This week held the beginning of SIFF (at least for us press folk) which means I’ve started watching movies that I can’t yet talk about, including Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy. In theaters, I saw a little movie called The Avengers: Age of Ultron (though I’m not sure that anyone will really be talking about that one) as well as Jack Black/James Marsden “comedy” The D Train (more on that this week). In lesser news, I reviewed Russell Crowe‘s chintzy directorial debut The Water Diviner. For those looking for a good read that doesn’t exclusively pertain to the movies, I’d direct you to my interview with Nick Kroll of Adult Beginners, The Kroll Show and The League.
Though it’s been two weeks since this last weekly installment (isn’t that always the case?) we’ve had a chance to make our way through Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, a 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee, a strange Sundance sequel, an undersung science fiction flair up and a blood-stained cult flick. On the smaller screen, I’m down to pretty much only watching Game of Thrones on a weekly basis and I’ve been as impressed as ever with the season at hand. All this and more on Weekly Review.
LOST RIVER (2015)
Ryan Gosling‘s directorial debut shamelessly mimics the bright lights and brighter violence of Nicholas Winding Refn to dramatically lesser effect. Gosling’s wandering, minimalist narrative is slippery at best (the line between misogyny and feminism is frightfully blurred) and downright dumb at worst. It tells of a dark familial property struggle beset on all sides by inhumanly demonic forces with little subtly and even less sense. The result is a purposefully hallucinatory but egregiously substanceless affair. Gosling’s characters are shades of humans – often too hollow or meaninglessly brooding to deliver any actual impact -whereas his overarching feminist conceit seems truly lost in the woods here. Before Christina Hendrick finds herself encased in human-sized action figure bubble wrap with Ben Mendelshon raving about assaulting her against her will, the film had already lost its footing, and its soul. You’re left questioning whether stuff like this is just the accidental icing on top of an ill-footed attempt or a substance even more sinister. (D)
An elderly crate-maker and tangerine farmer provides sanctuary for two wounded soldiers, each on different sides of a war. Though its easy enough to prognosticate that the two sides’ seeming irreconcilable differences will melt like snowfall in the spring, director Zaza Urushadze has an ace in the hole in star Lembit Ulfsak who plays the congenial fruit-farmer-cum-near-philosopher. Though it goes down a recognizable path, Ulfsak forces you to consider the intricacies in the stepping stones along the way. Though Tangerines will likely be remembered most for edging out (even more deserving) Force Majeure of its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination, it itself is a bit of a force to be reckoned and one with a powerful, if familiar, punch. (B-)
UNCLE KENT 2 (2015)
No one has seen Joe Swanberg’s Uncle Kent which makes a sequel ripe for the picking in Todd Rohal’s idiosyncratic and masturbatory (both metaphorically and literally (there is a five minute masturbation sequence)) oddball follow-up. The pitch for Uncle Kent 2 – an in-joke that somehow found a budget, a production team and 83 minutes of film – is a hard sell to an independent film fan (let alone any casual moviegoers) as it features Ken Osborne playing a version of himself obsessed with making the sequel that we are indeed watching. Its existential trippiness could carve its own kind small chink for niche audiences of stoners and the like, although this is the kind of arthouse faux-mockumentary that will go over most’s heads and might prove full-blown adversarial for those looking for your run-of-the-mill movie experience. That being said, I give Osborne and company credit for breaking expectation and really going for something bizarre and indifferent to the tastes of the rabble. Also it has a five minute masturbation scene. (C)
Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s third (or second if you discount The Beach) collaboration, Sunshine is a thinking man’s sci-fi film; the smaller, smarter cousin-in-law to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Featuring an enviable (and reputably diverse) cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Mark Strong, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Bryne and Mr. U.S.A. himself, Chris Evans, Sunshine tells the tale of humanity’s last ditch effort to restart our dying sun by launching a nuclear bomb into its core. Disregard the inherent silliness such a premise could conjure to find a tale of intergalactic manifest destiny and cabin fever madness that transcends the likes of lesser science fiction fare. Sunshine is a great precursor to Garland’s brilliant Ex Machina and yet another impressive platform for Boyle to show off his multi-faceted skill set. Most of all though, it’s a interesting, engaging watch for genre fans. (B+)
MS. 45 (1981)
Drafthouse’s 1981 cult flick has been called the ultimate rape revenge movie and it doesn’t disappoint on that front. Abel Ferrara’s unapologetic portrait of feminine oppression at its breaking point isn’t coy about its intent, offering up an unblinking view of the dangerous side of sexuality in telling the tale of a mute seamstress (Zoë Tamerlis) violated not once but twice on the same day. Pushed past her breaking point, her thirst for revenge becomes quickly insatiable and her rage grows blind and singularly directed at those of the opposite sex. Ferrara’s use of violence is blunt and to the point with Tamerlis playing a sometimes disappointingly one-note angel of vengeance. This low-budg production has some laughable bad effects amidst its effectively chilling executions, earning its right as a cult film, though not one of my favorites. (C+)