One of the most intriguing films of the past year is Dragged Across Concrete, S. Craig Zahler’s violent, hardboiled yarn about two misogynistic and racist cops (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn) taking the law into their own hands. The film plays as a far-right (or even alt-right) fantasy, the two white leads lamenting “political correctness” while they harass witnesses and suspects who are exclusively non-white. Even the casting of Gibson and Vaughn is loaded. But Concrete hinges on the question of whether Zahler actually agrees with the mentality of his own film, whether he’s playing a larger game in giving us these exact characters at a time when everything else out of Hollywood is either liberal-minded or four-quadrant neutral. Short of an answer, the question alone makes Concrete into one of 2019’s most provocative films.
Part of me thinks In the Company of Men is the Dragged Across Concrete of the ‘90s. Playwright Neil LaBute adapted his own 1992 play about two white company men — one a sworn and highly vocal misogynist (Aaron Eckhart) and the other an angry and impressionable wimp (Matt Malloy) — into an award-winning commentary on vitriolic corporate culture and the weak men who historically dominate that culture. Rarely has a film about workplace gender wars been this explicit, this horrifying, this willing to jump right into battle rather than dwell on why the fight began in the first place. And rarely has this war seemed so woefully one-sided.
To a child of the 21st century, the ancient era referred to as “the Eighties” must seem like a difficult place to live. No cell phones. No internet. None of that pervasive interconnectedness borne of technology where everyone knows everything the second it happens. If you hear that Steve McQueen just died, you hear about it through a friend who heard from somewhere else. And if your kids don’t come back home when they’re supposed to, you can’t just ping the Find My iPhone button in your pocket.
About one-third of the new season of True Detective is set in these quaint, social media-less Eighties — starting on November 7th, 1980, to be exact. A few things happened that day. Steve McQueen died. It was a full moon. And two kids went missing in Arkansas, Will and Julie Purcell, ages 10 and 12. That missing persons case extends far beyond 1980, though, having a profound effect on those involved for decades to come.
A lot of the critical flak directed at the second season of True Detective has to do with the bottomless angst in which all of the main characters are mired. There’s certainly a lot of brooding, a lot of staring, a lot of heavy breathing. Nary a smile. The premiere dealt with child abuse, suicide and rampant prostitution (not to mention murder) and the second episode “Night Finds You” left a main character lying flat with a point-blank shotgun blast in his chest. Below is a picture of my family gathered to spend time together and enjoy this wholesome television — after that are spoilers for the third episode “Maybe Tomorrow”.
Most everyone is comparing last night’s premiere of True Detective‘s second season with all of the highs of the first, which is both an inevitability (it’s True Detective, after all) and an exercise in futility. For the purposes of our Season 2 reviews we’ll be largely ignoring Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart (trying, anyway) although some comparisons do hold favorably with the current cast of characters. Our recent piece “A Man Without a Family” touched on the various family circles throughout the first season, and it’s clear in characters like Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro and Rachel McAdams’s Ani Bezzerides that some themes are inherent to the show regardless of which season we’re in.
“The Western Book of the Dead” was jam-packed with stuff, juggling a handful of protagonists and delving into flashbacks and allusions to mysterious pasts. Ray, a California cop in the Vinci Police Department, is introduced to us as the father of a young boy. The kid’s afraid of his classmates picking on him, but Ray seems tender and loving in his encouragements. “Be proud,” he says. When we discover that Velcoro’s kid is likely product of the years-ago violent rape of his wife, our picture of Ray the Loving Father starts to disintegrate. By the end of the episode he’s ripped into his son, driven to the home of the kid that’s been bullying him, and beaten the father of that kid to hell while making the kid watch. The beauty in the fact of watching this scene on Father’s Day is not lost on me.
Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn’s most recent writing/acting collaboration, Couples Retreat, had a budget of around $60 million. Their first collaboration of this sort, Swingers, had a lowly budget of $200,000. However, despite Couples Retreat having 300 times more money to work with, it is my honest belief that Swingers is at least 300 times better than Couples Retreat.
Swingers is the quintessential low-budget, indie, cult-classic film. Mostly the movie focuses on aspiring actors and best friends Trent (Vaughn) and Mike (Favreau), who meet up with other friends, such as Rob (Ron Livingston), Sue (Patrick Van Horn), and Charles (Alex Desert) in L.A. As with most other films of this similar prototype, the plot is not necessarily the most important aspect. Nothing super exciting happens per se, but it is still such a fun watch because it feels actually real.