Michael Shannon

February 1, 2017

SR and The LAMB Devour The Oscars: Best Supporting Actor

Check out more posts over at The LAMB as we DEVOUR the Academy Awards!

It’s that time of the year again when every movie blog, podcast, expert, and everything, and one, that falls in between pontificates over who should win and bitches and moans when their favorite art-house film is snubbed or a specific movie just goes in and steamrolls the competition.

While some categories are easier to pin down than most, it’s pretty consistent that some of the best wins in recent years have come out of the Best Supporting Actor/Actress categories. The nominees are usually comprised of character actors or up-and-comers who are on their way to stardom, and this year’s crop of Best Supporting Actors are no exception:

The nominees are:

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight (WINNER)
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

In all honesty, I would be pleased as punch to see any of these actors win. Three of the five nominees being first-timers will make the win even more exciting.

My dark horse in this field is going to be Michael Shannon. If you look at his filmography for 2016 it’s pretty ridiculous. He’s played everything from a man on the run with a super-powered kid, to Elvis, to his role of Detective Bobby Andes in “Nocturnal Animals.” Shannon is just one of those actors that puts everything into any role he’s in and even in bad movies he’s usually singled out as the lone “good thing.” Considering his body of work and busy 2016, it was almost a slam dunk to reward his varied filmography of the past year.

The two long-shots are likely Jeff Bridges and Lucas Hedges. I’m not taking anything away from their performances, namely Hedges’ which is heartbreaking, but Bridges’ turn as a “seen it all” Texas sheriff is just that…seen it all.

That narrows the field down to Dev Patel in “Lion” and Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight.” The smart money is on Ali right now after his recent win at the SAG Awards coupled with his heartfelt speech while accepting the award. Patel could easily steal the win though with his breakthrough performance that tells an all too real, and remarkable, story.

However, I’m going all in on Ali to win this one. Despite the fact that he possibly has the least amount of screen time compared to the rest of the field, his performance as Juan, an Afro-Cuban in “War on Drugs” Miami, Florida, is something we’ve never seen before. He plays the villain and the hero and his chemistry with Janelle Monea and the young Chiron, is authentic and heart-wrenching. “Moonlight” breaks the mold for masculinity in the African-American community which is often depicted as violent, braggadocios, and protective of their sexuality, Ali should be rewarded for creating a character that is lacking in Hollywood and is as relevant today as its ever been.

Last year’s winner, Mark Rylance, might have been a little bit of a shock for some, and his win was likely based more on the field, which was a little weak, but with this year’s crop of nominees, and the nature of Ali’s performance, this would go down as a legitimate win that is more then deserved.

August 10, 2013

True Stories: The Iceman

RUSHED

The thing about reviewing films based on a true story is you’re usually limited to technical aspects of the film.  Barring some historical inaccuracy, the only fair thing to harp on is how the story is told.  Essentially because it all really happened.  You can’t complain about an ending that really happened.  You can’t complain about character choices that really happened.  You mainly hope that the way the filmmakers tell the story is compelling and that the actors give strong and truthful performances of their real life counterparts.  The Iceman, sadly, is a film that seems to fall just short of doing both of those things.

The story of The Iceman centers around the real life story of cold blooded mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski and how he keeps his murderous career a secret from his family.  Essentially, what if No Country For Old Men’s Anton Chigurh on his off days was Danny Tanner from Full House.  It is as terrific a set up and interesting a story for any film.  Just as the plot for that gets started, just as you are ready to see the rise of this hitman through the mob ranks and the elaborate lies he must concoct in order to remain the unassuming patriarch of his family, the film starts a two hour journey to RUSH past both elements clumsily.  And it doesn’t stop.  Both selling points the movie has are handled either through stunted montages or RUSHED time jumps.

One minute, Richard has just entered the world of contract killing.  The next minute, he is a seasoned pro.  All the ins and outs of being an effective hitman and rising through the ranks as the number one mob soldier are skipped over or RUSHED.  A counter to that criticism could be that the film isn’t about the contract killing.  Maybe it is about the family dynamic throughout.  Fine.  One minute Richard is a brand new father struggling to get he and his wife a better place to live.  The next minute, he has a second teenage child and they’re all living in a house in the suburbs.  All his lies to his wife and kids and all of the moments you want to see from a guy leading a dubious double life are skipped over or RUSHED.  Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be about the double life stuff either.  Maybe it is about Richard’s cold blooded nature and the horrible past that leads to the apropos title of this film.  A true character study of a sociopath.  Well, the structure of the film short circuits that by being mum about his upbringing until a sudden exposition dump in one scene.  There is a pivotal part where the normally cold blooded murderer Richard discovers a young teenager has witnessed him killing someone.  He decides to let her go.  Why?  It is alluded to later, but to that point the film had done nothing to hint at this character having a conscience.  Basically the opposite, in fact.  It hadn’t earned that moment.  My point is that if these dynamics of Richard Kuklinski’s life were focused on or fleshed out more instead of sped through, the film would have had a clearer direction.

The cast for The Iceman is of a particularly high quality but a bit misplaced.  Michael Shannon, or as I like to call him, Willem Dafoe 2.0, is the centerpiece of this film.  As much as I do like him as an actor, I am not certain of him in the part of Richard Kuklinski.  Now don’t get me wrong.  The lack of anything but intensity behind his eyes make him perfect as the murderous hitman.  He has made a career of playing people like that.  However, Shannon is somewhat unconvincing as a loving husband and father.  I mean ladies, are you really going home with THIS GUY?  This goes again to my previous dilemma of criticizing true stories.  Perhaps Kuklinski was as stoic a dad as he was in this film.  I’m not sure.  However, I can’t help but wonder how better the movie would have been served if someone like a Thomas Jane, a Josh Brolin or a Mickey Rourke was cast as Kuklinski.  Someone you can buy portraying both facets of the man’s life.   Winona Ryder plays the oblivious wife Deborah.  Ryder is fine here but her chemistry with Shannon is marginal at best.  And though the film wants to split time between home life and mob life, Deborah’s relationship with Richard still feels too short changed.  Right when we start to get a solid emotional scene between the two of them, it ends unceremoniously.  The cast is rounded out by an odd Chris Evans, an almost unrecognizable David Schwimmer, a very recognizable James Franco, Stephen Dorff, and Ray Liotta.  Liotta, a man who’s best role was in a film that had the structure I wish this film would have had.

As true stories go, The Iceman isn’t a particularly high ranking one.  The disjointed and RUSHED method the story is told really hamstrings what this film could have been.  The story of Richard Kuklinski is still best told by the man himself in the HBO documentary Confessions Of A Mafia Hitman.  However, if you happen upon the story’s one dramatization, try to keep up…look out for ice cream trucks…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

July 12, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel – Sponsors

SPONSORS

The time is now for Warner Bros. and DC Comics.  The window has already closed to be able to compete with Disney and Marvel Comics so its time to just try and carve out a little bit of a niche for themselves.  Sure, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy was a huge success, but that’s over, and unless you thought “Green Lantern” was a good direction for DC Comics film-wise, well, I’d have to disagree with you on that one.  So with all their chips on the table, Warner/DC has decided to go for the Hail Mary.  That Hail Mary is “Man of Steel,” sponsored by Sears, 7-11, IHOP, and of course, LexCorp.

Contrary to what you might hear about “Man” the film isn’t that bad, sure its loud, bombastic, brash, and suffers from a severe case of style-over-substance…..hmmm, well, I guess “Man of Steel” isn’t that great when I really stop and think about it.  While it has some good ideas, the way Superman is presented almost makes this attempt feel like this is a sequel to another film.  And while “Man” tries it’s best to distance itself from the less-than-super “Superman Returns” there are too many scenes where director, Zack Snyder, once again, lets his ego get in the way and decides to make things explode as opposed to detailing the psychology of Clark Kent and how he’s torn between being the last son of a dying world and the protector to a new one. Snyder shoehorns scenes of Clark’s more impressionable years in Smallville, but the scenes merely feel like a feeble attempt at trying to make us feel like he has a soul and why he feels an obligation to the human race.  I almost feel “Man of Steel” would have been better suited as a trilogy as opposed to fitting everything into one giant action-fest.  Obviously Warners has no interest in another compelling “Dark Knight-like” trilogy, they are so busy trying to catch up to Marvel.  The one thing I will say is that Superman isn’t as interesting to be able to fit into an entire trilogy like Bruce Wayne/Batman.

At the end of “Man” I was left both wanting more and wanting less, if that is possible.  The action scenes were both large in scope, but felt empty; the story of Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman was both easy to follow, yet lacked depth; and the story became inconsequential come the start of the 3rd act when everything that can go boom, goes boom.  I’m sure Michael Bay had plenty of tissue handy when he witnessed Metropolis being torn apart by a group of Kryptonians.

What troubles me the most about this new direction for Warner/DC is the world building, or lack thereof. Sure, you get a nod to LexCorp, Wayne Enterprises and other minor DC characters that may exist in this specific universe, but while Warner says they want to complete with Marvel in the superhero-movie-making business, they still seem to want to make self-contained films and somehow make them all gel.  If you go all the way back to when Marvel released “Iron Man” the plan was already in motion for more films within a coherent universe.  Marvel could have slapped “Iron Man” together and flown by the seat of their pants, but they made a conscience effort to create a world where other heroes could exist.  “Man of Steel” provides us with glimpses, or “Easter Eggs” of companies which have meaning to characters such as Lex Luthor, Batman, and Cyborg, but you’re left to wonder how many movies it is going to take to finally set in motion a “Justice League” or even a “World’s Finest” film.  At this stage in the game it looks like we’ll get another “Man of Steel” film in 2015 and maybe a “Batman” reboot in 2016.  You might say “Well, you can’t create an entire universe in just one film.”  I’d say back “How come Marvel was able to do it, and make us believe they knew what they were doing from the get-go?”

In no way am I shredding this film, even though it might sound like it.  There are things I genuinely like about “Man of Steel.”  I thought the acting and casting was spot on, and it looks like we finally have an actor playing Superman that we can believe in with Henry Cavill.  He fits the suit like a glove and his banter with Lois Lane, played wonderfully by Amy Adams, is vintage.  Michael Shannon continues to impress as General Zod and is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters actors in Hollywood.  The supporting cast is solid as well, including Russell Crowe as Jor-El and Lawrence Fishburne as Perry White, Chief Editor of The Daily Planet.

With “Man of Steel,” Warner/DC neither loses ground or gains ground on the Disney/Marvel juggernaut.  If anything it washes the taste out of Superman fans mouths for “Superman Returns” and gives people plenty of explosions.  What it didn’t do is break new ground.  Sure, Superman does some super things, but he also feels like a shell of what Superman should be; a protector of the Earth and Metropolis, not it’s destroyer as seen in the final 30 minutes of “Steel.”  This review sponsored by Wayne Enterprises.

Fun Fact:  General Zod’s first appearance was in Adventure Comics #283 in 1961.

December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays: Premium Rush

SILLY

When it comes to Simplistic Reviews, I’m the elder statesman of the site.  My co-reviewers possess an amazingly vast knowledge of film and television stretching back to kingdom come.  I have the slim benefit and sometimes curse of having been alive when some of these older films and shows came out.  Sometimes it gives me perspective.  Most times, as my younger sister would say, it just makes me old.  Premium Rush reminds of a time in the early 80s before Xbox and cell phones and Netflix.  A time where you were the happiest son of a bitch alive if you had a nice BMX bike with the pegs or, God willing, a go-cart.  Where films like Rad, Quicksilver or BMX Bandits, starring an adolescent Nicole Kidman by the way, could capture your imagination like the Avengers does for kids now.  Those three films were SILLY, but you’d watch them a million times on cable and try to pull off the sick tricks they do in it with your friends.  Premium Rush is a film made in the wrong decade.  Made in the wrong century for that matter.  I thought about how my brain would have melted out of my head if had I saw it at seven years old.  Now, it just seems SILLY

What is the biggest flaw of Premium Rush?  The plot essentially makes sense, but can be easily unraveled if you start pulling at it.  That’s forgivable.  The main thing that makes Premium Rush feel SILLY is whenever it tries to introduce serious stakes.  This is a movie about a bike messenger alluding a dirty cop in New York City.  I have a hard time being moved in a film where anyone does a wheelie through Central Park or bunny hops over police cars.  Premium Rush has the benefit of being a 90 minute chase sequence.  However, it short circuits itself by attempting to be poignant.  Take a tip from Sly and the Expendables.  Know what you are.

I’ve made mention that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a soon to be Hollywood leading man.  His work in Looper and 50/50 is brilliant, he was a standout in Inception, and he ostensibly is the glue for The Dark Knight Rises.  You’d think with a film this…well…basic, he’d phone in his performance.  But he doesn’t.  I think Gordon-Levitt, much like his character in Premium Rush, only knows one speed.  All the way.  He does the best with what he has to work with for the character of Wilee.  However, most of the good stuff goes to his antagonist Detective Bobby Monday, played by Michael Shannon.  If there is any reason to see Premium Rush that I could point to, it would be Michael Shannon’s performance.   Monday is very reminiscent, but not better than Gary Oldman’s Detective Stansfield in Leon: The Professional.  Wow, that’s second time I’ve mentioned Leon: The Professional in as many reviews.  It does give me the opportunity the link THIS again.  Shannon is batshit crazy in Premium Rush.  I can only imagine how dark the character could have gotten if the film wasn’t burdened with a PG-13 rating.  Shannon still remains my primary hope to make Man Of Steel awesome.

Visually, Premium Rush is like watching an editor’s orgasm.  Well, that may be a little too graphic.  I mean, it isn’t as bad as Ang Lee’s Hulk or ANY Tony Scott film.  However, the Run Lola Run-like editing is frenetic, though somewhat appropriate for the material.  It turns bike accidents into a video game, which is apropos to the overall feel of the movie.  You have got to give writer/director David Koepp credit for having the balls to make an action thriller about a bike messenger.  Koepp has worked with some of the greats in Hollywood.  However, the directorial style that I think rubbed off on him the most was that of Sam Raimi.  Koepp’s framing, his camera movements, his mixing of comedic visuals during tense moments is all very Raimi. 

Premium Rush is a SILLY, yet, harmless film with a good performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a great one from Michael Shannon.  As a whole, it would have been a great concept for an ongoing webseries.  For a film, however, it is as substantive as cotton candy.  Hop on…yank off the brakes…ride like hell…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  

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