Tag Archives: Fight Club

Panic Room (2002)

We’ve already gushed a bit over Mindhunter, which returned to Netflix for a second season a few weeks back, but the work of David Fincher and Co. on that series really can’t be undervalued. There are two scenes in the first three episodes of the new season — all directed by Fincher — that are particular standouts. The opening of the season is just masterful tension achieved with so little: a rope tied to a doorknob, a slight rattling of the door on the other side, a trembling hand reaching out to open it. Fincher holds this almost to the point of hilarity before letting it all break open. The second scene in question is set in a car, with Agent Tench interviewing a subject who’s had his face mutilated by the BTK Killer. Without giving away the device, the camera placements and shot choices make for an utterly gripping sequence that happens to take place in a parked car.

Both recalled Panic Room, Fincher’s most claustrophobic effort and possibly his most overlooked. It’s about as simple as a plot can be: Meg (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristin Stewart) lock themselves in a well-equipped panic room when three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) invade their new home. Coming off the comparatively bonkers Fight Club, Fincher still managed to turn this single-location shoot into a consistently twisty thriller.

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Calvary (2014)

Seeing as I am spending this academic year studying abroad in Ireland, I suppose it would be appropriate to review some good Irish cinema. In the starring role of Father James, the brilliant and wildly underestimated Brendan Gleeson turns in one of his most impressive acting efforts in Calvary, channeling the frustration of a man who’s spent a lifetime actually giving a shit. Sporting a thick reddish-brown mane and sounding his still-thicker brogue, Gleeson covers a great range of emotions, as convincing in his attempts to mold the children of Sligo into proper men and women as he is in sardonically issuing back-handed compliments and even some more blatant insults.

Calvary’s dialogue is probably its strongest suit.  While the film is a clever black comedy with a plethora of lines that are as obscene as they are hilarious, there is also a cloud of seriousness and deep-meaning that hangs over the few players in this small-budgeted indie flick. Every jest is followed closely with an exasperated sigh, telling of the emotionally crippling environment in which these people live.  Where questionable jokes about child molestation are made frequently, there is a great deal of it happening. Where people often contemplate taking their own lives, jokes about such things are tossed around haplessly. So, while the film’s overtones are rather comedic, its undertones are actually quite upsetting. I suppose this is fairly insightful, as people do seem to make light of the real problems they face in order to cope.

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True Detective 1.5 – “The Secret Fate of All Life”

This review appeared shortly after the initial premiere of True Detective in early 2014 — slight edits have been made since the original posting.

Anyone who has been watching HBO’s True Detective knows that there’s something not quite right about Detective Rust Cohle. Matthew McConaughey has one of the roles of his life here, and he conveys the darkness inside Rust with brilliant ambiguity — is he a deceitful lawman or a meticulous killer? The fourth episode of the series “Who Goes There” marked the first indication of real evidence of something sinister within Cohle, although viewers have suspected as much since the pilot episode. Sunday night’s episode began, finally, to blow the question wide open — full spoilers follow for the fifth episode “The Secret Fate of All Life”.

“Who Goes There” finished with a tracking shot that quickly took the internet by storm over the past week, and the following episode picked up more or less where that shot left off. Hart and Cohle use the latter’s Iron Crusaders connection to hunt down Reggie Ledoux, meth chemist and prime suspect in the Dora Lange murder, and we finally reach the swamp-set shootout that both men allude to frequently in their case testimonials in 2012. Detectives Gilbough and Papania ask Hart and Cohle to recount this event for what must be the thousandth time since it happened 17 years ago, and Hart confirms that every time he’s told the story he’s told it the same, because “it only went down the one way.”

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It Follows (2015)

It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.

Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.

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Netflix Picks #2

Kevin:  Gregg Araki’s mesmerizing White Bird in a Blizzard has all the initial trappings of a typical coming-of-age drama. Kat Connors (Shailene Woodley) longs to leave her idyllic hometown life, while her mother, Eva (Eva Green), feels overburdened by her role as a doting housewife. When Eva mysteriously disappears, Kat is haunted by persistent dreams of her, and reassesses their tumultuous relationship through therapy and an affair with a cop assigned to her missing person’s case. The premise is familiar, but the film draws upon the melodramas of Douglas Sirk to convey how Eva feels shackled by the hardships of marriage and motherhood. Aided by cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen and composer Robin Guthrie, Araki abstains from the histrionic tendencies of his earlier work, opting for an understated color scheme and score that firmly establishes the themes of alienation in 1980s suburban life. Following her widely praised turn in The Spectacular Now, Woodley demonstrates assertiveness in the lead role, but it’s Eva Green who leaves the greatest impression. Green’s steely flourishes invite comparisons to Joan Crawford, but feel closer to Barbara Stanwyck in their unrelenting swagger. Other notable performances include those of Gabourey Sidibe and Mark Indelicato, whose lively exchanges with Woodley provide a needed respite from the drama, and Shiloh Fernandez, who complements his character’s fetching looks with a charming half-witted persona as Kat’s boyfriend Phil. In a standout sequence that takes place in a local underground club, Kat and Phil seductively dance to Depeche Mode’s 1987 classic “Behind The Wheel”. Through a breathlessly shot and edited montage, Araki injects this scene with infectious spontaneity and groove. White Bird in a Blizzard is Gregg Araki’s most restrained directorial effort since Mysterious Skin, but is punctuated with many spirited moments that reaffirm his reputation as a genre-defying, risk-taking filmmaker.

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Primal Fear (1996)

Edward Norton wowed audiences this past year with his supporting role in Birdman, one that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor and, at times in the movie, stole the show, even from lead actor nominee Michael Keaton. It was an impressive, but not necessarily unexpected, performance from Norton. He has established himself over the past two decades as a great actor. But how did he get to this point? Where did he start? Two words: Primal Fear.

Truth be told, Norton’s start and end points in his journey have had identical impacts on audiences. On both ends of his career—in his first movie and his most recent one—he has absolutely captivated audiences with his performance. It is his first performance that seems more impressive, though, for the sheer fact that no one saw it coming. Continue reading Primal Fear (1996)

Filth (2013)

James McAvoy is a good actor. He’s usually playing the good guy, from the excellent biopic The Last King of Scotland to the only-slightly-less-realistic (ahem) X-Men prequels, but in Filth he gets his chance to ditch the morals (who needs ’em?) and become the straight-up despicable Scotland detective Bruce Robertson. Bruce, drug-addled and sex-addicted liar extraordinaire, will do pretty much anything to get a promotion at his job. And McAvoy relishes in the ceilingless grandeur of such a character – but without him Filth isn’t much for originality.

There are two kinds of twist endings in film: those that are truly original and those that are a rehash of Fight Club. In all seriousness, the protagonist-repressing-important-plot-points “twist” is officially tired as hell, and in Filth the rote deployment in Act Three is borderline maddening. The relative believability of the effectiveness of Bruce’s manipulations throughout Filth is what makes them so revolting. Bruce starts hallucinating more and more, and this also lends an interesting angle to his uncivilized crusade – is he as smart as he thinks? Is he as smart as we think? Or has everyone been on to him the entire time? But, oh, wait, nope – the hallucinations actually mean something more, something deep, man. Bruce is deep because he has a Tyler Durden-esque trauma trigger. Get it?

So: ditch the stupid ending and the would-be aha! moments, and Filth is pretty great in a disgusting sort of way. It’s essentially Wolf of Wall Street for McAvoy, a time to go absolutely bonkers and meanwhile find some sort of way to make Bruce somewhat likable, even if it’s just a few percent out of the larger character pie. He does just that, and perhaps it’s the fact that Bruce has some sort of a mission (to get the promotion) that it’s not hard to go along with him on the disgusting rollercoaster of drinking and smoking and sexing and snorting and sexing some more. He has a goal and a lack of morality means he can achieve the goal in any possible way, and it’s fun to watch the dominoes fall uselessly before him.

But the mission seemingly dries up as the all-hallowed twist approaches, and eventually the promotion is given away and Bruce is just doing insane shit because he can. The hope may have been that the twist would carry the momentum through to the end after the aforementioned mission is moot. It doesn’t. McAvoy is likable as Bruce because he goes all the way for the character and he’s good at what he does; the insistence on writing something deeper into his character that manifests itself as a freakin’ hallucination very nearly undoes all of his hard work, and very nearly forces him to stand in line with every other protagonist with the exact same affliction rather than standing out from the crowd.

Filth is worth it for the lead performance alone, and really the final letdown is only so disappointing because McAvoy is so spectacular. Guys like Jamie Bell are in there, too, but are pushed aside. It’s The McAvoy Show. More films would probably benefit from being The McAvoy Show.