Pig

Release: Friday, July 16, 2021

👀 Hulu

Written by: Michael Sarnoski; Vanessa Block

Directed by: Michael Sarnoski

Starring: Nicolas Cage; Alex Wolff; Adam Arkin; Darius Pierce; David Knell

Distributor: Neon

 

 

****/*****

On the outside Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut appears to be ripe material for Crazy Nic Cage. This is a story about a man living in the woods who gets his pig stolen, then ventures into the city to find his pignappers. Sounds like the recipe for a future cult classic Midnight Movie — John Wick only with oinks instead of barks.

Defiantly, Pig veers off that beaten genre path and gradually reveals itself to be a much deeper movie than action-driven, bloody retribution and one whose concerns go beyond a missing animal. An existential drama paired with a buddy adventure, the story encroaches on some familiar territory — grief and loss, change and disillusionment are perennially en vogue themes — but if you dig below the surface of those broader ideas you’ll find a lot more flavor as questions are raised about materialism and commerce, the price of things weighed against the value of relationships.

Everything in this movie feels fine-tuned, whether it’s Pat Scola’s beautiful framing of the pacific northwest, the powerful emotive quality of Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein’s string-based score, or the near-palpable aroma of the exquisite dishes that come to bear quasi-supporting roles. But it’s the acting that tends to stand out. Truth be told, as headline-grabbing as its leading man is and though the cast sheet may be small, every performer brings their A-game and makes Pig a surprisingly absorbing experience.

Wisely calibrating the exotic impulses that have given rise to his larger-than-life persona, Nic Cage turns in one of his most affecting performances to date as Robin Feld, a respected Portland chef who has turned his back on city living for a more humble existence out in the woods. Subsisting on the outskirts of the City of Roses without so much as a cell phone, his only companion is his truffle pig upon whose snout he relies for some good eating and a bite sized bit of business. His lone contact with the outside world is Amir (Alex Wolff), an opportunist who sells locally-sourced luxury ingredients to the highest bidder in town, hoping one day to escape the shadow of his father Darius (Adam Arkin).

Introduced as the weekly headache Rob must endure, the loud and brash Amir is quickly pulled in as a full-time participant, his foibles swiftly coming under the microscope in the same way Rob’s privacy inspires questions. When a midnight assault shakes up his peaceful existence the two reluctantly team up and head to the city for answers. The ensuing adventure pulls us into a strange, esoteric world through a network of back passages and secret doors, while the most privileged access remains in the conversations shared throughout — keenly observed moments that give us a good sense of who these men are and what motivates them. Along the way, a series of revelations threatens the tenuous thread of trust they’ve managed to build, particularly as the full complexity of the film’s relationships comes into clearer focus.

As the list of potential thieves shrinks and Rob’s desperation grows, the superficial setting plays just as much of a role as any character, human or otherwise. Steeping the drama in the highfalutin, pricy world of haute cuisine, Sarnoski turns Portland’s bustling food scene into an ecosystem teeming with predators and disingenuous types. It’s a cold, harsh environment where business is kind of like the Wild West — there’s poaching and territorial disputes and a sense of lawlessness. What justice there is seems to be out of reach for Rob, a ghost on the scene for a good decade who has lost all the credibility he once had. It’s not a flattering portrait of foodie culture but it feels, like the dialogues throughout, brutally honest. 

Pig could have easily been overcooked in the wrong hands. Slow but never boring, downbeat and moody without being overwrought, the movie surprises beyond its centerpiece performance(s). There is a level of elitism to its world and to the characters that could serve as a barrier to entry and yet it all feels incredibly relatable, in large part due to the compassion Sarnoski finds for his characters and the trust he puts in his performers. One memorable sequence finds Rob and Amir preparing a meal for a special occasion. It’s an intimate moment that seems to encapsulate the slow-burn sojourn as a whole: Pig is a labor of love, each morsel ultimately savored because of the time and care put in to the preparation. Movie title be damned, Sarnoski’s vision is profoundly human.

Trying not to stew over it.

Moral of the Story: Though perhaps not one for animal lovers, Pig‘s emotional realism and enigmatic character work make it an easy recommendation for more than just Nic Cage apologists. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.eater.com 

The Way Back

Release: Friday, March 6, 2020

→Theater

Written by: Brad Ingelsby

Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) had a future in basketball beyond high school. Probably beyond college. Once the pride of Bishop Hayes High in the 1990s, he led his team to more victories and championships in his four years than the many iterations managed in the decades since. These days, his alma mater barely manages to field a varsity team. They’re not an also-ran, they’ve been irrelevant for so long cobwebs are forming on those banners hanging from the rafters.

Now they’re without their coach, who has suffered a heart attack. Dan, an algebra teacher (Al Madrigal), pulls double-duty as an assistant but he’s no coach, at least not the one with the capital C. There are a few stand-out athletes running around the gym, but it’s all in disorganized fashion and the average player is as good at sinking three’s as Shaq was at free throws. Miraculously they still have a pep squad and a team chaplain (Jeremy Radin) and despite the dismal win record they abide by basic moral principles of competing fairly and with the understanding that the results of the game, fair or foul, do not define them as students, as young men.

Life after the game hasn’t been rosy for Jack. Working construction, living alone and drinking uncontrollably, Jack is functional but clearly in a good deal of pain. The Way Back slowly, cautiously inches its way towards an explanation as to why he has isolated himself not just from the game but from making social connections. One day he is thrown a lifeline in the form of a voicemail from Bishop Hayes’ Father Divine (John Aylward), imploring him to come and fill in as Head Coach for this struggling team. After a night of booze-soaked introspection and exhausting all possible reasons to turn down the offer, Jack of course shows up at practice and sets about coaching up. His goal is to toughen up the team, improve their fundamentals, make them eligible for the playoffs for the first time since his playing days.

Director Gavin O’Connor, most famous for Miracle (2004) and Warrior (2011), presents yet another character-driven sports drama. I’ve always admired the way he marries realistic, intensely choreographed action with interesting characters going on powerful emotional journeys. The Way Back has all those ingredients and yet the flavor lacks. The drama, whether on the court or off of it, really doesn’t have any surprise plays in its playbook. To its credit basketball is not where the movie really lies; Brad Ingelsby’s screenplay de-emphasizes spectacle for the quieter emotional battles taking place away from the game.

The difference here is the bonafide movie star who delivers the emotion and nuance this patently predictable movie needs. It’s a terrific, authentic performance, not least because it’s often difficult to separate the Movie Star from the character. Affleck does just that though, in fact he succeeds to an almost profound degree, especially in the scenes in which he is forced to confront the source of his pain alongside his estranged wife Angela (the lovely Janina Gavankar). Ultimately, Affleck’s heartbreaking performance — no doubt elevated by this acute awareness of what he himself has gone through over a prolonged period — is what redeems the movie.

Recommendation: Empathetically told and impressively acted, The Way Back (not to be confused with the 2010 drama The Way Back . . . or for that matter, the 2013 indie comedy The Way Way Back) is yet more proof of the natural, amiable personality of director Gavin O’Connor. It hopefully marks a rebound for actor Ben Affleck as well. Word of caution for fans expecting on-court drama and personal tension on a Hoosiers level: don’t uh, don’t do that. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

Quoted: “You want to know why they’re leaving you open? It’s because they don’t think you can hit the ocean from the beach.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb 

TBT: The Others (2001)

new-tbt-logo

I won’t lie to you. Halloween and the days and weeks leading up to it, give me the heebie-jeebies. For a holiday that’s all about celebrating Satanic practices and dressing up in disguises with the specific intention of obscuring our true selves, I have to say, All Hallow’s Eve is my least favorite eve of ’em all. Not even the candy you get/got as a trick-or-treater is/was all that worth it — candy corn? Ugh. Gobstoppers. . .help. Who knows what that stuff is laced with. And then, of course, you get the wonderful folks who go around and. . .smash pumpkins and destroy other decorative items people invested time and money into putting on their houses. I also think it’s probably the quickest holiday to “age out” of. Going around trick-or-treating at my age is more likely to get you arrested than earn you a nice plump bag of candy. One tends to grow out of this phase prettttty quickly. Especially if you’re a male. I guess haunted corn mazes are still pretty fun. They made for some fun date nights. However, each year that goes by, to me Halloween just gets that much more evil and more kitschy. Finally, though, I’ve kind of got a reason to celebrate it as we head into October with TBT. Each post this month will be a good horror film that I’ve seen from back in the day. I hope you enjoy these entries, because honestly I’m going through a lot  of pain and bad memories reviewing these particular films. I’ll start off with what I consider the “least” scary of the upcoming entries, and will try to crank up the severity of the scares as we go on. Hey, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, right. . .?

Today’s food for thought: The Others.

The Others

Release: August 10, 2001

[DVD]

Possibly the very first horror film I have ever seen, The Others is one of the few that succeeded in giving me chills. Remaining low-budget, having a strong script delivered through convincing performances and not to mention, being released in an era prior to this obsession with gratuitous gore and torture in horror films, this film sneaks up on you like a bad dream in the middle of the night and benefits from exemplifying the genre’s strengths.

Directed and scored by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, the British psychothriller serves as proof you don’t need high-tech special effects and complicated schemes to scare up an audience. The Others relies on a steady,  balanced diet of tension and — admittedly, yes, okay — jump scare moments to create an engaging story about a mother trying to protect her young against supernatural forces within her house.

Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is a devout Roman Catholic mother of two children who both possess an extremely rare health condition: sensitivity to sunlight, and so she whisks herself and children away to an old mansion that’s isolated from civilization (as the settings for most of these kinds of movies typically are. . . can’t we for once have like the old haunted place next to Hardee’s or something?) and she has all the windows sealed off from the daily sun rays.

Grace believes she has Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) safely guarded; little does she know — and is about to find out about —  the servants whom work for Grace have a little secret of their own. It will take the length of the movie to understand the dynamic between the staff and the Stewart family, but it’s well worth the undertaking, in this coward’s opinion. . .

Also, as a non-Kidman fan, from what I do remember of her performance in this from over ten years ago, she managed to really sell her genuine dread and fear, and ultimately her despair and denial. The children were also magnificent, acting as two really young witnesses to some shocking and unexplainable events around the house. Grace first believes her children are seeing things and is initially angry at them for spooking her. But then when she starts to experience odd things herself, she starts becoming suspicious of virtually everything that moves within the house. The staff are her first priorities, and she relieves them of their duties after a couple of sequences confirms her worst fears. But The Others doesn’t stop there. The mystery keeps unwinding piece-wise, and it won’t be until the very end before all the significant pieces are put into their correct places.

Let me dust off the old memory and see what I can recall as my highlights of this creepy little flick:

  • the old woman looks creepy as. . . . smashed pumpkins, and especially at the time, when I was a much more impressionable teenager. . .
  • not big on the single-scene films, nor haunted-house-type movies much either but The Others has a great set piece. the house is really creepy and spacious.
  • the séance/paper-tearing as the big reveal
  • Nicole Kidman’s accent was not obnoxious
  • xeroderma pigmentosa (what the children suffered from)
  • creaky floorboards, doors ajar and someone’s underneath that sheet over the piano.. . .. right?!
  • Charles isn’t dead. Or is he?
  • the setting is rather neat (post-World War II, British Crown Dependency of Jersey. . . and, in the middle of the woods)

I also figured, now is as good a time as any to bring back the Caption Contest. Let’s go with these three stills from the film. Throw them creative little bits in the comments below! Have fun, and welcome to October.

the-others-servants

Caption A: __________________________

large_others_blu-ray8

Caption B: ______________________

The-Others-Main

Caption C: ____________________

That about does it for installment #1 for the.. . shudders horror segment on TBT, hope you lovely people stick around for the next!

4-0Recommendation: Nicole Kidman in a very good role makes this movie a haunting one to experience but it’s not gruesome, nor big on special effects, either. If you’re keen for watching a more low-budget horror in a similar vein to Jessica Biel’s The Tall Man, you should give this one a shot.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com