Wind River

Release: Friday, August 18, 2017

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Written by: Taylor Sheridan

Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a haunting little crime thriller that creeps into your soul and nestles there. It’s brought to you by the writer of Sicario and last year’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, which may tell you everything you need to know about this movie, based on true events about a tracker working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services who teams up with a rookie FBI agent to investigate the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a young Native American woman.

The journeyman actor-turned-screenwriter trades the scorching temperatures of the southern U.S. for the bitter chill of wintry Wyoming. Tumbleweeds for evergreens; cowboy hats for furry down jackets. The harsh terrain changes but Sheridan, who has proven his worth in a very limited amount of time, fortunately does not. He remains committed to the same gritty, humanistic perspective that has helped identify him as among the most powerful emergent voices in Hollywood.

As we have come to be spoiled by the writer-director, certain things are givens: impeccable acting, complex morality, sympathetic tonality. Wind River operates most apparently as a straightforward police procedural but that’s just the part of the iceberg that’s visible. What the screenplay hides beneath the surface is where the film is at its most affecting, not just as a deeply nuanced exploration of personal grief but as damning evidence of the marginalization of Native Americans.

Wind River tells a story about fictional people; however, as a title card at the end of the film suggests, this could be the story of any one of the thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of women who have disappeared from Indian reservations across the country. As of today, it is not known how many Native American women go missing or what even becomes of them, as they remain the only demographic for which the U.S. Department of Justice does not compile that data.

While Kelsey Asbille as the victim — a teenaged resident named Natalie — provides a face to these unknowns, Jeremy Renner proves once again to be a major comfort. He injects warmth into an environment characterized by precisely the opposite. His Cory Lambert has earned the trust and respect of many of the residents of Wind River, a plot of land in central-western Wyoming home to members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes. Cory’s dedicated years to protecting them and their livestock from the predatory animals that roam this yawning expanse of pillowy hills and knife-edge ridges. Of course, he has done this at the expense of his own family, a familiar but still effective flaw of character that grafts perfectly with the film’s thematic explorations.

Cory’s commitment to the community deepens when FBI Special Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) shows up on the scene, determined to take control of what appears to her to be a sexual assault case. Her woeful unpreparedness for the conditions, though initially played off as broadly humorous, ultimately proves to be the first of many obstacles that will truly test her resolve. Gender dynamics come into play as Banner has something to prove as an outsider in this world. Olsen plays her hand perfectly, her sizable ego soon humbled by taking bullets in subzero temperatures and by listening to the stories of the people who call this frozen hell home.

Renner is reliable and Olsen makes for interesting company, but you cannot overlook Gil Birmingham, who re-teams with Sheridan after playing the butt of every Jeff Bridges joke in Hell or High Water. That’s in stark contrast to his brief but dramatically hefty role here, in which he portrays the victim’s father as a man consumed by grief. An early scene in which Banner is cringingly unaware of her aggressive style confesses to the delicate nature of her assignment. It’s a traumatic moment, with Birmingham’s not-so-quiet sobbing memorably given privacy by remaining just out of shot.

The locals call Wind River the “land of you’re on your own.” That’s a harsh lesson for Banner to have to take back with her to Las Vegas, but for everyone else it’s just a fact of life. As a boy who grew up on a ranch before his family lost it to the economic downturn of the 1990s, Sheridan has a pretty firm grasp on man’s relationship with mother nature and how tenuous a relationship it is. That manifests powerfully here as well, but Wind River evolves into something much more personal and even profound than a tale of survival. That old Darwinian theory is a byproduct of the story, but it’s not the story.

Wind River is about being found, being recognized. Being heard. And the heavy sigh in which the film ends echoes back decades of silence. The kind of silence that kills, by madness or by wolf, by pulmonary edema or just plain-old ignorance.

Recommendation: Taylor Sheridan rewards viewers once again with an absorbing, emotionally stirring and deeply disturbing crime drama based on real events. Both a tribute to the untold number of victims as well as a culture that has had indignity upon indignity heaped upon it since the appearance of Anglo-American settlers, Wind River feels especially timely if you take into consideration recent headlines, such as those involving the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their continued battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

Quoted: “I’d like to tell you it gets easier, but it doesn’t. If there’s a comfort, you get used to the pain if you let yourself. I went to a grief seminar in Casper. Don’t know why, just . . it hurt so much, I was searching for anything that could make it go away. That’s what I wanted this seminar to do, make it go away. The instructor comes up to me after the seminar was over, sat beside me and said, ‘I got good news and bad news. Bad news is you’ll never be the same. You’ll never be whole. Ever. What was taken from you can’t be replaced. Your daughter’s gone. Now the good news: as soon as you accept that, as soon as you let yourself suffer, allow yourself to grieve, you’ll be able to visit her in your mind, and remember all the joy she gave you. All the love she knew. Right now, you don’t even have that, do you?’ He said, ‘that’s what not accepting this will rob from you.’ If you shy from the pain of it, then you rob yourself of every memory of her, my friend. Every one. From her first step to her last smile. You’ll kill ’em all. Take the pain. Take the pain, Martin. It’s the only way to keep her with you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

mother!

Release: Friday, September 15, 2017

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Written by: Darren Aronofsky

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

No one makes movies like Darren Aronofsky. Then again, does anyone dare?

With mother! the enfant terrible of modern Hollywood has produced quite possibly his most polarizing and interpretive work yet. That does take into consideration his previous effort, the controversial Noah epic. And I haven’t forgotten The Fountain (how could I?) Yet the plunge into absolute anarchy we unwittingly commit ourselves to in his new movie is so intense, so absurdly cruel and caustic that forgetting whatever hells he has put us through before actually becomes easier done than said.

Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem‘s baptism into the world of Aronofsky has them playing husband and wife, living in an elaborate but lonely Victorian home in the middle of nowhere, USA. They’re working to rebuild after a devastating house fire. Well, “mother” has been doing most of the work, while her Husband — no character is given a name, just a label, one of the film’s many aspects open for interpretation — has been moping around, struggling with writer’s block. Ostensibly we are here to witness the evolution of a seemingly idyllic relationship and the sacrifices one must make to be a part of a marriage. The give-and-take dynamic that makes a relationship both a joy and a responsibility. Or something along those lines.

That’s the impression we’re given with mother!‘s quieter, though never comfortable, opening half anyway. But things take a decidedly nasty turn with the appearance of a supposed “doctor” (Ed Harris) on their doorstep, who mistakenly assumes their grand abode to be a bed-and-breakfast. The Husband, rejuvenated by the presence of an outsider, who also just happens to be a big fan of his writing, decides a sleepover is in order, much to the chagrin of “mother.” “Doctor” then invites his drunk wife (Michelle Pfeiffer in a searing role) to stay. Bizarre complications arise when their sons arrive soon thereafter.

From here, it’s a series of increasingly outrageous intrusions upon the sanctuary that is one’s home, which is then torpedoed into a brutal, often literal, assault on “mother” herself. I liken the experience to those college parties I attended that were simply overwhelmed with bodies. Parties in which anonymity could become dangerous in a hurry. The keggars where you start off recognizing 90% of the room but by night’s end there are strangers diving off the roof into the grass because “it looked like water from above.” Aronofsky takes the concept of an out-of-control bacchanalia to Aronofskian extremes, exponentially increasing the animosity between put-upon host and disorderly guest.

Admittedly, ‘ultimate party movie’ is a pretty basic read of the narrative — one in which elements of creationism, artistic narcissism, the state of the modern celebrity-fan relationship, and climate change denialism (or more generally, angry American politics in the age of Trump) are just as likely to be inferred. Some allusions are of course more debatable than others. mother! is steeped in Biblical references from which you can’t escape. You’ll find Cain and Abel in Domhnall and Brian Gleeson’s fraternal antagony; Jesus in “mother”‘s suffering. The way Bardem slots in between all of this becomes obvious even if you don’t devote all or most of your attention to the religious symbolism.

As much as the entire cast transform themselves here — I’m often left wondering what working with such an uncompromising artist does to those who answer the call — it is Lawrence’s brave (and bravura) performance that provides the lifeblood of the film — a slowly fraying tether between her humanity and the world in which she is forced to survive. During shooting, reportedly the actor had to be put on oxygen in between certain takes, hyperventilating well after the director had yelled “cut.” I suppose, at the very least the extreme conditions of mother! literally took Lawrence’s breath away. That should count for something.

For us, the masochists that we are, the ride is baffling and infuriating and similarly renders us breathless. The slow departure from any conventional sense of reality legitimately defies categorization and, to some extent, criticism itself. Everything you see in the frame can be symbolic or it can mean absolutely nothing. And maybe that’s all the film is, chaos that needs no justification. A giant middle finger to reason and logic. This is a modern Picasso that demands an audience, whoever that may be.

Recommendation: In the interest of full disclosure: using Aronofsky’s almost entirely fresh cast — only Marcia Jean Kuntz, here playing a “thief,” has had roles in previous films of his — as a measuring stick to judge whether the film is something you’ll like might be a bad idea. Better to prioritize director vs. the cast, because come the end of this you’ll no longer recognize Katniss Everdeen. And Anton Chigur was mean, but he has nothing on this guy. 

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “MURDER! MURDER!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

What Happened to Monday (Seven Sisters)

Release: Friday, August 18, 2017 (Netflix)

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Written by: Max Botkin; Kerry Williamson

Directed by: Tommy Wirkola

In the context of Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola’s dystopian crime thriller What Happened to Monday — a.k.a. Seven Sisters — China’s methods of dealing with an extraordinary overpopulation crisis would be no less controversial but they would also no longer be the exception; rather, the opposite. In a not-so-distant future we’ve exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity and organizations like the Child Allocation Bureau have become necessary evils, instituting similar if not harsher one-child-per-family mandates across the globe. Unlike in China, where violators face stiff financial penalties, in the film excess offspring are taken away and put into cryogenic sleep, after which they’re promised to “wake up to a better world.”

Terrence Settman (Willem Dafoe)’s life becomes impossibly complicated when his wife dies after giving birth to identical septuplets (all played by one actress at the child and adult stages — Clara Read and Noomi Rapace respectively). To protect his illegally large family Terrence establishes a complex set of rules that will allow his daughters to come and go from the house with some degree of freedom. Each is named after a day of the week and is allowed to go out on “their day.” When they do, they assume a collective, physical identity of one Karen Settman, their mother. To keep a consistent image every detail of each trip outside is shared with the group so everyone remains on the same page.

This routine is maintained for some 30 years, until finally one of the siblings fails to return home after work. Fearing her capture at the hands of the C.A.B.’s head honcho Nicolette Cayman (Glenn Close), an intense, scary woman who believes the One Child Policy is the only way to save future generations from living in the same squalor, the six other ‘Karen Settmans’ debate whether to turn themselves in or risk blowing their cover by going to save the one.

Regrettably What Happened to Monday is defined by broad shapes and genre tropes. It features seven different personalities but the overall piece fails to establish one of its very own. Rapace continues to use her striking beauty to channel chameleonic qualities and they, along with her hairstylists, are put to great use here. She elevates the entire picture, giving it a bleeding heart, as does a surprisingly grounded performance from Dafoe as dear old dad. But the latter isn’t tasked with interacting with his own likeness on screen.

It’s impressive how much two actors can inform a film’s personality, yet they’re still not enough to overcome clumsy writing that throws aside logic and narrative cohesion in service of an increasingly action-laden plot. As the dire circumstances devolve the incompetence of the bad guys never ceases to amaze. It approaches something close to a farce with the number of convenient plot mechanics that force us into a grand reveal that’s never as grand or as shocking as it should have been.

Still, the film’s well-made enough to be frivolously entertaining. Wirkola’s firm if unremarkable direction gets us from Point A to Point B with enough style, grit and emotion to make What Happened to Monday an above-average dystopian drama worth recommending to those who are less fussy. And Rapace’s ability to emote more than makes up for much of the less successful thematic ruminations. As we watch a family getting torn apart in a variety of cruel ways, it’s the actress’ unique expressiveness that magnifies the emotion, that gets us to re-invest just a little bit more, in spite of everything.

Recommendation: Emotionally engaging but ultimately familiar and never as deeply cutting as it could be, as an epic family tragedy that unfolds piecewise, What Happened to Monday (Seven Sisters) offers enough solid thrills and wicked action sequences to be memorable but as a broader commentary on what’s going on in our world today as far as overpopulation, this movie fails to express its concern in a way that’s truly noticeable, much less urgent.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “What happens to one of you, happens to all of you.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Month in Review: August ’17

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

First of all, I’d like to give an acknowledgement to the victims of the ridiculous storm that slammed not once but twice into the Texas-Louisiana coast over the last week, almost 12 years from the day since the costliest natural disaster in American history gutted New Orleans. The images coming out of Houston and the surrounding areas are going to be difficult to shake, harrowing reminders of our increasingly tenuous relationship with Mother Nature. Those images, like the ones below, only serve to heighten the urgency in documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel, which was recently released into theaters this past month to a chorus of crickets.

On a lighter note, August offered an interesting collection of theater trips for me. I visited Dunkirk (twice, once with my dad), traveled to Berlin with Charlize Theron and to the Deep South with . . . Daniel Craig (?!). I rekindled my disdain for The Circle in a belated review, while inadvertently stumbling upon one of my favorites of the entire year in Brigsby Bear. Loved, loved, loved, loved that movie. So much so, I gave it only my third HIGH FIVE of the year.

August found me once again dodging my responsibilities to my 2017 Blindspot challenge. Apologies to those who may have been anticipating a review for I Love You Philip Morris. I will make it up to you this month with a look back at QT’s Reservoir Dogs. And yes, I did just say Reservoir Dogs is on my Blindspot list.

Don’t judge.


New Posts

New Releases: Dunkirk; Atomic Blonde; Logan Lucky; The Circle; Brigsby Bear

Movie News

I’ve been pretty impressed with the number of actors and Generally Famous Faces who have contributed their own money to victims of Hurricane/Tropical Depression Harvey. I can only hope the money will be put to good use.

A bittersweet farewell to acclaimed director Tobe Hooper, whose original Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired nightmares in everyone but me, apparently.

↓The Speculation Section It is early, yes, but Oscar buzz has returned and I for one am excited. Which movie is going to receive all the accolades, which ones are going to pull surprises and which ones are going to play the role of the unloved red-headed stepchild at the 90th Academy Awards next February? Christopher Nolan’s latest is among the most obvious of multi-Oscar heavyweights, though you also should not count out Wonder Woman or War for the Planet of the Apes either. It’s an unfair world and I know Brigsby Bear doesn’t have a shot in hell, but IMO it’s right up there as one of the year’s greatest treasures.

But what about those that we still don’t know anything about? What if I told you that not only was a movie starring Adam Sandler up for consideration this year, but that the star himself is as well? How hard would you laugh? (How much would I blame you?) The movie is called The Meyerowitz Stories (New & Selected) and will drop into theaters this October. Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro apparently has something good cooking with his seriously cool-titled The Shape of Water, with early word pegging it as potentially the Pan’s Labyrinth director’s best work to date. Alexander Payne (Sideways; Nebraska) is due for a new release this season as well and he already has a lot of critics in his corner with Downsizing, a “social satire in which a guy realizes he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself.” Honey, I just shrunk Matt Damon.

Blogging Updates 

Recent additions to my Netflix queue that you may see reviewed sometime in the near future*: What Happened to Monday?; The Number 23; To the Bone; Okja; Oklahoma City; The Discovery; The Most Hated Woman in America; Abattoir; Chasing Coral; The Wailing; Deidra and Laney Rob a Train. 

* To make things interesting, I’ll turn this over to you guys — of those titles, I’ll take and review the top three most popular choices. But this will only work if I get enough feedback. So don’t be shy! Weigh in with your thoughts about which Netflix flick I should tackle first, second and third!

Photo credits: http://www.pbs.org; http://www.time.com; http://www.nbcnews.com; http://www.abcnews.go.com