While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America, it's also a remarkably involving true story about a couple tenaciously holding on to each other in the middle of a storm of oppression. By taking such a personal approach, writer-director Jeff Nichols grounds the movie in authenticity, eliciting fine performances from the entire cast, with especially notable turns from Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.
It's 1958, and cross-racial marriage is illegal in Virginia. So Richard Loving (Edgerton) takes his pregnant black girlfriend Mildred (Negga) across the state line to Washington D.C. to get married. When they return to the family farm, they're immediately arrested and exiled to Washington, where they start a family. But Mildred longs to raise their three children back in their rural hometown, with their extended families around them. When Richard consults a civil-liberties lawyer (Nick Kroll), he finds that there may be some legal hope for them if they are willing to take on the system. This requires the help of a constitutional expert (Jon Bass) and the tenacity to stand up to a century of ingrained prejudice.
The film is written and directed with a sharp attention to detail, which means including some facts that are rather messy. This sometimes leaves scenes feeling unfinished, but the point is that real life isn't as tidy as it is in the movies. This also means that the film never tries to build a melodramatic sense of momentum, remaining intimate and somewhat reticent, echoing Richard and Mildred's personalities. Many of the biggest scenes take place off camera, while we are instead watching these steely, softspoken people who changed American law by quietly remaining true to their love for each other. Both Negga and Edgerton deliver subtle, wrenching performances as everyday people who express their strong views mainly in telling glances and touches that say more than words ever could.
Continue reading: Loving Review
Gifted director Jeff Nichols takes on another genre in his fourth film with actor Michael Shannon, after Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud. This one's an involving character-based sci-fi adventure made in the style of classic films like E.T. or Close Encounters. As the characters are thrown into an extraordinary situation, the story gradually reveals its fantastical secrets without resorting to the usual overblown blockbuster formula, which makes the movie remarkably resonant and genuinely thrilling.
Shannon plays Roy, a man who is on the run across Texas with his 8-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), who's now a state trooper. And the FBI is on their trail, investigating the religious cult they escaped from. Led by the defiant Calvin (Sam Shepard), the cult seems to have been centred around the unusual ability Alton has to gather information from government satellites. Which is why the FBI is so intent on tracking him down. Working with the FBI, NSA Agent Sevier (Adam Driver) is fascinated by Alton's abilities, and he begins to worry what might happen if the boy is captured. Meanwhile, Roy and Lucas have reunited with Alton's mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and are continuing their journey across the American South. And time is clearly of the essence, since Alton is growing seriously ill.
Writer-director Nichols skilfully keeps the audience gripped by the central mystery, dropping in hints and revelations along the way that slowly build up to the final big picture. This forces the viewer into the same perspective as the characters, who don't have a clue what's going on but are gripped by the possibilities of what they're witnessing. This also makes it impossible to predict where the story might go next as it cycles through action, humour, emotion and exhilarating drama. Through all of this, the actors all offer beautiful textures in their characters, underplaying even the most intense scenes to make them feel strikingly realistic.
Continue reading: Midnight Special Review
Writer-director Nichols continues to get inside the heads of his characters with this involving but overlong dramatic thriller. Like his previous film Take Shelter, this is another fable-like movie, this time harking back to Huck Finn with a boys' adventure story set on the waterways of rural Arkansas. It's impeccably shot and edited, with terrific performances even from side characters. But at over two hours, the long running-time tries our patience.
Our hero is Ellis (Sheridan), a shy but steely 14-year-old who dreams of one day escaping his backwoods community. For entertainment, he explores the rivers with his pal Neckbone (Lofland), and when they hear rumours of a boat stranded in a tree, they have to investigate. Sure enough, there it is, then inside it they discover the fugitive Mud (McConaughey). Even though he's wanted for murder, they decide to help free the boat so he can escape with his battered girlfriend Juniper (Witherspoon), who's hiding in a local motel. But Ellis and Neckbone need some help with this elaborate plan, so they turn to the scary old man (Shepard) who lives across the river.
Cinematographer Adam Stone beautifully captures both the evocative settings and the expressive faces of the actors, who all bring an introspective touch to their characters. Sheridan and Lofland are excellent in the lead roles, which are pretty demanding as these two teens have to grow up quickly. And McConaughey and Witherspoon dive fully into their much flashier roles, constantly surprising us with sparky details that take these people in unexpected directions. There's also a telling smaller role for Nichols' regular Shannon as Neckbone's haunted, sidelined guardian.
Continue reading: Mud Review
Frankly, a bad Terrence Malick film is better than 90 percent of movies released in cinemas: but if you thought The Tree of Life was indulgent and overly kaleidoscopic, you should avoid this like the plague. Because this film is even looser and more internalised, taking an impressionistic approach to plot and characters that gives us very few specifics. It also leaves the cast to play mere hints of people who are having crises of faith and love.
After a lushly romantic trip to Paris and Mont Saint-Michel, Neil (Affleck) brings his French girlfriend Marina (Kurylenko) and her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana (Chiline) home to Oklahoma to live. The geography and culture are a shock to both of them, but Marina tells Neil, "If you love me, I'm OK here." So they begin to bond as a family, and Marina turns to local Catholic priest Quintana (Bardem) for support. But he's having a crisis of faith, and she's wondering if she's made a terrible mistake. So when her visa expires, she takes Tatiana and returns to France. In confusion, Neil then turns to his old flame Jane (McAdams). But as their rekindled romance begins to get serious, she realises that he's still in love with Marina.
Malick tells this story with snippets of ideas and feelings. Emmanuel Lubezki's sumptuous cinematography finds raw beauty everywhere, including in Malick's trademark sun-dappled leaves, waving wheat fields and rippling water. But there's also raw beauty in the actors' faces, and we understand their thoughts through breathy voiceovers that offer philosophical musings and biblical texts. As a result, only Marina emerges as a properly defined character with passion and yearnings; everyone else is sketchy and vague. Even Affleck and Bardem, who have strong on-screen presence, never quite register here.
Continue reading: To The Wonder Review
Frida Kahlo's (Salma Hayek) first meeting with Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina) and her injury in a horrible bus accident set in motion the two major forces behind Frida. Bedridden for months in a full-body cast, the young Frida keeps herself busy--and learns to express her internal passions and pain--through drawing and painting. Falling in with the womanizing Rivera and his bohemian cadre of artists and revolutionaries deepens Frida's commitment to her painting and life with the loyal but philandering muralist. Their art carries them from Mexico to New York and back in the company of such impressive historical figures as David Alfaro Siqueiros (Antonio Banderas), Nelson Rockefeller (Ed Norton), and Leon Trotsky (Geoffery Rush).
Continue reading: Frida Review
However, as a still agile Swayze danced with the new movie's star, Romola Garai, it dawned on me: The new movie needed Swayze, or rather his hunky heir. Part of what made the original Dirty Dancing so appealing was Swayze's presence. Physically, you couldn't take your eyes off him, and he had a cool, aloof sex appeal that set up good girl Grey to fall madly in love with him. And Grey did a masterful job falling for his charms, slowly and assuredly.
Continue reading: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights Review
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