Tag Archives: Sam Rockwell

The Way Way Back (2013)

twwb

The Way Way Back tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), a shy teenager stuck with his family on summer vacation in a small seaside town. And if you think that sounds like a well-worn premise and are already speculating about the ways that the characters might grow as people by the end of the movie, you’re on the right track; The Way Way Back breaks very little new ground in the coming-of-age genre. Yet somehow, it’s still charming as heck, and I found it to be thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.

There are many good things about this movie, but if you asked me what the one main reason is to see it, I’d have to say it’s Sam Rockwell. He’s an actor who’s impressed me hugely in films like Snow Angels, MoonConviction, and Seven Psychopaths, and Rockwell works his magic once again here. This is a movie that balances drama with lots of humour, and Rockwell is the source of many of the film’s biggest laughs. His character, Owen, is likeable and impulsive, and you can understand why 14-year-old Duncan would think he’s cool. But the film does a great job of subtly building Owen’s character and showing us his flaws without relying on some sort of “shocking reveal” or major plot turn to make us completely reconsider his character; Owen is a good person, and the friendship he builds with Duncan is genuinely moving, but he’s also not built up to be a saint. Rockwell always seems to play wonderfully shaded, complicated characters, and even though this is a lighter movie than some of his other fare, he still brings so much heart to the character, and for me, he completely stole the movie.

That’s not to say that the rest of the cast is lacking, though. Allison Janney is perfectly wry and weird, as always, and Carell shows some nice range here playing a pretty shitty guy, and does so believably. And even though I’m getting a bit tired of seeing Toni Collette play “sad mom” characters, she turns in another solid performance. You can feel the warmth between her and Duncan, and the screenwriters and actors do a nice job of showing the similarities of their characters and partially explaining why Duncan may be the way he is without hitting the audience over the head with the parallels.

The film does occasionally get bit too focussed on including its Funny Moments at the right times, and a couple of scenes (such as the breakdancing sequence) feel a bit forced and just aren’t that funny. As well, a there are a few minor characters who don’t seem to serve much of a purpose and probably could have been removed entirely. But while not all of the jokes hit perfectly for me, I found that the movie worked best when writer/directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxon mined true-to-life humour from the awkward, slightly poignant reality of growing up. They capture so honestly what it’s like to be young and shy and they manage to convey that feeling of alienation without getting maudlin. I think a lot of filmmakers avoid focussing on introverted characters out of fear that they’ll come across as boring or inactive, but Faxon and Rash embrace the awkwardness of their protagonist and let his quirks speak for themselves. Duncan isn’t always a likeable or even interesting character, but I found myself rooting for him the whole way through, simply because of how realistic he felt.

When you compare The Way Way Back to recent films like Adventureland and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which is easy to do) it does feel a touch amateurish. It perhaps hits just as many truths as those films do, but it also offers a more scattered tone that makes it feel inconsistent. But there’s certainly still a whole lot of charm going on, and Rockwell’s great performance gives The Way Way Back a secret weapon that the other films don’t have. It’s relatable, funny, and sweet, and that’s exactly what The Way Way Back needed to be.

7/10

10 Unsung Performances of the 00’s

A few months back, I wrapped up my Best Performances of the Decade series. But while that list included a lot of familiar names and acclaimed performances, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the performances that not everyone has seen. This list contains no Oscar or Golden Globe nominated roles, and I’ve limited myself to performances that received little or no awards attention and were relatively overlooked by audiences (as much as I think that Jim Carrey, Peter Sarsgaard, and Rebecca Hall should’ve been nominated for Oscars, they did receive a considerable awards attention elsewhere for the roles in question, which disqualified them from the list). Here are ten unfairly under-recognized performances from the past decade, in alphabetical order.

Daniel Bruhl – Good Bye Lenin!

Inglourious Basterds may have introduced German actor Daniel Bruhl to a wider North American audience, but it’s 2003’s Good
Bye Lenin! that really showcases his skills. Bruhl’s charismatic performance carries the film, and he nails the sense of whimsy that permeates every scene. Heartbreaking at times and hilarious at others, Bruhl’s performance shows enough genuine charm to cross all language barriers.

Clifton Collins Jr. – Capote

Clifton Collins Jr. is a solid character actor who has lately been favouring tiny roles in big studio films (Star Trek, Brothers). But if there’s one film that proves why he should get bigger roles, it’s Capote. Playing one of the two murderers that Truman Capote investigated for In Cold Blood, Collins makes his character Perry disarmingly and chillingly sympathetic. Collins is every bit as good as lead Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the scenes that they share together are breathtakingly intimate.

Abbie Cornish – Bright Star

Abbie Cornish’s performance as Fanny Brawne, the young love interest of poet John Keats, is just as beautiful as the cinematography in Bright Star. She revels in Fanny’s feisty modernity, but also reflects the melancholy of her restrained life. As Fanny’s relationship with Keats evolves, so does Cornish’s performance – ranging from star-struck to distraught over the course of the film. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

Robert Downey Jr. – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A favourite performance among his fans, Robert Downey Jr.’s work in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang proves why so many people love him. He’s hilarious, bumbling, and sexy as our protagonist and snarky narrator. Always a scene-stealer, Downey is the epitome of charisma here.

Emile Hirsch – Into the Wild

Previously best known for his work in the teen sex romp The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch stunned audiences with his raw performance in Sean Penn’s directorial debut, Into the Wild. Playing a young man who gives up his material possessions and sets out for the Alaskan wilderness, Hirsch is often the only person on screen throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. Hirsch takes what could have been a purely preachy character and injects a sense of vulnerability that makes his optimism admirable. He’s entirely charismatic and compelling.

Jared Leto – Requiem for a Dream

Ellen Burstyn received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her work in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, but the unsung MVP of the film is Jared Leto. Leto’s strangely iconic turn as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life coupled with his foray into emo music has made him something of a critical punching bag, but he proves what an amazing actor he can be here. Much like the film itself, Leto’s performance as Harry is dark and harrowing. It easily could have become caricature, but his performance as a drug-addled optimist cuts right to the bone.

Daniel Day-Lewis – The Ballad of Jack and Rose

As one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation, it’s surprising to see how often Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Ballad and Jack and Rose is overlooked. It may not be as “big” as some of the other performances that he gave in the past decade, but Lewis’ work here is just as good as anything else he’s done. Playing a quietly desperate, confused man, Lewis’ performance is heartbreaking and unforgettable.

Guy Pearce – Factory Girl

Always a chameleon, Guy Pearce’s turn as the legendary Andy Warhol is uncanny. To me, the entire film is underrated, but Pearce’s performance is certainly the highlight of Factory Girl. The character is often downright unlikeable, and Pearce’s snarky screen presence is striking.

Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels

Sam Rockwell is an actor who is just starting to get the recognition that he deserves, and it’s easy to see why with a film like Snow Angels. David Gordon Green’s story of small-town tragedy is disturbingly beautiful, and Rockwell is stunning as a recovering-alcoholic-turned-evangelist. The film’s bombastic final moments are only amplified by the quiet, desperate journey that Rocwell’s performance takes us on.

Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me

You Can Count on Me is a film that I recently caught up with, and while it provided my favourite Laura Linney performance to date, the real stand-out for me was Mark Ruffalo. His character is an insufferable screw-up, yet rather than making him a downbeat loser, Ruffalo revels in his messiness and makes him a purely charming, memorable guy. There are no big “cinematic” moments in the film, but this allows Ruffalo to give an all-around great performance, rather than relying on select scenes to stand out.

Honourable Mentions

Samantha Morton – Control

Michael Angarno – Snow Angels

Ryan Gosling –The United States of Leland

Keri Russell – Waitress

Jason Bateman – Juno

Benicio Del Toro – Thing We Lost in the Fire

Movie Trailer/Poster Round-Up

As we sift through a cinematically awful summer, at least the studio execs are giving us something to get excited about. Forget Knight and Day and Salt – all the good stuff’s coming out in the last four months of the year. Here’s a look at some recently released trailers and movie posters that have me excited.

**And as a side-note, happy 100th post to me! I could also talk about how I’m approaching my 1-year blog anniversary, but let’s just get back to the movies…**

The Social Network (October 1)

Better known as “the Facebook movie”, David Fincher’s The Social Network (based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal) is making waves for its ultra-current subject matter. I love the first poster that they’ve released (the famous Facebook bar is great, and the photo and font are bold), and hopefully this means that a trailer is right around the corner.

Somewhere (December 22)

As I saw someone mention online, this trailer for Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere makes it look as though she’s halved the ages of her protagonists from Lost in Translation and made a rather similar movie. But by the looks of this gorgeous trailer, that’s not a bad thing at all. Even though Marie Antoinette was considered a bit of a flop (I never saw it), here’s hoping that Somewhere lives up to Coppola’s potential.

Never Let Me Go (October 1)

October 1 is shaping up to be a good day for Times Likes Those favourite Andrew Garfield (who also co-stars in The Social Network), and his work here in Never Let Me Go looks quite promising. I’ve heard about the major plot point that the trailer for Never Let Me Go alludes to, and without giving it away for those who wish to go in blind, it sounds like it’ll be a very interesting movie.

The American (September 1)

I already wrote about the trailer, which was released a few weeks ago, but this striking vintage-inspired poster for Anton Corbijn’s The American is certainly worth mentioning.

Conviction (October 15)

Formerly titled Betty Anne Waters (why did they switch to such an anonymous title?), this movie looks like Oscar bait epitomized (and it reminds me of a certain viral spoof). But nonetheless, with Sam Rockwell on board (in a role that looks like it could garner some serious awards consideration), and Juliette Lewis along for the ride, I’m intrigued.

Favourite Working Actors

This list is clearly skewed young, but here are ten actors (plus a few honourable mentions and rising stars) that I love watching onscreen. Feel free to discuss my choices or share you own lists in the comments!

1. Robert Downey Jr.

Essential Filmography: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Tropic Thunder (2008), Chaplin (1992), Zodiac (2007)

Underappreciated Work: Wonderboys (2000)

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman

Essential Filmography: Capote (2005), Magnolia (1999), Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Underappreciated Work: Almost Famous (2000)

3. Daniel Day-Lewis

Essential Filmography: There Will Be Blood (2007), My Left Foot (1989), Gangs of New York (2002)

Underappreciated Work: The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)

4. Ryan Gosling

Essential Filmography: Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), The Believer (2001)

Underappreciated Work: The United States of Leland (2003)

5. Casey Affleck

Essential Filmography: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), Gone Baby Gone (2007)

Underappreciated Work: Lonesome Jim (2006)

6. Leonardo DiCaprio

Essential Filmography: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1992), The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2002), Titanic (1997)

Underappreciated Work: Romeo + Juliet (1996)

7. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Essential Filmography: Mysterious Skin (2004), 500 Days of Summer (2009), Brick (2006)

Underappreciated Work: The Lookout (2007)

8. Ethan Hawke

Essential Filmography: Before Sunrise (1995), Dead Poets Society (1989), Training Day (2001)

Underappreciated Work: Reality Bites (1995)

9. Joaquin Phoenix

Essential Filmography: Walk the Line (2005), Gladiator (2000), Two Lovers (2009)

Underappreciated Work: Signs (2002)

10. Colin Firth

Essential Filmography: A Single Man (2009), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Underappreciated Work: Girl With a Pearl Earring(2003)

Honourable Mentions





Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking)
Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon)
Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)
Benicio Del Toro (Things We Lost in the Fire)
Edward Norton (The Score)
Guy Pearce (Memento)
Sam Rockwell (Snow Angels)

5 Promising Newcomers




Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild, Milk)
Ben Whishaw (Bright Star)
Sam Riley (Control)
Michael Angarano (Snow Angels)
Logan Lerman (3:10 to Yuma)

Snow Angels (2008)

Wintery small-town dramas are not exactly a rare commodity in recent indie cinema, but Snow Angels (written and directed by David Gordon Green) does it well. It doesn’t pull its punches with the gritty subject matter, but if you can get past the bleakness, you’ll find an oddly beautiful film. It stars Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, and Michael Angarano.

Snow Angels opens with high school student Arthur Parkinson (Angarano) practising trombone with the school marching band when two gunshots ring out from nearby. The films then jumps back in time, and works its way up to that point again. It focuses on two families in crisis. Arthur’s parents are separating, and his co-worker and ex-baby-sitter, Annie (Beckinsale), is trying to deal with raising a young daughter alone. Annie’s estranged husband, Glenn (Rockwell), claims to have made changes in his life, and wants to become part of the family again. He’s become a devout Christian, and on a rare outing with his daughter, tells her that “Daddy doesn’t drink beer anymore”. Arthur’s budding romance with a new student (Olivia Thirbly) and Annie’s gradual re-acceptance of Glenn looks promising, yet all that time, the viewer has that opening scene in the back of their mind. And at around the halfway point, Snow Angels takes a drastic change. To discuss anything after that point would lead to major spoilers, but it’s suffice to say that the last half of the film constitutes a slow, tragic descent, until the film’s shocking finale.

Snow Angels is not an easy film to watch. It’s depressing and bleak. Yet, at the same time, there is warmth to the characters that propels the film along. Green develops every character fully, which is rare in ensemble films. These characters – even those who could potentially be boiled down to “good” and “bad” stereotypes – never seem one-dimensional. Annie is a deceptively complex character. She seems so well put-together, yet she makes awful decisions sometimes, and takes out her anger on her daughter. We follow the arc of her character, and sympathize with her. Green makes sure that we understand the motivations of each character, and that makes the outcome of the movie heartbreaking, but far more rewarding, in an odd way.

The relationship between Arthur and Lila is handled very well, too. Amongst the sadness and fragmentation of every other romantic relationship in the movie, the optimism of these two teenagers is comforting. They’re both kind of geeky, but also very charming, and “young love” is portrayed in a refreshingly low-key way.

The entire ensemble cast is superb. Sam Rockwell has the most bizarre role, and he takes the yo-yo emotions of Glenn and balances them to create a sadly realistic character. One scene later in the film (I’m not giving anything away) is just a long take of Glenn dancing, and while it could have drifted into uncomfortably humorous territory, Rockwell doesn’t let his character become a caricature here, or anywhere else in the film.

Kate Becinsale has a really tough role to play, especially in the second half of the film. She’s solid throughout, whether it be in a rare light moment where she’s flirting playfully with Arthur at work, or a dark scene where she’s yelling at her daughter. The cracks in Annie’s put-together facade are apparent, and as her character crumbles, Beckinsale is there with emotional force to back it up.

Angarano is also a great commodity to the film. His performance is feels very honest. Arthur is a somewhat introverted character, but the few moments of emotional outburst that Arthur has are important, and Angarano’s performance never feels forced.

I don’t really have any gripes with the film. It felt a little bit long, but looking back, I don’t see how any scene could have been removed or shortened. Every part of the film played an important part to the overall story, and the slow development is crucial in order for the ending to have a proper impact.

This is a very carefully put together film, yet it never feels self-conscious. From the cast to the cinematography to the soundtrack, everything works together so well. I think Green has created a dark, atmospheric near-masterpiece with Snow Angels.

9/10