Harry Dean Stanton, Character Actor Who Became a Star, Dies at 91
The latest from Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways) is a bit of a departure in that it takes a high concept sci-fi premise as its starting point. However, the film that follows from it, a social-issue satire featuring a midwestern white male’s mid-life crisis, will feel familiar to fans of his previous movies. The premise, an eponymous procedure that shrinks people to 5 inches tall, in an effort to save the environment, gives aforementioned white male Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) the opportunity to start again as a rich person – as everything costs less when it’s tiny, people are “downsizing” and then retiring early to bubble communities of like-sized people. But things go wrong, as they do in movies. The procedure works, but Paul doesn’t wind up rich – instead he winds up cleaning houses with ex-activist Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), befriending grey-market importer-exporter Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), and generally discovering how the world really works, and his place in it.
The visual irony of the film is that once Paul is shrunk down and living in Leisureland Estates, it is optically indistinguishable from being big. Payne uses this to deploy sight gags when large objects show up in a scene – he just lets you forget about it, and then there’s another one. That and the sharp yet compassionate satire make for a relentlessly funny film. The consequences of the “downsizing” premise are well thought out, and the world presented recalls societal shifts of years past (colonization, growth of US suburbs) while considering many perennial topics (inequality, the environment). Ultimately it imagines a choice for affluent developed-world people: cash out and retreat from the world, or engage with it, even if it is doomed.
Francois Girard (32 Short Films About Glenn Gould) directs this historical epic whose main character, he said before the film, is a mountain.
The mountain in question is Mont Réal (can you guess which modern-day city it lives in?), and its story is told through human characters who encounter it over a span of 800 years. In the 1200s, after a tragic battle, the Great Peacemaker (Raoul Max Trujillo) of the Haudenosaunee expresses his vision of peace to his follower Hiawatha. In the modern day, after a sinkhole opens during a football game in Molson Stadium, archaeologist Baptiste Asigny (Samian) uncovers evidence that the stadium sits above the ancient Iroquois village Hochelaga, where Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535. And we visit several stories at times in between.
Like 32 Short Films, Girard here weaves a mosaic narrative out of smaller independent ones. Some stories (Asigny and the Peacemaker) are crosscut throughout the film, while others are told in one piece and then barely returned to. This film has a powerful affect, blending visceral, emotional storytelling with intellectual significance that follows you for days after. The words used by the Great Peacemaker character in the film are taken from The Great Law of Peace, which is the oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. They express ideas taken up in theory by the US constitution and in practice, in imperfect form, by the country of Canada. So this history of a mountain is really the story of our country, and that its spirit could be so clearly captured by people who lived hundreds of years before European contact should make us reflect. The film is worth seeing for that reason alone, disregarding the expert storytelling, fine performances and the miraculous way Girard’s mosaic form exactly reflects the principles of confederation it articulates.
Yep, that’s an accurate title. Engage plot summary subroutine! When a rich douchebag (Kevin Janssens) takes his mistress Jen (Matilda Lutz) along for an annual rich douchebag hunting trip with his two boorish, rapey friends, things go… wrong. Quite wrong.
I wouldn’t blame you for not being a fan of rape-revenge movies. In fact, I’d be concerned if you were a fan. But a few things elevate this picture. For one, it’s written and directed by a woman (Coralie Fargeat). At first, Jen is objectified in all the flashiest, music-video ways. When things go wrong the men band together in a manner that expresses the ubiquity of rape culture without seeming completely paranoid. And later, when the hunters become the hunted, it is the men who are turned into pieces of meat. Literally.
That’s the other distinctive feature here: stylish violence. Now, “stylish violence” in and of itself is far from a force for good. Yet Fargeat uses various elements – the majestic Moroccan desert, the beautiful modernist vacation house, the peyote, and blood, so much blood – as fuel for a striking, hallucinatory, messy and fun romp that expresses a point of view much different from that behind the usual slasher and/or revenge pic.
Let me go back to the violence once more because this movie is VIOLENT. I had to marvel at just how much blood and gore had been generated by only four main characters. It is frequently played for laughs – a scene in which glass is extracted from a foot has brilliant comic editing – but I’m mentioning it as a sort of public service as well as a sign of my cinematic respect. Apparently someone fainted during one of the screenings, and if you’re at all squeamish, avoid this flick like the plague. If you’re not, you’re probably already adding it to your list, and good on ya.
Yorgos Lanthimos movies sure are distinctive. This film could be categorized as a horror movie in the creepy house guest or obsessive fan mold. It has its share of sudden violence and disturbing scenes, and the 20th century modernist score (Ligeti!) evokes The Shining at times. But Lanthimos’ awkward, monotone, comically unlikely dialogue pairs with the absurd premise in a formula that is uniquely his.
Steven (Colin Farrell) is a bourgeois heart surgeon with an ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) and two kids (Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy). He also has a bizarre friendship with strange teen Martin (Barry Keoghan), and when his family is struck by a mysterious hardship, the nature of that friendship becomes a crucial issue.
That’s about all I’ll say about the plot. It’s premise is indeed absurd – or follows the logic of a past era – and as usual he uses it to skewer the neuroses of society in a hilariously grim fashion. It’s a little more focused than The Lobster, not quite as ingeniously pared down as Dogtooth but certainly a great film by any measure.
Louis CK’s first feature since Pootie Tang is an impressive piece of work. It uses Louis’ idolization of Woody Allen as fuel for an exploration of the problems of parenthood. It’s funny, thoughtful, sad yet exhilarating, and like his best stuff, willing to engage with uncomfortable issues using any tools available, chief among them great honesty.
Glen (Louis C.K.) is a successful TV writer/director with a 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz). When he meets his idol, iconic film director and rumoured pedophile Leslie (John Malkovich), Leslie takes a perhaps unsuitable interest in China – and Glen struggles to determine the right course of action – or inaction.
Malkovich gives a legendary performance, turning what could be a cardboard creep into a unique, nuanced creature, and the supporting cast includes great turns by Edie Falco, Pamela Alon, Rose Byrne and Charlie Day. Louis self-funded the film and made all sorts of retro, out-of-fashion creative choices, like shooting on film in black & white, and commissioning a full orchestral score. But the greatest thing here is the writing. Every character is full of contradictions and imbued with their own agency, and the unfolding of events is both true to life and completely unpredictable.
Sometimes you need a reminder of what a real film nerd sounds like. I need to step up my game here.
A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes.
Burn After Reading
Bong Joon Ho’s latest is perhaps most similar to his 2006 picture The Host: it’s a genre-bending, CGI-heavy creature feature. But the similarities end there. In an attempt to rejuvenate her shady multinational agribusiness’ moribund image, CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) launches a heavily stage-managed contest in which 10 enormous “superpigs” are distributed to local farmers across the globe. Ten years later, South Korean entrant Okja is the clear winner – but Mijo (An Seo Hyun), the granddaughter of the local farmer in charge of the pig, isn’t willing to let her go just yet.
The script veers from pastoral contentedness to slapstick to full-tilt effects-heavy action, but at heart this is a grand social satire in the tradition of Network, Dr. Strangelove or The Bonfire of the Vanities. Bong tries to get a few jabs in at the animal activists led by Jay (Paul Dano), and asshole celebrities get a punching bag in the figure of Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), but the largest target by far is the Mirando Corporation and its attempts to gussy up its cold-blooded greed via the sundry tools of modern PR. The comedy is broad and occasionally falls flat: some scenes feel like failed improv. And the social satire isn’t the most ingenious ever put on screen. But the action is first-rate, and – crucially – the creature is exceptionally well executed; so much so that the scenes between Mijo and Okja are completely believable, and form the healthy emotional heart of a wide-ranging, ambitious, and risk-taking film.
An action-musical-romance this time instead of an action-comedy, Edgar Wright’s first solo writing credit is a fun, hyperactive pastiche that falls down in the romancy bits but excels almost everywhere else. Music-obsessed driving savant Baby (Angel Elgort) lends his virtuoso wheelman talents to a series of increasingly dangerous heists planned by Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom he owes money. After Baby meets Debora (Lily James), the proverbial waitress with the heart of gold, he wants to get out – but crime keeps pulling him back in.
The plot sounds a little weak, and it is. But that’s not the draw here. Rather, Wright brings his montage game to new heights. The car chase scenes have bullet-fast editing timed perfectly to the music, and the music selections are all tight and form a soundtrack even greater than its parts. It’s the non-moving parts that need an upgrade. The macho criminal posturing dialogue is kept more or less entertaining by a deep selection of supporting cast, including Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx and of course Spacey. But the boy-meets-girl stuff is not up to code. The movie takes itself increasingly seriously as it goes on (common with most Edgar Wright films), and the dullness of the romance is an increasing drag that the action bits struggle to carry. (Indeed, the film is weak on female roles in general.) However, the driving scenes and the soundtrack are powerful enough to make this film worth seeing – even if it seems like it is doomed to be the B picture to Drive when the inevitable double bills of “Soundtrack-Heavy Driving Movies Featuring a Brooding Near-Mute Hunk” start showing up.
Good list (thanks, y)
From the writer-director of The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne, The Devil’s Candy is a lean, nimble and nasty take on the haunted house genre.
Hip metalhead couple Jesse and Astrid (Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby) and their metalhead teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) get a nice house for cheap – because the previous owners met a violent, metalhead end. Jesse is an artist, and the new house gives him lots of studio space to become ensorcelled by Satan and paint inverted crosses and horrific beast faces and suffering children – including his own daughter.
If you think you know where this plot is going, you probably don’t. The Devil’s Candy is much less beholden to stale conventions than the typical entry in this genre. Even better, the characters are real, non-generic people, brought to life by a talented cast, and the craft – including the direction but also notably the sound design – is top-notch. A must-watch for those with the stomach for it, and if you have to ask if you do, you probably don’t.
I tried to describe this film to a friend. “It’s set in the 70s, about a arms deal gone wrong. A bunch of crooks are in a shootout in a big warehouse for basically the entire movie. Hey, I’m making it sound pretty great.” It’s the latest film from director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise). It’s a decent film best understood as a black comedy in the Tarantino vein, and it does manage some deliciously dark laughs, but it falls short of the significance of most Tony Scott films, let alone QT. (Tony Scott directing a reboot of The Hateful Eight might be the closest analogue.)
The film’s biggest flaw is that it moves into action mode a good 15 minutes too early, not having had enough time to fill out any of the largish number of characters, which wastes a capable cast (Brie Larson, Cilian Murphy, Armie Hammer). One finds oneself not caring which ones lived or died, which one could describe as suboptimal from a dramatic perspective. It’s definitely watchable with some great, funny moments, but life’s too short.
I’m going through the Lewis and Quark archives because this shit makes me cry with laughter. Here’s a good one, that had me fantasizing about making trailers for:
They’re not the first to go after Hollywood accounting, but they could be the loudest.
From White Russian drink specials to “Friendo” namedropping – a complete guide (so far) to ‘Fargo’ TV series’ Coen brother movie references.
Some really interesting techniques here