“Change is coming.” is the mantra of this second, ominous trailer for Kathryn Bigelow’s retelling of the 1967 Algiers Motel massacre during Detroit’s 12th Street Riot’s. There is also a period snapshot of the city, including a rather tense collection of police coercion, both in the station house, and in the field. This film looks like a technical and emotional tour-de-force, and remains one of my most anticipated films for 2017.
Katheryn Bigelow has, since The Hurt Locker, been effectively upping her game for complex pictures out of hot-button American issues. Here in the midst of a particular sharp peak of racial outrage over the past two years, comes her retelling of the Algiers Hotel murders and Detroit race riots in 1967. Detroit features John Boyega (Attack The Block, The Force Awakens and is unquestionably a high calibre movie star at this point), Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski, Jack Reynor (’71) and Game of Thrones’ Gilly, Hannah Murray, among many, many others. Seriously, the number of credited actors here is massive, as it was in the exceptional Zero Dark Thirty. I have no doubt the resulting film will command the ongoing conversation on racism in America when it is released this August.
On a technical level, this of course looks astounding, but I am probably safe in guessing that Detroit is going to pack some big intellectual and emotional punches. Here is a loaded line of dialogue: “It’s just a starter pistol, it starts races.”
Are you old enough to recall Bre-X? If not, Stephen Gaghan’s Gold is a fanciful, fictional retelling of a story about Wall Street greed and hubris that is happy to take the cautionary tale and gild it with Hollywood glitz. Investment bankers taking wild speculative gambles, the roller coaster of unsupervised capitalism; one might ask incredulously, what could possibly go wrong?
In the vein of The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, Gold charts the progress of a mining company that hits the largest gold strike in the 20th century, deep in the jungles of Indonesia. More so, it is an opportunity for Matthew McConaughey to play an oily and charismatic slob, Kenny Wells, complete with snaggle-tooth, bald pate and pot belly.
We see Wells, early on in the picture, crudely romancing his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), unrecognizable with a late 1980s perm and a push-up bra, a la Erin Brockovich, presenting her with expensive baubles and cheap (but earnest) philosophy in his father’s office. He takes the meeting with his dad (Craig T. Nelson) who offers the moral of the film and the modern prospecting business: “I don’t have to do this, I get to do this.”
Some years later, the younger American prospector-dreamer has brought his father’s company to a pretty low point. In a Hail Mary pass, he liquidates his meager assets to team up with sexy geologist Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramírez) on a jungle prospecting adventure.
Watching Ramírez unconsciously (effortlessly) channel Oliver Reed up against the backdrop of Robert Elswit’s superb 35mm cinematography — albeit, Thailand dubiously subbing in for Indonesia — trumps the Wall Street shenanigans of the film. The bromance is more compelling than the business at hand, but the film doubles down on the conference rooms and Waldorf ballrooms that occupy vast swathes of its two-hour running time.
The local peasantry have been panning the Busang River in Borneo for thousands of years, but it is Wells and Acosta that come in with a modern engineering approach and take a plethora of core-samples in the nearby mountains. When the results indicate that the region contains rich deposits of gold, the madness truly begins. Word in the financial district that the Wells’ company is, quite literally, sitting on a gold mine, prompts everyone from billionaire bankers (such as Bruce Greenwood, stealing his all-too-brief scenes) to Indonesian dictators to the mainstream media to want a piece of the action.
Wells lets his ego and his natural showmanship fan the flames before, well, you might expect that things go a bit off the rails. Wells’ mantra vacillates between the whimsical, ‘a bird without feet sleeps on the wind’ and the far more pragmatic, ‘you land where you are stuck.’
He fights with on-again, off-again Kay, who is fine with being assistant manager at a furniture store, while Kenny rides the rollercoaster. The mythology of the ‘big American vision’ takes a pounding, but we all learn something, a canard favoured by M. Night, Mamet, and of gamblers everywhere: ‘The last card you turn over is the only one that matters.’
If that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The evolving nature of the film biopic has recently become quite interesting to me. Insofar as Pablo Larraín’s Jackie is as much about Theodore H. White’s Life magazine article as it is about the iconic First Lady, so John Lee Hancock’s The Founder is as much about the process of business franchising across the United States in the 1950s as it is about the man who made McDonald’s the corporate empire it is today.
That is not to say that Michael Keaton’s performance as Ray Kroc, nor the delightful duo of John Caroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, who portray the McDonald brothers Mac and Dick (respectively), are not important or excellent. Of course they are. Kroc innovated the franchise model and was the driving force behind nationalizing fast food; for a while he was the richest man in America. The McDonald brothers innovated the process whereby cooking and serving burgers and fries was approached more like an industrial assembly-line than a kitchen; efficiency and repeatabilty are king.
By focusing on the minutiae of moving from a single, fresh-thinking restaurant to a nationwide, and eventually international, chain, Robert D. Seigel’s script elevates The Founder to a story about America as an idea and how that idea is expressed at a certain point in the nation’s history, akin to the way Easy Rider or Ace In The Hole or American Honey are fascinating inquiries into what, exactly is America in the late 1960s, the late 1940s or in the mid 2010s.
Sure, it is simple enough just to lob out a few ‘great cinema’ titles and call it a day, but it also becomes obvious that (particularly because I am Canadian) the very titles I choose from thousands of excellent movies about America, is more a reflection of what I think of the complex toffee-swirl of regions, ideals and flavours that is the United States.
The Founder is told from the perspective of Ray Kroc, the travelling salesman who took the idea of fast food, and brought essentially one restaurant in America to one (or more) restaurant in every town in America. At the outset of the film, in the early 1950s, Kroc is pitching high efficiency milk-shake machines to owners of drive-in restaurants, you know, the kind where the waitresses on roller-skates serve fries, ribs and shakes through the car windows of teenagers.
His smooth sales pitch, road-warrior attitude and collection of disturbingly garish neckties set the stage for the age-old rags to riches story, the one where elbow grease, gumption and a wee bit of luck realize the untapped potential of the individual. The rosy rural cinematography by John Schwartzman, who shot Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, and will soon be shooting Star Wars Episode IX, and the generic yet oddly satisfying soundtrack, courtesy Carter Burwell, both underscore the familiar nature of this story. Surprisingly, the execution is 180 degrees from any semblance of the direction of the movie.
Sundance hit, and brilliant act of cultural re-appropriation, The Birth Of A Nation got a striking ‘sepia-flag’ styled poster in both still form, and (below) motion form. This is the first time I’ve heard the concept of a motion poster expressed as a ‘living poster.’ Not sure if that is a construct of the marketing department here, or if this is a wider change in language for an advertising concept that has yet to truly take off. Either way, this is perhaps the best execution of a motion poster to date.
Still form or ‘living’ form, both focus on how things go from a single act of rebellion or idealism to a full blown movement.
There’s really not a great deal of violence in A Most Violent Year. Though set in 1981 New York City (a low period for the city marked by high crime rates), there are few visceral moments of bloodshed and brutality. What does exist is an almost constant threat of violence – around every corner and edit in the film, it feels as if some form of foul play sits in wait. The landscape of this version of New York City is bleak, crumbling and empty. The barren streets and rundown manufacturing plants aren’t exactly conducive to strolling about, but the lack of people in the background of the film gives you the feeling that they too are worried about those threats lurking in the shadows.
The real violence of the film, however, refers to the damage done to its main character’s (Abel Morales played exceedingly well by Oscar Isaac) view of the American capitalist framework and his moral approach to honest work resolving in honest returns. Morales wants to behave ethically – though he’ll take every advantage in marketing ploys, he doesn’t want to game the system or cheat his competitors. He feels he should reward those who succeed in his business (an oil company for home heating) and coach those who don’t in order to give them an opportunity to grow. Morales is a sharply dressed man with focus and drive that leads you to believe he WILL get what he wants. When he stares at you, you listen. He’s at a turning point in his business as he puts a huge down payment on a new parcel of land for expansion, but needs to come up with the rest of the capital to close the deal. He is warned up front by the old owners that they are happy to do business with him, but on their terms for their benefit. As Morales tackles problems of his trucks getting hijacked and being investigated for possible shady financial reporting, he struggles to gather up the remaining money needed to close the deal.
Before reading below, it should be noted: THERE BE *SPOILERS* HERE, TOP TO BOTTOM.
One of my favourite quotations from recent science fiction cinema comes from Steven Soderbergh’s shockingly underrated 2002 remake of Solaris. When discussing how mentally equipped mankind is for stellar discovery, the mission-leader, Dr. Gibarian opines, “We don’t want other worlds, we want mirrors.” To be specific however, it was the ghost of Gibarian, or perhaps even a construct from an Alien intelligence projected from the mind of psychologist Kris Kelvin. Maybe it was just a dream. It’s complicated, but you get the idea. We go out into space to learn more about ourselves, finding new life and civilizations is just something incidental along the way.
In the case of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, we not only want mirrors, we also want old-time agriculture, book-shelves of dead-tree textbooks, battered and well loved pick-up trucks, baseball, and presumably, 35mm analogue film. In other words, apple-pie Americana with minimal materialism or digital devices. The only thing missing in the film’s love of all things twentieth century are the churches; in a way they too show up incorporated heavily into Hans Zimmer’s score. Co-incidentally enough, if the bombastic score were absent the epic organ-chime moments, it would very much resemble the subtle, driven work in Cliff Martinez’s score for, of all things, Solaris. Mirrors, indeed.
There is a bit of classic political head-butting in dusty small town America when former NASA pilot turned farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) goes into his kids’ school for parent-teacher interviews. In what is perhaps the films best scene, the principle and school teacher inform Cooper that the administration has ranked every 15-year old student’s future career path by a computer algorithm, a nanny state decision which must be abided. To add insult to injury, these governmental stewards charged with educating the youth are also moon-landing deniers and take umbrage to Coop’s daughter bringing ‘outdated textbooks’ into the classroom. Cooper, being the more come-what-may kind of cowboy (“alright, alright, alright kids, flat tire be damned, lets harvest and repurpose that old Indian solar wardrone!”) who likes manual-transmission, Morse code, and flying by the seat of his pants. The shackling of the future, and of history for that matter, to the lowest level of ambition, merely surviving, or as he puts it, staring down at the dirt, instead of looking up at the stars, gets his dander up. He’s a believer in technology, optimism, and problem-solving around a fast-ticking clock, in a world which has no interest in engineers or ideas. He funnels this frustration into his relationship with his bright and willful daughter. When the school administrators are looking to him to discipline his daughter, he tells them he is instead taking her to a ball game, and giving her popcorn and soda-pop besides. (Her suspension from formal schooling is the quick result of his insolence, but nevertheless yields the result of her eventually saving the human race. Take that big-government liberals!)
In the mean time, the United States is experiencing a second Great Depression and Dust-Bowl scenario. We are never specifically told what is happening anywhere else in the world over the run-time of this inward-looking film (heck, we don’t even know what year it is!) Presumably, either America’s climate change denial, or its preemptive strike foreign policies, possibly even over-subsidizing corn-production to the point of mono-culture, has brought the whole ecosystem to the brink and the human population has been reduced to a fraction of the 7 billion souls at the beginning of the 21st century. Environmental blight and ecological collapse is diminishing the remaining oxygen supply to the point where there is only enough for a few more generations. That is the scenario and it is grim, possibly man-made, and quite likely, irreversible.
Happy America Day! Below you will find a small gallery of posters from the Hollywood dream factories that wear the flag proudly.
One of the more immediate and intimate case-studies of poverty in America, as well as being one of the most beautiful films of the year, Tracy Tragos and Andrew Palermo’s Rich Hill won the big Documentary prize at this years Sundance, and is getting a limited theatrical release on August 1st. The trailer underscores much of the film, as well as the complexity of life on the margins of America, as well as the clarity of the images captured by the filmmakers.
The film chronicles challenges, hopes and dreams of the three young residents Andrew, Harley and Appachey of a rural American town. There is a brief discussion of the film in the Hot Docs segment of Cinecast Episode #351
After all that grim business of Batman and terrorism and financial meltdowns with the Batman Franchise, it looks as if Christopher Nolan have decided to go with a more positive outlook for America. The trailer of Interstellar doesn’t tell us much, other than to dream and hope, and hold hands in a (probably government subsidized) cornfield.
But here is your wiki-synopsis: When a wormhole is newly discovered, a team of explorers and scientists embark on a voyage through it to transcend previous limitations on human space-time travel.”
I admire this trailer even as it leaves me rather flat in the same way that Star Trek: Enterprise’s intro left me flat. Or, perhaps this unaffected feeling is due to the unintended similarity to the clunky and cornball bumper shown as part of Cineplex Canada’s pre-show infotainment.
I do not watch The Super Bowl. Generally, I am more interested in the movie trailers and whatnot that more or less tell me what films to avoid this summer, which are aired to great expense during the big game. Curiously, this year most of them made it to the internet a few days early; thus, I am a little bit late on this bit of tempestuousness hiding as a lengthy advertisement. My assumption that I had seen all of the biggies before Super Bowl Sunday was flat out false! Colour me surprised (and playing catch-up) when I came across this Chrysler Ad that plays like a bit of good old fashion propaganda. I’ll take this ‘entertainment’ any day over those gawd-awful Act of Valour ads that demonstrate Micheal Bay has been setting down the film-grammar for military recruiting for the past few decades, only to give birth to the perfect synergy of popcorn-entertainment and propaganda.
But I digress.
I am a fairly big fan of David Mamet penned Wag The Dog, and this commercial fits nicely into the “Don’t Change Horses Mid-Stream” Ads (themselves an echo of the Ronald Reagan Campaign “Morning in America spots in 1984.) that gets Dustin Hoffman hired, rewarded and then killed, in that film. Even more amusing is that it was directed by David Gordon Green, striding the line between original Americana, George Washington, and bad 1980s remake, The Sitter.
Apparently this has ruffled a lot of feathers. Clint’s made a statement, as has Karl Rove, and a lot of that is covered here.