I am admittedly predisposed to movies like The Northman — bloody, epic revenge tales with a strange angle, a hyper-specific period setting, or both. I’m also a huge fan of The Lighthouse, the previous film from writer/director Robert Eggers, one of the most unique American films of the 21st century. So the hype level for this flick was more or less at carrying capacity at this week’s screening, and Eggers and Co. did not disappoint. Starring Alexander Skarsgård as the vengeance-bent Viking prince Amleth, The Northman has Eggers’s blend of folklore and historical fidelity all wrapped up in a potent, ferocious epic. It’s not quite a perfect film, but it has some of the most stunning storytelling you’ll see onscreen this year.
Much has already been written on Skarsgård’s insane transformation into Amleth, a beastly and primal performance that puts the mere term macho to shame. Of course it’s far deeper than machismo, and Skarsgård imbues Amleth with a vulnerability that makes the character — and thereby the picture — really work. He’s doing everything Leonardo DiCaprio did as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, but unlike Glass, Amleth’s character is wholly defined by his relationships with others. His bond with his father and mother (Ethan Hawke and Nicole Kidman) and his hatred for his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) drive his every action. He’s frequently referred to as a wolf, and we see all sides of that metaphor: the young and uncertain pup, the lone stray seeking a home, the feral creature commanding a pack of other wolves, and finally the wisened alpha. Skarsgård goes all the way and then some, and Northman couldn’t exist without him.
Continue reading The Northman (2022)
The trailer for Judas and the Black Messiah made me doubt how effective the film would actually be. Not because it looked bad, mind you, or uninteresting in any way. But I had flashes to Man of Steel, which lured me to the cinema with a stunning trailer and then turned out to be a soupy mess. Same for Only God Forgives, which had a bangin’ trailer — I remember saying the words “looks amazing” to a friend — and ultimately had about as much substance as the two-minute teaser itself. Well, fool me twice. Trepidation filled the air as the Sundance premiere of Judas and the Black Messiah began, because the first glimpse I’d had of the film was this rollicking hype-train of a masterful trailer:
Shaka King’s first major studio feature, thankfully, is indeed a strong and energetic biopic that doesn’t at all renege on the promise of that trailer. Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and focuses on FBI efforts to suppress and ultimately silence Hampton as he gains more and more popularity nationwide. It’s a long overdue portrayal of a significant figure in American history; before Kelvin Harrison, Jr. played Hampton in a bit part in this past year’s Trail of the Chicago 7, you have to go back to 1999 to find the only other instance of Hampton in another film or TV show (it’s another bit part in the miniseries The ’60s, which is mostly about hippies).
Continue reading Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Each Motion State Face Off pits two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
The second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter is the best single season of television the streaming giant has ever produced. I’d entertain an argument for the best series overall being something else — Stranger Things, Narcos — though with a five-season plan Mindhunter might someday change that. And the show’s not without problems, of course. Still, pound-for-pound, on a season-by-season basis, the second chunk of the David Fincher-led serial killer show is the most finely-tuned and commanding character study you’re going to find. Fincher’s cold camera has never been more sinister than in the first three episodes of this season, and that mood is carried throughout. It’s almost a disappointment when a larger-than-life figure like Charles Manson, babbling and bombastic, intrudes on the otherwise grim and brooding proceedings.
Much of what makes the show so compelling, of course, is that the verifiable truth — some would call it “historical accuracy” — is often one and the same with the most disturbing shit ever undertaken by a multiple murderer in America. Mindhunter makes plenty of stuff up, with Holden Ford, Bill Tench and Wendy Carr serving as fictional versions of actual investigators; a huge subplot of the second season involving Tench’s son was (likely) pulled from an actual San Francisco case in 1971, but didn’t have anything to do with the real people on which the show is based. Yet the depictions of the killers and their crimes are horrifyingly accurate, and the sadistic evil you really wish was fabricated is often the tragic truth.
Continue reading Face Off: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and Mindhunter (2019)
- The Aussies cleaned up at the 88th Academy Awards last night, taking home a grand total of six for Mad Max: Fury Road. The Revenant and Spotlight won the bigger trophies, though, as did Brie Larson for Room and Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.
- Major respect to Alicia Vikander for taking home a well-deserved Supporting Actress Oscar, considering she was pivotal not only in The Danish Girl but also the supremely under-appreciated Ex Machina and the summer’s best popcorn flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E., all of which are from 2015. 2016 better watch out.
- We somehow failed to recognize that the great Douglas Slocombe had passed away this year until the In Memoriam section of the Oscars rolled out. Slocombe is the man who lensed the likes of The Lavender Hill Mob and Raiders of the Lost Ark and had immense influence on how major motion pictures look today.
- Best quote of the night goes to Oscar winner Charlize Theron, responding on the subject of the best part of the Academy Awards by simply saying “the hamburgers.” Also, Best Human Ever also goes to Charlize.
Continue reading Film & TV News: February 29
It’s fitting that The Revenant pushes the limits of film, ceasing mercifully only just before breaking, because that’s exactly what happens to Hugh Glass. If you’re one of the people behind the film, crafting it, then you have to push the limit: you’re Alejandro Iñárritu or Emmanuel Lubezki, coming off the exquisite Birdman and arguably at the height of your career, seemingly happy to be shouldered with the weight of expectation or otherwise just left with no choice. If you’re one of the people in front of the film, watching it, you want it to push the limit: if you’re watching The Revenant in the first place, you’re likely quite certain that you’re in for a challenging watch and not a brain-switched-off actioner.
But if you’re one of the people inside the film, acting in it, living it, then being pushed to the limit means actually being pushed to the limit. Throughout 2015 stories of the extremely arduous on-location filming of Revenant trickled down from that remote region of Alberta, from the torrential rains of British Columbia, from the freezing southernmost tip of Argentina. Ten people quit or were fired during production. In July Hollywood Reporter ran an article about the brutal conditions on set, prompting more and more questions about the safety precautions and the direction of the film. Blurbs from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and the rest of the cast make The Revenant shoot sound more life-threatening than that of Apocalypse Now or Fitzcarraldo; Iñárritu himself has since taken to referring to the cast and crew as “survivors”.
Continue reading The Revenant (2015)
- The Prometheus sequel is moving forward as Ridley Scott’s next film under the official title Alien: Paradise Lost. Hard to pass judgement on title alone, but for the moment we’re cautiously pessimistic.
- Speaking of Alien, Sigourney Weaver has confirmed a cameo in the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, which you probably know as “the all-female Ghostbusters reboot” to such a degree that the title could be The All-Female Ghostbusters Reboot.
- Spectre‘s theme song “Writing’s on the Wall” has been released, featuring the crooning vocals of Sam Smith, and can be heard in full over on Spotify. I haven’t actually listened to it, and won’t until I’m firmly in my seat in the theater for Spectre, but apparently it’s divisive so far without any of the visual/story context. On another note, isn’t it weird that so few photos of Christoph Waltz’s villain have leaked?
- Some beautiful new stills from The Revenant hit the interwebs yesterday, teasing the exclusive use of natural light throughout Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman follow-up. For those of you who have been pining for a shot of Leonardo DiCaprio standing before a mountain of buffalo skulls, today is your lucky day.
Continue reading Film & TV News: September 29
One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.
As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.
Continue reading White God (2014)
Inception. Five years after seeing the 2010 Nolan mega-hit in theaters, I still asked myself whether or not the top stopped spinning. For a long time, I couldn’t accept the fact that one of the most ingeniously crafted movies of all time would end so ambiguously. There had to be something else there, some other hint to what is really going on at the end.
After some time, however, I grew complacent and rested on logic. Having seen the movie dozens of times, I saw little that pointed towards Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) still being in a dream at the end. Moreover, the top is clearly wobbling, and, generally, tops, like dreams, do not regain stability after they start to collapse.
Continue reading Inception (2010)
This review appeared shortly after the initial premiere of True Detective in early 2014 — slight edits have been made since the original posting.
Matthew McConaughey took home a well-deserved Oscar last night for his work in Dallas Buyers Club, beating out stiff competition in the likes of Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio. While his acceptance speech was, as you would expect, very positive and un-Rustin Cohle, the usual drawling fatalism we’ve come to expect from Sunday Night McConaughey was going down on another channel. True Detective followed the slow-paced “Haunted Houses” with an even slower penultimate episode, and yet it still provided enough story progression that waiting a week to find out what the finale has up its sleeve will be torturous. Spoilers follow for the seventh episode “After You’ve Gone”.
At the end of “Haunted Houses” Cohle and Hart met in 2012 for the first time, having not seen each other for a decade and both looking a little worse for wear. Speculations as to what their ultimate meeting would entail were fueled by the shot of Hart checking his loaded gun, guesses ranging from standoff to a revelation that Cohle or Hart or both or whoever is indeed The Yellow King.
Continue reading True Detective 1.7 – “After You’ve Gone”
Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s follow-up to his Best Picture-winning Birdman will be The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a frontiersman left for dead by his fellow trappers after being mauled by a bear. A revenant is “a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead”, according to the OED (I love that especially supposedly bit), a term derived from High Middle Age folktales. These tales generally held that revenants would return from the grave either to seek revenge on a killer or wrongdoer or just simply to harass friends and family members. That latter class of revenants really sounds like a bunch of assholes.
The story upon which Iñárritu’s Revenant will be based (specifically a 2002 book of the same name by author Michael Punke) has already been filmed as Man in the Wilderness, casting Richard Harris in the central role of Zach Bass (DiCaprio will be “Hugh Glass”, but it’s the same character). Wilderness and Revenant are the same story told two different ways, and one would assume that Iñárritu’s approach would hew much closer to the more recent book. It will be interesting to see how influential Wilderness actually is, though, because it holds some sequences and motifs that kind of seem at home in Iñárritu’s wheelhouse.
Continue reading Man in the Wilderness (1971)