Monday, April 2, 2018

2017 in the Teens pt. 4

Remember - Atom Egoyan - Very deliberately paced and maybe a hard sell - Christopher Plummer as a dementia-stricken widower on a revenge mission against an Auschwitz guard Martin Landau helped him track down online - but if you can stick with it for a slow first half this thing really simmers and then scalds at the end. Watch for it to seriously pick up about the time Dean Norris shows up. Best thing Egoyan's turned out in a while.

Rhymes For Young Ghouls - Jeff Barnaby - Fuckin sharp crime coming of age story about an Indian girl on a Canadian reservation in 1976 who deals drugs and lives with her uncle after losing her entire family to tragic events. When her father returns from a long stretch in prison and her money is stolen by a corrupt Indian agent she finds herself reconsidering her life while plotting revenge and engaging in efforts to recover her money. Familiar plot elements feel fresh because of the context and the period setting. I could've kept going with this one a long way. Would love to see more of this type and quality level set in this world.

Ruby Ridge Barak Goodman - Featuring a lot of the same footage used in Goodman's Oklahoma City doc this one feels almost like a side-note to the other that became a rabbit-hole too engrossing to keep. And really, I think it's the more interesting of the two (though a third one on Waco would make for a terrific trilogy, sir). I grew up around folks who could easily have been the Weavers - devout and sincerely religious, but not trusting of Christian or governmental authorities - and their tragedy speaks to me on a deep level. Fucking timely doc about paranoid people inviting their doom and the rise of authoritarianism and bumble-fuck bureaucracy. Compelling, terrifying stuff.

The Runaway - David Richards - Based on the novel by Martina Cole this miniseries spans several years of the 60s and 70s in London's SoHo district. Jack O'Connell and Joanna Vanderham play sibling lovers torn apart and brought back together by violent circumstances. Alan Cumming gets to perform in drag.
Shangri-La Suite - Eddie O'Keefe - Mental ward escapees and lovers on the run Jack and Karen (Luke Grimes and Emily Browning) have a mission - or at least Jack does - to kill Elvis Presley. Narrated by Burt Reynolds and shot on an ultra-stylized shoestring it makes the most of its stars' good looks and attitude to produce something at once familiar and fresh. Particularly revelatory here is Ron Livingston as Elvis - washed up and hungry to be reborn performing spirituals in the sequin jumpsuited, mutton-chopped Las Vegas version of the former king of rock 'n roll. I could've watched an hour of outtakes of Livingston/Presley and it was particularly nice to see Grimes in something worthwhile - seems like he's got charisma to burn, but is always the sacrifice on a shitty altar. O'Keefe's got my attention - what's next?

A Siberian Education -  Gabriele Salvatores - Jeez, I haven't been so mixed on a movie in a long time. The story and setting are terrific, but just about every bit of storytelling - from the performances to the screenplay to the mostly bad musical cues - is pretty poor... or tone deaf is maybe a better word. Once in a while a transcendent moment occurs, but generally it's a slog which is a shame because there's a lot of potential in the material. I'd be all for a remake this time.
Sleepless - Baran bo Odar - As english-language remakes of foreign films go, this one isn't really terrible, but it still suffers from coming from a superior source (Sleepless Night). Jamie Foxx as a dirty cop in Las Vegas whose kidnapped son is being held in a casino by a gangster whose cocaine Foxx and his partner just ripped off. The action takes place over the course of a single night as Michelle Monohan's IA cop is just one more variable added to the mix of elements. Supporting cast includes Scoot McNairy, Dermot Mulroney and T.I. Odar also directed The Silence and his Netflix original import Dark is on my radar.

Stoker - Park Chan-wook - For his first english-language effort Chan-wook switches up from gritty urban revenge flicks to stately gothic atmospherics from a script by Wentworth Miller and seemingly inspired in part by Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. This time Uncle Charlie is played by Matthew Goode and Mia Wasikowska is his niece - Nicole Kidman rounds out the creepy family. Chan-wook returned to South Korea for his next picture - the lush period revenge/romance The Handmaiden. Who knows if he'll ever come west again, but I take Stoker and The Handmaiden as encouraging evidence that he escaped un-tainted by Hollywood.

Suburbicon - George Clooney - Rewritten to some degree by director Clooney and Grant Heslov from an original script by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen it plays a little like Noah Hawley's Fargo TV show - like the entire body of Coen work thrown in a blender and then repurposed for an homage - only far less successful. Roughly two-thirds of the movie concern Matt Damon as a man in debt to organized crime figures who conspires with his sister in law (Julian Moore) to murder his wife (also Moore) for the insurance money while the remaining screen time concerns Damon's new neighbors (Kamirah Westbrook and Leith M. Burke), the only black family to live in the 1959 idyll of Suburbicon who face relentless and increasingly hostile pressure from their white neighbors to leave. The two parts never quite combine into a cohesive whole and the murder plotline is the one that interests me for this blog and the one I most enjoyed. It's nastier than I thought I was in for, and it's perversely funny too - especially the supporting players. Alex Hassell and Glen Fleshler as the thugs, Gary Basaraba as the Catholic brother in law, Oscar Isaac as the insurance investigator and Ellen Crawford as Damon's secretary are all worth their paychecks. Unfortunately the film isn't strong enough to recommend right out, in fact it's a head-scratcher of a failure in several ways, but if you're a Coen completist you'll probably enjoy spotting bits of Fargo, Blood Simple, Barton Fink, Burn After Reading, A Serious Man and No Country For Old Men in there. Probably worth seeing for Fleshler's final scene alone.

Taboo - Chips Hardy, Tom Hardy, Steven Knight - Knight, the writer of Dirty Pretty Things and Easter Promises and creator of Peaky Blinders teams with Blinders co-star Hardy (as well as Hardy Jr.'s father) to bring another historical seamy London underworld tale with a lot of familiar elements in a bold new mix. Hardy plays James Delaney a prodigal son, believed long dead, who returns to London when his father dies and upends the lives of his everyone who was counting on controlling the fortune and assets left by the deceased. What follows is a revenge tale, with elements of espionage, black magic, cannibalism and incest/romance. I'll be checking out season 2.

Tell - J.M.R. Luna - In an alternate reality Jason Lee became a big star and nobody thought it was weird. In this one he has to occasionally show up in cheapies like this one to remind us we don't live in an alternate reality where he's a big star. Milo Ventimiglia is handsome and unable to do much with the material and Katee Sackhoff deserves better.

Three - Johnnie To - During a police raid a criminal shoots himself forcing the cops to hospitalize rather than jail him in an attempt to stall for time and give his gang time to set up a rescue. In the emergency room tensions between hospital staff and police run high while the gangster plays them off of each other. It's a bit of a drag setting this one up, but the climactic rescue/shoot out are fucking stylish as hell and while not quite making up for having to sit through the first two-thirds of the run time goes a long way toward galvanizing To's reputation as the most stylish Hong Kong mayhem maestro since John Woo.

Tickled - David Farrier, Dylan Reeve - The fact that I'm talking about this documentary about a journalist trying to cover the 'sport' of competitive endurance tickling on a crime blog is probably more spoiler than I'd want to give you, but holy crap, please watch this doc without Googling anything about it. Save that shit for afterward. You'll want to. Pretty twisted and twisty story.

Top of the Lake: China Girl - Jane Campion, Gerard Lee - Top of the Lake was first screened at festivals as a long feature film and then released as a miniseries on Sundance which accounted for some of the awkward pacing/cutting into episodes, but the second season/sequel is more tailored for episodic TV. It features everything there was to dig about the original (minus, of course, some outstanding characters who didn't survive). The relentless parade of men demonstrating horrendous sexual behavior on the show might seem cartoonish were it not merely an echo of the daily headlines from the most 'respectable' levels of society today. Yeesh. Kudos to David Dencik for bringing the creep big this time around.

Tower - Keith Maitland - An animated documentary about the 1966 tower shootings on the University of Texas in Austin campus. Probably a case of expectations set too high after the heaps of critical praise this one got last year, but... outside of an undeniably cool aesthetic I didn't think this one had much to offer. Probably could've been a kick-ass 30 minute film, but my human connection to the story was lost somewhere in after that mark.

Trainspotting 2 - Danny Boyle - Getting the Trainspotting gang back together without getting much more than a nudge from Irvine Welsh's novel sequel Porno was a dubious proposition, but perhaps fitting to the attitude of the characters to take sudden sideways jumps away from the clutches of expectations. Unfortunately what they ended up in was a film about growing up and taking responsibility for their wayward lives. The best moments are all in the opening twenty minutes including Robert Carlyle escaping from prison and Ewan McGregor interrupting Ewan Bremmer's suicide. Choosing neither to glamorize the lifestyles of junkies nor entirely embrace the general rottenness of the characters so appealing (to watch) in their youth, T2 emerges a somewhat commercially cynical Gen-X Big Chill. IT's fun to see the piss taken out of them, but rather than revealing that piss was all there ever was, we're asked to imagine the possibility of good ends.

Twin Peaks: The Return - David Lynch, Mark Frost - Twenty five years after Cooper was trapped in the Black Lodge his earthly doppleganger senses his time is about up and makes moves to evade the mysterious powers that balance the universe and consolidate the power he's accrued through criminal enterprise during the interim quarter century. Coop ends up returned to the world, but seemingly in another body belonging to Dougie - a corporate drone with a family, a regular hooker and ties to Las Vegas underworld figures. The two Coopers move in concentric circles toward confrontation and Coop/Dougie finds a Laura Palmer lookalike he intends to rescue while killer Bob's nuclear roots are explored - seems to be suggested that atomic bomb testing in the American southwest opened a gateway between dimensions kicking off the whole Twin Peaks saga... or at least that's my months later summation of 18 hours of delightfully, confoundingly obtuse medium-busting audio-visual art from Lynch and Frost. There's plenty here to review and dig into, but I'd be plenty happy to keep going all the same. Doesn't really feel anything like the original TV series - much more similar to the feature film Fire Walk With Me, but perhaps best considered as a collection of vignettes and experiments where questions are far more important than answers.

Ugly - Anurag Kashyup - A celebrity's daughter is abducted from his parked car during his portion of custody and he scrambles to find her while his ex-wife, the police and everybody else treat him with suspicion. Even through the barriers of culture and language some of the black humor shows and by the time the whole sordid affair has concluded - people are dead, nobody's in a better place - we have the sense of having witnessed tragedy the full dimensions of which are just beyond our grasp (and we're grateful for that). Satirical celebrity thriller with gritzly locale and atmosphere and a climax that lands like William Gay's The Paperhanger - oof. Kashyup is a force to be reckoned with.

Very Big Shot - Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya - In Lebanon a drug dealer uses a bakery and then a movie production to launder and facilitate his real business. The mix of gritty crime thriller and show-business comedy doesn't always succeed, but the exotic setting and local color make for a highly watchable film.

Wheelman - Jeremy Rush Frank Grillo is the titular driver for heist gone bad realizes he's been double crossed and spends a frantic night trying to set things right. Ambitious concept shooting the entirety of the picture within or within sight of the car it allows for creative action staging as well as fresh perspective to familiar action sequences and provides a believable way to keep the budget manageable by staying with Grillo in almost real-time. It's not Locke though - there are supporting players including Shea Whigham, Garret Dillahunt and Slaine peppered throughout to keep things lively. That this one finishes fourth in Netflix original crime films of the year speaks to the strength of the argument that Netflix is the destination for the kind of low and mid-budget crime fare that I'm partial to.

Wild Bill - Dexter Fletcher - Bill is just out of prison and looking to leave behind his hard drinking, violence-prone reputation. He wants to be left alone, but finds he's saddled with children who've never really known him and former criminal cohorts who don't want to leave him be. Can he pull it together and pull through without resorting to the roots of his reputation? Probably not. Checked this one out after Adam Howe wrote about it for the Man Out of Prison series and damn, am I glad I did. It's got real heart beneath the marketing angle that seems to make it out to be a slick Guy Ritchie knock off.
Wild Card - Simon West - Nobody really knows what else to do with Jason Statham outside of ridiculous action flicks or comedies that play up his super tough image... but God bless him, he keeps trying to find another angle. This has got to be one of the weirdest attempts to do something else with his bullet-head though. An adaptation of William Goldman's novel Heat (which was adapted once before with Burt Reynolds in the role) about a compulsive gambler who can't stay out of debt and who rents himself out as muscle for hire. It's funny, it's not so funny. It's got action set pieces, it wants to be a loser character study. It mostly doesn't work, but there are flashes of potential here and there that hint at better possibilities and make me want to watch it again just to see imagine what it could have been or what Statham or hell even Simon (Con Air, The Expendables, The Mechanic) West might really be itching to do. Supporting cast includes Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, Jason Alexander, Milo Ventimiglia, Sofia Vergara and Max Cassella.

Wind River - Taylor Sheridan - Appropriately moody and invested in its victims, but not really a noir... unless you take into account its fatalism about the populace of the titular Wyoming Indian reserve and treat it as a tour of life in the margins. It's a fine procedural that pulls one of the more hotly contentious moves Sheridan's script for Sicario also did, though this time it doesn't feel as jarring due to establishing Jeremy Renner as the main character early on.

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