Sunday, September 14, 2014

Camp X-Ray: Kristen Stewart Kicks Ass Politically On Screen

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.

Two Days, One Night: Marion Cotillard Class Struggle One Hour At A Time


...Cotillard, who is no stranger to tackling complex characters and complicated women in movies, most notably as Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, plays Sandra in Two Days, One Night, an emotionally vulnerable blue collar worker in a plant determined to pit her against the other workers...


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Maps To The Stars: A Fine Line Between Exposing Hollywood Exploitation, And Crossing it

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

The Homesman: Pioneer Women Surviving Prairie Fever On The Bleak Frontier

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

Alumbrones: A Luminescent Light On Art Liberated From Money

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.