Wild (May 8th, 2016)
Director: Jean Marc Vallee
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, and Gaby Hoffman
This movie came onto my radar during Oscar season during the year of it’s release, having the very definite stink of Oscar Bait lingering around its trailer. The movie felt like a big wave from Reese to get attention back to her and maybe an Oscar for her troubles for making such a serious and important movie. So it didn’t ignite any interest in me to see it, until I saw the director was the man behind Dallas Buyers Club. That movie too had the feel of Oscar bait to it, and even in the end it had the bones of one. But the work he did with his actors and the story itself managed to elevate it above simple trite. And he does the same here, although not as powerfully as in that prior flick. Mainly it’s because I really don’t much care for the story being told as much as the other movie. This one feels even more like a cliched narrative, without the little subversions to it that Dallas had. Whereas that one was about a shitheel learning to accept those he looked down on, he was still an asshole in many ways by the end of it. Just a more tolerant asshole, making it less neat. This feels very much in line with a broken soul being completely changed by the end. Which is fine, but feels a little less interesting to me. It’s really just a personal thing for me. For her journey on the trail she’s hiking, it’s fine and gives her enough material to work through to grow. But it never really feels superb or new. There’s even a scene where I really just worried to myself about the potential narrative fuckup with the simple thought “Please don’t be a rape”. Reese is great in the role, helping sell the different facets of the character and the different mindsets she’s in at the different timeframes we jump through during the movie. I think what I liked the most about the journey is that it hinges on the relationship between her and her mother (Dern). Instead of a simple drug rehab journey, she’s grieving through hike. Doesn’t change the traditional nature of the journey itself, but the background of it adds a bit. I think it’s a good movie and one that I enjoyed, but did not quite connect to. It may work for women more, due to the Mother/Daughter relationship. Overall it’s good for all audiences though and it’s a nice showcase for Reese. Vallee grows quite a bit too, showing much stronger visual style and a defter touch with the pacing. For the talent involved alone, it’s worth it.
High-Rise (May 10th, 2016)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, and Sienna Miller
If you wondered what an early 90s era Cronenberg would do with Snowpiercer, this is that movie. Based on a book by JG Ballard, who Cronenberg adapted once with Crash and is highly influenced by, this feels very much fitting with the feel of Ballard. And being that this book was released decades before Snowpiercer, there was definitely some inspiration when that train bound saga was released. So in a similar vein to John Carter feeling tired and cliched, despite the fact that the book it was based on is older than every movie that ripped it off. But it’s different than that in the fact that this is a very good, unique and trippy as balls movie that doesn’t feel traditional at all. Just cause Snowpiercer tackles society and the class system in a confined space, the two are tackled in such different ways with different tones and outcomes, that you can’t help but be thankful that we got the both of them to compliment each other. These two would make a hell of a double feature. For where Snowpiercer is action packed and supremely dour with a slightly optimistic ending, this movie is very trippy and funny and supremely negative. This one feels like it’s hiding the medicine in some candy. Wheatley is continuing to show what a strong and varied director he is. This is unlike what he’s done before, because he’s never done something that called Cronenbergian (without a killer pussy standin in sight). And yet it doesn’t feel like empty mimicry like David O’ Russell desperately trying to be Scorsese. It’s just the consequence of diving into territory that inspired the man. The visuals are all very strong and help to set the scene of a high quality (for the 70s) apartment complex that feels constricting in it’s luxury. And for a movie that is not a big budget affair, it makes the most of it’s budget to create this sort of alt world 1970s England. His control of tone and dream/nightmare logic is astounding, making the whole affair seem like a half remembered experience even while watching it. Watching as Tom Hiddleston move into this new complex, not accidentally landing in the middle floor of the building, try to gain his way into high society on the top floors while the bottom floors start to revolt and the entire structure becomes too insular and insane to survive any longer is quite a wild ride. The characters all feel like characters to fit into the thematics, but with enough grace notes to feel like real people. It’s funny and really odd. It’s got a good deal of character and a sense of itself, making it real easy to connect to if you’re into that kind of thing. But it’s also not something that will be for everyone, being so unique and singular. In this very odd time in the world where there’s a bunch of demagogues stoking the anger of the lower class and income inequality in the air, this is a very timely movie to watch. Odd and unique, this is something special.
The Hurricane (May 14th, 2016)
Director: Norman Jewison
Starring: Denzel Washington, Vicellous Reon Shannon, Liev Schreiber, and Dan Hedaya
Denzel hit a point in his career where he would no longer do any wrong. That moment was Malcolm X, a performance so amazing it can be looked at as a masterclass of the craft. After that, even in the movies that don’t necessarily work (The Bone Collector, The Manchurian Candidate), he’s amazing in them and makes them more watchable than they deserve to be. And since this is a movie released after that high watermark of acting, this falls into the immensely watchable but flawed movie category. This has a very old Hollywood feel to it, despite the foul language and gritty(ish) look at a black mans struggle inthe 60s/70s, this has the feel of a morally black and white film of the old days. Fitting, since Norman Jewison was a very old man at the time of making this and comes from the older school of filmmaking. This is a story that could have very much benefitted from not muddying up the true story. Because there’s a good chance that Carter actually committed the murders he was locked up for and was only released because the evidence was handled so poorly. But there’s a good chance that he actually did grow and change into a good man, which could have made the story that much more interesting. Having these people trying to help him get out of prison, despite the chance that he probably did it would add a layer of complication and moral debate to the thing. Also taking all the wrongs of the case out of the hands of one made up detective that is the embodiment of police corruption and make it an organizational issue that isn’t necessarily evil but a group doing the right thing in the wrong way. Especially with a performance as strong as Denzel gives her, the murkiness could have been so strong and made the ending a conversation point. But alas, that’s not the movie we have. The movie we have may be a little too morally self righteous, but it’s a really good flick that elicits some strong emotions out of the viewer. Because while it may not be the true story, the story they tell is a very powerful one. And I don’t know if I can put the praise on Jewison completely or on Denzel. I have to lean towards Denzel, because the stuff when he isn’t on screen is so spectacularly not as interesting as when he is on screen. It’s almost like Jewison took the job and knew he had to film that other stuff and didn’t really want to, so he half assed it a bit. One just has to look at the scene of Denzel thrown in solitary and having an internal fight with himself being externalized on screen. That’s powerful filmmaking complimented by a masterful performance by one of the greatest to ever grace the big screen. But then you look at the stuff with the Canadians or the young black boy that befriend Rubin, and it just feels so perfunctory and lazy. Shannon tries as the kid that befriends Rubin, but he’s way too broad and has an accent that gives Jack O’Connell’s in Money Monster a run for his money. But in the whole of the thing, there is not that much without Denzel so the whole thing is an overall success. Watching Denzel essentially do a similar journey of Malcolm X but with enough variances to make it different, like him being wrongfully imprisoned and him going from angry to cold to desperate for release. It’s a powerful performance, one that should have netted him another Oscar. To those who wanna see Denzel continue to be a master or those that wanna see a powerful if flawed movie about the power of self reliance in the face of adversity, this is a hell of a flick.