LAND (2021)

February 11, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. In her 35 year career, Robin Wright has created many memorable big screen roles, including: Princess Buttercup in THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987), Jenny in FORREST GUMP (1994), and Antiope in the WONDER WOMAN franchise. She entertained many of us as the complex Claire Underwood in “House of Cards”, a series for which she also directed 10 episodes. However, this is Ms. Wright’s feature directorial debut, and she also stars in this introspective story from co-writers Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam.

City slicker Edee (Ms. Wright) decides to go “off the grid”. Through flashbacks we are able to intuit that she is grieving deeply, and both her therapist and sister (Kim Dickens) are concerned about her suicidal tendencies. Edee loads up a U-Haul trailer and in the ultimate sign of ‘dropping out of society’, she ceremoniously dumps her cell phone in a trash can. The road takes her to the Rocky Mountains region of Wyoming, where she plops down the money for a remote … extremely remote … rundown cabin with a breathtaking view. At this point, we question both her sanity and reasoning.

Through Edee’s visions we catch glimpses of a man and young child, whom we can assume are her husband and son. An unknown devastating family tragedy, and realization that therapy is not the answer, have driven her to the point of needing to be alone with her pain – to get away from people. Of course, the harsh reality is that she doesn’t know how to live off the land, and no “how to” book is going to teach her to chop wood, or hunt, trap and fish, much less survive the forces of nature. A visit from a bear ensures a shortage of supplies, and the brutal wintry cold combines to leave Edee wondering whether she will freeze to death before she starves to death.

Did she expect to die on this mountain or did she honestly think this life could rehabilitate her spirit to live? Would changing the view from skyscrapers to a majestic mountain range be enough to help her escape the darkness?  Well, we never really get the answers, thanks to the just-in-time arrival of a hunter named Miquel (Oscar nominated Demian Bichir, A BETTER LIFE, 2011), who, along with local nurse Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) help Edee regain her health after near death.

Miguel and Edee forge a bond as he teaches her the realities of living off the land. They exchange very little dialogue, but it’s clear Miguel is dealing with his own form of suffering. He’s a very practical and patient man, and when teaching her how to trap, he states, “Eating squirrels is motivation to get a deer.” Can one person help another person re-discover the will to live? That’s really the message of the film. We may prefer to be alone with our grief, but it’s connecting with others that gives life meaning. As with Miguel and Edee, that connection may simply be someone “in my path”.

As you might imagine, the film looks beautiful as it bounces between the immediacy of Edee in a cabin, and the vastness of the mountain vistas. Long-time cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (ARLINGTON ROAD, 1999) makes sure we experience the overwhelming beauty of nature (Alberta as a stand in for Wyoming), as well as its overwhelming danger. With minimal dialogue, much of the story is told through the nuanced physical acting from two pros, Ms. Wright and Mr. Bichir. Humor is injected through the use of Tears for Fears song, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and though it’s kind of a running gag, the song’s lyrics are spot on. There is no magic cure for disabling grief, but the dream of self-discovery by getting “one with nature” can be idealistic without proper guidance. As the film relays, the best path is more likely to be a fellow human being simply doing the right thing.

Opens in theatres on February 12, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019)

March 28, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Setting one’s film up to be compared to a long time classic can be quite challenging for a filmmaker, but that’s precisely the situation director John Lee Hancock finds himself. Known for crowd-pleasers like THE FOUNDER, SAVING MR BANKS, and THE BLIND SIDE, Mr. Hancock delivers a Netflix film destined to face off against Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic BONNIE AND CLYDE. Where the earlier film focused on the anti-hero celebrity (and beautiful faces) of the young outlaws, this latest film flips the lens and puts law enforcement (particularly grizzled veterans) front and center (Bonnie and Clyde are barely glimpsed until near the end).

The film begins with a well-planned and deadly prison break in 1934 and then moves into a meeting where Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) of the Department of Corrections is pitching Texas Governor “Ma” Ferguson (Kathy Bates) on his idea of reactivating the defunct Texas Rangers, and bringing legendary lawman Frank Hamer out of retirement. It’s pretty simple – the FBI and its new-fangled forensics is failing miserably in tracking down Bonnie and Clyde, and the hope is that Hamer and his old-fashioned detective work will succeed.

Kevin Costner plays Frank Hamer, and we first see him and his well-trained pet pig trying to enjoy a peaceful retirement at home with his wife Gladys (Kim Dickens). Not long after, he’s joined by his old partner Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), who is down on his luck, drinks too much, and is in desperate need of a purpose. Thus begins the buddy road trip featuring the no-nonsense Hamer and the quipster Gault. Not many play self-importance better than Costner, and few deliver wisecracks better than Woody.

The screenplay comes from John Fusco, whose previous western projects include HIDALGO and YOUNG GUNS. Though this isn’t a traditional western, it has most of the expected elements. Aging lawmen chasing colorful outlaws. Good versus evil. Right versus Wrong. While it’s a relief the film doesn’t romanticize the Barrow gang and their violent ways, it’s a bit frustrating to see that the movie tries to make Hamer and Gault as famous and iconic as the outlaws they were chasing. Sure Bonnie’s fashion influenced many women of the era, but that had to be nauseating for those lawmen in pursuit who were putting their lives on the line. In the 1967 film, Denver Pyle played Frank Hamer in a shamefully written role, and here Costner strikes so many hero poses and seems to invoke mystical ESP abilities in his police work, that we half expect Hamer to walk on water at some point.

The best part of the film is watching Costner and Harrelson work together, with the latter really making this work on whatever level it does. Additionally, there is a scene with Hamer and Clyde’s dad that features William Sadler in a cameo. I don’t know if this meeting actually took place in real life, but it teases what the film could have been. As a fantasy for cinema aficionados, the project was originally intended to be a vehicle for Robert Redford and Paul Newman, but just never progressed. Combine that with BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING, and you’d have an unmatched triumvirate of buddy greatness. Hancock’s film certainly pales in comparison to the 1967 film, but it’s a worthy story that deserves to be told.

available on Netlix March 29, 2019

a few years ago, I posted one of my revisited articles on BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). You can check that out here: https://moviereviewsfromthedark.com/?s=bonnie+and+clyde

watch the trailer:


GONE GIRL (2014)

October 5, 2014

gone girl Greetings again from the darkness. One of the benefits of seeing so many movies is the ability to readily ascertain whether the appeal is to specific movie-goers (teens, romantics, et al), to mass audiences, or perhaps only to film critics and cinephiles. The downside is that when one of the rare mass appeal thrillers hits theatres, my enjoyment of the twists and surprises tends to suffer. Such is the case with director David Fincher‘s version of Gillian Flynn‘s best-selling novel.

Whether or not you are a devotee of Ms. Flynn’s novel, you are likely to find guilty pleasure in this pulpy, neo-noir thriller featuring Ben Affleck as the man who may or may not have killed his missing wife (Rosamund Pike). This is less “whodunit” and more “did he do it?”, at least for the first half. When Nick (Affleck) returns home to discover his wife (Pike) is missing, we hear Amy’s voice guiding us through her journal as we go from blossoming romance to crumbling marriage. Nick’s perspective is derived from his work with the detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) and conversations with his sister (Carrie Coon).

This story-telling structure is beautifully executed, and when combined with director Fincher’s fascination with the dark side of people (The Social Network, Zodiac, Se7en, Fight Club), and the terrific camera work and lighting, we witness elevated   technical filmmaking. Watch how Fincher uses lighting and shadows to change the tone of the film as the noose tightens on Affleck’s character.

Much has been made of the critically acclaimed performances of Affleck and Pike, so I’d prefer to focus on a couple of others. Carrie Coon steals every scene as Nick’s twin sister Margot. She is the moral compass of the film, and gives the absolute best performance. Kim Dickens provides the necessary screen presence and wry humor to prevent the stereotypical detective role from emerging. This is a real person working a complicated case. Also of note is Missi Pyle‘s obnoxious Nancy Grace style TV reporter clearly attempting to build ratings by guiding the sheep (everything we hate about the media, but continues to draw big ratings). Lastly, and most surprising, Tyler Perry‘s slick and slimy headline-grabbing defense attorney provides a punch when the film needs it.

The second half of the film transitions from mystery to anatomy of a scheme, and features one of the most brutal and bloody on screen murders you will ever see. It also provides more excellent support work from Lola Kirke and Brad Holbrook as a couple of trailer park opportunists, and Scoot McNairy and Neil Patrick Harris (against type) as Amy’s former lovers.

The wicked fun in this movie is derived mostly from the misdirection and personalities of Nick and Amy. It’s nice to see a female lead character with some real scene-chewing, even though I believe many actresses would have been better picks. When I hear talk that it could be best movie of the year, I certainly hope that’s off base. This one is at the level of other mainstream thrillers such as Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, and it’s not difficult to imagine Michael Douglas in the lead, were this 1988. Adding to the fun is the satire and social commentary … especially on the current trend of media speculation in place or reporting. So enjoy the twists and ask yourself just how much you really know about your spouse.

***NOTE: for those who read the book, this would be considered a faithful adaptation … unlike some of the early rumors led us to believe

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you enjoy your thrillers with a dose of social commentary OR you want a glimpse of the new Batman body in progress.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  an exceptionally gruesome and bloody murder scene is something you prefer to avoid

watch the trailer: