03 Oct Fantana’s Film Roundup – September 2017
As we enter the final third of the year, the good stuff usually starts to appear. 2017 is certainly proving to be no exception in this regard. The next few months should be interesting…
The Godfather Pt. III (1990)
In the third and final instalment of this legendary trilogy we skip forward to the 70s and find a geriatric Michael Corleone finally going clean, simultaneously acquiring redemption for his past transgressions by way of a union with the Vatican. But again things take a turn when Michael’s nephew Vincent warns him of a growing threat to the family legacy. Maybe there’s something to be said about seeing these movies with fresh eyes today as opposed to when they hit our screens originally, but – with the exception of a forgettable 40 minute spell where the location again jumps to Sicily – there really wasn’t anything separating the three movies for me. The writing is certainly less subtle and more linear in this third piece of the tale, and the ending more abrupt than the Deniro thread in Part II, but the players are noticeably more identifiable than the previous two films combined, so the clunkiness is balanced by that. Andy Garcia as Vincent is every bit his father (James Caan’s Sonny, sorely missed, and one of the standouts of the first film) and although the omission of Robert Duvall here is more obvious than a bear in a brothel, Sofia Coppola, Bridget Fonda, Joe Mantegna, Mario Donatone, even the Miranda twins all bring fresh and original personalities to the proceedings. We are also privy to two of the most thrilling scenes of the trilogy in the Vincent home invasion and helicopter attack sequences. The Sicily scenes detract notably, but they had the same effect in the other two movies, so the playing field is even in that respect. All in all a decent trilogy, but perhaps something has been lost in the years since inception. Probably a case of I missed the boat on this one. Good, not great.
Blackfoot Trail (2014)
Man, I was not prepared for this! Director Adam MacDonald just dumped himself firmly onto my watch list, without warning or request, with his first feature, a study in slow building tension and dread. The film follows a young couple camping in a Canadian national park, in search of a beautiful lakeside spot, however where they actually wind up is in the territory of a predatory black bear. Also known as Backcountry in the States (you’ll note my faux pas in last month’s On the Horizon section), the budget on hand doesn’t offer the out-and-out thrills of the Revenant or even the Edge, but that does not detract from MacDonald’s skill in conveying a growing sense of unease, of fear and – in one jaw-clenching scene of visceral horror – outright terror. Honest to Christ, this scene left me cold – almost as cold as Bone Tomahawk, but that will take some beating! – but such is testament to how effective the filmmaking is. With the courage to invite the bleak and hopeless, this could be a very fresh voice in the thriller and horror genres in years to come.
In the Shadow of Iris (2016)
In this twisty, turny French thriller the wife of a wealthy businessman is abducted by an ex-con mechanic, but is there more to the crime than what is on the face of it? Who is pulling whose strings? To say any more than this would be dredging up the murky depths of the timeline-hopping plot and that is best left alone so as to fully appreciate its structure and delivery. Performances and direction are stable and the plot offers up enough intrigue to pull you through. A Netflix hidden gem, this – check it out for a quick and sexy hit.
Rough Night (2017)
Scarlett Johansson’s hen party meets an ill-fated demise when her overly horny bridesmaid accidentally murders a stripper at the beach house they borrowed for the weekend and the hen party subsequently spends the rest of the film trying to cover it up. Yes, this is the Hangover meets Very Bad Things, with a sex change. Not a bad thing, right? Actually… that’s correct. Support from the likes of Jillian Bell, Zoë Kravitz and Kate McKinnon is ever-so solid and sub plots that include husband-to-be, Paul W. Downs, misinterpreting a panicked phone call as a break-up and the nymphos next door (Ty Burrell and Demi Moore) grab their fair share of the laughs (in fact the series of corresponding stag party scenes steal the show). It’s not all smooth sailing, but the chortles certainly outweigh the duds. Don’t let the recent slew of comedy failures put you off, this one’s worth a look.
Very Bad Things…. hmm…..
In the Shadow of Iris
Palo Alto (2014)
James Franco and Emma Roberts head up an otherwise understated cast in this indie drama that draughts intersecting plot threads charting several adolescents’ exploration of sex and relationships as they negotiate high school and the circumscribing social scene. Playing out like a Rules of Attraction Jr., there is a wide breadth of situations and teenage archetypes at play; the delinquent who wants to change, the delinquent who doesn’t, the student/teacher flirtation, the school slut are all present and correct and played to a watchable standard. Palo Alto is certainly depicted as though the proceedings are played for realsies, even when things get slightly fictional, which works in its favour as scenes like a driver barrelling down the freeway in the wrong direction definitely come at times when monotony threatens to take over, such is the listless realism of these teens. Worth a look but don’t go out your way.
The Vault (2017)
A cluster of bank robbers take over a small branch only to incur a supernatural threat when they open the basement vault, unleashing malicious entities in the act. An inciting idea that piqued me enough to give it a look, however, after a better-than-decent set-up, the direction takes a nosedive and the script follows suit. Ham-fisted framing and photography, complemented by a woeful script, ensures that neither the crime nor the horror aspects of this thriller succeed. Disappointing given this is the kind of premise that can only generate ideas, yet the filmmakers decided to go with the most basic and repetitive. In other, better hands, this could have been a great calling card for someone. Sadly this is not the case. Even the ubiquitous James Franco can’t avert this bore-fest from its destiny, apparently the only one involved with any foresight, he sadly phones it in, lending profile to a thriller that, in the end, doesn’t merit any.
The Big Sick (2017)
Finally the good stuff has begun to arrive. September onwards is always my favourite portion of the year cinematically and the Big Sick is another example of why. Lots of filmmakers holding off on release until nearer to awards season is an obviously shrewd move, but does everyone have to do it?! In this comedy, Kumail Nanjiani re-tells the unusual true story of his early romance with girlfriend Emily, the struggles they face as a result of his strict home culture and the mysterious illness that struck Emily mere months into the relationship. The story is quaint, and vaguely rom-comy, but it is the comedy that dominates here. At this time in his life, Nanjiani was working the Chicago stand-up circuit, so there is much to admire in these scenes, bolstered and often bettered by the off-the-cuff comedy delivered in the more human scenes by Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan (as Emily), Holly Hunter… in fact the entire supporting cast seems to get in on the action, from the Pakistani family that want to see their son marry traditionally to the Kumail’s stand-up companions; everyone gets their time to shine, and it’s all gold.
The Layover (2017)
After both swooning for the same heartthrob on the same flight, ‘best mates’ Alexandra Daddarrio (Baywatch) and Kate Upton (The Other Woman) begin a less-than-playful game of tit for tat, trying to out-slut one another in an attempt to win the man’s affections.
My how this was bad! If I see a worse film this year it will be an achievement. Never mind the ridiculous depths this pair of vacuous vixens sink to in order to outdo one another, never mind the out and out sleaze of the supporting male characters, what really makes this a horrendous piece of trash is that these characters are supposed to be friends! It’s as though the filmmakers, in all their haste to get a madcap, sexy, road trip comedy out there, forgot to step back and assess how real people, let alone friends, behave around one another. Vapid and a waste of precious life.
In this un-scary, un-thrilling horror/thriller a would-be documentary crew follows the life of an impoverished rickshaw driver around the streets of Mumbai. He moonlights as a pimp, he fights with his mother who expects him to be more of a man, he gets drunk and dreams of movie stars, he follows people when he thinks no one is looking. At ground level this comes over as a decent base for a slow burning horror, however the filmmakers are not deft enough to wind the required tension. And because the tension is not wound, there is nothing to release when the time comes. Scenes do not marry up well enough, often amounting to nothing. Added to that, the lead – and focal point of the documentary – is unable to produce the emotional heft needed to convey a character so oppressed and put upon and on the verge of breaking point. Narrative decisions make no sense on paper so lord knows why they made it to the screen. Above all else, the finale is nothing we have not seen before a dozen times over. Unimaginative and badly executed. The only thing Autohead had going for it was the setting, which feels very authentic, but unfortunately such a rich canvas is squandered.
The Big Sick
Patriot’s Day (2016)
Peter Berg loves a true life thriller. In the same year he brought us oil rig disaster, Deepwater Horizon, he also completed this recount of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent days following that led to the arrest of the bombers. In true Berg fashion, this is gritty, shaky-cam, realist style, following multiple points of view, including the bombers and various victims over the ensuing days, that really tries to emphasise the efficiency of the task force that were put together to control the damage and catch the perpetrators. Plaudits should be paid for the way in which this is played. The bombers aren’t caricaturised or exaggerated, action does not come across as dramatized. It really feels as though Berg has tried to play this as real and as true as he can. The result is something well-acted, well-paced and somewhat surprisingly, given the sobering subject matter, very touching and watchable.
The directorial debut of career cinematographer, Michael Barrett, is always going to be a handsome beast, Japanese forests have rarely looked so steeped in wonder and dread, and with a screenplay by Simon Barrett (no relation? no idea!) of the Guest and You’re Next infamy, it wouldn’t be silly to expect a cleverly-paced horror doused in atmosphere. Or would it…?
Well, no actually, it wouldn’t, but although script and screen certainly set-up well, there are too many stumbles along the way, so much so that by the time we reach what should be an intensifying third act, the vehicle as already crashed and burned. Acting is solid, save for perhaps Natalie Warner, who couldn’t act her way out of doing the dishes, and the screenplay blessed with ample character, as well as clichés, it must be said, but plot twists are foreseeable from a thousand paces and when the terror finally gets going (already 30 mins late!) it has no idea what it wants to be or do. Before you realise the fun has started it’s over, with enough unresolved plot threads to incite a furious head-scratching epidemic. Could have been much, much more. Sadly, an opportunity missed, but Barrett (Michael) is certainly a director to watch in future.
Peter Dinklage stars in this mediocre memory drama laced with sci-fi. In a near future where a machine can record the entire memories of an individual for future perusal, Dinklage leads as a man trying to uncover the circumstances leading to its creator’s death, at the same time endeavouring to use the machine to recall the particular details of a traumatic part of his past. Decent drama play at hand here but nothing overly captivating save for a rousing plot twist late on and a couple of half-decent performances (good to see Julia Ormond and Dinklage is watchable, but Anton Yelchin in his penultimate role leaves a little much to be desired) to barely get you through to the other side with a yawn or two along the way.
The Tank (2017)
A team of six scientists and engineers are placed in a tank for the best part of a year, in order to simulate a mission to Mars. What we know from the off is that their mission fails miserably. What this film tries to present to us is the why and the how in a meaningful way.
It also fails miserably.
It was surprising to see some of the acting talent that the filmmakers managed to rope into this snooze-fest. Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), Marguerite Moreau (Wet Hot American Summer), Anna Lise Phillips (Animal Kingdom) and Jack Coleman (Heroes) all offer up solid performances, but man, what a dreadful mess of a script. It’s always painful when you hear a script that seems to have no idea how a person might speak or act under certain circumstances, but writers, Nicky Hawthorne and Kellie Madison, can’t even get the downtime to ring true, never mind the complete desertion of the present day plotline that looks at the investigation into what went wrong and why – it’s as if the writers realised they were the problem and abandoned that thread before the audience noticed… too late, guys!
The Fits (2015)
Don’t really know what to say about this one, other than a bit bizarre. 11 year-old Toni trains at her brother’s school boxing gym. A tough kid, she dreams of joining the school dance troupe and eventually signs up. As she struggles to fit in, a mysterious wave of violent fits spread through the team, causing her to worry she might be next. This story is told in a realistic, voyeur like style, with lots and lots of overlong, ponderous takes that focus on one aspect of a scene while lots seemingly goes on around the subject. This might have worked better as a short film, as it never feels like there is enough stimulus to back up what emotions Toni is feeling. It all feels as if we are an observer sitting on the shoulder of an observer; the surroundings move and change and interact with Toni, but is there development? No. Is there an obstacle? Not really? Is any of it insightful? Nope. Couple all of this with an ending that would have incited fervid Googling, had the preceding hour and a bit been remotely interesting, and you end up with a bland and pointless exercise.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
When you see how well James Wan’s ‘Conjuring universe’ works, it really does shine a harsh and glaring spotlight on Universal and their – so far – feeble attempts to create something similar using their classic monsters back catalogue. Creation is no exception and adds more butter to an already rich history of phantasms and fear. Telling the story of how the eponymous doll came in to being, the setting jumps back in time to a remote farmhouse, now converted into an orphanage by the owners who lost a daughter 12 years prior. All the tension you’ve come to expect are present, with it really being all about what you almost miss; the shadow in the corner, the eyes glinting in the dark, was that a smile? These are followed up with similarly expected releases in the form of some cracking scares and Creation even adds more gore to the mix than previous films. What is really impressive is the world building at play here. James Wan may have moved on to bigger and (probably not) better things with the upcoming Aquaman movie, but he has kept one eye firmly on the universe he began and is ensuring the creators following his breadcrumbs do not stray from the course. Points awarded for those that spot the link to upcoming universe flick, the Nun, and a massive hats off to director Richard F. Sandberg (Lights Out) for ending it the way he did, a cracking demonstration that everyone involved is invested in this universe and ensuring it doesn’t falter.
Shot Caller (2017)
Destined for my end of year Underappreciated Ten, this. Jaime Lannist… I mean Nikolaj Coster Waldau goes from investment manager to inmate in this tense, timeline-hopping drama that recounts the circumstances that led to his incarceration, tracks his journey behind bars and comes out the other end, an embittered product of ‘the system’ and neck-deep in the machinations of a violent LA gang. Supported by the likes of Jon Bernthal, Lake Bell and Holt McCallany, Waldau dominates every frame as he transitions from frightened-but-aware newcomer, to damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, transitioning in build also, from lean LA family man to butch monster. Shot Caller channels every impressionable prison drama from my formative years, such as American History X and A Prophet, to more recent efforts like Starred Up, serving up a horribly realistic transformation as one man works relentlessly towards his own survival as well as that of his family. Supremely watchable thanks to an electric cast and an ever-engrossing subject matter.
Classic of the Month Another unsung 90’s classic that was grossly overlooked in its time, Fallen carries all the gorgeous hallmarks of the era: textured wide shots of well-lit sets; near-irrelevant support characters that are surprisingly rich in depth and also well-cast; a genuine sense that the hero may not actually be that safe; and perhaps most importantly, a trailer that doesn’t give the game away. Denzel Washington leads the way as detective John Hobbes, supported impressively well by John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, James Gandolfini and forgotten talent, Embeth Davidtz. When we join Hobbes it appears most of his work has been done as he pays long-time pursue, serial killer Edgar Reese (an ever watchable Elias Koteas), a final visit in jail before he is sent for execution. However shortly after Reese’s death a string of murders begin to occur that offer the same M.O. and leave Hobbes pondering whether his nemesis has truly passed. Gripping, laden with understated performances and wittily-scribed, this is yet another one to add to the pantheon of misunderstood 90’s gems alongside the likes of Strange Days, Mimic and the Relic.
Hard to classify this as a remake, a reboot, a retelling or whatever. Personally I haven’t read the source material (yet) so until then I shall opt for re-adaptation, as I am in no position to comment on how faithful director Andy Muschietti’s version is. The original miniseries was cracking entertainment, although a bit stagnant in the second half (will be interesting to see if the helmer can breathe fresh life into this with his now-confirmed part 2), owing to some hammy performances. Luckily this is not a factor in this instance. The players are all wonderful, the kids involved charming, often hilarious and fit the mould of this 80’s-set update. The adult support all rather effective. The only question mark seems to be around Pennywise itself. There is certainly an argument that Tim Curry’s original depiction carried more menace because he was in fact in the form of a normal man, albeit dressed as a clown, whereas there is something clearly demonic about Bill Skarsgård’s interpretation from the off. However that did not resonate with me as Muschietti creates a fearsome tone regardless and Skarsgård certainly makes the character his own. Even if the movie is never truly terrifying, failing to convey a sense of dread akin to, say, the Conjuring Universe, it throws out atmosphere by the barrel-load, as well as an impressive opening gambit. It’s also hysterical at times, the comedy threatening to outweigh the menace frequently, with standouts in Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard and also Jack Dylan Grazer getting the cream of the jokes and playing them to a tee. The sticking point appears to fall in the balancing act required with such a full cast; a couple of the kids are barely fleshed out, which in one case is surprising considering how much spotlight he receives early on, before slipping to the back of the pack inexplicably. If I’m honest, there are also a couple of omitted moments from the first version of the film that I wish had made the cut here, but that is a personal gripe and nothing that detracts from this version that is very keen to stand up and be its own entity. A well-crafted supernatural thriller that doesn’t quite fulfil its horror potential, but an entertaining, and surprisingly funny, ride all the same.
Resident Evil: Vendetta
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Almost the antonym to the above, What We Do in the Shadows plays the vampire genre for laughs but inadvertently peppers it with a few freaky moments along the way. Admittedly I am unfamiliar with the team that brought us Flight of the Concords, but their reputation seems to precede them in most conversations, so going in knowing this is the party behind this Wellington-based comedy could be make or break before the DVD is in the machine, but from one ignorant to another, do not let that get in your way. This is a very enjoyable and consistent hour and twenty to be had. Viago, Vladislav and Deacon, three vamps who live in a Wellington flat-share, invite a documentary crew to follow them and chronicle the highs and lows of such a living arrangement, as well as the modern culture of the vampire, to amusing effect. A dark, often bloody series of jokes ensue as themes of loyalty, love and friendship are all touched upon along the way.
Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017)
Not sure whether this is the 3rd, 4th or 5th CG animated Resident evil movie, but one thing that is clear is the progress being made technically. Character rendering is stunning and the action dynamics better than a lot of live action set pieces can muster and, all in all, it’s pretty promising how fantastic the animation of the future is going to be if this is the marker by which to go by. But there are some familiar drawbacks still evident here as there has been in the past movies as well as the multiple CG scenes from any of the gaming cannon. Firstly the scripting, it’s downright bad, to the point where it would seem the filmmakers have relied upon the game writers to provide the dialogue. Lifeless, obvious and over-expositional, with utterly no character depth deployed is criminal at this stage in the series. With 105 minutes to play with, it’s surprising how little they do with it. This platform is the best opportunity to address all that is lacking in the games, yet they give us more of the same, which in this environment equates to nothing more than a waste of minutes. Although the rendering is the top of its game, the animation, the texturing and the layering are all severely lacking. New York cityscapes would be far more imposing if their streets were graced with more than the odd couple of bystanders; backgrounds would feel much more real if blessed with an extra or two; even hands still seem rigid and un-mastered by the animators. Vendetta offers up an interesting cast of characters but grossly underuses the majority of them, focussing on the central duo of Chris Redfield and Rebecca Chambers, but not in a way that expands on them beyond our original understanding from playing the games. Even the rogues seemed tired and repetitive and, to be fair, that is what we have the films for. Technically they are almost at peak, but if they are to continue with this series, it is time for Capcom and Marza to freshen up their ideas.
Fast & Furious 8 (2017)
It’s a modern mystery how these movies continue to garner success, it really is. Especially considering the entire plot – the ENTIRE PLOT – is unveiled in the trailer; I’m not sure there has been a better (or worse?) example of how bad trailers have become in the modern age than this. Every beat is laid down like chapter summaries; the opening feel-good banter, the first job, the double cross, the mid-film chase, the final showdown, the climactic set-piece. It’s all there. IT’S ALL THERE!?!? The only dots they don’t join for us are the reasons for the double-cross – which A) we can tell from the look on Vin Diesel’s face that he’s not on board with, and B) we probably don’t even care about – and the whether or not the team will succeed… which is never in doubt, let’s be fair. The rest is a just a cacophony of cheese-ball moments, uninspiring dialogue, vanity project buddy-buddy repartee and action set-pieces that pack no amount of awe because WE SAW IT ALL IN THE TRAILER!
Apparently we have three more of these movies to look forward to… great.
The Book of Henry (2017)
Given the trailer and the Amblin-esque marketing, I had such high hopes for Colin Trevorrow’s follow-up to Jurassic World, alas it unfortunately does not live up to expectations. That said, it does subvert at the same time, just not in a way that makes the most of its own ideas. To go into the plot would be difficult without hinting at spoiler territory – that sounds more enticing than it is – but a notable point of contention was that the titular tome does not play into the storyline anywhere near as much as the title implies. It’s also fair to say that plausibility is justifiably questionable throughout. On the plus side, performances are good and the film can be quite emosh at times. But there’s nothing Amblin on offer here so if you go in knowing that, you might get more enjoyment out of it.
Marketed as a horror although there are no frights or fear to be had here. Telling the origin of the titular icon, this prequel demonstrates why such universe expansions should be jettisoned forever more, failing to capture one iota of the terror or insanity of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For all the brutality, gore and tension it chooses to display (which isn’t nearly enough), Leatherface would have been better served as an AMC mini-series, offering up some kind of road movie, even attempting some warped romantic elements along the way and generally shying from the truly gruesome imagery (with the exception of one last hurrah). It’s not all bad. There are some decent performances to be had, which is surprising given the bang-average script, but it’s fantastic to see Stephen Dorff again and he should be doing so much more work (HBO give this man a series please!!). Not the worst horror to come out of the last decade, but overall this sadly lacks the courage of its convictions.
Open letter to Hollywood: No one cares where the classics came from. Let the origin trope die in peace.
The Book of Henry
A Ghost Story (2017)
After dying in a violent car crash, Casey Affleck comes back as a sheet-laden ghost and wanders the rooms of his old home, trying to reconnect with surviving lover, Rooney Mara. Aside from the obvious loss and love, time is also a huge theme here and we see how this affects Affleck as the weeks, months and years whisk by with – at times – a turn of the head.
A tale of two halves, this; the first, a test in patience as we observe wordlessly, like Affleck’s apparition, as Mara drifts through grief and failed attempts at healing. This, in fairness, was a chore. Long, laborious takes that offer very little more than a still tableau of sadness, one even dragging on a full, uncut five minutes as Mara devours a pie. This is apparently a tongue-in-cheek nod from the director, but I would question that given how often similar shots become apparent. The second half, however, is where Mara sets to moving forward and things pick up and an actual narrative begins to form. It is here where things become a bit more lively, entertaining and philosophical, all of which are more interesting than watching what equates to a silent movie about a guy under a sheet. Well-rescued.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
From the eccentric mind of Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) comes his directorial debut, chronicling obsession of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s theatre director who, following the success of his latest work, becomes fixated on creating something so true to life that the lines between play and reality intertwine, hiring actors to re-enact scenes taken directly out of his own relationships and loneliness, all the while inserting thespians and all manner of detail into a life-size replica of New York City he has housed in a tremendous warehouse. In typical Kaufman fashion, Synecdoche is laden with surrealist symbolism and dialogue, which as always has a habit of pushing and pulling myself as an audience; sometimes it works, other times it just falls flat. Performances here are cracking and the warehouse set is fantastic imagery, but the surreal elements tend to distract due to their jarring placement within a world otherwise grounded in reality, albeit a slightly futuristic one. A warehouse so big it can contain a life-sized model of Manhattan within in is excessive but believable, whereas a supporting actor who pops up late on in the 2nd act claiming to have followed Hoffman’s director for 20 years is testing and house perpetually on fire is just not on. That aside, the human elements are strong and Hoffman is on great form as a man enveloped in loneliness after his wife leaves for Berlin with their infant daughter in tow, creating a void all the extras and sets in the world cannot fill.
The unexpected prodigy trope may not be the most original, but when it’s graced with characters as well-acted and sharply-written as this, that doesn’t matter. McKenna Grace is the obvious stand-out as focal point, Mary Adler, a charming child maths wunderkind, bored by the elementary problems presented to her at school yet at the same time demonstrating all the naiveté a girl her age should. Director, Marc Webb (Amazing Spider-man), surrounds Grace with a fantastic array of talent, not least of whom is Chris Evans as Mary’s uncle and guardian. The chemistry between the two is evident throughout, to the extent one would be forgiven for thinking their blood connection was genuine. Also on hand are Jenny slate as a concerned teacher and Octavia Spencer neighbour, Roberta, so smitten and protective of Mary and blessed with the foresight to see what dramas are on the horizon as grandmother, Lindsay Duncan, threatens to steal her granddaughter away from her normal life, thrusting her down a path one of her talent seems expected to follow, regardless of the wishes of her guardians. Originality Gifted might lack, but it certainly makes up for it in terms of talent and emotional impact. Keep a box of tissues nearby, gents.
Force Majeure (2014)
A dark comedy that explores themes of family, trust, loyalty and guilt, we join Tomas, Ebba and their children as they arrive at a French ski resort for the week. Shortly after arriving, over breakfast, they witness an avalanche. Seemingly controlled, the landslide hurtles dangerously close to the holidaymakers, causing widespread panic and, in the heat of the moment, Tomas opts to rescue his phone and sunglasses rather than his wife and children. The following hour and a half is a quiet study of what an incident like that can do to a family dynamic. Although marketed as a comedy, the humour is not often obvious, mainly shining through in times of overwhelming awkwardness and giving way to the drama which is far more encompassing. The premise itself is hilarious, but the realistic way in which the material is handled is perhaps too subtle to resonate correctly. That said the ending is possibly the funniest joke in its repertoire. Not bad if you don’t mind slow-burning drama and spectacular vistas; otherwise you won’t miss not seeing this.
Top of the Class
Wind River (2017)
Taylor Sheridan strikes again, only this time the scribe of Sicario and Hell or High Water is behind the camera as well as the script, bringing forth another change in backdrop, taking us this time out to the remote Wyoming wilderness, where the body of a teenage girl is found in the snowy drifts, barefoot and miles from anywhere. Local tracker and hunter, Jeremy Renner, takes a personal interest in the case, as the dead girl was once friends with his own daughter, also deceased, and when his services are requested by the sole FBI agent assigned, played by Elizabeth Olsen, he obliges without reluctance. So begins a straightforward investigation loaded with emotional weight, and it is in the latter where Wind River truly excels. Olsen, the newcomer, is our eyes throughout, learning about the small community that surrounds this tragedy and its own moribund state, littered with failed or failing relationships, whether that be husbands and wives, fathers and sons, or siblings, this is a sad and uncompromising reality. So effective is this approach, as well as Olsen’s own performance, that when she opens a door to stand aghast upon witnessing a grieving mother slicing up her own arms, we are equally as impacted.
The narrative is more linear than crime thriller fans might appreciate, but where Hell or High Water was accepted as the western that it is, Wind River should be viewed under the same assumption. When the truth is finally revealed – in a scene that shifts in tone so unflinchingly from one dark aesthetic to one that is pitch black, evoking a reaction not experienced since the infamous and unforgettable scenes that made the Accused so powerful – we are not so concerned with the intricacies of a carefully-crafted plot as we are the desire to see justice served in the most abhorrent way imaginable. Such is the power of Wind River’s story and execution.
At this point, Sheridan can do no wrong.
On the Horizon: Gleason, Loving, High Plains Drifter, Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, Evolution, The Lure, L’amant Double, Small Town Crime, Justice League Dark, First They Killed My Father, SPL: Kill Zone, Primal Fear, Very Bad Things…