SOUND OF METAL (2020)

November 19, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Many of us have attended concerts and experienced a ringing in our ears for a while afterwards. Have you ever thought about the musicians who are playing that music night after night? It’s a risk requiring precautions … and even then, disaster can occur. The first narrative feature from writer-director Darius Marder uses the hearing loss of a heavy metal drummer to explore what happens when the life we know is suddenly snatched away.

Riz Ahmed (TV mini-series “The Night Of”) stars as Ruben, the aforementioned drummer. The film opens with Ruben drumming on stage as his lead singer/girlfriend Lou (underrated Olivia Cooke, THOROUGHBREDS, “Bates Motel”) screams out the lyrics punk-style for their band, Blackgammon. We witness Ruben’s euphoria in the moment, with his “Please Kill Me” tattoo visible across his chest. Afterwards, we see the couple in their RV living a happy life of veggie juice, yoga, and slow dancing between gigs. The first crack in the armor is Lou’s scratching her arm from anxiety, and the next is devastating for Ruben and the couple.

Ahmed is terrific in the most important moments, and he’s assisted by top notch sound design from Nicolas Becker (GRAVITY, 2013). This allows us to feel and experience the moment Ruben realizes he has a problem, and how he begins to process this. Director Marder utilizes subtitles/closed captioning throughout, both for the deaf community and to make Ruben’s situation visceral for viewers. When the doctor explains hearing loss, frustration and defiance kick in for Ruben. He becomes focused on the $40-80,000 cochlear implant option, and views it as a way to maintain his normal life.

Lou becomes worried for Ruben’s well-being, and we learn he’s a recovering heroin addict. He reluctantly agrees to a remote deaf community/rehab facility run by Joe (Paul Raci). It’s here that Ruben learns sign language and begins to adjust to his new reality. Joe is a very patient and sage advisor, and preaches that being deaf is not a handicap – it’s not viewed as something to fix. Implants are considered an affront to the deaf culture, and the film neither shies away from this conflict, nor magnifies it.

The clash between Joe’s patience and guidance, and Ruben’s desire to get his normal life back comprise much of the film. The final scene between the two is gut-wrenching thanks to extraordinary acting from Ahmed and especially Raci. Supporting work in the film is provided by Lauren Ridloff (a hearing-impaired actor) and Mathieu Amalric as Lou’s dad. The final act is quite something to watch. The director says the film is about the finality of life changes, and letting go of what we can’t fix. Joe urges Ruben to appreciate the stillness, and we also see a love story that served its purpose and run its course. Will the distortion lead Ruben to find peace in the stillness? Depending on your stance in regards to the debate within the deaf community, the ending either works for you or it doesn’t. Either way, it’s well done and well-acted.

Amazon Studios will release this in theaters November 20, 2020 and on Prime Video December 4, 2020

watch the trailer


VENOM (2018)

October 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. For those movie-goers who believe there is no need for another comic book movie, you now have People’s Exhibit A. This is the 5th Marvel film of 2018 (yep, that’s a new one every other month!), and it’s the first one proving challenging to say much of anything that is positive or complimentary.

It should be noted that this is not a Superhero movie, but rather a film based on the Marvel Comic characters and stories of Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie. Four writers are credited with the screenplay, and it seems they either needed more or fewer. Director Ruben Fleisher (ZOMBIELAND, 2009) apparently worked with what he was given, hoping the stellar cast or the CGI could salvage the project.

The always terrific Tom Hardy (Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) stars as Eddie Brock, a renowned investigative reporter popular for breaking stories of corruption and fraud. Unfortunately, he has a significant lapse in ethics – an unusually forthright comment from Hollywood on today’s media. This lapse costs Brock his job, his girlfriend (4 time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams), and any semblance of normalcy. While investigating the unimaginable human-alien experiments of megalomaniac Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock takes on the powers of the symbiote (Venom) and spends the rest of the movie either trying to control these powers, sitting back and letting the powers take over, or exchanging frat boy dialogue with the possessive being who picked up all nuances of the English language pretty darn quickly.

Venom was last seen in the lackluster SPIDER-MAN 3 and was played by Topher Grace. This time out, Venom is the focus and Spidey is nowhere to be found or mentioned … at least not until post credits (a terrific animated sequence). The CGI is at times very impressive – reminiscent of something John Carpenter might have ordered. Two sides of the Transamerica Pyramid provide a nice visual, however, the effects are not at all consistent. Far too often … especially the battle between Venom and Riot …it’s just plain messy (like letting a group of toddlers play with black and gray slime).

The film’s saving grace could have been the interactions between Mr. Hardy and Ms. Williams, both stellar actors, but the dialogue and situations are so ridiculous that even those scenes don’t click. The moments that draw laughter from the audience may or may not have been by design, but there are far too many ‘forced comedic moments’ that just fall flat.

Composer Ludwig Goransson (CREED, BLACK PANTHER) delivers some nice moments with the score, but the Eminem song over the closing credits sounds amateurish. The film is very loud, and not so much lacking direction as it is burdened with too many directions and misfires. A comic book movie’s first priority is to be fun, and this one just isn’t much of that. Surprisingly, the film is rated PG-13 rather than R, so the excessive violence (and there is plenty) never actually spills a drop of blood. Perhaps the goal was to make a Marvel movie so uninspiring that BLACK PANTHER’s Oscar chances would be enhanced.  Otherwise, there’s no excuse.

watch the trailer:


THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018)

September 27, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. It was a good news – bad news kind of day for westerns. First, it’s announced that Mel Gibson will direct a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 classic THE WILD BUNCH. Talk about an undesired and unnecessary project! Fortunately, the movie gods understood this gut-punch and as a peace offering, delivered this near-masterpiece that doesn’t so much re-invent the Western, but rather provides a tonal and stylistic twist to the genre.

This is the first English language project from writer/director Jacques Audiard, who has previously delivered such powerful and well-crafted films as A PROPHET (2009), RUST AND BONE (2012), and DHEEPAN (2015). Based on the Patrick DeWitt novel, with a screenplay from Mr. Audiard and his frequent collaborator Thomas Bidegain, this latest is a very unusual film that teeters on satire at times, but is simply too bleak to be a comedy – although it’s too darn funny to be an outright drama.

A terrific opening sequence in 1851 Oregon features a nighttime shootout that sets the stage both visually and tonally for what we will experience for the next couple of hours. It’s beautifully shot and there is some misdirection on what exactly the Sisters brothers are made of. John C. Reilly is absolutely wonderful as Eli Sisters, the soulful forward-thinking one who also has a dash of goofiness to him. His younger brother Charlie Sisters, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is the slightly unhinged one who frequently follows in his hated father’s footsteps by drinking heavily. Charlie is alternatingly quietly menacing and drunkenly menacing. The two brothers are hired assassins, and while Eli dreams of a peaceful retirement, Charlie can’t imagine not doing what they do.

The brothers have been contracted by ‘The Commodore’, a rarely seen power broker played in brief glimpses by the great Rutger Hauer. They are to meet up with advance scout John Morris (played by Jake Gyllenhaal with a quasi-British accent) and kill Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), who has supposedly stolen from The Commodore. Of course, there is more to the story. Warm has actually developed a chemical compound that allows for the easy gathering of gold from waterways – remember this is the height of the Gold Rush.

This is kind of a road trip film … only it’s on a horse trail from Oregon to San Francisco, and it’s kind of a buddy film … only it’s two brothers. Along the way, bonds are forged and broken, and paths are crossed with a kind-hearted saloon gal (Allison Tolman), a greedy town lord (trans actor Rebecca Root), and the brothers’ mother played by the always interesting Carol Kane. There is also a cringe-inducing run-in with a spider, an unfortunate end for a favorite horse, and the hilarious first use of a toothbrush. There is also a Dallas joke that drew quite the laughter from my Dallas audience.

It’s such an unusual film, and it’s presented with a non-traditional pace and rhythm. The moments of laughter surround a core with a dramatic story of destiny, the meaning of life, dreams and visions, and the greed of man. All of this is set to yet another terrific score from Alexandre Desplat and the visually striking photography of Benoit Debie. Director Audiard has delivered a bleak comedy or a comical drama, and he’s done so with more than a fair share of violence. Whether you consider yourself a fan of westerns or not, this one deserves a look.

watch the trailer: