By Ray Pride
Writers are told to kill their darlings, but, truly, they have to kill their masters. Murder them in their sleep.
Sometimes, often enough, I fret I’m too fixated on how authors and filmmakers are in thrall to their forebears, but the concern is always in the service of figuring out how they’ve burned through them. At the beginning and into the middle of the career of super-Swede Ingmar Bergman, critics would often pin the influence of Scandinavian dramatists like August Strindberg onto his work, but no one got it right until the writer, probably some Brit whose name I can’t recall, who said, you can see the influences, but no one else influenced by those playwrights had come anywhere near close to making an Ingmar Bergman movie. (Or being Ingmar fucking Bergman.)
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“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 »
Old story goes that one Wes Craven movie or other, or maybe another, ratings board refuses an “R” for the present cut, telling the filmmaker, “your film is filled with relentless terror.” Isn’t that my job, Craven was supposed to have replied. Writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s exquisitely machined “Blue Ruin” is tense from the get-go, from start to finish, amen, and provides a sustained rush something akin to “relentless terror.” Dwight (gifted physical performer Macon Blair) is an outsider, homeless, scrabbling through small feats of survival, who returns to his childhood home to right a wrong from decades ago when a killer is released from prison. The righting will be bloody, and he will be good at only some of it.
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In the Georgia-shot thriller pastiche, “24 Exposures,” veteran Chicago writer-director Joe Swanberg again questions the role of the artist versus those who are depicted via the story of Billy, a death-fetish photographer (Adam Wingard) whose path crosses that of a suicidal solo cop (Simon Barrett). While Swanberg has invoked the example of 1960s Euro-thrillers, “24 Exposures” hews closer to other cited influences, 1990s “Skinemax” thrillers and the boldly colored and plainly sexual work of Zalman King and the breast-baring films of Russ Meyer. Swanberg’s attraction to bold fields of color, such as in one wall in a room painted a hot, unlikely color, is akin to King’s sweetly marzipan sense of design. And the skin—the skin in “24 Exposures” is ample, both in Billy’s grue-strewn shoots and in sexual encounters with his girlfriend and the model of the day. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“August: Osage County” began life as stories heard and scenes seen by a ten-year-old Tracy Letts in Oklahoma, then took shape as a Steppenwolf ensemble production in 2007 before moving on to Broadway, before taking the Pulitzer in 2008. Now, in time for the holidays, Letts has adapted his three-hour family meltdown barnburner for the movies, providing rare verbal-physical performance challenges for film actors like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney.
The plainspoken forty-eight-year-old Letts recently won a Tony in the role as George in the Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf,” and dared the early December Chicago cold to talk about the craft behind the adaptation of his sweltering familial meltdown. An early grace note at the top of the movie is a whiff of the great Sam Shepard, puttering around the house as a lost-to-fog alcoholic poet. “Nice, huh?” Letts says with a pleased smile. “He’s pretty good, that Sam. He’s pretty good. If he had never been a playwright, I think he might have been a good movie star anyway.” Letts has quoted the great American playwright as answering the question, “Why family as a subject?” with “What else is there?”
Letts laughs. “I don’t know if that story is true or not, but…” But you said it was. “Yeah. No, it’s a quote I love to take and credit to Sam. Did you like the movie?” Read the rest of this entry »
Partially shot guerrilla-style at Disney theme parks but largely on soundstages or enhanced by green-screen work, Randy Moore’s amateurish labor-of-weird-love, “Escape From Tomorrow,” follows a single day in a middle-aged father’s life after he’s lost his job via phone call on a balcony overlooking the Magic Kingdom while his wife and two kids just want to see the park. Semi-surreal science fiction complications, botched horror and bad, flat acting erupt, as well as dad’s perverse and lecherous desire for two underaged French girls. Male middle-aged crisis writ large on a washed-out post-David Lynch palette, Moore’s subversive ambition is submerged by his project’s mere ickiness. Read the rest of this entry »
And sometimes we are who we eat. Jim Mickle’s “We Are What We Are,” a revision of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 Mexico City-set cannibal chiller “Somos lo que hay,” is a lyrical feat of dread, an atmospheric advance on his earlier tasty vampire entry “Stake Land,” (2011). Bill Sage brings middle-aged gravity—“We do it the way we would have always done it”—to the role of the paterfamilias of the isolated Parker clan, who insists on hewing to his family’s ancient ways. The punkish urban styling of his work with Hal Hartley seems far away, but it’s of a piece, simple, stolid and all the more distressing for its calm. (As is the calm and bloom of the two teen sisters played by the porcelain-featured Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner.) The setting, a flooded Catskills village in upstate New York—shot with a sepulchral gleam by Ryan Samul—is a contrarian one for a movie played like a Western about isolated evangelicals with hard-won, hard-to-defeat beliefs, but an inspired one. Read the rest of this entry »
Hungarian-American director Nimród Antal (“Kontroll,” “Predators”) joins hands with the members of Metallica (James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett, Robert Trujillo) for “Metallica Through The Never.” Shot in 3D on a 360-degree stage at a fistful of Canadian stadium shows, with twenty-four swooping, darting cameras on cranes and jibs, as well as cameramen behind 3D Steadicam rigs that dart around the edges of the frame, strange and Taurus-headed figures. It’s fluid work, but the movie also intersperses wordless scenes of a young roadie, Trip (Dane DeHaan, “The Place Beyond The Pines”), on a mission to retrieve a mysterious satchel on quotidian but post-apocalyptic late-night Canuck streets outside. Read the rest of this entry »
“We make the rules of the economy–and we have the power to change those rules”: there’s a sobering thought after hearing bought-and-bought-again politicians once again talking about wrecking the American credit rating and refusing to do anything to help the economy. After the fashion of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Jacob Kornbluth’s pacey documentary follows diminutive former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich through his teaching and speaking schedules, on a quest to illuminate the damage that income inequality continues to cause the American (and world) economy. Read the rest of this entry »
Documentarian Zachary Heinzerling spent several years following a hate-love-hate relationship between two elderly Japanese-New Yorker artists, Ushio “Gyu-Chan” Shinohara and Noriko Shinohara, “boxing” painter and artist, respectively. They’ve been together for forty years, since she was nineteen, and at first, you can’t see how they’d be together for even five minutes. The result, “Cutie And The Boxer,” is lovingly shaped, beautifully shot, emotionally rich, gaudy, always compelling and in the end, weirdly reassuring about long-term relationships. Read the rest of this entry »