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Out in Theaters: ‘MIDNIGHT SPECIAL’

Jeff Nichols is very quickly solidifying himself as a distinct and essential American voice. The 37-year old Arkansas native blends the mystic nostalgia of Steven Spielberg’s great wonders with the romanticized bayou lyricism of a Mark Twain novel. The result is often staggering,  the heavy, heady crossroads of lock stock ultra violence and meaningfully sentimental morality plays. In 2012, Nichols’ snaggle-toothed fable Mud sounded the starting gun for the McConaissance, just as he basically introduced the world to Michael Shannon as a leading man in 2011’s Take Shelter. More than just a emcee for introducing (or reintroducing) us to new or reinvigorated talent,  Nichols has emerged as a bold writer/director willing to take big risks and reap big rewards and Midnight Special, a work of great wonder and beauty, is blinding evidence of this fact. Read More

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SXSW ’16 Review: ‘MIDNIGHT SPECIAL’

Jeff Nichols is very quickly solidifying himself as a distinct and essential American voice. The 37-year old Arkansas native blends the mystic nostalgia of Steven Spielberg’s great wonders with the romanticized bayou lyricism of a Mark Twain novel. The result is often staggering,  the heavy, heady crossroads of lock stock ultra violence and meaningfully sentimental morality plays. In 2012, Nichols’ snaggle-toothed fable Mud sounded the starting gun for the McConaissance, just as he basically introduced the world to Michael Shannon as a leading man in 2011’s Take Shelter. More than just a emcee for introducing (or reintroducing) us to new or reinvigorated talent,  Nichols has emerged as a bold writer/director willing to take big risks and reap big rewards and Midnight Special, a work of great wonder and beauty, is blinding evidence of this fact. Read More

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NETFIX: 3 Crime Series That’ll Have You Hooked

The great thing about Netflix is that it gives you a lot of TV and movie watching options. The bad thing about Netflix is that it gives you…a lot of TV and movie watching options. To cut down on your Netflix search and discover time, Netfix aims to ease the process of parsing the good from the bad. The great from the not so great. From action films to foreign dramas, we’re raked the catalogs to offer only the finest that the preeminent streaming service has to offer. So settle in, get your remotes ready and prepare for the red wave of Netfix to wash over you.
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Out in Theaters: COLD IN JULY

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A creak in the night, a foreign, silent cacophony you feel in your gut rather than actually hear; the unmistakable patter of an intruder. Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) unlocks his Smith and Weston, loading it with trembling fingers. “Stay down,” he warns his wife and creeps into the living room to the unwelcoming invitation of a flashlight gliding over his belongings. He points the uneasy barrel of his shaking gun at the masked figure, wrapped in a thief’s customary black garb; stoic, ready. The sudden din of the clock striking midnight catches Richard off guard and he fires an accidental bullet at the intruder, painting the wall in a crimson puff of brains.

Such is the set up to Cold in July, a thriller so full of twists and turns that were it a highway, not even Niki Lauda would make it out unscathed. To reveal any more would be to take the fun out of the jet-black adventure to come but believe me when I say that whenever you start to figure out what you think is coming next, director and screenwriter Jim Mickle’s throws a wrench in the works. Our assumed confidence in what’s to come is Mickle’s invitation for an umbrella in the spokes and he delivers such with a wholly organic and brilliantly paced vibrato and a Sean Connery grin. 

If We Are What We Are was Mickle figuring out his footwork, Cold in July is him mastering his alarmingly bleak samba. There may be no cannibals out for blood and bone this time round but there’s no shortage of underbelly material that’ll have your eyes racing for cover.

And while Mickle’s last outing marked a strong footnote on female perseverance in the face of her family’s unholy war on humanity – and was a remake of an acclaimed Mexican film – Cold in July is distinctly masculine and distinctly American. From Hall’s proud mullet to Sam Shepard’s gruff hound dog of an outlaw, this is Texas Food Chain Massacre, Stalker: Texas Ranger.

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A fully quaffed Don Johnson shows up on the scene offering a shade of aviator-wearing PI reserved for the likes of a Tarantino movie. He owns every scene he steps foot in, casually herding those around him like a salesman with a pitchfork hidden behind his back. His sheep in wolves clothing persona gives the film some much needed comic moments, tastefully spliced so as to not jar the building forebode Mickle’s assembling.

Breaking off a decade long stay on premium television (Six Feet Under for five years and Dexter for eight), Hall shows off a new side, sort of. He’s closer in kind to David than the cold-blooded and deliberate Dexter, landing somewhere between that vast spectrum and yet less unabashedly likeable than either of them. Hall is brimming with veteran talent and this is exactly the kind of role he needs to show off his penchant for human complexity.

As the next chapter in Mickle’s ascension, Cold in July is a wonderfully stylized jangle of unsettling imagery, deep-seated tension, and brash, bold, cold comeuppances.

A-

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Out in Theaters: AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY

“August: Osage County”
Directed by John Wells
Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard
Comedy, Drama
121 Mins
R 

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If you had told me going into August: Osage County that I was in store for two of the finest performances of the year I probably would have scoffed. But after having gone through the dirty laundry with the Weston family, I can assure you that it certainly does. The ever-dependable Meryl Streep is on top of her game here and, surprisingly enough, Julia Roberts does more than just hold her own against the queen of Hollywood. In fact, she’s nearly just as great.

As acidic matriarch Violet (ironically one letter away from violent) Weston, Streep puts in the kind of work that put her on the map. Although she’s as despicable as the worst of the year, there’s just as much going on behind Violet’s pill-faded facade that she doesn’t reveal. Too bad her automated knee-jerk reaction is to lash out at her family because, with a performance like Streep’s, you can see the suffering in this cantankerous crustacean. She just can’t help but fight.

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At times reminiscent of Ellen Burstyn‘s monumental performance in Requiem for a Dream, seeing Streep’s crumbling mental barricades is no fun task but it is still no less a marvel. Playing opposite her, Roberts is a wonder as well. It’s been a long time since Roberts has had anything legitimate to offer so it’s a welcome change that she taps us on the collective shoulder, reminding us that she can indeed act with the best of them.

Filling out the terrific supporting cast is a perpetually clueless and never amiss Juliette Lewis, a self-righteous and awkwardly tweened-out Abigail Breslin, a powerful beyond the pages performance via Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale doing Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor in a complicated but not completely fulfilling role, the always delightful Sam Shepard in a small but important role, and a bumbling, insecure and totally unexpected Benedict Cumberbatch as none other than the aptly named Little Charles. Calling it a stacked cast is an understatement, especially with so much prominence placed on the performances. These people aren’t here to sell you on name recognition. They’re here to act.

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The events that gets the whole gang together begin when Violet’s husband (Shepard), and father to the three girls (Roberts, Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) suddenly disappears. He’s a drinker, she’s a pill popper and their relationship is hovering somewhere in the red zone of the domestic-abuse-o-meter. So no one is surprised that he’s up and left without so much as a note. But as the events of his disappearance start to become clear, rather than coming together as a family as one might in the midst of loss, the emotional explosions just get more volatile.

Each time the family gets together, it’s like setting a ticking time bomb and waiting to watch it explode. Whenever they sit down at dinner, each comment is a turn in hot potato as we wait to see which of the family will explode in an emotional meltdown first. Their sanctimonious battles are at once hysterical and revolting, making you thankful that you’re not a part of the Weston clan but also reminding you of your own family battlegrounds.

Much like real life, throughout the film, the closer we are to the dinner table, the more tension seeps in. Accordingly, the more people at the table, the more riveting and on edge the film is. Without a place to run, you stew like a sack of potatoes, until blam! You never quite know who or what is going to pop out when they’re stacked around that unchivalrous table of food. Word for the wise: around the Weston household, tread lightly. But as we fade away from that central table – that catalyst of action – things do tend to get a little flabby.

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But aside from a few minor complaints revolving around a splattering of moments of unnecessary melodrama, August: Osage County is a surprisingly good film that I can find little to criticize. However, if you’re the sensitive type who like things wrapped up in a neat package or are uncomfortable with watching a family bicker for two hours and not really resolve anything, this probably isn’t the film for you. So I guess this really isn’t a film for most people.

Although the icky subject matter will be enough to turn general audiences away, those looking for a bonafide acting showcase need look no further than this Southern familial upset. Although director John Wells has done a great job of adapting the energy of Tracy Letts‘ source material, it still feels very much like a theater performance. Between the explosive and deeply personal acting, tightly confined spaces, and webs of dangling intermittent issues, in August, we feel like we’re in the midst of a really great play.

B+

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