My last post here was about Jupiter Ascending, a movie with more movie per movie than any movie before it. There was so much stuff crammed into it, you’d think that the Wachowskis siphoned the plot out from another movie to feed their beast. Having just seen Only God Forgives, I think I found the movie they took from.
I don’t mean to say that Jupiter Ascending and Only God Forgives are similar in any way shape or form. They are both movies starring actors. That’s about where the similarities end. I meant that Only God Forgives seems to have so little going on in it, Jupiter Ascending must have stolen the essence of things happening right out of the movie. This metaphor worked a lot better in my head.
Only God Forgives is Nicolas Winding Refn’s (every pretentious first year film student’s favorite director) follow up to his critically acclaimed film Drive. When Ryan Gosling and Refn teamed up for Drive, they pretty much took the movie world over for a brief period of time, and when they announced they’d be working together again on another film, they hype train was rolling ahead at full speed.
Only God Forgives is an arthouse revenge thriller about Julian (Gosling), a man who owns a Muy Thai boxing club in Bangkok which acts as a front for his family’s drug operations. His brother, Billy has been recently murdered after raping and killing a teenage girl, and when the family’s mother and matriarch of the gang, Crystal, shows up she sends Julian out to find out who killed Billy and exact revenge upon them.
I’ve written about certain movies on this blog that I think I’m going to call Arthouse Lite (I’m waiting for the copyright to come through so I can name a shitty adjunct beer – marketed as craft – after it). Arthouse Lite movies are the movies you show your friends to get them to realize there are more movies out there than the big hundred million dollar superhero blockbusters. Movies that are original and fresh and that can provide some extra entertainment value in that you are rewarded for thinking about them a little more in depth than usual. They’re usually very stylistic and a little on the weird side but not so over the top that they would alienate somebody who would have no reference to it. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is not Arthouse Lite. Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (yes, that is a real movie) is not Arthouse Lite. Movies like Enemy, Donnie Darko, or Under the Skin are Arthouse Lite. They’re just offbeat enough to grab the attention and imagination of the average person, but won’t make them walk out of the theatre in disgust or boredom.
Snowpiercer is an Arthouse Lite Lite sci-fi action film and is the latest project directed by South Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, the same guy who gave us the critically acclaimed and still-on-my-To-Watch List movies Mother (2009) and Memories of Murder (2003). The movie is based on a dystopian sci-fi graffic novel from 1982 by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette called Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer received a very small limited release before word of mouth gave it the momentum to warrant a much larger one. I’ve been excited about this movie since I heard about it a year or so ago. It has a rock solid cast, and I’ve got a soft spot for movies about rebellions and uprisings as well as movies that take place in one location. In case you didn’t know, the assembly of acting talent here includes Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt(!), and real life pretty boy Chris Evans. The basic plot of Snowpiercer is simple: In a post-apocalyptic frozen world, a train running on on a perpetual engine houses the last remaining dregs of humanity. The passengers on the train have been segregated Hunger Games style and the oppressed lower class folk in the rear of the train launch an assault lead by Curtis and Gilliam (Evans and Hurt respectively) to try and take over the front where the upper crust live. It’s your standard feel good story about the 99% toppling the 1%.
Except it isn’t. (more…)
Enemy is a psychological thriller/ mystery film directed by Denis Villeneuve who also directed the critically acclaimed thrillers Prisoners, Incendies, and Sicario (all of which also happen to be on my to-watch list). I’m on the fence about whether or not I would call this an arthouse film or not, because it seems to straddle the line between an accessible movie that makes you think and a surrealist mindfuck. Enemy is loosely based on the book The Double by José Saramago and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a bored history professor who finds Anthony St. Claire, a small time actor who looks exactly like him. It isn’t just an uncanny resemblance. Anthony is physically identical to Adam. If you haven’t guessed it, Anthony is also played by Gyllenhaal. Adam researches and quickly becomes obsessed with Anthony, and begins interfering with Anthony’s private life trying to figure out who Anthony really is and why they appear to be the same person. Their lives become somewhat intertwined and they both need to find their way through a web of mistrust and deception to get to the bottom of it.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t only watch horror movies. Sure, dudes in masks wielding machetes who chop up promiscuous teenagers tickles my fancy some, but every now and again it’s nice to step out of the coffin and experience something a bit different. While I’d definitely call myself a fan of sci-fi, I feel similar about that genre as I do most comedies. I think a movie in the genre needs to be executed impeccably if it’s going to stand solely on the tropes and stylings of genre. A prime example in the comedy genre would be Airplane, a movie that spends literally every frame setting up or paying off on a joke, and every joke sticks its landing perfectly. It doesn’t need compelling characters, narrative, or conflict because the movie can stand alone on the strength of its jokes. My favorite sci-fi movies and shows definitely cannot stand on how “sci-fi” they are. They need something else to synergize with the sci-fi setting. Take Robocop for instance. Unarguably the greatest movie ever made, its political and social satire works with the sci-fi setting, not just along side it. Their power together makes it a great movie. Battlestar Galactica is a political thriller/ drama that just so happens to take place in space and involves evil robots trying to eradicate humanity. The sci-fi (spaceships, faster than light travel, Cylons) does not get people watching it episode in, episode out. The fleshed out characters, their relationships, their struggles and flaws, and how they overcome those struggles and flaws make the show worth watching. For me, sci-fi needs a human element to grasp on to in order to elevate it to something really worth thinking about. Good sci-fi asks questions and pokes holes in convention. A movie that fits this description to a tee, is Her.
Her is Spike Jonze’s fourth feature length film about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man going through a divorce who begins a relationship with Samantha, an artificial intelligence operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It sounds like a quirky indie drama, and while it does fall into a couple of the traps of a schlubby-guy-meets-manic-pixie-dream-girl movie, it deftly soars above a majority of the clichés and keeps you on your toes and guessing what will happen next. Spike Jonze is known for making quirky and weird movies, but Her is definitely an accessible film (unlike the last movie I saw starring Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin). I know I’m late to the party for Her, but understandably I was a little overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of praise this movie had going for it when it came out. It seemed almost too hyped. It was winning every award ever, and nothing but perfect or near perfect reviews came spilling out after its release. At the time it felt like manufactured hype or Oscarbait, but now that I’ve watched it, I can safely say…