Tag Archives: Michael Shannon

Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done


Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, although not quite congruent with what you’d call my cup of tea, is an impressively bizarre little foray into… well, something. Michael Shannon plays a disturbed stage actor who, in an offscreen fit of violence, slays his mother (the great Grace Zabriskie) with a sword. Now, whether by mental illness, strange Peruvian spirits that piggy-backed on his psyche after a trip down there or reasons unknown, he slowly unravels throughout the rather short yet obstinately molasses paced film, until the final act solidifies his exodus into the realm of total bonkers lunacy. Shannon is an expert at all things in the circle of mental unrest in his work, and even when playing innocuous supporting characters or stalwart leads, there’s always a glint of menace in the whites of his eyes. It’s an impenetrable character study though, giving us not much to go on other than obtuse clues and the weird, wacky troupe of people in his life, portrayed by an appropriately zany bunch of cult actors. He has an uncle (Brad Dourif, a Herzog regular) with an ostrich farm and some, shall we say, interesting views on life. His quiet girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) looks on in unsettlement, and his mellowed out drama instructor (Udo Kier) tries to make heads or tails of everyone else’s strange behaviour. You know you’re in the twilight zone when Udo Kier is the most well adjusted character in your film, but such is the territory. As Shannon descends into whatever internal eye of the storm privy only to him, he takes his mother and her two friends hostage, and the obligatory salty detective (Willem Dafoe) and his rookie partner (Michael Pena) show up to add to the clutter. David Lynch has an executive producer credit on this, and although the extent of his involvement is hazy to me, simply having his moniker post-title in the credits adds a whole dimension of bizarro to go along with Herzog’s already apparent eccentricities. It’s well filmed, acted and looks terrific onscreen, and I’m all for ambiguous, round the bush storytelling as a rule, but this just wasn’t a dose that sat well with me or tuned into my frequency as a viewer. Worth it in spades for that cast though, and their individual, episodic shenanigans. 

-Nate Hill

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Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor 


As much as it pains me to say it, I’m a die hard fan of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. It doesn’t pain me because of the backlash I get for praising it or anything, I could give a possum’s rectum what people think of my film taste, but the fact remains that I am well aware of how ridiculously dumb the love triangle at the centre of this film is, and yet I’m a sucker every time. Every other aspect of it is actually very well done, but it’s attempts to be a historical epic that uses a love story as its lynchpin are sorely misguided. Worse is the fact that I know all this to be true, yet I still get misty eyed as the heavy handed schoolyard fling between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale plays out, and further lunge for the Kleenex box as Josh Hartnett enters the picture to drive a Bruckheimer sized wedge between them. So what’s my problem, you ask? No clue, other than being a hopeless romantic whose brain flatlines at the first hint of a soppy sideshow. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the two things that make this film work really well: the deafening, thunderous recreation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and the jaw dropping cast of actors on display here. All wildlife was cleared from the harbour area prior to filming, and legions of period authentic boats and planes were shipped in to make this one of the most ambitious cinematic versions of a siege ever assembled. When the ambush starts, we feel every percussive blast and fiery crash as the US army/navy forces are taken completely by surprise, foxholes and sadly decimated by a cunning Japanese armada. When the fog of the first wave clears, we see the carnage left in its wake and feel the sheer desperate urgency of nurses and medics as they race to collect and treat the wounded, a well staged yet heartbreaking sequence. Hans Zimmer gives it his all to accompany all of this too, my favourite strain called ‘Tennessee’ opening the film with a prologue involving young Affleck and Hartnett, with a moving cameo from William Fichtner. Speaking of the cast, it’s unbelievable, and I’ve always considered this to be the sister film to Black Hawk Down, purely for the amount of actors who appear in both. Alec Baldwin scores grit points as a salty veteran heading up the eventual counter attack, Cuba Gooding Jr. is most excellent as a navy cook turned war hero, Tom Sizemore kicks ass as a plane mechanic who grabs a shotgun when the shit gets heavy, Jennifer Garner, Jaime King and more show resilience and compassion as nurses who step up when needed most, Jon Voight is stubborn and stoic as Teddy Roosevelt himself, Dan Akroyd brings salty wit to a military analyst, Mako is noble and reluctant as the Japanese commander, Scott Wilson is quietly diligent as infamous General George C. Marshall, and the list just goes on with vivid work from Kim Coates, Ewen Bremmer, Leland Orser, Glenn Moreshower, William Lee Scott, Michael Shannon, Cary Tagawa, Matthew Davis, Colm Feore, Sean Gunn, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Sung Kang, Eric Christian Olsen, Tony Curran and more. Say what you want about this one, many loathe it (just ask Trey Parker & Matt Stone), but there’s no denying its scope, ambition and technical undertaking. Also it just has an exquisite love story to rival that of Gone With The Wind and Titanic. Haaaa… just kidding. Or am I? 😉

-Nate Hill

Tom Ford’s NOCTURNAL ANIMALS – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

Tom Ford is a cinematic anomaly. With little traditional filmmaking experience he’s taken cinema by storm and with his most recent directorial and screenwriting effort, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, Ford has created an immaculate and haunting masterpiece.

The film is a magnificent web of truths, the lies we tell ourselves, the selfishness we guise in our actions, and a love that was so fierce and passionate that when it ends the only comparable feeling is death.

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It’s deep, complex, and heavy. Ford does anything but hold our hand, but he does an incredible job guiding us through a narrative that is so thick and murky, one slight mistake or hiccup would make the film an incoherent mess.

The performances are all stellar. Amy Adams gives a purposefully reserved turn that keeps her at arm’s length for anyone she interacts with, occasionally allowing vulnerability to slip through the cracks, allowing us a peak at her inherent toxicity.

Jake Gyllenhaal embarks on yet another revelation of a performance, blending into the picture in a way that is impossible to see any other actor in. Michael Shannon gives the best performance of his career as a character who if a lesser actor took on the role, it would be a one note character that would not serve as big a purpose.

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does an unbelievable job, helping construct a visual narrative that is as beautifully sweeping as it is terrifyingly haunting. It’s his best, and most important work to date. Ford re-teams with composer Abel Korezeniowski, who creates an atmosphere so dark and dreamy, the visual imagery is that much more impactful.

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Production design by Shane Valentino and costumes by Arianne Phillips further create two simpatico worlds of high excess and dusty noir, that is unlike any other film ever made. The films aesthetics are flawless, without a single blemish or crack that supports the already taut and visceral narrative Ford carefully takes us through.

Ford’s audacity knows no bounds, and cinema needs more films like this. His previous film, A SINGLE MAN hit all the cinematic marks, making it one of the best debut directorial efforts of all time, it’s so good that it was impossible for Ford to ever outdo himself. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS blows A SINGLE MAN out of the water. It’s not even close. It’s a film that’s brute nature and frightening themes delivers a cathartic ending that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Whatever Ford does after this is almost irrelevant, he has already become a cinematic titan on his own accord, and we should all be in awe.

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PTS PRESENTS: CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER with BOBBY BUKOWSKI

Bukowski POWECAST

TOOM_still2-750x500Podcasting Them Softly is honored to present a discussion with cinematographer Bobby Bukowski.  Bobby‘s most recent films, the groundbreaking Oren Moverman drama TIME OUT OF MIND and 99 HOMES, which is the latest from acclaimed indie filmmaker Ramin Bahrani, are in theaters nationwide right now. and we urge everyone to check them both out, as they’re two of the best films of the year. Some of his other excellent credits include THE MESSENGER and RAMPART, two more collaborations with Oren Moverman, INFINITELY POLAR BEAR with Mark Ruffalo, the mob-hitman thriller THE ICEMAN, Jon Stewart’s political drama ROSEWATER, and one of our favorites, ARLINGTON ROAD, which was of course directed by friend of Podcasting Them Softly’s Mark Pellington. Bobby‘s work is always extremely stylish and is always in perfect tandem with the narrative material no matter the genre, and it’s clear he’s crafted a strong relationship with Moverman, as the three films they’ve done together are some of the best of their respective years. We hope you enjoy our chat with Bobby!

RAMIN BAHRANI’S 99 HOMES — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Ramin Bahrani has made five feature films thus far in his fascinating career, and all of them have been some of the best films of their respective years, with the trio of Man Push Cart, Chop Shop, and Goodbye Solo forming some sort of personal trifecta of small, less-is-more-inspired filmmaking, almost the American answer to the Dardenne brothers. His latest, the viciously angry social drama 99 Homes hits some of the same keys of maximized melodrama that his previous film did, the underrated At Any Price with Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, while telling a topical, important, and thoroughly engrossing story that will likely be too intense and too real for some viewers. Concentrating on the financial and housing collapse of 2008 and centering the action in Orlando, arguably the epicenter of the sub-prime mortgage disaster zone, Bahrani and co-writer Amir Naderi have fashioned a compelling and provocative narrative that finds a struggling young man named Dennis Nash (an impassioned and excellent Andrew Garfield) learning just how far he’s willing to go to put food on the table for his son and mother, let alone a home over the heads. Michael Shannon is the real estate shark named Rick who has figured out how to take advantage of an already corrupt system, exploiting the failures and misery of others for his own financial gain; he sits at the same table as Gordon Gekko and Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross. The image of Shannon incessantly ripping his E-cigarette is one of the more searing visuals I’ve seen in any movie this year, and the effectively restless and propulsive music was scored by Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales, giving the film a level of anxiety that Bahrani ratchets up through his controlled and vigorous direction. Tackling topical themes and plotlines in works of Hollywood-based fiction can sometimes be a tricky proposition, but here, Bahrani and his skilled team knew precisely how to calibrate all of the elements.

The film kicks into high gear after Nash, his son, and his mother (the reliably fantastic Laura Dern) are evicted from their life-long home by Rick and two police offers, in an emotionally harrowing scene which is repeated throughout the story to underscore just how many people were affected by the greed and duplicity of financial managers, bankers, the federal government, and themselves. The superb cinematographer Bobby Bukowski can lay claim to having shot two of the most socially relevant and topical films of the year, with groundbreaking work done on Oren Moverman’s homeless drama Time Out of Mind, and incredibly intense lensing on 99 Homes. The film pulses with an immediacy, heightened by Bukowski’s smart widescreen framing, with the hazy Orlando sunlight offering the false promise of a happy day. The opening steadicam shot is nothing short of bravura, introducing the audience to the reprehensible but magnetic character of Rick, with Shannon shredding the screen with predator-like energy and endless answers to the various situations he’s found himself in. And while Garfield is undoubtedly convincing as a man pushed to his moral and ethical limits, all throughout, we’re constantly reminded that this is the Michael Shannon show, with this tremendous actor delivering an utterly ferocious performance that feels all too possible and realistic – you know there are plenty of people out there just like Rick, ready to swoop in and grab any and all of the pieces that they can line their pockets with; the agitated screenplay constantly stings and reminds us of how vulnerable many of us truly are at any given moment in life. This is the REAL horror movie for the month of October, and one of the best strengths of the film is its ending, which feels logical, understandable, and rational, as it takes into account everything that has come before it, with the final, mildly ambiguous beats suggesting nothing simple or happy for anyone. 99 Homes is tough but vital cinematic medicine that goes down smooth while leaving an appropriately bitter aftertaste. It’s one of the best films of the year.

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