BONE TOMAHAWK – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

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S. Craig Zahler’s gruesome and gnarly BONE TOMAHAWK is the epitome of a slow burn, and it hits all the marks in this concoction of a horror-western, b-movie, grind house-ish ode to everything that’s transgressivley amazing about cinema.

Set in the late 1800’s, a search party made up of the town’s Sheriff (Kurt Russell), the affable “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), the missing woman’s husband (Patrick Wilson) and a mysterious gunslinger gentleman (Matthew Fox) set out on a suicide journey into the heart of darkness to rescue a kidnapped woman (Wilson’s wife played by Lili Simmons) who was taken by a nasty and ghoulish group of indigenous people.

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This is a film that I can’t really peg down.  For a genre film, it’s production value is incredibly high, costume design is fantastic and the score by Zahler and Jeff Herriot achieve in a tranquil way, the characters journey to impending doom.  For having a deserving, gruesome and bloody climax, it was made without CGI and makes it that much more rewarding. The way Zahler captures the locations, the actors and builds an unprecedented amount of suspense is truly awe-some and admirable.

Kurt Russell is absolutely who we want him to be, the archetypal, honorable, ultimate bad ass alpha who will stop at nothing to rescue this woman.  Richard Jenkins is charming as he is affable providing unexpected and quirky comic relief that is an audacious line to walk in a film like this, but is completely welcomed and works perfectly.  Patrick Wilson gives one his best performances as the rage filled husband, forcing himself to go on this journey with a broken ankle, pushing himself to the brink.  And then there is Matthew Fox, who absolutely steals every single scene he’s in as the very cool and calculated gunslinger with his own dark past.

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Rounding out the fantastic cast is David Arquette, the always wonderful Fred Melamed, and surprising and welcome additions by Sean Young, Michael Pare, James Tolkan and the legendary Sid Haig.

The only way I can articulate my admiration and description of the film, is that this film is as if John Carpenter directed THE DESCENT meets THE THING with a dash of THE PREDATOR, set in the late 1800’s.  I’ve watched the film twice back to back, and I can’t wait to revisit it again.  This film certainly isn’t for everyone, but if the trailer and premise excite you, seek it out immediately.  You will not be disappointed.

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DANNY BOYLE’S STEVE JOBS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Danny Boyle’s riveting and unconventional biopic Steve Jobs is a complete knock-out from start to finish, and as bracingly un-Hollywood as this sort of material is going to get. This is laser-precise filmmaking, acted with extreme gusto, written with absurd skill, and shot and cut in a manner that suggests erudite style without ever feeling ostentatious. Aaron Sorkin’s classic rat-a-tat-tat dialogue is on full display from the opening scene, never relenting for two crisp and clean hours of storytelling; it’s an audacious screenplay in terms of structure, and overall, the film feels like a concert or a three act play, with maestro Boyle handling the glorious conducting. Some people are going to say that the film has been designed to never have any payoff – this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that Boyle and Sorkin upend our expectations (especially for the genre) and give us something we haven’t seen before. By framing the picture in three acts and showing the final 40 minutes leading up to three iconic product launches — the original Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in ’90, and the iMac in ’98 – there’s a purposefully restrictive quality to the storytelling and filmmaking that might have been detrimental to the overall finished product had the endeavor not been in control by shrewdly talented filmmakers.

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The hectic, emotionally turbulent, sometimes painful, and always awkward interactions that Jobs had with his creative/business team and family members make up the bulk of the picture, with a remarkable supporting cast all getting their chance to shine (Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, and Jeff Daniels are all fantastic). But it’s the Michael Fassbender show all the way, with this marvelous actor appearing in almost every single scene, giving a tour de force performance as a man driven to greatness by something I’m not sure he could ever fully explain or understand. Alwin Kuchler’s intensely stylish yet never ostentatious cinematography still gets to show off some trademark Boyle visual flourishes (Dutch angles, sped-up film speeds, saturated color, projected images that give off a trippy vibe), but this is a decidedly tamped down Boyle in comparison to his Tony Scott-esque aesthetics that were on display in Slumdog Millionaire, Trance, and 127 Hours. The decision to shoot each act in a different medium (16mm for Macintosh, 35mm for NeXT, high-def digital for iMac) is nothing less than a sensational aesthetic conceit which heightens the already slightly surreal quality to the narrative.

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And most crucially, the filmmakers, never at any point, try to soften their lead character’s dick-ish-ness, and it must be said that Fassbender is absolutely remarkable as Jobs, crafting a portrait of extremely flawed yet obscenely brilliant human being who likely learned too late (if this film is to be believed) in life that sometimes you should be a bit nicer to others. You sort of have to wonder why so many people stuck with him for so long, to go off what’s presented in this film. Yes, he was a genius, a true iconoclast who revolutionized the world we currently inhabit. But he did so at an intense personal cost to his own personal well-being, creating just as many enemies as friends, with many people likely realizing that they had no choice but to stick it out with working for Jobs, because no matter how egomaniacal he was, you could pretty much bet that he’d come out on top at the end. And make no mistake about it – the line of the year so far is: “I’m poorly made.” This is a film that I’m already jazzed to revisit, and it represents everything I want to see in a film.

A chat with Icelandic filmmaker Marteinn Thorsson

Proud to present my interview with Marteinn Thorssen, an Icelandic filmmaker who’s responsible in part for one of my favourite indie movies ever made, Paranoia 1.0. An extremely talented guy with a lot of projects on the go, and awesome to speak with. Enjoy!
1. Care to speak a bit about your background, what lead you into film making?

 

I think I always wanted to do something creative. My uncle ran this cinema which was housed in a WWII army barrack in Reykjavik. Mom sold tickets and my grandpa was an usher. Place was called Hafnarbio (The Harbour Cinema). They showed b-movies and light-blue movies. Alakazam the Great had the biggest impact on me. Surreal and weird. That has stayed with me. I was also a bookworm and spent many hours in the local library. I remember owning a super-8mm camera and later I was into stills. In college I started making horror flicks with friends. Those were a great technical exercise but it’s only lately that I feel I’ve been developing my own perspective. I’m a late bloomer.

Paranoia 1.0:

2. How was the writing process; What I spires ypu and Jeff, how did you envision script to screen, and did it eventually end up going how you thought it would?

 

Jeff and I had both been working in advertising and music videos and decided to create a collaborative entity we called waterfall/fjord. We wanted it to be anti-commercial and just be this experimentation hub for no-budget fun stuff. We did some music videos for an Icelandic band DIP (which was the brainchild of Siggi Baldursson of the Sugarcubes and Johann Johannson who is now scoring films for Denis Villeneuve and won a Golden Globe for Theory of Everything) and we had so much fun doing this we decided to try to write a script and make a feature. We worked on several stories but it wasn’t until we decided to something about the advertising world that a narrative formed which we were happy with. We were both very much into nanotech and sci-fi, Ray Kurzweil, Neal Stephenson and William Gibson. I can’t remember where the plot came from, I think I had written a treatment about a detective who receives an infant’s dismembered foot in his mailbox. I think that’s where the plot started. But the main theme, though, is about loneliness, it’s really a film about Toronto (where we studied and lived at the time) and loneliness. When you start something like this you never know where it will take you. We thought we were going to make a low-budget Canada/Iceland co-production but Télefilm and other funding bodies in Canada didn’t want to have anything to do with it. We got a grant from the Icelandic Film Fund early on but we had no luck in Canada. So it became a US/Iceland/Romanian production in the end. Even when we had managed to finance the film in Hollywood we tried to shoot it as an indie film in Winnipeg but there they wanted to unionize it because we had 2 American producers on the film, so, ironically Canada didn’t want us but the Americans and Romanians and Germans did (the main producer, Chris Sievernich, is a German living in L.A.) and we ended up getting the film into Sundance, main competition. I had no idea at the time what a big deal that was. Anyway, all this affected the way the film eventually came together. What was supposed to be a portrait of a crumbling capitalist society became a portrait of a crumbled communist society just about to emerge as a capitalist entity. Very interesting and Bucharest is an amazing place to shoot in. I hope to go back sometime. I’m actually working on one project which might happen next year. But we had to cut out some of the scenes we wanted as well as some of the effects. In the original script we wanted to show the Farm headquarters as well as Howard’s place where he keeps all the brains he’s been collecting and Adam’s progress as an Internet conscience was explained more. Also, Howard’s intentions were clearer but it was always about loneliness and corporate control and that stayed intact.

 

3. Casting: you assembled an eclectic cast of cult favourites, did you seek out these people, Udo Kier, Deborah Unger, Bruce Payne etc., or did they find their way to the projects through their agents? I did hear the story about finding Lance Henriksen at the hotel. What was it like working with the cast?

 

We wrote the script with Udo Kier and Deborah Unger in mind and were very lucky to get them. Udo had made a Danish film (“Besat” or “Possessed” in English) with one of our original producers (Thomas Mai of Zentropa) and he was the one we cast first. We met him at the American Film Market in L.A. and he liked the script. We became friends. I owe him some lamps he bought in Montreal but they got lost in Toronto on their way to Los Angeles. We got to Deborah through our casting director, Carmen Cuba (who is now casting for Steven Soderbergh and the Wachowskis among others). Carmen did most of the casting for us in L.A. At one point we had Gabriel Macht as Simon but he pulled out, we spoke with Gael Garcia Bernal who showed interest and then Adrian Brody signed on to be Simon just after he’d shot The Pianist but then our financing fell through and Brody got an Oscar. Jeremy Sisto was always in the mix though and he stuck with us and he did a fantastic job. I love Jeremy. For The Neighbor part we had Djimon Hounsou at one point but Bruce Payne got on board quite late when we were already in Bucharest. We did find Lance at the Marriot in Bucharest, Jeremy had done a series with him (Lincoln I think), a lot of people were there at the time shooting: Dennis Hopper, Andy Garcia, Gina Gershon, Eva Mendes. It was a busy town, still is, I think.

 

4. How was the shoot for everyone? How was your experience?

 

It was a difficult but fantastic experience. This was our first feature and we were used to doing everything ourselves so it was a bit weird having a crew of something like 100 people but the Romanian crew was amazing and I have such good memories of Bucharest. It was also weird to stay for more than 2 months in The Marriot right beside Ceausescu’s mad Palace, The Marriot is such a place of luxury and we were doing this little, low budget movie. Our producer, Chris Sievernich, said: “Enjoy this, it will probably never happen again.” We were lucky to be able to have some of the people from film school to work on the film with us like our editor Dan Sadler, cinematographer Chris Soos, Gio Sampogna who did the making-of, Eggert “Eddi” Ketilsson from Iceland who did the Production Design, Jeff’s dad showed up and helped us and more friends came from Canada, the US and Iceland. It was the first feature for so many and everyone was really excited. We storyboarded everything (although I don’t really like that practice) and were really well prepared, we got everything in the can and more, actually. When we showed the first AD (Chris Landry) our shot list he said we’d never cover it but we did, with 2 directors you can do more if you tag-team it.

 

5. Some films/actors/filmmakers who have inspired your work and who you really admire?

 

When I was younger I used to have favorite films and filmmakers but I don’t really today but I admire everyone who is a real artist and they don’t have to be filmmakers. My wife is a novelist and before I met her, I was influenced by her work, it’s amazing. I’m also influenced by music, painting, photography, performance art, literature and kind, interesting people who give me real human experiences. But, yes, in the past, Alakazam the Great influenced me a lot as did Don’t Look Now, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Brood, Red Desert, Blade Runner, Alien, Brazil and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki, David Cronenberg, Trần Anh Hùng, P.T. Anderson, Jonathan Glazier, Terrence Malick, Roy Anderson and others who surprise me and show me something new. When I saw Old Boy, I was giddy with delight. I’m quite fond of 70’s Hollywood. I don’t understand the popularity of some filmmakers and movies though, like Slumdog Millionaire, Argo or Wes Anderson’s work since The Royal Tenenbaums (with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox). Some of the new TV is great although it’s not the future of movies. I don’t like to dwell on the past and I love new things and new technologies, I’m glad to be rid of “film” although it smells nice. I hated editing on film, when non-linear came around with AVID, I was the first to sign up and it was a liberating progress and digital cinema is wonderful.

 

6. Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to mention?

 

I have so many projects in development and none of them might come to fruition, I’m actually shooting two no-budget projects that I might never finish. I think I have to move back into making films in English, preferably genre, because as an Icelandic filmmaker I need to supplement my income by working nights as a concierge in a hotel and that takes time away from my writing and shooting the micro budget stuff. But what might be my next film is a genre film, a supernatural thriller or horror film called UNA, we’re in the financing stages for that, that means we have applied for the big production grant at The Icelandic Film Centre and if we get that grant, we’ll be able to go for the rest of the money. UNA is produced by Gudrun Edda Thorhannesdottir of Duo Productions in Reykjavik. It’s based on a novel by Ottar M. Nordfjord and is about a young woman who’s lost her 5 year old son but his body has not been found a year after his disappearance. She starts suspecting he might still be alive when she becomes haunted by an “outcast”, a shapeshifting monster which may or may not want to do her harm. It’s dark, fun stuff, intense and has roots in Icelandic mythology and violence against women. Needs extensive special effects work which I mostly want to do in camera but it will benefit from CGI enhancement. I’m also working on a TV series based on the novel YOSOY by Gudrun Eva Minervudottir (yes, my wife), I’m developing it with two other writers, Lilja Sigurdardottir and Michael Sillery and we’re aiming it at the US market for now, if HBO/Netflix/AMC/ETC don’t want it then we’ll try the Scandinavia/Nordic version. Yosoy is wonderful and intense stuff, like Carnivále, Twin Peaks and True Detective rolled into one. I have a big budget Hollywood type sci-fi in the works. It’s called PROTOS and is loosely inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, it’s a bit like BLADE RUNNER meets APOCALYPSE NOW. I have oodles of micro-budget ideas, one is ERASERHEAD-like horror called DARKNESS KNOWS, another the drama I want to shoot in Reykjavik and Bucharest, GOD’S HEART, I actually have this God trilogy I want to do: GOD’S HEART, THE PATH OF GOD, and TOMORROW, WE BECOME ONE. Another adaptation from my wife’s novel ANGEL DUST. An English language adaptation from a novel by Arni Thorarinsson, WE, a very dramatic love story. There’s a thriller called EXIT I’m working on with writer Ottar Nordfjord and producer Snorri Thorisson. Inspired by true events, it tells the story of two French sisters whose hiking trip around Iceland turns into a nightmare when they hitch a ride with a charming but sinister stranger. I have another English language horror script ready called FROM THE DEEP which I wrote with this wonderful horror writer, Thorsteinn Mar (co-writer of DARKNESS KNOWS) and we have quite a few ideas milling about. So, plenty to work on but an agent and a production company would be nice. And some cash, please. But life is good. I’m trying to be a good husband and father. Life is such an interesting trip, you never know where it will take you.

REED MORANO’S MEADOWLAND — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Credit must be given to director Reed Morano with her feature film debut Meadowland – she’s taken incredibly dark and troubling material and turned it into an inherently compelling, extremely raw, and often times painful cinematic experience, one that’s wholly engrossing, but that will test the strength of most viewers. Given that the film is essentially a study of hopeless denial and deeply repressed anger during the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, this demanding (and draining) piece of work isn’t going to be for everyone. But for those of us interested in thought provoking, intensely modulated dramas that ask questions about ourselves as individuals, then this will be the perfect antidote to whatever CGI laden blockbuster is currently littering moving screens. Morano, an accomplished cinematographer on such films as The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River, and Kill Your Darlings, gets in close to her characters with her intimate cinematography, which is almost all hand-held, yet shot in 2.35:1 widescreen with an emphasis on off-kilter angles, extreme close-ups, and side of the head framing that evokes the introspective beats of a Michael Mann film.

Centering on a husband and wife (an excellent Luke Wilson playing a NYC cop and a never better Olivia Wilde as an inner city teacher) exactly one year after their son was abducted at a gas station, the film sticks very close to its two central performers, allowing peripheral characters to shake up the proceedings; the estimable supporting cast includes a recently busy Kevin Corrigan (funny and effective in this year’s romantic dramedy Results), Giovanni Ribisi (love seeing him!), John Leguizamo (always solid and edgy), Elisabeth Moss (quick but effective), and Juno Temple (always spunky and sexy). But the film belongs to Wilde and Wilson, who both cut all-too-convincing portraits of parents pushed to their emotional edge, with Wilde going especially deep all throughout this nervy, focused story of loss and potential acceptance. The final moments, from a directorial standpoint, are very bold, as it’s clear that Morano wants the audience to think for themselves and realistically accept the facts that have been presented for us.

There’s nothing “easy” about Meadowland, and in that sense, this film will likely challenge those who are looking for simple, digestible storytelling, which this is anything but. Meadowland aims to explore the awkward moments between friends and family members after a traumatic incident; nobody knows quite what to say, what the boundaries are in any given situation, or how the directly affected individuals are truly feeling inside. The thoughtful script by Chris Rossi might rely on some familiar storytelling tropes (support groups, personally-inflicted pain, children with learning disabilities) but it all feels organic to the environment and sadly, all too believable, considering that these are real struggles that people face every day. Not a film for the overly sensitive or for those who need their art spelled out for them, Morano has crafted a hard-hitting piece of cinema that has emotional resonance as well as arresting visual style. Available on Itunes and screening in limited release in theaters.

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PTS Presents Cinematographer’s Corner with ALWIN KUCHLER

KUCHLER POWEEERRR

Barclays' Commercial: Behind the ScenesShot on Pearl Street and Hanover
Barclays’ Commercial: Behind the ScenesShot on Pearl Street and Hanover

Podcasting Them Softly is excited to present a chat with cinematographer Alwin Kuchler, who has the highly anticipated new film Steve Jobs, from director Danny Boyle, hitting screens this weekend! Kuchler also worked with Boyle on their underrated science fiction thriller Sunshine, as well as having multiple collaborations under his belt with filmmakers as diverse as Michael Winterbottom (Code 46, The Claim), Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher), and Kevin Macdonald (the documentaries Marley and One Day in September). He also shot the incredible action thriller Hanna for director Joe Wright, and worked on PTS favorite Solitary Man, from filmmakers Brian Koppleman and David Levien, which stars Michael Douglas in one of his career defining roles. Kuchler‘s work has spanned various genres and he always brings an extremely stylish eye to all of his efforts. We hope you enjoy our latest addition to the PTS Cinematographer’s Corner!

NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S BRONSON — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Bronson was the film that brought director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Tom Hardy into my cinematic sights, and since then, I’ve followed both artists with intense fervor and anticipation. This film is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and even if it blends elements from other films within its framework, the overall originality of the entire endeavor is wild to watch unfold. The film uses a highly stylized structure consisting of surrealistic performance art, abrupt flashbacks, and jarring tonal shifts which makes sense given the extremely heightened aesthetic. Hardy stars as real life British convict Charlie Bronson, aka, The Most Violent British Criminal Ever, a man given to massive fits of rage and stunning moments of primal, animalistic physical violence. The film is a crazy, bloody, kinky kaleidoscope of his oversized life, showing him in an out of the slammer, trying to adjust to the outside world, falling in love, getting mixed up with a variety of wacky side characters, and always spinning back on Bronson’s violent tendencies in almost every situation that he faced. Hardy is extraordinary, giving quite literally one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any actor in any film. This is a forcefully bizarre movie, and he carries the entire thing, appearing in almost every scene, and letting it all hang out (literally and metaphorically), giving a ferocious performance of astonishing energy and personal chaos. His character is so unpredictable and so unstable that the viewer is constantly left to wonder what will happen next. All of the supporting performances are stellar and help contribute to the zany mood of the entire piece.

And then there’s the eccentric, eclectic soundtrack, featuring numerous classical opera pieces, as well as stuff from The Pet Shop Boys, Doris Day, and David Cassidy, all of which adds to the dense sonic layers of the soundtrack. I love how Refn brilliant subverts your expectations at almost every turn with this perverse movie. He knows you’ve seen other prison films and biopics, and I love how he defiantly refuses to play anything safe in this movie, which is probably the best overall piece of work in his already sensational career. He downplays the customary visual language of this particular genre, going for something more aggressively stylish and baroque than usual, and I love how he’s constantly undermining the inherent masculinity of Bronson as a character and the thugs that he encountered. The way Refn views his psychologically complex lead character suggests that he’s both in awe of Bronson, and totally in fear of him. Macho posturing is elegantly skewered all throughout, with the interesting layer of homosexual social commentary thrown in to spice things up, and also demonstrating the interesting duality to Bronson’s unique persona. Refn is constantly provoking his audience with every film he makes, always throwing multiple layers at you, and it seems to be his M.O. as a filmmaker to challenge whatever genre he’s working in, and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.

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DAVID AYER’S FURY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Fury is a reminder of how hellish life must’ve been like for guys suffering through tank warfare during WWII. This is another film that’s been making the HD movie channel rounds of late, and I always stop on it for a few beats, because it thoroughly kicks ass at almost every opportunity. Embracing the gung-ho spirit of old-school Hollywood action flicks, writer/director David Ayer has considerably upped his game as a big league filmmaker with this ruggedly fashioned, butt-kicking trudge through the rain-soaked and bombed-out battlefields and cities of late WWII combat in Germany. The film carried the hardened spirit of a late-era John Wayne movie or something that Fuller or Peckinpah would have fancied, with just as much anti-war sentiment as pro-American image making. The Americans are good and Nazis are bad – it’s the same template Hollywood has used for eons, and for good reason: Who doesn’t like some dead Nazis? This is a purposefully blunt and graphically violent combat picture that, while stopping from time to time for a moment of reflection (the scene at the dinner table with the women is the best in the film), is mainly about how awful war truly is, and how utterly unnerving it must’ve been to be in one of those Sherman tanks.

Brad Pitt can do no wrong – he’s our Movie Star of the Moment and he owns this picture. Here, he’s gruff and grizzled, leading a surly band of supporting actors (Shia LeBeouf as the introspective one; Michael Pena as the wise-ass; Logan Lerman as the rookie; and a skeevy Jon Bernthal as the potentially unstable wild card), and he completely carries the film on his manly shoulders. Lerman shines as the rookie gunner who needs to learn quick how to adapt, there’s fine supporting work from LaBeouf and the rangy Pena, but it’s Bernthal (the numerous scene stealer from The Wolf of Wall Street) who makes the biggest impression playing an emotionally broken, simple-minded, shell of a man who has seen too much combat for one lifetime.

The measured, gritty cinematography by Roman Vasyanov made excellent use of the claustrophobic confines of the tank interiors and favored clear spatial geography over frenetic shaky-cam aesthetics, while the bombed-out, lived-in production design went a long way in creating a dangerous, volatile atmosphere. Fury is muddy, gray, damp, and messy, always tense which can be a hard thing to sustain, and focused on presenting a mostly unrelenting narrative that bows to Hollywood conventions from time to time but still stays true and honest to what it would have been like to be in this horrific situation. My one complaint might be the slightly overbearing musical score; sometimes less is more but I get what Ayer was going for – maximum, direct impact. I also appreciated the refreshing lack of noticeable CGI. While not an earth-shattering entry into the war genre, Fury is dependable, entertaining, and effectively brutal when it comes to showcasing the bloody battles that tank operators went through. The ending doesn’t go all Hollywood which was also a plus, and while one might question the final outcome slightly, it makes enough sense within the scenario that Ayer created while still leaving you with enough of a lump in your throat. “They’re young. And alive.”

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