Tag Archives: drama

Hotel Artemis

9 Jun

 

At the Hotel Artemis, you can check in any time you’d like but – like the Eagles tune tells us – it’s pretty damn hard to leave. Why? Well for one thing, it’s a safe house for criminals. And two, outside in the grubby L.A. streets, mobs are rioting over the privatization of water.

“Hotel Artemis” takes place in the near dystopian future, though it’s hard to get a full register of what that’s really like; similar to Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” the film’s mostly an inside job. Lording over the den of thrives is a boozy, disheveled Jodie Foster, referred to as The Nurse, with a Master Blaster of an orderly at her side by the moniker of Everest (played by hulking former wrestler Dave Bautista, so winning in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers” films) who enforces house rules and metes out small doses of medical aid. Among the potpourri of personalities checked in are Sterling K. Brown’s dapper bank robber, Charlie Day channeling his inner Joe Pesci as a jabber-jawed arms dealer and Sofia Boutella’s super sleek assassin (she played a similar role in “Atomic Blonde”). About halfway in, a banged-up capo known as the Wolf King of L.A. (played by a game Jeff Goldblum, who’s onscreen too little) shows up to raise the stakes. If the invocation of another “Wolf” in L.A. crime doesn’t seem like a grab at something from Tarantino’s hip criminal universe (Harvey Keitel’s fixer from “Pulp Fiction”) then maybe the fact that all the “guests” are referred to by their room name – substitute “Niagara” and “Waikiki” for “Mr. Pink” and “Mr. Black” and you get the picture – might tell you what screenwriter/director Drew Pearce is angling for. “Artemis” even has its own McGuffin (a mysterious pen) and a wounded cop (Jenny Slate) with information to share. 

Much is packed into a lean 93-minute runtime. First-time helmer Drew Peace, who wrote the screenplays for “Iron Man 3” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” shows a knack for snappy action the way stuntman turned filmmaker David Leitch demonstrated with “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.” The rub, however, is that as a narrative, “Artemis” jumps around too much, and not everything quite fits (perhaps over-enthusiastic editing had a role to play). As a result, the only characters that resonate even faintly are Foster’s wheezing hotelier and Brown’s remorseful perp saddled with a blundering older brother. It doesn’t help that in an era of grand set designs, the glimmers of the outer-scape feel cheap, plastic and uninspired – not in the cheesy, good way that “Logan’s Run” made so indelible, but more like the stagy street riots in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” (2012) or the Orwellian future-scape in “Equilibrium” from 2002, if you even remember that one. Peace is blessed with a great cast, and the actors all provide above-the-bar turns. It’s just too bad in execution “Artemis” feels more like a staged (and very promising) concept than the mean teeth of true criminal intent.

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Aftermath

21 May

The Long Island Literary Journal May 2018

“We did this to ourselves,” Jonesy said sliding bullets into a tarnished old .38.  Besides an aluminum baseball bat and a barn full of rusted farm implements, it was their primary means of defense, one they had yet to use, but the expectation was that things were to only get worse. It had been eighteen months since the ban went into effect, fourteen since the MOAB was dropped on a so tagged hot-spot in the Middle-east and five weeks since the dirty bombs went off in Boston and New York.

Stan watched Jonesy cautiously in the rearview as he guided the dinged-up Dodge Charger along the roadway marred by frost heaves and years of neglect. He knew little about his passenger other than he was elusive when it came to questions but seemed to know much about the western hills of Massachusetts and Connecticut and how to get the most from the woods. Just five days earlier he had drifted out from the tree line under the weight of a large backpack. Stan was prompt in his effort to dismiss the intruder, and felt he had matters in hand until Echo appeared on the back porch with a bottle of pop in hand.

 “Maybe he can help with the generator?” she interjected casually, “We might need that hunk of junk after all.”

Stan wished to protest but knew his wife was probably right just like his mother was when she had the massive crate delivered to the farmhouse in the tense months following 9/11. “If anything like that ever happens again,” the matriarch chortled while drinking a saucer full of cheap scotch when she could easily afford better, “you kids just jump in the car and head to Weathervane Farm. I’ll have everything there for you.” Stan found the notion of buying a farm in Western Massachusetts when his parents lived in Connecticut a complete waste of money, though Church View did turn out to be a good central place for Worthington holiday gatherings. His sister lived in Chicago and made the dutiful trek east twice a year with her ever growing brood.  It was perfect while it lasted and now, his mother’s paranoid ramblings about the future of mankind boomeranged back from the beyond as shards of prophetic wisdom. Stan’s only regret being that he wished he had set up the generator back then when she had wished it.

The car hit a pothole and a bullet slipped from Jonesy’s hand. “Steady mate,” he said cooly as he retrieved the projectile, “Be a shame if Bulla put a hole in your seat.”

That coy air of amiable aloofness bothered Stan. He knew he was alone in that regard.  The others taking refuge in the place his mother had so affectionately rebranded ‘Manure Manor,’  didn’t share his scrutiny. Little Jade was delighted by the coins pulled from her ears at dinner that first night, and afterwards Jonesy toiled under Echo’s direction in the kitchen, sharing wine and laughs late into the evening. Even crabby old Rosemary appeared susceptible to his charms granting Jonesy great deference before launching in with her bristly opines and demeaning insistences. Each morning, Stan expected the man hidden behind aviator sunglasses and a fine beard, to disappear back into the woods, but at night, when dinner was served, he was there at the table as if he has always been.  The tenor of the manor had shifted. There was less control, more spontaneity and things got done. Jonesy was fit and able, a rising commodity as networks fell and the availability of shrink wrapped sustenance waned.

“How much we got?” Stan asked. Continue reading

Beast

19 May

‘Beast’: Suspicions run wild after murder, and something about Moll draws the mob

 

A curious yet apt title for this taut psycho-drama that plays effectively with the viewer’s sense of perception. Eerie, foreboding and profoundly disorienting, “Beast,” like many of its beguiling characters, becomes something of a shapeshifter; it revolves around the struggles of a troubled young woman named Moll (Jessie Buckley), blessed with fiery red locks constantly tousled across her porcelain face by the relentless wind that whips the quaint U.K. isle of Jersey she’s relegated to – and seemingly unable to leave. The setting, so alluring and ominous, becomes an integral player in developments. Jersey’s the kind of remote, off-the-grid British burg that Sam Peckinpah might have shot “Straw Dogs” in had his location scouts stumbled upon it.

Moll lives with her controlling mother (an icy-cold Geraldine James), who stalks her progeny and questions her every whereabouts despite the fact Moll’s a mature woman with a full-time job (as a tour bus guide). Given mum’s iron glove, moving out would be a good idea, but there’s that troubled/damaged thing. Can Moll truly be on her own, or does she need constant monitoring? We get the answer to that quickly as Moll goes clubbing one night into the wee hours with a scruffy drifter/handyman by the name of Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Elsewhere, news blips on the TV tell us there’s been a recent murder of a girl nearby, and another girl is missing. The short list of suspects the film and police pursue includes Moll – she had a violent incident back in high school that haunts her – and Pascal. Moll may be somewhat lost and misunderstood, but there’s always deep down inside an ember of hopeful ebullience, and she becomes spirited at the prospect that she and Pascal might hie away together for happier destinations. Darker matters beyond legal suspicion cloud the notion, such as nightmarish incursions that come in the middle of the night or Moll’s ill-conceived insistence on showing up at one of the victim’s funerals. Ultimately “Beast” becomes a tug of war between hope and despair, with an ever-shifting emotional landscape.

First-time filmmaker Michael Pearce weaves in themes of isolation, alienation and defiance that clearly mine the essence of Roman Polanski’s 1965 psycho-thriller “Repulsion” (1965) and, to a lesser wow factor, Julia Roberts’ 1991 hit, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” It’s a subtle borrowing, as Pearce without doubt forges his own, unique authorship. Like Polanski, his true ace in the hole is his lead. Not enough can be said of Buckley’s ability to bounce palpably from a wallflower-esque ingenue to romantically ripe hopeful and later, something more disturbed and even menacing. It’s an incredible load to bear, but Buckley does it without any letdown. By the middle of the film Moll’s psychological state and Pearce’s moody ambiance become symbiotic extensions of one other, heightening the already fraught state with arthouse poetics.

As far as the title goes, there’s plenty of monsters to be had in “Beast.” The killer, for one, but also – and perhaps more to the point – the insular judgmental folk of the remote isle so willing to condemn a fellow human based on mob rage or a simple whisper from the TV.

Little Pink House

11 May

‘Little Pink House’: After finding her home, she has to fight to keep it from Big Pharma

 

The title alone will have many thinking of the the seminal John Cougar Mellencamp song that 35 years ago was so ubiquitous and infectious. This similarly named film (“House,” though, not “Houses”) won’t have the same lingering resonance – and rightfully so, as the reedy true-life saga never quite finds its pulse and purpose. Events unfold during a time Y2K concerns soared and 9/11 rocked the nation. Neither of those history-defining moments makes it into the film to detract from the slow-building drama taking place in the sleepy seaside town of New London, Connecticut, not too far from historic Mystic, the anchor port for the taut little comedy, “Mystic Pizza” that in the late 1980s launched the career of Julia Roberts.

If you’re wondering if any of this seeming free associations has a payoff, it does – sort of – as “Little Pink House” shares the trappings of “Erin Brockovich,” another true-life tale about an iron-willed woman who fights the good fight, taking on bureaucracy and big money against all odds. That 2000 film garnered Roberts a Best Actor Oscar.  Continue reading

You Were Never Really Here

15 Apr

 

Seven years ago Scottish director Lynne Ramsay served notice with the psychological thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” In that film, a family is torn apart by a son’s increasingly disturbed behavior. Things proceed edgily and eventually go off the rails, violently and shockingly. In her latest, “You Were Never Really Here,” audiences don’t have to wait long for an eruption of carnage when an equalizer/hitman is employed to retrieve a state senator’s daughter from a high-end brothel in midtown Manhattan.

If that sounds like the boilerplate to “Taken” or “Taxi Driver,” you’d be right to think so – at least on paper – but for Ramsay, getting at her protagonist’s state of mind and backstory is anything but a linear exercise. In wisps we catch Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in military fatigues within the confines of a desert encampment feed a candy bar through a chain-link perimeter to a youth who is promptly shot dead by a surprising source. Later, ostensibly in the FBI or some investigative law enforcement unit, Joe uncovers a van full of dead bodies. And then there are the flashbacks to a highly abusive father and Joe’s attempts at suicide via asphyxiation (dry cleaning bags being the impermeable of choice). These images are littered throughout, giving brushstrokes of insight to the enigmatic Joe, bearded, burly and employing the peen end of a hammer to bash his way through his first assignment. To save the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he employs the same implement – a new one of course, selected carefully from the hanging racks of a Home Depot, Ace Hardware or the like – working his way through the Manhattan brownstone in a more “Old Boy” style than Travis Bickle might consider. Continue reading

The 15:17 to Paris

11 Feb

 

Much will be made of Clint Eastwood’s decision to use non-actors to play themselves in “The 15:17 to Paris,” a story of American heroism abroad, when two servicemen on leave and a friend thwarted an August 2015 terrorist attack on a train. The trio acted unselfishly, out of genuine concern for the lives of others – it’s the kind of stuff movies are made of.

Eastwood, who’s heading toward 90, has seen it all before, starring as the “Man With No Name” in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, then making his own westerns (“Unforgiven”) and other films with subject matter ranging from the afterlife (“Hereafter”) to female boxing (“Million Dollar Baby”) and the end of Apartheid-cum-rugby (“Invictus”), as well as engaging in jingoistic flag waving, as many said of his depiction of American marksman Chris Kyle in “American Sniper” (2015) or his appearance at the Republican National Convention to help presidential candidate Mitt Romney challenge Barrack Obama, talking to that now infamous “empty chair.” Continue reading

Stronger

21 Sep

‘Stronger’ Is Everything ‘Patriots Day’ Tried To Be

Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff Bauman in "Stronger." (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)closemore

Late last year — as if it were hoping to be an Academy Award contender — the well-intentioned, but misguided “Patriots Day” turned the Boston Marathon bombing into a vehicle for local boy Mark Wahlberg. It awkwardly tried to show a city ripped apart through a fictional cop’s heroics. Now, in David Gordon Green’s “Stronger,” the story is flipped as we register the emotional toll of a victim reluctantly pushed into the role of a hero.

We follow the quiet, painful struggle to rehabilitate for bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) honestly and viscerally. “Stronger” is everything “Patriots Day” swung for and missed.

The actual bombing and subsequent search for the Tsarnaev brothers never takes center stage — that all happens on the news or in brief, well-staged flashbacks. The tale here is a deeply personal one about wrestling with demons — sometimes embarrassing ones — and finding your way after being dealt a losing hand.

Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
Tatiana Maslany as Erin and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jeff. (Courtesy Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)

Based on Bauman’s memoir (co-written by Bret Witter and adapted for screen by John Pollono), “Stronger” recounts the harrowing travail after the Chelmsford native had the misfortune to be standing on Boylston Street during the 2013 marathon. Losing both his legs was a grueling ordeal for Bauman — one that comes in uneasy and uncertain strokes. And while that resonates with earnest pain, the heart and soul of the film registers most palpably through the eyes of Bauman’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, Erin (played by Tatiana Maslany). Maslany, the small screen star of “Orphan Black,” makes the most of her go on a bigger canvas. Continue reading