One of the previews that screened before last night’s Boston premiere of Blade Runner 2049 was for next year’s monsters vs. robots actioner Pacific Rim Uprising, an inevitable if somewhat tardy sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original. Based solely on this trailer, it’s evident that Uprising centers on the son of the first film’s protagonist, alludes heavily to that first film, and possibly just revamps the plot with slightly louder explosions. I was reminded, regrettably, of Independence Day: Resurgence, which gave off a similar reek of franchise desperation.
Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.
Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?
I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?
Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.
A relatively quiet second episode of The Red Road‘s sophomore year provided a little more clarity with regards to the direction the show might take after a cracking first season. The impetus for much of the going-ons here is the murder of Mac, elder chief of the Lenape chapter of the Ramapo Mountains, which we saw at the end of the the second season opener “Gifts“. As suspected, Phillip Kopus is now the front-and-center suspect in Mac’s demise.
A recent interview with Jason Momoa touched on the “breaking” of the Kopus from the first season; Aaron Guzikowski, creator of Red Road and scribe behind Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, certainly seems to be heading in that direction with “Graves”. It’s interesting that Kopus more or less shuns the traditional trappings of his Lenape ancestry and yet seems to find himself cornered by it throughout the opening episodes of the second season. That disregard for the tribe led to Mac’s abandonment of him, which in turn presents a motive for people to attach to Kopus when Mac turns up dead. Even though the mountains have their own tribal police force, the method of attack on Kopus is the same as it has ever been, with a “half-assed lynch mob” (in Kopus’s disdainful estimation) beating him and covering him with tar.
– The legendary Leonard Nimoy passed away this week, spawning many a Star Trek marathon. We’ll have a logical time in his honor.
– Denis Villeneuve, auteur behind the dark and moody Enemy and the dark and moody Prisoners, is being touted as the director for the likely dark and moody Blade Runner sequel. It’s a weird prospect having Villeneuve direct such a massively commercial movie, but then again it’s kind of a weird prospect doing a Blade Runner sequel at all.
– Leonardo DiCaprio joined The Crowded Room, in which he’ll play a man with 24 different personalities. We don’t know much about the story, but it’s an awesome title at any rate.
Though True Detective devoured nearly all of last year’s television glory, the SundanceTV series The Red Road deserves mention in the same breath. Massively overlooked but strong enough to be renewed for a second season (which premieres April 2015), the show centers on a small New Jersey town in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains. Decades of rough history between the town locals and the Lenape Native American tribe begins to flare up again, and two men — Officer Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson) and ex-convict Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa) — become wrapped up in the middle.
Created by Aaron Guzikowski (writer of Prisoners), The Red Road brings that rough history into the present in a way that few series dare. At times it’s made explicit, especially in scenes recounting the death of Harold’s brother-in-law as members of the Lenape tribe (maybe even Kopus himself) stood by. Those scenes are compelling, but it’s the mysterious, unseen aura of Us vs. Them that really gives The Red Road serious clout, vibing uneasily in every sequence. Is it racism? Or is it simpler, illogical and obdurate hatred, free of any and all motivation, free as a virus in the mountainside community?
I’m not typically a genre purist. I don’t believe an artist should be constrained to single genres, and I have a great admiration for movies that blur the lines to create something fresh. There are two very different, but very good movies in Prisoners that, in this case, don’t exactly result in synergy. The first is about two families dealing with the disappearance of their daughters. It’s haunting, gut-wrenching, and hyper-realistic. To me, this is the stuff of reality. The second is about the mysterious detective trying to catch the abductor. It’s creepy, riveting, and grotesque. This is the stuff of crime thrillers. Frankly, each one would be nearly perfect on its own. But together, in the form of Prisoners, they feel like a cheap blow below the belt.
Anna’s parents, played by Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, attend Thanksgiving dinner at Joy’s parents’, played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis. When the two girls don’t return from playing outside, and it starts to rain, and a mysterious RV is spotted, the families go into panic mode. Days later, with the authorities on the case 24/7 and vigils being held for the missing girls, the families continue mourning and start resigning to the bad news that’s likely to come. But Keller Dover (Jackman) never really leaves panic mode. There was one suspect–the child-like, catatonic owner of the RV (Paul Dano)–but the cops had to let him go. So Keller does what any frustrated father who’s built like Wolverine would do and takes matters into his own hands. Next thing you know, he’s leading Terrence Howard into an abandoned apartment complex where the suspect is chained to a sink and badly beaten. Continue reading Prisoners (2013)
When we first meet the scavenging Lou Bloom, it’s clear that he’s an opportunist. He steals anything – copper tubing, swaths of aluminum fence, manhole covers (“the nice thick ones”) – and sells what he’s stolen to a construction foreman. Then he fights the foreman over the price, and then he asks the foreman for a job. So Lou’s mentality isn’t so much “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, but more “I have no lemons, so I’ll take yours”. This is the strongest aspect of Lou Bloom’s character, and indeed at times it’s overwhelmingly strong. Jake Gyllenhaal and writer/director Dan Gilroy don’t nail everything in Nightcrawler, but they nail that.
There’s a definite stylishness to Nightcrawler that aims to capture the seedy neon after-hours of downtown Los Angeles and the surrounding, more affluent suburbs. Lou graduates from scavenging to a real (ahem, “real”) job when he happens upon a highway car accident one evening: crime scene photography, he learns, can be a lucrative business. “If it bleeds, it leads,” says Bill Paxton’s mentor-photographer in a very trailer-suitable explanatory monologue. So Lou buys a camcorder and a police scanner and begins working. He’s all about opportunity, so when it knocks Lou answers. Opportunity, of course, keeps knocking, and Lou keeps answering. Soon he’s creating his own opportunities, which means everyone except Lou is about to get their lemons jacked.
A second viewing of Denis Villeneuve’s dark mindbender Enemy doesn’t illuminate the WTFs of the film in the way that most would hope. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a man who discovers and confronts what seems to be his exact lookalike, the Kafkaesque Enemy is very much experimental and very much a work of abstract filmmaking on many levels. It also happens to be one of the most spellbinding, terrifying, and downright fascinating little movies of recent memory.
Set in a concrete-and-metal Toronto draped in beautiful shadows of industrial noir, there’s really nothing poor to say about the look and tone of Villeneuve’s most recent tale (he and Gyllenhaal also teamed on Prisoners in 2013, another intense and beautifully shot film). Enemy is intercut with close-ups of the characters and wide panning cityscapes, gridlocked traffic jams juxtaposed alongside messy bedsheets, and at times the effect of the editing is truly mesmerizing.
Gyllenhaal, too, is tough to look away from, and he plays both Adam (the “main character”, if such a thing exists in Enemy) and Anthony (the doppelgänger who seems to take more and more screentime from Gyllenhaal No. 1) with subtlety and — dare I say it — brilliance. Hard to pin brilliance on the guy from Prince of Persia, but I suppose it’s equally exciting that Gyllenhaal has abandoned those moneygrab projects in favor of stuff like Enemy, Prisoners and the upcoming Nightcrawler, which looks great.
There are more than a few shots throughout the course of Enemy that are just impossible to process, I think, regardless of how many times you’ve viewed it. Like some similar moves by David Lynch, Villeneuve’s insertion of these impossible images really make the overall film more compelling. Not only will the final shots of the film leave you scratching your head, but they’ll eventually lead you to question even the “believable” elements of Enemy that came before.
So while a light isn’t suddenly flicked on by watching Enemy twice — there’s really no hope of turning all of the ?s into !s — a second viewing does shine a different kind of glow on things. The imagery, again, is just plain beautiful – but it’s also telling a story on its own, showing things that lurk in plain sight, things we’re very obviously terrified by, things we attempt to control, things that are inevitable. Whatever it is that Enemy ultimately presents is almost certain to stay in your head long after the credits roll.