Tag Archives: Michael Shannon

[Trailer] – Man Of Steel

11 Dec

Man Of Steel

The first full-length trailer for Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel has just been released and it looks absolutely epic. Watch it below.

Continue reading

Advertisements

[Review] – Premium Rush

16 Sep

Title: Premium Rush
Year: 2012
Director: David Koepp
Writers: David Koepp and John Kamps
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Aaron Tveit, Dania Ramirez
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some violence, intense action sequences and language
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 7.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Metacritic: 66

To be totally honest, I never once thought that I would like Premium Rush all that much. I mean, the two lead actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are two favorites of mine and co-writer/director David Koepp has written some seriously successful movies (as a director he’s done far less), but still, something told me I wasn’t going to dig this one all that much. It was, after all, basically a story that revolved around this: a bike messenger being chased around New York City by a dirty cop that desperately wants to get his hands on the envelope he’s transporting. I didn’t think even these actors would be able to carry around a film based on that for an hour and a half.

Continue reading

[Trailer] – Premium Rush

1 Jun

Premium Rush is a film that you may have forgotten all about, seeing as how we were originally supposed to get in January and now it’s been pushed all the way back to August. Anyways, it has a new trailer now, which you can watch after the cut.

Continue reading

Best of 2011: 20 Lead Actors

9 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. For the seventh and final entry in the series of posts we have my Top 20 Performances by Leading Actors of 2011:

20. OWEN WILSON as Gil Pender in Midnight in Paris

The lead male character in Woody Allen movies is typically a kind of alter-ego of Woody himself. Such is the case with Gil in his latest film, a rather wealthy screenwriter who can’t quite come to terms with the artistic sell-out he’s become and would much rather live a life just making pure art, being a novelist, and one living on the 1920’s, if possible. Now, Owen Wilson is obviously different than Woody, a West Coast personality and not an East Coast one like the director himself said, so the role was slight re-written to fit him better, and the stuff he does with the role is splendid, he makes Gil his own character and not just a Woody Allen impersonation like many before him have unfortunately done, keeping the Woody sensibilities but putting them into an Owen Wilson character. Midnight appeared in 6 of my 7 rankings: #14 Film, #8 Director, #6 Supporting Actor for Corey Stoll, #9 Supporting Actress for Marion Cotillard, #1 Screenplay and here.

19. PAUL GIAMATTI as Mike Flaherty in Win Win

Paul Giamatti has to be one of our finer actors working today. He’s the man that’s just perfect at playing those characters that kind of feel like losers in one way or another, the stuff he does with his body and his raspy voice adding a lot to the overall effect of his performance, how he expresses exasperation and disappointment, he’s genius. Mike Flaherty is a struggling lawyer who moonlights as the coach of a high-school wrestling team that’s not doing so well. He has worries and anxieties that are faced by many American men, things that are slightly off but that affect Mike in really poignant ways. Mr. Giammati, as always makes the ordinary feel exceptional. Win Win appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #10 mention for its screenplay.

18. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Rochester in Jane Eyre

2011 was an exceptional year for Michael Fassbender, with spectacular turns in X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, Shame and this film right here. He’s fantastic as the iconic Mr. Rochester, a role played by giants before him, and embeds him with that dangerous kind of charm the Irish actor is so good at showing. He’s one of my five favorite working actors, someone who I put in the same league as the Day-Lewis’ of the world, just a beast of a performer who does so many good things while he’s on screen. Jane Eyre appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #15 mention for Mia Wasikowska’s lead performance.

17. DEMIÁN BICHIR as Carlos Galindo in A Better Life

Yes, Demián Bichir got an Oscar nomination over some better actors and better performances, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve it. He’s a stand-up guy who’s been working his way up the (racially-difficult) ladder, and the performance he gives in A Better Life is indeed really good. As Carlos Galindo he plays a Mexican immigrant, living in Los Angeles for the past six years, tending to the lawns of wealthy people only to be able to provide for his family, with a teenage son that seems about to join a local gang. It’s a really human story that’s so well acted by Mr. Bichir and that will certainly get to you.

16. DOMINIC COOPER as Uday Hussein / Latif Yahia in The Devil’s Double

Had this film been better, then we might just be calling Dominic Cooper an Oscar nominee. This film is one big coming out party for his talent, taking on the double role of both Uday Hussein, the crazy son of Saddam, and of Latif Yahia, the ordinary man forced under threat to his family to step into his shoe’s and become the double of a man wanted dead by many. The film may not be that great (I gave it a B) but the performance alone is worth checking it out for, it’s hugely entertaining, reminiscent of Pacino’s in Scarface, and how well he acts opposite himself (thanks to visual effects) is mesmerizing to watch, you won’t be blamed if you think it’s two different actors. But it’s not two guys, it’s just the one, Dominic Cooper, a name you’ll certainly be hearing more about in the future.

15. TOM HARDY as Tommy Conlon in Warrior

Speaking about actors who are poised to hit the big leagues, Tom Hardy is certainly in that discussion, and 2012 should be the year in which he achieves that status thanks to a certain third film he’s playing the villain in. It’s a riveting performance as a man who in some ways is still a child, a child who was marked by the devastating ways and habits his father exhibited as he grew up, and who’s now trapped inside the body of a huge muscular man. His performance has more to do with physical scenes and with looks than it does with dialogue, and it’s just stunning. Warrior appeared in one other ranking of mine, a #9 mention for Nick Nolte’s supporting performance.

14. ANTON YELCHIN as Jacob in Like Crazy

Like Crazy is a brilliant film, and the stuff done by its lead actors is stunning, how much evolution Anton Yelchin takes Jacob through in just an hour and a half is incredible. Improvising a lot of the dialogue alongside the gorgeous Felicity Jones, and delivering a performance that’s quiet quiet, communicating just with some looks that carry in them an exceptionally touching sincerity. Like Crazy had mentions in 4 of my rankings: #11 Film, #18 Director, #9 Actress for Felicity Jones, and here.

13. LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as J. Edgar Hoover in J. Edgar

Leonardo DiCaprio was denied his fourth Oscar nomination for his portrayal as the legendary J. Edgar Hoover in a film that divided its audience quite a bit (I gave it a low A-, but expected something better). However the film turned out, though, the performance by Mr. DiCaprio is undeniable, one that, I think, may actually be the best he’s given so far in his career (though the greatness of the films elevate the quality of some of his other ones). This performance is just so deep, subtle, so fully realized, displaying across his face all the mannerisms of a really complex man. Yes, the make-up may be distracting, that’s a huge obstacle for this whole film, but this performance just works like gangbusters and is what keeps your attention for over two hours.

12. JEAN DUJARDIN as George Valentin in The Artist

The one that’s supposed to barely edge out George Clooney in a couple of weeks to score himself an Oscar, the very French actor in a very silent movie that’s been charming the pants off of Hollywood for the past couple of months. He is impeccable as he plays George Valentin, a movie star of the 1920’s, everything about him adding to the character; the sleek hair, the classy mustache, the winning smile. It takes really charming and physical performers to hold a silent film together and make it as masterful as The Artist is, and Mr. Dujardin is more than up to the task, embodying both the personna of a movie star in the golden era of Hollywood, and the narcissism of man that lives for his crowd’s adoration and who may just lose that. The Artist had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #8 Film, #7 Director, #13 Leading Actress for Bérénice Bejo (yes, she’s a lead no matter what Oscar tells you), #12 Screenplay, and here.

11. RYAN GOSLING as Stephen Meyers in The Ides of March

Alongside Michael Fassbender it was probably Ryan Gosling who had the biggest 2011 for male actors. In this film he plays a really good press secretary in charge of the campaign mounted by George Clooney’s Governor Mike Morris. He’s brilliant in this role, a film that was just made for really great actors to showcase their talents, going at it with some of the best in the game, including Mr. Clooney himself, whose charm, wit and good looks Mr. Gosling seems to be a worthy successor to. The Ides of March had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #18 Film, #13 Director, twice in my Supporting Actor rankings (#20 for George Clooney and #17 for Philip Seymour Hoffman), #13 Supporting Actress for Evan Rachel Wood, #18 Screenplay, and here.

10. WOODY HARRELSON as David Douglas Brown in Rampart

This is an incredibly fearless performance on display by the awesome Woody Harrelson, one of a highly unlikable character, a monster really, a guy that can get away with the horrible stuff he does solely because of his charm and intelligence, which is why Mr. Harrelson was such a smart choice to play him. This may just be a career-best performance from him, just so raw and intense in front of the camera, and even though he doesn’t get us to like Dave, because that’s impossible with a man like this, he does manage to make him human and get us interested in the stuff going on around him and the stuff he’s beginning to realize albeit too late in life.

9. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT as Adam in 50/50

The performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of a young man recently diagnosed with cancer, was central to making 50/50 succeed. The whole film walks the really fine tightrope of hilarity and really emotional stuff, and how Mr. Gordon-Levitt manages to marry the two qualities is exceptional, delivering what may be one of the two or three best performances of his career, and showing, in his scenes with Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Huston, that he has really great chemistry with his co-stars. 50/50 had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #19 Film, #15 Supporting Actor for Seth Rogen, #10 Supporting Actress for Anna Kendrick, #6 Screenplay, and here.

8. ASA BUTTERFIELD as Hugo Cabret in Hugo

I realize putting the fourteen year-old Asa Butterfield ahead of names like Harrelson and DiCaprio may seem too much, but such was the power Hugo had on me. And considering his is the performance at the center of it, of course I would love him as the young boy on a quest to unlock a secret of his father’s. The performance by the young Mr. Butterfield is just so incredibly soulful, he makes you invest in Hugo’s quest, and its his interactions with the rest of the talented cast that really get this movie going. Hugo had mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #1 Film, #1 Director, #5 Supporting Actor for Ben Kingsley, #11 Supporting Actress for Chloë Grace Moretz, and here.

7. BRAD PITT as Mr. O’Brien in The Tree of Life

Another person for whom 2011 was a remarkable year was Brad Pitt, and taking part in this new masterpiece by Terrence Malick is a big reason why. The film pretty much has no plot, it’s just an impressionistic viewpoint of an American family as well as a history of the Earth as seen through the evolution of said family. The Tree of Life wasn’t for everyone, that much is certainly true, but I personally really connected with it, and the emotional stuff in it was just as stunning and the visual parts, and you can thank Brad Pitt for a lot of that. The Tree of Life had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #6 Film, #3 Director, #2 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #19 Screenplay, and here.

6. MICHAEL SHANNON as Curtis LaForche in Take Shelter

Few people have better screen presence than Michael Shannon, I think. He just commands your attention, and in Take Shelter, in which he stars as a man having apocalyptic hallucinations, he gives a truly spellbinding performance that’s just so, so powerful. He’s been cast as the creepy character before, and while in Take Shelter he plays a blue-collar family man, a loving father and husband, as he starts having these visions that leave him disturbed those qualities that made him a creepy character lend themselves for him to masterfully convey those heavy emotions, his eyes showing the underlying sense of unease within him. The energy, the tension, the intensity of his performance, this is just a masterclass in acting. Take Shelter had mentions in 4 of my 7 rankings: #17 Director, #8 Supporting Actress for Jessica Chastain, #20 Screenplay, and here.

5. BRAD PITT as Billy Beane in Moneyball

That’s right, Brad Pitt gets a double mention in this ranking. And the performance he gives as the Oakland A’s GM, Billy Beane, is one of the two or three best he’s ever given. This is the perfect Brad Pitt performance in a way, as he embraces both his movie star charisma and good looks, charming us like crazy when he has to, but also showing us the thespian Brad Pitt, delivering a deep and finely nuanced performance in which he says a lot with just his eyes. This guy is entering the prime of his career, trust me on that, we’ve not seen the best of Brad Pitt yet, as amazing as his two performances of 2011 already were. Moneyball had mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #7 Film, #9 Director, #4 Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill, #4 Screenplay, and here.

4. GARY OLDMAN as George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The performance that finally (fiiiinally) got Gary Oldman his well overdue Oscar nomination. And boy was it deserved, Mr. Oldman puts on a clinic in acting on display in this film, showing us why he’s a master of his craft. He gives a very silent performance, his character, the lead in the film, doesn’t actually utter a single word until we’re about twenty minutes into it. But that’s part of the greatness of his portrayal of George Smiley, it’s just so brilliantly nuanced, and he does so, so much with just his eyes and his face, this is sheer perfection. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #9 Film, #10 Director, #19 Supporting Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, #8 Screenplay, and here.

3. RYAN GOSLING as Driver in Drive

Another double-mention in this ranking. This is just such a sublime performance, delivered by an actor who clearly had so much trust in his director. And much like Mr. Oldman’s performance cited above, this is such a masterful portrayal because of the silence in the performance Mr. Gosling gives of the unnamed Driver, he takes some pauses here that seem to last forever and that you just want to last longer. And when he does speak, boy do you linger on every word, not to mention that when he isn’t speaking he’s either delivering a killing stare, or actually exacting some (really brutal) violence. Drive got mentions in 6 of my 7 rankings: #4 Film, #2 Director, #1 Supporting Actor for Albert Brooks, #6 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #16 Screenplay, and here.

2. GEORGE CLOONEY as Matt King in The Descendants

George Clooney, an Oscar-winner already for Syriana, should get his second Academy Award this year even though it seems the #12-ranked Frenchman will prevent him from doing so. This man, at 50 years-old, just keeps getting better and better, I thought he couldn’t possibly be better than he was in 2009’s Up in the Air, and then look at what he does here in The Descendants, this is his show and he makes the most of it. He just exposes himself, emotionally naked to the camera, getting some really touching moments that will certainly get to you. He’s just a smart actor that brings a lot to his characters, and we believe Matt King when he shares his thoughts and worries, we believe him because Mr. Clooney, alongside with director Alexander Payne, makes him a tremendously human character, who just happens to have Mr. Clooney’s looks. The Descendants got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #5 Film, #6 Director, twice in my Supporting Actress rankings (#12 for Judy Greer and #3 for Shailene Woodley), #7 Screenplay, and here.

1. MICHAEL FASSBENDER as Brandon Sullivan in Shame

The performance of the year; male or female, lead or supporting, no one came close to doing what Michael Fassbender, who also got two mentions in this ranking, did in Shame. This is also, the single most egregious Oscar snub in recent years, but my dismay upon that has been documented in other posts. The stuff Mr. Fassbender brings to this role is just insanely stunning to watch, baring it all, both literally and figuratively, to play the sex addict Brandon, a man who’s life is a living hell as he can’t seem to get the connection he wants from people, trying to hide his inner demons through an external quest for physical satisfaction. He plays a man in a downward spiral of addiction, and you feel his internal fears as you watch him go through his life, it’s such a bold and brave performance by one of the best actors we have working today. Shame got mentions in 5 of my 7 rankings: #2 Film, #4 Director, #1 Supporting Actress for Carey Mulligan, #14 Screenplay, and here.

Those are my Top 20 performances by actors in leading roles. All 5 of the Oscar nominees were included in my ranking, though if I ran the Oscars only Clooney, Oldman and Pitt would remain nominees. The actual race, however, is a battle between Dujardin and Clooney, the French against the American. And even though Dujardin seems poised to win right now, let’s hope the Academy backs up its homegrown product and rewards Clooney with his second Oscar.

Take Shelter

30 Oct

Title: Take Shelter
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: 
Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain
MPAA Rating: 
R, some language
Runtime: 
120 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 
93%

I keep saying 2011 is the year of Ryan Gosling, for the sheer fact that the guy has used the year, building up on the momentum he got late last year for the masterpiece that was Blue Valentine (my fourth favorite film of all 2010), to really establish himself not only as probably the greatest actor of his generation, but also a superstar that general audiences really adore. However, I’ve actually only seen one of Mr. Gosling’s films of 2011, that one being Drive, which I gave a perfect score to and stands as my favorite film of the year, and I’ve still to see Crazy, Stupid, Love. or The Ides of March, so I guess that a more logical choice for the thesp who’s had the biggest 2011 is Jessica Chastain.

If Mr. Gosling has used the year to establish himself as a superstar and not just some great actor, Ms. Chastain has used it as one incredible coming out party that only keeps getting better, an actress basically unknown half a year ago and now being one of the most ubiquitous we’ve seen in quite some time, and with the added luxury of having every film she’s been on be a really good one. This is the fourth film I’ve seen of Jessica Chastain this year, and as if that wasn’t impressive enough, once you take a look at those films your jaw drops just a tiny bit more, the first one was The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s latest masterpiece which stands as my second favorite film of the year so far and to which I gave a perfect score to, then I saw her in The Help, the critical and commercial success to which I gave an A- to, and then I saw her about a month ago in The Debt, to which I awarded a B+ to. That’s a pretty amazing slew of films to appear in the span of a single year, the fact that she still has Coriolanus and The Wilde Salome still to come, alongside heavyweights such as Al Pacino, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes to name but a few, only reinforces that she’s really breaking out and establishing herself as an actress you really have to keep an eye on.

But we’re here now to talk about the fourth film starring Ms. Chastain I’ve seen this year, Take Shelter, and boy is it a stunning film. I seriously loved this one, a really subtle piece of work by writer-director Jeff Nichols, who knows how to craft a really awesome sense of uneasiness alongside really mesmerizing drama, and who gets yet another fine performance from Jessica Chastain who goes head-to-head with Michael Shannon, who delivers one of the very best performances of the year as Curtis LaForche, a man from a small town in Ohio who starts having some deeply disturbing apocalyptic hallucinations. This is really spellbinding filmmaking, a film that really creeps under your skin and makes you feel seriously uncomfortable in that great kind of way, using these apocalyptic visions as a metaphor to explore the general uneasiness that plagues the contemporary American family.

And it’s cool because even though you personally can’t connect to having these apocalyptic visions (or at least I hope you can’t, for the sake of your sanity) you can still connect to the feeling Curtis is experiencing, that uneasy vibe in the pit of your stomach that makes the hairs in the back of your head stand up, in which you’re absolutely certain that something horrible is about to happen, sooner rather than later. We’ve probably all felt that, but when we feel it it’s kind of like this paranoiac feel that lasts a second, we get it and then it leaves our mind, whereas Curtis is in that state 24/7, so you can kind of imagine how freaky it must feel for him trying to hold it all in. And it’s just amazing to see a thriller that relies on these mental kind of things and not on some kind of big event, probably of the supernatural kind, one that relies on us investing in this Ohio family that’s apparently quite happy in their existence until these strange occurrences threaten to deter their lives as the head of the family starts thinking the world’s pretty much about to end.

Because these are serious visions Curtis is dealing with, nightmares that leave him paranoid for the rest of the day, that he wakes up grasping for air to fight off that storm he has seen in his dreams that’s clouded the flat horizons of his small town, accompanied by a series of tornadoes and lightning. And this is all just really masterfully conveyed by Mr. Shannon, a guy that can appear to be this stable blue collar worker, a good husband and father, but that in his eyes can show this underlying sense of unease that really stays with you. This is a guy who apparently has all the needed ingredients for a happy life, but who’s now living with the ever-constant fear of it being taken away; his wife, Samantha, a stay-at-home mom who makes pillows to sell in fairs and their daughter, Hannah, who has lost her hearing, with mom and dad learning sign language as they wait for the insurance to deliver implants that will help her. On the surface they look like a rather typical middle-class family, gentle folk, who go to church and who have reasonably-sized ambitions, keeping their hopes up even amongst the horrible financial climate of our times.

So it’s really intense to watch Mr. Shannon play Curtis, a guy who partly believes that this is all about some approaching schizophrenia that also tormented his mother and who goes to a doctor to help him out with his sleep, having to pay richly for some pills, but also a guy who’s other part can’t help but make him believe that these dreams are real, that a storm is coming, and that he has to prepare in order to save his family. To do that he starts building a shelter in the backyard, and even as his friends and family start worrying about his sanity and ask him why he’s so hellbent on doing it he doesn’t confess to them and instead just calmly replies that it simply needs to be done. So we see the small community talking about Curtis behind his back, the only one of his paranoias that’s actually real, and his best friend trying his best to help him out, knowing that in this economy if he loses the job he has he might not find another one.

And it’s just amazing how Mr. Nichols chooses to show this to us, I mean, we always know that this is all inside Curtis’ head, but the way Mr. Nichols builds this film still makes us really uneasy about what’s going to happen next, making this an intensely nerve-racking experience that feels like a masterful horror film but that’s always just a really richly observed exploration of psychological collapse within the confines of a typical American family, it’s really amazing to watch it all unfold. We knew this was a talented filmmaker who in his debut, the amazing Shotgun Stories, show us he really had a terrific gift, and that film also featured Mr. Shannon, and his upcoming third project, titled Mud and to come out in 2013, will also feature the actor, making the Nichols-Shannon one of the most exciting tandems in modern filmmaking.

Because Michael Shannon really is impeccable in all of this, the energy and just the intensity he brings to his roles is always, no matter the project, seriously outstanding to watch, a character actor who by now has perfected that fine line between unhinged and sane, which he displays week in and week out in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, having given us roles that are sublime in their subtlety and now showing just how great he is by taking on a leading role. And that skill set adds to the way Mr. Nichols build up the tension, because even though we see in Curtis a deeply disturbed man, we also see a rational and intelligent one, caring for his family and thinking about his family history with ailments and going to library to check on that stuff, his crumbling down isn’t a thing that happens overnight. It’s a really stellar performance by Mr. Shannon here, filled with so much tension that you have to believe that something awful, storm or not, is about to happen to this man.

The storm, whether it’s real or hallucinated is just this really awesome metaphor Mr. Nichols creates alongside his amazing cast, the Oscar-nomination-worthy Mr. Shannon and Ms. Chastain, who elongates her amazing streak of stellar performances this year, and once the “storm” actually happens, there’s this incredibly powerful scene between the two that kind of concludes the film and lets the ending come to screen, and ending that will make you understand that you’ve just witnessed a pretty much perfect film, one that has managed to take, head-on, very real problems and melt them with these grand apocalyptic dreams, and that will leave you hungry for the next film this amazingly talented actor-director combo has in store.

Grade: A

Machine Gun Preacher

24 Oct

Title: Machine Gun Preacher
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Marc Forster
Writer: Jason Keller
Starring: 
Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon
MPAA Rating: 
R, violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality
Runtime: 
129 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
25%

I remember that for a while there was some Oscar buzz surrounding Gerard Butler’s performance in Machine Gun Preacher, people were saying it looked like something that might be a good fit for him and finally get him the acting credibility he has been looking for, not to mention that he was being directed by Marc Forster, who directed Halle Berry to her Oscar for Monster’s Ball and got Johnny Depp a nomination for his work in Finding Neverland. So I was quite intrigued to watch how this film turned out to be, and quite bummed out to see that even though the potential was certainly there, the movie is just too messy and unsure to be something good, and even though the character is certainly one that could have been explored through all of his very complex layers, Mr. Butler and the movie end up squandering any opportunity for that by taking a very emotionally-lacking approach to their portrayal of him.

The film tells the story of Sam Childers, a former gang biker, an ex-con who led a lifestyle full of drugs and alcohol, but he found religion and was born again and since the late nineties has dedicated his whole life to helping out children in the war-torn areas of the Sudan. Like I said, there is stuff here that could seriously work, a story about an extra drug dealer from Pennsylvania who was part of a motorcycle gang who then converted himself over to religion and started helping orphans in one of the most devastated areas of the world. And, because he’s a man of action, he doesn’t just save the kids, but he also fights against those who get kids to live in those horrible conditions in the first place, namely the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militia that’s been wrecking havoc all over the area, burning villages, making the boys soldiers and the girls sex slaves. This is the story Hollywood dreams about, one that marries sentimental, uplifting stuff with great violence, and yet Machine Gun Preacher is a film that never figures out how to combine the two in a way that works.

And maybe that’s just what did this film in, the fact that the real story it was trying to tell was somehow just too good to be true, encompassing a lot of ethical and political situations, with a lead character that had two absolutely different sides to him, maybe it was just too much to be able to handle in this one film. I will admit, however, that the first act of this film actually worked wonders for me, and had me thinking this would really be something quite good, and maybe that’s because it opens in Pennsylvania and introduces us to Childers as he first was, with his friend Donnie by his side (played by the awesome Michael Shannon), shooting heroin, drinking and robbing people, and really making it a hard time for his wife Lynn, who’s played by the lovely Michelle Monaghan, and their daughter. That part worked for me because Mr. Forster is a director who, as he proved with Monster’s Ball, can handle really well that gritty kind of reality, and he takes it head on, until one day, just released from a stint in prison and having engaged in a night of his usual despicable excesses, Sam goes with Lynn and his mom to church and finds God.

From then Sam becomes this man with a purpose, he feels he’s meant to go to Africa to help out as he can, and he does, deciding to build an orphanage in the middle of a war zone to aid the huge amounts of suffering he’s been a witness of. And once we’re settled in Africa we’re set to deal with the meaning of the film’s title, if a man of God can also be a man capable of exacting a huge amount of violence, as we see Sam, now a changed man, having to go back and take something from his violent past in order to go to combat against the Lord’s Resistance Army. And I didn’t quite like that part of the film, as we get Sam battling with the fact that his supposed purpose is pulling him away from his family and having him commit all of these horrible things, and that whole moral ambiguity didn’t really do it for me. And it didn’t do it for me because I couldn’t connect to Sam to that level, I didn’t care about what it all meant for him, maybe because even though he’s born again and certainly seems to have done something of meaning in his life for a change, it didn’t really seem as though he had really changed all that much deep inside of him.

So that’s why I won’t really be recommending Machine Gun Preacher, because I just didn’t know what it was trying to say. This is supposed to be a man that made the sacrifice of leaving his family to go on a spiritual sort of mission, but more often than not it seems that the guy is just driven by his desire to go shoot some people, though, it must be said, kudos have to given to Mr. Butler because he really does his best at trying to really get us to sympathize with Childers here, even if he fails at getting us to connect or even understand the inner conflicts of the man. But still, I think that even though its pieces are quite effective, once you sum it all up you have a film that doesn’t really know what it was trying to say or where it was trying to go. And it’s a real pity considering how amazing the real-life material this one was working with was, and how it got squandered to be little more than a few action-movie conventions set alongside a couple of sentimental clichés to try and get you inspired.

Grade: C+

EmmyWatch 2011: Drama

24 Jun

Joshua Jackson and Melissa McCarthy are set to announce the nominations for the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards bright and early on Thursday, July 14th. And even though this is a film blog, some of you many know I’m also a pretty obsessive TV-watcher, and I currently watch over 70 television series, so I’d like to think I know a fair bit about what’s on the air right now. And in that spirit, I’ll do what I did with my OscarWatch posts back in January, and tackle the major categories for this years Emmy Awards in 4 EmmyWatch posts: Reality/Variety, Mini/Movie, Comedy and Drama.

In them I’ll give my quick thoughts on a particular race and how I personally think things will eventually shape up, listing both the 6 contenders I would personally pick were the nominations up to me, and then 6 who I actually think will have their names called out come nomination morning. Then once the nominations are announced I’ll do a post with my reactions and my actual predictions for the races. In this, the final EmmyWatch post, we’ll take a look at the Drama races…

DRAMA SERIES

This is kind of the category that really shows you that the cable networks really do have the best drama series on television right now. Between HBO, AMC, Showtime and FX there will probably be room for only one broadcast network nominee. The question is not really about who will get the nods, because that’s more or less clear cut, but who will actually pick up the trophy…

My Personal 6 (in specific order)

  1. Friday Night Lights – Look, I watch over 70 TV shows that are currently airing, and I have watched over 120 others that have already finished their run, and none of those I like more than I do Friday Night Lights. It’s my favorite TV show of all time, and while it was insanely great that Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton finally got their much deserved nominations last year, I think the Emmy voters would be stupid if they don’t nominate the show itself for its final season.
  2. Mad Men – It will obviously get nominated again, but will it manage to score its fourth consecutive win? I wouldn’t be against that happening, this is the show that manages to put out the highest quality writing and acting on display week after week (and yes, I’m crying over having to wait till January for the new season, too).
  3. Fringe – I’m a huge fan of this show, the fact that it seemingly keep getting better and better with each season is just a testament to the perfect writing and the characters its superb cast has managed to flesh out.
  4. Justified – Its second season was arguably better than its first, which is really saying something, I just really want this one to get the nod.
  5. Parenthood – I don’t think this one really has much of a chance of scoring a nod, but it definitely classifies for my Top 6. When this show hits the high notes it can hit, it’s amongst the very best on television.
  6. Game of Thrones – My #6 slot could really be altered between this or The Good Wife or The Walking Dead, but since Game of Thrones just ended this past weekend on a high note I’ll give the spot to this epic saga full of twists and meticulously plotted shorelines because it’s just really fresh on my mind.

How I think the actual nominations will look like (in specific order)

  1. Mad Men – I think the buzz surrounding Boardwalk Empire has subsided enough now to grant this one its fourth straight win.
  2. Boardwalk Empire – But maybe the buzz hasn’t died down and the wonderfully lavish HBO Atlantic City-based saga will reign supreme.
  3. The Good Wife – A broadcast network is bound to have a show in here, and this one is the one that will appeal to voters the most, just a stellar second season.
  4. Dexter – The fifth season was probably the most inconsistent one the show has had to date, but it was the highest-rated one, too, and an inconsistent season of Dexter is still better than most of what’s on TV out there anyways.
  5. Justified – I think there will be about five shows battling it out for the last two nominations, and I sure as hell hope the voters choose to reward this one.
  6. Friday Night Lights – So that would leave four shows battling for this final slot. My guess is that they’ll be this one, The Killing, Game of Thrones and True Blood. And while something tells me The Killing will ultimately get it, I don’t want to jinx it, so I’ll put my personal #1 in here.

LEAD ACTOR IN DRAMA SERIES

Will this finally be Jon Hamm’s time? I sure as hell hope so. Bryan Cranston has won this award for the masterclass in acting he gives in Breaking Bad every single episodes for the past three years. However, Breaking Bad didn’t air this year during the eligibility period, so that opens the field for a new winner, and hopefully that’ll mean the mad man will get it.

My Personal 6 (in specific order)

  1. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) – Coach Taylor. Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. There has been no one better than him on television (with the exception of maybe Bryan Cranston) for the past five years, it’s time for him to get his due.
  2. Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – How no one in this insanely talented cast has gotten an Emmy yet is beyond me, but considering Cranston is out this year, and Hamm has ‘The Suitcase’ to submit as his episode, this might finally be his year.
  3. Timothy Olyphant (Justified) – I cannot say enough about this man’s performance, and even though he doesn’t necessarily have the flashiest role that Emmy voters may warm up to, he should definitely get in there.
  4. William H. Macy (Shameless) – I really loved this series from the get-go, and a lot of this has to do with this man’s performance as the drunken father of a very dysfunctional family.
  5. Michael C. Hall (Dexter) – I love Dexter, and one of the reasons the show is so great is because the man who plays our favorite serial killer is perfect at embedding in the character a lot of likability.
  6. Peter Krause (Parenthood) – Again, Parenthood has a special place in my heart because when it’s on it gives some of the most emotional performances on television, and Peter Krause is front and center in a cast full of terrific actors.

How I think the actual nominations will look like (in specific order)

  1. Jon Hamm (Mad Men) – Read Personal 6. With Cranston out and the episode he has to submit, he’s not losing this year.
  2. Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) – He didn’t make my Personal 6, but the Mad Men vs. Boardwalk Empire battle won’t only happen in the Best Drama category. If anyone can prevent Hamm from winning, it’s him.
  3. Michael C. Hall (Dexter) – Read Personal 6.
  4. William H. Macy (Shameless) – Read Personal 6.
  5. Hugh Laurie (House) – He’s always a nominee, and that won’t stop this year.
  6. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) – Much like I did in the Best Drama category, I give this final slot to him because my heart really wants it to be. But look for an also very deserving Timothy Olyphant, and maybe even Jeremy Irons, to challenge Chandler for that final slot.

LEAD ACTRESS IN DRAMA SERIES

Last year Julianna Marguiles somehow lost to Kyra Sedgwick (who voters wanted to finally reward after a lot of years of getting nominations for The Closer). Elisabeth Moss and some other will try and deny Marguiles again, but she should score this time. This is one strong category this year.

My Personal 6 (in specific order)

  1. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) – The series came in as my personal #1, so did Kyle Chandler, so of course Connie Britton would to. She’s a force of nature in the best show ever on television.
  2. Julianna Marguiles (The Good Wife) – The likeliest winner there can be, and her work on the show’s second season has been on par, if not above, the great performances she turned in during its debut run.
  3. Lauren Graham (Parenthood) – Yes, I love this show dearly, and it’s an outrage to me that Graham never got Emmy nominations for her time on Gilmore Girls so not only do voters have to reward for her sheer brilliance on this show, but also for the mistakes they made in the past.
  4. Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) – I’m usually not such a huge supporter of Moss no matter how much I live and die for this show, but, just like Jon Hamm, she now has ‘The Suitcase’ episode to submit, which makes her an instant favorite.
  5. Emmy Rossum (Shameless) – This is such a fantastic role that Rossum manages to make the most of. It’s very doubtful she’ll get a nod, but I wanted to give her a slot on my list.
  6. Anna Torv (Fringe) – I had a horrible time picking my final personal nominee. So honorary shout-outs to Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) and Mireille Enos (The Killing), but I had to go with the woman who’s on the best sci-fi show on TV (other than Doctor Who), and who managed to play four different roles, each to great levels of perfection.

How I think the actual nominations will look like (in specific order)

  1. Julianna Marguiles (The Good Wife) – Look, she was totally snubbed last year, it’s just not gonna happen again.
  2. Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) – Again, she has ‘The Suitcase’ episodes to submit. If Marguiles hadn’t been snubbed last year this would be hers.
  3. Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) – The fact that she finally won last year doesn’t mean she’ll stop getting nominated for her consistently solid work.
  4. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) – She has a better chance of getting in there than the show itself or Kyle Chandler, and I think she’ll sit firmly in the middle of the pack.
  5. Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) – She somehow got snubbed of a nod last year, but her win at the Globes gives her the momentum to secure one now.
  6. Mireille Enos (The Killing) – My guess is that this final slot is between Enos and Mariska Hargitay, and I’m hoping Emmy voters will opt for the newbie here, who has given us quiet and beautifully nuanced performance in AMC’s new series.

SUPPORTING ACTOR IN DRAMA SERIES

This race is wide open this year, considering that the amazing Aaron Paul, who finally got his win for Breaking Bad last year, is ineligible because his show didn’t air during the eligibility window. Ditto for Damages‘ Martin Short. And now that Lost is gone that means no Michael Emerson or Terry O’Quinn, either. So yeah, this one is wide open this year.

My Personal 6 (in specific order)

  1. John Noble (Fringe) – Much like Anna Torv in the Lead Actress race, I think people should reward Noble, the stand-out in an impeccable cast on TV’s best sci-fi show, for so wonderfully playing two very different versions of the same character to perfection.
  2. Walton Goggins (Justified) – The reason why I thought Justified‘s second season was better than its already stellar first one was because of the introduction of Margo  Martindale and Goggins. Goggins hasn’t gotten much Emmy love in the past, and he’ll have a hard time getting the nod now, but he’s extremely deserving.
  3. Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)The Good Wife has four solid eligible men for this category, Cumming, Josh Charles, Chris Noth and Matt Czuchry. Cumming was nominated for Guest Star last year, but now that he’s a regular on the CBS hit you can certainly count him as a major contender here.
  4. Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) – If Mireille Enos is the quiet performer that gives the show its intensity, it’s Kinnaman that keeps it from ever being boring, the way he plays the shady-at-times Holder is one of the biggest reasons to watch this show.
  5. John Slattery (Mad Men) – I was torn between Slattery and Jared Harris for Mad Men‘s slot in this personal list of mine, but Slattery has been incredibly consistent and this year he has a real good shot at winning.
  6. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) – I was thinking about a couple other picks for my final slot (Mad Men‘s Harris, Hawaii Five-0‘s Scott Caan or Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Shannon) but I kept coming back to this guy, his performance in HBO’s epic is tremendous, and in a cast full of standout actors it’s him you remember.

How I think the actual nominations will look like (in specific order)

  1. John Slattery (Mad Men) – My money is on him to, much like Jon Hamm, finally break through and get the win after three straight nominations. With Breaking Bad gone this year it’s time for Mad Men to go on a spree.
  2. Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) – I don’t watch this show (though I plan on catching up with it soon as it’s done with its current season), but the consensus is that Braugher’s performance is simply outstanding.
  3. Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) – Read Personal 6.
  4. Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) – I’m having a hard time predicting which Boardwalk Empire guy, either Pitt or Michael Shannon, will get the most love from Emmy voters. I think Pitt, though both of them might get in.
  5. Josh Charles (The Good Wife) – Yeah, I’m thinking two The Good Wife guys will get in here and, much like in the series, Charles and Chris Noth will fight to be the one. I’m going with Charles because I like his performance more, but if you hear Noth’s name called out don’t be surprised.
  6. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) – Much like in my Personal 6, I had a hard time predicting who would get the voters final slot, either Dinklage or Michael Shannon, and, much like in my Personal 6, my hunch said Dinklage.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN DRAMA SERIES

I said the Lead Actress race was a strong one this year. Well, this one’s even stronger, and will be tougher to call. With Elisabeth Moss going Lead and January Jones being dumb and entering in Lead as well instead of here where she’d have a better shot, there’s one new slot here, and another one when you factor in Rose Byrne’s absence from the race as Damages didn’t air during the eligibility period.

My Personal 6 (in specific order)

  1. Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) – Kalinda is one of the best characters in broadcast TV, and when Panjabi came out of nowhere and won last year, over her castmate Christine Baranski which was more favored, she got people to notice her. The stuff she did on the show’s second season was stunning as always and a repeat nod is assured, and maybe even a two-peat will be in order.
  2. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) – My beloved Joanie went through quite a ride during Mad Men‘s stellar fourth season, but that only meant that Hendricks would have chances to really let her acting shine.
  3. Margo Martindale (Justified) – An industry vet who has given probably the role of her career here, just one insanely fun character to watch develop week after week, and it was all because of the little things Martindale did with her performance.
  4. Michelle Forbes (The Killing) – That this TV veteran hasn’t gotten any Emmy love is an outrage, but the way in she portrays so much grief and pain in this dark and rainy show is one of the most perfect parts of it.
  5. Kelly MacDonald (Boardwalk Empire) – She’s my favorite part of the great ensemble on this HBO series, she gives her character so many layers that really adds a lot to the overall effect of the show.
  6. Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) – I wanted a young member of one my favorite ensembles to get my personal sixth slot. I was between Shipka or Parenthood‘s Mae Whitman, but Shipka, at just 12 years old, was given a lot of really mature and challenging stuff to portray in her first year as a series regular, and she absolutely nailed each and every one of them.

How I think the actual nominations will look like (in specific order)

  1. Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) – Read Personal 6. I think she’s still the favorite to repeat.
  2. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) – Read Personal 6.
  3. Kelly MacDonald (Boardwalk Empire) – Read Personal 6. If Boardwalk starts getting a lot of love she could potentially pull this one off.
  4. Margo Martindale (Justified) – Read Personal 6.
  5. Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) – I doubt they’ll leave her out of the conversation, she’s been great on TV for years.
  6. Sharon Gless (Burn Notice) – I don’t watch Burn Notice, and I don’t really intend to start, but people seem to love Gless and I fear she might be the one to keep Michelle Forbes out of the running.