Friday, September 16, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Every Machine Breaks Down

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody talks Oscar chances, stylish drivers, irritating phone calls, and a certain actress, while Jay recommends an Alabama-lensed indie.

WARRIOR (2011)

Paddy Conlon was a bad father. An abusive alcoholic, the damage he inflicted on his sons Brendan and Tommy still weighs heavily on their minds many years later. After 14 years without contact, a drunk, pill-popping Tommy shows up at Paddy's house to find that his father is a changed man, he's found religion and been sober for nearly three years. Tommy isn't there to forgive his father, he just needs his help: an MMA tournament with a $5 million grand prize is about to be held, and Tommy wants his father to train him for it, as he did for his high school wrestling matches.

Meanwhile, former professional fighter Brendan is now a physics teacher and a family man who's deeply in debt and facing foreclosure on his house. Separate from Tommy and Paddy, Brendan also starts training to compete in the tournament.

The final hour or so of the film is set during the tournament. Tommy is a beast who wins his matches with ease, Brendan has a bit more trouble, but pulls off some wins. As the trailer spoils, this all builds up to a final match that pits brother against brother.

I'm not into MMA fights at all in reality, but I can get into violent sports more when they're presented in movies, and here they're pretty cool. But as awesome as the fights are, the dramatic scenes among the characters are even more powerful. Nick Nolte, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Hardy are all great in their roles as father and sons, and they have a good supporting cast including Jennifer Morrison as Brendan's wife. The script by Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman, and director Gavin O'Connor is very -well written. It depends on what movies come down the pike between now and the Oscars, but as of now I would not be surprised to see Warrior get nominated for Best Picture.

DRIVE (2011)

Ryan Gosling stars as Driver (we never do find out what his name is), a stunt driver and mechanic who, with the help of his auto shop boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston), has a third, less legal job on the side: he's a getaway driver for hire. He doesn't want to know the details of the crime being committed, he doesn't carry a gun, but he gives the perpetrators a five minute window - if they're in his car and ready to go within five minutes of the heist beginning, he'll do his best to drive them to safety. We get to see an example of his work during a fantastic opening sequence.

Driver moves into a new apartment and the bulk of the film deals with the relationship that develops between him and his neighbor, a young mother named Irene, played by Carey Mulligan. Driver is a man of few words, but Irene is insta-charmed by his quiet ways and the kindess he shows her son. Complications arise when Irene's husband is released from jail and brings along his troubles with some gangster types who Driver has previously met through Shannon.

The stuff with Driver, Irene and her kid is so soft and nice, when the villains - played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman - enter the picture with their loudness and excessive vulgarity, they seem to come from a different world. But when Driver is pulled into their world, he shows he can handle himself quite well.

The movie is a bit arty, has a '70s feel with its story, tone and pace mixed with an '80s style - dig those hot pink titles/credits, the score and throwback-style songs reminiscent of Tangerine Dream - and depending on your mindset and expectations, some of the elements may come off as either dull or cheeseball. Myself, I thought it was awesome, but it won't be for everyone. In fact, the guys sitting behind me in the theatre left complaining. Some may have the impression that this is going to end up being some kind of Transporter-esque action flick, but those going for vehicular mayhem will be disappointed. This is a low-key crime drama that with some minor tweaks (and a different cast) probably could've been made on a low six-figure budget. It worked for me, I may even have to go see it again.


A normal day at work for boat salesman Ace Barker quickly goes downhill when he gets a call from a prospective customer with a voice that sounds like a mix of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade and Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds. It soon becomes clear that this caller is not really interested in buying a boat, as they call over and over during the following days/weeks and reveal that they are watching Ace, it appears that they simply want to tear Ace's life apart.

For most of the film the incessant, ridiculous calls and Ace's angry, foul mouthed reaction to them are pretty funny, but as it nears the end it gets rather disturbing.

Late, great actor Noble Willingham does an awesome job playing Ace. The film consists almost entirely of the phone calls - there are hardly any lines spoken by someone who isn't Ace or the caller - and we never get a clear look at the antagonizing caller, so this is practically a one man show for Willingham.


After becoming fascinated by actress Lauren Schneider in Creature last week, I decided to watch as many of the other movies on her filmography as possible.

The first one received from Netflix was Among Brothers, a $30,000 indie that's "based on true events", starring Schneider as a college student who gets murdered, her body discovered in her burnt-out apartment. Unfortunately, this storyline almost entirely removes Schneider from the film at about 25 minutes in. Before that, we get to know her character and dread her impending murder. Who will kill her? The creepy professor? The creepy frat boys? The title kind of gives it away. After the first act, the movie follows her killer(s), how they attempt to cover it up, whether or not they'll get away with it, and the question of why the murder even happened lingers until the end. It's a decent flick, but the lead character is not likeable at all. He kills our girl, then we're stuck with him for the next hour.

Beyond Schneider, I was also interested in paying attention to the picture quality, as this was shot on a DVX-100A and I myself have a DVX-100B which I often worry may be too out-of-date to use at this point, so I'm always interested in checking out movies that were shot on earlier cameras.  The picture quality isn't always that great here, but I suppose it's acceptable... The filmmakers say on the commentary that it looks how they wanted it to, so that's the most important thing.


Jay's mention:

New from the makers of a previous mention, A Genesis Found, comes another micro-budget Alabama indie from Wondermill Films. This neo-noir thriller is written and directed by Genesis producer Benjamin Stark and is produced by the aforementioned film's writer and director, Lee Fanning.


Directed by Benjamin Stark
Starring Kevin Maggard, Luke Weaver, Wescott Youngson, and Tyler Gibson

Set against the backdrop of a developing Southern economy, Nocturnal Third follows young Eli Gottfried (Kevin Maggard) as he struggles with the typical pitfalls a young man, especially a young married man, faces. His job is trying to change the landscape of the community and in doing so they are cutting a few corners. This is great for Eli as it gives him more hours-- working the graveyard shift.

He's supposed to be alone, but a brute no nonsense employee is there, working away into the night. As the night progresses, a stranded young salesman shows up at Eli's door. The night wears on, and so does Eli's body. He's already extremely fatigued and stressed, the job and its new added elements do him no favors. Is his fellow worker (Wescott Youngson) up to something that may put Eli in a dire situation? Or is there something off about this stranded salesman who seems to know more about Eli than Eli knows about himself?

Nocturnal Third is claustrophobic and well-crafted by Stark. It's easy to see that he has a firm vision in mind and is trying to do more than just tell a run of the mill story with thriller elements. As with everything Wondermill does, the film strives to tell a meaty story with a lot of different layers to it. There are some risks taken here, and some pan out, while others don't work quite as well. The acting isn't on the level of A Genesis Found, but does display some solid work by Wondermill veterans as well as new faces. The music is a bright spot, as Jesse Ewing really knocks it out of the park. I wasn't overly blown away by the score at first but bits and pieces have been stuck in my head for a few days now. There is also some great usage of a black cat. These images are very effective and the filmmakers managed to get a great performance from the animal. This is never an easy task and especially not on such a small budget. 

All in all, The Nocturnal Third is another solid effort from Wondermill Films, and is a big first step for Benjamin Stark as a director. I am hoping that this leads to bigger and better things for both Stark and Fanning, and I'm confident that it will. They are both making smart and technically well-crafted films for very little money, and it's only a matter of time before people start to take notice.

Rent: Amazon on Demand

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