The whole dystopian thing may have reached the point of oversaturation in our popular culture: zombies, givers, hunger gamers, diverging, purging, maze running—we’ve had so much of it, the genre’s bound to regress into some sort of metaphorical mass-market post-apocalyptic wasteland of itself. And yet this summer’s underappreciated gem The Rover is so delicate in its vision, so realistic in its squalor, you may forget you’re watching something taking place ten years after a catastrophic global economic collapse. Set in the Australian outback, the film depicts a world of desolation and lawlessness, of dog-eat-dog survivalism; there’s no fantasy or sci-fi to this wasteland—this is what real dystopia is going to look like.
Amidst this societal decay is Eric (Guy Pearce), a drifter whose life is as hollow and ruinous as the world around him. While passing through the middle of nowhere, Eric encounters thieves who are fleeing from a botched robbery, and they steal his car. Taking the last possession of a man with nothing left to lose proves to be a bad move on their part, as Eric begins a dogged pursuit to retrieve his vehicle with the steely vigilance of a Terminator. Just when he thinks he’s lost the trail, Eric comes upon a wounded man named Rey (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be the brother of one of the thieves—badly injured in the robbery, they left him for dead. Eric takes Rey hostage and demands he be led to where his brother’s gang will be hiding out. Rey is the one man who can help Eric get back the last thing in his life that he cared about, but will he be more trouble than he’s worth?
Written and directed by David Michôd, who also made the excellent, Academy Award-nominated crime drama Animal Kingdom, The Rover is suspenseful and well-acted (Pearce is always reliable and Pattinson goes a long way to make you forget all the sparkly vampire paint he used to wear). The gritty world is richly detailed in its bleakness, and the final shot, though some may find it divisive, is a pitch perfect elegy to companionship and a dirge to life before the world collapsed under the weight of selfishness and greed.
There’s just not enough time to compose a lengthy review of some of the great and not-so great feature films, television series and documentaries that I’ve caught over the past month, so instead, I’m handing out a grade and an abridged appraisal.
Bastards—A grim, pointless waste of time from French Director Claire Denis (C-)
Hateship Loveship—Continued proof that former SNL star comedian Kristin Wiig should keep looking for dramatic roles (B)
Orphan Black—Yes, lead actress Tatiana Maslany was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her multiple roles in this great BBC-produced show about clones (A)
Requiem for the Big East—For college basketball fans who grew up in the 1980’s and recall watching these legendary teams, this ESPN documentary will rouse a healthy dose of nostalgia (B+)
The Bridge—in keeping with the very trendy, neo-noir subject of serial killing and the relationship between detectives charged with solving the mysteries (see: True Detective), this cross-border drama explores the messy dialectics of national politics, the consequences of drug/human trafficking and the tension between rich and poor (B+)
Captain Phillips—nothing here was particularly new, assuming you followed the story when it originally unfolded, but it still remains a dramatically compelling, well-paced action film that will jump-start your adrenalin (A-)
Top Hat & Tales: Harold Ross and the Making of the New Yorker—a satisfactory if not condensed portrait of an eccentric visionary and his creative collaborators who developed a unique and lasting publication (B)
Palo Alto—a drained, vacuous sketch of the psychic ennui of rich, white teens whose lives gravitate around sex, drugs, video games and pathetic, exploitative adults (D)
An unreliable narrator is a narrator, whether in literature, film, or theater, whose trustworthiness has been seriously questioned. Film audiences should be wary of gleaning truths from the narrator’s account of the movie's unfolding and plot details. Here are some films that have employed the unreliable narrator approach to storytelling to great effect.
Last Year at Marienbad
The Usual Suspects
The Great Gatsby
Locke is about a man (Ivan Locke) who gets into a BMW and then proceeds to have one conversation after another on his car phone while driving toward London. The end. That’s pretty much it and that’s just enough for this engaging but austere film about one man’s attempt to control his life from a car phone as it spins out of control.
I knew very little about Blue Ruin when I went to see it at Kalamazoo’s Alamo Drafthouse theater—just that it was a revenge thriller that had been widely beloved by critics. It was one of the “Drafthouse Recommends” featured titles, which—for movie buffs like me—is a stamp of approval worth heeding. And wouldn’t you know it: this edge-of-your-seat thriller has turned out to be the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. I appreciated not knowing even the basic premise of the film going into it—a rarity in this age of oversharing, spoiler-y trailers—so I will tell you very little about it in hopes that you will be pleasantly surprised as well.
Here’s what I’ll share: As I’ve said, it’s a revenge thriller, so you know somebody wants to get back at somebody else, but it will take that premise in surprising directions; it’s bloody, so you’ll need to be able to stomach some gore; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll get to see Eve Plumb, best known for playing Jan on The Brady Bunch in her youth, wielding a machine gun (who doesn’t want to see that?). So check it out: Blue Ruin, available soon on DVD here at KPL, and keep an eye out for more “Drafthouse Recommends” titles. The Alamo brings a lot of great films to Kalamazoo that no other theater does. As a die-hard movie fan, I rarely go anywhere else.
Under the Skin is a new film that will figuratively get under your skin with its nightmarishly surreal images and discomfiting plot. Simply put, it’s a slow-burning, almost dialogue free collection of bizarre images that possess a creepiness that leaves its evocative residue all over your mind well after the credits have rolled by. The film is careful to make sure that the weirdness is couched in ideas, specifically notions about perception and how we look at one another often from unfamiliar perspectives. Ultimately, the film feels as though it should have been fleshed out into something on an expanded scale with a more substantive engagement with its ideas. A perfect film, no. A must-see film, absolutely.
Under the Skin
Last year, the psychological thriller Prisoners was a break out hit for Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. With his follow-up film Enemy, once again starring Jake Gyllenhaal, the director embraces Hitchcockian style and atmosphere over formal plotting. Enemy is a kind of tone poem of dread and anxiety that I suspect will leave many a viewer grumpy and unsatisfied (more description would only spoil it). I for one enjoyed Villeneuve’s playful antics and commitment to the project over any kind responsibility to provide viewers with a conventional follow up. Fans will either love the Kafkaesque horror of the film or despise it for its provocative resistance to philistinism. You decide.
The Good Wife is one of the best network television shows and after five seasons, still going strong with its mixture of secrecy, passion, scheming and legal maneuvering.
It possesses all of the elements for a successful serial: power politics, courtroom confrontations drawn from the headlines, mysterious characters, well-paced intrigue, and nuanced storytelling. Throw in a fantastic cast (that’s refreshingly racially diverse) that brings to life the smart writing and you have a hit show worth binging on.
The Good Wife
This year’s Cannes Film Festival winners included Winter Sleep (Best Film), Bennett Miller (Best Director), Julianne Moore (Best Actress) and Timothy Spall (Best Actor). Here’s a look back at some of the films that have previously been awarded the prestigious Palme d’or.
Taste of Cherry—1997
The White Ribbon—2009
Writer Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been adapted for the big screen on more than one occasion. Clearly, directors from varied backgrounds have felt something motivating in her twisting tales of deception and murder. Her ominous story (The Talented Mr. Ripley) of a young American sent to Italy to return an expatriate, school chum to his father in San Francisco was the inspiration for French director Rene Clement’s (Forbidden Games) Purple Noon. This stylish, Hitchcockian adaptation was the coming out party for 1960’s French heartthrob Alain Delon as Tom Ripley, the cold and calculating con man who wants more than just a courier fee for the return of the glib, rich boy. German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) took Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game and transformed it into The American Friend (1977), a beautifully shot thriller that burns slowly as a psychological portrait of desperation into one of unleashed madness, if not comically so. The late British director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) made a patchy version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Jude Law, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Matt Damon in 1999.