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Let Me Make You A Martyr

bBh3JFx6eRMEhLEQxCB48u-oE3wrJRO3TKkSIXKO_vYAfter a lifetime of neglect and abuse, Drew Glass (Niko Nicotera) returns home to wreak havoc upon his druglord father (Mark Boone Junior). But ol’ Larry catches wind of his boy’s scheme and calls in a hit (Marilyn Manson).

Let Me Make You A Martyr offers a mixed narrative on backwoods retribution and spiritual redemption. I guess?

What wants to be another No Country for Old Men turned out to be a poorly-paced thriller with very little payoff. Though Drew’s vigilante path had a promising premise, the execution felt too loose and frankly too convenient.

Nicotera and Boone are formidable in their roles, but that’s about it. Manson’s character, Pope, seems intriguing because he prowls like the shark in Jaws. It could also be argued that Pope’s a literal stand-in for Death: he’s starkly pale, dressed in black, and the only way to find him is by crossing a river after bargaining at the gate. If only his performance was as alluring. Additionally, the supporting cast leaves much to be desired.

It’s just not that good.

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The Revenant

Well, the Oscar noms are out (well, have been for a bit – sorry I haven’t been around), and The Revenant has swept the charts. Admittedly, I’m not one to rush out and try to see all the nominated films before the big event, but regardless of the buzz, this was definitely on my list.

So, does DiCaprio scream, cry and drool enough for that Oscar?

maxresdefault

Maybe.

A few things to get out of the way: yes, this is inspired by a book by the same title – I have not read this book, so I will pretend it does not exist. Likewise with the Richard Harris film also inspired by said book. No comparisons will be made, and there are no previous biases – even though I am a sucker for Iñárritu’s style. And Tom Hardy – but that’s besides the point.

The Revenant is a story of trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), and an expedition that goes terribly, terribly wrong; after a brutal grizzly attack, Glass is left for dead after witnessing fellow trapper, John Fitzgerald (Hardy), murdering his son. Struck with grief and rage, Glass finds the will to survive the wilderness and seek his revengeance.

Survivalist stories are often meant to display the determination of man against the elements, often while displaying the internal journey of said man finding meaning and purpose set against the wild.

What makes The Revenant stand out is not only is one of the most ferociously realistic portrayals of wilderness, but thanks to the haunting use of sound and space, as a viewer you feel completely vulnerable. The Revenant is two-and-a-half hours of sheer brutality, as we witness a man struggle against every kind of conflict.

It’s not all gore and manly men. Well, okay, most of it is. However, betwixt the utter savagery, Iñárritu captures Glass’ internal journey beautifully.

What is also worth mentioning is despite Fitzgerald’s seemingly villainous actions, he’s not exactly a villain. In fact, there is really no black and white in terms of morality in this film (except for those Frenchmen), it’s just 1800s dog-eat-dog survivalism – constantly reminding you that nature is scary and does not care about your feelings.

In all, The Revenant is not an easy watch, but it is certainly unforgettable.

Final Grade: A

Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a misogynistic, alcoholic cokehead with a penchant for kinky sex and sick mind games. He’s also a police officer. Usually tormenting his friends and coworkers, he now focuses his energy on the chance at a promotion on the force, with only an unsolved murder standing in his way. Naturally, chaos ensues when the twisted web he weaves inevitably collapses on him, forcing Bruce to finally come to terms with himself.

Sort of.

Thank you.

Thank you.

This was probably one of the best McAvoy performances I’ve seen – he’s just this raw psychotic force, and you just love to hate this character. And then when those tender moments hit, they hit hard, but not in a way unbelievable for the character.

However regardless of the strong character study, Filth seems to be suffering from an identity crisis – most noticeably, throughout the film there are numerous references to A Clockwork Orange (with an explicit 2001: A Space Odyssey reference thrown in for good measure). What perplexes me about this choice is that though I appreciate a good reference, I really don’t understand why they chose to use them so continuously.

"Awake at last, yes?"

“Awake at last, yes?”

It’s neat for trivia and I suppose it helps frame Robertson’s mental frailty, but on the whole it feels like reference for the sake of reference – Alex DeLarge and Bruce Robertson are very different people, and both stories have very different commentaries (and it’s not like the film/book are on Robertson’s mind or in the background).

I mean, I guess some points could be argued, but I better stop myself from diving further into an infinite Kubrick loop. I bring this up because I feel by using these references so overtly, it draws away from the real originality (as if it already wasn’t fighting away from being another Trainspotting).

Overall, I felt that Filth was a raunchy good time, despite the identity crisis. Sure it gets really dark fairly quickly, but that’s what I expected, and wanted. After seeing this movie, I actually want to read the book. So I say come for the McAvoy and stay for the ride.

Final Grade: A-

Netfix: Mud

I’ll come out and say it: I dig the McConaissance. Coined by the New Yorker through Dallas Buyers hype, it was believed that Magic Mike was the film to kick off this star’s return. Personally, I think it started before that, with smaller titles such as Bernie and Killer Joe. Soon after came a little gem now available on Netflix, Mud.

"I dare you to touch the butt."

“That’s a pretty big butt.”

Mud is a charming little coming-of-age drama about a pair of friends in De Witt, Arkansas, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). These boys spend their days riding around the Arkansas River, selling fish and talking about boobies. One day Neckbone discovers a mystical boat stuck in a tree. The boys decide to claim the boat to themselves, until they find it’s already home to a mysterious drifter called Mud (McConaughey).

Mud tells the boys that he’s returned to De Witt to find his lost love, asking them for food in exchange for the boat. The boys oblige, only to find that the law also has it out for their new friend. Meanwhile, Ellis has entered a delicate phase, leaving him to question his moral standing on love and good and evil.

L-I-V-I-N

L-I-V-I-N

Mud adheres to the charm and sensibility of Stand By Me, met with the mild burn of Southern Comfort. It’s really quite mushy if you think about it – Ellis is witnessing each stage of love lost, whether it’s his parents’, Mud and Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), or his soul-crushing encounter with his first lady-friend. Of course, childhood love stories are boring without a little gunfire.

The Good
As wonderfully shot as it is acted, Mud is an incredibly enjoyable film wrought with originality.

Pure evil.

Pure evil.

The Bad
I hate the play this card, but all of the women are the cause of all the pain and misery to be had. The only saving grace is when Ellis’ father tells him, “Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.” We then proceed to witness a more dynamic shift in the mother’s portrayal in order to make her more empathetic.

Granted, Ellis spends the most time with his father and they’re going through a separation, so obviously Senior’s view is going to be skewed. Then again, both Ellis’ girlfriend and Juniper do some mean, nasty things – poor Ellis can’t seem to catch a break.

The Alright, Alright, Alright
Despite my beef about the ladies, Mud is a great watch. Even through the grit and heartbreak, the end of Mud’s story is nothing short of satisfying.

Nymphomaniac: Volumes I & II

nymphomaniac-poster

Subtle.

At last Lars von Trier’s “Depression Trilogy” has come to a close. First, the infamous Antichrist, then the underrated Melancholia, and now Nymphomaniac – a story so explicit, it had to be split into two volumes.

Nymphomaniac is the epic of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed well, nymphomaniac, whose addiction has spun entirely out of control. She is found  by a gentleman named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård), to whom she recants her tantalizing tale. Fortunately for yours truly, both volumes have been released for rental on iTunes, so I was able to watch both parts sequentially. Unfortunately for everyone else, spoilers abound.

Volume I
The first volume establishes Joe’s self-discovery and self-proclaimed loss of innocence. Pushing her towards redemption, Seligman challenges many of Joe’s constructs and muses her tale with various digressions.  This provides a unique story-telling experience for the audience, filled with metaphors and allegory – a technique not unfamiliar to von Trier’s other works. So if you were worried that you wouldn’t get enough abrupt cuts and odd cutaways, no need.

Speaking of von Trier tropes, Volume I does not hesitate to remind audiences of his crippling mommy issues. It is quickly established that not only is mostly everyone a terrible person in this film (except maybe Joe’s dad, good job Christian Slater), but the women of Volume I are the worst. However, it would be inappropriate to dwell on a gender study so soon, so we’ll save that for later.

Pictured: Mommy issues.

Pictured: Mommy issues.

Quite frankly, Volume I establishes a fantastic mix of eroticism, intensity, and in a word, emptiness. Joe has established that in her youth, her sole purpose was to rebel against love, which in her mind is only a combination of lust and jealousy. However, she’s questioning her beliefs once she realizes that she’s become obsessed with Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf – save your boo’s, he’s not that bad in this), the boy she had lost her virginity to years before.

"The secret ingredient to sex is love."

“The secret ingredient to sex is love.” – B

The commentary on relationships and love games was most refreshing. Personally, I felt like I could connect with the fact that Nymphomaniac calls out the cliched bullshit behind most love stories. Instead we’re presented with something tantalizing, confusing, and at times just plain ugly.

When Jerôme suddenly leaves her life unexpectedly, Joe copes the only way she knows how, by hooking up with enough men to lose count. Of course, this behavior doesn’t come without a price, as she learns when she meets a lover’s wife, Mrs. H (Uma Thurman).

It is clear that Mrs. H’s role was to wake Joe up from her somnambulistic state – and Thurman’s performance was enough to do the same for the audience. As the very personification of desperation and despair (but still humorously empathetic), Thurman’s electric.  She had maybe five or ten minutes of screen-time tops, but she was completely memorable.

Volume I sets an ideal stage for the rest of Joe’s story – a roller coaster of erotic ups and downs, ecstasy and disgust. Just when things seem to go so well, a dramatic turn is destined to follow. Enter –

Volume II
Once Joe discovers she needs a harder fix, it is clear that she has descended into her own personal Inferno of kinks and deprecation. That is, until she can put her skills to good use. Volume II establishes a new breed of hunger. When Joe must rekindle her spark, so to speak, she soon delves into the seedy underworld of sadomasochism, while her family is forced to pay the price (almost getting a little too close to Antichrist). But soon with therapy and a new job, Joe finds herself more empowered than ever – an indestructible force to be reckoned with. That is, until she falls in love again.

I could think of worse pet names.

I could think of worse pet names.

I feel that Volume II focuses more on a matured dichotomy – that line between being controlled and being in control – expression and oppression. Throughout this chapter Joe becomes more comfortable with herself, while Seligman becomes increasingly, and more subtly, insidious. This duality cannot be more appropriate, considering  the nature of addiction itself. More so, the story ends with the notion that the traumas in Joe’s life are destined to continue, based on choice alone.

Oh right, the gender stuff.

In the beginning, Joe admits that her only real sin was to desire more from the sunset. Seligman notes that desire is natural, and as a woman, she’s really not a bad person, making a point that if Joe were actually a man, most of her adventures would hardly be unusual. But because she is a woman, her actions have caused her more guilt and hardship than it would a man, presumably.

Prelude-to-a-Wholesome-EveningThere is congruent criticism on male sexuality as well, considering the how far men such as Jerôme and K (Jamie Bell) are willing to go in order to not be belittled by a woman who clearly has the upper-hand – not to mention N (Kookie – seriously, that’s the guy’s name on IMDB) and his brother, two men who are want to have sex with the same woman at once, but decide not to because when their dicks accidentally touch it’s icky.

I could probably go on about the gender dynamics in this feature, but maybe that’s best for another time.

For those who believe that Lars von Trier has simply made an epic porno, you are grossly mistaken. Nymphomaniac is an erotic drama about addiction that pushes every taboo to its limit, and it is damn proud of it. Sometimes hard to watch and even more difficult to look away, Nymphomaniac will certainly leave you something to think about.

Final Grade: A

WYSHW: Red State

The Westboro Baptist Church has been the subject of much anger and controversy – duly so, considering these pious cretins have gone to the point of brainwashing children in order to protest funerals in the name of “God hates Fags.” This fascinating bunch is also the subject of many-a documentary and exclusive interview, not to mention inspiration for fictional backlash.

Enter chatterbox, filmmaker and all-around groovy cat Kevin Smith, a man not unfamiliar with religious satire. Inspired by leader Fred Phelps’ fanaticism, Smith drafted Red State, a tale in which a group of horny teens get caught up with some dastardly fundamentalists. Shenanigans most brutal ensue as the boys try to escape this backwoods fortress.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Pictured: shenanigans.

Red State is a pretty wicked experience. And an impressive one at that, considering that no one wanted to touch this picture. Of course, with controversial topics comes much well, controversy, so needless to say opinions on this flick were mixed. Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck hailed the film, whereas many-a-critic were felt that they were either bored, grossed out, or didn’t care for being preached at. As for me? Well obviously I think it’s worth at least checking out.

Showtime.

Showtime.

Frankly, I really dug this story. Perhaps I got a little caught up in the topical nature of figuratively attacking groups such as the Westboros (or in this case, the Five Points Trinity Church), but there’s something primally satisfying about a bloodbath of a showdown. And considering we’re dealing with a story of escape and survival – complete with sudden, heat of the moment turns – that just makes the situation all the more captivating.

I think my favorite aspect of this film, other than the concept itself, is the performances. Veteran actor Michael Parks nails this role as Abin Cooper – a man of charisma and tyranny. Personally, my favorite kind of villain is one I can love to hate, and Parks does not disappoint. Likewise, John Goodman and Melissa Leo give solid performances as the good-guy agent and the lady you want to punch in the face, respectively.

Intense, gritty, with a bit of dark humor tossed in there – Red State is worth a go if you’re in the mood for a decent shoot-em-up horror. Personally, I would have liked to see how the original ending would have turned out, but I think what they went with does the job nicely. Next time on What You Should Have Watched ….mmm Tom Hardy.

Prisoners

God-fearing survivalist suits him.

God-fearing survivalist suits him.

During a Thanksgiving outing, two young girls, Joy Birch and Anna Dover, go missing from their quiet suburb. As days go by, the police are forced to release the only suspect due to a lack of evidence. The resulting demand for answers forces the family members to descend into their own private hells. Desperate for resolve, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes it upon himself to do the unthinkable in order to find his daughter. Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) also breaks to the point of obsession as he faces the guilt wrought by these suffering families.

Prisoners is simply a solid, visceral film. The labyrinth motif makes its way through every facet of the story, to the point where it almost makes you want to throw up. Almost, considering how the concepts transcends through the literal and internal. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just mazes for the sake of mazes: we’re talking about some twisted psyches here – which leads me to the presentation of the film.

Dano plays this character with both sympathy and malice. Dude's underrated.

Dano plays this character with in a manner which earns both sympathy and malice. Dude’s underrated.

I found the plot structure admirable, considering that it does not play out like the average kidnapping suspense. The pace is slow (sometimes a little too slow), building and calculative, and you essentially only get the story from Loki or Duller’s perspective (okay, except for this one time), which better draws the viewer into this descent.

I found the story (as well as its finer details) not only to be original, but also believable. For instance, when Keller tortures suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the torture is sloppy, brutal, and honestly frightening. Keller is practically a living portrait of desperation. Furthermore, we’re met with a new breed of killer – not just a rehashing of real life horrors.

Gripping and unapologetic, Prisoners is a fantastic suspense feature. And though the payoff isn’t as explosive as the usual American thriller (I just wanted a bit more exposition – maybe I’m just greedy),  the original mythos and the momentum of the piece is something truly admirable.

Final Grade: A

Can I Tell You Something About Bears?

Hobo with a Shotgun was one of those movies that I knew I would fall in love with as soon as I heard the title. And guess what – I friggen love this movie. At first, it seems like this movie might be destined for failure, only because it looks like the type that will simply try too hard to be edgy and gross. Personally, I don’t think so.

I'm glad this happened to Rutger Hauer.

I’m so glad Rutger Hauer was cast in this.

The story of Hobo with a Shotgun begins with our protagonist, a nameless hobo, entering a wrecked city once known as “Hope Town,” aptly renamed to “Scum Town.” As Hobo trudges through, he is quickly introduced to the depravity and corruption that makes Scum Town ticked, and finds himself outraged that such inhumanity can exist. After befriending a mean-well hooker, Hobo decides to stand up to the injustices of Scum Town, armed with nothing but a shotgun. After the murder of many ne’er do wells, Hobo earns the attention of Scum Town’s overseer, The Drake, a ruthless drug lord. It soon becomes an epic battle royale between our vagabond vigilante and The Drake’s hit-men, The Plague.

Trivia: The Plague is such a key part of Scum Town's mythos, you can see someone playing a Plague-themed game in the arcade.

TriviaHobo features a Plague-themed arcade game – they are that deeply embedded into the town’s mythos.

I’m not saying that Hobo isn’t absolutely ridiculous, because it totally is. But what makes someone such as myself appreciate such a cultastic piece of film is the amount of thought and effort to be both referential to exploitation films of old while being completely twisted and original. Scum Town isn’t just any derelict city – this place has rules and consequences. Totally messed up rules and consequences, but a system none the less. When subjected to Scum Town’s cruelties, we soon root for this newcomer – its’ a simple formula, but it works.

Personally, I think there’s an undeniable charm to this film, considering the efforts made to reference older goresploitation/cult films such as Mark of the Devil, Cannibal Holocaust and Dead Alive – from themes, to the music – even the color scheme pops out in true technicolor. Additionally, given the performances, you can tell everyone involved were having a blast making this thing, which as we know always plays well onscreen.

Perhaps the greatest moment of this film is Rutger Hauer’s soliloquy – not since Roy Batty’s “Tears in the Rain” speech have I been so moved.

This movie has some really fantastic one-liners – many of which I cannot say in public. Gory, vulgar, what-have-you Hobo with a Shotgun is the type of movie you want to watch when you just want something fun to watch that’s completely kickass.  So whenever you’re in the mood for over-the-top vigilante justice, give Hobo a shot – just remember, when life hands you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered with razor blades.

WYSHW Double-Feature: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths

Like I said last time, I want to give Martin McDonagh some lovin’, so here it is, my (very) brief analysis/review of two very underrated dark action comedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

"In fucking Bruges."

“In fucking Bruges.”

 

In Bruges

In Bruges is an assassin story unlike any other.  After a rookie (Colin Farrel) accidentally murders a child in his path, the big man sends him off to recuperate in kitschy Bruges, Belgium – only to have him killed off.  We are presented a classic game of cat and mouse but with some weird twists, involving film making, tourists, suicide, and dwarfs.

It’s easy to see how a film like this can be seen as a cult hit: it had a limited theatrical release in combination with a layered bait-and-switch plot which doesn’t fail to satisfy.  Admittedly, the ending is wide open, but never-the-less enjoyable.  Simply put, there isn’t another film out there like this one, at least, not that I can think of.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

Featuring a bunny-loving Tom Waits.

 

Seven Psychopaths

… That is, until Seven Psychopaths came along.  Granted, SP does have a bigger budget and greater star power, but it’s still inexplicably weird.  Most of you may recall the trailer focusing more on the dog-napping plot, but like In Bruges the actual story is much more layered.

The focus is actually on a struggling screen-writer (again, Colin Farrel) trying to put together a story that will blow people away, basing it on lives of those he considers to be “psychopaths.”  The result is an action-comedy-meta-explosion (metasplosion?).  The film itself was fairly successful, though it received mixed reviews.  Perhaps some people just thought it was too strange – I say it gives the movie flavor. Seven Psychopaths is a good time all around, but there is still heart – you just have to find it.

Both of these films are wonderful and gritty in their own right, and ultimately incredibly surprising.  If you were looking for a typical shoot em’ up, I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.  Now if you were after entertaining crime thrillers sprinkled with existentialist themes, you’ve come to the right place – and you’re among friends.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, Bill Murray.

Killer Joe, Revisited

You may not know of this fellow, but you should. He’s Brad Jones, the Cinema Snob, and I tend to value his opinion, even if I don’t always agree.  He recently released his list of his favorite films of last year, one of which was Killer Joe.

I honestly didn’t know much about this film, but once Brad brought it up I was curious (even if it was #8), especially after we received a ton of copies of this movie at work – a movie supposedly rated NC-17 – that’s a rarity for Blockbuster. I just finished this film, and I gotta say, it’s something.

Finger-lickin' good.

Finger-lickin’ good.

Matthew McConaughey plays a hired killer contacted by Chris (Emile Hirsch), who teams up with his family to kill his mother to collect her insurance money. There’s a snag and all hell breaks loose – you get the picture.  And Emile Hirsch gets his face smashed in with a can of pumpkin pie filling.

Killer Joe is probably one of the more demented American films I’ve seen in a while – something that breeds southern charm with raw grit, giving us a story of murder and family ties most unusual.  And I’ll agree with Brad here, Joe deserves the NC-17.

What makes this film so remarkable, other than its brutal content, is the performances.  I never thought I’d say this, but Matthew McConaughey gives a terrifyingly intense performance. And then there’s Thomas Hayden Church – his performance was so oddly real –  he served as a great comic relief that wasn’t too distracting. He was just a dumb kind of guy – a real good ol’ boy.

Overall, I think Killer Joe, or as I like to call it, Redneck Fargo, deserves a higher spot on the list – or is at least worth checking out.

Sorry I haven’t updated in a while, things have been crazy-busy at my end, which means very little time for Oscars, let alone hitting up the theatres for that matter. On the upside, I have been a busy little bee plowing away at my thesis, which is a video essay sure to appear later. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience, and I hope to have more stuff up soon.