Tag Archives: laurie metcalf

Oliver Stone’s U Turn

Ever had one of those days where literally everything seems to go wrong and there’s some kind of invisible cosmic force aligned against you? Sean Penn’s Bobby has one of those in Oliver Stone’s U Turn, a deranged, sun drunk parable by way of neo-noir and near Boschian displays of brutal human behaviour punctuated by pockets of the blackest comedy one can find. This is a deliberately, brutally unpleasant slice of nihilism that wouldn’t be easy to swallow were it not so fucking funny, so gorgeously visual, so perkily acted by the knockout ensemble cast and so beautifully scored by Ennio Morricone. Penn’s Bobby has the rotten luck of breaking down in the one horse town of Superior, Arizona, where bumpkin mechanic Billy Bob Thornton takes his sweet time patching up the rig, leaving him to drift about town and get in all sorts of trouble. There’s a rockabilly maniac named Toby ‘TNT’ Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix) who wants Bobby’s head for ‘making time’ with his girl (a loopy Claire Danes). The menacing local Sheriff (Powers Boothe) seems hellbent on doing anything other than protecting and serving. Jennifer Lopez is sultry babe Grace, who snares him up in a dangerously lurid love triangle with her husband Jake (Nick Nolte at his utmost Nick Nolte-iest), who also happens to be her stepfather (!). This all boils into a mucky miasma of murder, violence, sex games, insurance fraud, gas station robberies, betrayal, severed limbs, manipulation and any other noisy calamity you could think of to befall a small town in Arizona that the rest of the world has seemingly forgot. Bobby is on the run from a scary Vegas loan shark (Valery Nikoaelev), but nothing he can do compares to the level of hurt these warped townsfolk inflict upon him, so it’s kind of an out of the frying pan into the fire type scenario. The thing is, Bobby himself is something of a reprehensible scumbag anyways, so there’s a cheeky masochist edge in watching him traverse this dusty, 9th ring of Americana hell and circle an ending of inevitable doom. ‘Treat others how you wish to be treated’ is an adage that almost every single character in the film seems to have sadly forgotten or chose to ignore except one individual, a blind old native man played with disarming truth by Jon Voight. Bobby has several encounters with him, and he’s the only one who isn’t after something, doesn’t display hostility or unkindness, he speaks plainly and offers Bobby bitter pearls of wisdom that ultimately go unheeded. Stone employs the same type of jittery, whacked out visual surrealities he used in Natural Born Killers, a deeply saturated colour palette, tumble dry editing techniques and more breathe life into this vivid version of curdled small town life in the vast, lonely desert. Morricone’s score is a spring loaded jack-in-the-box in areas and a melodic, melancholic lullaby in others, an underrated composition that gives the film an eerie sadness and zany vibration all it’s own. There’s more going on than meets the eye here; at surface level it’s a dark crime comedy with a quirky edge, but both Voight’s character and a few mysterious hints at Lopez’s backstory with the tribes in the region hint at a deeper, darker sense of malice lurking out there with the coyotes, suggestive of an almost mythic aspect. Stone gets high praise for his political dramas, but I’ve always loved him best when he’s doing genre stuff, he’s such an expressive storyteller and the real fruit of his imagination comes out when he’s turned loose. For me this is his second finest work after Natural Born Killers and before Savages, the three films that seem most genuine and celebratory of the medium. In any case, U Turn is a southern fried, asphalt laden, angry, sexy, perverse road trip to sunny noir heaven or hell, and a masterpiece. Watch for neat cameos from Laurie Metcalf, Bo Hopkins, Brent Briscoe, Julie Hagerty and Liv Tyler.

-Nate Hill

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Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird soars on wings of beautifully blunt dialogue, a traditionalist comic of age story that just somehow feels endlessly fresh with each new scene, three miraculous central performances from Saoirse Ronan, Beanie Feldstein and Laurie Metcalf, plus an editing style that creates lovely organic momentum and never falters for a beat. Coming of age stories are usually structured fairly similar across the board, and although all the recognizable chips are in place here, Gerwig has just managed to spin it in a way that still seems fresh and surprising. When you see that a film stars Saoirse Ronan, you pretty much know that it’s going to be an interesting project, if not an instant classic, she just seems to be a magnet for great scripts. The actress is on a career high here as Christine, or ‘Lady Bird’, her self given name, a feisty high school girl navigating the slippery terrain of being a teenager in a Sacramento Catholic high school. Exploring sex and relationships for the first time, clashing with her hotheaded mother (Metcalf in a fiery, complex and compassionate turn that practically demands an Oscar) over what college she’ll go to after grad (she has her sights set on those lofty east coast boroughs where “writers live in the woods”). Her father (understated, excellent Tracy Letts) is more laid back than her mom’s fire and brimstone approach, but both love her more than anything in their own way. All the restless turmoil and transformative angst of being that age is captured spectacularly by the story, somewhat of an autobiographical take on Gerwig’s own life in the early 2000’s. Broadway actress Beanie Feldstein is especially great as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, and the scenes between the two have an un-coached, ‘fly on the wall’ realism that’s an admirable feat of acting from both. The film is very episodic, employing a brisk ‘fade in, fade out’ tactic with the editing, but despite that never feels staccato or segmented, all of it’s modest ninety minute runtime a fluid, flowing, near free-form anti-structure, a choice which works wonders and one that Gerwig and team should be very proud of. These types of stories always need a good dose of biting humour, a pinch of sadness and something unique to set them apart, as well as simply being well crafted and authentic. This one blasts off the charts in every category, and is one of the sweetest, most endearing and terrific films all year.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Brian Jun’s Steel City

Brian Jun’s Steel City is a fantastic, little heard of indie rust belt drama that deals in choices, consequences, regrets and what it takes to heal, if possible. In the heartlands, a young working class man (Tom Guiry) struggles with pretty much every aspect of his life. His father (an understated John Heard) has been recently incarcerated, and it’s tearing him apart, as well as his family. His older brother (Clayne Crawford) is a hotheaded mess. He finds solace when his uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry, superb) offers him work and sobering life advice in equal doses. He meets a wonderful girl played by America Ferrera, and gradually, bit by bit, his story hits an upswing. This is a small story, revolving around a minuscule faction of the big picture, but that’s all it is anyways, thousands of lives unfolding on personal scale, adding up to this mosaic we call humanity. Life goes on for him, and the film is but a small window into one transitionary chapter of his life. Guiry is great, but Ferrera is magic as the kind of girl anyone could only hope to end up with. Barry gives one of the most soulful turns of his storied career as the kind of no nonsense mentor who cares a lot more than is visible behind all that gruff. The kind of life affirming story that finds hope in the oddest of places.

-Nate Hill