Tag Archives: Tye Sheridan

Glass Half Empty

The Tender Bar

by George Wolf

Look past the tabloid fodder and you’ll see that onscreen, Ben Affleck is having a fine second act. Last year’s impressive turn in The Way Back showed him more than comfortable in his older skin, and his standout support in The Last Duel is generating some Oscar buzz for this year’s best supporting actor race.

This focus on substance over leading man style is a smart one, but while Affleck digs into his pivotal role in The Tender Bar, the film itself struggles to find anything truly relevant to say.

Based on J.R. Moehringer best-selling memoir, it’s an account of his journey from a poor, dysfunctional household to a Yale education and a career in writing. Guided by voiceover narration from adult JR (Ron Livingston), we’re introduced to little JR (Daniel Ranieri) when he and his mother (Lily Rabe) are moving back into the Manhasset, New York home of Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd), Grandma (Sondra James) and Uncle Charlie (Affleck).

JR’s violent, alcoholic father (Max Martini) is a radio deejay who’s rarely around, so 11 year-old JR looks to Uncle Charlie as a role model, often soaking up life lessons found at “The Dickens,” the Long Island bar where Charlie works. Young adult JR (Tye Sheridan) continues the barstool education until it’s time for the Ivy League, new friends, and a hard-to-really-get new girlfriend (Briana Middleton).

Director George Clooney and screenwriter William Monahan craft a respectful and well-meaning adaptation, but it’s sadly lacking any hint of why they found the source material so moving. From Charlie’s advice to JR’s awakenings, the messages are broadly drawn, well worn and self-satisfied, too generic for even the Oscar-winning Monahan (The Departed) to polish into inspirational shape.

And where is the eye for vibrant period detail that helped bring Clooney that well-deserved directing nomination for Good Night and Good Luck? Here, soundtrack choices and costume design blur the stated timeline, while the young actor playing JR at 11 looks closer to 8 and shockingly unlike Sheridan. Even the “golden voice” we’re told that JR’s deejay dad possesses never materializes when he finally speaks.

A film such as this needs authenticity to resonate, but this true story never feels like one, and the chance for us to really connect with JR is derailed at multiple turns. While Affleck adds another fine showing to his current winning streak, there’s not much else in The Tender Bar to convince you the book was worth a big screen adaptation at all.


The Card Counter

by Hope Madden

The damaged man seeking redemption — it may be the most cinematic concept, or certainly among the most frequently conjured by filmmakers. When Paul Schrader is on his game, no one tells this story better.

Schrader’s game in The Card Counter is poker, mainly. But if he tells the redemption story differently than others, you should see what he does with a gambling picture.

Oscar Isaac and his enviable hair play William Tell, gambler. Where this film differs from others treading this territory is that, rather than being a man of a somewhat self-destructive bent drawn to the adrenaline, anxiety and thrill of the lifestyle, William is comforted by its mundane routine. When you play the way William plays, gambling is tidy. It is clean. It is predictable.

William learned to count cards — and to appreciate routine — in prison.

His routine is shaken up, as routines must be, by two people. La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) wants to find William a financial backer, put him on a circuit, see him win big. Cirk “with a C” (Tye Sheridan) wants more from him.

The precision and power in Schrader’s writing come as no surprise, but as a director, he wields images with more unique impact here. There are three different worlds in The Card Counter: prison, casinos, haunted past. Each has its own color scheme, style and mood. The haunted past takes on a nightmarish look via fisheye lens, creating a landscape that’s part first-person shooter, part hell.

Schrader’s on point with visual storytelling throughout, even though he relies on voiceover narration from the opening shot. Voiceover narration is rarely done well. It’s often, perhaps usually, a narrative cheat, a lazy device used to tell us something a stronger writer could convey visually. Not when Schrader does it. We learned that in 1976 when he wrote Taxi Driver, and he proves it again here.

It helps that Isaac is a profound talent and essentially flawless in this role. He is the essential Schrader protagonist, a man desperate for relief from an inner torment through repression, redemption or obliteration.

It’s at least the 4th performance of Isaac’s career worthy of Oscar’s attention, which means the Academy will probably deny that recognition again. But you shouldn’t. You should go see The Card Counter.

Everything Adults Do


by Hope Madden

If you have ever wondered what Lord of the Flies might look like in space, Neil Burger thinks like you.

The generally mediocre director (The Upside, Limitless, Divergent, etc.) follows a manned vessel in search of the next planet we can ruin. Or not. Maybe our better natures will win out.

Voyagers is the journey toward that new home. The crew doesn’t really know Earth—they were the result of specifically engineered donors, raised indoors so they wouldn’t miss open spaces, and will spend their whole adult lives on the ship. Their children will, too. But their grandchildren will be the first generation to see the new planet.

Naturally, this is only going to work if nothing kills them and they don’t kill each other before future generations can exist.

Scientist and father figure Richard (Colin Farrell) will shepherd them through as much of the journey as he can, but the future of the human race is in the hands of these young people.

Essentially a YA space fantasy, Voyagers is not without its charms. Tye Sheridan and Fionn Whitehead lead a cast of convincingly naïve geniuses. The conflict is obvious (especially for those who read Golding), but Burger zigs and zags enough to keep your interest. The director’s knack for encapsulated action and his sharp cast’s baser instincts create some B-movie thrills.

The nature versus nurture argument gets a quick nod, but Burger (who also wrote) isn’t especially preoccupied with the why. The immediacy of the fact that it just is requires more attention.

Science fiction tends to be heavily allegorical and heavily borrowed—Voyagers is certainly both of these. Although the execution feels a bit like a neutered version of Claire Denis’s brilliant 2018 cosmic horror High Life, the story itself looks to the distant future to illustrate our present (and very, very recent past).

Late Shift

The Night Clerk

by Hope Madden

Any film centering on a character on the Autism spectrum is risking a lot. It’s far too easy to simplify this character to a handful of tics that lend themselves to a narrative device: Mercury Rising, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Forest Gump. (That’s right. I said it.)

But if it’s done well, if the character is a character and not a narrative device, the film can benefit immeasurably.

The Night Clerk falls somewhere in between these two options.

Writer/director Michael Cristofer leans on a committed cast, including the always wonderful Tye Sheridan in the lead, to pull you into a mystery thriller that may be too simple for its own good.

Sheridan is Bart. He works nights at a hotel near his home and in his off hours he practices. He rehearses human interaction, small talk. He and his mother (Helen Hunt, a touching mixture of brittle and tender) live day to day in what has clearly become well-worn patterns. Most nights at work are probably uneventful, but on this particular night, Bart discovers a murder.

The detective on the case (John Leguizamo) suspects Bart, but Bart is distracted by a kind hearted and lovely new guest (a convincing Ana de Armas).

Without Sheridan’s committed performance, the film would fall apart. At no point does Sheridan, Cristofer or this film condescend to Bart. The audience isn’t one step ahead of the character; we are piecing through the mystery along with him. We aren’t asked by the film to pity Bart but to be frustrated along with him, and Sheridan is up to the task of keeping this character from tipping into martyrdom.

The problem with this film is not the characterization of a young man with Asperger syndrome. The issue is the writing.

Cristofer may nail the characters—and for the most part, with the help of talented performers, he does. But the lapses in logic when it comes to the policework, not to mention the basic simplicity of the plot itself, keeps the film from really engaging or staying with you.

The plot feels almost too uncomplicated to be a TV drama let alone a feature film. Tensions over the outcome never rise above a flutter, and regardless of how strong the performances—de Armas, Hunt and Sheridan, in particular—this is a thriller that rarely manages to generate any real tension.

As a character study it’s intriguing, sometimes comical and certainly respectful. It’s a showcase for solid acting, but not much else.

Shall We Play a Game?

Ready Player One

by Hope Madden

Ready Player One may be the most Spielbergian of all Spielberg movies. It’s Spielberg on Spielberg. Meta-Spielberg.

You get the idea.

It’s 2045 in Columbus, Ohio and the world is so miserable for so many that they spend all day, every day inside their video games. OASIS is a virtual world where you can play anything against anybody at any time.

The creator of OASIS and every devoted gamer’s hero, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), died several years ago and has built a challenge into the game. The winner will own OASIS (and its trillion in worth) outright.

And that’s it. A ragtag group of nerds (led by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) must learn to work together so they can defeat the megalomaniacal tech firm run by a guy who doesn’t even like gaming (Ben Mendelsohn).

What? Misfit kids teaming up to learn from a master nerd and beat the suits? Smells like Spielberg!

Ready Player One is a celebration of gamer culture in the same way that The Lego Movie indulged in the sheer joy of building with Legos. It is also an 80s pop culture nerd’s wet dream. You want to see a guy wearing Buckaroo Banzai’s while driving Marty McFly’s DeLorean romance a girl on Tron’s bike or run across a bridge made of the Iron Giant? Done.

Want to know what the Zemeckis Cube does? (Bill and Ted know.)

The entire assortment of John Hughesisms is set to righteous beats from Bruce to Blondie.

And that’s where the film could easily have become fluffy nonsense were it not for the genius move of taking an 80s fanboy icon (Spielberg) and allowing him to simply provide an undiluted version of every nostalgic gimmick he has ever hatched.

Every time he borrows from himself or leans on old tendencies—tendencies he’s been trying to shed since 1985’s The Color Purple—it feels like it’s meant to be.

It’s basically a Spielberg movie inside an ode to Spielberg movies.

Plus, oh my God I want a The Shining video game!

Unfortunately, that’s all it really is. The performances are hammy fun but certainly not revelatory. The story is thin enough that it doesn’t get in the way of all the cool FX and callbacks. You’ve seen it all before, you just haven’t seen it quite this unabashed, with frame after frame nearly bursting with the exuberance of some kid whose parents just demanded he put down that homework, crank up the tunes and start gaming already!

Change of Direction


by Hope Madden

Brit filmmaker Christopher Smith has some tricks up his sleeve.

The director/sometimes writer is willing to try most anything in the genre – from medical horror (2004’s Creep) to period horror (2010’s Black Death) to brilliant, blistering and woefully underseen horror comedy (2006’s Severance).

But he takes a harder left than usual with his latest, Detour – a noir-esque road picture with revenge on its mind.

Well-cast and enjoyably pulpy, the film follows Harper (Tye Sheridan) – law student and all around good kid – as he spins a dangerous web. He blames his stepdad (Stephen Moyer) for his mother’s coma, backing himself into a deal with local no-goodnicks Johnny Ray and Cherry (Emory Cohen and Bel Powley, respectively).

Twice the film winks toward the great Paul Newman neo-noir Harper as well as Strangers on a Train, then pulls more blatantly from Edgar Ulmer’s 1945 noir Detour. But Smith’s Detour feels more like style over substance than it does hard boiled or twisty.

Sheridan cuts a believably innocent figure, and Harper’s drunken ramblings are a hoot. Cohen – such a peach in last year’s Brooklyn – finely articulates the hot-headed, coked-out but ultimately wounded Johnny, while Powley manages to bring more than just a rosy pout to her under-developed but intriguing character.

Detour also litters the dusty road trip from Cali to Vegas with some weirdly compelling characters, chief among them Frank (John Lynch – so creepy!).

But Smith just does better when he’s working with another writer.

At a pivotal moment in Harper’s story, Smith brings in the split screen, drawing attention to a conversation – a little anecdote about conscience – Harper and Johnny Ray shared over loads of liquor the evening before.

Here’s where Smith’s directing outshines his writing.

With the split screen comes the mystery and the provocative notion that Smith is building then rebuilding the story. But the story can’t keep up, and in the end the split screen is little more than a gimmick – a great looking one, but a gimmick nonetheless.

Early clues are too tidy, later choices far sloppier, the resolution neither cynical nor satisfying enough to tie things up.

That’s not to say Detour is a total miss, just that it doesn’t live up to its potential.


Be Prepared

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

by Hope Madden

“Do you know what’s cooler than cool? Scouting!”

OK, maybe not, but Boy Scouts are exactly the people you need on your zombie survival team. Who doesn’t know that? They know how to tie knots properly, they can forage, find their way around in the woods, and they’re handy. They’re prepared. Duh.

Director Christopher Landon, working with a team of writers, puts this wickedly logical premise into action with his new horror comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.

The only three scouts left in Scout Leader Rogers’s (a characteristically wacky David Koechner) troop are at a crossroads. Augie (Joey Morgan) thinks scouting is the best. “Scouts forever!”

Carter (Logan Miller) wants to ditch the uniforms and badges before their high school reputations are ruined forever. “Junior year is the year all the girls become sluts!”

Ben (Tye Sheridan) is torn between both really convincing arguments.

And then zombies overrun the town and they’re glad 1) they weren’t invited to the super-secret cool kids’ party, and 2) they have mad scouting skills.

After a series of really impressive dramatic turns (The Tree of Life, Mud, Joe), Sheridan shoulders the lead in this coming-of-age comedy quite well. He’s a talented actor, able to fill out what could have been a one-dimensional good guy role.

Both Miller and Morgan fit the bill as the goofball sidekicks, while pros like Koechner and Cloris Leachman fill out the rank and putrid ensemble. (Not the actors – their characters.)

The film will win no feminism badges, but a story told from the point of view of three 15-year-old boys should probably be preoccupied with boobs and other assorted whatnot.

This is not a family film, though – make no mistake. This is definitely an R-rated movie, but for all its juvenile preoccupations and vulgar body horror, a childlike sweetness runs through it that keeps it forever fun to watch.

Says Augie upon entering a girl’s bedroom, “It smells like pixie stix and hope in here.”

Cleverly written, directed with a keen eye toward detail and pacing, brimming with laughs, gore, friendship, and dismembered appendages – but utterly lacking in cynicism or irony – it’s a blast of a film with a lot to offer.



Write it Down, Nic Cage Acts


by Hope Madden

After seven years of exploring the big budget, big star world of Hollywood, filmmaker David Gordon Green revisits his ultra indie roots. He hasn’t returned alone, though. For his newest effort, Joe, he brought with him Hollywood staple and Internet joke Nicolas Cage. And God bless him for it.

As the eponymous Joe, Cage reminds us that he picked up that Oscar for a reason. He dials down the bug-eyed mania of many recent efforts in favor of a textured performance that emphasizes his natural chemistry with other actors, his vulnerability and barely caged rage, and his weirdly charming sense of humor.

Joe’s a good-hearted guy with a lot of issues, a volcano that’s never fully dormant. It’s part and parcel for a sun dappled, visually lovely film absolutely saturated in violence. While Joe bursts into less outright carnage than many films, the pervasive dread that violence could erupt at any second is the very air the film breathes.

In the middle of this modern Wild West atmosphere, Joe befriends a boy in need of a mentor. Gary is played by the increasingly impressive Tye Sheridan. With just three roles under his belt – Tree of Life, Mud, and Joe – Sheridan has proven to be an amazing natural talent. In his hands, Gary’s youthful exuberance is equal parts darling and tragic, given his circumstances. Sheridan’s performance is amazing, and his repartee with Cage is perfect.

Both are helped by an excellent ensemble, many of them nonprofessional actors. One particular stand out is a sinister Ronnie Gene Blevins as the oily Willie. But no one in the film can outshine street performer turned actor Gary Poulter. His turn as Gary’s drunken father offers more layers than anything a seasoned actor has offered yet this year, each one as believable as it is shocking. His performance is stunning, and it elevates the film immeasurably.

The film is not without its faults. Several characters are severely underdeveloped given their ultimate place in the story, and there are times when Cage cannot match the naturalism of the performers around him. The film also suffers from its resemblance to Mud, Sheridan’s 2012 cinematic of coming-of-age poetry.

But Green’s once-trademark touches – meandering storyline, poetic score, bruised masculinity – are in full bloom as he reworks Larry Brown’s novel into his own unique vision of low income Americans’ melancholy struggle. In doing so, he’s reestablished not only his own artistic authority, but Cage’s as well.