Film Reviews

12 Years a Slave – first reviews

12 years a slave,12 years a slave reviewsThe first reviews from Telluride are in, and they’re pretty great.

In the meantime, the film has been added to the New York Film Festival lineup, and will be screened there on October 8.

12 Years a Slave opens on October 18.


The first thing fans of McQueen’s “Hunger” and “Shame” will notice here is the degree to which the helmer’s austere formal technique has evolved — to the extent that one would almost swear he’d snuck off and made three or four films in the interim. Composition, sound design and story all cut together beautifully, and yet, there’s no question that “12 Years a Slave” remains an art film, especially as the provocative director forces audiences to confront concepts and scenes that could conceivably transform their worldview. (…)
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Updates: Looper, Raising Hope, Oliver Sherman, Memphis Beat

Yeah, let’s start with that last one. A new TV appearance has showed up on Garret’s list of credits at the IMDb: Memphis Beat, episode 2×06, “Body of Evidence.” No details yet except for the character’s name (Tim Wayne), but it’s too soon anyway. Season two of Memphis Beat premieres on Tuesday, June 14 at 9/8, so we won’t see the episode for another couple of months.

Second, great news from Cannes, via Deadline: Looper has found a distributor. Report:

A frenzied Saturday auction on the Croisette has ended with FilmDistrict in final negotiations for U.S. distribution rights to Looper, the Rian Johnson-directed science fiction film that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. There were at least six bidders spanning major studios and independents, and it sounds like some serious upfront money was paid. But the intriguing part is that the deal orchestrated between CAA and FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel will likely end in FilmDistrict using an option with Sony Pictures, which would release and market the film through the TriStar label. That replicates the distribution structure of District 9, which Schlessel acquired while he was at Sony. The picture has a similarly brainy construct and is also reminiscent of the first Terminator.

Johnson wrote the script, about a contract killer who works for the mob of the future, and who kills victims that are sent back in time 30 years, so there is no trace of the crime in the future. It’s a great gig, until the killer (Gordon-Levitt) recognizes that one of his targets (Willis) is a futuristic version of himself.

Third, two new reviews of Oliver Sherman showed up at and and they’re both pretty spectacular. Check them out.

And, on the Raising Hope front, there is a new interview with Garret at Zap2it. Snippet:

“Martha and I are both glad it was a plot point,” says Dillahunt, “that we’re young grandparents.”

And he doesn’t mind co-starring with babies.

“They turned 1 toward the end of the season,” says Dillahunt. “We really like them, and they’re getting very comfortable with us. I find myself missing them.

“They are great. I think we won the baby race, if nothing else. They have different skills. Rylie’s the Meryl Streep of babies. You bring her in for all the emotional stuff and all the spit-take-type stuff. Baylie’s the stunt baby.”

Last, the clips from the Raising Hope season finale, “Don’t Vote for This Episode,” which airs this Tuesday at 9 pm:


TIFF interviews: Oliver Sherman, Amigo

Getty Images has a few pics from the premiere of Oliver Sherman at the Toronto Film Festival yesterday. You can find them here.

Garret dillahunt,TIFF,Olvier Sherman,Amigo,interview,Toronto Film festivalAlso, a couple of new interviews showed up yesterday and today. has a video interview with Garret in which he talks about Amigo and Oliver Sherman. You can check it out at this link.

And there is a short article about Oliver Sherman at The Globe and Mail.

Dillahunt’s character is a man who’s stuck in his past, awkwardly watching the world move forward without him. He’s angry and awkward, with violent instincts, though perhaps not entirely to blame for his worst qualities. But what attracted Dillahunt was that he’s a man no one can quite figure out.

“I believe, inherently, the audience is intelligent. It’s like going to a museum: You look at a great painting, and some people like to come up close, some people stand far away, some people like it, some people are disturbed by it — it’s open to interpretation,” he says.

Last but not least, another positive review for the film:

Adapted by Redford from the Rachel Ingalls short story “Veterans”, the real marvel of the film is its ability to steadily increase the tension for pretty much the entire length of the film, offering only enough relief for a quick breath now and again before stoking the fires. It does so on the basis of exemplary discipline: a script that delicately balances competing yet legitimate viewpoints; meticulous acting that never tips its hand too far; gracefully effective shooting; and an edit that steadfastly refuses every gratuitous impulse. This is independent filmmaking that punches way above its weight, and it earns every ounce of its very considerable suspense. Though we know that the troubled drifter with the scarred head can only bring discord, Redford constructs the film’s exceptional tension with surgical precision. We cannot help but feel compassion for Sherman, but Redford’s ability to counterbalance this with the particulars of how and when things go wrong, and from Sherman’s very peculiar logic, is delightful. If you’re looking for a festival taste of splatter-spiced adrenaline, 13 Assassins offers a feast of samurai bloodletting that will soak your popcorn bright red, but for tender, juicy, slow-cooked adrenaline, Oliver Sherman is a high point of TIFF’s 2010 menu. [TwitchFilm]

Winter’s Bone – first reviews (updated)

Winter’s Bone was screened at Sundance yesterday and the first reviews are pretty positive. Some snippets below.

A teenage girl’s resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable physical and emotional obstacles just barely wards off the icy chill that cuts through “Winter’s Bone,” director Debra Granik’s bleak and exemplary sophomore feature. Following its brave heroine (an outstanding Jennifer Lawrence) as she seeks to uncover the truth behind her father’s disappearance, the film employs the structure of a whodunit to take a tough, unflinching look at an impoverished Ozarks community ruled by the local drug trade. Raw but utterly enveloping, “Bone” more than merits the patient distrib attention that’s become an increasingly rare commodity in the indie marketplace.

Sparely adapted by Granik and producer Anne Rosellini from a novel by Daniel Woodrell, the film amply confirms the low-budget artistry and skill with actors Granik evinced in her coincidentally similar-in-title debut, “Down to the Bone,” which won the directing award at Sundance in 2004. In its frigid rural setting (the Missouri Ozarks, where the film was entirely shot) and its story of a woman prepared to cross social and legal boundaries to keep her house and family intact, “Winter’s Bone” also bears a resemblance to another Sundance prize winner, 2008’s “Frozen River.”

With her mother in a near-catatonic state and her father in jail for cooking methamphetamine, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence, “The Burning Plain”) is used to taking care of herself and her younger brother and sister — chopping wood from the family’s several acres of timberland and, with some help from the neighbors, just managing to put food on the table. Their already-fragile existence is further threatened when the local sheriff (Garret Dillahunt) informs her that her father, Jessup, has been released from prison and that their house and land — which Jessup had signed away as collateral — will be seized if he fails to show up for his scheduled court appearance. [Variety]

Even if I spent the day trudging around in wet, slushy shoes and even if I didn’t have a single real meal, experiences like catching “Winter’s Bone” on Saturday (Jan. 23) evening are the reason you go to festivals like Sundance.

I’d heard nothing at all about “Winter’s Bone” and was mostly interested in it because of supporting players John Hawkes and Garret Dillahunt and because writer-director Debra Granik showed significant skill working with actors on “Down to the Bone,” her feature debut.

But “Winter’s Bone” was one of two or three early evening screening possibilities and it was only my choice because a desired early afternoon screening was over-booked, forcing me into a different movie and causing me to exit the theater at exactly the right time to get into the line for “Winter’s Bone.” That’s why, like so much that goes down at Sundance, my screening decision was based more on pure convenience than artistic imperative.

Whatever, the cause, it was fortuitous. “Winter’s Bone” is the best film I’ve seen this Festival and also one of the best films I’ve seen in the past year, a drama I appreciated more as I became increasingly immersed in its unique world. []

Screening in the U.S. dramatic competition at Sundance 2010, “Winter’s Bone” brings to mind a number of prior Sundance highlights. Like “Frozen River,” it depicts a woman driven to hard choices by hard circumstances; like “Brick,” it sets a teen protagonist into a thoroughly modern set of problems that might be better described by the scenes and structures of classic film noir. Like director Debra Granik’s previous Sundance film, 2004’s “Down to the Bone,” it depicts a very American kind of poverty, one not only of economics but also of emotions. Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, “Winter’s Bone” has more than just the echoes of other films to offer, though. It has the forward motion of a thriller, yes, and the who-knows-what questions of a mystery. But it also has a delicacy to it, as 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) searches for her absent father while caring for her younger siblings and ill mother, and director Granik, shooting with the RED digital camera, wrings bleak poetry out of the ruined landscape of the Missouri Ozarks.

Ree is not looking for her absent father in the general sense, or to heal some past wound; local Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) explains to Ree that her father Jessup, arrested for cooking crystal meth, put the family home up as his bond – and then disappeared. If he doesn’t appear in court in a week’s time, Ree and her family will lose everything: Baskin says to Ree, “Make sure that your daddy knows the gravity of this deal,” but Ree doesn’t know where he is. And no one will tell her. Trapped in the silences and secrets of the local criminal underworld, Ree goes to family and friends and neighbors and enemies, knocking on doors and seeing what happens like a Chandler hero, motivated by nothing less than survival. []

The strongest competition film is Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, a hillbilly noir set in the Ozarks, featuring an absolutely stunning performance by Jennifer Lawrence. I liked Granik’s Down to the Bone, with Vera Farmiga, which premiered six years ago, but this is really something to see. It mixes styles and tones beautitfully, and it’s colored by some beautiful uses of music, folklore and the down low. It’s the kind of film where every single performance feels note perfect. I’ll have more about it later. [Light Sensitive]

Half mountain noir, half mythological odyssey, Winter’s Bone is my favorite kind of detective story: the kind with no detective, per se. (That the movie takes place in a part of the world I know fairly well is just a bonus; suffice to say, Winter’s Bone is in my wheelhouse.) Jennifer Lawrence plays a 17-year-old high school dropout taking care of her mentally ill mother and her two younger siblings, and trying to make the most of whatever she can grow or kill on her family’s tree-covered property. Then the sheriff knocks on her door one day and warns Lawrence that her absent father is due in court, and that he’s put up the house and land as bond. [A.V. Club]

Burning Bright – another review

Dread Central has posted a short review of Burning Bright, from the AFM screening last week.


A surly stepfather (Garret Dillahunt) has had enough of his stepdaughter and autistic stepson so he does what anyone would do: Set loose a ravenous circus tiger in their home. Trapped inside during a terrible hurricane, the two step kids must find a way to survive the night before they become tiger chow.

Believe it or not, Burning Bright isn’t anywhere near as ridiculous as it sounds and actually manages to build several intense set pieces. It’s a pretty conventional entry in the survivalist/nature-run-amok subgenre but it’s well executed enough and gets major props by forgoing CGI to use a real-life tiger in the carnage scenes. [Dread Central]

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