Shotgun Stories on TCM

The debut film of Arkansas-born director Jeff Nichols, Shotgun Stories (2007) is a genuine American independent film. It was shot outside of the studio system by a young filmmaker who drew from the character and lifestyle of the rural Arkansas settings – as well as his own life growing up in Arkansas – to offer a different way of life than we usually see in films through a movie that moves at its own pace.

The story revolves around three adult brothers–Son, Kid and Boy–in a rural Arkansas “dead-ass town” (in the words of the characters) who hold on to each other because they have no other family to speak of. Their abusive, alcoholic father walked out on them decades before and then, after getting religion and becoming respectable, started a new family with another woman. The former wife, an angry, bitter woman, raised her sons to hate their father and their estranged half-brothers, the boys who enjoy a close bond with their father. Shotgun Stories opens in the wake of the father’s death, which brings the old resentments to the surface and prompts the eldest brother, Son (Michael Shannon), to speak his mind at the family funeral. His public display of contempt stirs the resentments to action and the grudge becomes a family feud that, inevitably, leads to violence.

The themes could play out as classic tragedy by way of the Hatfield and McCoy’s clan war but the film remains modestly focused on the people and their lives. This is not about righteous vengeance (despite the Bible-belt backdrop), but long-simmering anger and resentment spilling out with fatal consequences. “You raised us to hate those boys, and we do. And now it’s come to this,” Son confesses to his mother as he continues down the road of revenge, almost helpless to stop himself. Nichols keeps almost all of the violence off screen, suggesting the escalation in discreet shots and loaded images. He’s more interested in the people as they push the conflict to greater levels and then face the physical and emotional consequences of the escalating war.

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Shotgun Stories plays on Monday, May 2 on TCM

DVDs for 04/13/10 – Pirate Radio, the Missing Person and a whole lotta Nightmares

Richard Curtis’s Pirate Radio (Universal), a tribute to the pirate radio stations that broadcast rock and roll from the ships off the British coast when rock music (and, in fact, all pre-recorded music) was restricted on BBC stations in the mid-sixties, is a perfectly enjoyable comedy that never strays beyond its playlist of colorful personalities and comic antics.

Philip Seymour Hoffman rocks the boat

There’s no political meat in its satire of the British government or any real story in the episodic succession of events, and its portrait of the (pop) culture of the time is really just a movie fantasy. But the cast (which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost and Bill Nighy, who proves himself once again the funniest deadpan on Earth) is good company, the film has a killer soundtrack (the British title of the film is “The Boat that Rocked,” and it does) and you get to hear Kenneth Branagh (as the ultimate petty bureaucrat determined not to let anyone have any fun) say “Twatt” and “Clitt” (the unfortunate names of his immediate subordinates) repeatedly. As I wrote above, it’s episodic and there’s another 45 minutes of deleted episodes (not just cut scenes but complete sequences) in the supplements. The Blu-ray has a bunch of inconsequential bonus featurettes as well. I review it for MSN here.

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