Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

Lawn Dogs (1997, John Duigan)

There’s a lot going on in Lawn Dogs. Lots of good things, lots of strange things, lots of bad things; the worst is probably housewife Kathleen Quinlan’s lover molesting her daughter, Mischa Barton. The film doesn’t want to deal with it. Lawn Dogs is lots of visual splendor, courtesy director Duigan and cinematographer Elliot Davis–set in a affluent Kentucky subdivision–and the film uses that visual splendor and the film’s general quirkiness to pivot away from ever dealing with the more difficult elements. On one hand, the story needs it to maintain its lyrical quality. On the other, it means there’s only so far the film can get.

Because even though it’s from ten year-old Barton’s perspective, it’s filtered. Barton knows what’s going on with mom Quinlan and the late teenage lover, David Barry Gray, but never shows how that knowledge affects her. She gets around to telling her parents–Christopher McDonald is the dad–about it, only to recant because Gray’s father is more affluent than McDonald and McDonald’s got political ambitions; Barton then recants. For a moment, Quinlan is about to become more than a precisely performed caricature and then Lawn Dogs drops that idea. McDonald only gets some depth at the very end, so it’s exactly disappointing but it’s a definite decision Duigan and writer Naomi Wallace are making with the narrative distance. These people are pushed back. Barton’s closer, Sam Rockwell–as the neighborhood lawn mower and Barton’s secret buddy (Rockwell’s twenty-one)–is closer. But McDonald and Quinlan? They’re so far back and so two dimensional and played for such dark humor, they don’t even cast shadows.

At the start of the film, Barton–who’s recovering from two open heart surgeries and being a social pariah before the family moved back to Kentucky for McDonald’s political ambition–happens across Rockwell’s trailer. He runs her off, she keeps coming back. Eventually he relents and allows himself to be befriended. The film is split, mostly, between Barton and Rockwell. While Barton gets a lot of time but not a lot of insight (she’s ten after all and living partially in a fairytale of her own mental construction), Rockwell gets a little less time but there’s the insight. It’s subtle, but it’s clear. Wallace’s script makes sure–without exposition–Rockwell’s character is clear. The most efficient aspects come when it’s how the rich people treat Rockwell, the subtle ways they humiliate him and, in some cases, objectify him. And his poverty. There’s a lot about class in Lawn Dogs, even if Barton’s too young to really understand it and Rockwell’s not going to talk about it. It’s quietly devastating; he wants to protect her from the damage she does with her privilege. She’s ten, after all.

Bruce McGill is the subdivision rent-a-cop. He’s worked his way up; not enough to live in the subdivision, but enough to crap all over Rockwell every chance he gets. McGill’s got the third best part in the film. He’s just pretending to be a caricature so he can fit in with the rich people.

The film hints at a timeline–Barton’s got her last heart doctor checkup–but doesn’t stick to it. It’s about she and Rockwell’s friendship and how the discovery of it destroys lives. Along the way, there’s a bit of fun, a lot about how living with crappy parents McDonald and Quinlan weighs on Barton (even if she can’t express it), and then some about Rockwell. There’s this vignette, completely separate from the rest of the film, where they visit his parents–Beth Grant and Tom Aldredge–in a mobile home park.

From the first shot of the park, it’s clear this lower working class existence is far more rewarding than the sterile perfection of the subdivision. Kids playing, for instance. In the subdivision, there’s only this one other kid–Miles Meehan–who’s younger than Barton and an already accomplished sociopath. The interlude with Grant and Aldredge, which deepens Rockwell’s back story without actually informing his character at all, is fantastic stuff. It just doesn’t much matter to the rest of Lawn Dogs because even if Barton gets to see Rockwell’s soul laid bare… she can’t really understand it. She’s ten.

One of the film’s greatest successes–of the actors, the direction, and especially the script–is never to make Rockwell and Barton’s friendship creepy. Rockwell’s character is aware of its inappropriateness, but he’s filled with (a previously unknown ability to capacity for) compassion for Barton. Meanwhile Barton has cast Rockwell in her mental fairytale, though his role keeps changing. Though the fairytale thing is really only first and third act. It doesn’t keep up through the second, which is too bad. At least in Barton’s understanding of her life through the fairytale’s lens, there’s some effort to show her understanding.

The acting from the leads is great. Rockwell’s better, obviously, because some of Barton’s performance is just about being a naive kid. It doesn’t always need a lot. Duigan and editor Humphrey Dixon edit the performances to maximum effect. It’s not so much Barton is wise beyond her years than Rockwell isn’t wise enough for his own. They’re wonderful together.

Good music from Trevor Jones; he toggles ably the cockeyed modern fairytale, the yuppie condemnation, the rural poverty, and the working class redemption. Again, there’s a lot going on in Lawn Dogs and–at the very least–Rockwell and writer Wallace (and McGill) get it. Even if Duigan wants to avoid it by doing some gorgeous composition with cinematographer Davis. The film’s gorgeous and quirky and intentionally distracted from itself.

The other supporting performances–Eric Mabius as Gray’s friend and a rich boy with an illicit crush on Rockwell, as well as Angie Harmon as a rich girl having an illicit affair with Rockwell–are good. Gray’s the weakest performance in the film, but also the thinest part. He’s just a dangerous predator.

McGill is really good. He gets overshadowed, sure–and rightly, Barton and Rockwell are great–but he’s really good.

Lawn Dogs is an accomplishment. Just could’ve been more of one if Duigan and Wallace wanted to deal with the tougher issues they raise instead of avoid them.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Duigan; written by Naomi Wallace; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Humphrey Dixon; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Myhre; produced by Duncan Kenworthy; released by The Rank Organisation.

Starring Mischa Barton (Devon Stockard), Sam Rockwell (Trent Burns), Christopher McDonald (Mr. Stockard), Kathleen Quinlan (Mrs. Stockard), Bruce McGill (Nash), Eric Mabius (Sean), David Barry Gray (Brett), Angie Harmon (Pam), Beth Grant (Mrs. Burns), and Tom Aldredge (Mr. Burns).


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Mr. Right (2015, Paco Cabezas)

Mr. Right has shockingly poor direction. Daniel Aranyó makes the shots look good, though the CG-assisted bullet time thing is bad, and Tom Wilson’s editing is perfectly competent, but director Cabezas is really bad. He shoots the film with a Panavision aspect ratio and does not know what to do with that frame so it looks like, frankly, someone has cut the top and bottom off.

I suppose he does okay with the long shots. Or at least better with them than anything else. When Sam Rockwell, who plays the title character (he’s a hitman, it’s supposed to be an ironic moniker), dances around and beats guys up and then kills them? One can imagine how Mr. Right might work with a better director and a significant rewrite. Cabezas wastes the New Orleans location shooting; no one is supposed to be able to waste New Orleans location shooting.

The film also wastes Tim Roth, though maybe not. Maybe Roth has just gotten past the point of caring, which might explain his phoned in performance. At least Rockwell can be indifferent to the bad material and still enthusiastic. He does have to carry his love interest, Anna Kendrick, through a lot of the stupidity. Kendrick should be the film’s protagonist, but she’s not. Instead, she’s just the girl. It’s weird since the movie opens with her and she gets most of the first act.

Rockwell doesn’t even get a name until almost halfway into the picture, so it really ought to be Kendrick’s show. She’s affably annoying but she does try. Trying counts in a film like Mr. Right because actors trying is all there to a film when the direction is so hapless.

Good supporting turns from James Ransone and Anson Mount should help the film a lot more than they do. RZA is likable and almost good but not exactly. Max Landis’s script is all about broad humor and Cabezas can’t direct it. It’s astounding Rockwell is able to power his way through the material, even more impressive he’s able to bring his costars along with him. It’s unfortunate he has to carry Kendrick; she ought to have enough to do to get through on her own, but no. Landis and Cabezas give her less and less as the film goes on.

Also good support from Katie Nehra, who has a thankless part as Kendrick’s friend.

Michael Eklund is not good. It would help if he was good. He’s second fiddle to Ransone’s comedy villain.

Mr. Right has its charms–Rockwell and Kendrick, who don’t exactly have chemistry but they do appear to be having fun. While it should be much better, it could be a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paco Cabezas; written by Max Landis; director of photography, Daniel Aranyó; edited by Tom Wilson; music by Aaron Zigman; production designer, Mara LePere-Schloop; produced by Bradley Gallo, Michael A. Helfant, Rick Jacobs and Lawrence Mattis; released by Focus World.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Dancer), Anna Kendrick (Martha McKay), Tim Roth (Hopper), James Ransone (Von Cartigan), Anson Mount (Richard Cartigan), Michael Eklund (Johnny Moon), Katie Nehra (Sophie), Jaiden Kaine (Bruce) and RZA (Steve).


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Poltergeist (2015, Gil Kenan)

It’s hard to imagine Poltergeist being any better. Even if director Kenan was any good, there’d still be David Lindsay-Abaire’s atrocious screenplay, and even if both those elements were any good, there’d still be the acting. And even if the acting was better–and a better script would probably help on that front–there’d just the photography and editing and music.

Poltergeist is so broken, there’s just no point in fixing it.

There’s no point in talking about Kenan at length. He’s bad with actors, he can’t make scary scenes, he can’t compose a shot. Without a major gimmick, there’s no point for a Poltergeist remake and Kenan’s got nothing. Unless the producers thought the problem with the original was it was too good so they figured out a way to make it bad (Lindsay-Abaire’s script plays like a truncated version of the original).

Are any of the actors good? No. Jane Adams is odd comic relief; in some ways, Jared Harris is the best as the celebrity ghost hunter just because he’s not so obviously phoning it in. Though it’s possible the reason Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt’s performances are so mediocre is because they could never figure out what Kenan was doing with the camera.

The film makes Rockwell and DeWitt’s son, Kyle Catlett, the ostensible protagonist. Except the film doesn’t seem to understand how protagonists work. Because it’s so inept.

Poltergeist is too incompetent a film to be a cynical remake. It’s actually rather pitiable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gil Kenan; screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on a story by Steven Spielberg; director of photography, Javier Aguirresarobe; edited by Bob Murawski and Jeff Betancourt; music by Marc Streitenfeld; production designer, Kalina Ivanov; produced by Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert, Nathan Kahane and Roy Lee; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Eric Bowen), Rosemarie DeWitt (Amy Bowen), Jared Harris (Carrigan Burke), Jane Adams (Dr. Powell), Saxon Sharbino (Kendra), Kyle Catlett (Griffin), Nicholas Braun (Boyd), Susan Heyward (Sophie) and Kennedi Clements (Madison).


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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002, George Clooney)

As the dangerous mind in the title (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Sam Rockwell should be entirely unsympathetic. The film spends its first act mocking Rockwell and inviting the viewer to participate. With the exception of his chemistry with Drew Barrymore’s saintly character, there’s nothing redeeming about Rockwell’s character. Yet he’s tragically endearing.

The film is based on Chuck Barris’s autobiography, where the game show host says he worked as an assassin for the CIA. Charlie Kaufman’s script–and Clooney’s direction of that script–never really raises a question about it. Even though there are real entertainment people giving interviews (it opens with Dick Clark’s recollections of Barris), Clooney approaches the spy stuff straightforward. It’s the story of a successful showbiz guy who was a spy.

The conflicts caused by that absurd contradiction are where Confessions devastates. The relationship between Rockwell and Barrymore, which is a third plot line, separate from both the spy stuff and the TV stuff, doesn’t actually give the film its humanity, it gives it its emotional veracity. Rockwell, who’s phenomenal throughout, has a lot more acting hurdles to jump in the spy stuff–the TV stuff is almost straight comedy. The romance with Barrymore is a period piece but is intricately tied to the reality of the film.

It’s great. Clooney and Rockwell do a great job. Rockwell’s breathtaking, Barrymore’s good, Clooney’s got a small part, Julia Roberts has a small part–they’re both really good.

Confessions is flashy and noisy and precise and singular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Clooney; screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Chuck Barris; director of photography, Newton Thomas Sigel; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Andrew Lazar; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Chuck Barris), Drew Barrymore (Penny Pacino), George Clooney (Jim Byrd), Julia Roberts (Patricia Watson) and Rutger Hauer (Keeler).


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