Tag Archives: Macon Blair

Sit Tight, Take Hold

Thunder Road

by Hope Madden

Thunder Road is the best film you almost certainly missed in 2018. You should rectify that situation post haste.

Jim Cummings writes, directs and stars as Officer Jim Arnaud, a man at a crossroads. Who else would be at the center of a film named for a Springsteen tune?

Like one of the year’s other most insightful and original indie gems, Hereditary, Thunder Road opens at a funeral. Also like Ari Aster’s breathless exploration of familial loss and dysfunction, Thunder Road establishes the tone for the film, the mental state and general disposition of the lead, and an unusual perspective with its opening scene.

But Cummings takes his meditation on grief and existential dread in very different directions.

As both a filmmaker and a performer, Cummings walks a tonal tightrope strung just that side of hysteria. Equally earnest and absurd, comical and heartbreaking, the film and the lead turn compel your attention, your empathy, your discomfort and your love.

You will love Officer Jim Arnaud by film’s end, not regardless but because of his epic failures and bottomless reserve of vulnerability. It is impossible not to root for him, not to feel his humiliations, not to admire his corrective measures no matter how ridiculous they are.

The filmmaker’s assembled a wonderful supporting cast. Nican Robinson, in particular, bursts through best friend/partner clichés to develop a tender character whose wearied facial expressions say more about his years of friendship than Cummings’s pitch perfect dialog could manage.

Macon Blair, Kendal Farr and Jocelyn DeBoer all bring a wonderfully familiar but nuanced small town resignation to their scenes that suits the film’s overall tone and creates an ecosystem where Jim Arnaud could certainly exist.

Cummings’s film is hilarious and unblinking, uncomfortable yet kind, and above all things, forgiving. A lot of filmmakers have taken inspiration from Springsteen’s lyrics and brought a dying blue collar American to the screen. None have done the Boss justice the way Cummings has.

Farewell Tour

Green Room

by George Wolf

The 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin heralded writer/director Jeremy Saulnier as a filmmaker bursting with the instincts and craftsmanship necessary to give familiar tropes new bite. In Green Room his color scheme is horror, and the finished work is equally suitable for framing.

Young punk band the Ain’t Rights is in desperate need of a paying gig, even if it is at a rough private club for the “boots and braces” crowd (i.e. white power skinheads). Bass guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) eschews social media promotion for the “time and aggression” of live shows, and when he accidentally witnesses a murder in the club’s makeshift green room, Pat and his band find plenty of both.

Along with concertgoer Amber (a terrific Imogen Poots), they’re held at gunpoint while the club manager (Macon Blair from Blue Ruin) fetches the mysterious Darcy (Patrick Stewart, gloriously grim) to sort things out. Though Darcy is full of calm reassurances, it quickly becomes clear the captives will have to fight for their lives.

As he did with Blue Ruin, Saulnier plunges unprepared characters into a world of casual savagery, finding out just what they have to offer in a nasty backwoods standoff.  It’s a path worn by Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and plenty more, but Saulnier again shows a knack for establishing his own thoughtful thumbprint. What Green Room lacks in depth, it makes up in commitment to genre.

He drapes the film in waves of thick, palpable tension, then punctures them with shocking bursts of gore and brutality. Things get plenty dark for the young punkers, and for us, as Saulnier often keeps light sources to a minimum, giving the frequent bloodletting an artful black-and-white quality which contrasts nicely with the symbolic red of certain shoelaces.

And yet, Saulnier manages to let some mischievous humor seep out, mainly by playing on generational stereotypes. Poots, barely recognizable under an extreme haircut and trucker outfit, has the most fun, never letting bloody murder alter Amber’s commitment to bored condescension. Love it.

Only a flirtation with contrivance keeps Green Room from classic status. It’s lean, mean, loud and grisly, and a ton of bloody fun.