REVIEW: Manglehorn

26 04 2015

ManglehornRiverRun International Film Festival

Since hitting what most people would deem rock-bottom with the twofer of “Your Highness” and “The Sitter” in 2011, director David Gordon Green has rebounded with a tediously artful movie in “Prince Avalanche” and an intermittently brilliant movie in “Joe.”  His third film in the recovery, “Manglehorn,” falls somewhere in between those two poles.

Green, working with Al Pacino, gives the legendary actor what Bill Murray got in last year’s “St. Vincent” – a tender character study that highlights segments of the heart normally hidden from public view.  Although, to call “Manglehorn” a study implies something more academic than what actually appears on screen.  Paul Logan’s script runs in episodic circles, entertaining but sometimes a little enraging.

As the film chugs along, the film slowly parses out details about Pacino’s titular character and the past that looms largely and invisibly over his every action.  The small-town Texas locksmith, after a life full of disappointing and being disappointed by the people closest to him, attunes himself more to the needs of his beloved feline friend than any human around him.  He goes through his days pensively and mechanically as a gruff, “Birdman“-esque narration illuminates his inner thought process.

These hauntingly quiet moments allow “Manglehorn” to stand apart from the crowd of films featuring Pacino and other graying actors.  For an actor most known for violent outbursts (“SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND,” anyone?) or quiet fury (the final shot of “The Godfather Part II” comes to mind), a seldom-seen side of a septuagenarian makes for a satisfying sight.

Pacino soars not just in these silent soliloquies but also in vulnerable scenes with Holly Hunter’s romantic prospect Dawn and Manglehorn’s estranged son Jacob, played by Chris Messina.  Even amidst the sometimes discursive mess of the movie, Green still maintains tone and character with a fairly firm grip.  B2halfstars


11 09 2014

JoeDavid Gordon Green’s “Joe” gets off to a slow start, prompting me to initially wonder if it was going to be a complete non-starter like his prior directing effort “Prince Avalanche.”  He takes his time giving us the lay of the land and introducing us to the characters, a lax unraveling that teeters close to tedious.

It also doesn’t help that the premise feel quite similar to that of Green’s film school buddy Jeff Nichols’ recent success “Mud.”   A troubled man played by an actor looking to show off a more serious facet of his talent befriending a rough-hewn yet good-hearted teenager played by Tye Sheridan?  “Joe” feels like the younger brother of “Mud,” although perhaps only little due to the order in which it was released.

By all accounts, though, “Joe” is the better realized film.  It’s more emotionally charged and features more dynamic, complex characters.  Once Green kicked the film into gear around the 40-minute mark, I couldn’t take my eyes off the action.

After winning an Oscar, Nicolas Cage shouldn’t technically have to prove anything, so perhaps it’s best to say he reminds us that he is so much more than a meme.  As the eponymous ex-con Joe, he bares the bruises of his past with startling vulnerability.  While some might chuckle at the possibility of the same actor from the infamous “The Wicker Man” screaming video conveying a convincing paternal aura, Cage embodies and exudes a worn-down wisdom that feels completely authentic.

And Tye Sheridan as teenaged Gary, desperately in need of someone to look up to instead of his abusive alcoholic father, forges an entirely believable connection with Cage’s Joe.  Once again, Sheridan completely nails all the frustrations of adolescence.  He’s always remarkably in the moment on screen, which comes in handy when Green needs to communicate the urgency of the story.

We really feel the dire need for Gary to save his family before his father ruins it for good (credit the late Gary Poulter in an unhinged performance as the frighteningly destructive Wade).  Moreover, we see the need for Joe, flaws and all, to save the day.  It might take some time to reach that point, but “Joe” is worth watching for its gripping back half that leads up to an extremely intense conclusion.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Prince Avalanche

25 08 2013

In the middle of the madness of David Gordon Green’s “Pineapple Express,” there’s a very bizarre and quirky 40-second montage that feels completely out of place.  Though I first saw that film as an unformed, relatively cinematically illiterate fifteen-year-old, I recognized there was something brilliant in the scene.  I didn’t know the director’s name, but I knew he had some artistic talent that was subversively bursting through the seams of this comedy.

Green’s latest film, “Prince Avalanche,” takes all the formalism present in that tiny “Pineapple Express” montage and make an entire film out of it.  The movie attempts to be both absurd and also rather aesthetically pleasing, succeeding far more at the latter than the former.  I will give Green that he can craft a good montage with editor Colin Patton and compose a good shot with director of photography Tim Orr.

But that’s about where my compliments for “Prince Avalanche” stop.  The script is dead on arrival, maintaining my interest for about as long as the aforementioned sequence in “Pineapple Express.”  It centers on two road crew workers, Paul Rudd’s Alvin and his girlfriend’s brother Lance, played by Emile Hirsch.  (I suppose I could pay the film another compliment and say it features the best Hirsch performance since “Milk,” but that’s not saying much.)

Alvin and Lance play out inane dramas on the road while staving off boredom or the problems that actually plague their existences.  To be honest, I couldn’t tell if Rudd or Hirsch cared about the conflicts of “Prince Avalanche.”  And if they didn’t care, why should we?  A few pretty shots of burnt back roads in Texas and a few quirks do not a good film make.  There are ways to make humdrum existence resonate; Green’s film really just generates yawns. C-1halfstars