What movie was that...?

29 September 2012

The Grey

directed by Joe Carnahan

Mostly, I could care less about Joe Carnahan. Narc? Ehh. Smokin’ Aces? Ugh. The only reason I love Ticker so much is because it’s part of the amazing BMW’s The Hire film series. Oh yeah- The A-Team… This doesn’t mean that Joe Carnahan is not a capable director, it just means that his films generally aren’t the type of fare that blow my hair back. But with The Grey, Carnahan has found a way to scale back his indulgent style and allows the pared down tale of survival to shine. Shine isn’t exactly the right word, as most of the film exists in a cold, sinister dark, salted occasionally by a bleak, depressive gloom. This is the rough, ghostly void of the Alaskan wilderness, and thanks to Carnahan and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, I haven’t felt such a marrow chilling cold since John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s a survival film at its core, but the film finds a way to flesh out the shells of men attempting to leverage themselves from under the thumb of Mother Nature. The men in question (a wonderful Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney, among them) are the few survivors of a plane crash left with little else than to clutch at whatever cosmic threads keep them going. Hunting the men is a pack of wolves determined to eradicate the foreign threat invading their territory, plain and simple. Liam Neeson delivers a great performance as Ottway, the reluctant, grim leader with a past that, despite Carnahan’s best efforts, seems disjointed and intrusive whenever it pokes its nose into the narrative. The Grey works best when the elements wear you down alongside the men, and like Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, you begin to doubt why you are even pulling for these men to survive from one bloody skirmish to the next. But it’s the elemental, primitive need to survive that keeps you going, keeps you doggedly, exhaustingly rooting for triumph, if simply not dying can be described as triumph. The film is a very masculine film (for better or worse), full of testosterone and aggression like The Thing or John Boorman’s Deliverance, but ultimately I didn’t see it as a negative. What makes this concept successful is novelty of the context, as it deals with a small group of men trapped in a kind of vacuum, and as a notable tragedy I will say there are a depressingly small amount of films comprised entirely of women that deal with similar subject matter (Neil Marshall’s The Descent is perhaps one of the finest examples around). At the risk of spoiling anything, I will say that though I find it very unnecessary (the film is stronger without it), there is a final post-credits scene. But The Grey has made me hopeful to see what’s next for Carnahan.

PS At the very least (and many other reviews have pointed out this tidbit), giving this film a shot will afford you the chance to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf in the face. So that’s pretty sweet…
I'll have you know, wolf, that I possess a very particular set of skills: wolf punching, wallet gathering, grumbling crossly, among others...

17 September 2012

Stress (a Justice music video)

directed by Romain Gavras

Romain Gavras the artist is a lot of things. An aggressive provocateur. An instigator. A visionary. Check his videography and you’ll find hardcore examples of what comprises a phenomenal music video (M.I.A.’s Bad Girls video), what it takes to elevate a commercial into an art form (both his Boxing and All In Adidas commercials), and just how visceral film can be. Gavras seeks to evoke gut reactions with his filmic art, adding charged imagery to an idea like a gas to a fire. Perhaps his most controversial work, a video for Justice’s Stress, follows a group of youths from the banlieu of Paris as they cut a swath of terror, violence and destruction across a black and white cityscape. Those of you who are familiar with the remarkable Mathieu Kassovitz film La Haine will recognize much in terms of style and tone, but while Kassovitz sought to humanize the culture of impoverished, disenfranchised French youth on the outskirts of society (quite literally), Gavras seems to want to wield them like a weapon. Stress opens on a group of French kids, all rocking jackets carrying the trademark Justice Cruciform, as they converge ominously to form a kind of reckless cyclone of savagery and rage. They break things, accost strangers, commit myriad acts of vandalism and destruction of property (public and private), and all with a volatile and menacing sense of hatred toward a world that has marginalized them. The video’s climax finds the kids setting a stolen car on fire, then stomping the cameraman and leaving the scene. After a prolonged blackout, scrambled voices (of, presumably, the kids) shout “Does filming this get you off, you S.O.B.?”
To contextualize this video for those of you who have no idea what a banlieu is (aka Americans), imagine a bunch of pissed of kids from Detroit’s east side stomping through the suburbs like a swarm of insects, exacting a kind of cosmic revenge on the very culture that has put a proverbial boot on their collective throats. In Stress, the Justice jackets march through Paris with what seems to be a very specific purpose, which is to wreak havoc, and the fact that the symbol of their gang is a cross that represents both the music group (named Justice, hint) as well as a brutal tool of public execution (Jesus, hello?) is a juicy bit of imagery in itself, and I will leave that to you, good reader, to mull over. The controversy surrounding Stress upon its release was that it seemed to appear sans context (this was in the earlier days of YouTube), and thus had no point of view. The flaw in that line of thinking is the assumption that one has to buy into a context (literally or figuratively) in order to glean meaning from a work of art. Is it only art if it’s in a museum with a little plastic plaque next to it? Is it only a great film if it gets the Criterion treatment? Does it have to sound pleasing to be music? If your answer to these questions is a firm “hell no”,  then Stress is a powerful indictment of a social structure that has pushed whole groups so far to the edge that the only way to be seen is to brandish a big stick. Art is often challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, and with Stress, Gavras has crafted a rough and audacious conjecture to answer the old saying that if you ignore it, it will go away. 
The video for Stress, in case you are interested...

And his Adidas commercial, All In...

If those didn't kick you in the ass, I don't know what would.

13 September 2012

The Ambassador

directed by Mads Brügger

Mads Brügger is perhaps my favorite kind of documentarian: cocksure, brazen, a person so determined to uncover truth that he hardly has the time to thinly veil his arrogance. In short, Brügger is like Lars Von Trier (whose company Zentropa produces Brügger’s works, btw). In The Red Chapel, Brügger guises himself as a comedy troupe manager and Kim Jong Il sympathizer to visit North Korea in an attempt to undermine a culture forged by fear and intolerance. In The Ambassador, Brügger rocks a faux diplomat personae (that consists mostly of awesomely outrageous outfits a Rocky & Bullwinkle villain might wear) as he ventures to Central Africa posing as a Liberian consul, attempting to discover the underworld of treachery known to us Westerners as the blood diamond trade. Once in the CAR (Central African Republic), Brügger uses falsified papers obtained from Willem the pissed off Dutchman (see the comments section of my review of The Red Chapel for clarification) to gain access to a world populated by unscrupulous and corrupt opportunists ranging from crooked diamond miners all the way up to entire political bodies who, at every turn, seem either apathetic to their country’s misery or menacingly determined to keep Africa’s infrastructure in a shambles. As Brügger’s ruse of building a match factory drags him deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, his quest to obtain genuine conflict diamonds is eclipsed by a sense of moral disorientation. And as he discovers that there is, in fact, no honor among thieves, he begins to lose sight of his original goal. This is where film begins to unravel as well, leaving us with a sense of losing our grip on the eel’s neck. Ultimately, The Ambassador is able to shine a very small light on a very large problem, but it cannot reveal the wizard of Oz, so to speak (a promise Brügger seemed to imply in his narration). Not as satisfying as I had hoped, but a wild and worthy ride nonetheless, Mads Brügger shows once again that he is a force to be reckoned with and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

12 September 2012

Tyrannosaur

directed by Paddy Considine

I was supremely bummed when Paddy Considine’s phenomenal film about a down and out friendship between a volatile fuckup and a quiet shop owner with demons of her own garnered no love from the dear old Academy, but it doesn’t change the fact that Tyrannosaur is a must see and one of the finest films of 2011. In fact, I realized after referencing it in my review of Justin Kurzel’s amazing Snowtown that I never reviewed it myself. For shame, BC! Anyway, aside from being confidently and excellently directed by Considine (who still makes me laugh audibly as the mustachioed Detective Andy Wainwright in Hot Fuzz), the film is shatteringly acted by both Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman. Mullan and Colman share a strained yet sincere chemistry with one another that rings truer than any flowery romcom Hollywood can regurgitate onto the silver screen. I know that many of you may diverge from my view with regard to this, but I always find film relationships like this much more affecting and much more believable than all the Noahs and Allies Hollywood can cook up, a sentiment that has found me on the defending end of such statements as “Natural Born Killers is one of the best love stories of our generation,” or “of course Richie and Margot Tenenbaum can love one another!” At the risk of that last statement sounding a bit too Cassavetian- weird, BC. You just referenced The Notebook and pseudo-incest. To which Nick Cassavetes blunder are you referring? (Touché, good reader)- thusly I shall return to the point: relationships and romance like the one found in films like Tyrannosaur speak to me in more profound ways than the more generic, traditionally desired type. And Mullan’s talent is staggering as he explodes and implodes as Joe, a full time loser with a miniscule fuse. It is only through the quiet, timid efforts of the equally damaged Hannah (a superbly heart breaking Olivia Colman) that the two begin to find something that resembles hopefulness. The film tips over the edge in Bellflower-esque fashion at times, but the sum of its parts is a tough yet wonderful film, a definite contender on anyone’s “must see” lists.

11 September 2012

Snowtown

directed by Justin Kurzel

It is a rare thing for a film so quiet to terrify me so deeply, but Justin Kurzel’s debut feature about the true story of Australian serial killer John Bunting was a stunner that chilled me to my very core. Afterward, I had to watch the first three seasons of Danger Mouse in their entirety whilst listening to Japandroids to soothe the shock of the first bathroom sequence (during which I nearly hyperventilated myself into a spasm), but Kurzel’s atmospheric classic is a must see, indeed. While Kurzel is very effective in creating atmosphere, and I always respect a film that gives itself room breathe over those that insist on clipping along, I felt the film could use a little tightening up here and there (though I was very satisfied with the purposefully muddled and enmeshed group of characters orbiting the Bunting sun). After doing some research (we don’t hear much about foreign, non-political mass murderers here in the US. We have plenty of our own…), I see that Kurzel isn’t so much concerned with making a point by point docudrama as he is in exploring the world of a psychopath via the Bunting story. Bunting surrounds himself with those he can control, bending people to his will with a smile and a glare that will freeze your blood. Though much credit belongs to Kurzel for his talent, almost equal praise is owed Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting with the cunning and disarming intensity of a heartless predator. At first glance, he is nothing more than a stout loudmouth, one easily and quickly disregarded in everyday life, but as he feeds (literally and figuratively) young Jamie Vlassakis (a wonderfully muted Lucas Pittaway) his own brand of ideology, we begin to see Bunting as a master manipulator grooming a pupil for his own brand of justice. Bunting’s inner circle is a group of sub-blue collar ne’er-do-wells who bemoan the current state of injustices under which they suffer, guided (by Bunting’s insinuations) to vaguely conclude that someone should take up where the legal system leaves off. One of the big questions Kurzel poses with his film is whether Jamie Vlassakis (who met Bunting as a teenager) was less a collaborator and more a victim in his own rite. Kurzel’s bleak, impoverished Aussie suburb is reminiscent of Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur or Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in that you feel the oppressive weight of this world as it saps even the most sunny optimist's ability to find the good in anything. Snowtown is a dark corridor of the human condition, a film that will bore its way inside and rear up into your conscious mind in unnerving ways. In other words, it’s the kind of film I live to see. 

07 September 2012

Midnights at The Main: The Crow

directed by Alex Proyas
There ain't no comin' back, man!
For those of you who want to answer yes to the age old question, "Are we havin' fun or what?" need look no further than The Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak this Friday and Saturday night. The classic Alex Proyas film The Crow, starring Brandon Lee as hometown legend Eric Draven, will be playing at midnight on both nights, proving that when T Bird said, "There ain't no comin' back," he clearly wasn't referring to The Crow. I  am secretly hoping to run into Mr. James O'Barr, but at the very least I will get to see an amazing film on the big screen one more time. If you're in the neighborhood, come on down.