Movie Review Enemy

Enemy-2013-Movie-Still

“Enemy” is masterful. Fully admitting to being hyperbolic at times I assure you that I am being rather restrained with the choice of that adjective. It is haunting, effective and narcotic, drawing you helplessly into the world of 2 identical men, Adam and Anthony, both played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal. “Enemy” was directed by Denis Villeneuve who was the force behind last year’s “Prisoners,” a good, solid suspenseful film. With “Enemy” however Villeneuve proves himself to be capable of exquisite sublime efficiency in his film-making. “Enemy” has a quiet subtlety married with a deep unnerving intensity that holds you rapt in its grip every single minute of the film. There is nothing extraneous here and everything – every scene, every word of the spare dialogue, every glance and gesture is important and, well, perfect. It is a puzzle into which you are dropped and gain no footing because you never were on solid ground to begin with. It is a film which you experience beyond merely watching.

“Enemy” is the story of Adam Bell, a lethargic history professor at a university. Living alone in a bleak minimal apartment his life is total redundancy. Same lecture, same clothes, same screw with his girlfriend. The weight of his monotonous life and daily grind is cloaked in a non-palette of beiges, a brownish gray haze which permeates all of his environments. We the viewer actually feel in a visceral way the claustrophobia of the prison which he has created for himself. And it does not feel good I can assure you. Deviating from his routine one night, he watches a film in which he sees an actor who looks just like him. That, precious viewer, is all you will get from me on plot. Anymore and I will have gone too far. The viewer’s inability to get said footing, to feel confident about the nature of relationships and their interrelatedness is what makes this film so superior. I hesitate to bring up any comparison but the one which comes to mind is “Memento” although the frantic rush of that film is a far cry from the slow hypnotism of “Enemy.” It bears mentioning that both Adam and Anthony press us to question whether they are sympathetic characters or not. Can we feel for them? Do we like them? The answer to those questions are a moving target – part of what makes the film so skillful and potent.

I have always been highly focused on cinematography, perhaps to too large a degree. That’s arguable. But in “Enemy” I cannot imagine a better vantage point and filter than that which has been created by Nicolas Bolduc. Bolduc is, like Villeneuve, a Quebec native and his vision is sublime, skilled and tight. I have not seen his previous efforts but I look forward to his evolving work. Jake Gyllenhaal has always been adept at portraying somewhat disturbed, haunted souls, but he has gained maturity and with it the ability to be both disturbing and compelling. I felt that Gyllenhaal was the best part of “Prisoners” with his subtle tics and an obvious secret we are never let on to, and here too he is a man with a secret. The supporting cast features Melanie Laurent whom we first saw in “Inglorious Bastards,” and in contrast here is a present but not vivid character, and Sarah Gadon whose slightly alien other worldly beauty serves her role perfectly. Have some coffee or tea, (for God’s sake not a cocktail), grab a highly analytical friend and revel in the brain ride of “Enemy.”

Cinemynx Movie Review Enemy

 

Faigh do on Gaeilge!

That’s right! You can barley believe that it’s St. Patrick’s Day again! Green beer, in New York there are green bagels (I mean REAL bagels) and everywhere else its a good excuse to get sloppy and wistful like you’re at an all day Irish wake. However, for me St. Pat makes me think of all the remarkable contributions to world of film we have received from and tell the stories of the emerald isle. Just in case your idea of a good time does NOT mean the parade, or the pub, or you just want an excuse to break from your intake of Jameson or Harp, Kilkenny or Guinness (or a delightful combination thereof…) here are my top 7 Irish tales. And as I said above – time to “get your Irish on!”

In the Name of the Father

Photo from the movie In The Name Of The Father

Directed by the incomparable Irish director Jim Sheridan (who will show up numerous times in this list) the agonizing story of a forced confession to an IRA related bombing which imprisons both father and son is not only one of the best Irish films of all time, but one of the best films period. Daniel Day Lewis having already honed his connection with Sheridan in “My Left Foot” (see below – no surprise there) is based on the true story of Gerry Conlon and his father Giuseppe. Guiseppe Conlon is played by Pete Postlethwaite, a deeply talented actor who left us far too soon. His face alone could outperform most other actors concerted efforts.

Waking Ned Devine

Cinemynx movie review Waking Ned Divine

Sweet, funny with a great premise “Waking Ned Devine” shows a somewhat stereotypical but absolutely lovable Irish community pulling a grand stunt. With a skilled ensemble cast it features some familiar Irish character actors such as David Kelly, Ian Bannen & James Nesbitt (Bofur in the “Hobbit” films) you will laugh and cheer them on. And besides the story who doesn’t love old Irish guys riding mopeds naked?

Once

Photo from the movie once

With this semi-true film Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova launched into the public consciousness and into the hearts of buskers and singer songwriters everywhere. About one week in Dublin it is filled with music, connection and some damn fine harmonies. It is a lovely, urban ultimate love story. Get out your hankies. Filmed over three weeks for $100,000 Euros “Once” is a testament to the power and viability of TRUE independent cinema.

In America

Photo from movie In America

Yet another effort from the marvelous Jim Sheridan about an Irish family adapting to life in America. Following a family tragedy, and a staggering loss of faith, the family finds itself in a New York City Hell’s Kitchen tenement in the midst of a mixed community of sorrow & fear. The couple is convincingly brought to life by the otherworldly Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine, a British character actor who you know-but-don’t-realize-you-know. This is an emotional film which some would call maudlin but regardless, a master filmmaker and a story about loss and redemption – what else could you want?

The Devil’s Own

Photo of Brad Pitt in the movie The Devils Own

What do you get when you mix Brad Pitt with an EPIC Irish mullet and accent, Harrison Ford flaring his nostrils and saying every line of dialogue with his “This. is. the. most. important. thing. EVER. said!” inflection, Treat Williams (remember Treat?) and Natasha McElhoneand her yards of hair with director Alan J. Pakula? You get “The Devil’s Own.” A rollicking action IRA soldier in hiding late ’90s testosterone fest! I must admit to being a sucker for Pakula as he was the directorial force behind some of the greatest movies from my favorite era -1970′s Hollywood; All the President’s Men, Klute, The Parallax View just to name a few. This is a fun one – take it for a ride!

State of Grace

Photo of Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn, John Turturro in State of Grace

I loved this movie when it came out and I still LOVE this movie. Aside from its dream cast including Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, John C. Reilly, John Turturro and Robin Wright its a damn good story about what happens when you try to go “home.” The Irish mob in NYC, my hometown, and the classic storyline of loyalties betrayed, familial expectations and woes with a GREAT score makes this a wonderful ensemble film led bravely by Penn. The screenwriter Dennis McIntyre wrote only this film and died in 1990 leaving, I think, a deeply unfulfilled potential. This one will rip your heart out and eat it for lunch and you’ll love every moment of it.

My Left Foot

Photo from My Left Foot

By 1989 Daniel Day Lewis was becoming somewhat “known” having made “My Beautiful Launderette” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (don’t even get me started on that film…) and forged his bond with – yes again, you know it – director Jim Sheridan for what would be the first of three exquisite collaborations to date. The film tells the the true story of Christy Brown who was born with cerebral palsy to a large Irish family who spared him little pity, thank God. I have a hard time believing anyone has not seen this film but then again, I’d like to be proven wrong on that. Even if you have seen it previously, revisit it. Not merely for the incomparable performance by Day Lewis, or the fact that it’s a close to perfect piece of film-making, but watch it to get some damn perspective on life which is always a good thing.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1

As the Mynx, I of course was desperate to find out what the fuss was all about. And what a fuss it is. Let’s get one thing straight; this is NOT a ‘sexy’ movie. I welcome debate here and perhaps my feelings about that – sexy or not sexy – are defined and limited by my gender. That being said I have no problem with graphic sexual content. That is not the point. If you are looking for sexy go see “Blue is The Warmest Color.” That’ll fix you right up. This is a movie about addiction, obsession, power, and a war on love. Lars von Trier has never been a dainty wall flower, God bless him, and here he is really going for your jugular. Or maybe your femoral artery which runs right through your groin.

“Nymphomaniac,” at its most shallow, asks us to examine our reactions to a woman – a young woman – who is wildly pointedly promiscuous. Much like many young men are, and celebrated for being so. Do we judge her differently? If so why? By what measure do we decide whether her activity is “bad” or unhealthy? Is using sexuality for power wrong? Selfish? On a wholly other level, I asked myself if I am just a voyeur delighting in what I knew at the outset was a one way ticket to pain and suffering by the mere act of watching. Much of this is obvious to the viewer and that’s part of the fun. He is pushing right up against our stuff – our SEX STUFF. And you will find that your feelings during the film may differ substantially from those following the film. I feel that one of the things that von Trier does best is to escort you on a journey whose destination you are unprepared for. His films have to be digested. You may need some Tums, but ultimately digest them you will. And I cannot wait for Vol 2.

Our focus is Joe. Played as an adult by Charlotte Gainsbourg and as the young Joe by Stacy Martin, who comprises most of Volume 1. The opening sequence is beautiful. Dank, dark and hollow but truly beautiful. From there we are off and running with mature Joe, beaten, bloody and unconscious, being rescued by the strangely detached Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard). We are grounded in the present time in a particularly claustrophibic room in Seligman’s home and the set and dialogue makes it feel much like a stage play. The room is so spartan it resembles something in a convent or parish. This is after all one long untethered confession, despite the characters deliberate references to lacking religion. Joe’s story then unfolds chronologically from childhood to a single young woman madly having sex with pretty much anyone who is willing and capable. Martin as young Joe is fairly wooden and I personally failed to see her allure, but maybe allure is unnecessary. There is a pointed lethargy to the narrative which contrasts well with the frenetic sexual activity. Seligman and Joe do not engage in a conversation per se as much as they talk at each other. Seligman tries mightily to make sense of her needs and actions through oblique analogies to fly fishing, but it yields a stilted quality to their exchanges. It did at times try my patience and the rambling, barely restrained, boundary pushing story lacks the spiritual and intellectual elegance von Trier so deftly achieved with “Melancholia.” He comes within a hairs breath of losing me…and then delivers a moment of emotion. Blessed emotion, which keeps us wanting and waiting for Volume 2.

Joe spends a great deal of time speaking about what a “bad” person she is, almost challenging us to prove her wrong. She may in fact be “bad” but it doesn’t really matter, or rather it doesn’t keep us from wanting to understand more, to know how we got back to the opening sequence of a bloodied beaten Joe. Uma Thurman is extremely powerful in a scene fused with such rage and anguish I could barely watch. Shia LaBeouf is Jerome, a more than one-night-stand and while the role doesn’t ask too much of him he is convincing and looks pretty good naked. And now might be the opportune time to say that almost everyone is naked. And the sex is absolutely graphic. There’s no messing around here. This is Hustler, NOT Playboy. While I cannot adequately assess it as a whole having not seen Vol. 2, I think there is a universality to the story which forces us to look at our addictions, the things we fight against and what we engage in to feel alive which all too often ends up killing off a part of ourselves. More to come. No pun intended.

Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014 Report: Chapter One

The 2014 Boulder International Film Festival, held February 13-16, was a vehicle for 58 films both feature length and short, documentary and fiction. Try as I may, I couldn’t quite make it to all 58, (my avatar was in the shop) but here are my insights to this year’s BIFF bonanza. Over the course of the festival I saw 10 films and have sorted them into three chapters. Cause, you know, that’s just the cool way to do things.

Fading Gigolo

Cinemynx Movie Review Fading Gigolo

No, this is not a sequel to “American Gigolo” and in fact Richard Gere is nowhere in sight. Additionally I suspect you may have a hard time with the cognitive dissonance produced by a movie with the word “gigolo” in the title which also stars Woody Allen. But fear not precious viewer – this is a sweet, funny diversion which probably won’t change your life but you won’t regret the 98 minutes you spent with it either. Starring John Turturro (who also wrote & directed) as well as Allen, Sophia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber & Vanessa Paradis the film serves up some quirky but truly skilled performances especially by Paradis (who is almost unrecognizable) and Stone. It is Stone though who for me stole the spotlight as the classic sultry powerhouse she typically plays softened by a slow drip of vulnerability and humor. This is a story of desire, need but also projection: What is it about the tall silent male that allows for great passion rather than inciting it? Much like the incredible Chance in “Being There” (played so tenderly by Peter Sellers) passively inducing an absolute frenzy in Shirley Maclaine without so much as a word, Turturro provides a quiet and somewhat clueless canvas onto which an array of longing women can transfer all their desires. He comes, he stands, he dances a little and says, “here I am – do what you will with me” and they do, very very happily. The absurdity of Woody Allen’s “Murray” as his pimp is hilarious in and of itself. I admire that this film didn’t try to bite off too much, or cover all the bases (no pun intended) but wisely gave us a funny, sweet and better than expected time with some legitimate sexiness thrown in. Sharon Stone’s legs. All 8 feet of them, and Sophia Vergara in abbreviated outfits. Need I say more?

Le Weekend

Photo from movie Le Weekend

I dig Jim Broadbent and Jeff Goldblum. And I really dig Hanif Kureishi who wrote this screenplay. From Kureishi especially I expect good things as he is the force behind “My Beautiful Launderette,” “Venus” and “The Buddha of Suburbia” which was his fantastic novel made film. But that’s the thing – the rub so to speak – expectations can really mess with you. And this film did. In fact it made me downright cranky and pissed. Broadbent’s Nick, a brilliant but fading professor has brought his long suffering wife Meg to Paris to celebrate their anniversary and hopefully find some peace and renewal in their marriage. Yeah, good luck with that. Beyond the fact that the premise immediately tells you disaster looms close at hand, for these two even Paris cannot breathe passion or cushion the vitriolic routine which has come to characterize their daily life. They are a couple who has nothing if they do not have their snarky and downright cruel interplay. Meg, played by the fragile beauty Lindsay Duncan, is so consumed by rage and resentment for Nick that there’s not much else left of her. Her cruelty to him was frankly beyond my belief, but hey, maybe I’m just a softie. It made me squirm. And want out. BADLY. Nick also does his part to make their dynamic excruciating by having become a pathetic cowering pussy. While they careen ever closer to some ultimate relationship injury, with a deeply shocking public denouement at a dinner party hosted by the ever goofy, fawning, and increasingly reptilian looking Goldblum, I am left wondering what’s the point? Do we need to see so starkly that marriages with all their flaws and betrayals, ego and resentments, can go horribly tragically wrong? Don’t we already know that from – like – REAL LIFE? And if we do serve as a witness, then to what end? Throw me a bone Hanif! I know that some would consider this is black humor on a highly sophisticated level but I found no comedy here whatsoever. In the end there is resolution but for me it came too little too late. And that’s a grave disappointment.

Ida

Photo from movie Ida

Set in Poland in the 1960s. Anna, is a young woman on the verge of taking her vows as a nun when she is asked to leave the convent for a spell to visit her only living relative – an aunt – named Wanda. Having been raised an orphan, Anna is shown truths about her family and their past by Wanda which cast doubts on the only trajectory she has ever considered or known. The mere experience of watching “Ida” in black and white, its flat clothing, rooms, landscape, “noir” everything pared down to its essentials, places us squarely in the bleak emotionless existence of convent life and much of Poland during that time. It’s not a happy place. The secrets, the twist here, is so big – and arrives fairly quickly – that I strapped myself in for an emotional ride of catharsis which never really came, despite the promise it held. Agata Trzebuchowska who plays Anna, is quite lovely, and has mastered playing the almost silent novitiate so well that she is basically a projection screen for all those around her as well including the audience. She’s just a mirror even in the moments when we are screeching for her to break just a little. Anna is not so much a character in her own right as she is a skeleton onto which others play out their dramas and destinies. Both Dawid Ogrodnik (the musician) and Agata Kulesza (Aunt Wanda) do that exceedingly well. Kulesza specifically is the vortex here and she has layers upon layers which pull you in, drowning you in her bottomless pool. She’s a woman I would want to know, and would fear. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, whose last project was “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Ida” takes you right up to edge but then decides to put you back in your car-seat, buckle you in for safety and drive slowly away. I felt that same lack of delivery with “The Woman in the Fifth” – that I desperately wanted him to take me deeper, darker…somewhere worse. I wish in fact that “Ida” had left me scarred and shaken, but it didn’t and the story is worthy of that. I wondered if Anna’s scenario may have in fact occurred in post war Poland and it is a good question. But in the end I just moved onto the next screening. And a burrito.

Gimme Some Lovin’!

Once again Valentine’s Day has rolled around and as usual, I will be doing my favorite thing, watching movies. This is not a list of the most “romantic” films per se, and in some cases, far from blissful ever after. Some stories are dark, twisted, philandering and salacious, others have a few bright lovey spots, but they are all about LOVE. Whether you are attached, single, conflicted, searching, being courted, celibate – whatever – you will find something perfect for your Valentine’s entertainment. David Letterman has his top 10 lists and anyone can crank out a top 5, but with my signature style I here present you with my Top 7 Valentine’s Day Films. Enjoy, and, I love you…!

Love Actually

Photo from the movie Love Actually

Yes, this also comes under my favorite Christmas movies list, but come on people! Interconnecting threads of love, infatuation, marital discord and everything else relational under the sun (they will love me for my British accent!), I can watch this again and again and am filled with happiness and hope. I am always drawn to the Colin Firth/Lucia Moniz romance and each time I watch it is feels new. Hugh Grant can come carol at my door any damn time he pleases…

Let The Right One In

Photo from the Movie Let The Right One In

Bizarre, legitimately frightening, and so Swedish, this ageless-ambiguously-gendered-vampire-falls-for-loner-boy story has moments of great tenderness while keeping you guessing. Victimization, survival and vengeance characterize this love story which is ultimately deeply satisfying.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Photo from the movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Base? Yes. Adolescent? Yes. Hilariously funny? Yes. With an assemblage of skilled comedic character actors including my beloved Craig Robinson, and ridiculous cross-over wannabe Tracie Lords, this will cover the more ludicrous portion of your Valentine’s celebration. How can you not want to watch a Star Wars themed knock off porn film called “Star Whores?”

Brokeback Mountain

Photo from Brokeback Movie

Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, with a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and directed by Ang Lee there was no way anyone was getting out of here alive, so to speak. Depicting the glory and agony of love, deceit and the undying power of connection, Gyllenhaal and Ledger reduced me to a puddle of sobbing humanity.

Same Time Next Year

Photo from movie Same Time Next Year

Can you maintain a love relationship with someone you only see once a year? That question has fascinated me from the time I saw this 1978 film which answers it with a resounding “Yes.” Upbeat and poignant, I love this story of the secret bond Alda and Burstyn share over many years, a partnership of sorts largely spared from family drama, chores and the ebb and flow or married life. I wish it were so simple…

Ghost

Scene from Ghost

If you have loved someone and lost them – permanently lost them – you may share the feeling that your love keeps them alive. I have felt that and while Ghost may be maudlin and silly, it contains scenes of wonderful sensuousness, sexiness and its funny. Always a bonus in my world!

Last Tango In Paris

Photo from movie Last Tango in Paris

In sharing my huge love and attachment to this film, I choose largely to take the fifth as I fear it will lead to a bit of an over-share, and we just don’t know each other that well yet. One should see it because it’s a Bertolucci film, and because it takes place in Paris, and because its story is – well – very saucy. But really, really, its Brando. Magnificent, raw, sexy, gorgeous powerful Brando. I need not say more…

The Monuments Men

Photo of John Goodman and George Clooney in The Monuments Men

Why is art important? There are certainly many who feel that it is not, and others who may admit to ambivalence. Is it important enough to most of us to risk human lives to save? And what, in reality, are we saving? Just ‘pretty things’ or a visual record of the evolution, morals, ideals, and values of mankind. That is the fundamental question at the heart of “Monuments Men,” and while it desperately wants to talk a half-way decent talk, it stumbles and falls miserably. With a talented ensemble cast of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate, Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban (one of my ALL TIME favorite character actors) and Hugh Bonneville in addition to George Clooney (who also co-wrote and directed it), something went wrong. Balaban is by far the standout in this cast with his ability to play it slow and steady, while the rest of the cast shuffles through the flaccid dialogue and off-kilter tempo which marks basically every scene.

I take no delight in shredding a film. On second thought, let me amend that. I take no delight in shredding a film which could have SO easily, and for the sum of all its parts should be, a good film, but blows it. If this wanted to bill itself as a fluffy amusement on the other hand…well, everyone needs their catharsis! With a cast of highly skilled actors and with what I can only imagine was a generous budget, it is somewhat of a mystery why this film was so disordered, chaotic and frankly, boring. Beginning towards the end of the World War 2, it has become known that the Nazi regime is accumulating masterworks of art, historic and current, to either destroy because they do not reinforce Aryan societal ideals, or to placed in the planned FuhrerMuseum to be built in Hitler’s hometown of Linz, Austria. Believing, as I happen to, that part of the “foundation of modern society” is it’s artwork, Lt. Frank Stokes (Clooney) sets out to get approval to assemble a small team of experts from different disciplines to rescue the stolen art and return the pieces to their rightful owners. All that is, needless to say, an important and noble endeavor, but it is not treated nobly. Instead we find our team endlessly driving around, looking at maps, flirting with the sullen Blanchett and leaving the audience confused not knowing whether this is a buddy film or an honorable testament to these men who were long unknown and overlooked. “The Monuments Men” cannot decide whether it wants to be viewed with gravitas or mirth and sadly, it cannot support both. In the best dramas, we laugh as a coping mechanism for the horror and pain. We laugh with empathy, or maybe because we don’t want to cry. Not because it is forcing comedy down your throat. There is ONE good scene in this film with Murray and Balaban, and it is subtle and non-verbal. It allows the actors to show truth and tenderness, sorrow and the aching loneliness of war even amidst your fellow soldiers. It is mercifully devoid of the stilted and flat dialogue which fills the film.

I cannot recall a film where the score has been such a persistent irritant as it in “The Monuments Men.” Around every corner, leaping out of what could have potentially been a powerful scene, or at least a somewhat cohesive scene, here came the ‘Gomer-Pyle-stereotypical-US of A-march’ song which swept over and cheapened everything, obliterating all in its path like a sonic tsunami. It is maudlin and so unimaginative its ridiculous and I feel certain that is NOT what Clooney intended.

I could go on, but why? Much like the Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy horrific “The Counselor” of 2013, its just wreck, but without scantily clad beautiful women. Even the Ghent Altarpiece’s naked Eve isn’t enticing enough to make it worth the price of entry.

Documentary: “Bettie Page Reveals All”

I believe the biggest challenge to making a good documentary is that while you may have a fascinating subject, you still need to be a skilled filmmaker to make a compelling and memorable film. I’ll even settle for a ‘not bad’ film. Bettie Page was, and continues to be, a compelling and fascinating subject. Bettie’s image and singular style has been so widely popularized in the last decade that its somewhat hard to maintain the boundaries between the real Bettie and the cartoon/burlesque girl/rock-a-billy modern day ‘Betties” one sees frequently. And even with all of her footage, iconic style, sexuality, and a parade of adoring fans and friends testifying on film, it needs more. In the end it is just a chronicle and that’s unfortunate because there is a bigger picture here.

While I knew much of the basic outline of Bettie’s life, there were facts about her, and her illustrious career, which came as a surprise. To its credit, one of the assets of “Bettie Page Reveals All” is that it is narrated by Bettie herself, recorded prior to her death in 2008. Knowing that was one of the major draws for me as I was unsure as to whether she was still living, and filmmaker Mark Mori was able to record a long narrative from her. Beyond the multitude of images of her, and there are MANY remarkable, luminescent and truly sexy photos, it is her running commentary which is the thread that holds most of the film together, but is also somewhat staccato and reveals no insights. Insights that we want to know, insights which would tie threads together.

Her attitudes toward her modelling work, even the S&M scenarios, and toward nudity, were genuinely trailblazing. She says, as almost everyone in the film corroborates, that she was proud and unashamed to be naked in front of the camera and expressed no shame whatsoever in the kind work she was doing. Of course it bears mentioning that this was not “Hustler” style explicitness, but for the day any nude photography was seriously questionable in taste and its creation deeply clandestine. She was universally liked by those she worked with and the side stories of those for whom she modeled, in particular the siblings Paula & Irving Klaw, and photographer Bunny Yeager, are in and of themselves a history lesson of the pin-up tradition. It was remarkable to me to see photos of her very early career where she has yet to cut her signature bangs. She was, honestly, a fairly plain young woman with a great figure. But with the bangs – which not only became her trademark silhouette, but truly altered her face and the way it appears in photographs – she is unforgettable and deeply compelling. She was it ALL, sexy, approachable, unusual, natural and most of all joyful. Her smile is so genuine and luminous it makes you happy just to look at her. And then, she left. Just like that. She admits to feeling that having reached her early 30s she felt “too old” to be modelling, and there were of course extenuating circumstances. What unfolds in her life following her modelling is, as one might expect, not altogether happy or successful. We meet a former spouse and learn of a turning point in her life which would alter the rest of her life. It is that – the knowledge that we are given which leads us to question whether it may in fact have influenced many of her choices. And it is in the lack of follow through – the lack of speculation – that the film falls flat. It may very well be enough for most audiences to just watch the report on her life and glorify her as she is well deserving of the glory. But to explore the connections, the threads and shadow parts, would have elevated the film to more than just a pretty girl.

Nebraska

How pared down does a film get before it becomes, well, not enough? I don’t have that answer (although I must admit my CU film studies days of ‘all-Stan-Brakhage-experimental-films’ come to mind) and there IS Jim Jarmusch, but it was running through my mind throughout “Nebraska” and, gratefully did NOT reach that ephemeral line in the sand. I am struck by just how little there is in this film which, at this point in cinematic evolution, tragically comprises the essence of far too many films. It is perhaps precisely what is not in “Nebraska” which makes it so beautiful, memorable and endearing.

Our protagonist (who is actually a champion antagonist) Woody, exists in a space both external and internal of total bleakness and crippling ennui. Also, and apologies in advance to any Big Sky folks out there, his surroundings are so goddamn ugly and depressing you can FEEL the weight of his landscape crushing your soul. (I am sure that there are stunning places in Montana. Payne just didn’t visit them). The use of black and white film emphasizes and forces the viewer to experience NO distractions from the wreckage which is Woody’s life and environment. Believing with unwavering conviction that he has in fact won $1M from a company in – that’s right – Nebraska, he sets out on foot to claim it by Monday. Woody has been labelled by his family as “confused” which is their mid-western way of avoiding using the “A” word to describe his supposed dementia. Kind of like Voldemort. Oh shit. Sorry. The thing is though that Woody is not so much confused as he is brilliantly adaptive in his zen-like ability to tune out anything (horrific wife) and everything (his daily existence) which detracts him from his singular mission. Tuning out is his only way to survive the staggering entropy of his life (retired and with no driver’s license) and the scalding vitriol of his spouse. What I came to realize mid-way through the film is that this is a delicate and artful example of the truth that everything is contextual: Woody has the secret to life – keep moving forward – and as we are asked to accept him as the confused and difficult one, we realize that in fact he is the only sane one in contrast to the backdrop of his life. We come to rally behind his singular focus in spite of the fact that we all know it isn’t real, and on some level, so does he. It isn’t about that anymore, and thankfully his son/chaperone, played with perfect subtle exasperation by Will Forte, finally gets it before it’s too late. Yes there is peacemaking between the son and the father, and great come-uppance for Woody’s extended family and figures from his past.

Bruce Dern was always an actor whom I suspected was as creepy and unctuous in real life as he was in the majority of roles he played. I tried to console myself with the fact that Diane Ladd actually married and procreated with him and that maybe I was wrong, but I could never quite convince myself. Laura Dern seems nice though. But anyway, age has softened Dern physically and it’s great to see his hollowed scruffy cheeks and off-kilter hobbling pierced by his dagger-like commentary which is highly selective but extremely potent! There are moments of excruciating awkwardness and terror that this old age awaits each and every one of us. But the skill here – the mastery of Payne – is that we can laugh (and laugh HARD) at it all while identifying that we each have a piece of Woody and his family in and around us. I am so happy to report that this film is not just a great performance by Dern with an “ok” story wrapped around it (my feeling about “The Wrestler” for Rourke and to a certain degree “All is Lost” for Redford) but is in fact a STORY. Remember good old fashioned stories where the narrative guides us, nothing explodes and not everyone has to bleed gallons before the film’s conclusion? Well here is a story and we need more.

Movie Review LONE SURVIVOR

Can one, in this case Peter Berg, make a film which is engrossing and thrilling which also honors fallen soldiers – individuals who are people like us – and make it all work in a tidy package? Yes, he can and did. At first I honestly didn’t even ask myself whether it was a good film or not. I was so taken with its aim as well as its extraordinary imagery and action (which, as an aside, won a SAG Award last night for Stunt Achievement. Wholly deserving and a cool category. The AA should get with the program on that one…)

Painting us a calm and fairly happy milieu up front Berg spends a good amount of time introducing our scruffy macho core 4: Marcus, Michael, Danny & “Axe” Matt Axelson (respectively Walhberg, Taylor Kitsch, an unusually buff and manly Emile Hirsch & Ben Foster) in an immediate, and slightly too maudlin, way makes us identify, ache, desire (lots of quality beefcake here ladies) and preemptively mourn for them and their loved ones as we know going in folks it’s not going to end well. It’s LONE survivor, not Couple Of survivors, and maybe that prologue was the wise choice. I asked myself repeatedly whether we need that level of intimacy with their back stories to feel for them, to be affected that they gave their LIVES for us and our principles, and I just don’t know. I felt somewhat manipulated by it but in doing so Berg creates totems and touchpoints which effectively carry through the film and allow us to get a glimpse of what these men hold onto help them get through the unthinkable.

Seeing the tactical choreography which leads up to any mission is fascinating. The moving human parts, the machinery, the unfamiliar and piercing terrain, the gizmos and equipment – it’s a turn on. I GET IT. And then…comes the crux of our story. Because filmmakers now have the technology to create visual sequences so realistic that they are hyper-real, does that mean that they are obligated to employ them? How much and where do we amp reality? How do we know what to highlight without direct experience? We don’t obviously and while falling prey to a whisper of video-game action visuals, (which are so omnipresent in action and war films these days its veritably all they are in the end) Berg used his CGI toolkit wisely and breathtakingly, including one of the most awe inspiring and agonizing stunt sequences I have EVER SEEN.

Enslaved to the terrain in which they find themselves the men must make a choice. They must, as I like to say, pick a lane, and it is a decision with too many moving parts and which will inexorably alter all of their lives. There is no do-over here. What is the “right” choice? Is it the one which adheres to the rules of engagement? The one which satisfies your “gut” knowing that you can and will prevent future losses? The one which may be safest and is yet inhumane and illegal? Not choosing is NOT an option, and so they do. You may not like these guys but you love them. You see their “family” in each other and want so badly to protect and save them, as they want that for each other. It’s powerful stuff and I here caution the deeply empathic to leave the room or not go at all. What transpires has been hard for me to shake from my mind so there you have it – mission accomplished. In the end, when it seems beyond hope and reason, a miracle occurs. If this had not been “based on a true story” I would have crafted an epic eye roll and written off the whole damn picture, but it is an actual miracle. And the tears I shed at the choice moment of grace and humanity was worth everything that came before it. Nicely played Berg…nicely played.

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

Movie Review Lone Survivor