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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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  • Responding to concerns about personal security for lawmakers after last week’s gun attack at a Congressional baseball practice, U.S. House leaders are moving to provide extra money to members for protection back home, as well as new funding to bolster the work of police and security officials on Capitol Hill. Under a plan approved by a House spending subcommittee on Friday, the Congress would provide an extra $7.5 million next year to the Capitol Police for an “increased security posture” around the Capitol, along with $5 million to the House Sergeant at Arms to help with security for lawmakers back in their districts. “We are taking a new fresh look at security,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), the Chairman of subcommittee that deals with funding for the Legislative Branch. Our FY18 Legislative Branch funding bill increases efficiency & transparency in Congress, enhances security for Members & our constituents. pic.twitter.com/FI36tF2XeH — Rep. Kevin Yoder (@RepKevinYoder) June 22, 2017 “The tragic events of June 14 weigh heavily on these deliberations,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which could vote on the extra money as early as this next week. Also being put into motion is a separate plan to funnel an extra $25,000 to each member of the House – about $11 million in all – to help them increase security back in their districts. “The scariest part for us is there used to be this impression by the public that we all had security everywhere we went,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). “Now, everyone knows that isn’t the case,” Ryan added, as he lent his support to the extra funding for security as well. The money in this budget bill would not take effect until the new fiscal year – which starts October 1 – so, House leaders are ready to okay extra money immediately for members worried about security back in their districts. Roll Call newspaper reported that could be approved in coming days by the House Administration Committee. Yoder said Congressional leaders are also waiting to see if money raised in campaign contributions for House elections could be put to use for security as well. “Pending an FEC (Federal Election Commission) decision, we’re also looking at whether campaign funds could be used to continue to support security upgrades at personal residences,” Yoder added.
  • An unknown aged girl went to the hospital with burns to her legs, following an overnight house fire. KRMG’s told the fire started around 2:40 a.m., at a residence on West 50th Court North. The homeowner says he was able to get his daughter, grand daughter and sleeping brother out of the house. So far, firefighters haven't released a cause for the fire.  The homeowner believes fumes from a gas can in the garage may have cause the blaze.   
  • Multiple people had to be rescued early Saturday morning in Rogers County. OTEMS paramedics report a boat started to sink on Oologah Lake just after midnight. “Additional information was received that the boat had its nose in the air, four individuals were in the water, and only one was wearing a PDF (personal flotation device),” an official said. “A Rogers County Deputy spotted what might be the boat south of Winganon Bridge but was unable to determine the precise location. However it was located by the Northwest Water Rescue unit and at 0048 hours the rescue boat reported that it had located the victims and was loading the fourth individual into the boat.” KRMG’s told the victims were hanging onto the hull when they were found. So far, no injuries have been reported.  Officials also haven’t released any names.   We do know the Oklahoma Highway Patrol has taken over the investigation.  
  • Tulsa investigators are looking for a driver who fled the scene, after hitting a male pedestrian late Friday night. Police report the auto-pedestrian collision happened around 11:34 p.m., near East Admiral and North Yale. “The pedestrian victim has been declared deceased at this time,” police said.   Investigators don't have a description of the driver or the car.  Anyone with information regarding the incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 918-596-COPS.
  • We know this might start an argument, but according to Business Insider, Oklahoma's most famous band EVER is the Flaming Lips. Business Insider admits the song 'She Don't Use Jelly' is the Norman-based indie rockers only U.S. hit. But they say the band has had many hits in the U.K. and Europe and, even more impressive, three Grammys to their credit. Some on the list are hard to argue with, like Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band in New Jersey or Nirvana in Washington State. You can see the entire list of the most famous bands here.