Pig

Release: Friday, July 16, 2021

👀 Hulu

Written by: Michael Sarnoski; Vanessa Block

Directed by: Michael Sarnoski

Starring: Nicolas Cage; Alex Wolff; Adam Arkin; Darius Pierce; David Knell

Distributor: Neon

 

 

****/*****

On the outside Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut appears to be ripe material for Crazy Nic Cage. This is a story about a man living in the woods who gets his pig stolen, then ventures into the city to find his pignappers. Sounds like the recipe for a future cult classic Midnight Movie — John Wick only with oinks instead of barks.

Defiantly, Pig veers off that beaten genre path and gradually reveals itself to be a much deeper movie than action-driven, bloody retribution and one whose concerns go beyond a missing animal. An existential drama paired with a buddy adventure, the story encroaches on some familiar territory — grief and loss, change and disillusionment are perennially en vogue themes — but if you dig below the surface of those broader ideas you’ll find a lot more flavor as questions are raised about materialism and commerce, the price of things weighed against the value of relationships.

Everything in this movie feels fine-tuned, whether it’s Pat Scola’s beautiful framing of the pacific northwest, the powerful emotive quality of Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein’s string-based score, or the near-palpable aroma of the exquisite dishes that come to bear quasi-supporting roles. But it’s the acting that tends to stand out. Truth be told, as headline-grabbing as its leading man is and though the cast sheet may be small, every performer brings their A-game and makes Pig a surprisingly absorbing experience.

Wisely calibrating the exotic impulses that have given rise to his larger-than-life persona, Nic Cage turns in one of his most affecting performances to date as Robin Feld, a respected Portland chef who has turned his back on city living for a more humble existence out in the woods. Subsisting on the outskirts of the City of Roses without so much as a cell phone, his only companion is his truffle pig upon whose snout he relies for some good eating and a bite sized bit of business. His lone contact with the outside world is Amir (Alex Wolff), an opportunist who sells locally-sourced luxury ingredients to the highest bidder in town, hoping one day to escape the shadow of his father Darius (Adam Arkin).

Introduced as the weekly headache Rob must endure, the loud and brash Amir is quickly pulled in as a full-time participant, his foibles swiftly coming under the microscope in the same way Rob’s privacy inspires questions. When a midnight assault shakes up his peaceful existence the two reluctantly team up and head to the city for answers. The ensuing adventure pulls us into a strange, esoteric world through a network of back passages and secret doors, while the most privileged access remains in the conversations shared throughout — keenly observed moments that give us a good sense of who these men are and what motivates them. Along the way, a series of revelations threatens the tenuous thread of trust they’ve managed to build, particularly as the full complexity of the film’s relationships comes into clearer focus.

As the list of potential thieves shrinks and Rob’s desperation grows, the superficial setting plays just as much of a role as any character, human or otherwise. Steeping the drama in the highfalutin, pricy world of haute cuisine, Sarnoski turns Portland’s bustling food scene into an ecosystem teeming with predators and disingenuous types. It’s a cold, harsh environment where business is kind of like the Wild West — there’s poaching and territorial disputes and a sense of lawlessness. What justice there is seems to be out of reach for Rob, a ghost on the scene for a good decade who has lost all the credibility he once had. It’s not a flattering portrait of foodie culture but it feels, like the dialogues throughout, brutally honest. 

Pig could have easily been overcooked in the wrong hands. Slow but never boring, downbeat and moody without being overwrought, the movie surprises beyond its centerpiece performance(s). There is a level of elitism to its world and to the characters that could serve as a barrier to entry and yet it all feels incredibly relatable, in large part due to the compassion Sarnoski finds for his characters and the trust he puts in his performers. One memorable sequence finds Rob and Amir preparing a meal for a special occasion. It’s an intimate moment that seems to encapsulate the slow-burn sojourn as a whole: Pig is a labor of love, each morsel ultimately savored because of the time and care put in to the preparation. Movie title be damned, Sarnoski’s vision is profoundly human.

Trying not to stew over it.

Moral of the Story: Though perhaps not one for animal lovers, Pig‘s emotional realism and enigmatic character work make it an easy recommendation for more than just Nic Cage apologists. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.” 

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.eater.com 

I Am Mother

Release: Friday, June 7, 2019

→Netflix

Written by: Michael Lloyd Green

Directed by: Grant Sputore

I Am Mother is another movie ideally suited for those of us already harboring a healthy distrust of robots. An often disconcerting experience, this post-apocalyptic thriller from Australian and first-time director Grant Sputore uses the relationship between a matronly AI and her flesh-and-blood daughter to create a fascinating allegory for parenthood.

The DNA of some undisputed sci fi classics is infused into the core of this dystopian family drama. While I Am Mother nods toward The Matrix in the climactic moments and a pretty cool rug-pulling moment wherein our perception of the truth gets inverted, and on more than one occasion evokes Skynet’s ubiquitous presence and ruthless determination, the newbie director blends the familiarly awesome and uniquely eerie in a satisfying way, threading plot twists through a claustrophobic, stainless steel environment where not everything is as it seems.

Stripping the world down to a fail-safe bunker and a single automaton (voiced by Rose Byrne, ambulated by Luke Hawker), the story begins in the immediate aftermath of a cataclysmic event that has wiped out all of mankind. Mother awakens and promptly sets about her duties, making breakfast, reading the morning news and, oh yeah, seeing to the pretty important task of repopulating Earth. She’s in charge of some 60,000 human embryos, all waiting to be “born” into a decidedly more austere life where Mother’s many rules are a sophisticated calculus to keep everyone safe. From what, exactly, we’re not sure. A relatively fresh face in acting, Danish singer Clara Rugaard plays the first human occupant of the bunker, and to keep things simple awkwardly formal (and no doubt symbolic) she’s only ever referred to as “Daughter.”

Her formative years — halcyon days captured beautifully in a brilliant usage of Bette Midler’s “Baby Of Mine” — appear lonely but the structure is not unlike that afforded a child raised in a loving, well-to-do, albeit more traditionally fleshy family. Limited though they may be she develops passions outside of her schooling, overseen by, who else, Mother. A cute little montage has a young Daughter covering her robo-mommy with stickers. Birthdays are celebrated. For a time, the world is perfect. As she grows she develops a curiosity about the world around her: “Why are there no other children?”

I Am Mother‘s man-machine conflict revolves around trust, something to which I’m sure those who are more qualified to speak on such matters might attest (i.e. actual parents), is a real mother of a challenge. Life’s a harrowing, endlessly twisting tunnel full of unexpected right and left turns. Raising a child is more complicated than the inner gizmos driving a machine. Often it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Unlike for AI making mistakes is part-and-parcel of the human experience. You can be great at nurturing but you won’t ever be perfect.

Which is why it’s so difficult for Mother when an uninvited human guest (an intense Hilary Swank) shows up, seeking shelter from the wasteland and bringing some alarming news with her. Daughter lets her in under certain conditions and in brazen defiance of house rules. “We’ve talked about this. No potentially hostile, gun-wielding guests after 9, got it?”

It’s a point of no return in which I Am Mother‘s fascinating moral conundrum goes from simmering to full blaze. It’s also where Swank essentially wrestles the film away from the erstwhile stars of the show, her wounded-outside-and-in Woman jolting the film with an urgent energy — an adrenaline rush we kind of needed right as the prolonged first act begins to drag a little. All the while the soothing in Byrne’s voice takes on more menace, the native Aussie never inflecting so much as a blip of emotion. It’s brilliant work from a performer you never see. Rugaard remains a sympathetic presence, selling her character’s ingenuity and intelligence, her compassion and her confusion. It’s a complex performance that she handles well, even if her rapport with Woman develops a little too quickly. (I’ll lay more of the blame there on the direction.)

Minor flaws aside, I Am Mother is a meticulous work of art. There are a lot of details that need to come together in just the right way to create that gutsy cliff-hanger-like ending — one that’s sure to keep viewers talking for awhile after. And let’s not overlook the production design, for it’s a character unto itself. The clinical setting of the domicile never makes one feel like they’re at home, while Peter Jackson’s own visual effects company Weta Workshop render the homemaker as a cross between Alicia Vikander’s Ava (from Ex Machina, a movie you could consider the more polished British cousin to I Am Mother), the T-800 (especially when she’s in full-on crisis control mode) and that single, unblinking eye just screams Hal-9000, arguably the mother of all cinematic AI.

Yes, my child, the future is indeed female.

Recommendation: I Am Mother is catnip for fans of intelligent sci fi, with a trio of strong female performances leading the charge and the dystopian aesthetic pulling from a number of big-time (and male-dominated) sci fi of years past. There’s also touches of more contemporary pieces like Ex Machina and 10 Cloverfield Lane as well. And it’s a movie whose ambiguous ending has and will continue to divide opinion. After nearly a month of sitting on this movie I am still unsure what to think of it. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Mothers need time to learn, too. Raising a good child is no small task.”

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 

A Cure for Wellness

cure-poster

Release: Friday, February 17, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Justin Haythe

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Gore Verbinski, the punk-rocker-turned filmmaker who coughed up the mess that was the 2013 reboot of The Lone Ranger, returns with an icky horror epic about a hot-shot Wall Streeter who travels to a remote rehab facility stashed high in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s seemingly AWOL CEO. When he arrives there, he discovers his mission won’t be as simple as he had hoped.

Dane DeHaan gets to play the ambitious young stockbroker Lockhart who must find a man named Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) and return him to New York City to sign off on a massive merger that is about to make everyone filthy rich. The problem is, Pembroke, like many of the patients at the facility, isn’t in a hurry to leave. There’s something about the fresh Alpine air and the soothing aqua-therapy treatments that makes it really hard to return to the grind of modern living.

Lockhart suspects something is afoot as soon as he arrives but he isn’t exactly the altruistic sort. He isn’t even that interested in the welfare of his CEO. He’s preoccupied with saving himself from ruination after his higher-ups discover his unscrupulousness and send him off to Switzerland to complete a simple task. When Lockhart becomes involved in a car accident he wakes up in the treatment facility as a patient, one of his legs seemingly broken. A Dr. Heinrich Volmer (Jason Isaacs) assures Lockhart that through a steady intake of clean drinking water and a sampling of the facilities, he’ll be back to normal in no time.

A Cure for Wellness deals almost exclusively in vaguery and abstraction, a creative decision often hazardous to the film’s own health. Contradictory, disturbing and often downright baffling imagery complements as much as it detracts from the journey to find a cure for “man’s sickness.” Throughout we are beaten over the head with decreasingly effective reminders that the outside world is sick, not so much in a physical sense, but rather in a psychological or emotional one. Perhaps even in a philosophical sense. Whatever sounds the most grandiose.

Avarice is what’s ailing Lockhart, apparently. He’s an unlikable brat for whom sympathy is nearly impossible to gain. But that’s less of a problem when we come to realize this isn’t a character-driven piece, that Lockhart is really just a plot device rather than an actual human being for whom we’re supposed to feel something — perhaps pity. A screenplay by Justin Haythe (of aforementioned Lone Ranger infamy) recycles and rehashes and reemphasizes the movie’s already familiar themes and fails to excavate any emotion out of the myriad perversities.

In A Cure for Wellness, DeHaan’s inconsistencies as an actor become fairly obscured by the film’s hypnotic, gothic sheen. In a movie that deemphasizes performance and characterization in favor of communicating big, heavy themes, the actor can (sort of) get away with a shallow portrayal of Wall Street filth. He’s serviceable in what might be considered his most unique career choice yet.

Yet his involvement in the story is confusing. It is unclear whether he’s meant to be the ambassador of all mankind or just the one-percenters who do what they must in order to remain at the top. Verbinski’s ambitions beg for a stronger character-oriented story. Instead the film leaves DeHaan adrift in an observational role that barely justifies our access to the specific rooms and the specific experiences that Lockhart finds himself wading through haphazardly. The end result is a meandering, emotionally hollow cinematic experience.

I don’t want to harp on the running time too much because I find it’s not really the length that’s the problem, but rather the way the time is spent. Cohesion is certainly a problem and the cure might have been to trim a few segments here and there. Ultimately though, it’s the circles we end up running in as Lockhart slowly puts the puzzle pieces together and attempts to free himself from a world much more twisted than our own.

In an attempt to distract from the lack of substance he has to back up his thesis on the folly of modern society, Verbinski hypnotizes with a barrage of visuals that are as gorgeous as they are often off-putting. It’s what I would describe as lazy filmmaking and it left me with the queasy feeling that I just sat through a nearly three hour movie that had nothing to offer at all — other than the sorts of breathtaking vistas only the Swiss Alps can provide.

mia-goth-and-dane-dehaan-in-a-cure-for-wellness

2-0Recommendation: A Cure for Wellness offers curious viewers a visually spectacular but somewhat empty cinematic experience. There are a few truly compelling sequences and some stuff that might not let you sleep for a day or so, but more often than not the movie is entirely unsurprising and not very involving. Dane DeHaan fans might be pleased to see the actor branching out, however. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 146 mins.

Quoted: “Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.” 

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