The name Steve McQueen once brought visions to mind of a 1968 Mustang in San Francisco or motorcycle escape from a World War II POW camp, and while those images of "The King of Cool" still remain, they are now joined by the work of English filmmaker of the same name. The English McQueen only has two previously released feature films, but a career of prestige as an artist in many senses of the word. He was made the Official War Artist for Iraq in association with the Imperial War Museum in 2003 and has been awarded both OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and CBE (Commander in the Order of the British Empire), in 2002 and 2011 respectively. Though predominately known for his photography and film work, McQueen also works in instillation art, the most notable being "Blues Before Sunrise," which featured two weeks in which all of the 275 street lamps of Vondelpark, Amsterdam were colored blue.
For a man as accomplished as he is, McQueen's first two feature films were hardly mainstream or easily accessible. Hunger (2008) follows the final days of imprisoned Irish Republican Bobby Sands (played by Michael Fassbender), who gave his own life in an unbelievable show of dedication in a hunger strike. Paired with a career-changing performance from Fassbender, Hunger is breathtakingly shot by McQueen's regular director of photography, Sean Bobbitt. Despite his sophomore feature also bringing McQueen to the United States (although utilizing an English cast), Shame (2011) was actually less accessible due to an NC-17 rating.
This year, however, may be the year that McQueen's undeniable critical achievements as a director is given the opportunity for a mainstream box office success. The first trailer for 12 Years a Slave has hit the web, along with the film's one-sheet poster, slated for an October 18 release. Based on the non-fiction account of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man pre-Civil War upstate New York who is ubducted and sold to slavery, 12 Years a Slave was adapted by screenwriter John Ridley. Though this is the first time McQueen has directed something he has not also written, all of the other familiar elements seem to be in place. Most notable is the return of Fassbender in a co-starring role, as well as cinematographer Bobbitt. In addition to McQueen's usual players, 12 Years a Slave boasts an all-star cast that features Brad Pitt, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti.
This past week saw the first big push in the marketing campaign for the highly anticipated remake of Chan-wook Park's revenge thriller. Oldboy was the second and most popular in a revenge trilogy by Park, based upon the Manga comic by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi. Despite the high number of intelligent individuals who have sought out this modern South Korean classic, it should come as no surprise that Hollywood felt obligated to remake this masterpiece for all of the ignorant English-speakers of the world.
The process of remaking Oldboy made the rounds through the rumor mill, at one point promising a film presented by Steven Spielberg and starring Will Smith. Daniel Craig was also offered the lead role, though it ended up landing in the hands of Josh Brolin, with Spike Lee in the role of the director.
As hesitant as I have been about this production, the release of a trailer and poster has only increased my skepticism. The official one-sheet features Brolin emerging from luggage in the middle of a field, with an umbrella-carrying individual in the background. The fantasy elements in the poster have been amped up, making it appear oddly colorful and light for the content in the film. An additional one-sheet has also been released, which is a bit more fitting for the mood of the movie I am familiar with.
The trailer also has some content which further fed my fears, especially the final shots which insinuate that the teeth extracting scene has been traded for a sillier throat-cutting sequence. We are also given the first look at Samuel L. Jackson in his significant role, as well as Elizabeth Olsen's revealing performance. The redband trailer has made a bit of fuss for already giving a preview of the nudity Olsen has offered up for the role.
Although I doubt that anything Spike Lee comes up with will supersede Park's masterpiece and cannot imagine a world where Brolin will carry this film, there are a few undeniably appealing elements of this remake. Despite an oddly cheerful one-sheet, the look of the remake is actually quite effective. Many of the sequences have the gritty industrial feel from the original, especially the iconic sequence involving a hammer and a hallway. Utilizing the talents of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt has done a great deal for the visuals of this film, impressing me far more than casting or the odd choice for director. Bobbitt is best known for his remarkable collaborations with filmmaker Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), whose third feature also recently released a trailer and poster. I am still skeptical of the film as a whole, but I am eager to see it nevertheless. Watch the trailer below.
This year, the exciting news starts with Universal teaming up with Sony Pictures to bring their recent box office hit, Evil Dead, to life! Elaborately themed haunted mazes at both the Hollywood & Orlando parks will provide an authentic experience that will immerse horror fans in this cult classic! Guests will be captivated and forced to make their best attempt to escape – dodging the possessed victims of the demon and finding their way through the darkness. Universal’sHalloween Horror Nights has a more than 20-year history of creating an incredibly entertaining, horrifying Halloween experience that is consistently rated the nation’s best and this is another exciting collaboration. Also announced is an Insidious maze, as shown in the minute-long video below. More news to come!
On one hand, I
feel obliged to give credit to filmmaker Fede Alvarez for taking the remake of
Evil Dead in an original direction while retaining some of the most familiar
imagery. Rather than simply copying what made the original successful, Alvarez
attempts to go his own path. Some of this convolutes the simple storyline with
more melodrama than the narrative can handle, making this a relentless film to
endure. The most noticeable element missing from the original is a sense of
humor, which has all but disappeared from the horror genre since 9/11.
of a group of teens escaping for drunken debauchery in a remote cabin has been
altered to the much bleaker task of helping a friend kick a drug habit. Mia
(Jane Levy) gathers her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and three friends (Lou
Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore) in a family cabin,
attempting to go cold turkey with their help. When the group discovers a
horrific secret chamber underneath the cabin, reading from a book leads to a
demonic possession of sorts. The behavior change in Mia once she is possessed
becomes increasingly erratic and violent, which is assumed to be symptoms of
withdrawal from the drugs.
What follows are
a series of increasingly dramatic and violent confrontations, as if the demon
possession were a virus which is transferable. Gender roles have been altered
in the remake, which saw a rewrite by the hack stripper-turned-screenwriter
Diablo Cody. While the original broke convention by offering Bruce Campbell
instead of a final girl, we have returned back to a female protagonist. This
allows for a continuation of the metaphor for drug addiction, but an odder
choice in the film deals with the deaths. The only villains in this movie end
up being the five friends who are also trying to survive, so it is inevitable
that they must fight each other. What is oddly coincidental is the fact that
both of the two male characters are forced to gruesomely dispatch their
significant other, and both do so without much hesitation. Though it doesn’t
seem significant to the themes or the plot, Evil Dead ends up becoming a brutal
battle of the sexes.
violence in this film is graphic and intense, without the relief that comedy
provided in the 1980s. Fans of horror will undoubtedly find plenty to enjoy,
though this is not a movie for the casual spectator. Only die-hard horror fans
will likely be able to endure the relentlessness of Alvarez’ vision, though he
certainly gets points for creating something that will shock the desensitized
release includes an additional digital copy of the film, as well as a number of
fantastic technical special features. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a cast and
filmmaker commentary track, a featurette on the revival of the cult classic,
and one on the design of the new book of the dead. There are also three
additional featurettes, with a great deal of focus on the exhaustion caused by
filming such an intense movie.
There have been
plenty of films about the neo-Nazi movement. Many include a central character
coming to terms with the falsehood of the cause, providing career-making
performances given by Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Edward Norton in Romper Stomper, The Believer and American
History X, respectively. What makes Combat
Girls stand out amongst these films, apart from the unique female
perspective which was missing from the others, is simply the country of
prohibits the public display of swastikas and other Nazi symbols, unless used
for historical relevance. This law alone caused a great deal of controversy for
German filmmaker David Wnendt, whose Combat Girls is riddled with the imagery,
specifically in the tattoos that the characters proudly display.
Twenty-year-old Marisa (Alina Levshin) is a hardcore believer, and in the
opening scenes we see her display this loyalty by helping her boyfriend beat an
innocent Asian boy senseless on the train.
Though this is
ultimately a typical film in which the protagonist begins to question the
racist beliefs surrounding her, Marisa’s journey is less than typical. She
struggles with family issues, taking frustrations out on anyone who happens to
be nearby, but eventually befriends 15-year-old Svenja (Jella Haase), a
newcomer in the clan. Marisa’s personality is fiercely independent, though her
strength is not necessarily tied to her Nazi beliefs, and as interactions with
an immigrant opens her eyes.
The DVD release
of Combat Girls comes with an interview with Alina Levshin in the special
features, as well as trailers for the film. The package also has an 8-page
collectible booklet with an essay by Travis Crawford.
elements from two extremely specific sub-genres of horror which are borrowed
from very blatantly to create Would You
Rather. Separate these two from each other and each would be easy to
separate this film from a mass of others alike, but the originality comes from
the way the genres are blended together here. Would You Rather contain
countless familiar elements which could be found in many other films, but the
ingredients have never previously been combined together as they have been in Would You Rather.
The torture porn
captivity films are blended with the thrillers about games of life or death,
played for financial gain. Essentially, Would You Rather takes the premise of 13 Tzameti (or the English-language
remake, 13) and replaces the game of
Russian roulette with far more creative acts of physical and psychological
torture. A despicable philanthropist (Jeffrey Combs) invites a group of
desperate individuals into his home for the chance to win a large sum of money
to take all of their problems away. The one detail left out to the participants
is the height of the stakes for those who lose the game.
Once the game
begins, each of the participants is forced to stay and compete, with death as
the only escape other than winning. Iris (Brittany Snow) is our obvious
protagonist, attempting to win for her sick brother and making sacrificial
choices during the game in order to avoid hurting others. Her behavior is
overwhelmingly saccharine for much of the film, and though this is for a
purpose in the storyline, some of the over-acting makes it somewhat difficult
to root for Iris to win. Perhaps it was miscasting, because putting the
semi-star of countless terrible teen films in a horror film just made me long
for her demise. On the other hand, casting porn star Sasha Grey as one of the
more despicable participants in the game may have been a bit on-the-nose.
aside, there are some harrowing sequences of creative torture porn. The gore is
not on the level of a Saw film, using
a simpler approach. There are no elaborate contraptions, as the most devious
thing is the greedy nature of humans which allows them to chop each other down
for the chance at monetary bliss. Would
You Rather also co-stars Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (“Army Wives”), Eddie
Steeples (“My Name is Earl”), and Charlie Hofheimer (“Mad Men”) The Blu-ray
includes a commentary track with director David Guy Levy and writer Steffen
Schlachtenhaufen. There is also a poster gallery and trailer for the film.
Just hearing the
premise for Into the White is enough
to guess the entire film. There is little that isn’t predictable about this
World War II melodrama, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good. Into the White may be a bit safe in its
content, but the actors are compelling enough to allow us to forgive the
predictability for its likeability.
Based on a true
story, Into the White follows the events which occur when two enemy fighter
planes are shot down in the remote mountains of Norway. Both British and German
crew members seek refuge in a remote hunting cabin, able to survive the harsh
weather in hopes of returning to the war. At first they are distrustful of each
other, taking turns retaining power in a constant struggle which changes nothing
other than the person whose responsibility it becomes to feed to the withering
group. Eventually both the Germans and British learn to become friends, though
this is only accomplished completely once the Nazi spirit is denounced to a
There are many
inconsistencies in Into the White, including the point of view. We join the
story with the Germans, following them to the cabin where much of the film
takes place, and yet the film shifts over to the British perspective at the
end. There is also a bit of melodrama which is almost too much for the film to
hold, despite a solid cast that includes the three German soldiers (Stig Henrik
Hoff, David Kross and Florian Lukas) and two British (Lachlan Nieboer and
Rupert Grint). There are only a few scenes with additional characters, making
much of the film about these five.
includes a television featurette about the film, as well as a trailer. There
are only a few scenes of action, but the scenery alone is enhanced by the high
definition of the Blu-ray disc.
In context of
his filmography, it is relevant to know that Nicolas Winding Refn intended
to make Only God Forgives prior to his last film. On the most immediate and direct
level, this is significant for the unsuspecting audience members who were drawn
in by the much more commercially accessible Drive.
It carries another significance for those already familiar with the filmmaker’s
work, as Refn’s style and approach to storytelling has developed and matured
out of the Tarantino-inspired postmodern Danish gangster film which put him on
the map in the mid 1990s.
Despite the violent content which many
critics have bemoaned, I actually found Only God Forgives to be quite restrained. Those
who aren’t complaining about the violence will surely whine about the slow pace
and sparse dialogue. This would not have been an issue were it not for the
stars attached, specifically Drive
star Ryan Gosling. Although I can certainly understand the reasons for an
image-driven style of filmmaking, this particular attempt likely would have been much
better received had it been made after Valhalla
Rising rather than Drive.
As complex as Only God Forgives is, the
storyline can be summed up rather quickly. Gosling is at the forefront of the
narrative as Julian, a drug dealer running an underground boxing ring in Bangkok, forced to
enact revenge when his brother is murdered. This is not truly a revenge film,
however, and Julian’s thirst for revenge is hardly his own. Julian’s brother
(Tom Burke) is a despicable human being. In the few moments we spend with him
prior to his death, he assaults a brothel owner, harasses a room of
prostitutes, before raping and murdering a pubescent girl. It is no surprise that Julian is
willing to let his brother’s death go unpunished, until the arrival of his
foul-mouthed mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). Spewing hate from every
orifice, even in the direction of her only surviving son, Crystal seeks revenge on the man responsible
for the death of Billy.
Billy is killed
by the father of the girl he raped, but the man responsible for his death is a
frightening police officer named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who dispenses
justice as though he were God. Religion and spirituality is a huge part of the
film’s narrative, and Chang is an untouchable character of Old Testament rage,
wielding a sword to take off limbs or end a life as he sees fit. Fans of
traditional revenge films should understand that Chang is a character of
immense metaphorical meaning, and Julian taking him on is often as futile as
shaking fists at the sky to fight God.
In some ways, you could certainly
argue that Only God Forgives is
evidence that Refn has continued in a similar path as Tarantino, pillaging and
combining elements of beloved films for inspiration to create wholly unique
experiences. The difference between Refn and Tarantino is the type of films
that they reference. While Tarantino digs deeper into the frivolity of genre
pictures (most recently venturing into spaghetti westerns with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained), Refn instead pays
homage to cult films and artsploitation classics known only by dedicated
cinephiles. The mere fact that Only God
Forgives is dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky should provide footnotes in
understanding Refn’s stylistic choices. Anyone unaware of who Jodorowsky is may
be better off skipping this shocking arthouse puzzler, which is much more
interested in imagery and metaphor than coherent storyline.
Then again, Tarantino also often
chooses some rare cult classics to reference as well, so much that his largest
fanbase may be oblivious to the original source material. The difference is a
sense of humor, which reached nearly slapstick levels in Django Unchained. This helps to make the ultraviolence of
Tarantino’s films more accessible, and perhaps this is what also makes Only God Forgives too relentless in its
scenes of torture and abuse. The violence and gore is only a fraction of what
was seen in the remake of Evil Dead
(another film in desperate need of comic relief), but the disorienting nature
of Refn’s Only God Forgives seems to
compound the effects of the more harrowing sequences.
As is the case with any Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) or Jodorowsky film, you may leave the theater
hating Only God Forgives, but there
are images which will be taken from the viewing experience which will stay
imprinted in your mind far longer than all of the blockbusters you love. These
filmmakers don’t make films for a Friday night date; they make movies for
discussion and debate. Films that inspire us to think for ourselves, rather than
simply being told; cinema created from inspiration and ideas, rather than as
a product to be sold. Refn’s latest film may not be for everyone. In fact, I’m
not even sure if I like it all that much. I do, however, respect him a great
deal for choosing to return to a passion project of such experimental nature
after having his first big break in Hollywood.
I might not have enjoyed Only God
Forgives, but with each minute I spend thinking about it, my appreciation
for it grows. This may very well be a masterpiece of cinema, even if it is a
failure as a movie.
I watch a lot of
movies. There are very few that I discriminate against, and I tend to watch
even those. I love escapist entertainment, including the brainless action films
which have had a revival in Hollywood
for the past decade with many legendary stars returning to the genre. I also
like to turn my brain on when watching a film, and to feel challenged both
mentally and emotionally with complex narrative and compelling characters. Most
filmgoers tend to choose one or the other of these two types of movies; often
arthouse films cannot be found at the same Cineplex playing the latest
2013 seems to be
a year of disappointment for Danish directors, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives receiving less than
favorable early reviews and audience boos at a Cannes press screening and just
as many critics bashing Dead Man Down,
which was the English-language debut from Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the
Dragon Tattoo). Oplev also has a summer series on CBS called “Under the Dome,”
which premiered this past week and has thirteen episodes in the first season. I
hope that American audiences can learn to appreciate Oplev, because I was a fan
of the blending of Hollywood action with a
European sensibility towards character and pacing which the filmmaker used in Dead Man Down. For that matter, I think Only God Forgives may be a little bit
brilliant, despite being one of the more difficult films. In other words, I
applaud anyone willing to mix it up a bit. Hollywood recruits these talented foreign
directors for their unique approach, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they
aren’t compelled to make safe movies.
Dead Man Down is a revenge film at its
core, though this is underneath layers of twists and turns in each of the
significant characters. What is important to know is that Colin Farrell heads
up the cast as Victor, the right hand man to an underground New York crime lord named Alphonse (Terrance
Howard). When Victor begins a strange friendship with the woman living in the
building across from him (Noomi Rapace), she blackmails him for his abilities
as an experienced killer in order to enact revenge for wrongs from her past.
The plot is more
complex than that, with many characters not exactly as they appear. In order to
avoid spoiling any of the reveals, all that really needs to be known is that
the relationship between this gangster and his neighbor is central to the plot,
leading up to a classic over-blown shootout. I enjoyed this film, but was also
pleasantly engaged by the characters and the acting. Many action fans will find
there are too many dialogue scenes, too much melodrama. Arthouse fans will find
the action to be unbelievable and better suited for Stallone or his cohorts.
Fortunately, I am a fan of both and found the balance made for a perfectly
well-rounded evening of entertainment.
includes both a DVD and digital copy of the film. There are two exclusive
featurettes on the high definition disc; one about the casting and another
about the film’s cinematography, which was done by Paul Cameron. Also included
is a featurette about the firefights in film, and how they were choreographed.
If you aren’t Taken or Stolen, there is a pretty good chance you will be Erased. We have moved past the B-film
rip-offs of the successful international thriller Taken (which include the
abhorrently bad sequel) and straight on to the C-film copycats. You would think
that if they were planning on recycling the storyline of a specially trained
agent forced to use his skills to protect his daughter from unknown assailants
in a foreign land, it might as least be in the filmmaker’s best interest to come
up with titles that aren’t such a blatant reminder of this unoriginality. This
half-ass effort is carried through much of Erased, a film which feels like a
student’s copied homework.
Aaron Eckhart is
occasionally successful at carrying the film as ex-CIA operative Ben Logan, a
man forced to live outside of the United States and recently joined
by a teenage daughter (Liana Liberato) conveniently clueless to his past. When both Logan and his daughter are targeted
for termination, his old training is the only thing keeping them alive. Hunted
by a relentless agent (Olga Kurylenko), Logan
must explain his past to his estranged daughter while keeping them alive and
trying to discover the reasons for the sudden assassination attempts.
provides plenty of opportunities for extravagant action, including numerous
chase sequences and daring escapes. This is paint-by-numbers filmmaking, and
there is no possible room for error if filmmaking were like the construction of
an automobile. Unfortunately for anyone watching Erased, films cannot be made
with production line mentality. Even with all of the pieces perfectly in place,
Erased lacks the soul of a proper movie. It is empty and void of imagination
release of this highly unoriginal thriller includes a behind-the-scenes
featurette. This isn’t a film you need to rush out and buy on Blu-ray, unless
there are any die-hard Aaron Eckhart fans I’m unaware of. Wait until it is
streaming or playing on television. Any additional effort to see this movie
will feel wasted.
I found the original Boondock Saints
film to be highly overrated and unoriginal, but tolerated it as mindless
entertainment. A sequel was of lesser quality, making it even more difficult to
appreciate the simple enjoyment of the first film. All of the faults from the
original return in great quantities, and the movie feels stuck in the 1990s.
Filmmaker Troy Duffy seems stuck on this one-hit-wonder of his, essentially
giving excessive amounts of senseless violence and off-color humor in hopes of
making some of the same happy accidents as the first film. The director’s cut
is significantly longer and more coherent. The faults remain the same, but the
admirable qualities shine brighter in this well-paced cut.
At the beginning
of this sequel the MacManus brothers (Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flannery)
are living in hiding with their criminal father Il Duce (Billy Connolly) in Ireland. When
they get news of a priest being killed in a copycat manner from their
assassinations, they return to Boston
to seek justice. Along the way they pick up a Mexican sidekick (Clifton Collins
Jr.), which gives more racial jokes for the humor of the film and additional
complications in the harebrain schemes they come up with to kill the endless
supply of useless bad guys.
The numbers are
so stacked against the criminals that you would think that Duffy might have
thrown an obstacle or two in the way, but the movie quickly becomes more about
the brutal gunplay than anything else. Style overwhelms substance so much that
the action scenes are often ripe with visual errors. The brother swing into a
room shooting guns, attached to rope, much like the first film. In the first
film they are tangled in the rope and forced to dispatch the bad guys by
hanging upside down, but in the second film the rope simply disappears and they
are magically no longer attached as they ceaselessly fire their weapons with
both hands. Logic is gone, but at least the actors look cool while they shoot
in slow motion.
release of the director’s cut also includes a disc with the theatrical version,
for the purists. The Blu-ray exclusive special features highlight what is most
important in the film with a featurette on the weapons in the film. There is
also a feature on secrets from the set with cast confessions, and a featurette
on the Comic-Con appearance. Features that are also on the DVD release include
deleted scenes, a filmmaker and cast commentary, and a behind-the-scenes
There have been a lot of pre-filmed
sketch shows over the years, and “Portlandia” follows in their tradition. There
are the usual absurd and random caricatures and skits, though this show is so
specific in its choice of location and subsequent topics that it may make the
humor less accessible than desirable. That being said, for anyone who has spent
time in Portland,
the humor of this show can often be spot on. There are some great gags within
this series, and every once and awhile I even found myself laughing. The
problem with these jokes is that they are often used again and again in repeat
episodes, just like any skit show does with a routine that works. Before long,
the joke that was once funny becomes overwhelmingly tiresome and repetitious.
brings a few welcome new sketches, while also bringing back the familiar repeat
characters from the previous seasons. There are the owners of the women’s
bookstore, the annoyingly square suburban couple, and the most straightforward
pair known simply as Carrie and Fred who are often pulled into schemes with the
mayor of Portland.
All of these characters are played by Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, who
are apparently playing themselves as the central main characters of the show.
These characters advance some semblance of a semi-storyline, though one which
is clearly not meant to be taken seriously. First the pair of roommates deal
with the disappearance of the Mayor, then with a love triangle between them and
their new roommate from Seattle (Chloë Sevigny).
All ten episodes
from season three are included in this two-disc set, along with two deleted
scenes and featurettes with tours of Portland
with Kumail Nanjiani.