Review: Song To Song

SongToSong

And so the prostitute says, “Create the Illusion, but don’t believe it.”

I am not sure if that is Terrence Malick’s thesis with Song To Song, an elliptical fairy tale of despondency, but the film does feature Val Kilmer wielding a chainsaw on stage at the SXSW music festival, so there is that.

It also embeds clips from Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, offers heartbreaking relationship advice from punk rock goddess Patti Smith, cheerfully cuts off Iggy Pop in mid-sentence and makes a little time for Natalie Portman to wait tables and attend church services kitted out in Erin Brockovich inspired push-up bras.

Song to Song is Malick’s fifth film in six years, not including his forthcoming Europe-set WWII epic, to be released later in 2017. Apparently, The film has been in production in one way or another for seven years; long enough to recast Christian Bale (or re-purpose his footage into Knight of Cups) and lose Arcade Fire completely in the editing room. This means that the overall process overlaps all the way back with Tree of Life, the touchstone for his current mode of cinema.

The ongoing price to pay for scrapping conventional storytelling (and, you know, actual scripts) has yielded his work some superb benefits … for those keen to tune into his wavelength. Of course, this is not for everyone, and do not be surprised when many film-goers drawn in by the marquee actors and musician cameos flee the experience in frustration. Like it or not, Malick has, for some time now, been in the business of capturing elusive, immersive, Steadicam dreams of time and place that he subtly bends into narrative in the editing room.

Here he films in the in-between spaces of Texas, be it backstage casual at South By Southwest, the concrete and glass boxes of the wealthy, or windswept desert pools in the wilderness. You would not recognize this as the same Austin in the front half of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof or the sprawling walkabouts of so many a Richard Linkater joint. And though the film features an impressively programmed and multifarious playlist, the soundtrack is less the music, and more the palpable ennui of gorgeous white young things trying to find themselves in a confusing world of indulgence.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Sicario

On a current affairs note, Denis Villeneuve’s effective cops, cartels, and spooks procedural, Sicario, stands a good chance at giving Donald Trump a popularity bump in the Republican primary.

The film offers atrocities galore in the Mexican border-crossing and drug-trafficking space. Graphic imagery abounds. Headless corpses are suspended from city bridges, unabashedly out in the open in Mexico, while still others are wrapped in plastic and buried in the drywall of a suburban home on the USA side of the border. The film is clear and concise in laying blame on the 20% of the drug using public in the first world. The 1% which drives supply-chain market forces into an ever escalating cycle of violence and crime in the second world. This in turn always threatens to spill over semi-permeable international boundaries. Sicario is talky when it needs to be, but it never loses its focus on being, above all else, a wicked little genre film hellbent on demonstrating, and demonstrating often, the effortless cool of Benicio del Toro.

The intensification of the drug war, by way of ethical slippery slopes, is shown from the point of view of seasoned SWAT leader, Kate Macer, played by Emily Blunt in equal measure as a steely badass and naive moralist. She (and we) are always the last to know everything. Macer is thrown to the wolves by her boss (Victor Garber) when she is recruited by a covert and vague CIA operation headed by Matt (Josh Brolin with a Kevlar smile and flip-flops) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is some sort of private contractor. The trio jets around various US and Mexican border cities, trampling citizens rights with impunity. They, as it is euphemistically phrased, ‘shake the trees’ in Juarez, Mexico, illegally avoiding any semblance of due process. They get into a rather impressively staged shoot-out in a traffic jam on the Mexican side a border crossing. The prologue of the film indicates the word ‘Sicario’ is either Hebrew or Mexican for ‘hitman’, but at its core, the film postulates the ever-shifting goalposts of federal law enforcement (both American and Mexican) while slowly revealing the broken conscience of both States – as if someone thought to remake Soderbergh’s Traffic and shoot it over the template of Michael Mann’s Heat; all awash in dust motes, artillery and desert sunsets.

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Friday One Sheet: Sicario

And the wonderful one-sheets keep coming for Denis Villeneuve’s much anticipated cross-border hitman procedural, Sicario. This one has the ‘collage of characters’ style usually reserved for adventure movies, so it seems tonally at odds with the polished grit that the trailers promise. Having not seen the film I cannot say for sure. The design does imply that all that is going to happen in the film is concomitant with the head-space of Emily Blunt’s character.

September cannot come soon enough.

Friday One Sheet: Mexican Stamps

The love for Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Sicario continues, and we’ve not even seen the film yet. LA Design have just released a series of five ‘commemorative stamp’ styled posters (Edit: I am told the style is in fact based on a Latin Lotería cards, a BINGO type game that originated in Mexico) in Spanish for the film, and they are marvelous.

The rest are tucked under the seat.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Que Caramba es la Vida

VIFFBanner2014

QueCaramba

When you think of Mariachi, the first that comes to mind is likely not a woman but in Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi, female Mariachi are a presence even though they’re still a minority. In her latest feature Que Caramba es la Vida, German filmmaker Doris Dörrie travels to Plaza Garibaldi and gets to know a few of the women who make a living belting out traditional Mexican music in a cultural art form that is still dominated by men.

Dörrie introduces us to a few of the women who eek out a living by singing soulful tunes. María del Carmen is the best of the bunch, a single mother who spends her nights singing in the square in order to support her mother and her young daughter. Del Carmen seems an unstoppable force as she applies her make-up and dons her uniform for the evening but Dörrie slowly chips away at the calm and collected exterior and as the documentary progresses, del Carmen and the other women begin to talk candidly about the struggles of a career that is dominated by men and the harassment and hardship they face on a nightly basis.
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Friday One Sheet: Here Comes The Devil

Mexican horror film Here Comes The Devil may lack a large budget but it is one of the better ‘haunting’ films to come out in the past couple years, and it picked up a fair number of awards on the festival circuit. And for its North American release, the marketing folks have put together a pretty fine poster featuring clean typesetting and a distinctly red palette. I could do without the children in the title card being just a white Photoshop copy of the same element on top of the mountain, but for those who have seen the film, that particular hand-hold is one of the films signature images, just as that mountain cave is the location that sets things off. I love how the credit block fits so naturally into the center of the design and the host of writing devils at the bottom recalls the ‘satanic panic’ series of low budget American horror films of the mid to late 1970s; thus making this both nostalgic and modern.

Just for fun, the trailer is tucked under the seat.

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A Month Of Horror 2012 – Chapter 6

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For today’s lesson…

 

The Mummy’s Hand (1940 – Christy Cabanne)
A poor cousin to the Universal Monster classic The Mummy, this short cheapie may lack in characters, story and humour (not that it doesn’t “try” to be funny), but there’s one thing that it has in spades in comparison to its older relative – an actual walking mummy. And a beady hollow-eyed one at that. Not that it makes this film any better than its parentage, but it at least helps its bland beginnings become somewhat more entertaining in the latter part. Less a horror film and more an action/adventure flick, it’s a reasonable watch and fairly inoffensive (except the attempts to be funny) as two archaeologists find a clue to the ancient Ananka’s hidden tomb. A magician who funds their trip joins them and brings along his beautiful daughter. The four of them must contend with a high priest and his zombie-like mummy who guards the grave. There’s little more to the razor thin plot, but at least it goes about its business quickly and probably provided for a bit of time-wasting fun for kids back in the day (and possibly even today if they aren’t too jaded).

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The Curse Of The Crying Woman (1963 – Rafael Baledon)
The dubbing is horrible and the DVD is a mix of grey and light grey, but this Mexican take on the “evil family curses reaching down the generations” genre is far better than you ever might imagine as director Baledon fills the movie with some memorable images and creepy scenes. Amelia is visiting her aunt by invitation for the first time in many years, but in standard horror movie fashion none of the townspeople want to go anywhere near her aunt’s mansion. Turns out they’re not so dumb, since auntie has plans for Amelia. Before the stroke of midnight on her birthday, the curse will take affect and she will help reawaken a witch from years of decomposed sleep. Amelia’s constantly cigar chomping new husband is also present and relatively useless in helping her even if he is clearly about 20 years older than she is (one can only imagine Amelia has some father complex issues to work out). It’s a breezy 74 minutes and despite some blathering about the history of the curse and maddening plot elements, it really does kinda fly by with some well deserved minor scares and, my favourite word in horror, atmosphere.

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Cinecast Episode 265 – Trash is Good

For you kids that aren’t into the whole brevity thing and love the normal Cinecast conversations that are lengthy enough to get you through a train ride halfway across Europe, you’re out of luck this week. Being that we’re knee-deep in Shinsedai Film Festival content and pre-production on a week long Christopher Nolan retrospective, we gotta keep things short. So it’s basically a shouting match about Oliver Stone’s newest film, Savages and then it’s adios. Come back next week and we should have a bit more content.

Please excuse the microphone malfunction (42:44) – the transition might seem a little jarring. Our apologies.

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


 
 

 

To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:
http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_12/episode_265.mp3

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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Trailer: Miss Bala

Mexican thriller, Miss Bala, has Y Tu Mama Tambian stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna lending their names to the producer titles, and looks in the vein of Maria Full of Grace with LOTS of guns. Which leads me to ask the question, why the hell isn’t it on my TIFF schedule for 2011.

Miss Bala tells the story of Laura, a young woman whose aspirations of becoming a beauty queen turn against her, delivering her into the hands of a gang that’s terrorizing northern Mexico.

The full trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Review: Monsters

 

[Because the film opens theatrically in NY and LA today, and has been available online for a month on VOD, here is a re-post of my review for Gareth Edwards’ Monsters. Also check out Jandy’s take on the film and if you want further Monsters reading, check out my interview with the director posted up over at Twitch.]

There are monsters amoung us – figuratively and literally – in the simple yet aptly titled not-quite-creature-feature, Monsters. Sometime in the near future a wee spot of primordial alien matter got all tangled up with a returning man-made space probe. After about 6 years the effects of the tag-along DNA have resulted in some rather large and terrifying beasties that call about half of Mexico, from Mazatlan to Tampico and all the way north to the American border, home. The Americans respond by building a towering and intimidating 30 meter high concrete wall that makes the $1.2 billion 2006 mandated (by Bush and company) fence looks like no more useful than to pen in goats. The term “Fortress America” is starting to sound rather closer to reality. It being the US-Mexico border, stuff is bound to penetrate and be met with an overabundance of force. Not quite Don Johnson in Machete, but you have to wonder if the response creates half the problem. While Monsters is no Starship Troopers, it is about as far from the crazy violence or anti-fascist bombast as possible, there is a satirical streak hidden under it all that probably would make Paul Verhoeven concede a knowing nod to its sub-textual, humanist slant.

Apparently, it was director Gareth Edwards’ goal to make the most ‘realistic’ movie about gigantic monsters invading earth as possible. If that means a quieter, more mundane tone, more a movie of our collective environment altered by the presence of alien beings rather than the typical crash-and-smash mayhem caused by invaders from Mars then so be it. He has succeeded in an act of alternate-future that feels real, it feels lived in, and there is a sense of the mundane and normalcy that is almost always lacking in pictures of these type. Shooting in the central American wilderness and small towns therein make for a gorgeous movie on top of its unconventional execution. To say it defies expectations, the constant comparisons to District 9 are, on one hand, appropriate yet still quite misleading. Monsters is not an action picture, it is a contemplative road picture. That it defies easy comparison is simply because there are not enough of these movies made to draw accurate comparisons. I was rather reminded by the opening hours of the 1980s TV miniseries “V” or perhaps Alien Nation; where the presence of extra-terrestrials make a large-scale change on society merely by existing in it. But it also evokes the social journey-films of Alfonso Cuarón, pick either Y tu mama tambien or Children of Men, there are similarities to both. We exist in our environments even as a collective societal shift from panic to uncertainty to ‘the new normal’ follows any major global ‘sea change.’ Of course, all of this inferred shock and awe happens offscreen, only implied by a few title cards. The Monsters could just have easily been another country’s military occupation of modern Mexico, or how the world at this point is rather used to the quagmire in Iraq after 6 years of US entrenchment. As it stands, the gigantic walking squids are here, and they have left their mark, but are now simply a part of the fabric of North American life. This is the greatest achievement of the film, and one that allows for a bit of consideration and politics, although, really the joy is simply existing in this plausible new world order. Part of me wishes that if someone is going to make Max Brook’s overcooked novel World War Z, Gareth Edwards would be the man to leaven out the breathless hyperbole of the ‘letters from the front’ and make it a mature allegory for adults.

Would you like to know more…?

TIFF Review: Monsters

 

 

There are monsters amoung us – figuratively and literally – in the simple yet aptly titled not-quite-creature-feature, Monsters. Sometime in the near future a wee spot of primordial alien matter got all tangled up with a returning man-made space probe. After about 6 years the effects of the tag-along DNA have resulted in some rather large and terrifying beasties that call about half of Mexico, from Mazatlan to Tampico and all the way north to the American border, home. The Americans respond by building a towering and intimidating 30 meter high concrete wall that makes the $1.2 billion 2006 mandated (by Bush and company) fence looks like no more useful than to pen in goats. The term “Fortress America” is starting to sound rather closer to reality. It being the US-Mexico border, stuff is bound to penetrate and be met with an overabundance of force. Not quite Don Johnson in Machete, but you have to wonder if the response creates half the problem. While Monsters is no Starship Troopers, it is about as far from the crazy violence or anti-fascist bombast as possible, there is a satirical streak hidden under it all that probably would make Paul Verhoeven concede a knowing nod to its sub-textual, humanist slant.

Apparently, it was director Gareth Edwards’ goal to make the most ‘realistic’ movie about gigantic monsters invading earth as possible. If that means a quieter, more mundane tone, more a movie of our collective environment altered by the presence of alien beings rather than the typical crash-and-smash mayhem caused by invaders from Mars then so be it. He has succeeded in an act of alternate-future that feels real, it feels lived in, and there is a sense of the mundane and normalcy that is almost always lacking in pictures of these type. Shooting in the central American wilderness and small towns therein make for a gorgeous movie on top of its unconventional execution. To say it defies expectations, the constant comparisons to District 9 are, on one hand, appropriate yet still quite misleading. Monsters is not an action picture, it is a contemplative road picture. That it defies easy comparison is simply because there are not enough of these movies made to draw accurate comparisons. I was rather reminded by the opening hours of the 1980s TV miniseries “V” or perhaps Alien Nation; where the presence of extra-terrestrials make a large-scale change on society merely by existing in it. But it also evokes the social journey-films of Alfonso Cuarón, pick either Y tu mama tambien or Children of Men, there are similarities to both. We exist in our environments even as a collective societal shift from panic to uncertainty to ‘the new normal’ follows any major global ‘sea change.’ Of course, all of this inferred shock and awe happens offscreen, only implied by a few title cards. The Monsters could just have easily been another country’s military occupation of modern Mexico, or how the world at this point is rather used to the quagmire in Iraq after 6 years of US entrenchment. As it stands, the gigantic walking squids are here, and they have left their mark, but are now simply a part of the fabric of North American life. This is the greatest achievement of the film, and one that allows for a bit of consideration and politics, although, really the joy is simply existing in this plausible new world order. Part of me wishes that if someone is going to make Max Brook’s overcooked novel World War Z, Gareth Edwards would be the man to leaven out the breathless hyperbole of the ‘letters from the front’ and make it a mature allegory for adults.

Would you like to know more…?