Sunday, September 14, 2014
Camp X-Ray engages in somewhat of a military drama miracle. Packing in admirably and effectively a grim array of pressing issues in the real world, probing as its title implies national truths rarely covered in films and almost never in the corporate embedded media. And which include what's going down at that surreal and questionable gulag known as Guantanamo, sexual violence against females in the military, and the hundreds of US soldier suicides every year and why. Camp X-Ray is also an immensely devastating and emotionally honest and grueling dramatic showdown focusing on primarily just two characters.
One of those characters being, just as unimaginable, former Hollywood teen heartthrob of the Twilight series, Kristen Stewart. Who apparently, unlike most other movie stars in an avid quest for fame and fortune, has opted for the opposite direction. Intent on mining her talent for raw and real, meaningful hardcore drama instead. You go, girl.
Incredibly first timer young writer/director Peter Sattler daringly flips the official script of the one side to every story media and US government scenarios, in a courageous telling it like it is as to just what may be going down at Gitmo. With recently arrived army soldier Amy Cole, played by Stewart, assigned to the monotonous and unpleasant task of guard duty in a claustrophobic and hostile cell block. Where one of the 'detainees' Ali (Peyman Moaadi) - the soldiers are forbidden to call them prisoners because their unlawful US detention violates all existing international human rights statutes - attracts her alternately curious, repelled and empathetic attention.
The odd couple, in a kind of surrealistic mutual captivity at the camp confining both of them, at first approach one another in negative stereotypical preconceived notion mode. And with Cole astonished to learn that Ali, however understandably enraged at his hopeless plight, defies existing stereotypes as an educated, intellectually and artistically aspiring German national. And whose own perplexed youthful yearnings on a quest to make meaningful sense of the world, quite surprisingly mirror her own.
To say more about this delicately layered and defiant, doomed duet would dramatically diminish its resonance on screen. Suffice it to say that this brave excursion into controversial territory,cuts through that blind fog of official propaganda, relentlessly fed to the US public on a daily basis.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
If decadence and depravity seem to have gotten worse recently in Hollywood, with all the drug scandals, murders and suicides, David Cronenberg (Crash, Naked Lunch, Cosmopolis) and his latest Maps To The Stars should more than reinforce that collective hunch. A rude and raucous LA cesspool reality check especially for the star struck obsessives in the audience, the film nevertheless walks an exceedingly fine line between depicting Hollywood self-dehumanization, and simply crossing it.
Presiding over this cast of beyond degenerate lunatic characters is John Cusack as Stafford Weiss, a motivational mental health and fitness guru to the stars, plying his elite trade with unorthodox methods that include physical restraint, barking commands, and the pressure tactic eliciting of emotional pain. Among his kooky clientele is Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an aging diva actress (where 40 is apparently the new 95) longing to play her late screen goddess abusive mother in a new production. And an ambitious obsession that is literally here, to die for - as long as that unfortunate is somebody else.
Then there are a couple of truly bad seeds that happen to be Stafford's own kids. Including a way beyond bratty child celeb just exiting detox and his pyromaniac institutionalized sister, both with festering homicidal tendencies. Likewise turning up for seemingly sarcastic glee, is Carrie Fisher as herself in this far from coincidental tabloid tall tale touching on abusive parenting and kid counter-revenge. Along with related exploited employee revenge and something to do with retaliatory menstruation on a zillion dollar designer couch, not to mention coincidentally cross-generational arsonist tendencies, death by trophy - don't ask, and malevolent magical realism kicking in. Then there's Robert Pattinson, an LA limo driver for hire drudge who just longs to make in it Hollywood, and appears to be the only relatively sane individual in this multiple dark side menu of mix nuts.
I get it, that this movie is all about life such as it is, played out among stars as diseased hyper-individualism, and an avaricious series of egocentrically ambitious transactions in pursuit of getting ahead. And a society in moral decline and increasingly devoid of any individual sense of self, where identity theft metaphorically speaking, gets concentrated on obsessively burrowing into the imagined lives of movie stars
But there's a troubling irony throughout, that while exposing the malignancy of Hollywood, Cronenberg may be engaging in exploiting it as well. And it's not just the debasing of Julianne Moore as an actress in instructing her to repeatedly fart and wipe her behind on a toilet while getting nosy with her personal assistant through the open door, demanding details about her orgasms.
There's also the curious observation that the Hollywood honchos responsible for perpetrating this culture of insatiable greed are quite invisible here and seem to get a pass, possibly in a bid for the director to preserve his own career as a player in all of this. And much like his characters, hiding self-serving machinations behind a public smile.
And ultimately, yet another movie like so many preceding it, full of sound and fury while signifying no particular point about any of it. And a film world sadly tending to be about so many things, except meaning or art.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Much of the depravity, chaos and rage lying just beneath the iconic myth of the Wild West and exhibited as a male manifestation - is in large part attributed to post-Confederacy PTSD among veterans back then. Connected to the sound defeat and enormous devastation visited upon the South, that gave rise to dangerously disgruntled drifters known euphemistically as cowboys.
But there was another rarely spoken about Manifest Destiny madness out on the plains, and equally afflicting men and women due to the harsh living conditions and alienating isolation - Prairie Fever. Though an affliction characterized more in terms of gender, by deeply depressed women and violent men.
And without actually attributing that very real and far from uncommon ordeal among those 19th century heartland settlers, The Homeseman illuminates that state of mind with an astonishing poetic eloquence in portraying the descent into madness of three pioneer women on the Nebraska plains. Directed, co-written, produced and starring Tommy Lee Jones and co-produced by Luc Besson, this stunning, very differently depicted, and vividly conceived journey into the mythic American past likewise boasts a strikingly impressive ensemble cast. Counting in addition to Jones as the title character in question, Hilary Swank, Meryl Streep, William Fichtner, Grace Gummer, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, Jesse Plemons, James Spader and Hailee Steinfeld.
Not exactly a feminist western but powerfully evoking the lives of these scarred and thwarted women nevertheless, The Homesman follows the fate of three young wives (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) broken by mental illness (involving sexual assault, post-partum depression infanticide, grieving the death of children from a diptheria epidemic, and attempted female implement suicide by darning needle). And being escorted back East, where a concerned church has offered to care for them. The problem is that there are no local men, not even their own husbands, willing to take them by covered wagon on that long and dangerous journey.
Volunteering instead is Mary Bee (Swank), a solitary, pious farmer who courageously works her own land. A member of the town's Ladies Aid Society, Mary is also a lonely woman that all the men around her refuse to marry. Deemed just too 'plain as an old tin pail' Mary Bee is actually not at all physically unappealing. But her toughness, resilience and independent spirit get her labeled as simply too bossy for wedlock. And a pariah within the patriarchal kooky courtship culture on the frontier, despite her persistent proposals of marriage to men.
And self-determined but not impractical, Mary Bee realizes she'd have difficulty transporting these very needy and out of control women alone. So happening upon nomadic army deserter George Briggs (Jones) hitched up to a tree for lynching by an angry mob, Mary Bee saves him in return for his reluctant pledge to assist her on the journey.
The relationship that develops between Mary Bee and Briggs, along with the unusual bonding of these tortured and helpless women, unfolds within a captivating fusion of bleak tragedy, horror, delicate grace and devilishly twisted, dark humor. Along with a perplexing landscape and its oblivious history encircling the lives of surrounding enraged Native Americans and shackled trafficked slaves alike.
And a remarkable performance from Tommy Lee Jones' recklessly rowdy anti-hero never ceases to surprise and amaze. With a begrudgingly kind heart, that is delicately transformative and magnificently nuanced.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Once again, documentary film steps in to courageously and with conviction fill the quite empty shoes and abandoned mandate of the corporate controlled media - seemingly irrevocably embedded with the government as its useful idiot propaganda arm. And championing conviction over moral corruption when it comes to presenting more than one side to every story - in this case Cuba - with the documentary, Alumbrones.
Directed by South African filmmaker by Bruce Donnelly, Alumbrones is a collective portrait of the quite gender and age diverse prominent Cuban artists today. And with the title referring to the flickering lights in Cuban homes, when resources became scarce following loss of the helping hand of the former Soviet Union - along with the cruel US economic blockade against Cuba for these many decades.
But one of the most striking elements concerning the endurance of these hardships, is the resilience of the Cuban people in the face of political and capitalist aggression targeting them from the United States. And rather than the intended US affect of pressuring them to rise up against their government with artificially induced scarcity as the driving force through US economic terrorism, a determination to transcend those made in USA economic hostilities. And not only prevail as a people, but continue unhampered creating their flourishing art as well.
Alumbrones should have provided more explanation in detail how socialism in Cuba has not only created an egalitarian community of professional artists from all walks of life - something unimaginable in the class constricted United States - but through a system that supports them financially as a recognized vocation. And in which they don't have to struggle economically under the pressure to make ends meet like their US counterparts, or sell themselves off to the domineering highest financial elite, commercial benefactor bidders.
This extraordinary film is nevertheless a vividly conceived journey into the creative imagination and passion of artists in Cuba. And what happens when art purely as a socially subsidized and esteemed professional pursuit, is liberated from money.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Yet another entry into the dad rescues endangered kid thriller with Brian Miller's The Prince, that macho mayhem as opposed to maternal instinct scenario is beginning to nearly qualify as a guy genre in its own right on screen. Though in this case just about every guy around is a metaphorically conceived maniac from bad to worst, and it supposedly has something to do with the ancient Romans and rabid royalty under house arrest somewhere in the Scotland wilderness centuries ago.
Updated to the present time and with ensuing anti-heroes galore, The Prince plays out as a longstanding grudge between two gangsters with combo anger management diabolical daddy issues. Paul (Jason Patric) is the title character in question, a soldier who reluctantly chose the military over prison as an option he couldn't refuse, and whose combat experience apparently sent him into post-traumatic assassination mode, bringing home the war for the New Orleans mob. Now a mysterious auto mechanic down in Mississippi, Paul returns to New Orleans to locate his missing runaway teenage daughter.
Likewise interested in finding her is Omar (Bruce Willis), a local mob chief out to seek vengeance against Paul, responsible for the car bomb murder of his wife and daughter that was intended to take down Omar instead. Also tossed into the mix though rather peripherally is 50 Cent's leering lunatic druglord dubbed The Pharmacist, and John Cusack as a retired gangster from Paul's old posse back in the day, who wants none of it but is willing to help out secretly in any way he can. Then there's Omar's peculiar sidekick played by Rain, a skinny, dapper effeminate martial arts hitman favoring designer duds.
Willis rather delicately negotiates getting into his darker side, in a shaky balancing act between a slightly humanized professional psychopath yearning for closure over a longstanding major grievance, and just a really rotten dude. Meanwhile, maximum homicidal pandemonium ensues without astonishingly, a single big city cop in sight for the duration. Along with a remarkably bullet-proof protagonist throughout the proceedings, and the most destruction inflicted instead upon exceedingly defaced property if not highly abused chewed up scenery.
Saturday, August 9, 2014
While the US energy corporations conspire to invade European markets by demonizing Russia and marginalizing their gas production, American movies seem to be getting in on the financially lucrative propaganda frenzy too. Shifting their negative focus on Muslim villains to neo-Cold War Russian adversaries everywhere, and set up with predictable elimination. Or, in the case of Christopher Ray's Mercenaries, a deranged when not daffy Danish substitute in the person of Brigitte Nielsen will do.
A bargain basement, blatant female driven copycat ripoff of the pricier Expendables with a generous dab of Roger Corman - oddly enough or perhaps not, with Expendables the brawn over brainchild of Nielsen's ex-spouse Stallone, Mercenaries serves up its schlock and awe like S&M pole dancers with pistols. And Charlie as in the CIA covert warfare military mode, and dabbling in knockoffs right down to this female army's skintight sexpot battle slutwear from The Expendables Recycler store outlet, no less.
And with a remote US location filling in for Kazakhstan as a Russian enclave - though these geographically deprived filmmakers haven't gotten the notice yet that Kazakhstan is now an independent country. Though who knows that the territory may actually house at this point, one of those nifty secret CIA military prisons specializing in creative torture.
In any case, sent off to this somewhat mythic realm somewhere in the real world, is a criminally minded collection of female felons recruited, whether they like it or not, by the CIA visiting them armed with mace, to embark on a secret mission to rescue the US president's diplomat daughter taken hostage in Kazakhstan. And by none other than a statuesque Russian lunatic lesbian ballbuster played with femme fatale macho relish by Nielsen. Which is essentially what happens to young bombshell screen goddesses hitting old age, where in Hollywood forty is the new ninety-five.
And with Nielsen and a male army of apparently myopic sharpshooters in a ludicrous faceoff never less than destined for enemy loserville, by armed to the teeth, bulletproof, ferociously foul-mouthed battling babes counting Zoe Bell, Kristanna Loken and Nicole Bilderback. And last but hardly least, Vivica Fox as the reigning demented wild card of this deranged posse, mulling fantasies of one day turning the former Soviet Union countries like this one into those cheap labor, non-union movie sets (hey hello, it's already been happening) where packing a strap-on, she can get to perform sex acts on George Clooney.
Mercenaries: Charlie's Devils Meets The Sexpendables. And riling themselves up with the bitch bravado battle cry, 'Let's go PMS on them.'
'...It doesn’t take a feminist to figure out that the men in charge of making this film might reasonably be said to have a few issues with women...'
CONTINUE READING FAMOUS MORTIMER MERCENARIES REVIEW HERE...
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Nuclear family noir faces off against gangster thriller gore in Good People. Simultaneously referencing traditional mobster mayhem and bleak, apocalyptic end stage capitalism in a recession stricken world.
James Franco and Kate Hudson are Tom and Anna Reed in Good People, an economically struggling young American couple migrating to London after Anna inherits a dilapidated family home there. Determined to renovate the aged structure in nearly complete shambles while relying on Tom's carpentry skills but few funds, the frustrated duo are elated when a downstairs neighbor in the building where they live is found murdered, but leaving behind a huge amount of hidden cash they discover there. Money that they attempt to rationalize, has no moral value in and of itself, it's what people do with it that creates ethical quandaries.
And turning up to drive those problematic points home rather quickly as the pair begins to pay off debts, are no less than three warring parties. Counting a deeply suspicious detective (Tom Wilkinson) with his own hidden agenda, local drug dealers from whom the money was originally stolen, and French gangsters who were ripped off by the local thugs in the first place. Leaving the couple in the unfortunate predicament of eluding everyone in question at the same time, in order to save their lives.
Kate Hudson wears the pants in this particular family outing, with Franco frequently deferring to her ballsy moves intercepting the bad guys, more comfortable apparently with applying his craftsman skills to a kind of creative blue collar class warfare. And with the various menacing intruders when not homicidal busybodies standing in somewhat for a metaphorical late capitalism doing battle with itself, and those at the bottom left essentially with no side to choose from or any traditional good versus, evil amid multiple malevolent threats. Whether implicating ruthless greed, official corruption, or perfected torture in the pursuit of ill gotten gain.
Directed by masterfully bold and socially intuitive Danish filmmaker Henrik Ruben Genz (Terribly Happy) and adapted by Kelly Masterson (Snowpiercer, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead) from the Marcus Sakey novel, Good People anchors this story in a sobering subtext beyond its otherwise conventional thriller roots. Channeling guerrilla imagination with whatever tools at hand, and workingclass resistance in a nearly futile hi-tech weaponry world. Or as a confident Kate Hudson declares at a key moment in confronting formidable, elaborately armed opponents from all sides, "Guns are for pussies."