Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
2011 US. Director: Braden King. Starring: Ben Foster, Lubna Azabal, Peter Coyote.
A longer review is forthcoming, but I felt it prudent to scribble down a few thoughts as I will likely re-watch Here prior to providing more fleshed-out thoughts. At this juncture, however, I am uncertain that I saw a superior film from the 2011 calendar year. Foster and Azabal were jointly and severally fantastic, displaying beautifully believable chemistry whilst maintaining their independent characters and characteristics (and without stumbling into the cliché). The cinematography and editing were reminiscent of a Malick or Herzog film, both in terms of fluidity and beauty, with King and cinematographer Lol Crawley conveying landscapes and scenery through both elemental and humanized means. The lack of discussion to-date (as well as the lack of a proper release) is equal parts maddening and saddening, and I’m very hopeful that Here begins to generate some buzz.
2012 USA. Director: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton.
For me, this is exactly what a popcorn action movie should be. It’s not cerebral, it’s not complicated, it’s not flashy, and it doesn’t rewrite any rules of the action thriller genre. But it is solid, well-shot, well-acted, well-directed, as clever as it needs to be, and has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen ever. The story is pretty much what’s laid out in the trailer – Gina Carano is a private security operative, she’s betrayed by her employers, and then she beats the crap out of them. Carano’s MMA background shows; every hit looks (and sounds) sickeningly real, and the way she moves, the way she fights, even the way she runs are all totally believable. Soderbergh knows just how to support her, too, holding long shots instead of cutting away, as if to say, yeah, she can really do this. But it’s not just a showcase for a fighter – the story is simple, but it works, and Carano is nearly as convincing an actress as she is a fighter (her rawness actually works to her advantage), and the supporting cast is all superb, fitting in perfectly with the ’70s aesthetic Soderbergh pulls out here. I’d trade most any big-budget blockbuster if we could get two mid-budget action films like this in their place.
The Spanish Prisoner
1998 USA. Director: David Mamet. Starring: Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay, Felicity Huffman.
“Beware of all enterprises requiring new clothes.” – words of wisdom from David Mamet, or more specifically, David Henry Thoreau.
This twisty-turny triple-con starts off slow, and then slows way down. But the pleasure is in the walk down the rabbit hole with Campbell Scott, and honest working math genius who has his miracle macguffin…er…process threatened to be stolen by outside interests to his company; a company who is also, likely, trying to screw him over. It is a rude awakening for our Boyscout (literally) patsy John Ross (Scott) but a smartly written meditation on vanity and hubris, concentration-interuptus from a pretty woman and where good intentions (and too many assumptions) all too often lead. The Ricky Jay supporting role is sublime, and he gets most of the great quotable lines (as he does in Heist and House of Games…other well oil’d David Mamet confidence-machines.
2009 US. Director: Christian Alvart. Starring: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet.
Insofar as I can recall, Pandorum was advertised as a run-of-the-mill horror film, predicated upon dark and dank set pieces and jumpy suspense. For the most part, reviews and word of mouth supported this face value judgment, leading me to avoid the film entirely. Having recently been terrorized (though enjoyably so) by Dead Space, I decided to give Pandorum a shot due to a recommendation from a Dead Space savant … and I was unexpectedly blown away. My expectations could not have been more off the mark, as Pandorum was more Alien or Sunshine than anything else. And, perhaps best of all, the design, direction, and writing served as more of an homage to the great sci-fi psychological thrillers, as opposed to copying, pasting, and hoping for the best. Ben Foster, one of the most underrated and underutilized young actors in the game, was stellar, and Quaid was surprisingly solid, to boot. The rest of the cast was decidedly ephemeral, but believable and quite strong in what little they were given to work with. The strong rating may be somewhat predicated upon my very low expectations, but I can recommend this with confidence to any fan of the genre.
Drop Dead Gorgeous
1999 USA. Director: Michael Patrick Jann. Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Kirstie Alley, Denise Richards, Amy Adams, Brittany Murphy.
I gotta say, I was a little surprised when my husband picked this out as one of the films he wanted me to watch. I mean, a movie about a bunch of girls vying for a beauty pageant crown? But it wasn’t very far into the film that I understood. Miss Congeniality this ain’t. It’s a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, with a bunch of soon-to-be-famous starlets as the Minnesota girls (seriously, we were all like, hold up, is that Amy Adams? AND IT WAS) trying to win their podunk town’s pageant, from feted favorite Denise Richards (and her stage mom Kirstie Alley) to trailer park resident Kirsten Dunst, and everything in between. I’m pretty sure a good chunk of the reason Jonathan H. likes it can be traced to the satire on Minnesota itself (his home state), but everything else is pretty spot-on as well. This film should’ve gotten way more attention than it did – I remember it coming out, but only as a little blip on my late ’90s pop-culture consciousness. And I was watching everything in 1999. Almost not exaggerating there.
2009 UK. Director: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Robin Hill, Robert Hill, Julia Deakin, Michael Smiley.
I missed watching this when other film blogs were talking about it a year or two ago, but after loving Kill List, I had to go back and check out Ben Wheatley’s earlier film, said to be in the same vein in terms of out-of-the-box genre filmmaking, but applied to gangster films instead of hit-men and horror. There are definitely resemblances, though Kill List is a step up in confidence, I think. Down Terrace starts off really slow and casual, to the point that it’s really difficult to figure out what even is going on or who these guys are as they sit around and chat. But that’s all very deliberate, and when shit starts going down, SHIT GOES DOWN. I’m still not totally sure what the ground zero event was that set everything in motion, but it doesn’t really matter – what matters is how it plays out, with suspicion leading to accusation leading to murder leading to cover-ups, etc. Plus there are a lot of surprisingly funny scenes, like when a cleaner comes to take care of a potential loose end but brought his kid along and thus can’t get with the violence the way he needs to in order to finish the job. The beginning is a bit of a slog, but it’s definitely worth it for the second half.