Tag Archives: Scoot McNairy

Down & Dirty

Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton make politics personal in ‘Crisis

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Our Brand is Crisis

Starring Sandra Bullock & Billy Bob Thornton

Directed by David Gordon Green

R

“I can convince myself of many things, if the price is right,” says Sandra Bullock’s character, “Calamity Jane” Bodine, in Our Brand is Crisis.

Jane is pretty good at convincing other people, too. That’s why the formerly formidable campaign strategist is lured out of early retirement to help an unpopular Bolivian president in an upcoming election—by convincing the reluctant public, through whatever means necessary, that they should vote for him.

But this battle’s not just political, it’s also personal: Bodine has to match wits with an old nemesis, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who’s been hired to strategize for the other side.

It’s based on things that went down at a real 2002 Bolivian election, which was chronicled in an award-winning 2005 documentary of the same name. Thornton’s character is a movie remold of former hardball strategist James Carville, who appeared as himself in the original film. Bullock’s character—a part originally written for a male—is an amalgam of several other actual people.

OUR BRAND IS CRISISBullock and Thornton provide the movie’s real spark; it’s too bad there’s not more of it, and more of them, to help the whole thing catch fire. There’s a murky, turbulent history between Bodine and Candy that we never fully understand, just one of several things the movie doesn’t make clear. But the deft, unfussy way the two characters spar and parry, in guarded conversations and piercing silences, are artful reminders of just how these two pros can make the most of their screen time.

Scoot McNairy, Ann Dowd and Anthony Mackie are also aboard as Calamity Jane’s team members. Zoe Kazan plays a young dirty-tricks research wonk brought in to turn up the heat when things shift into true “crisis” overdrive.

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Zoe Kazan

George Clooney is one of the producers. The director, David Gordon Green, has a wide-ranging resume that includes the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness. Peter Straughan, who provided the screenplay, is also the writer of the espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The movie has some solid DNA, but it never seems to know whether it wants to make us think, make us chuckle or make us sad. Is it political parody with heart, a satire that jabs with its funny bone, or a south-of-the-border rom-com based on real headlines? (The biggest  audience response, for what it’s worth, comes from Bullock’s bare buttocks hanging out an open bus window.)

If you’re a political junkie, this is your time of year. The presidential candidate debates make for riveting, sometimes-outrageous TV, and shows like The Good WifeScandalVeep and the new Agent X take viewers inside the heated (fictionalized) heavings of Washington, D.C. Our Brand is Crisis brings up some timely points about what it takes to mount—and win—a campaign.

But is anyone surprised that politics plays dirty? That strategists can be snake-oil salesmen who convince people to buy things they don’t need, to elect leaders who may not have their best interests in mind? That America exports its will and influence to other parts of the world?

After her first meeting with the Bolivian president, Bodine realizes what a daunting job she signed on for, and she wearily notes that he “doesn’t smell like a winner.” Unfortunately, despite Sandra and Billy Bob, neither does this.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Gone But Not Forgotten

Best-selling novel comes to screen with creepy, cold precision

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Gone Girl

Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

Directed by David Fincher

 One of the most anticipated movies of the year opens with a close-up shot of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) running the blonde hair of his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) through his fingers and musing, “What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”

Those three questions set the stage for almost everything else that follows, as director David Fincher brings author Gillian Flynn’s wildly successful 2009 best-seller, a shocking mystery sizzler about one marriage’s dark descent into mayhem and madness, to the screen.

Gone Girl begins with Amy’s disappearance, on the morning of her and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary, in what looks like a home invasion and abduction. But was it? Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect, clues begin to pile up, suspicions mount, secrets are revealed—and things start to feel like they’re not what they seem to be.

DF-05063_05054_COMP5_rgbFincher unspools the mystery with the same cool narrative precision he demonstrated in Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He toggles back and forth between past and present, and presents he-said/she-said versions of Nick and Amy’s story through flashbacks and cutaways to Amy writing in her journal—which later becomes a key piece of evidence, and another strand in the plot’s tangled web.

The casting is first-rate. Affleck adeptly balances Nick’s jock-ish “homecoming king” likeability with the deep, troubling doubts that swirl around his character and his motives. Although she’s appeared in numerous other movies, this is absolutely Pike’s breakthrough; Amy is a complex, complicated character, one that you’ll remember long after the movie is over—and so will, in all likelihood, voters for next year’s Academy Awards. Tyler Perry is terrific as the big-city, top-dollar defense attorney Nick hires to take his case. TV and Broadway actress Carrie Coon brings both heat and heart to the role of Nick’s twin sister, drawn into the vortex of small-town news gone national. Neil Patrick Harris and Scoot McNairy appear as two of Amy’s old flames, both of whom may have gotten a little too close to the fire. Sela Ward and Missi Pyle play TV mavens who fan the media feeding frenzy.

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Tyler Perry is terrific as a top-dollar defense attorney.

The tone of the movie—the look, the pace and the music (by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor) mirrors the material: Dark, creepy, ominous, unsettling, cold. If you’re one of the six million people who’ve read Flynn’s book, you’ll know where everything’s headed (mostly) before it gets there. But if you haven’t, you’ll be swept away in the masterfully crafted brew of mind-bending misdirection, outright lies, psychotic scheming, and detailed criminal procedural that will keep you guessing right up until the end.

This isn’t a snuggle-up movie by a long shot, and its bleak view of marriage—and what might be going on beneath its seemingly placid surface—won’t send date-night couples home feeling warm and fuzzy. In an early scene, Nick and his sister play an old board game from their childhood, The Game of Life, as they discuss Nick’s upcoming anniversary—which, as he’s about to discover, won’t play out quite the way he’s planned.

In Gone Girl’s game of life, there aren’t any winners, only players playing each other in a toxic, brilliantly twisted endurance match from which no one emerges unscathed.

-Neil Pond, Parade & American Profile magazines

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Texts on a Plane

Liam Neeson kicks butt at 30,000 feet

Photography By Myles Aronowitz

Non-Stop

Starring Liam Neeson & Julianne Moore

Directed by Juane Collet-Serra

PG-13

His name may not have the same action-hero ring as “Willis,” “Norris” or “Stallone,” but 61-year-old Liam Neeson has carved a pretty successful niche for himself a one-man kick-butt machine.

Those other stars might have more brawn, but the “everyman” personas of Neeson’s characters, pushed to their limits physically and psychologically but always finding ways to overcome, connected with audiences in movies like the 2008 revenge thriller Taken, its sequel, and Unknown.

5688_FPT_00074R.JPG_cmykNow, working again with Unknown director Juane Collet-Serra, Neeson stars in Non-Stop as a stressed-out federal air marshal on a six-hour transatlantic flight, once more a rumpled, crumpled underdog, this time grappling with a plane-full of life-or-death stakes high above the clouds. Just after take-off, his character, Bill Marks, gets a cryptic cell-phone message: Unless he arranges for an immediate transfer of $150 million dollars, people on the plane will begin to die, one at a time.

And eventually, something even more catastrophic will happen—and it’s all been rigged to look like Marks did it.

Who sent the message, and others that follow, taunting Marks, spelling out the devious details? It’s obviously someone else on the flight, someone who knows him—and the heavy emotional baggage he’s carrying. Everyone becomes a suspect, and the guessing game is part of what keeps the movie—otherwise contained in the closed, confined space of the airliner—moving along at a brisk, breathless clip.

Non-Stop

Lupita N’yongo, who received a supporting actress Oscar for her role in “12 Years a Slave,” plays a flight attendant.

No one is above suspicion, including Marks’ overly (?) friendly seatmate (Julianne Moore); two flight attendants (Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley on  Downton Abbey, and Oscar-winning Lupita N’Yongo from 12 Years a Slave); a Middle Eastern-looking doctor who practically has “TERRORIST” stamped on his kafi; a mild-mannered school teacher (Scoot McNairy); and a computer programmer (Nate Parker).

There are twists, turns, some cheesy laughs, a serious tussle in the lavatory, a murder by improvised peashooter, and a rip-roarin’ finish that had one woman seated behind me whooping, gasping and hollering “Save the baby!!!”

The specter of 9/11 hangs over the plot in more ways than one, but this isn’t a movie with much of an agenda beyond being a high-flying, B-grade thrill ride that takes you up, shakes you up and sets you back down when it’s over.

So don’t’ buy a ticket to Non-Stop looking for award-winning performances or a profound message (although it clumsily, hurriedly tries to tag one on at the end). As the captain tells Marks at one point, just sit back, buckle up and “Enjoy your flight”!

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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