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Review: David Gordon Green’s ‘Joe:’ The gritty return of Nicolas Cage

Remember that annoying kid in “American Beauty” who films the plastic bag and yammers on about how gorgeous it is and you think yes, it is lovely and you have a good eye for the allure of the quotidian, but can you please shut up before you get punched?

David Gordon Green is that guy minus the self-congratulatory junk, plus a weird, vibrant sense of humor. This is in no way a knock.

The Austin director (and his longtime cinematographer, fellow Austinite Tim Orr) love the look of light in nature, love meandering around to capture it in a hand-held, documentary style.

This sort of thing is all over the sometimes grittily gorgeous, sometimes despairing “Joe.” Based on the 1991 novel by the late Southern realist writer Larry Brown, “Joe,” with a story transferred from Mississippi to Texas, was shot around Austin and Bastrop.

Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage) knows who he is but has a tough time knowing exactly what to do with that knowledge. A hard man, he’s in charge of a mostly African-America crew whose semi-legal job it is to poison trees so they can be felled for a lumber company (the trees can’t be cut down, they have to die “naturally”). Joe gets along with his employees, and they seem OK with him.

But with a criminal past and a fondness for booze, Joe needs to keep an eye on his own penchant for trouble. It’s Cage’s best work in years; he subsumes his natural oddness under a Brown-like, lower-working-class persona to excellent effect.

Into Joe’s life wanders Gary (Tye Sheridan), a neglected and abused teenager trying to support his nearly destitute family, which is headed by an alcoholic father, Wade (an astonishing performance from homeless Austinite Gary Poulter, who had long struggled with addiction and died last February).

Joe reluctantly lets Gary join the crew, who are totally fine with Gary as long as he works hard, which he does. “Keep it real with Joe,” says the foreman, essayed note-perfectly by Sam’s BBQ owner Brian May. Members of the work crew were played by local day laborers, and character moments involving them feel largely improvised.

Sheridan — who in his young career has already worked with Green, Jeff Nichols in the the similarly Texas-noirish “Mud” and Terrence Malick in “Tree of Life” — is terrific as Gary, equal parts careful resilience and constant heartbreak. Wade is a horrible man capable of great violence — one gets the impression that Gary just happens to be the nearest warm body for Wade to attack — but Gary can’t help but feel pride in getting a job that will help his family, especially his near-silent sister.

Green has proven himself strong in a wide variety of modes and tones. He can do big-budget studio comedies (the successful “Pineapple Express,” the ignored “Your Highness”), advertisements (the inadvertently political “Halftime in America” ad for Chrysler) and innovative sitcoms (“Chozen,” “Eastbound and Down”).

Here, as with his smaller films such as “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow” and “Prince Avalanche,” Green moves the film along in elliptical fashion.

The strongest moments are those that feel loosest, be it the crew goofing off at lunch or Joe and Gary hanging out, figuring out what makes the other tick. Ultimately, the plot feels second to a well-executed, beautifully shot look at various struggles around class, opportunity and crushing rural poverty.

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  • Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend — but not by choice. Under court order, the tobacco industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. But years of legal push back by the industry over every detail means the ads will be less hard-hitting than what was proposed. Tobacco control experts say the campaign — built around network TV and newspapers — will not reach people when they are young and most likely to start smoking. “Their legal strategy is always obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time,” said Ruth Malone, of the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied the industry for 20 years. “So by the time this was finally settled, newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?” The new spots, which begin Sunday, lay out the toll of smoking in blunt text and voiceover statements: “More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol, combined.” Companies will also acknowledge their role in making cigarettes addictive: “Cigarette companies intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”
  • On Black Friday, you’ll want to know which items to stand in line for, and which items to buy after the holiday season has passed. You can end up saving a lot of money (and time) by shopping smart as you weave your way through the crowds or shop online. They may not be the sexiest of gifts, but small and large home appliances often are priced to sell on Black Friday. From electric mixers and coffeemakers to refrigerators and dishwashers, says it’s worth checking out the deals on these items on Black Friday.While some analysts say January, leading up to the Super Bowl, is the best time to find a television at a good price, there are still plenty of TV deals on Black Friday. Keep in mind that lower-end models tend to be priced the most competitively, making Black Friday the perfect time to pick up a television for a second bedroom or the kids’ room. If you are looking for a high-end television, it’s better to wait until after Black Friday.: Shoppers will find many basic laptop models at bargain-basement prices on Black Friday. Power users looking for good deals on high-end laptops should wait until after Black Friday.The same logic applies to tablets. There will be plenty of Black Friday doorbusters featuring basic tablet models; just don’t expect steep discounts on iPads.says gaming system bundles should receive good discounts on Black Friday. In years past, gaming system bundles have been priced up to $50 off the regular price on Black Friday. The furniture sales cycle resets in the summer, so if you wait until Black Friday, you won’t be getting the best deals, according to . And while buying outdoor furniture in winter might seem like a wise plan, retail experts say most of that merchandise has been removed from the floor to make room for holiday items by Black Friday, so you won’t find great deals on the remaining products. Unless your child is hoping for one of this year’s hottest toys, it’s actually better to wait until Cyber Monday or early December to shop for toys, according to . The toy that is priced up to half-off on Black Friday may end up being priced up to 75 percent off if you wait.Avoid spending your shopping money on winter clothing during Black Friday, because it generally sells at a much deeper discount soon after the holiday season ends. You might think that the best time to purchase workout equipment is during Black Friday, but the biggest deals on fitness equipment actually take place right after the turn of the new year.: You can still get your husband that tool set he’s been wanting for Christmas, just wait to purchase it until December, when tools and equipment sell for the largest discounts.There are rarely good deals on gift card purchases on Black Friday. The Street says this is because gift cards are the gift choice of procrastinators, so wait until just before Christmas to score better deals. Although you might want to buy a few special ornaments or decorations for your house on Black Friday, plan ahead by purchasing next year’s décor right after Christmas, when seasonal items are sold at clearance prices.
  • A U.S. Navy aircraft with 11 people on board has crashed into the Pacific Ocean, officials said Wednesday. >> Click here or scroll down for the latest updates >> Read more trending news
  • For those wanting the traditional Thanksgiving feast but who can’t, or don’t want to, do the cooking there are a few restaurants in Tulsa that traditionally use the holiday as a way to thank their customers by offering a free meal. In Tulsa, Tally's Good Food Café at 11th and Yale has offered free Thanksgiving for 30 years; they'll feed people from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Owner Tally Alame tells KRMG he loves Thanksgiving, and loves throwing his doors open to all comers on the holiday. “Coming originally from Lebanon, I experienced Thanksgiving when I came to the country here, and it has to be my favorite time of the year. You can look back and see everything that we are thankful for, and so I just want to share my gratitude with my customers.” This year, he’s also thankful that his success is about to lead to a second location, at 61st and Sheridan. He had hoped to have it opened by Thanksgiving, but says he’ll have to delay until (tentatively) December 11th. Duffy’s Restaurant at 706 S. Elm Place will serve its free meal from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Owner Eddie Chammat tells KRMG it’s about thanking his customers, but also about providing a welcoming place for those who might otherwise be alone on the holiday. Batman's at Pine and Mingo offers free Subway Sandwiches and pie from 11:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
  • There is no snow in the immediate forecast, but that doesn't mean the city of Broken Arrow isn't hard at work getting ready for all contingencies. Communications Director Krista Flasch says street crews are going over routes and preparing for snow and ice. “Before people even think about winter weather, our crews are out there checking equipment and making sure it’s in working order,” Flasch said.  Broken Arrow has purchased three new snow plows to replace ones that were no longer working. They also have a new sand spreader. Flasch adds they’re also making sure the city and the school district are on the same page. The city may be ready for winter storms, but most residents we spoke to are hoping it will hold off.  One woman says there is no point in preparing for the snow in this state.  “We’re not really prepared at all,” the woman said.  “Oklahoma’s weather is really unpredictable, so we’re going to go with the flow.” Are you prepared for winter weather?  Let us know in the comments.