Sunday, April 12, 2015
Though the anti-drone warfare psychological drama Good Kill may have its heart in the right place, its morally ambivalent head may be another matter. Dabbling first of all, in a contradictory duality of concepts when it comes to the courage of one's convictions concerning Good Kill's ironic title. And intimating unfortunately multiple unintended meanings regarding the conflicted remote control US military warrior in question, and New Zealand writer/director Andrew Niccol's motivations as well.
Ethan Hawke is Tom Egan, an Air Force war pilot redeployed to the Nevada desert - unbilled birthplace of the atom bomb many weapons of mass destruction moons ago - to more modern warfare drone duty. That is, the remote control, video game derived bomb blasting alleged Taliban warriors in Afghanistan.
But Egan is peeved about assorted stuff that has little to do with murdering far flung suspects on the other side of the world, without benefit of judge, jury or perish the thought, legal representation. Egan apparently resents being relieved of his war plane, where, as he explains, there was a much more satisfactory visceral sense of killing anonymous perps up close and personal,and simply because one is ordered to do so.
And Egan, increasingly self-medicating and essentially droning while drunk, resentfully but dutifully goes along to get along. That is, until a last straw change of plans when the CIA steps in to direct the drone strikes by double remote - from DC. And via the anonymous phone-in barking of orders from code name Agent Langley (Peter Coyote). Much to the dismay of the military and local commander Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood), with the implication, according to this film, that when the military instead of the CIA was droning Afghans to death, those massacres were logical, justified and humane. Huh?
Good Kill does present what the filmmaker seems to believe is somehow a balanced - and less challenging - view. Or at least what may make the movie appear as less than a blatant infomercial for the US military. The drone operators do wince a bit to demonstrate their humanity, when a woman reaches to retrieve a stray severed arm out of a tree following one of their bombings. Then there's Zoe Kravitz, who gets to be the drone killer eventually most appalled politically by the entire business. But she's also hey, a female. You know, the sort of gender based character driven by emotions, and in that regard with seductive designs on Egan, married or not.
And Egan comes to be plagued by second thoughts about all of this business as well. But not necessarily in a way you might think, by denouncing the entire questionable moral and ethical empire building that ultimately constitutes this country's engineering of endless wars on the planet, remote and otherwise.
So what in the end is that preemptively cautious Good Kill, having it both ways, joint pro and anti-war concept all about? For starters, bad working conditions, by being relegated to a physically stress inducing, claustrophobic container in the Nevada desert. Then there's Hawke's character endlessly whining about the loss of somewhat more direct, in your face enemy extermination as a previous old school war plane bomber. Along with 'good kill' US military remote 'warheads on foreheads' assassinations, until the presumably indiscriminate preemptive CIA meddling kicked in. And essentially, ironically, the drones pretty much getting a pass. Or rather, perhaps, the filmmaker.
Good Kill is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place through April 26th throughout Manhattan. The Festival will highlight hundreds of feature films, documentaries, shorts and special events.
More information is online at Tribecafilm.com.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
The reign of the 90 pound weakling may have indeed arrived, as the cyberspace era has seemingly switched up exactly which forces and in fact body builds, get to call the shots historically over everybody else. And the German cyber-noir Who Am I: Kein System Ist Siche, directed by Baran Bo Odar, appears to be doing just that as well, sending the classic standoff of might makes right into the dustbin of history. Along with all sorts of militaristic implements that seem to have met their match in the far more lightweight and invisible tactics of brainiacs on a mission, with the potential of bringing armies to their knees one day in the not very distant future.
Tom Schilling is Benjamin in Who Am I, a scrawny workingclass German youth in a deep funk. Overcome by a sense of facelessness in the modern world, Benjamin mourns his lack of any sense of purpose, recognition or identity. Delivering pizzas by day and dreaming of superhero ascension by night, and the sort of kid reject who was even deemed too boring to get bullied or beaten up in grade school.
Until, that is, he discovers his cyber-geek skills. Which progressively take a more subversive turn, somewhat in retaliation against the indifferent world around him. And he is soon teaming up with a rowdy Darknet posse under the influence of a Ritalin hacker high, and with an assorted menu of giddy rebel impulses against society. Starting off with infiltrating a neo-nazi convocation and revising the video presentation with mocking Hitler-toons, to sabotaging the stock market, banks, the German military and pharmaceutical corporations.
But when the gang takes on the German intelligence espionage headquarters, they may have more than met their match. Which is where this stylishly hyperactive, high IQ thriller detours into more conventional, less inventive subplots along this particular underground information highway. Involving a sour female spy with a malfunctioning uterus in pursuit, multiple hacker standoff wars that may have confounded even Julian Assange, and something to do with four lost and found cubes of sugar.
Who Am I: Kein System Ist Sicher [No System Is Safe] is a feature of the KINO! 2015 Festival Of German Films, taking place at the Cinema Village in New York City through April 16th. The Festival will showcase ten feature films, along with German Short Film Night.
KINO! 2015 is organized by German Films, with the participation of the Goethe-Institut New York, Deutsches Haus at New York University and The Village Voice.
Information about Kino! 2015 is online at: www.kinofestivalnyc.com.
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
There's a lot more going on than just the ongoing dictates of the European Union's major players, Germany and others, to further entrench the debt servitude of Greece and other resistant countries. And the German newsroom noir Lies Of The Victors [ Die Luegen der Sieger] dramatically delves into just that, venturing into the murky depths of multinational corporate control over just about everything from the political to personal these days.
Florian David Fitz is Fabian, a hotshot reporter with both diabetic and gambling issues, at the Berlin muckraking rag, Die Woche [The Week]. Fabian is sent to probe the investigative case of German veterans among the Coalition troops in Afghanistan, who seem to be succumbing to psychiatric ailments that are suspected of being precipitated by toxic waste questionably handled by the army there.
At the same time, he's annoyed when suddenly assigned a mysterious young intern, an overzealous female Fabian assigns to a tabloid news story to hopefully be rid of her. The sensationalistic item involves an army veteran who climbs into a lion's cage at the local zoo, with the seeming enthusiastic intention of getting mauled to death.
And in a bizarre sequence of coincidental circumstances, the international toxic waste probe, that veteran insanity in question, devious EU lobbyists, mystery whistleblowers, dubious waste disposal capitalists and suspect news editors all appear to converge in an exceedingly sinister way. Or do they?
Lies of The Victors, directed by Christoph Hochhausler [The City Below], skillfully reinvents conventional noir unconventionally as a New World Order toxic malady in its own right, intent on redeeming the dismissive notion of paranoid thinking in the here and now. But the dense narrative is often too convoluted for its own good, compromising suspense for spectator head scratching, thus nearly as confounding for the audience as the exceedingly puzzled protagonist in question.
There's also the questionable issue of equal opportunity villain plot points kicking in, which intimate accusations suspecting oligarchs and whistleblowers alike. And though such subversive scenarios may be the actual scripted concoctions of the rich who control everything in the real world, the notion of betrayal even by those seeming to valiantly oppose the way things are, not only deflates the proceedings to a level of immense cynicism without hope. But raises the question as to what extent the filmmaker himself was willing to risk challenging the status quo abuse of power in the real world. Or not.
And in several rather unusual injected sidebars, Humphrey Bogart and Lawrence Ferlinghetti turn up. Specifically in the case of the Ferlinghetti, his postscripted poetry in Lies Of The Victors:
History is made
of the lies of the victors
but you would never dream it
from the covers of the textbooks...
Lies Of The Victors [ Die Luegen der Sieger] is a feature of the KINO! 2015 Festival Of German Films, taking place at the Cinema Village in New York City through April 16th. The Festival will showcase ten feature films, along with German Short Film Night.
KINO! 2015 is organized by German Films, with the participation of the Goethe-Institut New York, Deutsches Haus at New York University and The Village Voice.
Information about Kino! 2015 is online at: www.kinofestivalnyc.com.
Thursday, April 2, 2015
Make no mistake, Housekeeping is strictly standard horror. Intended to perpetrate maximum scare tactics on audiences by basically any means necessary.
But it's not so much first time feature film director Jennifer Harrington's spine tingling strategy towards achieving this goal in Housekeeping that intrigues, but rather the subject matter. And once again, during this horrific state of affairs playing out in the ongoing economic crisis and doomed hard times in this country, it seems to be all about work. Or the lack of it.
And on that note, what could be more horrifying as a monster in residence in movies these days, than those demonic creatures known as bosses. Or dehumanizing worker exploitation. All of which adds up to a potential new pathological strain in the genre.
And in the case of Housekeeping, there's an added and innovative, indeed disturbing element, of the boss going postal instead on a worker, rather than the other way around. As well as in the particular case of this all female conceived and carried out Housekeeping, a horror movie for a change invoking female fightback over the torture porn of women. And with the implementation of problem solving brainy analysis rather than brainless violence.
Adriana Solis is Lucy Castillo in Housekeeping, a distraught Latina medical student in LA surviving on a scholarship. And who is desperate to raise cash quickly, in order to help her wayward younger brother being held and tortured by a street gang for money owed.
And Lucy is turned down repeatedly for even menial jobs she seeks, in the midst of the current mass unemployment and minimal prospects. And this scary reality is more than effectively conveyed in the rejection messages incessantly delivered via the creepy, robotic voice on her answering machine.
Disheartened and increasingly despondent, Lucy reluctantly accepts from a questionable old high school acquaintance, a job as a housemaid for another affluent, domineering former female classmate. And in fact the sort of dead end demeaning position in life she had been doing her best to distance herself from, that had been work performed by her late mother. But no matter how menial or humiliating had been the work her mother endured, Lucy is up against circumstances far more terrifying. And essentially an oppressive white employer who is never seen, but leaves increasingly demanding and depraved written orders for her each day to fulfill as her duties, or else.
All of which beyond the standard malevolent mayhem, raises larger, sinister questions. And basically, would you do anything to hold on to a job? And not necessarily the kind of colleague backstabbing that transpires in the competitive world of dog eat dog capitalism. But for instance, stabbing a neighborhood cat your boss deems annoying, because she orders you to do so.
As such, Housekeeping rises above its conventional horror to ponder those sorts of issues that can instigate human fears among the masses feeding horror in the first place. And opening the proverbial door for the socio-economic violence of issues like class, race and gender to kick in.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Resurrection Of A Bastard
Part Tarantino, part existential live action looney toons, Guido van Driel's adapted graphic novel Resurrection Of A Bastard puts a surreal twist on what might transpire if a mobster were to metaphorically walk in his victim's shows. And in this case specifically, a Netherlands neanderthal homicidally inclined enforcer stricken with a case of soft-hearted human empathy, following an act of attempted murder revenge by the family of one of his victims.
Yorick van Wageningen (the scary rapist in David Fincher's Dragon Tattoo) is Ronnie, the portly psychopathic designated bastard in question. A terrifying thug for hire in the employ of a loan shark for some reason named James Joyce, Ronnie beats to death a young mother who happens by, while he's in the act of creatively torturing a noncompliant debtor by extracting his eyeball with a vacuum cleaner, don't ask.
Following a near death experience when the mother's relative hunts him down and shoots the unrepentant macho miscreant in the neck, he emerges from the hospital as a new and improved Ronnie. And taken to watching snails mate for hours, when not into saving the life of his assailant on one occasion.
Meanwhile, there's a parallel story of young African immigrant Eduardo (Goua Robert Grovogui), who just wants to be a car mechanic with dreams of his own future garage. And doing his best to dodge a less than hospitable xenophobic Europe at the moment. Eventually the two differently alienated men end up in a tree together. Contemplating who knows what, but in any case distancing themselves physically and mystically from whatever pressures come to bear on men, no matter where they're from and how they got there. At least in movies.
Move over Scientology. While veiled threats directed at film critics from Scientologist honchos if daring to approvingly review Alex Gibney's damning doc Going Clear, amounted to mere idle cease and desist tongue wagging, Argentine director Hernan Guerschuny's El Critico may be a different matter. Though couched as fiction, this buffoonish bittersweet backlash against film critics who can make or break a movie in a case of the pen being way mightier than a sword, is a none too subtle swipe at those wielding such potentially damaging power. And incredulously as often seemingly whimsical afterthought.
Rafael Spregelburd is Victor, the prominent film critic in question. Beyond jaded and terminally melancholy, Victor feels he is dying, Specifically, suffocating from too many bad movies. Or, as the saying goes among the colleagues of your truly, most movies do nothing but transport you two hours closer to death.
And owing to this dismal state of metaphysical affairs, it's no surprise that Victor trashes most movies in his reviews. Which has to his misfortune, landed him in between a rock and a hard place as a 'taste terrorist.' With his newspaper about to redeploy him to the position just vacated by 'the horoscope girl' because his dismissive assault on movies is costing the publication diminished theater advertising revenue. And on the other hand, a possible emergence of failed filmmaker stalkers with potential malice in mind, owing to Victor's negative reviews costing them their careers. Including several peeved employees at a local theater who, were it not for Victor sealing their fate, would much rather be making movies.
But eventually worse than 'the malady of cinema that is destroying me,' Victor finds himself trapped somewhat in a not too pleasant movie of sorts in the real world. Somewhat held emotional hostage as pathetic protagonist by a mysterious woman (Dolores Fonzi) who has not only grabbed his heart, but the new apartment he wants to rent as well.
Suffice it to say that the mystery female, however flaky, in this case at least triumphs over male belligerence reinforced by the inordinate power inherent in that weird vocation known as film criticism. And at the same time while transformed into an inconsolable lovesick loon, succumbing to the 'cheap emotions' he always reviled in films as a critic up until now. Resulting in, to utter traumatized disbelief, his name mounted all over town on billboard blurb quotes, gushing over a questionable movie.
And whether or not El Critico is satire or a filmmaker's warning to movie reviewers to beware in the future, seems to be up for grabs. Let for a change, you the reader decide.
Friday, March 20, 2015
A kind of subversive screwball mashup of Hollywood and Occupy Wall Street, the health care crisis satire Accidental Love as co-written by Al Gore daughter Kristin Gore and based on her novel Sammy's Hill, comes off as a different inconvenient truth. When not a deliberate combo of daring and daffy.
Seven years in the making, Accidental Love faced a financial dilemma you could say concurrently rivals anyone seeking actual medical attention in this country. The comic misadventure stars Jessica Biel as Alice, a rollerskating retro-burger drive-in waitress who gets a nail stuck in her head during a construction mishap. And is denied the necessary surgery for lack of health insurance.
But at the same time, even though prone to strange, new uninhibited behavior resulting from the injury, Alice likewise experiences new thinking outside the box. And she's soon off to DC, determined to corner that corrupt contingent of officials there known as politicians. And specifically one tainted but possibly redeemable congressman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
And where Alice's push for health care legislation and the operation she needs, is pitted against a bill destined to militarize the moon - being pushed through in a convoluted ploy involving devious Capitol Hill conspirators counting Catherine Keener, James Brolin and Pee-Wee Herman, don't ask. Tracy Morgan also turns up in an unfortunate coincidence, as Alice's friend with his own set of bad health issues.
Accidental Love has its heart in the right place, but does itself somewhat of a disservice by not trusting its audience that has been fed an infantile, unrelenting diet of Hollywood - along with the tabloid tendencies of the capitalist media, to care about serious issues up on the screen. Kind of like feeding the masses fried chicken - but hold the organic veggies for last.
The movie seems to be part of confrontational but flawed fluff in an emerging new genre that could be termed too close for comfort controversy cinema. Created by mainstream filmmakers and actors who just want to care about the world, and that recently counts The Cobbler and The Gunman as well. But whatever the shortcomings, their decent sentiments ultimately rule. And Accidental Love gets a pass for sheer outrage. Or as Reverend Norm (Kurt Fuller) declares so tellingly in the flaky finale, 'it's messy - as life often is.'
Thursday, March 19, 2015
Money and morals are definitely a difficult if impossible combination to pull off. And this contradiction could not be more true than in the impulse lately of mainstream filmmakers and actors to make meaningful movies with an indie heart, while keeping a foot firmly in Hollywood.
That is, when it comes to what formulas that flourish at the box office, namely action thrillers and crude comedy. Which seems to be lately heralding in a peculiar new emerging, unfortunate juxtaposed genre, that aims to sell pressing political issues to the public by sugarcoating them with fluff ranging from mindless to inane.
And in that sense, such films may reveal more about mistrust of the masses to comprehend their own basic human needs and what's ailing America. And that condescension likewise extends to film critics in a different sort of way. Namely, an even more entrenched class bias that not only expresses contempt for the masses, but critical blinders as well in understanding the world only on their own primarily middle aged, white, and comfortable middle class terms.
Which brings up three recent politically driven releases, all resoundingly denounced - surprise, surprise - by critics: The Cobbler [urban removal themed] and Accidental Love [the health care crisis]. Both are crafted with sincere conviction, no matter how muddled with goofy comedy. But the third, The Gunman, directed by Pierre Morel [Taken] fails on all counts.
A kind of Anti-American Sniper - though this is in no way a sequel - Sean Penn stars as Terrier, a double dipping, ultimately remorseful mercenary staked out in the Congo. Presumably assisting an NGO with public works development, he's likewise doing the bidding of Western mineral interests. And in that capacity, Terrier assassinates a government minister in the way of a multinational's theft of natural resources there. And any of this seemingly a pretext for lots of gunplay - indicated without subtlety by the title - the relentlessly bulletproof Penn, a climactic showdown at a bullfighting ring and bodies littered across numerous international locales.
To sum up, in the midst of multiple mercenaries, matadors, a two-timing damsel in distress, corporate conmen and standard macho mayhem with a differently duplicitous Javier Bardem checking in as well, dishonor among thieves abounds. Not to mention that NGOs - without any significant research kicking in that might have uncovered them as more often than not, notoriously in bed with the multinationals everywhere themselves. And in just as many cases, more effective as shrewd propaganda tools, than the blatant activity of mercenaries.
In any case oddly enough and back to those matadors in question, the aggravated anti-hero is saved by the bull.