> OMG, what a slooooow movie month. No good excuse. I just didn’t watch many movies in Roctober… (Remember: all films are rated on a 5 star basis.)
> This time, we explore the following 3 films and 1 TV “limited series”:
GREEN ROOM (2016) ***
THX 1138 Directors Cut (1970/2012) *****
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) ****
AMERICAN CRIME STORY: The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016) ****
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GREEN ROOM (2016) ***
This is a tense and gritty, but ultimately underwhelming thriller about a punk band touring the Pacific Northwest, who land the wrong gig in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the center of it all is Anton Yelchin, most familiar from the recent STAR TREK reboot as Chekhov 2.0, a compelling actor whose life was cut short at what appeared to be the beginning of a promising career by an accident involving a runaway Jeep. He gives the best performance of the film, even if much of it is spent with his left hand hanging by a thread. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie: brutal. Expect violence. Lots of it. The fateful gig takes place in a den of bestial neo-Nazi white supremacists using a nightclub as a front for a heroin ring helmed by a menacing but curiously flat Patrick Stewart, sporting his best American accent. I think the great actor was trying to play what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil”, but it didn’t work for me. I found the approach curiously uninvolving. GREEN ROOM quickly defines itself as one of those ‘which character(s) will be left standing in the final reel’ kind of film. These are often, by definition, heartbreaking films because according to formula- some of the people you are rooting for end up horribly dead. In the less successful ones, everybody ends up meat. The mainspring of this one is very tense and compelling: the band has witnessed the aftermath of a brutal murder and they are now trapped in the backstage green room knowing there are bloodthirsty murderers on the other side of the locked door who are very intent on seeing them very dead. GREEN ROOM kept my interest and made me very tense, so it worked on a technical level, but somehow the payoff seemed as banal as white supremacy itself, dampening my enthusiasm. (Though I must say I loved the final coda and the very final, memorable line of the film which of course, I will not reveal here…)
THX 1138: Directors Cut (1970/2012) *****
> In 1970 when I was 14 years fresh, the original theatrical release of THX 1138 left an indelibly deep impression on me. I always considered it one of the most singular and visionary movies I’d ever seen in a lifetime of worshipping at the altar of the silver screen- easily one of my favorite science fiction films. The theatrical film is a remake of a short student film Lucas made at UCLA that was so impressive he found a studio to back him in his first directorial effort. Much of it flew right over my head in that first thrilling viewing, but I saw the film several times thereafter, (mostly in bits and pieces, significantly edited and defanged by TV,) and still, each repeated viewing revealed hidden riches I had overlooked.
. THX 1138 is a bleak vision of a rigidly homogenized and highly controlled future dystopia. It is also the “identity” of the main character compellingly played by a youthful and compelling Robert Duvall. He is an everyman, a working drone who labors making the robotic police who control, enforce and micromanage every aspect of his society. It’s dangerous work, in an environment that brings to mind the laborers in METROPOLIS, who are no more than cogs in the machinery, and just as disposable. The populace of this hellish futureworld is identically clothed, and all their heads are shaved bald. They are encouraged to buy “dendrites”- symbolic products of no obvious use, and immediately dispose of them when they get home. Several times a day they are force-fed mind-altering drugs to keep them sexless, focused on work and not questioning their lives. They are watched over by a druidic class that administer regular citizen video confessionals, presided over by a classical representation of Jesus, spouting platitudes we would expect from Big Brother. Intercourse is outlawed, but masturbatory machines take care of sexual needs to a wall-sized video feed of undulating nude dancers. This ‘director’s cut’ package restores some footage cut from the original release, and contains new shots of THX in his high-pressure workplace, as well as revealing this startling new detail. (On TV, only a portion of the screen is shown, to omit the offending detail, the shot suddenly becoming high contrast and grainy.) All citizens are paired with a platonic partner so they can spy on each other. THX has “LUH”, a woman who has secretly stopped taking her meds, and as a result, is beginning to feel strange new emotions like… desire? And… love? LUH begins to sabotage her partner’s drug regime, and before long, he too begins to have an unexpected awakening. Without the drugs THX can no longer safely operate his station at work, and near disaster results. He begins a clandestine sexual affair with LUH filled with the natural discovery of repressed human emotion. But when they are discovered, THX is arrested and imprisoned in an enveloping white void that appears boundless and LUH’s fate is worse.
. In this second part of the film, THX is accosted by SEN, Donald Pleasance at his most oily and obsequious, in the best performance of his career after Blowfeld. The infinite void becomes horribly oppressive, and THX nearly loses his mind.
. The third part of this is unique film is a reimagining of his original student film. THX begins walking to test the boundaries of his prison, and SEN appoints himself to the “reconnaissance mission”. Eventually, they meet a tall entertainment hologram (the “wise fool along the road”) and he helps them find the way out. From here, it’s basically an extended chase sequence where they scramble to be free while pursued by relentless technocrats and their robotic henchmen.
. And the ending? …Have I ever experienced a more blissful and exhilarating final frame of a film? Let me think… No.
. This is one of the only DVD’s that I ever watched a second time to hear the director’s play-by-play analysis, and I must say it was fascinating. It gave me a real window into just how much of a genius George Lucas really is. In explaining his intent at every turn, I saw that even as a very young man, Lucas knew exactly what he was doing. Though imagination and intuition plays a role in his genius, every moment is carefully considered on a myriad of subtle levels. He and screenwriter Walter Mirch offer unexpected insights at every turn, and as a result- I imagine I will enjoy it even more if I live long enough to get around to it again.
> Haven’t seen THX 1138? Well, it’s not for everyone, but if you are serious about your love of films, if you love classic sci-fi and appreciate the vision of George Lucas, you owe yourselves this treat.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) ****
At the beginning of this highly successful thriller, a woman is assaulted and held captive… Oh no, I thought. Not this again. (ROOM notwithstanding), I am so tired of the “vulnerable woman in jeopardy” genre, I could spit. But when her captor is revealed to be the great John Goodman, and we begin to get a glimpse that throughout this movie- nothing is quite the way it appears, interest is perked. Director Dan Trachtenberg shows a strong, steady hand in his debut feature. This spinoff from 2008’s CLOVERFIELD is very well constructed, and I found it far more memorable than its predecessor. Good thing! Had I clearly remembered CLOVERFIELD, the ending of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE would have had a small fraction of the impact. Producer J. J. Abrams envisions it as part two of a trilogy, the final chapter due sometime in 2017. John Goodman looks uncomfortably ginormous in every frame, and his laboring wheeze is heard in every line he speaks. Because I love this actor’s work so much, I found it distracting. I’ve been worrying about his weight gain for years. The great news is that he’s slimmed down considerably since this film was shot. By all accounts he is much healthier now, and weight loss will help him get outside the box obese actors are put in. Hopefully we’ll be seeing him for many years to come, and perhaps in a greater variety of films. I hope so- he is really dynamite here, as a man who may be a kidnapper, and may be a good Samaritan, merely trying to protect the woman from an unspeakable apocalypse that has transformed the earth. The final reel was a blast. I figured out the ending only seconds before it was revealed, because I was too involved in the storytelling to analyze and forecast. And the ending beautifully set up the third film. Whenever GOD PARTICLE hits the screens, I am so there!
AMERICAN CRIME STORY: The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016) ****
(Based on the Jeffrey Toobin book “The Run of His Life”)
I was not particularly enthused with the idea of watching a 10 hour exploration of the lurid O.J. story, until I read the great reviews and noticed the impressive list of Emmy noms it generated- 22. (And it took home 9 of them!) The cast, script and direction is uniformly excellent in every episode. This is a true ensemble piece, filled with compelling performances from Emmy winners Sarah Paulson as a feverishly driven Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance as a blustering Johnnie Cochran. John Travolta produced and plays an intense, socially awkward Robert Shapiro, with Lady Gaga as Donatella Versace, and Nathan Lane as a canny F. Lee Baily, playing both sides of the street. The major standouts for me: Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown in the thankless role of Christopher Darden, painfully, the “token black” on the prosecution’s bench, and to my surprise and delight David Schwimmer as a pious and morally tortured Robert Kardashian. (He was nominated for the performance, but did not take the statuette home.) I was so glad to see this astute (Emmy recognized) casting team was able to see beyond the typecasting that comes from being ‘Ross’ in FRIENDS. Here, Schwimmer plays a deeply moral man, standing loyally by a close friend in his darkest hour, because his friend had done the same for him. But when he hears the devastatingly convincing DNA forensic evidence, it slowly begins to dawn on him that the man who he trusted so deeply was almost certainly a multiple murderer. Cuba Gooding Jr. turns out to have been an excellent pick for the part, though we never get the satisfaction of hearing him admit to the murders, so all he gets to deal with are denial and deceit. On the surface, the writers appear to be striving for the veneer of impartiality, as to whether or not the jury got the verdict right. Perhaps they had to, to avoid a libel suit from O. J.’s scary phalanx of high-powered trial lawyers. Cuba Gooding does have a wonderful moment when once his ordeal was over, it dawns on him that his former best friend had seen through his denials and was walking away for good. Cuba manages to say so much in his expressive face, without ever uttering a line. Hey, this was really good!
> In the queue for some great titles at my local library… Hopefully, I’ll have more to share next month. Until then: Vive Cine, dear ones!
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© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.