Toronto After Dark Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

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Fantasia 2016 Review: In A Valley Of Violence

In Sergio Leone’s classic The Good The Bad And The Ugly, one of many iconic scenes involves a gunfighter sneaking up to murder Eli Wallach’s Tuco in the bath-tub. The anonymous heavy lost his arm in a shootout with Tuco in the opening scene of the film, and seeking bloody revenge, as is par for the course in so many westerns, he stops first for a smug monologue about how it took months to learn how to shoot with his other hand. As the grimy Italian blonde savours the reversal of fortune (again, a staple of this superb film) with words, Tuco turns the table because he has his pistol in the bath-tub. He blows away the smug, would-be killer through the soap suds. To the corpse, he lectures, “When you have to shoot, SHOOT. Don’t talk.” It would not surprise me in the slightest, if it was this scene alone that inspired Ti West to make In A Valley of Violence, a film that seems a full featured examination of what amounts to a throwaway 2 minutes in a 179 minute film. More recently, HBO’s Deadwood, The Coen Brothers’ True Grit remake, and the recent pair of Quentin Tarantino gunslinger film have set out to prove that excessively loquacious, but nevertheless savoury, dialogue is a wholesome part of the Western that bears at least some consideration.

Ethan Hawke plays civil war deserter Paul, who, after a Shakespearean styled prologue with a drunken Irish priest (Burn Gorman doing what he so wonderfully does) about the nature of where he finds himself, ends up nevertheless caught up in the local toxicity of a friable futureless village-slash-movie-set called Denton. He tries to keep his head down and sip his drink at the bar as the local blowhard and sadistic bully, Gilly (Generation Kill & The Wire‘s oily-but-wide-eyed James Ransome), who also the deputy and son of the town’s sheriff, picks a fight with him for no reason other than that Paul a stranger in a place that, you guessed it, don’t like no strangers.

Pestered to the point of violence, and equally important to the point of speaking (mainly to the audience) he says that he just wants to hang out with his preternaturally cute, Lassie-like, dog and make for Mexico to forget the horrors of the war. Anyone who has ever seen a western, hell anyone who has ever seen some movies, can spot what is coming a mile away. Don’t get me wrong though, the point of the film seems less about realistically defined characters or completely reinventing the wheel (West even shoots on 35mm film, although he favours 1.85:1 over cinemascope to keep things somewhat small) and more about playing with familiar tropes of the western. This auto-critique of the genre, whose often deadpan and straight-up approach to many familiar situations is sure to be abrasive to some.

Paul being forced to deal revenge to many of the denizens of Denton is without question a given in this sort of thing. As Paul reluctantly returns to town with guns a-blazin’, it is more through dialogue than gunfire that the showdown at high noon takes place. If there is a mission statement to In A Valley of Violence it is (as stated above) when to speak and when not to speak.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Waking Life

Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater
Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater
Country: USA
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 15


Released back in 2001, Waking Life saw indie darling Richard Linklater experiment with using cutting edge digital rotoscoping animation to bring his meandering, talk-heavy style of drama to new life. Rotoscoping (creating animation by tracing over film footage) had been used for years since the early days of animation, but this was the first time anyone had used digital rotoscoping to produce a full feature film. The software used was developed by Bob Sabiston, an animator and computer scientist veteran of the MIT Media Lab, who used it originally to make his award-winning short film “Snack and Drink”.

Waking Life follows an unnamed character (played by Wiley Wiggins) as he drifts through his shifting dreams. Along the way he meets a wide variety of characters who each give their differing theories and philosophies about life and consciousness. And that’s pretty much it. The film is largely just a series of monologues/lectures/discussions with our protagonist not really interacting with the speakers until the final third where the topics lean more heavily towards dreams and reality, and he asks them about his predicament of being trapped in this dream in such a lucid state.

On paper then, this is a film I should hate. I’ve talked in previous reviews about my distaste for films where characters spout philosophy and the experience becomes a lecture rather than an engaging narrative. I think I prefer philosophies to be explained visually or metaphorically (or maybe I’m just stupid), but I find it tedious to listen to an intellectual spouting theories at me. Roughly knowing what to expect from Waking Life before going in to it (this was my first watch), I was fully expecting to hate it, but I’m a big fan of some of Linklater’s work and I’m also a huge animation fan, so I thought I should give it a try.

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Review: Good Kill

“Keep compartmentalizing” is a piece of advice from a commanding officer to his ace pilot. This is darkly humourous, intelligent screenwriting because these drone-piloting soldiers spend 12 hours a day literally inside a box, albeit an air-conditioned one filled to the brim with technology, with fresh coffee available if needs be.

A day of drone warfare fought, the service men and women leave the base and go home to BBQ with their family and drink beer in the nearby Las Vegas suburb, a pebble-lawned stretch of cookie cutter banality not far away from the dazzling gratuitousness of The Strip. Things go from grim but necessary to deeply disturbing slowly but inevitably, and often didactically, in Good Kill.

The film focuses on Major Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke), a former F-16 pilot and a veteran of many tours. He is now ‘grounded’ in the tiny box on wheels enacting a play-station war; one of low risk of physical harm (barring carpal tunnel syndrome) on which he compensates by making the damage 100% psychological. Egan’s icy disposition and years of experience make him one of the current top performers in piloting drones.

Hawke’s performance is miles apart from his life-long work with Richard Linklater, not to mention as different as possible from the testosterone meathead cinema-depictions of fighter pilots in thrill oriented blockbusters like Top Gun and its numerous copy cats. Egan ignores the gung-ho nature of the two tech support co-workers, the young guys that keep the communications to the remotely piloted aircraft humming along. Egan is quietly respectful of the competence of his equally young female co-pilot (Zoë Kravitz) while carrying out any order from his commanding officer (Bruce Greenwood, who gets all the good lines and let’s face it, is a national goddamn treasure).

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A Game of Drones – Trailer for Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill

Will Andrew Niccol’s latest capture the imagination and box-office in a similar fashion to American Sniper? On the surface, both films share a number of commonalities, not the least of which are soldiers having to kill their enemies from afar, with a certain unquestioning detachment. Niccol has made a career out of questioning the emotional and psychological significance of where we are and where we are going in terms of technology and its applications; from the sci-fi genetics drama Gattaca (also starring Ethan Hawke) to synthetic actors in S1Mone, to his screenplay for Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Here he gets to play in the theater of the current Middle East and drone warfare. I think Good Kill will be better than American Sniper, but likely ignored by the public at large due to a falsely perceived copy-cat-itis.

In an air-conditioned shipping container somewhere in the Nevada desert, a war is being waged. Behind a door that reads “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE USA,” five flight-suited US Air Force officers operate drones that hover above “zones of interest” in the Middle East. At the press of a button, tiny targets viewed on computer screens vanish in plumes of smoke, as in a videogame. Egan (Ethan Hawke) used to live to fly. Now, he spends eight hours each day fighting the War on Terror by remote control and the remaining time at his suburban home, where he feuds with his wife (Mad Men’s January Jones), and numbs his boredom, rage, and guilt with alcohol. When Egan and his crew are told to start taking orders directly from the CIA — which selects its targets based not on personal profiles but patterns of activity — the notion of a “good” kill becomes even more maddeningly abstract, and Egan’s ability to comply with his superiors’ directives reaches its breaking point.

We’ve got the trailer below.

Toronto After Dark 2014 Review: Predestination

 

Never do yesterday what you should do tomorrow, reads a sign in the early minutes of The Spierig Brothers’ delightfully loopy new film. Another reads, If at last you don’t succeed never try again. There are many of these twisted bon-mots lifted verbatim from Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies” and scattered throughout its film adaptation, Predestination. Here is the thing about time travel movies: much time is in fact spent waiting around for things to catch up, even if it is only for that moment when Doc Brown sends his dog Einstein 60 seconds into the future. It leaves plenty of time to read the signs.

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Trailer: Predestination

PreDestination

The Spierig Brothers’ (Daybreakers, Undead)latest genre romp has time travel paradoxes and Ethan Hawke on the brain. And it is very, very pretty. (And it is very, very good.) Have a look, there is almost no spoilers therein.

From the Robert A. Heinlen novel “All You Zombies” the story of a time-traveling Temporal Agent on his life-long assignment where he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

Cinecast Episode 362 – Primordial Dwarfism

 
Aafter nearly a three week hiatus, Weeeeee’re Baaaaa-aaack. In what is a true first on the Cinecast’s 8 year history, all three of Andrew, Kurt and Matt assembled in the same space to do a show with no telecommunications/web bridge. So, of course we pick a noisy bar and record over too many cocktails. With munchies and Montreal Smoked Meat, on the docket are three main reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy, Boyhood and Lucy which, oddly enough GotG gets the consensus favourite. Ever want to hear Kurt praise a Disney-Marvel production, now is your chance.

There is no 1984 project this week, but rest assured things will return to tomorrow with 2010: The Year We Make Contact next week, and Stop Making Sense after that.

Kurt does his annual 1+ hour recap of The Fantasia International Film Festival (which was also the source of the imported smoked meat) which is followed by a slew of titles from Matt (James Cameron Rape Sci-fi, Abortion Comedy, Punk Catharsis) and Andrew (Zach Braff, Heavy Metal, Alan Partridge and the last of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) with a little Terry Gilliam to round out the picture. LIVE FROM MINNEAPOLIS it is a lengthy, boozy, robust episode of the Cinecast, where bartenders, paramedics, rowdy billiard players, and the odd waitress all make for background character and salty language is tossed around in public spaces.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


 
 

 
 

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Fantasia Review: Predestination


Never do yesterday what you should do tomorrow, reads a sign in the early minutes of The Spierig Brothers’ delightfully loopy new film. Another reads, If at last you don’t succeed never try again. There are many of these twisted bon-mots lifted verbatim from Robert Heinlein’s short story, “All You Zombies” and scattered throughout its film adaptation, Predestination. Here is the thing about time travel movies: much time is in fact spent waiting around for things to catch up, even if it is only for that moment when Doc Brown sends his dog Einstein 60 seconds into the future. It leaves plenty of time to read the signs.

Starting in the middle, (or end, or beginning, as these things go) Ethan Hawke plays an unnamed G-man in the time travel bureau. Rushing through a labyrinthine industrial complex and multitasking to diffuse a bomb whilst in the middle of a gun-fight with his nemesis, a mysterious man we soon find out is called “The Fizzle Bomber,” this particular agent’s principle case-file. Things do not go well and he is horribly burned in the blast just before he jumps back to his temporal handler. A smart-suited bureaucrat played Noah Taylor, who, by the way pretty much the market for this role cornered (see: Edge of Tomorrow, Vanilla Sky and The Double), he signs off on some serious reconstructive surgery, and sends the still unnamed agent back to the field; specifically to the 1970s to gets a job as a bartender, to do that waiting thing, not on tables, on time.

With little to cling to only scant minutes into the movie, we are invited to start theorizing what this whole movie is on about, and we get to settle into the dimly lit, wood-paneled watering hole as a new character, possibly the fizzle bomber, takes a seat at the bar. This new fellow, played by Sarah Snook made up to look like cross between David Bowie and Jodie Foster, is a thirsty pulp writer who, after meticulously rolling a cigarette, engages both the agent cum bartender (and by extension, us) with a little banter, and a couple of bad jokes (again, signage) before settling into a lengthy autobiography that will contort into its own kind of ludicrously incestuous logic. Things are convoluted enough that it might just put a fork in the whole business of making puzzle-box time-movies for good. Subtly referencing may of the big ones that came before this, the cutest being the ‘zero-point’ of time travel in this universe is about the same time of that successful test of a certain DeLorean in August 1985. There are others, generously free of clever-for-cleverness-sake, never getting in the way of the story. They are also best left unspoilt here to be discovered or ignored.

If Predestination is a satire of the paradox sub-genre (from La Jetee to Looper) it is probably unintentional, it is still shockingly effective and infectious and a damned fine yarn. Look around at your fellow audience members if you happen to catch this in a cinema of strangers or in the company of friends, and try to guess where they are in terms of catching up with the films bag of tricks. If you cannot spot the sucker in the room, well, then…

Michael and Peter Spierig have a talent for making glossy science-fiction pictures with richly detailed worlds on (relatively) low budgets. They trade image and narrative propulsion over emotion or empathy, but these are sacrifices made for the simple joys of their own brand of robust entertainment. From Undead (Zombies) to Daybreakers (Bloodsuckers) to Predestination, they get better with each outing, and become more…er…Spierig. That is to say, their films are empty calories in terms of any real empathy or allegory, but tilting towards a sugary caffeinated rush. And even if you get a bit giddy racing ahead of a certain temporal field agent who is increasingly swallowed by the wake of his own butterfly flaps and clean-up efforts, take a moment to admire the clockwork and consider this, Mr. Heinlein’s final signpost: “There is no paradox that cannot be Paradoctored.”

Trailer: Linklater’s Before Midnight

Richard Linklater continues the romantic adventures and travails of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke with Before Midnight. The third entry in the series find them a bonafide couple, with two little girls in Greece. And all the stresses of age, parenting, regrets, etc. challenge the notion of perpetual romance. I love the idea of these ‘delayed’ sequels (see also the middle chapter, After Sunset) which allow us to see the progress of these two characters as they (and we) make our way through life. They’ve also had a nice mix of the practical, the romantic and a sense of humour about things; what more do you need from life? To find out where the couple stands in their parenting years, and for that matter, who is the “mayor of Crazytown” you’ll have to watch the trailer below.