The American western is no stranger to cruel men who wield their masculinity to maintain their position. Positioned as heroic embodiments of the demands of the time rather than men capable of (and often willing to enact) intense spiritual violence, the ranchers and cowboys of the genre have been exalted as pure representations of manhood. With lush iconography and archetypal characterizations at its core, the western allowed us, even invited us, to overlook the truth of our violent past and the brutality expected of legacies of men. Such is the setting for The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s momentous return to the cinema that aims to upbend those conventions and does so with the swiftness of a hot blade. The film is not really a western, but interested in the genre all the same—both in the masculine ideals it upholds and their reflections in American culture.Continue reading “In Review: The Power of the Dog”
Smoke creeps in to Sofia Coppola’s southern landscape of The Beguiled, a girl’s school led by the stiff Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) still functioning on bare bones. That encroachment reminds of the battle not too far off, the sounds of cannons just at the ear’s reach, and the potential for their secluded world to collapse. But the struggle inside this dusty mansion is both within and without, as a wounded northern soldier Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) tests both their will and his welcome through sexual and emotional manipulation.
These women are not so easily swayed as he believed.
Jeff Nichols has been steadily becoming the prominent American writer/director voice for the rural American male after the masterful psychological nightmare of Take Shelter and the open-hearted fable of Mud. His latest, Midnight Special is a bit wider in scope and ambition while keeping one foot in the pool of his previous efforts Americana environment. Nichols is playing with genre this time, a soft sci-fi effort that shows his ability to captivate an engaged audience with his confident control of craft. However unlike those previous efforts (along with the underseen Shotgun Stories), the screenplay rarely cracks the surface of the world he provides for us. The film’s eyes are bigger than its stomach.
Nichols staple Michael Shannon plays Roy, who is on the run with his childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) with Roy’s mysteriously gifted son Alton (St. Vincent‘s Jaden Lieberher). Alton’s powers remain vague for much of the film, but he is wanted by the government for perceived threat to national security. Those powers had led Alton to be praised as some kind of deity by the cult he was raised within, an organization reminiscent of recent polygamist raids whose leader had taken claim over the raising of Alton. After kidnapping Alton and meeting up with his birth mother (Kirsten Dunst), Roy must deliver his son to the fateful coordinates that Alton had prophesied.
After the one-two punch of Take Shelter and Mud, Jeff Nichols is among the top emerging directors that we’re excited for here at filmmixtape. He’s venturing into genre elements – skills he hinted at with Shelter – with possibility his most mainstream film yet: Midnight Special. The teaser suggests we’ll get to see a softer side of virtuoso Michael Shannon and a chance for St. Vincent‘s charmer Jaeden Lieberher to shine. After being pushed back from this fall to avoid the holiday multiplex logjam, Special opens March 18 and is one of filmmixtape’s most anticipated of 2016.