Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

THE WAY, WAY BACK

The Way Way Back (2013) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.8
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Duration: 103 mins
Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Stars: Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell

Endearing drama following an awkward teenager as he and his mother spend the summer at her cantankerous boyfriend’s beach house. While the mother gets indoctrinated into her boyfriend’s grownups-gone-wild culture, he finds solace at a local water park under the wing of its wisecracking manager. Rights of passage comedies are difficult to get right because there’s often an onus on the filmmakers to extract the comedy from real life. But as comedy more typically comes from exaggerated characterisation and circumstances, that is easier said than done. The Way Way Back has its fair share of exaggerations but so charming is the project and so easy is it to watch, that they successfully solicit our forgiveness for such transgressions. Of course, that much of the comedy does indeed emerge from realistic sequences (or at least the emotions they’re built around) and that those sequences are so perceptively judged and written helps a great deal.

Critical to this type of film is the script and cast and the former (courtesy of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) is an honest breath of fresh air, rarely sacrificing the film’s sentiments for cheap gags or tangential comedy vignettes. The latter is loaded with quality from the typically wonderful Toni Collett as the mother to an against-type Steve Carell as her asshole boyfriend. Allison Janney is the crazy neighbour responsible for most of the wilder antics and fulfilling that remit to perfection. As is always the case, The Way Way Back is infinitely enriched by the presence of Sam Rockwell as the park manager. Playing a big kid with a big heart in a quirky comedy is meat and potatoes to Rockwell but his charisma is irresistible and sends a charge of energy throughout the movie.

That said, the real rewards to be found here are in young Liam James’ central performance and his relationship with Collette and Rockell’s characters. Charmingly awkward, entirely sympathetic, yet with a hidden strength he’s the steady pulse at the movie’s core. Collette puts in a gorgeous turn as the insecure mother and there’s so much warmth between mother and son that the movie satisfies despite the darker themes of loneliness. In that last regard, credit must go to Collette and Carell who work terrifically in balancing the tone of the film by maintaining an undercurrent of seriousness through all the laughter. Carell for his part is fantastic as the selfish streak of misery and close observers of this film won’t be too surprised by his more recent Foxcatcher turn. But as deep as everything gets into the adolescent and midlife crises departments, any heaviness is blown away by the fresh sense of fun that Faxon and Rash’s writing and directing bring to the party.

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The Winning Season (2009)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.8
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sport
Duration: 104 mins
Director: James C. Strouse
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry

The Winning Season is a delightful little independent feature starring Sam Rockwell as a washed up basketball coach given the chance to coach ladies varsity basketball. It starts off as a standard if not predictable comedy but quickly takes a turn for the softly dramatic and that’s when the film sinks its hooks. Rockwell has been funnier but it’s his natural charm and the rapport he develops with the young girls (played ably by among others Rooney Mara, Emma Stone, & Shareeka Epps) that keeps this movie ticking over.

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Jerry and Tom (1998)

    The Good – 68.6


Genre: Crime, Black Comedy
Duration: 107 mins
Director: Saul Rubinek
Stars: Joe Mantegna, Sam Rockwell, William H Macy

Jerry and Tom is a sharp black comedy starring Joe Mantegna and Sam Rockwell as a hit man and his protege. In his first outing as director, Saul Rubinek proves a deft touch behind the camera as the story casually spans the ten year relationship between the two eponymous characters. Rubinek stays faithful to Rick Cleveland’s stage-play by situating most of the action in small unassuming interiors. Within this more personal environment, Rubinek achieves a nice balance between the humour and the tension which ultimately gives the film a real edginess. Mantegna is superb as the increasingly disillusioned Tom and Rockwell again shows his depth as he quite expertly captures Jerry’s sad and creepy transformation from a young naive man to a cold-blooded killer. There’s an interesting dynamic between the two characters, the likes of which is not often seen and it makes for some curiously compelling drama. Furthermore, a host of great cameo appearances from the likes of William H Macy, Charles Durning, and Ted Danson help to provide this drama with an especially solid basis of acting talent. There are a couple of more contrived moments which can happen when work is translated from stage to screen and Rockwell’s descent is perhaps too sharply realised. But it generates some dark tension and that is largely what everyone was aiming for here. You won’t revisit this one too often but you will go back once in a blue moon. Intriguing.

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Light Sleeper (1992) 3.86/5 (6)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.8
Genre: Drama, Crime
Duration: 103 mins
Director: Paul Schrader
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Dana Delany, Sam Rockwell

Fascinating noirish drama that signals the high point in Paul Schrader’s directorial career. This unique film experience perfectly captures the subtle sense of foreboding that accompanies a high class drug dealer (Willem Dafoe) as a particular seedy chapter in his life is coming to a close. The different aspects to this internal struggle are mirrored in various ways from the garbage on the city streets to Michael Been’s haunting soundtrack that repeatedly fades in and out of the film. Dafoe is utterly convincing in the lead role (so much so that it may even be his most complete performance) while Susan Sarandon is terrific as his seemingly caring boss. Everything about this film feels new and (from the point of view of other films) unexplored, from the characters to the particulars of their personal dilemmas. In a medium where true novelty is the rarest of flowers that alone makes this film worth watching but in this case, it’s only one of myriad reasons.

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Welcome to Collinwood (2002)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.6
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Duration: 86 mins
Director: Anthony & Joe Russo
Stars: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, William H. Macy

Original, quirky, and very witty caper movie about a group of hapless criminals who attempt to pull off a complicated robbery. Welcome to Collinwood was badly received on its release as throngs of George Clooney fans were left disappointed that his part amounted to nothing more than a cameo. That really shouldn’t disappoint anyone though, as the ensemble cast is excellent throughout. The characters are well developed and the film is littered with lovely turns of phrase. Sam Rockwell is the standout performer as the failed boxer who falls for the girl they’re trying to scam but he is well supported by the likes of William H. Macy and the always enjoyable Luis Guzman. There are some genuinely hilarious moments and some great set pieces to keep you entertained for the full 90 mins. If you’re in the mood for something different you could do a lot worse than Welcome to Collinwood.

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Conviction (2010) 2.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 59.8
Genre: Drama
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Tony Goldwyn
Stars: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Melissa Leo

Conviction tells the true life tale of a woman’s (Hilary Swank) 18 year long quest to prove her brother’s (Sam Rockwell) innocence of a brutal murder, a quest that alienated her from her family as she put everything on hold to go back to school to train as a lawyer. There’s a powerful story to be told here not to mention two actors who can do it justice but unfortunately it falls short thanks to a combination of weak directing and writing. At the expense of an honest and substantial probing of the cast iron motivations of its two very interesting protagonists, we are given what seems like a summary of the key events in this tale because, once it establishes the backstory, the film whisks through the 18 years in the space of about 50 minutes. A plethora of high emotion scenes and lots of melancholic piano scoring end up defining this film while a series of chronologically muddled flashbacks throughout the first act confound it. Why didn’t we see more of Melissa Leo’s sinister cop? How did Rockwell’s character learn to cope with the tedium of an unjust prison sentence? Why wasn’t the wearing effect of Swank’s crusade explored in more methodical fashion? What was at the heart of both their decisions to keep going? In fact, if it wasn’t for the albeit constrained performances of Swank and particularly Rockwell, not to mention the gripping events at its centre the story, this movie would be nearly unwatchable. But thankfully the two actors’ natural presence and skill are just about enough to draw the audience in and while Rockwell has far less screen time than Swank, the glimpses of him that we are given are emphatic testament to what he can do when he chooses to take on a straight-up dramatic role. The film comes to life when he’s on the screen and if his character’s 18 year stint was more in the movie’s focus, it would’ve been considerably more enjoyable. However, Hollywood is often guilty of overcooking its tear-jerking true life stories and despite Rockwell and Swank, Conviction still falls very much into that bracket. As such, it must go down as an opportunity missed.

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Gentlemen Broncos (2009) 3.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.5
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Jared Hess
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Jemaine Clement

For those who believe humor is something that needs constant re-inventing then look no further than Jared Hess’ films. Gentlemen Broncos is quite simply one of the freshest, funniest, well acted (from a comedic standpoint), and sharply written comedies in years. The film tells a small but endearing tale which is playfully examined on a number of skilfully interwoven levels and centres on an insecure adolescent (Michael Angarano), whose unusual lifestyle is turned on its head when his science fiction novella is ripped off by his hero and eccentric cult author “Chevalier” (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement in a bizarrely funny turn).

Like Hess’s earlier film, Napoleon Dynamite, Broncos is populated by an array of quirky characters, each with hidden depths. The setting is another small town in ‘Nowheresville USA’, and the context is the wonderfully brought to life world of trashy science fiction writing. Again, as he did in Napoleon Dynamite, Hess manages to create a world so utterly bizarre from a visual and aesthetic point of view but so familiar from an emotional point of view that as the film progresses, the realness of the characters increasingly stands out against the more surreal elements of the film so that their emotional tribulations become the dominant focus of the film. He also succeeds in giving us yet another central character who we immediately root for and admire despite, and perhaps because of, his obvious lack of typical mainstream lead character traits.

Angarano is excellent in the lead role in that he manages to play a shy character with little to say while simultaneously holding the viewers’ attention throughout. The supporting roles are all manned ably with Jennifer Coolidge, Mike White, and especially Clement scoring extremely well but, as is the case with every film he stars in, Sam Rockwell steals the show from his very first scene to the very end of the closing credits. Choosing yet another quirky secondary character, Rockwell again shows that he’s not just the most talented character actor of his generation but one of the most instinctively and originally funny as well. Being a good actor and being funny are not necessarily mutually compatible skills but Rockwell does it with ease and as the fictional heroes of both Bronco and Brutus, he gives us two entirely different and insanely original sci fi personas that his ever growing army of fans will relish watching again and again.

As a backdrop to the action, Hess uses the world of pulp science fiction writing and it is with this multi-layered device that main thrust of the comedy is delivered. The fictional world of the “Yeast Lords” is so outrageously funny that few will get through the four or five enacted chapters starring Bronco or Brutus without cracking up at least once (for those who have the DVD, there’s a particularly hilarious blooper where Rockwell can’t bring himself to say the line “were there pimps?” without breaking into laughter at the sheer ludicrousness of his lines). All in all, the film sends up this peculiar little genre of “writing” while clearly maintaining a strong affection for the potential imaginative freedom it sometimes manages to exploit.

Gentlemen Broncos is one of the most original and authentically eccentric films since…. well Napoleon Dynamite. This latter aspect to Hess’ films is a true virtue given the plethora of ‘wacky-by-numbers’ films that Hollywood has been inflicting on us over the past decade. There’s no sense whatsoever that we’ve been here before and that freshness combined with the innate razor-sharp wit of the writing and acting will allow those *who will let it* to laugh the most refreshing and honest laughs they will have laughed in years.

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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) 3.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.8
Genre: Black Comedy, Drama
Duration: 113 mins
Director: George Clooney
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George ClooneyJulia Roberts

George Clooney was just the man to give Charlie Kaufman’s script a level of accessibility which the writer’s style typically lacks. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is based on the memoirs of famous game show host Chuck Barris, wherein he professed to having moonlighted as a CIA hit-man whilst working on the television. Sam Rockwell takes on a rare lead role and we should all be thankful because he dominates the screen in some style. Even with big names such as Julia Roberts and Clooney himself taking on lovely little cameos your attention is fixated on Rockwell due to a combination of his natural magnetism and subtle characterisations. Being a mainstream mega-star with a taste for the quirky George Clooney knew exactly how far down the road of the bizarre he could take a mainstream audience before they would rebel and as a result, we get the best of both worlds, a ultra-quirky screenplay which is reigned in just enough to be continually compelling.

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Box of Moonlight (1996) 3.22/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.7
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Duration: 112 mins
Director: Tom DiCillo
Stars: John Turturro, Sam Rockwell, Catherine Keener

Box of Moonlight is a charming and quirky comedy about an uptight engineer (John Turturro) who takes a detour on the way home from a job and encounters a man (Sam Rockwell) whose free-spirit attitude to life is in direct contrast to his own. There’s nothing new here story-wise but it all plays out quite perfectly thanks to the quirky script and the great chemistry between the two leads. Turturro is his usual excellent self while Rockwell gives us a glimpse of the scene-stealer he was about to become. In fact, it’s his performance that lingers longest after this unusual but satisfying little film comes to a close. Catherine Keener is also on hand to round off a strong cast.

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Frost/Nixon (2008) 4/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.3
Genre: Drama
Duration: 122 mins
Director: Ron Howard
Stars: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell

Quietly gripping dramatisation of the famous Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977, in which the former achieved what no other journalist, investigator, or politician could: – an admission of wrong-doing from Richard Nixon. In adapting Peter Morgan’s play, director Ron Howard could’ve chosen to give this feature all the trappings of a stage production and still tell the story effectively and in entertaining fashion. Such is the power of the dialogue and acting. However, he chose to make a film out of it and a film this is. Frost/Nixon is extraordinarily well dramatised, and the story is never allowed to stagnate or bore due to impeccable structuring, pacing, and the many tension relieving comedic moments which cushion the more dialogue-centred scenes. Hans Zimmer’s soft but strong score deserves special mention in that regard too as it helps Howard greatly in moving the film forward as swiftly as he does.

Michael Sheen puts in an attractive performance as the fast living Frost, populating his character with all the idiosyncrasies of the real life journalist and a few more thrown in for good measure. Whether or not an impersonation runs a different track to acting is a valid question and, at times, it feels like the former is what Sheen is all about. But then at other more crucial moments he leaves the safer confines of mimicry and stretches himself admirably. Frank Langella turns in a powerhouse performance as the disgraced president and it captures all of the man’s arrogance, his hidden humanity, and much of his obscure charm. The two central performances are orbited by a collection of pitch perfect turns from some seriously good actors. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as the pent-up bookworm James Reston Jr., who’ll accept nothing short of a Nixon apology. Oliver Platt is also in top form as Bob Zelnick, the second of Frost’s research team while he and Rockwell are matched blow for blow on the other side by Kevin Bacon who imbues his character with a wholly believable austerity which is befitting of the career soldier and devoted Nixon aid he’s playing.

All in all, Frost/Nixon is a worthy successor to the legacy left by films such as All the President’s Men. Films which embrace the feel for those classics and favour brains over action. In this respect, it belongs to a small group of interesting and bravely made modern movies like Michael Clayton and Zodiac.

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Heist (2001) 3.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.3
Genre: Crime
Duration: 109 mins
Director: David Mamet
Stars: Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Sam Rockwell

Gene Hackman stars as the ageing leader of a sophisticated crew of thieves who stage elaborate cons in order to infiltrate and snatch whatever it is they have their sights set on. When a local gangster manipulates them into a risky job, the stage is set for mistrust, internal conflict, and plenty of double cross. The story of a master thief forced to take one last job is not new but how he gets there is. The heists are clever and there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing to the end. Better still is the host of well refined characters who each have their unique quirks and personalities which make them difficult to read and predict from reel one to the close.

David Mamet’s film work can be somewhat of an acquired taste because he often writes in a manner more typical to the stage. Being the strongest reflection of that writing in his filmography, Heist might therefore come across a little self-indulgent to the uninitiated. Moreover, while his stilted dialogue can sound strangely appropriate in low budget flicks with low key quirky actors, it can sound quite off key in a mainstream vehicle such as this one. However, thanks to the calibre of the actors he has working under him, it begins to seep into our unconscious until we begin to actually pick up on its lyrical quality. Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet’s real life wife) as Hackman’s wife is particularly good as the tough as nails accomplice while Delroy Lindo adds his usual presence as Hackman’s right-hand man. Danny DeVito puts in a delicious turn as the gangster they’re forced to work for and Sam Rockwell steals yet another show as his shady nephew with the very punchable facial hair.

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Safe Men (1998)

 

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Rating: The Good – 70.2
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 88 mins
Director: John Hamburg
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Mark Ruffalo

“You asked me if I ever killed anyone. Well, the answer is yes and no. I once sold a lady a pair of exploding slacks.” The comedy can be a bit hit-and-miss but given the hits vastly outnumber the misses and the whole thing is so damn original, you will immediately forgive it any such shortcomings. John Hamburg (who went on to write the Meet the Focker series) wrote and directed this quirky little tale of two singer/songwriters (Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn), who are mistaken for safe-crackers by an eccentric Jewish mobster (Michael Lerner) who, together with his ridiculous henchman (Paul Giamatti), threaten them into a series of safe-cracking missions. Don’t pay too much attention to the plot or premise, simply sit back and enjoy the completely insane back-and-forth’s between the wonderfully conceived characters on show.

Rockwell and Zahn are decent but it’s the secondary characters which make Safe Men tick. Michael Lerner is terrific as Big Fat Bernie Gayle while Harvey Fierstein gives a similar charismatic performance as his Providence rival. Mark Ruffalo and Josh Pais provide some wonderful exchanges as the actual safe-crackers with the latter being particularly in his element (“We the men……We’re the right men for this job”). However, good as this illustrious cast are, all fall in the shadow of Paul Giamatti’s “Veal Chop”. Giamatti is sensational as he uses all his intuitive genius to concoct one of the few movie characters that defies all attempts at definition. The scene in the bar when he sinks the hook into Rockwell & Zahn (captured wonderfully by Hamburg) makes Safe Men worth watching all by itself.

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