The Bad Batch

Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour

Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Jayda Fink, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna

I’m going to be up front.  I have not seen Ana Lily Amirpour’s freshman directorial effort, A Girl Walks Alone at Night.  This set me up for her sophomore effort, The Bad Batch with no expectations.  No worldly experience I’ve had could have truly prepared me for this film

Although Amirpour’s script doesn’t define what time this story is set, we know that society has gotten tough on crime; enough that a crime will see you banished to the most hellacious place on earth.  The film opens up with no visuals, only voices coming from all directions.  We’re meant to be disoriented as her prison ID is tattooed on Arlen, who we learn really quickly can defend herself.

But, how do we survive in a desert wasteland?

Armed with only a few days-worth of rations and a flyer guiding her to “Comfort,” Arlen sets out on her journey.  Before we can discover what “Comfort” is, she is ambushed by two of her fellow inmates, literally paying the price for letting her guard down; something she learns not to do again.

Amirpour’s script is full of visual details brought to life through Lyle Vincent’s camerawork, which is first rate.  As we struggle to get our bearings, whether in the deep desert, the airplane shell that makes up someone’s home, or within the confines of Comfort, his use of the 2.39:1 frame paints a wide, desolate image, conveying all of our characters’ struggles.  The tracking shots alone are worth the price of admission.

What’s most interesting is the characters and how they are used to convey the true nature of the film, the “haves” and “have-nots”.  Deeper than that, each actor’s nuance, body language, and several well-placed pop music tracks help to convey their status in life.  Dialogue is kept to a minimum.

Suki Waterhouse was perfectly cast as Arlen.  Though she had to be more upright and determined than her real-life persona, she is the perfect foil for Jason Momoa and his Miami Man character, someone you would not want to cross: he means business.  His number one priority is his daughter Honey, played by Jayda Fink.  When she disappears, we are made to realize that he will stop at nothing to find her all with looks.  Arlen and Miami Man’s situations very much lead them down the proverbial Adam and Eve path.

Two other main characters in the film, the Hermit, who is the audience’s silent guide, is played by Jim Carrey.  He disappeared into his role so much, that the first time I saw the movie, I couldn’t recognize him; he is that good.  Giovanni Ribisi plays The Screamer, who is imprisoned like the rest of the inmates, but his imprisonment is in his mind as much as his environment; stuck trying to remember what life was like on the outside, searching for freedom while being the life of the party, going with the flow.

This leaves us with Keanu Reeves’s character, the very visage of Hugh Heffner, right down to the pipe and the robe, The Dream.  In an eloquent manifesto, The Dream asks Arlen who provides the plumbing, to which she answers, “you do.” The Dream is the one who makes Comfort possible, he makes us forget our cares and worries, and releases us from our internal imprisonment; The Dream will take care of our needs, even laying the seed for future dreamers.  Reeve’s take on the character, though convincing, is far too much of a parody of Heffner to be taken seriously.

A lot of the narrative is implied, not directed toward the audience; something very rarely seen these days.  For some, this might stretch the boundaries Amirpour intended. The marriage of the visuals and the pop tracks convey characters’ emotions so effectively, that we don’t need the dialogue.  Does the film drag as a result of it?  Perhaps.  The film starts out very strongly and wanes towards the end.

Drawing from Escape From New York and Mad Max,  Amirpour’s style is fresh, achieving the black comedic effect she was going for.  Both films present dystopian images of one possible future, using visuals to convey their points where the “haves” and “have nots” fight over every last resource.  Here, the characters are just as much a part of the film’s fabric as are the visuals.

Now in a limited theatrical release, on VUDU and coming soon to Netflix, Amirpour successfully delivers a taught visual feast or famine experience.

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Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

2017. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

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Sometimes you know virtually everything there is to know about a film before you view it.  Maybe it’s the title, the director’s previous films, the poster, or more often than not, it’s the trailer.  Despite these unfortunate truths of the information age, there are occasions where a film can still manage to not only surprise, but entertain you as well.  Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is a breath of fresh air to big explosion, big monster movie madness that has been experiencing a decline over the last year.  While there is absolutely nothing that reinvents the prescribed formula for a film like this, what it does, it does very well, signaling not only Vogt-Roberts’ love for the creature feature, but also his talent at using resources in creative ways to present a been there, done that story in a manner that consistently entertains for the duration.

In 1973, Scientists and soldiers set out to explore Skull Island, a place where monsters reputedly roam.  Their intrusion not only angers the legendary ape who rules the island, it awakens an ancient evil as well.  Tom Hiddleston stars as the tough guy navigator who is in no danger of dying.  Brie Larson stars as an activist photographer who is in no danger of dying.  They’re supported by a scene stealing John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson, and a regrettably restrained John Goodman.  There are also legions of soldiers and scientists who are sacrificed on the altar of “story”.   The real star is Kong himself, made possible by unimaginable special effects that are volleyed throughout the film’s run time.  Vogt-Roberts uses a perfect soundtrack and puts his trust into the effects team to present a monster movie that is pure abandon without being a guilty pleasure.  It’s undeniable decent and even though its plot is paint by numbers, the viewer is having so much counting said numbers, they forget to worry about the endless cliché’s and predictability of the story.

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Icon Larry Fong’s patient cinematography builds off of the Apocalypse Now ambrosia and captures the meeting of man and nature with blinding fulminations and intense colors that bloom across the screen in every sequence.  Acrid yellow smog and sunglass reflected fire are two impactful visuals that elevate the imagery far beyond the expected B movie trappings.  The makeup of tribal natives and the phosphorous gas of a battlefield combine into a potent mixture of untouched history with high powered weaponry, and it is this unholy union that pushes the film above mediocrity.  The divide between the two worlds comes crashing down within minutes of the humans’ arrival, but it is the aftermath that is done better than so many of its predecessors.  While there are rumors that this may be the first film in a shared cinematic universe, it is extremely clear that Pandora’s Box has been irrevocably opened and Vogt-Roberts embraces this with open arms.

Available now for digital streaming, Kong: Skull Island is an excellent way to spend a night on the couch, especially if you’re in the mood for playful extremity.  Large monsters, large explosions, and large guns are what await you in King Kong’s sanctum.  The best part is that nothing feels out of place and everything works in concert to achieve the most important goal for a film: to entertain.

Recommend.

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Ridley Scott’s Hannibal


Many of us get so wrapped up in the legacy of Silence Of The Lambs that we sometimes forget just how great Ridley Scott’s Hannibal is. Lambs is a wicked clinical shocker, full of psychopathic deviance and razor suspense, but Hannibal is just as good, instead coming from a place of lush, baroque opulence and velvet gilded carnage that overflows with style. They’re two very different films populated by the same characters, chief being Anthony Hopkins’ disturbed cannibalistic serial killing psychiatrist. Lecter has settled down in Italy when we find him, where one foolish police detective (Giancarlo Giannini, terrific) thinks he can lure the good doctor into a trap. Big mistake, although his efforts do gain the attention of FBI Agent Clarice Starling once again, this time played with grit and grace by Julianne Moore. Lecter is fascinated, perhaps even attracted to Starling, and it’s a treat watching them play a complex game of European cat and mouse whilst other various characters dart in and out of the tale. Ray Liotta blunders into their path as Starling’s ill fated bureau handler, a loudmouth who… doesn’t quite… keep his head screwed on tight (yes I went there). Gary Oldman shows up too, although you’d never know it was him as he’s uncredited and slathered up under a metric tonne of Chernobyl waste prosthetic makeup, playing perverted millionaire Mason Verger, who has a bone to pick with Lecter and I mean that quite literally. Hopkins had aged some since Lambs and doesn’t have quite the same unsettling virile charisma he did there, but he’s lost none of the malevolence or cunning, showing once again what a manipulative monster Hannibal can be. This film is all style, and even the frequent graphic violence, although abhorrent, is done with all the flourish and hues of a renaissance painting. The horror is somehow numb as well, or relaxed would be a better term. Lambs was all in your face with jump scares and spine shuddering yuckyness, while here the horror is rich, deep and vibrant, terrifying yet oddly aesthetic. Goes without saying that this is the closest Lecter film, in terms of style, to NBC’s masterful tv version we’ve been blessed with today, and much inspiration was no doubt culled from this gem. Beautiful, harrowing stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks


Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks is a spectacular howling good time, a 50’s inspired gumball machine packed with schlock, satire and more star studded send ups than you can shake a stick at. It’s so silly and overstuffed that one just has to give in to it’s fisher price brand of mayhem and just watch the wanton hilarity unfold. Martians are indeed attacking, and they’re evil little rapscallions with giant brains, buggy eyes and lethal ray guns. Humanity’s best are left to fight them, and let’s just say that’s not saying much with this bunch of morons. Jack Nicholson does a double shift as both the hysterically poised, rhetoric spewing US President and a sleazeball casino tycoon. Annette Bening is his hippy dippy wife, while Rod Steiger huffs and puffs as a war mongering potato head of a general. Over in Vegas, prizefighter Jim Brown and his estranged wife (Pam Grier) fight against hordes with little help from obnoxious gambler Danny Devito. Pierce Brosnan is a bumbling tv expert who sucks on a pipe that he apparently forgot to fill or light, a subtle yet precious running joke. The only people with sense are trailer dwelling youngster Lukas Haas and Natalie Portman as the President’s daughter, and the method they finally find to destroy these nasties has to be seen to be believed. The cast seems padded simply so we can watch famous people getting dispatched by slimy aliens, and also contains Tom Jones as himself, Lisa Marie, Jack Black, Paul Winfield, Michael J. Fox, Christina Applegate, Glenn Close, Joe Don Baker, Barber Schroeder, Sylvia Sydney, Martin Short and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on the body of a chihuahua (don’t ask). There’s little story other than Martians attack and kill shitloads of obnoxious people, but therein lies the big joke, and it’s hilarious. Aaack !

-Nate Hill

BLU-RAY REVIEW: KINO LORBER PRESENTS RIDLEY SCOTT’S 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Easily one of Ridley Scott’s most ambitious films, 1492: Conquest of Paradise is not without its flaws, but also, not without its merits, most of which stem from the enormity of the physical production; had the script been more historically accurate then we might have had one of the greatest epic adventures of all time. Instead, the finished form of this cinematic seafaring voyage feels caught in between trying to be something respectful and progressive, despite clearly being made from a place of true personal investment.

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It’s also a staggering reminder of the power of REAL cinema: Actual ships, live extras, exotic locations, real fire, real water – this is how an epic action-adventure drama film should look and feel, and in terms of the sheer size and florid atmosphere that was conveyed, this is one of the most lush movies of its type. One of Scott’s grandest canvasses that he’s worked on, this was one of the last films he made before the beginning of the CGI/digital effects revolution, and it would certainly be interesting to see how he’d make the film if he attempted to re-tell the story today.

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But, at times, the script feels like a mess, never giving you an accurate portrait of Columbus as a man, despite Scott and the rest of his team including some nice introspective beats and startling moments of violence which certainly pushed the edges of what the PG-13 rating allowed back in 1992. But where was the raping, and the murdering, and the pillaging, and the formation of the slave trade, and all of the stuff that we’ve come to learn that the real Columbus supervised and participated in? This film was written before some of the more controversial bits about Columbus were discovered, so in retrospect, with a fuller idea of who he was as a man, it’s a movie that feels at odds with itself in certain spots.

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Clearly, being an attempt at blockbuster filmmaking, the thematic and story elements needed to be softened to appeal to the widest possible audience, but here, it feels especially glaring, given what we’ve come to know. At times, you can feel that the filmmaker’s were striving for something more complex than what the screenplay afforded them; Roselyne Bosch’s dialogue is occasionally hammy while the plotting lacks a certain level of grace that would bestow Scott’s future period epics, chiefly the masterful director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven.

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But while this is a historically scrubbed effort, the technical details are astounding and the performances were solid all around. Gerard Depardieu was never less than excellent with what he was given, demonstrating gravitas and personal heft that helped to cut a convincing portrait of an impassioned explorer, even if speaking in English isn’t his strong suit. The supporting cast is diverse and odd in spots, but dominated by Michael Wincott in a genuinely nasty performance (his stock in trade), Sigourney Weaver, and Armand Assante.

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The bravura musical score from Vangelis (Blade Runner, Alexander, Chariots of Fire) along with the stunning widescreen cinematography from Adrian Biddle (Thelma & Louise, Aliens, Reign of Fire) combined to create a fantastic sense of time and place, which is par for the course on a Scott film. And the director, as always, delivered on the visual front, crafting a film of enormous scope and polish; the final act has a hurricane sequence and gory battle that are two of the best set pieces he’s ever directed. Scott and Biddle found true beauty in their vision of the New World; the sumptuous and dreamy shot in which the ocean mist parts to reveal dry land for the first time is handled in such an operatic fashion as to induce goosebumps, while Columbus’ first steps on new soil register as an earth-shaking moment.

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And the final moments are poetic in their sense of overall discovery and the loss of one’s ability to continue searching for the next challenge. I’ve just always taken exception to how noble they made Columbus out to be, considering all that we’ve learned from a revisionist perspective concerning his expeditions and attempts at conquering. Paramount released the film in time to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage back in 1992, and armed with a $50 million budget, Scott definitely pulled out all the visual stops you’d expect from him, but the public didn’t bite, and the film bombed in theaters, grossing less than $10 million domestic.

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But it’s a work that deserves reconsideration, and thanks to Kino Lorber’s recently released Special Edition Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds considerably better than I remember, as some time ago I purchased a Region 4 DVD from Brazil/Portugal, where the image, while presented in anamorphic widescreen, seemed to have been smeared with dirt and grease or left out in the sun to bake. But Kino’s new transfer is better than anything I’ve previously seen, with solid colors and appropriate grit and grain, and always giving off that filmic look that’s become lost now that everything is shot digitally. And while only in 2.0 DTS-HD sound, the film sounds big and boisterous and all-encompassing while dialogue remains crisp and clean. Special features include a highly informative and excellent audio commentary from film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson and various deleted scenes that showcase more graphic violence which were obviously trimmed to avoid an R-rating.

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B Movie Glory: Dark Moon Rising 


You want a romantic werewolf flick that rises above the vomitus of Twilight and gives you nostalgic pangs for stuff like The Howling and Bad Moon? Dark Moon Rising is your ticket, and proves that you don’t need heaps of PG-13 gloss, mopey teen bottom feeder ‘actors’ and a vacuous script to make a young adult oriented horror film. This one is admittedly low budget and feels just south of finished in spots, but it’s well crafted, made with love and bereft of CGI. The story couldn’t be simpler: a small town girl (Ginny Weirick), her stern Sheriff father (Chris Mulkey) and the new boy in town (Chris Delvecchio) who just happens to be a werewolf. Young love is always just a stone’s throw away from danger, which arrives in the form of the boy’s dangerous, monstrous father Bender (Max Ryan) who also happens to be a werewolf. You can imagine how it goes: steamy New Mexico supernatural melodrama with a few buckets of gore tossed in and a handful of super cool genre actors. Sid Haig, Lin Shaye and Maria Conchita Alonso have wonderful extended cameos, but the standout is Billy Drago, a staple villain actor who gets to do something different here. Blessed with a reptilian visage that just demands evil behaviour from him, he’s given a sympathetic detective role here, a heartbroken lawman on the hunt for Bender to appease personal anguish. The makeup and prosthetics are terrific, retro latex nightmares that made me miss the good old days before I was born when every horror flick had to rely on the ingenuity of a hardworking team of gorehounds. Despite a few weird pacing issues (tighter editing would have been appreciated), this one is a little indie horror well worth your time. 

-Nate Hill

David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints


Downbeat yet beautifully moving, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a surprise for me, a visual and emotional bouquet of muted style, lighting and music that instantly transports you to the time and place it lives in, as well as beckoning you straight into the characters’s hearts, hearts which all have the capacity for love and reverence, or the blackest of deeds. The people in this film are just that: human beings, not caricatures moulded by the written word, you feel every pang left by a violent act in both victim and perpetrator, and sit alongside them as they wade through heartbreak. A soulful Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play two outlaw lovers who cause a deafening shootout with police in the stunning prologue, both killing and wounding multiple officers. The outcome sees Affleck jailed hundreds of miles away and Mara left alone to give birth to and raise a daughter he may likely never meet. He does get out though, and meanders his way through rural Texas to find them, when trouble arrives once again, as it always does. A local policeman (Ben Foster) has grown fond of Mara, while her stern father (Keith Carradine) takes notice of Affleck’s return and bristles up real good. At it’s heart this is a tragedy, even if on the surface one sees potential for a love story. There’s a Bonnie and Clyde vibe to be sure, but it’s as if we are privy to what happens in a ‘lovers on the run’ tale after the fact itself, as if the film begins at the end of a conventional such story, and achingly shows us that happy endings simply don’t exist, especially for people like this. Now, there’s been obvious comparisons to Terence Malick’s work, which are of course somewhat warranted, but this film is it’s own beast. Brought to shimmering life by the lens of cinematographer Bradford Young and blessed with a mournful lullaby of a score from Daniel Hart, this one shakes and stirs the viewer with a gorgeous look at beauty through the crystalline prism of sorrow. 

-Nate Hill

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