Tag Archive: John Goodman

Clover-1In January of this year, a trailer dropped seemingly out of nowhere bearing the name 10 Cloverfield Lane. A Bad Robot Production with a title bearing the moniker ‘Cloverfield’ was something to take note of, as after years of speculation it seemed we were going to receive something akin to a Cloverfield sequel. Hiding behind a certain Star Wars, J.J. Abrams managed to shepherd this project in plain sight, and was quick to establish that this was not a straight sequel, more a spiritual sequel that would keep the Cloverfield brand alive through an anthology series. It is an inspired idea, allow a certain brand awareness to create Science Fiction projects that allow promising new talents a shot at something well within the public’s attention. Hopefully it is the start of many similar projects, as 10 Cloverfield Lane declares itself to be a thrilling début for its young director, Dan Trachtenberg.

After a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans, very much aiming to get as far away from her problems as possible. However, as she is driving through rural Louisiana, she is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. She is approached by a man called Howard (John Goodman) who informs her that there has been an attack of unknown origin on the surface, rendering the outside world as a dangerous, poisonous landscape. With seemingly no choice but to stay in the bunker, along with another inhabitant Emmett (John Clover-2Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has to decide whether Howard is worth trusting, if something more sinister is at play, and find out whether or not something has actually happened on the surface.

It is best for one to know straight off that this Cloverfield has nothing to do with Matt Reeves’ found-footage monster movie from 2008. While this film does deal with the idea of monsters, it is not quite in the literal sense as Reeves’ 9/11 paranoia driven monster movie, rather more about what monstrous acts can be capable of. It retains a certain sense of paranoia, but in a more pared-down thriller scenario,set predominantly in one location with only three characters involved in the proceedings. It allows for 10 Cloverfield Lane to be a more character driven piece, enabling Trachtenberg to demonstrate strength in crafting tension and with working with actors.

The three players involved all turn in well judged performances, never being too overtly dramatic and grounding the proceedings very well. Gallagher Jr provides a refreshing levity, but the film belongs to both John Good man and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead is our guide throughout most of the proceedings, and she is put through the Clover-3wringer on many occasions, and she does well to earn our sympathy and empathy as a young woman thrown into many an unpredictable and volatile situation. Goodman is the best he has been in years, evoking both sympathy and menace often at the same time to provide a character who remains mysterious and treacherous throughout.

Much of 10 Cloverfield Lane rides on Trachtenberg’s skill at handling a chamber piece, aided by a screenplay which places character over spectacle, for the most part anyway. The final act requires something of a leap of faith, and while it proves to be quite cathartic in the grand scheme of the narrative, it ultimately isn’t as controlled or as sophisticated as what has come before. It segues into another genre not quite as smoothly as it would like, leading to a pay-off that feels strangely uninspired when compared to the superior and tightly wound proceedings of the first two thirds. Clover-4

Dan Trachtenberg, a man who only really had a strong Portal inspired short film under his belt, uses this opportunity to truly showcase his confidence as a film-maker, and particularly a strength with actors as well as high concepts. Even if the more grandiose finale is the weak-point of the proceedings, he still demonstrates a strong handling of visuals and character focus. Whatever he decides to do in the future, it will undoubtedly be a point of interest for myself and many others, as he exhibits traits that could well mark him as, dare I say it, the next Abrams.

4/5- This spiritual sequel carves out its own identity as a taut exercise in suspense and character, marking Trachtenberg as a talent to watch. 


inside-llewyn-davis-1The brother’s Coen have worked within numerous genres throughout the course of their film making partnership. They’ve jumped from the caper, to the crime flick, to the Western, yet all of them have that distinct Coen-esque vibe, namely down to the off-kilter humour and wickedly dark streak of tone. Inside Llewyn Davis is a much more focused affair from Ethan and Joel, particularly following from the more grandiose offering that was their last film, True GritDavis represents the pair at their most restrained and subdued, but no less captivating and intriguing, as we dive into a brief moment in an individual’s somewhat unremarkable life.

Set against the backdrop of 1960’s New York Folk scene, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a struggling folk singer who, since the suicide of his singing partner, has been coasting from numerous venues on the generosity of acquaintances and their sofa’s. Aimless with no motivation, fixed address, or desired goal for his career, as well as being stuck with a ginger moggy, we witness Llewyn at a moment in his life where certain choices have the potential to change the fabric of his reality and put his life on a track with a destination. One such opportunity offers Llewyn the chance to go to Chicago and play for a renowned record manager. Whether Llewyn acts upon these opportunities  is up to only one person; himself.

Inside Llewyn Davis sees the Coen’s at their moodiest. Their focus is on the concern of artistic integrity, and the compromises some artists may be too stubborn to make in order to become commercially successful, or to simply turn a decent inside-llewyn-davis-2buck. The Coen’s themselves have never quite threatened their integrity in such a way. Any integrity that they did lose with the one-two disappointment of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers was by no means a result of compromise, and was quickly restored with their films of the latter half of the 00’s. But their contemplation on the notion of integrity within this film feels as if it has come from somewhere personal, somewhere deep within themselves, something not perhaps that they have experienced, but something that they fear could happen if they are not careful.

What makes this thematic exploration even more intriguing is the fact that we very rarely feel sympathetic towards Llewyn. He is a man of self-destructive tendencies; he never faces up to his responsibilities, he is incredibly rude to the friends who kindly give him a place to sleep, and has little regard for the consequences of his actions. He is also a man capable of being very mean-spirited, we suspect as a result of frustration towards his own failings. He cannot be happy for someone who is more successful than him. He is undoubtedly a talented individual but lacks the fore-sight and humility to truly grasp any opportunity that is in front of him. With this type of character as the focus of the film, you’d expect the narrative to involve a means of re-awakening, re-discovery and redemption, but no. The film’s bravest move is perhaps to show that everything that Llewyn inside-llewyn-davis-3encounters through the course of the brief 100 minute run-time has very little affect on his character.

Why then should we care? Frankly, the Coen’s never give the impression that they want you to particular sympathize with this character, they desire to present us with a window into an oft-forgotten period of folk music culture (on the brink of Dylan’s arrival) and they want us to experience such a period through the eyes of an individual who has every bit of potential to lead the craze, but ultimately chooses not to. The character and film would be close to intolerable if the actor portraying Davis was nothing short of excellent, and thankfully in the form of Isaac, the Coen’s have crafted a truly memorable anti-hero. Isaac demonstrates unique skill and craft in both his abilities as an actor and a musician, making Llewyn an extremely watchable presence. He exudes an affable aura despite his character being somewhat of an ass. He lends Llewyn an air of naivety and child-like mis-comprehension, painting him as a man who is not capable of negotiating the adult world. Much of the supporting cast do not have enough screen-time to truly make an impact, as they are simply individuals Llewyn happens to wade between or stumble across in his aimless life, but they are a talented bunch of players, featuring the likes of Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, and F. Murray Abraham.

While undeniably provoking and engrossing, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the most cynical films from the brotherly pairing. Despite containing a very cute cat and a wonderful soundtrack, the film is never optimistic, with much of the humour once more coming from moments of social awkwardness and cringe-worthy embarrassment. It is a inside-llewyn-davis-4coldness of touch reflected in the simply spectacular cinematography. Each frame is glazed with misty-eyed melancholy, drained of colour and hope but beautiful none the less. The music of the picture as well exudes personal sorrow and expert craft, demonstrating the cast’s genuine musical talents.

The bottom line is that the Coen’s have done better. There is no side-stepping that fact. Inside Llewyn Davis feels too small, self-contained and a tad thematically limited to stand up with their heavy hitters, like No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and Fargo (Barton Fink remains my personal favourite). There is something a bit too cold about the Inside Llewyn Davis that makes the proceedings feel a bit more off-kilter than usual for the pair. It is a sombre piece of cinema that seems to be profoundly elegant without having much to say. None the less, Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the most beautifully photographed films of recent memory with an exceptional central performance and an intriguing narrative focus that marks it as yet another great, if not masterful, work from the Coen Brothers.

4/5- A story about a man at the crossroads of life, Inside Llewyn Davis is the Coen’s at their most melancholic and graceful. A bleakly beautiful film powered by an affecting central performance from Oscar Isaac.

The-Hangover-4 but actually 1The Hangover back in 2009 came out of the blue and became the surprise sleeper hit of that summer, and rightly so. It was an original, hilarious high concept comedy that only comes round once in a while, filled with surprises and memorable characters; I do honestly believe that it is one of the best American comedies of the past 20 years. It’s concept surely only lead itself to one installment right? Well, wrong. Due to the megabucks it made, the film quickly scored a sequel two years later in the form of The Hangover Part 2. That film, quite rightly so, was met with critically scorn; despite being set in the seedy world of Bangkok, Thailand, the sequel was essentially a beat for beat remake, albeit with a much darker streak. A Part 3 certainly wasn’t called for, but when your film makes over $100 on it’s opening Memorial Day weekend, you can bet it’s going to get a sequel. Initially, it all looked rather promising; the structure of the first two movies was ditched as a response to the criticisms of the second one and replaced with something entirely different; No Bachelor Party, No Wedding… what the hell was it going to be? Then, the first batch of reviews arrived. The film has received even more critical hatred than the second installment, no mean feat. Reviews claimed the film played more like a dark action thriller than a comedy and had little bearings of what made the first installment a memorable experience. This only intrigued me. For one, it sounded like a pretty ballsy move for Todd Phillips and his team to take this franchise and shove it in a different realm of genre and see how the character’s responded to it. I thought it was a great way of shaking off the criticism received by the second whilst also opening new avenues in terms of plot development. Except, the potential bold idea is wasted by a weak script, almost zero gags and little to no structure or threat to speak of. The Hangover-2

The Wolfpack are called back together when concern is raised over one of its members, the man-child that is Alan (Zach Galifianakis). having been off his medication for 6 months, he has become more insufferable than ever, directly causing the death of a wild Giraffe and indirectly causing the death of his father. With his family and friends running out of options, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha), embark on taking Alan to a psychiatric care home in the hope that he’ll come back a changed man. But en route the gang is intercepted by powerful mob boss Marshall (John Goodman) who demands something of them. Their old acquaintance Leslie Chow (Ken Joeng) has stolen $42 million worth of Gold Bars from Marshall, and he reckons that The Wolfpack are the ones with the best chance of finding him. For an added incentive, Marshall kidnaps Doug and says that he will kill him if the trio of Phil, Stu and Alan do not find Chow within three days. The gangs mission will take them across the border to Mexico and send back to the place that they never wished to set foot in again; Vegas.

Todd Phillips is a man who shoots comedy like no other director. There is always a visceral edge to his work that is often lacking in many comedy pictures. He is a very skillful director when it comes to atmosphere, one of The Hangover Part 2′s more positive points was the sinister atmosphere that so well achieved by Phillips’ choice of tone and colour.  Part 3 starts in a wonderfully epic fashion, and I so wish it had continued in such a vein. The opening finds Chow escaping from a maximum security prison in Bangkok, and it is madcap, epic in tone and on the right balance of action and comedy. The film  then quickly falls apart as we rejoin Alan, who has recently purchased a Giraffe. this gag falls completely flat; it is widely out of place in terms of the tone established in the first scene, it’s simply not that funny, and the VFX are just woeful. Alan’s antics then begin to grate on the nerves; the Galifianakis skit is starting to run very dry, but the plot is thankfully given a kick up the ass by the intervention of one John Goodman.  THE HANGOVER PART III

Goodman’s Marshall supplies the film with a much needed sense of purpose, and it is always a pleasure to see Goodman on the screen. But the script so poorly develops its story that you quickly lose interest or any sense of threat. It lets all its cats out of the basket at once; Phillips and co-writer Craig Mazin seem too over eager to express how ‘cleverly’ they’ve linked this film to the previous two installments that all of Goodman’s first scene is an over-load of exposition that would have been better revealed gradually. It would have added an air of mystery as the gang tried to discover who Marshall was, and would have allowed for some actually surprises to occur within the course of the narrative. But as it stands, we find out far too much too quickly and lose all interesting in the mechanisms of the plot.

There is a distinct lack of set pieces from a film that seems to be desperately wanting to be an action thriller. It would seem there are many possible plots at play; we have Alan going to a Mental Asylum, we have Mexico, we have a return to Vegas and the promise of another wedding. It never settles on a frame of mind and speeds through scenes as if it’s making it up as it goes along. It does not build to anything and we feel like we’re in the same place once we reach the end. It strives to be madcap but comes off as flat and un-involving. The only way it manages to make it to the finish line is through the energy of its cast, who can practically do these roles in their sleep (and sometimes there’s a sense that they are). Cooper and Helms reign in the madness that is Galifianakis, but are labored with repetitive lines of consisting of WTF’s and OMG’s. Nothing can quite control Ken Joeng’s Chow. Given much more to do, Chow works for the better and the worse. He certainly is responsible for the film’s funniest moments, but he is not a character you the-hangover-1particularly want to spend that much time with. The familiarity we have with the main trio and the sense of ease within the performances at least make us feel that we are in good company with these characters, who, as it turn out don’t actually react too differently in an action scenario.

It is never a good sign when you say that the post-credits scene was the best part of the film, but that most certainly is the case with The Hangover Part 3. Despite it remaining visually interesting, it simply doesn’t amount to anything. It is neither bad enough to be fun to laugh at, nor is it good enough to be truly appreciated. The gag rate is somewhat inconsistent, with only a few giggles to be had, peppered within the forgettable action. This is very much the end for the franchise, a franchise that is only four years old, but one that perhaps should have never gone further than the deserts of Nevada. What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. They got that one right.

2/5- Playing more like an action-thriller that just so happens to star the cast of The Hangover, Part 3 is a visually interesting but wholly underwhelming affair with few laughs to speak of. A forgettable final chapter for The Wolfpack.

Remember when everyone hated Ben Affleck? It certainly does seem like a long time ago now, following Affleck’s incredibly successful re-invigoration off the back of his two directing efforts; the involving Gone Baby Bone and the tense Heat-like The Town. It was no mean feat. Affleck began his career in fine style, with an Oscar under his belt for his script (co-written with Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting. Soon after, Affleck began appearing in a number of critical, but not necessarily commercial, flops; the likes of which included Pearl Harbor, Gigli, Paycheck, Surviving Christmas and Jersey Girl among them. Once upon a time, it seemed that Affleck could find no way to redeem himself. But low and behold, he found he had a talent in directing. His revival could perhaps be traced to his performance in the underrated Hollywoodland, but it truly was with Gone Baby Gone that Affleck once again staked a serious position withing Hollywood. And with Argo, he once again proves to be an exceptional talent behind, and in front, of the camera.

Argo tells the true story of the infamous ‘Canadian Caper’, set during the period of the Iran Hostage situation from 1979-1980, in which the Iranian Government saw a militant uprising, following the U.S. embassy sheltering the recently overthrown Shah. While other Americans in the Embassy are taken hostage, six American diplomats manage to escape and go to hide out in the Canadian ambassadors house. However, with the militant forces working their way towards finding out that they are missing six more Americans. With time running out, the US State Department begins to try to develop a plan in which to extract the six diplomats safely and securely. A CIA specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck) is bought in as consultant, and whilst viewing a Planet of the Apes movie on television, he devises the ridiculous idea of him and the six diplomats posing as a Canadian film crew, scouting locations for a new sci-fi movie, entitled Argo. After establishing a believable back-story, complete with producers, script, storyboards and press articles promoting the movie; Mendez heads in to Iran to exact his plan. But of course, nothing ever goes according to plan.

I would advise, unless you lived through it, to avoid any information regarding the outcome of the real-life Argo operation before viewing this movie. The less you know the better. I very much allowed myself to become engrossed in the story, with no knowledge of what the outcome was going to be, and I personally believed I enjoyed the movie much more as a result. It is an incredibly interesting story, that if it wasn’t true would be hard to believe. It is amazing that this was the best bad idea that the government had, yet when the intricate nature of the plan is revealed; it certainly seemed detail enough to avoid pratfalls. Knowing the facts, I believe, would also distract from the character construction on display here, particularly devoted to Affleck himself, and the six diplomats trapped within Iran. Standing out amongst these six are Monsters’ Scoot McNairy, who anchors his role with a nervous disposition and understandable concerns, and the indelibly cute Kerry Bishe, who proves to be quite a surprise, proving her worth above the should-have-never-happened Season 9 of Scrubs.

However, it is outside of Iran that the cast truly shines. The film certainly feels more at ease within the moments outside of the Iranian conflicts, quite understandably so. It truly is to Affleck’s credit that he manages to balance these lighter moments with the more serious political outlook on the dark and violent conflicts of Iran’s past. Rather than levitate tension, the humour is designed to present a comfortable environment, before the plan is executed and before the nerves begin to be tested. And the cast sell this balance. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are the Hollywood players, who very much inject the movie with a bright and playful spirit; Goodman as make-up maestro John Chambers and Arkin as experienced producer Lester Siegel. Bryan Cranston as well adds to the more comic elements of the movie early on, before his character becomes much more involved in making sure that Mendez’s plan runs smoothly. Here, he employs a certain degree of Walter White intensity to get the blood boiling and to emphasize the threat of the situation. Not that we were completely oblivious to it to begin with.

The anchor of the movie though, both in terms of acting and style, has to be Affleck. His direction cleverly incorporates raw news footage form the period with fantastic period detail, from the clothes to the cars, to the general atmosphere of the entire picture. It certainly feels like it could have been plucked from the 70’s and brought forward to the 21st Century, as it would easily sit shoulder to shoulder with other political thrillers of the period, such as All the President’s Men and The French Connection. Affleck keeps his camera very tight and focused, yet also very fluid and panoramic; creating a sense of entrapment surrounded by the possibility of freedom. The editing is also a work of masterclass, particularly in the film’s final act as the tension racks up to a nerve-shredding outcome. However, impressive though his directing is, it is Ben Affleck the actor who deserves the most praise. His Mendez is the beating heart of this movie, the thing keeping it alive, keeping the blood flowing, whilst also being an entirely flawed character. His confidence in his work is certainly not mirrored by the structure of his broken home life. Affleck plays the role with ease; displaying the confidence that the six diplomats desperately cling on to, whilst also demonstrating a broken man underneath who, like the six diplomats, just wants to find a way to get back home and bring his family back together.

Argo does suffer from the usual tropes of films based on a true story. A strong Americano spirit fuels the finale of the movie that frankly feels out of place, as most of the conflict within Iran was down to American involvement within the country, and perhaps not enough time is given to Mendez’s personal life to truly give credit to Affleck’s layered performance. But the sheer brilliance of its construction and performances across the board carry you safely over the line. Affleck demonstrated a sure hand with drama in Gone Baby Gone, a confident stance with action in The Town, and now he has proven himself to be a craftsman of tension, and in someways a documentarian. I would certainly say that this is Affleck’s best movie thus far, he has truly grown into a mature, confident and versatile director, as each of his films feel incredibly different from one another. Will he peak at three? That remains to be seen, but the future certainly looks bright for the director Ben Affleck, and more impressively, the actor Ben Affleck. How do you like them apples!?

5/5- A raw, emotional, human drama with a strong comic edge, deftly balancing its tense subject matter with Hollywood satire. That coupled with assured direction and a variety of strong performances, Argo is Affleck’s best movie yet. And that’s saying something.