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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Titane

Friday, October 8th, 2021

TITANE is the ferociously unbridled, Palme d’Or winning second film from RAW director Julia Decournau. It’s bizarre and it’s intense and if you’ve heard anything about it you probly heard about an outlandish thing involving a motor vehicle that happens early in the movie. But regardless, if it’s something you’re expecting to see I recommend not reading anything about it, including this review, until afterwards.

If you should be turning back but haven’t yet, here’s the vague version. I’ve seen it called a horror movie, but it fits existing horror templates considerably less than even RAW did. I would describe it as more like a relationship drama in a surreal world, with a lead character who is intensely flawed, strange, and yet human. It has that transgressive non-literal adult situation that the Bible would be against had the technology existed at the time, some horrific violence, and some nightmarish violations of existing biological function. (I think the term “body horror” has become too much of a cliche so I’m trying to come up with new ways to say it when necessary.) But it settles down (sort of) into a story about extremely broken people finding each other and the miracle of unconditional love.

Seriously, just go watch the movie because if you don’t I’m about to ruin it by giving you the plot in the form of a TV Guide listing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Raw

Friday, October 1st, 2021

RAW is a 2016 French-Belgian movie I’ve been planning to see for years. All I knew is that it was something about cannibalism, directed by a woman (Julia Ducournau), supposedly made people faint at film festivals (haven’t we all?), and is beloved by many horror loving friends and critics, especially women. With Ducournau’s new one TITANE looking very promising even before it won the Palme d’Or (the trailer makes it look like Cronenberg meets Tarantino meets THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) I figured I better catch up.

This is a great movie. The directorial confidence is immediately striking, but you have to flow with it a while to realize just how original it is, how much it doesn’t follow any existing template. Ducournau told The Guardian “It’s not even a horror movie, even though I love horror movies.” It’s a coming of age story about a young woman starting college, with very relatable emotions painted in extreme, horrific strokes. It definitely doesn’t follow any traditional genre structure. But Justine’s school troubles include some repulsive body horror, some gore, and yes, some munching on flesh. We’re not talking Leatherface style – more like impulsive biting. Snacking, really. The simplicity of it, and the time it takes leading up to it, investing us in the people who do it, is what makes it harder to take than in so many other movies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cry Macho

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021

CRY MACHO is the new one starring and directed by Mr. Clint Eastwood. In a way it seems like a movie he would’ve made when he was younger, and in fact he almost did make it in the late ‘80s, but decided to do THE DEAD POOL instead. I think making it now it ended up much gentler than it would’ve back then, for better or worse. Although it has some things in common with THE MULE (goofy old widower driving over the border into Mexico, going to a scary villa of criminals, driving around in a truck, getting chased by gunmen and cops) it’s a simpler story and production. As a result it might have fewer things people can pick out to laugh at, but also less that’s really original or interesting about it.

That’s okay. It’s an actor in his ‘90s directing himself during a pandemic. As far as those go it’s a fuckin masterpiece. I enjoyed it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Riders of Justice

Monday, September 20th, 2021

I think RIDERS OF JUSTICE, a Danish film technically released in November 2020, is my favorite movie I’ve seen this year. It plays off of some genre traditions and themes that interest me, but it feels unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it was exciting to discover that as I watched it. So this is one of the reviews where I have to start by suggesting you take my word for it that it’s a truly special movie, stop reading, go watch it, and then come back. But I know most people won’t do that, so I’ll start by explaining what the movie is and warn you before I get into heavy spoiler stuff to analyze the meaning with those who have seen it.

From the description on the box this sounds like a straight up revenge movie, which you know I would be down for. Markus (a heavily bearded Mads Mikkelsen, VALHALLA RISING) is a soldier pulled off duty in Afghanistan to take care of his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) after his wife (Anne Birgitte Lind) dies in a train crash. Then a survivor of the crash tells him it might not have been an accident, so they put together a team of computer experts and try to track down who’s responsible.

That is indeed the basic plot, and Markus does end up using his particular set of skills (mostly shooting) on a whole bunch of people. But I wouldn’t really say that’s what this is about. It’s not even about “Revenge will only make things worse,” even though it does illustrate that and deconstruct some of the relevant tropes pretty thoroughly. But I swear to you it’s something much more thoughtful, complex and soulful than just a revenge or anti-revenge movie, as much as I tend to enjoy those sorts of things. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Card Counter

Thursday, September 16th, 2021

THE CARD COUNTER is the new one from writer/director Paul Schrader, with Oscar Isaac (THE BOURNE LEGACY) taking his turn as the Schraderian anti-hero. Like so many of these characters, William Tell (as he calls himself) is a troubled man with an unusual and lonely lifestyle, who narrates his story in the form of diary entries, telling us about his normal routine before things go horribly wrong.

In some ways he hearkens back to (non-narrating, from what I remember) Richard Gere in AMERICAN GIGOLO, because he’s handsome, and neatly dressed and coifed. On the surface he seems charismatic and sociable, especially compared to most of the other people in his circle as a professional gambler.

Like the title says, he can count cards. He explains the concept of it – keeping track of the cards being played to calculate his odds, saving larger bets for when they lean in his favor. He explains how he travels around to different casinos, telling us his strategies for different games, and his philosophy of making enough money to keep going but not enough to get the casinos after him. I’m not a cards guy or a gambling guy so I don’t really give a shit if some of it is wrong (as I read some claim). I’m happy to accept that he knows what he’s talking about, and I can follow enough of it to get by. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barton Fink

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

“He’s poor, this wrestler! He’s had struggle!”


It used to be that August was a time for studios to release a bunch of movies they thought were bad or didn’t have high expectations for. You know, they release ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES and T2 early in the summer, hoping young people and families will go repeatedly throughout the summer. Once it gets closer to school starting up again there’s less chance for that, so that’s why in the year in question we were seeing weird rooster cartoons and weird dog cartoons and weird dog live action movies and weird Mickey Rourke movies.

Many things in the world of pop culture were shifting that month. While on the Lollapalooza tour, long-time goth fixtures Siouxsie and the Banshees actually actually made it onto the Billboard charts for “Kiss Them For Me.” (By the next summer they’d have a song in a Batman movie.) Pearl Jam released their first album. LaKeith Stanfield was born. But also Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do” love theme from ROBIN HOOD was still the #1 song!

This particular August ended with kind of a whimper – CHILD’S PLAY 3 (still the weakest Chucky movie four sequels later) was released on the 30th. But I thought I should end this review series on the August 21, 1991 release that happens to be one of the weirdest but also best regarded movies of the season. If I had to compare it to another ’91 movie I’d have to say it reminds me most of THE DARK BACKWARD, of all things. Well, and I case some fire stunts reminded me of BACKDRAFT. But those are stretches. This one stands alone. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Commitments

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

August 14, 1991

THE COMMITMENTS is the story of a wannabe music manager in Dublin convincing his friends (all white) to put together a soul cover band. The conceit is that ’60s soul music is beautiful and “honest,” that working class Dubliners have more in common than they realize with the African-Americans who created this music, and that the novelty of white Irish people pouring their hearts into these beloved songs would be a cute and fun way to celebrate them in the context of a comical underdog story.

This is one of Mrs. Vern’s favorite movies, so I wanted to be open to it, but I definitely rejected the idea at the time, not taking any serious offense or anything but just under the belief that at best white singers can do pretty good soul music. Dusty Springfield was a one off and Amy Winehouse was 9 years old at the time so it just seemed delusional. I imagined some kind of “let’s all clap for these white people pulling off pretty good soul music” story of triumph for people who don’t generally listen to the real thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Blue Lagoon / Return to the Blue Lagoon

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

In my study of Summer of 1991 and especially it’s part 2s, I didn’t think I could skip RETURN TO THE BLUE LAGOON. But I had never seen the first film – 1980’s THE BLUE LAGOON – so I had to watch that first.

Based on the 1908 novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole (previously filmed in 1923 and 1949), it’s an adventure and, I’m sorry to say, romance. Sorry because it’s between two teenage cousins who grow up stranded on a tropical island together. Even aside from the incest thing, they literally don’t know any other humans, how romantic is it gonna be that they choose each other?

It’s a period piece in the Victorian period, which we only know from the boat at the beginning. Richard and Emmeline are little kids. Emmeline’s parents have died, and her uncle, Richard’s dad (William Daniels, MARLOWE), is taking them to San Francisco. It is established that Richard is already a horny little bastard – he sneaks a peak at the cook’s collection of nudie photos and gets spanked for it. But there’s a fire onboard and only the kids and the grumpy cook, Paddy (Leo McKern, DAMIEN: OMEN II), escape on a life boat. (read the rest of this shit…)

Pig

Monday, July 19th, 2021

PIG is an unusual new Nicolas Cage joint that I was happy to have as my second post-vaccination theatrical experience. But this one is about as different from an F9 type spectacle as can be achieved by science. When you see the trailer or hear the premise (somebody steals Nic Cage’s truffle pig and he goes to the city to get it back) you might think about TOM YUM GOONG/THE PROTECTOR (where somebody steals Tony Jaa’s baby elephant and he goes to the city to get it back) or maybe JOHN WICK (where somebody kills Keanu’s dog and he goes on a rampage to get back at them). The truth is that it only shares the emotional center of those ideas (people form bonds with and assign meaning to their animal companions) – it’s decidedly not an action movie or even a revenge thriller. It’s a slow burn character piece and parable that doesn’t even have much violence, and will probly be pretty boring to some people, especially if they came in with the wrong idea. But it was just what I wanted.

Cage’s character Rob is a loner who lives in a cabin in the woods somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon. He seems very enamored of his nameless pig, who comes when he whistles and helps him dig up truffles in the forest. When he makes himself a “rustic mushroom tart” for dinner he shares it with her. The rest of the truffles he puts in a cooler to sell to the young hot shot Amir (Alex Wolff, HEREDITARY), who drives in every Thursday in his bitchin’ yellow Camaro. It feels like a drug transaction. Amir tries to make conversation, but Rob doesn’t so much as grunt. (read the rest of this shit…)

Straight Out of Brooklyn

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN was a little $450,000 movie that The Samuel Goldwyn Company released on 5 screens over Memorial Day weekend, 1991. Some time after that it expanded up to 75 screens, and it made $2.7 million dollars on that small budget. Roger Ebert reviewed it on June 28th (he liked it).

You will not not notice how low that budget is. At its slickest, STRAIGHT OUT OF BROOKLYN seems like an early ‘80s TV movie, as the saccharine orchestral score by Harold Wheeler (arranger and producer, Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk by Meco) plays over dark, grainy establishing shots of New York City buildings.

At its cheesiest it looks like a filmed community college play, with straight-on shots of family drama at a dinner table or a man looking in a mirror giving a long monologue to a white man he argued with at the gas station earlier.

At its best, though, it’s a time capsule of the Red Hook housing projects, where the director grew up, and of an exciting young actor giving a great first performance, even if he’s saying pretty on-the-nose stuff about The American Dream and shit as he points accusingly to the Manhattan skyline.

(read the rest of this shit…)