Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

Digging For Fire (2015 Sundance)

4 Feb

Joe Swanberg is a bit of an enigma. On one hand, he is known for his nasty bad-guy characters from recent horror films like V.H.S., Proxy and You’re Next! On the other hand, his work as a director fits nicely into the mumblecore fare, with films like Happy Christmas and Drinking Buddies about as far away from the horror genre as you can get. When I first read the discription for his latest Sundance Film Festival entry Digging For Fire, I was expecting something with a bit more thrills (after all, the film’s premise revolves around a man digging up a bone and a gun from someone’s backyard), but I left feeling uplifted but slightly underwhelmed.

The main protagonists here are Lee (played by an always enjoyable Rosemarie DeWitt) who is married to slacker husband Tim (Jake Johnson doing his thing). Lee is a yoga instructor who is trusted by her boss to watch an expensive house while she is away. While Lee is out doing business, Tim takes up the responsibility of preparing the couple’s tax returns with their toddler son (played by Joe Swanberg’s real life son Jude) to keep him company. Of course Tim does what any good slacker husband would do and invites his buddies over for a few drinks and to enjoy their host’s expensive swimming pool. Thier drunken night together leads to a discovery of certain artifacts buried deep under the earth, and this soon starts an obsessive Tim on a journey to solve the mystery.

Aesthetically, Digging For Fire is pretty solid thanks to a wonderful soundtrack from Dan Romer (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and cinematography from Ben Richardson (The Fault in our Stars); together, they create a distinct tone for the film that is situated somewhere between romance, adventure and cynicism. Like many films of his contemporaries (the Duplass brothers or Andrew Bujalski come to mind), Swanberg’s narrative fits into the no-man’s-land between comedy, romance, and family drama. Unlike other mumblecore stories however, Digging For Fire is tragically missing the charming spark that keeps the sub-genre feeling fresh and interesting. Most of the supporting cast (several of whom are big-name indie personalities like Sam Rockwell, Jenny Slate, Anna Kendrick, or Brie Larson) feel unnecessarily invented as a way to show off a clever cameo, and the backbone of the story is revealed to be a simple mcguffin plot device. DeWitt and Johnson have a cool chemistry between them, and a few good laughs are in store, but it simply isn’t enough to carry the entirety of film. While Digging For Fire doesn’t quite have the substance that I was looking for, it still provides another light-hearted and intriguing filmic experience.

Rating: 6/10 

Similar to: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Greenberg (2010), Men, Women and Children (2014)

The Way Way Back (2013)

7 Jul

Water parks and fireworks have long been staple of every American kid’s typical summertime, and these two elements provide the background for this rather typical indie drama. The Way Way Back tells the story of one introverted boy named Duncan and his eventual coming to terms with others around him, especially his mother’s divorce.

The film marks the directorial debut of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the writing duo known for their Oscar-winning screenplay to 2012’s The Descendants, and the similarities are evident between the two films. Both are character-driven dramas about parental figures who are out-of-touch with their children, both films display instances of awkward youth romances, both films are shot on these exotic sea-side locations that upper-class white families can afford.  Overall, it seemed to me that this was just a copy+paste of the exact formula that won these directors an Academy Award. Which is all fine and dandy, except I didn’t really enjoy The Descendants that much in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, The Way Way Back is a very enjoyable, family-friendly movie.  The ensemble cast, (featuring Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janey, and the ever-entertaining Sam Rockwell) is great and the story, while predictable and irrational, is fast-paced and heartfelt. Most impressively, the film wraps things up at a neat and clean 103 minutes. It’s even got a good amount of smart, witty humor.

The main issue here is that the characters (with the exception of Rockwell’s and Rudolph’s) felt fake and overused, playing off of cliche’s we have all seen a billion times before. The film was made by two amateur directors, and boy – it shows, especially with the children.  Acting heavyweights like Carrell and Janey can hold their own and create bearable chemistry, but the scenes featuring two children flirting with each other (and there was by far too much of that) felt so awkward and forced into a trope that I literally had to close my eyes.

The one bright beam of light here that makes the film enjoyable was Sam Rockwell, who delivers his lines so well that even at their cheesiest (“You need to learn how to create your own path”) are a welcoming relief to the lackluster script.

What Faxon and Rash need to realize is that in a character-driven film like this, characters must take priority over everything else and should be developed into authentic and memorable individuals (think Little Miss Sunshine, The Squid and the Whale, The Ice Storm, or any David O. Russel or P.T. Anderson film) and not simply used as cookie-cutter plot devices.

 

Rating 5/10

Similar to: The Descendants, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Moneyball

 

Seven Psychopaths (2012)

1 Nov

Seven Psychopaths is a great mix of thriller and (mostly) sarcastic, dark comedy.

There are actually only 3 real psychopaths in this film and a handful of fictitious ones.  Seven Psychopaths gets its name from the fictitious film that Hollywood writer Marty (played by Colin Farrel) is working on.  Yes, this is another film that revolves around a screen writer and his impending writer’s block. When Marty is having trouble, his best friend Billy (played by Sam Rockwell) tries to rely on real-life events to give him some inspiration. Things go haywire when the couple gets involved with a high-valued shi-tzu  it kidnaped and it’s owner Charlie (Woody Harlleson) wants some revenge.

Though the plot is absolutely outrageous, Seven Psychopaths is a hell of a good time.    Sam Rockwell is particularly hilarious, especially when contrasted against the ruthlessness of  Woody Harlleson’s character.

Martin McDonagh wrote and directed this film, and  like his previous crime-thriller In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths showcases his clever and witty writing style. With it’s many one-liners and random mix of characters, (Think something along the lines of dark Wes Anderson/Terry Gilliam flick) Seven Psychopaths is one of the most offensively random films I have ever seen, but it also manages to be a lot of fun.

Rating 7/10