Tag Archives: Macon Blair

Thunder Road (2018) Review

Time: 92 Minutes
Cast:
Jim Cummings as Jim Arnaud
Kendal Farr as Crystal Arnaud
Nican Robinson as Nate Lewis
Macon Blair as Dustin Zahn
Jocelyn DeBoer as Rosalind Arnaud
Chelsea Edmundson as Morgan Arnaud
Jordan Fox as Doug
Director: Jim Cummings

A police officer (Jim Cummings) faces a personal meltdown following a divorce and the death of his mother.

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I was hearing some hype for Thunder Road from some people, not from awards shows or anything, just from some people heavy into film on social media. It’s not a film that’s particularly well known and its very much independent, there are no big names involved. With that said, I’m glad I heard about it and I’m glad I saw it, because Thunder Road is a good little hidden gem and is well worth the watch.

Thunder Road is actually based off the short film also written, directed and starring Jim Cummings. That short film (although I haven’t watched it myself yet) is the opening scene where the lead character Jim (played by Jim Cummings) is performing a eulogy for her mother at a funeral and is having a meltdown during it. The rest of the movie I guess is an expansion on what would follow with Jim and his story. While the movie is a dramedy, it’s much more a drama with some comedy to lighten things up. At its core, the movie is about loss and the long lasting effect it has on people, in this case obviously for Jim. It’s effectively emotional, and from that 10 minute long opening scene all done in one unbroken shot had my attention all the way through to the end. Thunder Road is 90 minutes long and it does what it sets out to do, its straightforward with not too many unnecessary plotlines.

I really don’t know Jim Cummings from anything, but he really demonstrated his talents here. While there are a lot of great things in this movie, his fantastic performance is definitely the highlight. He jumps between comedy and tragic drama so seamlessly. His meltdowns when they happen (and they happen quite a bit) can be sudden and over the top but feel genuine at the same time. In fact the whole performance feels genuine throughout all things considering. I’d say that his performance here might actually be one of the best from 2018, worth way more praise than it’s been getting. The rest of the cast is good as well, whether it’s Kendal Farr as his daughter or Nican Robinson as his cop friend. Really everyone was quite good here but it’s Cummings who stood out the most among the cast.

Jim Cummings on top of writing and lead starring, also directs Thunder Road, and it was pretty well directed for a full feature film debut. It might not be anything special or flashy but it works well for the story and Cummings clearly knows his way behind the camera. Something that does stand out were the use of long unbroken takes, mostly used to showcase acting, usually with long bits of dialogue, especially when its focussed-on Cummings where he just acts for long periods of time (the strongest example is the aforementioned 10 minute unbroken shot for the eulogy scene at the start of the film). It really did add to the scenes quite a bit and elevated them.

Thunder Road is short and simple but great for what it is. It is written, directed and acted well (particularly by Jim Cummings) and was all around a really great emotional dramedy film, worthy of more attention than it has been receiving. One thing is clear, Jim Cummings needs to be given more work, both behind and in front of the camera, he’s clearly very talented and deserves to be paid attention to.

Hold the Dark (2018) Review

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Jeffrey Wright as Russell Core
Alexander Skarsgård as Vernon Sloane
James Badge Dale as Donald Marium
Riley Keough as Medora Sloane
Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon
Macon Blair as Shan
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Summoned to a remote Alaskan village to search for the wolves that killed three children, a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) soon finds himself unravelling a harrowing mystery.

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I recently watched through Jeremy Saulnier’s filmography, he seemed to be getting better with every film and having loved Green Room on rewatch, so I was looking forward to his next film Hold the Dark. It actually wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it really worked for me. It’s very ambitious, dark and haunting, with really great performances and as usual Jeremy Saulnier’s direction really was great.

This is a very different kind of movie for Jeremy Saulnier to be taking on. This is the first film that he’s directed that he hasn’t written, instead the script is written by longtime Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, and the script was really great. It’s based on a book of the same name written by William Giraldi, I don’t know how much the movie differs from the book since I never read it. The plot summary about Jeffrey Wright being hired by Riley Keough to hunt down the wolf who took her child is pretty much just the first act, it takes a very different path after that and I didn’t know this going in. In that it surprised me, and I recommend not going into this movie knowing too much about it. People who are expecting the guy who made Green Room to make a straight forward thriller based in a snowy environment are going to be taken aback at the complex story and the amount of thematic elements to it (the thematic elements I’ll let you find out for yourself). The story is dark, disturbing and haunting, and it just all really worked for me. Something that a lot of people will take issue with is that there are some unanswered questions, especially towards the end. It’s pretty ambiguous with how it ends and I myself am not quite sure about how I feel about it. With that said I didn’t dislike it and I was fine with it, but I can see a lot of people taking issue with it. Also if you’re not completely paying attention to what’s going on, it can be easy to miss some details of the movie. For example, I was paying attention to the movie quite a bit and there was a reveal involving Alexander Skarsgard and Riley Keough’s characters that I missed until hearing it from others after the movie, I don’t know if it was the movie or just me. Saulnier’s films are pretty self contained at around 90 minutes, but Hold the Dark is longer at around 2 hours long. This film takes place over a period of time in various different places, and as previously mentioned is much more complicated. That does mean that the pacing can slow down a little, and some of the tension can be reduced, but it still worked for the type of movie it was going for, and on the whole I was invested from start to finish.

Quite often with Jeremy Saulnier movies, the characters are a little underwritten, but Blair’s script actually gives the main players enough depth. Jeffrey Wright is one of the most underrated actors working together and it’s great watching him lead his own movie. He gives one of his best performances and seems to have a lot going on in his personal life. Unlike Saulnier’s other film protagonists, his character of Russell Core is competent enough for the task ahead of him, yet he still feels rather vulnerable in his situations. I do wish though that we got to know a little more about his character. Alexander Skarsgard is really great and haunting in his role, he’s unnerving when he’s on screen and was such a great screen presence. Riley Keough is also really good in her performance as the mother who hires Jeffrey Wright at the beginning of the movie, definitely deserving of a lot of praise. All the acting is quite great, James Badge Dale is good as a police chief and Macon Blair is also good in a smaller role.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction is great as usual, Hold the Dark is a much more ambitious film and was on a much larger scale, and he was more than up for the challenge. It feels like it’s convincingly in this snowy and cold environment being rather isolated, it feels very much like Wind River. Saulnier as usual builds up a great atmosphere over the course of the movie, with so many scenes adding to the tension. There is a shootout sequence which is definitely one of the best filmed scenes of 2018. So incredibly tense, violent and captivating from start to finish. I think Hold the Dark might actually be worth watching for that scene alone. The score was done by Brooke and Will Blair, who also did the score to Green Room. Once again it’s really good, suitably chilling and haunting, just like the whole movie.

Hold the Dark is on Netflix and it’s really worth checking out, I know that it didn’t quite work for everyone, but it’s one of my favourite films of 2018. It’s a very affecting and gripping movie, with great writing and performances and fantastic direction. It may not answer all the questions that are posed earlier on, but it nonetheless was an effective movie, and one that I loved. It’s around about at the level of Green Room, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Jeremy Saulnier’s future work.

Green Room (2016) Retrospective Review

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Cast:
Anton Yelchin as Pat
Alia Shawkat as Sam
Joe Cole as Reece
Callum Turner as Tiger
Imogen Poots as Amber
Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker
Macon Blair as Gabe
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

In the Pacific Northwest, teenager Pat (Anton Yelchin) takes part of punk rock band, The Ain’t Rights, at a night and drug club. Their tour to try and get famous fails badly with hatred. Unfortunately, for them, their tour eventually turns into something very nasty when they are witnesses at a crime scene. Since the notorious club owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Strwart), is now on the case of the incident, The Ain’t Rights start to work together to try and escape the club alive and make it back to Washington, D.C., before Darcy finds them.

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Green Room was often wildly praised upon it’s release, called one of the best films of 2016. If you looked at my prior review of Green Room though, you know that I thought it was decent but wasn’t quite loving it. After watching Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies, Murder Party and Blue Ruin, I decided to give it another shot, as there are some things I quite liked about the movie despite my disappointment with it. Maybe there was something I missed on the first viewing or something, but I loved the movie the second time around. It’s such an effective and brutal thriller, which although is rather straightforward is given such a grim and standout style and infused with so much energy and tension that it really works.

As this is a retrospective review, there are going to be spoilers for Green Room, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend checking out the movie first. Green Room isn’t a movie that requires multiple viewings to understand, it’s not Mulholland Drive or anything. At it’s core, it’s a straightforward thriller and what you see is what you get. However, watching the movie the second time around, I recognised a lot more about what was happening. For example, there’s a scene where one skinhead stabs another, and I only realised watching it a second time that it was to deal with the police when Yelchin’s character made a call about a stabbing. So I have a feeling that my rather mild reaction to the movie came from my mood at the time and so I didn’t get the full experience back then. Green Room is short at around 90 minutes, that already seems like the right length of the movie with the straightforward premise but they really utilise that time incredibly well. The film first quickly established the characters and their situation, not enough that you understand these characters know them that well, but we get to spend enough time with them that we get to know the general idea about what they’re all about. At the point around 17 minutes into the movie, the main characters discover the body, and from that point till the end of the film, Green Room maintains the tension very strongly. Until the third act, the movie is full of a bunch of failed attempts at getting out, with the tension piling on and the much more experienced people closing in. By the time it reaches the last 30 minutes, only 2 of them are left, and it was gratifying seeing the survivors finally adapting to their seemingly impossible situation, and turning the tables on the people after them. Jeremy Saulnier is familiar with having protagonists that aren’t really capable for their situation that they have to deal with. Murder Party has a mild mannered guy who willingly goes to a ‘murder party’ and gets caught by a bunch of deranged killers. Blue Ruin followed a main character who was trying to pull off a revenge despite having no experience at all at killing or violence. Green Room is following a punk band who is going up against highly trained skinheads after willingly performing in front of neo Nazis and coming across something they shouldn’t have seen. Unlike some horror movies, the mistakes that are made by the characters here feel genuine and realistic, not just forced and contrived ways for the protagonists to be held back. The decisions they make aren’t actually necessarily stupid, but really the best that they could come up with in their situation when they’re stressed out and can’t think rationally. Really the only downright stupid thing the characters do in the movie is outright perform “Nazi punks fuck off” in front of a bunch of Nazis (and performing at a Nazi bar in the first place was bad enough). There aren’t many problems with the movie that I can think of aside from the lack of depth from some characters. I guess the ending is a little abrupt, but that wasn’t a huge problem, it wasn’t like there was much else to show in the story. Macon Blair’s character is going to call the police, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots’s characters made it out alive and the rest of the skinheads are dead. There wasn’t that much else to show.

The cast of Green Room all did great jobs in their roles. You don’t learn a ton of things about the characters outside of a little bit about Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Amber (Imogen Poots). The two actors who shine the most in the movie are Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. The late great Anton Yelchin gave one of his best performances as the band member who gets the most screentime (and really the only survivor of the band), with his character going through a lot (including his arm pretty much being cut to ribbons). Poots also gives one of her best performances as a skinhead who is stuck in the middle of the situation when her friend Emily is killed, which the band comes across. Throughout the film, Amber is shown to be very capable and dangerous, yet still quite vulnerable in her situation, a really great balance overall. The rest of the band characters played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner did great as well, they don’t have much to work with, but they really sold the fear that the characters had. I remember being rather underwhelmed by Patrick Stewart’s villain after all the hype that was building up to him. He never had a big moment where he stood out or did anything really significant. However I think I was getting the wrong impression of what he was going to be in this movie. When you hear the idea of Patrick Stewart playing a Nazi skinhead gang leader, you’re immediately thinking about something completely ruthless, intimidating and scene stealing. However like the rest of the characters and the story, he and the rest of the villains all feel grounded. Stewart’s character is seemingly forced to deal with a situation, his actions aren’t driven by hate or pleasure but they’re rather calculated, he’s just calm throughout and really just blows his top a bit for like 5 seconds in like the first act briefly. He’s in command of the whole situation until the third act when he loses control and tries to do something to survive which results in his death. Another standout on the Nazi side of the characters is frequent Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, he’s a skinhead whom at the end decides to surrender and helps the 2 remaining survivors.

It was great watching Jeremy Saulnier’s direction evolve watching his past 2 films. While Blue Ruin started him off with his distinct style and direction, with Green Room he perfected his style and direction. It’s going to be interesting to see how it changes in Hold the Dark. Like in Blue Ruin, the cinematography is stunning, but that has also improved, he’s filmed so many scenes incredibly well, especially the more thrilling scenes. The whole set design feels great, the movie just has this very grimy and unpleasant vibe which really benefited the movie immensely, since that’s really what it was going for. This film starts with tension in the first act and unlike Blue Ruin which has the tenseness defused in the second act, from the point that Pat finds the body, the atmosphere and tension is maintained throughout right till the end. Even when the film has a scene or two focussing on our protagonists having a quiet moment, or focussing on Patrick Stewart and the neo Nazis, none of the tension is deflated. All of Saulnier’s films has some brutal violence, (again, haven’t seen Hold the Dark yet) but so far this is the most violent of all his movies. The violence that is on screen is brutal and unflinching, likely to provoke a reaction from the audience. The first 30-40 minutes alone had Pat’s arm being cut up to an incredible amount, as well as a Nazi’s belly being sliced open by Amber. And that’s only counting the first 40 minutes of the movie. This is probably one of the most graphic depictions of violence I’ve seen in a movie, though it doesn’t feel overdone or anything like that, it feels appropriate for the tone of the movie.

Green Room I consider now to be a great thriller. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies were test runs, but with Green Room he got it all right, with some solid performances, a simple yet effective script, and Saulnier’s unflinching direction. Some of the characterisation could’ve been a little stronger and some depth could’ve been given to the characters, but on the whole, Green Room succeeds at being a brutal and effective thriller, and probably one of the standout films of 2016.

Blue Ruin (2014) Review

Time: 90 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence & offensive language
Cast:
Macon Blair as Dwight Evans
Devin Ratray as Ben Gaffney
Amy Hargreaves as Sam Evans
Kevin Kolack as Teddy Cleland
Eve Plumb as Kris Cleland
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

A mysterious outsider’s (Macon Blair) quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

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2007’s Murder Party was a decent first feature film from director Jeremy Saulnier, however it was Blue Ruin where he came into his own and started to get some notice as a director. I heard about Blue Ruin a long time ago while ago, I knew it was another thriller from Jeremy Saulnier, the director behind Green Room but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. After seeing it more recently I can say that it is a pretty good movie, although it’s not quite as good as Green Room.

One of the things that makes Blue Ruin unique is its take on a revenge film. Most revenge movies would have the protagonist being usually a Liam Neeson sort of character, with a particular set of skills. The character of Dwight in Blue Ruin however is far from capable at doing what he’s setting out to do. He does feel quite vulnerable, which raises the tension just a little more. Something that was surprising was the humour that was here, it was mostly dark and more to do with how Dwight is not at all suited for the job. It did help lighten up the otherwise bleak and sombre tone and mood throughout the film. I think it’s best not knowing too much about the movie going in, so I’ll try to keep my descriptions of the movie brief. The first third of the movie is slow but effective, building up to a satisfying climax in the end of that first third. The second third is really where the movie was lacking for me, it really slows down quite a bit. As a result, all of the tension is completely defused and you’re just sort of left waiting for things to happen and was all drawn out a little too much. The last third picks up a little bit however, and it ended in probably the only way it could’ve. The movie is 90 minutes long and I can’t imagine it being longer, it was probably the right length all things considered.

Really the most notable actor of all the cast of Blue Ruin is long-time Jeremy Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair as the lead character of Dwight, and he’s great. As I said, his character is more like a normal guy and is rather amateurish, not fit for violence or revenge at all, and he’s really convincing, really grounded. Much of the movie is relying on Blair and is just following him for the entire runtime and thankfully he pulls it off really well. Much of the movie doesn’t even have him necessarily saying a lot of dialogue, especially in the first act, and he conveys so much during these quiet moments. Other members of the cast are good in their roles but don’t really do enough to stand out, however Devin Ratray as Dwight’s friend Ben is also quite good in his screentime.

Jeremy Saulnier’s direction here has vastly improved over his direction in Murder House, and his work here is fantastic. The cinematography is beautiful looking and it’s Saulnier himself who did it, it really added a lot to the film. In the second act the tension is completely defused but otherwise, Saulnier made most of the movie feel really tense, especially in the first and third act. The violence is brutal, bloody and gritty but there’s not a lot of it, there’s probably like a few scenes of violence in the whole film. While I had problems with the lack of tension and all that in some of the movie, I appreciate the restraint by Saulnier not to just make it a bloodbath, because it would’ve be so easy to just fall into doing that.

Blue Ruin is maybe not as good as I’d hope it would be, the pacing is a little too slow and the second act is not on the same level as the rest of the movie. Outside of that, Blue Ruin gets a lot right, with some really tense moments, Macon Blair’s performance and most of all Jeremy Saulnier’s great direction. Definitely worth checking out sometime.

 

Murder Party (2007)

Time: 79 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Chris Sharp as Christopher S. Hawley
Sandy Barnett as Alexander
Macon Blair as Macon
Paul Goldblatt as Paul
William Lacey as Bill
Stacy Rock as Lexi
Skei Saulnier as Sky
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

On Halloween Eve in Brooklyn, an average Joe loser named Chris (Chris Sharp) finds an invitation to a costume party. Arriving at the “party”, Chris discovers he’s fallen prey to the lethal trap set by deranged artists. As the night wears on, rivalries within the group flare up. A body count accrues, and Chris must take advantage of the ensuing chaos if he’s to survive the night.

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I watched Green Room years ago, although I thought it was decent, I decided I was going to rewatch it. First of all though, I decided to go back and watch director Jeremy Saulnier’s prior films, then rewatch Green Room and then see his latest film, Hold the Dark. People really took notice of Jeremy Saulnier with his film before Green Room, Blue Ruin. However not many people know that 6 years before that, he directed his first movie Murder Party, a low budget horror comedy. Saulnier’s first feature film isn’t anywhere near the level of his following movies. Even on its own it doesn’t particularly stand out as a horror movie. However, it’s still pretty decent, and as a low budget horror comedy, it does work pretty well.

Murder Party is much more comedic compared to Saulnier’s later films. The whole part about the lead character being stuck in the murder party with deranged people starts like 10-15 minutes into the movie. However he’s just stuck there, while the ‘artists’ just sort of mess around, talk a lot and all that. Outside of the main plot, Murder Party also has a lot of satire on the art scene. Instead of it being a bunch of professional or serial killers carrying it out, it’s a bunch of crazy art people, which does make it stand apart from other similar movies. While Blue Ruin and Green Room might have moments of comedy (mostly dark comedy), the first half of Murder Party is really filled with comedy. Much of the dialogue (really between the antagonists) is really witty and comedic. The way the killers are written are a little too witty and comedic that you don’t really take them seriously, and this results in the first half not feeling tense at all, despite some of the things that happen. However I’m pretty sure this was deliberate, as in it wasn’t supposed to feel really scary and all that. The third act is when it actually starts becoming somewhat a horror/thriller. The main character stops being a background character and is in the forefront as he’s actually doing something. The pacing also picks up immensely. It’s a little more tense compared to the rest of the movie but you aren’t on the edge of your seat or anything. Murder Party is really short at an hour and 20 minutes and honestly that was probably the right length of the movie.

Chris Sharp is really the lead of the movie, who gets caught in this situation. We share a few scenes with him early on before he gets caught in the party but we don’t really learn much about him outside of him owning a cat and all that. He’s okay enough that we can hope that he gets out of the movie alive, but it’s in the obligatory way, in that people generally won’t want the main character to get killed. If anything we get to learn more about the killer characters, played by Macon Blair, Paul Goldblatt, William Lacey, Stacy Rock and Skei Saulnier, some of them are better than others, but they are good at being unstable artistic people who are crazy (though aren’t particularly scary, not that it was the goal). It is worth noting that Macon Blair would be appearing in Saulnier’s future films, and seemed to be in completely different roles every time.

It’s pretty clear watching Murder Party that this is Jeremy Saulnier’s first film. When you read the summary and knowing Saulnier was the guy who directed Green Room and then watching Murder Party, you might be a little let down. However it is worth noting that this was pretty much a student film. Chris Sharp, Macon Blair, Jeremy Saulnier and some of the cast of Murder Party filmed a lot of short movies together growing up. In the mid 2000s they started their first feature film together (this movie). Knowing that its an experimental film and also knowing the backstory of the movie,
it does make sense and it sort of works as that sort of movie. The cinematography (done by Saulnier) isn’t as great as his other movies but is simple and good enough that it works for the movie. The budget of the movie is around $200,000 and you can feel it, but they really make the most of that budget. The soundtrack isn’t really anything special, again feeling rather simple but it works well enough. There isn’t much violence and gore until like the last 25 minutes, and like Saulnier’s other films it is practical and brutal and all that. However the gore is much more of a B movie and bloody type rather than a brutally realistic and graphic sense.

Murder Party is by far the weakest of Jeremy Saulnier’s films, even judging it aside from the director’s other work, it’s not that great of a film and you do feel the low budget. So, I do think you should go into the movie as a low budget horror comedy, and as that, it is very impressive and reasonably entertaining. It is very rough around the edges and has some problems but it’s not bad for a first feature film. 6 years later though, Saulnier would really improve and fine tune his directing talent and would make much better movies starting with 2013’s Blue Ruin.