THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER (2015)

July 21, 2016

childhood of a leader Greetings again from the darkness. Brady Corbet has established a pretty nice career as an actor (Melancholia, Funny Games), and along comes his feature film debut as a writer/director (co-written with Mona Fastvold). In this day of remakes and reboots, this one is anything but. The “Overture” sets the mood with video clips of the WWI aftermath and the explosive score from Scott Walker quickly establishes itself as a character unto itself.

Subsequent title cards are broken into three “Tantrums”, as we witness the ever-escalating inappropriate behavior from young Prescott (Tom Sweet). In what on the surface could be classified as a nature vs nurture expose’, the film leaves little doubt that Prescott is rebelling against the monotony of his environment and the disengaged parents to which he is tethered. However, it also seems evident that young Prescott is inherently “off”. He seems to be cold and emotionally removed as he engages in battles of will with his parents … his father (Liam Cunningham) a US diplomat knee-deep in negotiations that will lead to the Treaty of Versailles, and his mother (Berenice Bejo), a self-described “citizen of the world”.

Two obvious film comparisons would be The Omen (1976) and We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). The ominous music and settings leave little doubt that we are headed somewhere very dark here, though it’s not in the religious sense of The Omen and it’s more global than the intimacy of ‘Kevin’. Thinking of this as evil in the making would be a just description, though a different title might have held the ending a bit longer.

Support work is provided by Stacy Martin as the French teacher and Yolanda Moreau as the housekeeper who has moments of connection with the challenging Prescott, but Robert Pattinson fans will be surprised at how little screen time he has – especially for dual roles.

Young Tom Sweet is fascinating to watch in a very tough role for a child actor, and director Corbet proves he is a filmmaker we should follow closely. His visual acumen is something special, and offsets a script that could have used a bit of polishing. The movie will probably prove divisive – either you will find it mesmerizing and creepy, or you simply won’t connect at all. That’s often the case with a creative and bold project.

watch the trailer:

 

 


DIFF 2015 – Day 3

April 13, 2015

 

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Day 3 – Sunday April 12

Below is a recap of films I watched on Day 3:

 

CARTEL LAND (2015, doc)

cartel land Greetings again from the darkness. Even in this digital age where information exists from all sides of a conflict … often with corresponding video, the general public somehow remains complacent to issues that don’t directly and obviously affect their lifestyle. Skilled documentarian Matthew Heineman ignores the rhetoric of political speeches and plops the war against drug cartels right into our lap.

This is a different approach to a topic with which we are all at least somewhat familiar. The involved parties include the affected communities (in Mexico and Arizona), the governments and affiliated agencies (DEA, Border Patrol), the ever-expanding vigilante groups of citizens (Arizona Border Recon, AutoDefensas), and of course the cartels (focus on Knights Templar).

Intimacy is the key here, as Mr. Heineman takes us inside these groups with an up-close look at leaders. Especially fascinating is Dr. Mireles who is the face of the AutoDefensas – a group he pledges will protect communities from the cartels, who clearly have no regard for human life. The film doesn’t shy away from the expected issues: citizen pushback, greed, abuse of power, and corruption. As AutoDefensas teams with the Mexican government to create the Rural Defense Force, we can’t help but wonder if the rumors of differing goals are at play in the drug battles. Citizens want safety, but what is it that the government wants? Is the goal drug-free streets or is it a cut of the action.

Learning how desperate the vigilantes are to protect their homes, turf and way of life, we are left with little doubt of their mission. It’s everyone else that we must keep questioning and holding accountable. This is not an easy documentary to watch, but it’s necessary if you have previously lost interest as the next politician proclaims he will continue “the war on drugs”.

ASCO (2015)

Greetings again from the darkness. A broken heart is one of most powerful triggers of human emotion. Clarity of thought is often lacking during this period, and mental images explode as a rational reaction is rarely able to break through the swirling alternatives.

Brazilian writer/director Alexandre Paschoalini presents the story of broken-hearted Ela (Sol Faganello) in expressionistic hyper-kinetic Black and White mode. After Ele (Guto Nogueira) crushes his emotions and attempt at connection, he begins a psychotic mission with the goal of causing her to feel the same pain that her actions brought to him.

Many of Ela’s actions are outside the boundaries of the law, but he will not be deterred. Ele’s shock of white hair adds a visual that perfectly contrasts with Ela’s dark and brooding features and moods. White hat vs Black hat – only no one told the white hat that she was in a demented duel.

With almost no dialogue, the story is told through both stark and outlandish visuals, and is often accompanied by music that harkens to 1960’s era rock music. A masked woman and a faceless man ensure that we understand just how removed from rational thought that Ela has become. It’s quite a build up with a startling climax that features a terrific last line … explaining all.

LADYGREY (2015)

Greetings again from the darkness. Alain Choquart has had a long and successful career as a top cinematographer, and though this is his first feature film as director, his eye with a camera is obvious in just how beautifully this film is shot.

Filmed and set in post-apartheid South Africa, this little village has an undercurrent of secrecy and misery. We realize that some tragic event has engulfed the citizens with a bleak perspective, and each day seems pretty much as dark as the last. Slow-witted Mattis (Jeremie Renier) brings tremendous energy and spirit to an otherwise downbeat environment. Sadly Mattis fluctuates between ecstasy, frustration and outright anger … each shift seemingly occurring over the smallest detail.

The synergy between characters played by Liam Cunningham, Emily Mortimer, Peter Sarsgaard and Sibongile Mlambo is so uncomfortable that we never know what form the next round of broken trust will take. These are not happy people and none of the relationships even border on healthy.

The beautiful Green River plays a vital role in the story, both as a carrier of secrets and a vision of hope, and the torrential rain storms tend to bring about the next infusion of misery. The excellent cast does their best to overcome a lacking script, but mostly the film is more enjoyable to look at than actually watch.

 

 


NOBLE (2014)

April 13, 2014

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (2014)

noble Greetings again from the darkness. Here’s what happens when you don’t read carefully. I picked this from the Dallas International Film Festival schedule because I assumed it was a documentary. I was a bit shocked to discover that it’s a biopic from director Stephen Bradley, starring his wife Deirdre O’Kane as Christina Noble (the real Ms. Noble is pictured, left). Fortunately, Ms. O’Kane and Ms. Noble are friends and the passion and respect shown in the performance allows the film to deliver the message and pay tribute to such an amazing woman.

If you are unaware of the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, it’s worth researching her inspirational story. The film picks up her childhood in Ireland (with fabulous Gloria Cramer Curtis as young Christina). We see the gradual destruction of her family due to her mother’s death and her father’s (Liam Cunningham) alcoholism. The six children are split up and Christina is raised by nuns in similar fashion to what you might have seen in Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters.

This (and some visionary nightmares) turns out to be her motivation to head to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in 1989 as a middle-aged single woman to try and make a difference for the ignored and abused street kids. Her tenacity and bulldogedness not only help raise funds, but also turn the tide for the local police and citizenry.

Christina Noble’s network of homes have helped thousands of children in Vietnam and Mongolia. She is still working tirelessly today and everyday to make a difference for the kids. If you are looking for inspiration or proof that one person can make a difference … look to Christina Noble.

** Here is the direct link to the site for the movie.  You will find a trailer and plenty of information on Christina Noble:

http://noble-movie.com/

 


SAFE HOUSE

February 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The action-thriller-spy genre can be quite fun when handled properly. The “Bourne” franchise and Salt come immediately to mind. What we have here is a ho-hum game of cat and mouse between CIA Agents elevated somewhat because they are played by Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. It’s ho-hum because of the simplistic and predictable script from writer David Guggenheim.

To offset this formulaic script, director Daniel Espinosa leans heavily on near non-stop, frenzied action sequences. Luckily he has DP Oliver Wood (first two Bourne movies) to bring intensity and variety to the action. Denzel plays the veteran rogue agent who turns himself in to a U.S. Consulate after a decade off the grid. We learn he is a U.S. traitor of the worst degree. Reynolds plays a rookie agent on asignment to a going-nowhere “safe house” in South Africa. To say the action is lacking on his assignment is a bit of an understatement. That is, until Denzel is transferred to his site.

We learn a few things in this movie. First, “Safe house” is evidently CIA verbiage for “all hell breaks loose” in the form of massive gunfire and violent deception. Second, if you are an agent in charge of escorting one of the world’s most dangerous men, you would prefer your bosses not send the two of you into a crowded soccer stadium to pick up a GPS device. Things are likely to go wrong. Third, it’s not wise to walk in on Denzel when he is in a bathroom stall. Fourth, if you are Ryan Reynolds, your on screen girlfriends can be as beautiful as your real life girlfriends, and no one raises an eyebrow.

The film does remind us that it’s always cool to see Sam Shepard and Ruben Blades. Where have you been hiding Mr. Blades (pictured)? The rest of the strong cast includes Brendon Gleeson and Vera Farmiga as dueling Langley operatives, Liam Cunningham as a (surprise!) bad guy, Robert Patrick and Joel Kinnaman (from “The Killing“) as agents, and Nora Arnezeder as Reynolds’ hottie.

Being a fan of this genre, it is quite disappointing to see such an obvious and basic story … even though it has the right look and feel, and a nice match-up of stars. The overload of car crashes, gunfire, and hand to hand combat doesn’t offset the fact that everyone knows early on how this is going to end, and we suffer through quick teases of intrigue regarding the two leads. So even though Denzel makes an enjoyable good guy turned bad, and Reynolds shows he is way above the idiotic Green Lantern, this one just doesn’t offer much more than your average video game.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have a hole that can only be filled with excessive noise, gun fire, car wrecks, blood and frenetic fight scenes.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for something new in the spy thriller genre

watch the trailer:


THE GUARD

August 14, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of Martin McDonagh, who brought us the excellent In Bruges (which also starred Brendan Gleeson). I figured it best to say that upfront because there is no way to avoid comparisons of the two films. Clearly these men grew up in the same house and share the brilliant dialogue gene.

Brendan Gleeson delivers a powerful and hilarious performance as a local cop (Garda) in rural Ireland. His Sgt Gerry Boyle is quite an enigma – he gets along great with locals, yet struggles to fit into society. This is never more apparent than when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) hits town on a drug smuggling investigation. The key to their relationship is crystallized at the moment an exasperated Agent Everett says to Boyle, “I can’t tell if you are really smart or really dumb”. Of course, I am paraphrasing because the F-word gets literally worn out in this movie. There aren’t many lines I can actually quote in print. But the word rolls off Gleeson’s tongue as if it’s a work of art … especially in conversation with his ailing, equally colorful mother, played well by the always terrific Fionnula Flanagan.

 The international drug smugglers being chased are a trio led by Liam Cunningham and the always interesting Mark Strong. The endless rips, insults and jokes are fired rapidly at Americans, Brits and anyone unfortunate enough to hail from Dublin. Boyle uses his Irish background as a crutch for his racism and insensitivity. But he leaves no doubt about his expertise as a cop. Heck he even recognizes the importance of some 9 year old kid riding around on a pink bicycle. That’s just another example of the off-center approach to story telling offered by McDonagh.

 If you are a fan of In Bruges; Snatch; or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, I think you will enjoy this one. It falls just short of that level, but not by much. Gleeson is outstanding and the story is simple enough, yet with plenty of twist, turns and hilarity.  However, it should come with a warning to viewers: tune in your ears quickly or the Irish/Gaelic dialect will leave you behind.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy the off-color cynicism of In Bruges, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are easily offended OR you need movie dialogue to be easily understood

watch the trailer: