Archive for September 2011
Whether you think he’s one of the most original voices in contemporary film or if you think he jumped the shark years back, Red State at least plays against the expected norms of what a Kevin Smith film is.
The opening scenes aren’t full of potential. Three teenagers head out to a remote caravan in search of sex with an older women, only to be drugged and held captive in a desolate church. Just as things progress from borderline American Pie dudeisms to Hostel-style nastiness, the cult’s leader (the presumably ironically cast Michael Parks) embarks upon a hate-filled sermon which introduces the collective’s philosophy. Which is fine, until he talks and talks… and talks, eventually ruining any momentum that had escalated.
Red State is rescued as Smith throws all manner of elements into the mix. Travis’s (Michael Angarano) attempts to escape are captured with sharp nerved intensity, while the church’s accompanying compound falls under a lengthy siege with the ATF and local police (lead by a presumably ironically cast John Goodman, who doesn’t move too swiftly); satire so heavy-handed that Red State might as well have been titled Waco: A Comedy.
What this equates to in practice is little more than a running battle which possesses a palpable sense of panic and uncertainty, accompanied by some trademark Smith witticisms. What it actually says is not a lot – authority and organised religion shouldn’t automatically be deserving of our trust, but we knew that, right?
Although lacking much in the way of originality, Red State demonstrates that Kevin Smith still has plenty to offer as long as he’s taking chances and attempting to push his own comfort zone. It establishes that the truth about Smith lies outside of the opinion of the fanboys and the naysayers. Sometimes his films are brilliant, sometimes they’re heavily flawed. Usually they’re a bit of both. But we knew that, right?
Warrior’s plot is almost as old as the concept of the sports movie itself. Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) are estranged brothers, united only by a fractious relationship with their father (Nick Nolte). Individually they battle to compete in superstar mixed martial arts contest Sparta, where the prizes are big, but the competitors are bigger.
Director Gavin O’Connor, one suspects, aimed to make Warrior the Rocky of mixed martial arts together with the credibility of The Fighter. All the hallmarks are here – Hardy, Edgerton and Nick Nolte all play deeply flawed if essentially likeable characters; deeper themes (economic uncertainty, alcoholism, family conflict) are as essential to the narrative as the action; the cinematography expertly contrasts the blue collar grit of Pittsburgh’s street with the sharp focus glamour of Vegas (baby); a real uncertainty emerges as which brother the audience should be rooting for; even the lengthy running time itself surely signals serious cinema.
All of which, together with the pulsating fight scenes, makes for a movie high on intensity and full of intelligence… or at least it does until the narrative ditches most of the credibility that was previously established. That the ultra-determined, iron-built Tommy qualifies for the tournament is feasible. Brendan, however, is older, lighter and effectively retired from any serious level of competition. His ability to compete against the sport’s big guns at little notice is unconvincing. The rather predictable route that our warring brothers take through the Sparta event is so unlikely as to almost be an insult to our intelligence. And then there’s the contrivance constructed around the central three characters. On top of the family feud and the alcoholism, Brendan’s family are falling behind on their mortgage repayments and the twist (of sorts) regarding Tommy’s secret past both feel like manipulative attempts to yank the heartstrings. Warrior is bloated with misplaced sentimentality.
So Rocky meets The Fighter? The Warrior possesses almost enough accomplishment to merit such claims, but the ultimate reality is closer to The Champ meets The Simpsons’ The Homer They Fall episode filtered through a checklist of indie-cool embellishments.
Following Kill List earlier this month, Clash appears on another advert quote. This time it’s the wise words of Robert W. Monk tackling Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.
From the current issue of Clash.
More Taxi Driver than The Fast and the Furious, Drive nonetheless utilises a petrol head’s need for speed as part of its hi-octane thrills. Ryan Gosling adds another great performance to his filmography as a stunt and getaway driver. A loner by nature, he forges a rare relationship with his neighbour (Carey Mulligan), but his attempt to protect her family from the criminal underworld fail, leaving him a marked man.
Highlighting the neo-noir undercurrent of Los Angeles is one of a number of stylistic accomplishments by Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn. Set to a backdrop of retro electronica, Gosling and Mulligan look fantastic throughout but it’s the beautiful brutality of the violence that lingers longest.
Drive isn’t rich with poetic dialogue and the characterisation is streamlined. But that’s not to say that it’s psychologically empty. The combined talents of writer Hossein Amini and Gosling make the driver silent and borderline intimidating; as much as he appears to be the strong silent type, he also possesses a near unspoken vulnerability too.
The result is an atypically intelligent action movie which unites the depth of European art movies with the flashy excitement of a Hollywood thriller.
A select bunch of snappy 80 word DVD reviews from recent(ish) issues of Clash.
Blitz’s plot feels like a reprisal of an episode of Cracker, star Jason Statham’s character is hatefully stupid, two of Britain’s best contemporary actors (Paddy Considine and Aiden Gillan) are horribly miscast and a third (David Morrissey) plays an investigative journalist with all the nouse of a dead mouse. A few briefly brilliant moments of visual flair and some credible Statham action scenes can’t compensate for a poor project that appeared to be full of potential.
With its coruscating cinematography, rapid pop promo editing and cartoony ultraviolence, this French heist movie from 1997 is a clear influence on subsequent big budget action thrillers. Starring Vincent Cassel as the enigmatic title character and his wife Monica Bellucci as a psychotic deaf-mute, Dobermann’s witty dialogue and pulsating soundtrack makes Grindhouse look like one of Studio Ghibli’s cutesy creations. An insane priest and the finest grenade killing committed to film contribute to one of the most nihilistic flicks of the era.
Doing Time For Patsy Cline
Teenage musician Ralph leaves his family farm in the Australian outback with the intention of making it big in Nashville. En route to the airport he meets a drug dealer and his sultry girlfriend – an ill-fated encounter that lands Ralph in prison where he dreams of a brighter future. The majority of the music is enticing (Emmylou Harris, Miranda Otto’s cover of Crazy), but everything else – the wonky tone, the varied performances, the often ill-judged comedy – is ridiculously unbalanced.
As unlikely as it may seem now, director Peter Jackson’s reputation prior to the release of Heavenly Creatures was as the king of low-budget splatter. Things sure changed after he helmed this notorious true story about an obsessive friendship between two teenage girls which lead to them committing murder. It’s not hard to see why Jackson’s stock subsequently grew so rapidly – his depiction of misplaced innocence twisted into violence is cerebrally crafted, while the film also launched Kate Winslet’s career.
I Come With The Rain
Tran Ahn Hung’s last film prior to his breakthrough with Norwegian Wood stars Josh Hartnett as an investigator on the search for a billionaire’s son. This unconventional thriller possesses undoubted class with striking cinematography that exposes Hong Kong sleaze, a Radiohead-heavy soundtrack and several uncompromising moments of brutal violence. Richly atmospheric but often ponderously slow, the film’s narrative struggles to build much substance – a situation not helped by unpredictable performances ranging from strong (Hartnett) to faintly amusing (Elias Koteas).
Oranges and Sunshine
Ken Loach’s son Jim debuts with this heavyweight tale of a social worker (Emily Watson) who uncovered the scandal of the mass deportation of children from the UK to Australia where the promise of a better life often instead resulted in appalling abuse. Emotionally devastating, the importance of the film’s subject is without question, although a typically refined performance from Watson doesn’t entirely compensate for a lack of dramatic dynamism that often leans towards the obvious.
Paranormal Activity 2
Take the Paranormal Activity blueprint; add a bigger budget, a larger set and plenty more spook potential with a toddler and a dog and you should have a killer contemporary mainstream horror. So why is this sequel underwhelming? The fascination in scanning a static screen for potential shocks remains, but the pacing is a disaster with endless false dawns before anything happens. While the infant’s innocence emphasises the sense of malevolence, it’s rendered pointless by the canine’s comic departure.
David Schwimmer’s second directorial film is no Hard Candy-style revenge flick. Instead it concentrates on the emotional fallout caused by a groomed rape. Largely free of cliché and with little in the way of graphic scenes, his naturalistic style provides an authenticity that The Lovely Bones, for example, totally missed. Fronted by a convincing performance by Clive Owen, the result is worthy and well crafted, if lacking any real narrative conclusion, and so overwhelmingly harrowing that it’s tough to endure.