THE HUNT (2020)

March 12, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Let’s face it. It was a brilliant marketing strategy. In the wake of mass shootings, the release date of this film was delayed when its subject matter was deemed controversial, even scandalous The film’s new marketing slogan became, “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.” Of course, it wasn’t really true, as very few were actually talking about it. But that’s what made it genius marketing … they created interest amidst controversy that has since proven unnecessary. Director Craig Zobel (Z FOR ZACHARIAH, 2015) has delivered the least controversial, non-polarizing film of the year. It basically laughs at extremes on the left and right, and reminds us how laughing at something can often take away its power. And regardless of your “side”, you’ll find some laughs here.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the premise has a group of liberal elites hunting a hand-selected group of social media-active MAGA deplorables. It’s a twist on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, although the modern day rich aren’t hunting for sport, but rather for political affiliation – gun lovers and climate change deniers. That may sound politically charged, but in fact, it plays as more comedy than comeuppance. Sure, the violence is over-the-top and often quite graphic, but this is a skewering of both red and blue.

Preventing the project from falling into B-movie muck is a standout performance from Betty Gilpin (“Glow”) as Crystal. She’s a Rambo-type who speaks (with a southern drawl) only when necessary, and seems to have learned a lot while serving in Afghanistan. Most of the time she looks like she has “a pinch between her cheek and gum” (a tip of the Stetson to Walt Garrison), and she also hums to herself and tosses down some unusual facial expressions. This is a seriously oddball performance that is the film’s highlight.

One of the best sequences of the film comes quite early as the dozen or so ‘deplorables’ slowly wake-up and find themselves gagged in a field. A container of weapons leads to an early massacre that allows the filmmaker to tease us with numerous familiar faces taking turns as the heir-apparent lead. Some of the faces that pop up include Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Christopher Berry, Sturgill Simpson, Kate Nowlin, Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Glenn Howerton, Hannah Alline (flight attendant), and Usman Ally.

Of course we know this is headed to a showdown between Crystal and Athena (2-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank), the ringleader of the hunting party. A fight scene reminiscent of the KILL BILL movies (sans Samurai swords) takes place at Athena’s “manor”, and it is stunningly staged and executed. Unfortunately this scene also highlights the mostly inadequate dialogue that exists throughout the film. Some of the quips click, but many fall flat – surprising since the co-writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof have previously collaborated on “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers.”

Blumhouse Productions keeps cranking out these offbeat genre films, and this one likely benefits from a misplaced scandal, and it strives for self-importance by comparing itself to George Orwell’s “Animal House” and with an obscure reference to TEARS OF THE SUN (2013). It’s not at the level of last year’s gem READY OR NOT, and it missed the opportunity to make some political points, but it’s a hoot to watch and as an added bonus, Hilary Swank teaches us the proper way to make a grilled cheese sandwich!

watch the trailer:


IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY (2010)

September 30, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Attended a screening last evening and came away a bit surprised. The preview, thanks in part to Ida Maria’s blaring song “Oh My God”, had me convinced this was going to be a typical slapstick teen comedy. Instead, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck deliver a black comedy-drama that has appeal to both teens and grown-ups. (based on the Ned Vizzini novel)

The story revolves around Craig, a 16 year old who is feeling depressed and suicidal given the pressures of a relentless father, looming college entrance exams and a screwed up social life. You are right if you are thinking this sounds like just about every 16 year old on the planet. The difference here is that Craig checks himself into a psych ward … he ends up in the adult wing, since the teen wing is undergoing renovations. Craig is played by Keir Gilchrist (The United States of Tara), who I can best describe as a young Keanu Reeves clone, only too smart rather than too clueless.

Since this is part comedy, you can imagine the characters who fill the ward. Craig bonds with Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis, who seems happy to play the mentor role (quoting Dylan) for Cool Craig, but just can’t seem to find the strength to live his own life. Of course, we also get the emotionally damaged hot girl played exceptionally well by Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia; Nancy Drew). The film accepts its own stereotypes for the other characters with labels such as “the schizophrenic”.

The message of the film seems to be that we all go through stages of doubt and uncertainty, and the best “cure” is to somehow remove the stress and discover our real talents and personality. You may end up creating art in the form of a brain map, or even a music video of Bowie/Queen’s “Under Pressure” (an elaborate inset to the film).  Just live.

The filmmakers evidently struggled with where their line was for the direction of the story. With previous serious films Half-Nelson and Sugar, my guess is their vision was a much more complex and darker script rather than the final version which has more mass appeal. The Zach Galifianiakis character specifically, seemed poised to make a real statement. Instead we are left with his reserved, knowing smile as Craig presents him a gift and the hope of getting together for ping pong. Also, not much story is given to Emma Roberts and her penchant for cutting herself. She seems magically cured after a roof top encounter with Craig. Anyway, the comedy sections are more successful than the drama sections, provided you are able to find humor in the illness and weakness of others.

This is certainly not at the level of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it is an entertaining film from a comedic perspective. It will probably be remembered as Zach Galifianiakis fist role where he flashed some real acting chops, and hopefully as Emma Roberts breakout role.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy humor derived from the darker elements of life OR you want to say “I was there” when Zach Galifianakis proved he could do more than smirk.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think a movie should be either a comedy or drama, not both OR hearing the opening riff to “Under Pressure” causes flashbacks to Vanilla Ice explaining how he didn’t sample the song.