Cartel head. The third episode introduces us to Jena Malone who is a caseworker by day and an energy healer who connects with the parents of victims of sex abuse. She sends out a one-eyed John Hawkes who is an off the radar former g-man who is dying. They are lovers, pretty sure.

The worldbuilding is mesmerizingly intense. Themes of murder, deviant sex, self-discovery, and vengeance are all prominent parts of each episode, creating an environment that is apathetic on itself, where our “heroes” of Teller, Malone, and Hawkes are trying to restore the balance in a world that has become total darkness. Halfway through the series, the pendulum swings to and fro the motivations of the characters, leaving so much to be discovered and desired. Amazon Studios deserves all the credit in the world for having the balls to back a project such as this. Regardless of the ambiguity and self-indulgence of Refn, one thing is for certain; TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is a work of beauty and everlasting art.

 

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Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch

I’m already giggling picturing the cries of protest that will rise up when I post this review, but the hell with it, I really like Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch. I never deliberately play the contrarian, I just seem to often gravitate towards films that have been maligned by the masses, and I can’t really help it. Now, in this film’s case, a few of the many and varied negative criticisms are somewhat warranted, yet blown out of proportion when you really take a good look at the story. The film is pure style, and although Zachary might have let his imagination run a little wild and clutter the whole affair with fanboy fantasies and video game visuals, there is a clear and discernible story beneath if one cares to look. Now, the only way that story is entirely comprehended is by watching the extended director’s cut, which includes an absolutely crucial, pivotal scene that’s should have never, ever ended up on the editing room floor for the theatrical version. Seriously, they we’re straight up asking for hostility and confusion by not keeping it in every cut of the film, it’s just common sense. Speaking of story, here we go: the film opens in breathless style and classic patented Snyder slo mo, with young Baby Doll (Emily Browning) trying to save her little sister from their tyrannically abusive stepfather. Outsmarted and shipped off to an austere mental institution, her journey is a sad, surreal and somewhat befuddling one, but there’s a method to the madness that might not be clear with only one viewing of the film. The asylum she is sent to is plagued by a sinister orderly (Oscar Isaac) who is abusing the girls in his care, and as a result, Baby Doll channels such horrors into a grandiose set of fantasy worlds, the base of which rests on a burlesque style brothel where she and others work for volatile pimp Blue (also Isaac). Joined by Amber (Jamie Chung), Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), she blocks out the reality of what is happening and replaces the details of an elaborate, systematic escape attempt with impossibly epic, highly stylized adventures, each of a different theme or set in a vaguely familiar period of history. Battling medieval dragons, giant samurai golems with mini-guns, WWI zombie hordes in a gaunt, bombed out European landscape, it’s all a detailed rush of sound and fury that hits you like a ton of bricks, and although is far too much for the film to handle and still get its point across, it’s completely dazzling stuff, especially on Blu ray. Guided by a mysterious Wise Man (a kickass, rootin tootin Scott Glenn) who shows up in a different get up each time and mentored by brothel Madam of sorts Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), each setting holds the key to move along a certain cog in their plan, correlating back down the line of delusions straight to the asylum, if a little tenuously. Now it all hinges on the arrival of the High Roller (Jon Hamm), a rich playboy who has come to the brothel to see Baby Doll dance, and probably more. Here’s where they fucked up royally: The scene I mentioned earlier is a monologue from him that is pretty much one of the most important parts of the film, capping off both realities beautifully, and without it, not only is Hamm relegated to basically a walk on extra, the entire final punch of the climax is rendered lost and neutered, not too mention quite uncomfortable in a sense. Whoever was in charge of that particular piece of the editing should be tarred, feathered and run off the studio lot by teamsters. With the scene left in on the extended version, however, the story is given both point and purpose, feeling like a complete vision with a little weight to go along with it’s Hindenburg sized bag of visual tricks. Not Snyder’s best for sure, but it’s in no way close to the turkey some people will have you believe it is. Whiners. Style over substance? Yes, I’ll definitely concede there’s an imbalance, but don’t try and tell me the whole thing is bereft of substance at all, because that is a lazily researched argument. The soundtrack is a treasure chest, I might add, with beautiful covers of Sweet Dreams and Sing Me To Sleep sung by Browning herself. 

-Nate Hill

Donnie Darko: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The director’s cut of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko is one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. It transports you to its many layered dimension with unforced ease and tells it’s story in chapters that feel both fluid and episodic in the same stroke. It has such unattainable truths to say with its story, events that feel simultaneously impossible to grasp yet seem to make sense intangibly, like the logic one finds within a dream. These qualities are probably what lead to such polarized, controversial reactions from the masses, and eventual yearning to dissect the hidden meaning which at the time of its release, didn’t yet have the blessing of the extended cut and it’s many changes. A whole lot of people hate this movie, and just as many are in love with it as I am. I think the hate is just frustration that has boiled over and caused those without the capacity for abstract thought to jump ship on the beautiful nightmare this one soaks you in. Movies that explore the mind, the unexplainable, and the unknowable are my bread and butter, with this one taking one of the premier spots in my heart. Kelly has spun dark magic here, which he has never been able to fully recreate elsewhere (The Box is haunting, if ultimately a dud, but his cacophonic mess Southland Tales really failed to resonate with me in the slightest). Jake Gyllenhaal shines in one of his earliest roles as Donnie, a severely disturbed young man suffering through adolescence in the 1980’s, which is bad enough on its own. He’s also got some dark metaphysical forces on his back. Or does he? Donnie has visions of an eerie humanoid rabbit named Frank (James Duval) who gives him self destructive commands and makes prophetic statements about the end of the world. His home life should be idyllic, if it weren’t for the black sheep he represents in their midst, displaying behaviour outside their comprehension. Holmes Osborne subtly walks away with every scene he’s in as his father, a blueprint of everyone’s dream dad right down to a sense of humour that shows he hasn’t himself lost his innocence. Mary McDonnell alternates between stern and sympathetic as his mother, and he has two sisters: smart ass Maggie Gyllenhaal (art imitating life!) and precocious young Daveigh Chase (also Lilo and Samara from The Ring, funnily enough). The film also shows us what a showstopper high school must have been in the 80’s, with a script so funny it stings, and attention paid to each character until we realize that none are under written, and each on feels like a fully rounded human being, despite showing signs of cliche. Drew Barrymore stirs things up as an unconventional English teacher, Beth Grant is the classic old school prude who is touting the teachings of a slick local motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze). The plot is a vague string of pearls held together by tone and atmosphere, as well as Donnie’s fractured psyche. Is he insane? Are there actually otherworldly forces at work? Probably both. It’s partly left up to the viewer to discern, but does have a concrete ending which suggests… well, a lot of things, most of which are too complex to go into here. Any understanding of the physics on display here starts with a willingness to surrender your emotions and subconscious to the auditory, visual blanket of disorientation that’s thrown over you. Just like for Donnie, sometimes our answers lies just outside what is taught and perceived, in a realm that has jumped the track and exists independently of reality and in a period of time wrapped in itself, like a snake eating it’s own tail. Sound like epic implications? They are, but for the fact that they’re rooted in several characters who live in a small and isolated community, contrasting macro with micro in ways that would give David Lynch goosebumps. None of this malarkey would feel complete without a little romanticism, especially when the protagonist is in high school. Jena Malone is his star crossed lover in an arc that finds them spending little time together, yet forming a bond that that feels transcendant. Soundtrack too must be noted, from an effective opener set to INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart to the single most affecting use of Gary Jules’s Mad World I’ve ever heard. It’s important that you see the director’s cut though, wherein you can find the most complete and well paced version of the story. There’s nothing quite like Donnie Darko, to the point where even I feel like my lengthy review is stuff and nonsense, and you just have to watch the thing and see to truly experience it.

Donnie Darko: A Review by Nate Hill

  

The director’s cut of Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko is one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had watching a film. It transports you to its many layered dimension with unforced ease and tells it’s story in chapters that feel both fluid and episodic in the same stroke. It has such unattainable truths to say with its story, events that feel simultaneously impossible to grasp yet seem to make sense intangibly, like the logic one finds within a dream. These qualities are probably what lead to such polarized, controversial reactions from the masses, and eventual yearning to dissect the hidden meaning which at the time of its release, didn’t yet have the blessing of the extended cut and it’s many changes. A whole lot of people hate this movie, and just as many are in love with it as I am. I think the hate is just frustration that has boiled over and caused those without the capacity for abstract thought to jump ship on the beautiful nightmare this one soaks you in. Movies that explore the mind, the unexplainable, and the unknowable are my bread and butter, with this one taking one of the premier spots in my heart. Kelly has spun dark magic here, which he has never been able to fully recreate elsewhere (The Box is haunting, if ultimately a dud, but his cacophonic mess Southland Tales really failed to resonate with me in the slightest). Jake Gyllenhaal shines in one of his earliest roles as Donnie, a severely disturbed young man suffering through adolescence in the 1980’s, which is bad enough on its own. He’s also got some dark metaphysical forces on his back. Or does he? Donnie has visions of an eerie humanoid rabbit named Frank (James Duval) who gives him self destructive commands and makes prophetic statements about the end of the world. His home life should be idyllic, if it weren’t for the black sheep he represents in their midst, displaying behaviour outside their comprehension. Holmes Osborne subtly walks away with every scene he’s in as his father, a blueprint of everyone’s dream dad right down to a sense of humour that shows he hasn’t himself lost his innocence. Mary McDonnell alternates between stern and sympathetic as his mother, and he has two sisters: smart ass Maggie Gyllenhaal (art imitating life!) and precocious young Daveigh Chase (also Lilo and Samara from The Ring, funnily enough). The film also shows us what a showstopper high school must have been in the 80’s, with a script so funny it stings, and attention paid to each character until we realize that none are under written, and each on feels like a fully rounded human being, despite showing signs of cliche. Drew Barrymore stirs things up as an unconventional English teacher, Beth Grant is the classic old school prude who is touting the teachings of a slick local motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze). The plot is a vague string of pearls held together by tone and atmosphere, as well as Donnie’s fractured psyche. Is he insane? Are there actually otherworldly forces at work? Probably both. It’s partly left up to the viewer to discern, but does have a concrete ending which suggests… well, a lot of things, most of which are too complex to go into here. Any understanding of the physics on display here starts with a willingness to surrender your emotions and subconscious to the auditory, visual blanket of disorientation that’s thrown over you. Just like for Donnie, sometimes our answers lies just outside what is taught and perceived, in a realm that has jumped the track and exists independently of reality and in a period of time wrapped in itself, like a snake eating it’s own tail. Sound like epic implications? They are, but for the fact that they’re rooted in several characters who live in a small and isolated community, contrasting macro with micro in ways that would give David Lynch goosebumps. None of this malarkey would feel complete without a little romanticism, especially when the protagonist is in high school. Jena Malone is his star crossed lover in an arc that finds them spending little time together, yet forming a bond that that feels transcendant. Soundtrack too must be noted, from an effective opener set to INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart to the single most affecting use of Gary Jules’s Mad World I’ve ever heard. It’s important that you see the director’s cut though, wherein you can find the most complete and well paced version of the story. There’s nothing quite like Donnie Darko, to the point where even I feel like my lengthy review is stuff and nonsense, and you just have to watch the thing and see to truly experience it.

Oren Moverman’s Time Out Of Mind: A review by Nate Hill

Oren Moverman’s Time Out Of Mind is a film that’s set so decidedly against the grain when it comes to how a story is presented to audience, it’s no wonder that it has been such a divisive experience. It’s almost like the anti-film. I understand it may be quite shocking the way it’s made, or lack thereof. But to hear that people walked out of screenings in droves at TIFF really saddens me. For someone to just not jive with the loose, dreamy aesthetic that serves the subject matter achingly well makes me wonder. But I suppose this is the type of film that really separates those with the power of abstract thought and the will to immerse themselves from those… without. The story in question concerns a homeless man in New York City played to absolute perfection by a haggard, boozed up and ultimately lost Richard Gere. This is the performance of his career, an outing of pure bravery and dedication that glues your eyes to the screen even in the most mundane of moments. You see, Gere himself had no idea when the cameras were periodically filming him, and was actually left stranded in the jungle of NYC, deep in the mindset of a lost soul, creating a minimilist performance that burns through the haze of a life scattered by tragedy. Little is given by the script in terms of back story for Gere, subtle hints given towards a broken life, death in the family and a mysterious injury which has left both body and soul scarred, as well as leaving him with obvious brain damage. If their was an award given out for best film title of the year, this one has earned it. ‘Time Out Of Mind’. Isn’t that the perfect description for a shattered psyche that has been set adrift by life’s cruel tides and left to wander the years, alone.. distraught.. damaged. Gere is a portrait of hurt, confusion and lonliness, wandering the overbearing maze of the city, desperately clinging to any semblance of dignity, as well as the scattered shards of his past that he yearns for. He’s got a daughter (Jena Malone in a conflicted career best) who wants nothing to do with him, making us wonder more about the past. He encounters several people over the course of the film. An energetic fellow vagrant (Ben Vereen) helps bring out a bit of Gere’s dormant coherence via his own nonsensical mania. A shrewd building inspector (Steve Buscemi) gives him the boot from a condemned building. He has a chance romantic encounter with a fellow homeless woman (an unrecognizable Kyra Sedgwick). The film is shot, edited and presented to the audience in a form completely void of structure or narrative beats. Gere wanders aimlessly, his foggy mental state reflected in the way his perceives his world, and in turn the way we perceive his story. It’s both ironic and fitting that we find ourselves so drawn in to a story that is presented as a set of events that are each and every one astray from any sort of cohesion. That’s where the title is so brilliant and touching.. Gere is one step removed from reality via time and injury. He himself mentions at one point that he has forgotten how long it’s been, and that he’s lost the thread of his life via many instances of ‘lost time’. Gere sells it and then some, inhabiting the streets with a worn out, ghostly presence that begs you to place yourself in the shoes and mind of someone who truly has lost their way in life, and to see that for them, such a fork in the road can truly change the concept of time. Seeing this successfully done with film in every aspect was truly an experience for me. Gere is the heart of it, as the camera peers out on him from trash strewn alleys, broken window frames and desolate, uncaring streets that leave him all but invisible, an individual manifestation of a sad fact of life which sometimes sits on the fringes of our awareness. Not with this film.

OREN MOVERMAN’S TIME OUT OF MIND — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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At once formally audacious and emotionally direct, Oren Moverman’s exquisite new film Time Out of Mind is a bold and challenging work, a movie that dares to explore a subject so often swept to the side in our society (our nation’s homeless), while simultaneously acting as an impassioned plea to help those who are suffering the consequences of mental illness. This is a work that couldn’t feel timelier if it tried, and while it wasn’t made to point fingers or to offer up solutions, it’s a fairly monumental piece of work in that it strives to tell an inherently compelling story about something that could seemingly happen to anyone, set against a depressingly bleak back-drop, going to some areas that many people might find too upsetting or too believable for comfort. Starring an unforgettable Richard Gere as a man reduced to a ghost of his former self, Time Out of Mind reveals its stylistic hand and narrative intent quickly and immediately: This is a purposefully slow-moving, deeply introspective piece that isn’t looking to have everything (or anything) solved with a tidy bow by its conclusion, told in a slightly oblique manner, essentially conveying mood and story through visuals and sounds. Bobby Bukowski’s startling widescreen cinematography is some of the absolute best I’ve seen all year, and it’s because the aesthetic and the content feel so attuned to each other that this demanding and unconventional piece of cinema works as effectively as it does. Almost the entire piece was shot at a remove from the actors, with the camera peering through windows and glass, as reflections and lights and colors smear and streak off the actor’s broken faces. This impressionistic quality gives the film a dreamy (nightmarish?) atmosphere that has the potential to cast a spell on the viewer. And then there’s the fully immersive sound-work, recalling Kenneth Lonergan’s obscenely underrated Margaret and the collective works of Altman, where background noise from an entire city fills the soundscape, with the conversations of strangers fully audible, thus creating an sonic mosaic effect that melds perfectly with the stylishly off-kilter visuals and heightened color palette. I’m always fascinated by filmmakers and technicians who can communicate their ideas on a visual level first and foremost, and in Time Out of Mind, at least an hour passes before any sort of background information is organically doled out, leaving the viewer to fill in some gaps on their own, while deciding what is and what’s not important to wonder about.
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All you need to know about the “plot” of this film is that Gere is a homeless man, navigating the uncertain streets of NYC, bouncing from homeless shelters to park benches to churches, looking for any way to nab that next six-pack of beer, while trying to put some of the pieces of his past life back together. He’s got a bartender daughter (an effective Jena Malone) that he’d love to re-connect with, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he has a lot to make up for before he’s going to find any personal or familial solace. And then there’s his chance encounter with another homeless man, played by a nearly unrecognizable Ben Vereen, who is a literal motor-mouth of mentally broken fragments. The scenes between Gere and Vereen have a caustic edge to them, with tenderness slipping through the cracks now and again (that scene at the piano…). There’s nothing “Hollywood” about this movie, and even if the final moments HINT at something upbeat or potentially cathartic, Moverman is too smart of a filmmaker to reduce his powerful, incredibly intense film into something with phony sentimentality. And I loved how the film opened and closed in the same stylistic manner, reflecting the day-after-day quality that the narrative stresses at almost every turn. Moverman has been a serious and thought provoking filmmaker in the past, having co-written Todd Haynes’ trippy ode to Bob Dylan I’m Not There, and this year’s excellent Beach Boys/Brian Wilson examination Love & Mercy, as well as writing and directing the one-two-gut-punch of The Messenger and Rampart, both starring the utterly magnetic Woody Harrelson. Moverman’s strengths have been his driving sense of character and intelligence, always looking for an interesting angle to approach his subject matter, never content to settle for formula or easily digestible themes and narratives. This is the sort of mentality that I look for when searching for filmmakers to explore, as I’m constantly finding that I’m drawn more and more to projects that can’t easily be summed up by a logline, or that stress distinct and form-pushing artistic qualities rather than the demand to create sequels and merchandise and a hit soundtrack. Time Out of Mind is an art film that will be a very tough sit for some, but exactly the sort of filmmaking and storytelling that film lovers should be celebrating.

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