Tag Archives: Movies

THE ROBERT ALTMAN FILES: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)

By Patrick Crain

When M*A*S*H became an unexpected monster hit that would allow Robert Altman to more or less write his own ticket for the next ten years, he came face to face with a stark decision. He could continue down the road of commercialism and give mass audiences what he thought they might have wanted or he could continue being an iconoclast who would blow apart any good will he may have previously accrued by prospectively indulging in projects that meant the most to an audience of one, namely Robert Altman. Within nine months of the release of M*A*S*H, this question would be answered very clearly with the release of Brewster McCloud.

Continuing his trend of doing unwelcome prostate exams on the studio suits, Brewster McCloud may have been even more damning and reprobate than M*A*S*H and it’s evident within the first three minutes. Though MGM’s Leo the Lion title card had been sent up before, never had his maw opened to reveal a mistake (specifically, Rene Auberjonois sheepishly saying “I forgot the opening line” is laid over the roar), announcing the artificiality of the movies before we even see a frame of the actual film. Soon after that, Altman takes center aim at opening credit sequences by calling attention to it while setting up the players in this mad, modern fairy tale (and if audiences thought the verbalized roll call of actors that posed as the closing credits M*A*S*H was audacious, they were likely to be just as delighted at the end of Brewster McCloud and, perhaps, even more so).

Brewster McCloud, on the surface, is a social observation wrapped up in a narrative regarding a bizarre murder mystery. The town of Houston is suddenly plagued by the mass stranglings of some of society’s upper crust, including a wealthy miser who owns a string of rest homes (an unrecognizable, hilarious Stacey Keach) and a gaudily spangled, tone deaf, and miserably loud Marge Schott-like matron all things white in her beloved city (a fabulous Margaret Hamilton). To help solve these murders, hotshot San Francisco detective Frank Shaft (Altman day-player Michael Murphy in his first plum role) and his glorious assortment of turtlenecks are called in to assist and he immediately runs afoul of the local police investigation headed up by acerbic Captain Crandall (G Wood, pretty much playing the same character he did in M*A*S*H). Weaving in and out off this mystery is Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort, charming audiences a year before he really made an impression in Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude), a lonely and shy young man who lives in the fallout shelter of the Astrodome and is in the process of building a massive set of wings so one day he can fly far far away. Also, mixed into the craziness is a subplot regarding the widow of a dirty cop (Bert Remsen in his Altman debut), a dizzy yet radiant Astrodome tour guide (Shelley Duvall, an absolute doll in her film debut), a local political bigwig (William Windom), and a great deal of bird shit.

There are a great deal of elements in this very specific stew that makes it such an enticing curiosity and quite unlike anything else in Altman’s filmography. Along with its relentless torching of everything stupid and ugly about American culture (racism, corruption, sleazy politicians), the film takes some pretty hip weed humor out for a stroll along with more than a few homages to the Wizard of Oz and cop films of the day (most especially Bullitt and Shaft). Likewise clever and curiously amusing is the film’s continuous monologue by the lecturer (Auberjonois) whose theories on man and bird prove to be so potent, he slowly transforms into an overstuffed winged creature as the movie unfolds.

But, amid the almost surreal, carnival atmosphere that perfumes the film, there are deeper and more serious themes at play in Brewster McCloud. Bud Cort is not unlike his character in Harold and Maude in that he’s engaged in a strange relationship with an older woman and is also unable to connect to the real world. But in Brewster McCloud, the audience doesn’t much know what has caused him to give up on humanity to the point he would retreat into such a cockeyed fantasy. Sally Kellerman’s mysterious, trench-coated, doting, mama bird/angel of death character of Louise hangs about in the background and cuts a figure that Altman would return to with just a little less amusement in the last hour of his career when mortality was watching his every move. And not unlike Sandy Dennis’s Frances Austen in That Cold Day in the Park, Brewster is a sexual cripple. Taught to believe that the closest experience to flying at man’s disposal is the pleasure of sex and that, once one has been deflowered, man settles and loses his desire for flight, his sex life is relegated to him doing an insane amount of chin-ups while his girlfriend (a hilarious Jennifer Salt) masturbates under the covers.

Brewster McCloud is a very singular, madcap moment in Altman’s career that feels something like a palate cleanser that was splashed into the audience’s face to repel the squares who had hitched onto M*A*S*H for all the wrong reasons. Where he would give flesh to some bottom shelf National Lampoon characters some fifteen years later with his underrated O.C. and Stiggs, Altman here looks to be crafting something that feels like it escaped from a movie parody right out of MAD Magazine. And while the final moments of the film drive home just what an actor’s movie the film is, the real star of Brewster McCloud may very well be the Astrodome itself. A scant five years after it was completed, Altman saw it as one of the best metaphors for the day; a monument to the fact that the human race eventually became far more risk-adverse and less adventurous and would opt to nest in the reliable creature comforts one got from living in a cage. And it was a cage Altman would continue to rattle as if doing so were a personality trait.

Indie Gems: Paul Fox’s The Dark Hours

There’s home invasion films and then there’s whatever pseudo-psychological cosmic fuckery that transpires in Paul Fox‘s The Dark Hours, and I mean that in the best way possible way, this is a superior Canadian indie shocker that will knock your teeth out with its cunning verbosity, ruthless edge, terrifying villains and spooky atmospherics. Kate Greenhouse is Dr. Samantha Goodman, a veteran psychiatrist with a lot of inmates turned enemies who is spending some time away from her practice at a remote rural cabin with her hubbie (Gordon Currie) and little sis (Iris Graham). Unfortunately a former patient she once used shady malpractice on has followed her out there though, menacing serial rapist/murderer Harlan Pyne (Aiden Devine) with his twitchy, violent teen protege (Dov Tiefenbach) in tow. Harlan is extremely unstable, narcoleptic, sociopathic and out for mind-games, murder and revenge most sweet. Cue a very violent, anxiety inducing close quarters battle as we see the (not so?) good doctor match will, wit and physicality with this deadly psychopath and his monkeying lackey. Or do we? The third act of the film throws some metaphysical, supremely psychologically dense curveballs our way and there’s a reason for this: Samantha suffers from an inoperable brain tumour that causes unreliable rifts in perception, waking visions and all manner of cognitive disruptions. Additionally and for fascinating reasons that I won’t spoil.. Pyne suffers from the same type of ailments. So, we have an unreliable protagonist *and* an unreliable antagonist in an eerie setting with other characters orbiting them as cannon fodder for this brain damaged showdown and the result is nothing short of electrifying. The script is terse, intelligent, full of dark humour and vivid character eccentricity, the horror is shocking, genuinely unpredictable and very disturbing, the performances are raw, lithe and full of life and the overall aesthetic feels like a delicious concoction of Panic Room with splashes of Memento by way of the cabin in the woods motif. The very definition of a hidden gem, and a terrific film. This is streaming nowhere and dvds are apparently hard to find but there’s a decent version on YouTube, anyone can DM/email if they would like the link.

-Nate Hill

Matt Palmer’s Calibre

It’s funny how in one instance of miscalculation, a situation can turn deadly and lives can spiral irreparably out of control. Matt Palmer’s Calibre, a stunning Scottish Netflix original thriller, shows just what happens when two Edinburgh pals (Jack Lowden & Martin McCann) venture out into the rural highlands for a hunting trip and some friendly interaction with the local townsfolk, some of which are amicable and receptive towards these two city boys, and others who are not. But… it’s their own damn fault if I’m being honest. Firstly, after a night of pubs and partying, one of them gives cocaine to a troubled local gal and ends up sleeping with her, which already puts them in hot water with her volatile father and his goons. What really gets them up the creek though is when they accidentally shoot and kill a hiking father and his eleven year old kid on their hunting excursion, and instead of simply telling the villagers what they’ve done and fessing up like real men, they bury the bodies and play dumb like a couple of pansy fools. Well something like that never stays buried and soon it’s a nerve frying game of suspense as to when these two bodies will be found, how the townsfolk will correlate the city boys involvement and what will be done about it. There’s a lot of films where city folk piss off country folk and horrible things happen, but this one ditches the lurid, pulpy overtones of something like Deliverance and levels with us on a plane that’s decidedly more down to earth and grounded, yet no less chilling. As in many tight knit small town communities there are two elders who collectively call the shots but have differing outlooks and personalities: a hotheaded, violent piece of work with unchecked rage issues (Brian McClay, Scotland’s answer to Ray Liotta) who wants to deal with the these two swiftly and ruthlessly, and a more level headed, calm and rational man (Tony Curran, excellent) who wants to aim for the least damaging outcome. These two provide terrific performances and a fascinating dynamic for this brutal, tragic turn of events to unfold in. I’ll be honest, I was rooting for these townsfolk the entire time; they were initially hospitable, reasonable albeit rowdy people who did their best to be nice to these outsiders, who in turn showed them disrespect at every turn and instantly made neglectful, stupid decisions to get themselves into trouble, then into further trouble. What did they think was going to happen? This story plays out in very believable fashion, the characters behave in a way that makes sense, cliches are consistently and cleverly avoided and substituted with realistic beats and relatable human character decisions, it works as a crackling thriller, dark morality play, grim cautionary tale and atmospheric rural nightmare. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go

I like when comedic actors do serious roles, especially when they’re such a tonal and characteristic departure from what we’re used to seeing that you get to view the artist in a completely new light. Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go is a sensational indie drama that focuses on a mostly dead serious, unbelievably restrained Will Ferrell as Nick, an upper middle class fellow who is also a relapsing alcoholic and whose life is starting to spin dangerously out of control. After several pretty bad alcohol related incidents at work he arrives at his home in the Arizona suburbs to find his wife has left him, changed all the locks and dumped his belongings all over the lawn. Feeling pretty much at rock bottom, he stocks up on booze, posts up on his lawn and cracks open a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, his drink of choice and the first of many. This is where much of the film finds him, just sitting in his yard amidst a maze of personal stuff that he attempts to sell in an impromptu ongoing yard sale with the entrepreneurial assistance of a local kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Various folks in his life try to do their best to help him including his cop buddy and former AA sponsor (Michael Pena) and the sympathetic pregnant homemaker (Rebecca Hall) across the road, while he makes his best effort to connect with them and with a former high school sweetheart played by Laura Dern who blesses the film with a brief but luminously earnest cameo. This is a pretty bleak film that focuses on someone who has nearly lost everything in life, it’s not an area of human experience the we or cinema overall likes to dwell on but think of the thousands of everyday people going through this sort of thing whose voices remain unheard, and the countless others who have made it through such a life altering addiction and it’s subsequent personal ramifications and how viewing a film like this may give them further hope and inspiration. Ferrell is a revelation as Nick; gone is his wacky, wild eyed persona and any moments of comedy to be found here are of the subtlest, driest variety, the kind of laughs that hurt on the way out. Everything that’s happened to him is essentially his own fault, but that didn’t stop me from caring about him deeply and wanting him to make it through his rough time intact, or noticing that underneath the mess his life has become, he’s a bright, sweet guy with a slightly dimmed but nevertheless good outlook on life and a kind, open heart. Just observe how he cares for the kid he’s hired to sell his stuff, or does his best to treat Rebecca Hall’s character with respect and kindness, even when his drinking and jaded mental perspective make it difficult to do so. There’s a scene near the end of the film which I don’t want to spoilt too much except to say that she gives him a gift, a small token that is profoundly resonant and reflective of the brief, unorthodox but very important piece of time they have shared together by pure happenstance, and it’s the emotional core of the whole thing: one human being doing their best to comfort and lift up another who has fallen on perhaps the hardest times they’ll ever see. This is an uncommonly emotionally intelligent film with a career best performance from Ferrell who is about as committed, grounded and heartbreaking as he’ll ever be in his career and a fleeting glimpse into the life of someone you might hurry past on your way, divert your gaze when they meet yours or speed up in indirect shame as you drive past and see him on that lawn, can of PBR in hand, surrounded by broken materialistic dreams. But his story, countless others just like it and the human beings in them are just as important as any others, and it’s life affirming to see a filmmaker tackle one with such compassion, honesty and empathy. Great film.

-Nate Hill

I like when comedic actors do serious roles, especially when they’re such a tonal and characteristic departure from what we’re used to seeing that you get to view the artist in a completely new light. Dan Rush’s Everything Must Go is a sensational indie drama that focuses on a mostly dead serious, unbelievably restrained Will Ferrell as Nick, an upper middle class fellow who is also a relapsing alcoholic and whose life is starting to spin dangerously out of control. After several pretty bad alcohol related incidents at work he arrives at his home in the Arizona suburbs to find his wife has left him, changed all the locks and dumped his belongings all over the lawn. Feeling pretty much at rock bottom, he stocks up on booze, posts up on his lawn and cracks open a tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, his drink of choice and the first of many. This is where much of the film finds him, just sitting in his yard amidst a maze of personal stuff that he attempts to sell in an impromptu ongoing yard sale with the entrepreneurial assistance of a local kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Various folks in his life try to do their best to help him including his cop buddy and former AA sponsor (Michael Pena) and the sympathetic pregnant homemaker (Rebecca Hall) across the road, while he makes his best effort to connect with them and with a former high school sweetheart played by Laura Dern who blesses the film with a brief but luminously earnest cameo. This is a pretty bleak film that focuses on someone who has nearly lost everything in life, it’s not an area of human experience the we or cinema overall likes to dwell on but think of the thousands of everyday people going through this sort of thing whose voices remain unheard, and the countless others who have made it through such a life altering addiction and it’s subsequent personal ramifications and how viewing a film like this may give them further hope and inspiration. Ferrell is a revelation as Nick; gone is his wacky, wild eyed persona and any moments of comedy to be found here are of the subtlest, driest variety, the kind of laughs that hurt on the way out. Everything that’s happened to him is essentially his own fault, but that didn’t stop me from caring about him deeply and wanting him to make it through his rough time intact, or noticing that underneath the mess his life has become, he’s a bright, sweet guy with a slightly dimmed but nevertheless good outlook on life and a kind, open heart. Just observe how he cares for the kid he’s hired to sell his stuff, or does his best to treat Rebecca Hall’s character with respect and kindness, even when his drinking and jaded mental perspective make it difficult to do so. There’s a scene near the end of the film which I don’t want to spoilt too much except to say that she gives him a gift, a small token that is profoundly resonant and reflective of the brief, unorthodox but very important piece of time they have shared together by pure happenstance, and it’s the emotional core of the whole thing: one human being doing their best to comfort and lift up another who has fallen on perhaps the hardest times they’ll ever see. This is an uncommonly emotionally intelligent film with a career best performance from Ferrell who is about as committed, grounded and heartbreaking as he’ll ever be in his career and a fleeting glimpse into the life of someone you might hurry past on your way, divert your gaze when they meet yours or speed up in indirect shame as you drive past and see him on that lawn, can of PBR in hand, surrounded by broken materialistic dreams. But his story, countless others just like it and the human beings in them are just as important as any others, and it’s life affirming to see a filmmaker tackle one with such compassion, honesty and empathy. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Jay Roach’s The Campaign

I didn’t expect much from The Campaign given how saturated the comedy genre is with collective Will Ferrell/Zach Galifinakis content that can be profoundly hit or miss but this is one seriously funny film, starting with the freedom to play thanks to its R rating which is always an asset. Political satires should always elicit nervous laughter here and there and this does a good job of having fun but also kind of subtly showing us exactly how elections work and the inherent, ever present corruption behind each and every one of them. Ferrell is Cam Brady, a dipshit Louisiana congressman with the IQ of a riverbed who is up for re-election and since he’s so far unchallenged, is in relax mode. However, two scheming, cigar chewing billionaire industrialists (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd channeling their inner Looney Toons) are trying to sell out their state’s resources to those pesky Chinese that seem to keep buying everything up so they can develop a bunch of land into sweatshops and turn dirty profits loose. They need a rival candidate that they basically own though, which brings us to Galifinakis’s Marty Huggins, a hopeless but sweet dim-bulb from old money whose rich prick kingpin father (a perpetually tipsy Brian Cox) doesn’t think much of him. A Slick Dick campaign fixer (Dylan McDermott) is hired and suddenly Brady has a challenger in this sweet tea swillin’, double pug owning, piss-ant little character who at first is in way over his head but soon gets a clue and then it’s clash of the brain-dead republican candidates. On paper this sounds like it skewers republicans only but all these people really don’t give a shit about the party ideals they’re representing and it’s clear that this kind of behaviour, cash backed policies, rampant scandals, passive aggressive smear attempts and clandestine maneuvers happen on both sides regardless of red or blue, and no one is off the hook. These two go to great and terrible lengths to one up each other that start with trying to bang each other’s wives, escalates to one tricking the other into driving while spectacularly hammered (and getting subsequently disgraced) and by the time this battle of wits (or lack thereof) reaches its fever pitch Ferrell has accidentally one-punched both a baby and a dog! I’m not gonna lie this film had me fuckin laughing almost the entire way through at these blissfully tasteless antics and appreciating the diabolically satirical script that is the most on point send up of politics this side of Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog. Also I’ll add that there’s more cameos in this film than an episode of Entourage so keep your eyes peeled for a lot of famous people being super ridiculous. Hilarious film.

-Nate Hill

Disney’s The Watcher In The Woods

Disney used to do a lot of cool, creaky old live action films back in the day, awesomely retro SciFi/horror/adventure type stuff, and while not as timeless or important to me as others of its type, The Watcher In The Woods is still an atmospheric enough piece with beautiful UK locations, eerie sound design and a solemn, spooky performance from Bette Davis. She plays the widowed owner of a massive Victorian mansion in the English countryside who rents part of her home out to an American family for reasons that I still can’t quite figure out, but it has something to do with her daughter who died on the grounds under mysterious circumstances decades before. It isn’t long before the eldest daughter (Lynn-Holly Johnson) starts t have strange visions, hears things on the edge of the woods outside the property and dreams of a ghostly blindfolded girl who cries out for help. This all escalates into an impressively supernatural yet still down to earth series of plot revelations anchored by Davis and her intense eyes and well acted by everyone. The youngest daughter is played by Kyle Richards who we remember as Lindsay Wallace in John Carpenter’s Halloween which packs in some further horror pedigree. I’ll admit I wasn’t as won over by this film as I thought I would be, but I think I built it up too much. I have been searching for this one for years, it’s far too expensive to buy on Amazon and Disney plus neglected to add it to their stable for some reason (they’re notorious for that vault-hoarding bullshit) so my only hope was thrifting. I did eventually score a DVD and was beyond excited but it just didn’t grab me like some films of its kind do. Terrifically eerie sound design and atmosphere for days, but the story felt like it could have been tighter, more focused and amped up.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Awakening

Underworld: Awakening picks up the relative slack of Revolution and rejoins Selene’s story once again after the rousing medieval diversion of Rise Of The Lycans and is one of the strongest, most action packed and exciting entries so far. This one is cool because it goes for a shocking and ambitious premise: the human population on earth have somehow found out about the vampire and Lycan races and it’s caused all kinds of chaos. A human CDC kingpin (Stephen Rea) concocts a shady plan full of tainted vaccines, inter species psuedo genetic modification and various hidden agendas that poses a real threat to both sides while Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, who never seems to get a moments rest, wakes up from some kind of cryo-sleep in Rea’s spooky lab and must fight her way out, figure out his sinister plan and protect the daughter (India Eisley) she never knew she had from all these nefarious forces. There is a fucking tremendous amount of action in this one, nearly wall to wall and it just might have some of the most impressive set pieces, or at least the most satisfying for me as a fan. Rea is no stranger to the vampire/werewolf genres, he’s done vicious turns for Neil Jordan in both Interview With The Vampire and The Company Of Wolves. He makes a formidable enemy for Selene here and gets to chew scenes in that kind of super low key, almost laidback but still menacing way he’s perfected as an actor. Also in his employ is a strange Lycan super-breed who becomes the size of a literal tank when he transforms, so there are numerous incredibly badass sequences of her fighting this gigantic tank-sized werewolf that are so much brutal fun. She also finds herself at the bottom of an elevator shaft at one point with the speeding elevator in free fall headed right for her. Being the franchise that this is, she simply empties countless rounds from her guns into its incoming floor until it’s perforated with bullet holes and she can literally punch right through it. So. Fucken. Cool. Once again this franchise is not gonna be everyone’s thing and even for those who liked the first, these might get a bit repetitive but this world, action, effects, atmosphere and overall aesthetic is just so up my dark alley I could literally never get tired of them, and this was one of my favourites so far.

-Nate Hill

Amazon Prime’s Tell Me Your Secrets- Season 1

Few films or shows are able to impart just how complex and capable of contradictory behaviour, light and darkness and moral ambiguity human beings are, but Harriet Warner’s Tell Me Your Secrets gets it and is a sensational showstopper, deep psychological imbroglio of disturbing deeds, poetically serendipitous plot turns, emotionally devastating character work, evocative southern gothic atmosphere and petrifying suspense. Originally shot in 2018 for TNT and subsequently abandoned by the network, Amazon has made an intuitively excellent choice in rescuing it from the scrap heap because based on the first season alone, it’s already looking like one for the books. The story, although deeply complex and labyrinthine, is actually fairly easy to get a handle on: Karen Miller (Lily Rabe) was once the girlfriend of vicious serial killer Kit (Xavier Samuel) who murdered nine women with a claw hammer, and kept his crimes secret from her. When it all came out, as it always does, he ends up on death row, she ends up in Witness Protection in Louisiana far from him and things smooth over, save for those loose ends which always seem to find their way back. One of those is grieving mother Mary (Amy Brenneman) whose missing daughter was once spotted in the vicinity of Kit, so she naturally assumes he must have been the one who took her. She is relentless to the point of recklessness and self destruction in this belief, going as far as to hire recently ‘reformed’ serial rapist John Tyler (Hamish Linklater) to dredge up his long dormant predator’s instincts and track Karen down, wherever the program has relocated her in hopes of any usable intel. Got that? Doesn’t matter, the show uses a crisp, well versed and fluid vernacular to tell this tale that has a lot of moving parts, tricky bends in the road and thunderclap revelations, it’s gripping, succinct, uncommonly intelligent work. Lily Rabe is an actress that I immediately connect/mesh with in the sacred viewer/performer symbiosis, I love her work in American Horror Story and since then have been hoping for her to get a truly showcase part.. this is it. She always seems to be one thousand percent actively engaged in the scene, always has the intensity turned up past eleven on the dial but always *owns* that choice and makes it feel earned. Karen is a girl in an impossibly rough life situation, handed cards no one should have to play. Her character arc is a thing of beauty as we slowly see what type of person she is, the choices she’s made and what she’s trying to do to shape her future, and the committed, finely tuned yet organic performance behind that from Lily radiates forth and reflects it all. Brenneman works wonders with a tricky character that you’ll want to hate but she’s been through a ton of trauma too and while it doesn’t excuse her overall course of actions within the moral quagmire of a narrative, I understood why she was the way she was, without judgment or endorsement. Liklater is just about as scary as one can get in a role like this and I’d imagine about as close to the mark in portraying a sicko perv rapist sociopath lunatic as one might get. He’s amiable, soft spoken, charismatic, strikingly remorseful and pleasantly chatty… until the true nature comes out. It’s a diabolical acting creation and I’m not familiar with his work before this but he’s squarely on my sonar now. This is deep, dark, distressing storytelling and at times the story is so disturbing, suspenseful and asks so much mental engagement and empathy from the viewer it can be quite an endeavour to take on, but the rewards to an avid participant and those who hunger for challenging content that lingers in your thoughts and dreams long after are superabundant. The principal leads anchor a three point triangle of psychologically, emotionally harrowing but somehow cathartic and almost Shakespearean level karmic epiphanies, backed up by a brilliant supporting cast, a tangled bayou of secondary narratives and chilling sideshow mysteries embroiled into the gumbo of our main tangent, an impressively eerie score that hovers along almost sub-audibly on the fringes of awareness and overall every aspect of this wonderful, fearsome, engrossing story shines bright out of the dark. Please, please let’s have many more seasons.

-Nate Hill

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels is a film that asks the viewer to accept hard truths: that any given human being is capable of maliciousness, compassion, mistakes, volatility, naïveté and the desire to do better within the same lifetime. It presents to us an ensemble of small town characters at penultimate crossroads of their lives where decisions will be made that cannot be unmade, and may shape both their futures and our perceptions of character but we must remember… they’re only human. Resisting the urge to use any sort of filmmaking gimmickry, Green forges a blunt, unforgiving yet unusually honest portrait of these people: Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale give heartbreaking, career best performances as hopelessly dysfunctional divorced parents who lose their way both as a unit and as individuals following the tragic death of their infant daughter. This event spirals out around them into the community as we see murder, adultery, budding teen romance and all manner of human interaction transpire. Rockwell is a careening time bomb of emotional immaturity, a man who loves his ex wife and loved his daughter dearly but cannot reconcile his own mental health issues and his performance implodes upon itself like a dying star in a work of art that has never seen this actor more vulnerable and raw. Beckinsale ditches her glossy, restrained pretty girl image for a character that it’s easy to dismiss as unlikeable and irresponsible until you see the depth and dimension she pours into the performance, and it’s not so easy to pass judgment or condemn. Others provide vivid impressions including Griffin Dunne, Amy Sedaris, Nicky Katt, Jeannetta Arnette and Tom Noonan who bookends the film in haunting profundity as a no nonsense high school band teacher who seems almost like a godlike force or deity watching over the souls of this small northwestern town. The single uplifting plot thread is a teen romance between Olivia Thirlby and Michael Angarano, who flirt adorably, fall for each other awkwardly and discover sex, conversation and each other’s company in a realistic, down to earth and warm-hearted way, it’s a cathartic oasis of love and light amidst the dark onslaught of this overall bleak snowstorm of a narrative. What makes all of this tragedy, pain and sorrow so palatable then, you may ask? Green is a terrifically intuitive director who gets genuinely believable performances from his actors, full of naturalistic dialogue, believable idiosyncrasies and a sense that nobody in this story is simply good, simply bad or there to serve one archetype, they are all flawed human beings capable of the deepest acts of love, caring and compassion or the most callous, nightmarish violence, neglect and abuse. There’s a scene where a mother comforts her teen son who has made a traumatizing discovery and she tells him how important it is not to keep that pain bottled up, but to feel through it and it’s one of many strikingly intimate, uncommonly intelligent scenes in a film that is a meticulously edited and shot carousel of human experience. The tag line read: “Some will fly, some will fall,” and it’s applicable to our our experience as human beings overall: life is not easy for everyone, mistakes are made, love is found and lost and the cycle continues. A lot can be learned, felt, internalized and reflected upon after watching this miracle of a film.

-Nate Hill