Review: American Psycho (2000)

Review: American Psycho (2000)

Director: Mary Harron

Writer: Mary Harron (screenplay), Bret Easton Ellis (novel)

Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloe Sevigny

American Psycho, Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ literary smash of 1991, is hilariously violent and shockingly satirical.  Early in the film, as the movie’s protagonist Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) rides in the back of a luxury town car with his fiancee Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), she asks him why he stays in a job he professes to hate.  Bateman’s response, delivered with furious intensity by Christian Bale, perfectly encapsulates one of the film’s central theses:  “Because I want to fit in.”  This sentence’s last two words are delivered with withering severity, and this seems to show that beyond its indictment of toxic masculinity, this film shows us a creature shaped from the ground up in a world of excess, depravity, and most consequently, fear.

Bale’s performance, which for my money is the best of his exceptional career (so far), shows us a character who is at once the master of all he surveys and a frightened child locked in a tall tower.  The interplay between these aspects of Bateman’s character provides the grist for much of the drama in the film, as well as most of the comedy, which is endlessly hilarious.  In what has become the film’s most famous scene, the coworkers at Bateman’s place of work are showing their business cards to one another, and when Bateman asks to see Paul Allen’s card, he is unprepared for the effect it has on him.  “Look at that subtle off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness of it,” as Bale performs this inner monologue, his voice has an almost sexually dusky nature.  When he finishes analyzing this superior business card, Bateman is shaken by the sight of it, and recoils into himself so much so that one of his coworkers inquires whether he is okay.

In this scene, Harron shows us the true weakness at the heart of corporate culture, and displays the power of envious spite.  This structural bitterness first shows itself violently when Bateman (Bale) attacks Paul Allen (Jared Leto) with an axe, concluding his hilariously vain review of the album Sports by Huey Lewis and the News.  After this first swing of the axe, during which Bateman was victim of his own psychopathy, he continues to chop Paul as he expresses the true motivation behind his violence.  “Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!”  Lines like this, hilarious and pointed, exemplify what I feel is at the center of the film; that unjustly privileged men, elevated more by their pre-determined place in society than by effort or talent, are liable to become deranged when faced with the reality of their own inadequacy.

American Psycho, both the novel and the film, stand as bristling critique of American society.  As it comes to sex, Ellis’ novel exposes the the animalistic savagery inherit in male urges, and Harron’s film shows the way easy satisfaction of all desire can result in escalating aberrant behavior.  Beyond any broader social points the film makes, it cannot be denied that this movie, and Christian Bale’s star-affirming performance in it, are as entertaining and thought provoking as any film of their era.

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Review: American Psycho (2000)

Review: The Exorcist III

Review: The Exorcist III (1990)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Writer: William Peter Blatty

Stars: George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Ed Flanders

currently available on Amazon Proime (as of 10/30/19)

William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III is supernaturally exhilarating, spellbinding its viewers in fascinated horror as it entrances them with incomparable dialog and some of the most intense performances ever captured on film.  The original novel The Exorcist, which was also written by Blatty, was transformed into a bona fide horror masterpiece by the sure hand of master director William Friedkin (The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A., Bug).  When Blatty took over the director’s chair to adapt its first true sequel (I am discountingThe Exorcist 2 which was a shameless cash grab disowned by Blatty), he touched the film with a passionate knowledge of self, missing from the coldly scientific perspective of Friedkin’s masterpiece.  This means that pain and evil each drip from the screen during The Exorcist III, making it no less horrifying and nearly as fascinating as 1972’s The Exorcist..

Whereas Friedkin filmed his experiment in horror like a police procedural, The Exorcist III(which is actually a police procedural) is filmed with an emotional lens, making its shadows deeper and its reality more pliable.  Characters transform their faces and voices, figures crawl quickly on the ceiling, and a crucified adolescent innocent floats up from a hole in the floor.  While all the horrific descriptions and depictions of violence might risk guiding viewers to look away, the film’s performances are absolutely riveting, especially the starring turn by George C. Scott.

The pain and the terror in Scott’s face is deeply meaningful, and the rage in his arms is captivating.  It is almost as if, in times of great emotional strife, Scott’s character Lt. William Kinderman loses control of his muscles as they spasm in pain.  But it is not only Scott’s performance that elevates the film, but also Ed Flanders’ portrayal of horror-hardened Priest Father Dyer that grounds the emotion of the film in wise empathy.  But it is Brad Dourif’s spellbinding showing as the malevolent Gemini Killer that makes the film intoxicating.

Unlike his magnificent showing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as the suicidally bashful Billy Bibbit, Dourif’s turn in The Exorcist III shows us the self-assured face of evil.  Imprisoned, tormented, and unstoppable.  This film shows the monstrous nature of evil, forbidding its audience from looking away even for a second.  Though to my perspective this is not the staggering achievement the original The Exorcist was, this film is more emotionally tangible than its predecessor, and definitely as worthy of a watch this Halloween.

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Review: The Exorcist III

Review: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Review – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Director: Brad Bird

Writer: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner

The movie is streaming on fxnetworks.com (as of 10/11/19)

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is ecstatic; each scene and each set piece is full of adventure, action, charm, and whimsy in such proportions that it leaves viewers with a toothy grin on their faces for its entire runtime.  Brad Bird, the director of this modern popcorn masterpiece cut his teeth directing a slate of acclaimed animated features, The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles.  In each of these features, particularly The Incredibles, he displayed an impeccable eye for action, and an unparalleled ability to keep multiple interconnected sequences active at the same time without sacrificing any of their tension.  This ability is most evident during the film’s extended climax, which left me gasping gratefully for every joyous breath.

All of the sublime action nonsense that this film delivers with a completely straight face is held together by Tom Cruise (lots of stuff you’ve probably seen), who delivers goofy lines with cement-faced seriousness and sprints like he’s racing a herd of gazelle.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Tom Cruise the actor, but Tom Cruise the action star is without rival.  In possibly the most highly-publicized stunt of his career, he hung outside the 130th floor of the Burj Dubai Khalifa, acting out a very tense and ultimately comedic scene.  I say comedic because during this and almost every other stunt sequence in Ghost Protocol, the sequence is narrated by a running dialog between Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his analyst partner Benji (Simon Pegg).

I consider the character of Benji, and the irrepressibly hilarious exasperation Pegg (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Star Trek) brings to the role, as integral to the film’s success.  While he seems to have a quip for every situation, his commitment to the reality of every action scene keeps the action light yet exciting.  Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton round out the cast, lending in their own gravitas to the proceedings, and ensuring that over-the-top action never fully overshadows character dynamics.  Whereas I felt earlier editions of the Mission Impossible franchise were a bit dour, the charming, lively performances of this film’s cast keep the story afloat.

The story of this movie, while it involves the very tangible threat of nuclear war, never gets bogged down in the implications of the actions its characters take.  The movie feels like, and is simply Tom Cruise, under the sharp eye of first-time live-action director Brad Bird, having a fantastic time giving his audience exactly what they want.  It is not deep or emotional, but for those seeking out a good time at the movies, there’s hardly a modern release I’d recommend first.

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Review: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Review: Brawl on Cell Block 99

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Writer: S. Craig Zahler

Actor: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson

Streaming on Amazon Prime (as of 10/10/19)

Brawl in Cell Block 99, the startling second feature from burgeoning cinematic master S. Craig Zahler (Bone Tomahawk, Dragged Across Concrete), depicts characters and events that are at once enthrallingly captivating and darkly depressive.  His first, Bone Tomahawk, was an exemplary update of traditional western tropes, but with his second feature, he seems to have found a muse.  The film opens with the camera focused on Vince Vaughn, unrecognizable from the wiseass party animal of Wedding Crashers and Old School.  He is completely bald, muscled and imposing, with a large gothic cross tattooed on the back of his head.  These fearsome aspects of his outward appearance are nothing as compared with the thoughtful, emotional, terrifying figure he portrays throughout the film.

While most characters Vaughn has played in the past speak with a sort of incessantly speedy pitter patter, his character in Brawl, Bradley Thomas speaks in measured clauses and considered sentences.  Early in the film, after his drug dealer boss Gil (Marc Lucas) asks him about the proper use of the “N” word, Vaughn responds “I don’t think someone like you could use that word in any way polite.”  The film, though full of cleverly plain witticisms like that, never risks becoming what anyone would call comedic.  In fact, the film’s director S. Craig Zahler has created the cinematic equivalent of a slow walk into hell, and the tortures heaped on Vaughn’s character expand at an exponential rate.

After a drug deal gone bad results in a shootout with police, Bradley (Vaughn) makes the decision to turn on the drug dealers, shooting one of them in the back and disabling the other with his bare hands.  After this selfless act of heroism, our protagonist’s descent into hell begins in earnest.  While the opening scenes of the movie are filmed in sharp sunlight, as the film goes into the darker parts of its story, each set piece is given less and less light.  When Bradley (Vaughn) first arrives at Redleaf, a high-security prison built in the days before prison reform, the warden (Don Johnson) delivers a speech about the horrors held therein.  In this and his every scene, Johnson (Miami Vice, A Boy and His Dog) brings a smirking dignity to these trashy proceedings, and keeps the viewer invested through the film’s trying final third.

When the movie finally comes to a close, it is with a horrifyingly graphic final shot, but this fits the savagery that came before.  While Zahler’s debut film, Bone Tomohawk ends with an act of violence so horrible that I am loathe to re-watch it, I’ve viewed the entirety of Brawl on Cell Block 99 no less than five times.  I think this is thanks to Vince Vaughn, who shows through his collaboration with Zahler that he understands serious characters, and that his eyes are as still and threatening as any action star.  For a pulpy, grimly realistic, and unflinching view into an ordinary man becoming an animal, this film is beyond compare.

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Review: Brawl on Cell Block 99

Movie Review: Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past (1947)

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Writer: Daniel Mainwaring

Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas

Streaming for free at https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x72utly

Out of the Past (1947) is the height of film noir, and it is endlessly fascinating.  The movie is stuffed with quotable lines, so much so that the opening scene has dialogue from wise-cracking small town short-order cook that is notably aggravating to me (“Two things I can smell inside a hundred feet: a burnt hamburger and a romance”).  This scene might even discourage people from moving farther into the film, but I assure you, I swear this is only a speed bump.  Once you’re past this initial annoyance, the story becomes an endless facade of witty lines, delivered with a sinister bent.  The story centers around private eye Jeff Markham (Robert Mitchum), who later on in the story changes his name to Jeff Bailey, and is the quintessential film noir protagonist.

Robert Mitchum, who would go on to star in multiple horror classics Night of the Hunter (1955) and Cape Fear (1962), shows hints of the gravitas he would later bring to these classics.  He plays a man on the run, one who cannot help but for the darkness of previous events to etch shadows on to his face, as captured in stark contrast by Tourneur’s confident camerawork.  Early in the movie Bailey (Mitchum) confesses to his lovestruck best girl Ann (Virginia Huston) that his real name is Jeff Markham (Mitchum), but his confession does not end there.  The story, though it goes from bad to worse three or four times in the film, finds no change at all in our Markham/Bailey’s perspective.  He sees the world as a cruel place, where the only thing you can do is take your lumps without blanching.  In fact, early in Makham’s confession, he describes going to a bar staking out femme fatale Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer):  “I even knew she wouldn’t come the first night, but I sat there, with the beer and the darkness; grinding it out.”  I believe that this quote encapsulates its speaker’s belief that suffering is inevitable, and there’s no point in hiding from it.

This perspective stands in direct opposition to the central villain’s perspective.  Local crime boss Whit (Kirk Douglas) is endlessly entertaining to watch, and his deadly threats are delivered by a soft, permanent toothy grin.  His character’s presence hangs a lethal veil over his every scene, and the movie is never clear of tension.  However, though the ever-expanding prevalence of whip-smart dialog and extreme danger might seem anathema to romance, the relationship between Markham (Mitchum) and Moffat (Greer) is captivating.  Their conversations are filled with a competitive sense of wit, but passion is never far from the surface.  When Kathy asks  “Would you like me to take you somewhere else?” Jeff responds “You’re gonna find it very easy to take me anywhere.”  Crackling exchanges of dialog like this are everywhere in Out of the Past, and they are used to disguise the movie’s soul, which is black.

The movie’s director Jacque Tourneur first became famous for atmospheric Hayes Code era (oppressive film censorship of the 1930’s-60’s) horror movies Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), both of which needed to rely on deep shadows and harsh lighting to convey terror.  Here he uses shadow to capture emotion, which this film regards as more dangerous than anything else, especially for people like Bailey/Markham (Mitchum).  All this leads up to an ending that is not satisfactory in its realism as far as physical reality is concerned, yet holds up to the view that there are no happy endings for characters like these, and the most anyone can hope for is to settle for something safe.

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Movie Review: Out of the Past (1947)

Brilliant Young Actor Stuns Hollywood with Talking Tracheotomy Scar

27 year-old burgeoning star Dennis Sureswith, best known for his oscar-nominated turn in “The River has no Bottom” as well as his standout performance in “Fartbusters 4: The Wettening,” recently stunned industry insiders when he revealed his commitment to method acting.  In preparation for his role as Derek Somersberg, survivor of a traumatic car accident who goes on to vanquish an alien uprising, he had an actual tracheotomy performed on himself.  “I felt I wasn’t really getting into the role as deep as I wanted to,” Sureswith told reporters at the film’s Cannes premiere, “So I told (producer Elizabeth Winegarten) to just stab me in the throat.”

After only two weeks with his new throat hole, Sureswith attested that while the procedure had greatly helped him act the role, his extreme method acting had also delivered unexpected benefits.  As he told a stunned group of reporters at one of the several Cannes press junkets, “My Trache scar can talk.  His name is Jean-Jacque and he’s French.”

The press pool, struck by an understandable wave of incredulity, questioned whether such a thing could even be possible.  Melissa Vicontin, Dutch reporter with The Associated Press, exclaimed “How is this possible?”  In response to the question, Sureswith’s tracheotomy scar replied, “Con comme ses pieds, it simply is!  Why must you question, eh?”

This reply brought guffaws from the French press in attendance, which only grew as Sureswith joined the conversation.  “I don’t speak any French, I have no idea where this is coming from.”  At this, Jean-Jacque quipped “Of course you don’t, you are too stupid for French, tête de noeud.”  This response left the French press in further hysterics, and inspired an abrupt career shift on the part of the young American movie star.

Currently, Sureswith is remaining in France, touring the countryside as a comedy double act, “Jean Jacque et l’âne,” which roughly translates to “Jean-Jacque and the donkey.  The American star’s family and friends haven’t heard from him in weeks, leading many to believe foul play is afoot.  This controversy is the most remarkable to hit Cannes since Terrence Malick revealed that he has an extra face in the back of his head named Boris Dimitrov.

Brilliant Young Actor Stuns Hollywood with Talking Tracheotomy Scar

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

In 2014, the surprising hit John Wick created a diverting comic-book riff on the revenge drama, seeming like a one-off set piece that hit all the buttons action fans look for.  However, with John Wick: Chapter 2, the writer/director team of Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski have taken what I consider to be a significant step forward in the evolution of American action filmmaking.  Ditching the sentiment almost completely, they dove into the lunatic alternate reality they created, and came away with one of the most consistently enthralling and artistically expressive action movies I’ve ever seen.  It left me gasping, and as I pant for more I’m forced to admit that though this movie’s influences are many, from the riveting gun-fu of Hard Boiled to the intense close-quarter combat of Ong-Bak, in sheer audacious bravado this film stands alone (except for maybe Hard Boiled).

I say audacious because according to the entertainment section of businessinsider.com, the kill count of this blood-drenched magnum power shot stands at a staggering 128, meaning that the average stands at just over one kill every minute of the movie’s 122 minute runtime.  This mass of fatalities, however, is not stretched out over the entire movie, but is rather concentrated in two or three central shootouts (depending on how you determine when one shoot out ends and another begins), which see the inimitable Keanu Reeves transform into the mechanized killbot it seems he was always meant to be.  Because of his strangely vacuous performance style, which made him perfect for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the object of derisive laughter in Dangerous Liaisons, makes him this movie’s perfect protagonist.

I refer to Reeves’ character, the eponymous John Wick as a protagonist, not a hero, because John Wick: Chapter 2 has no real heroes.  In the first John Wick, the eponymous character’s thirst for revenge was ignited by the death of his beagle puppy named Daisy, a symbol of the love he’d had for his recently deceased wife.  In this second volume of the Wick saga, the movie’s central villain simply destroys his house, without even harming the new dog he never bothers to name.  It is notable that whereas Daisy, the puppy from the original film, was a cuddly little bundle of love, Wick’s new dog is a very obedient pit bull.  This is a signifier that in the first movie, Wick lost his soul, and though he at first remains reluctant to return to death-dealing, he ends up taking to it like a master executioner, killing without thought.

This singularity of purpose and lack of true motivation are two of the things that I believe make this movie a significant advancement in American action cinema.  Too often, even in justifiably regarded tentpoles of the genre like Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, the action has to pause for the insertion of sentiment or (god forbid) romance, giving viewers like me a chance to go to the bathroom.  John Wick: Chapter 2 eschews any sentimental subplots, replacing them instead with an extraordinary visual panache.  Shootouts in an art exhibit containing a hall of mirrors and a topiary gallery that changes color depending on which side its viewed from are entrancing; so much so that they forego the need of an emotional undercurrent.  The movie’s director Chad Stahelski began in movies as a stuntman, most notably doubling for Reeves in The Matrix, and with this viscera-speckled opus, he shows that the closer one draws to violent action, the more such warfare becomes part of his identity.

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2