By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »
An eye sights down the length of a long barrel, finding, framing, locking onto a target. In Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper bulks into the role of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, avowedly the most accurate and determined of American military snipers. More than a bravura hero, he was a bestselling memoirist of high braggadocio, as well as a murder victim of a veteran he hoped to help, who allegedly killed him on a shooting range after his return from four tours of duty in Iraq. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »
Admirers of “Lord of the Rings” left with lingering dissatisfaction from the most recent “Hobbit” movie, “The Desolation of Smaug,” should be pleased that director Peter Jackson wastes no time in the “Hobbit”’s final installment, transforming a meager amount of J. R. R. Tolkien’s source material into an impressive confrontation of gratifying saga-scale proportions. We’re thrown right back into the chaos where we were left hanging: Smaug awakened from his slumber, then descending from the mountain as Bilbo and his companions can do little more than watch as the dragon lays waste to Lake Town. The opening of “Battle of the Five Armies” is apocalyptic, engulfed in fire then darkness, all before the opening credits. When the smoke clears, split alliances of every race of Middle Earth clamor to stake claim to the now-vacated mountain. Read the rest of this entry »
“What the fuck?” is not only a character’s key reaction within “The Guest,” but mine as well, even on a second viewing. “The Guest” is the most delirious of director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett’s eight collaborations, a wickedly smart thriller filled with sly, cool intelligence that elevates what could be mere homage to trashy, splashy forebears into something more concentrated. (They used to call them “good movies.”) “Downton Abbey”’s Dan Stevens plays a wicked revision of Captain America, a mean fighting machine, a gleaming model-looking blank, with elegantly oiled hair pushed back in a forelock, fierce azure eyes, a laconic killer grin, a more chiseled version of the psychopaths played by Ryan Gosling in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and “Only God Forgives.” David arrives by foot in New Mexico at the home of the Peterson family, where he quickly ingratiates himself with tales of their fallen son, whom he had fought with before his death in combat. “The Guest” is a thriller, but first and foremost, it’s a thrill, like all of Cinemax, ever, died and went to heaven. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.
In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.
A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.
The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Ireland, day: Man walks into a confession booth and tells a priest of terrible things that had been done to him by a priest when he was small. Tells the priest: I’ll get back at the church by killing an innocent priest in one week, and that’s you, get your life in order.
Now there’s a set-up. “Calvary,” the second feature by writer-director John Michael McDonagh, fills that week full-to-bursting with a raft of idiosyncratic characters and philosophical conflicts and the current crisis in the Church and idiomatic comic dialogue strung along by the script’s thriller-like ticking clock. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James could very well be his best performance in a great career. (He told me it’s his favorite role.) Graham Greene divided his books into two classes: the novels, which took on spiritual matters, and the lighter ones, which he called “entertainments.” McDonagh’s knack is to combine both the novelistic, spiritual elements of Greene and lighter notes to achieve a high level of gratifying entertainment. (It’s also beautifully shot: I could write a few thousand words about the cinematography and artful visual style.)
“Calvary,” is, in a very specific way, a “B” movie, by which I mean, “Bergman, Buñuel and Bresson,” I tell McDonagh. He laughs. “Oh dear! Those were the governing influences. When I was going through preproduction, I went through the entire back catalog again. Read the rest of this entry »
Another Marvel left-field choice of a seemingly unlikely director pays off, in slightly different fashion than “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” directed by the Russo brothers as a politically charged gloss on 1970s paranoia thrillers. Co-writer-director James Gunn’s 2010 no-budget “Super” had its share of appalling violence, but he still manages to thread abrupt violence and casual malice into the huge expanses of the outright comedy and fine sarcasm of “Guardians.” And most of the meanness is funny, after a cartoonish fashion. Any moment that could be drenched in earnestness is either beautiful—a bereft child’s ascension in a beam of light to a spaceship that will wrench him from Earth—or mocked from the get-go. Chris Pratt plays the grown boy, Peter Quill, as a would-be cock-of-the-galaxy who describes himself at one point, hopefully, as “an a-hole, but not one-hundred-percent a dick.” Read the rest of this entry »
No big-budget action film about one kind of apocalypse or another is complete these days without a rapid-fire, melancholic montage at the beginning, invoking the present day, the beginning of these particular end times. “Snowpiercer,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “World War Z,” and, of course, the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). So it goes with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” In a few fleet images atop a murmurous soundtrack, the deed is done, “simian flu” eradicates nearly all of mankind, and ten years have passed. A few humans, led by a former law enforcement officer played by Gary Oldman, are left in the center of San Francisco, while miles away, up in the mountains, under the trees, a civilization of super-smart apes begins to, well, dawn. Matt Reeves’ skills as a director, and orchestrator of talents, show a fantastic advance from “Cloverfield” and the fine “Let Me In.” Read the rest of this entry »
With “Snowpiercer,” the eminently talented South Korean genre-bender Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother”) aims beyond the fences again with his fevered free adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1984 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”) get a running start, depicting a worldwide attempt to forestall global warming on July 1, 2014, an experiment that freezes the planet. “The rattling ark” of a visionary industrialist’s vast, perpetual motion train that makes a circuit of the globe once a year is then the film’s allegorical setting. (In the novel, the train is 1,001 carriages long, to throw in another allusion.) For seventeen years, the Snowpiercer has stayed in motion. The oppressed of the farthest reaches of the tail of the train are prepared to revolt, to make their way to the front of the train, to…? They know no other world, not even sunlight glinted off the expanses of barren snow and frozen cities they circuit past. Read the rest of this entry »