Carey Mulligan is a tornado of righteous fury and ruthless retribution in Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman, an unconventional revenge thriller and icky glimpse into the world of men being horrible to women, and the often decades later snowball effect that can have on many lives. This is a crisply made, acid edged, cheerfully furious piece with a bubblegum pop-art visual and musical aesthetic that provides playful contrast to its very dark and fucked up subject matter and while I had a few major issues in the third act, I greatly enjoyed it overall. Mulligan is Cassie, a thirty year old girl working a humdrum barista job and living at home with her quaintly innocuous parents (Clancy Brown & Jennifer Coolidge). Many nights she gets all dolled up, hits the dive bars and takes guys home pretending to be too hammered to object to any advances, and then turns the tables on them in whip-smart fashion. Why does she do this? Well besides the surface level ‘teach shitheads a lesson’ aspect, there’s a much deeper and more personal reason for her actions that stems back to her days ten years earlier in med-school, where she has memories of a best friend who went through something terrible and isn’t around anymore. That’s all I’ll say about the languid and loose yet pointed and intricately structured narrative that is guarded about revealing backstory and let’s the expository nuggets land with devastating thunderclaps as they come. The soundtrack choices are all bangers that are fun yet have a menacing undercurrent, especially a choice like the unbearably eerie theme from the 1955 film Night Of The Hunter in which Robert Mitchum plays a terrifyingly misogynistic psycho disguised as a benign preacher. The supporting cast is meticulously peppered with an eclectic and multigenerational roster of names including Alison Brie, Adam Brody, that McLovin kid, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and a very memorable Alfred Molina as a scumbag former defender attorney wracked with suicidal guilt. Mulligan herself seems to have been born for this role, or at least tailors her acting style quite a bit off her usual path to play Cass. She’s an actor who mostly finds herself in quiet, observant, introspectively wistful characterizations, full of long stares, sustained silences and expressions that constantly have you wondering what she’s thinking. Here she’s the antithesis of that, punishingly verbose, uncomfortably rambunctiousness and perpetually has her defences up like a cobra ready to strike. And strike she does, although I’m not sure I was quite okay with the script’s decision on her arc overall. Thats not to say I didn’t understand, appreciate and recognize the integral nature of such a turn of events and I can’t say much without spoiling it but I can say that as much as it’s a darkly poetic way for the film to go out, it didn’t quite run congruent with my aspirations for this horrific tale and left somewhat of a bad vibe in my soul. But I suppose in trying to make a story like this 100% effective and memorable, you’ve got to throw a few ‘shock and awe’ curveballs that shirk the usual limbo bar of predictable catharsis and aim to leave the viewer feeling pulverized, disoriented and unnerved to the maximum. In that aspiration, it has certainly succeeded. Great film, if one that left my mental/emotional equilibrium feeling considerably infringed upon. Mission accomplished, I suppose.
Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.
Roger Donaldson’s Species is a trash infused Sci Fi horror yarn that’s clearly inspired by stuff like Alien and Body Snatchers right down to the scaly, jagged title font, but oh man did they ever take the silly, run of the mill route here. Scientists including Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley have successfully moulded human and extraterrestrial DNA sequences to create a hybrid creature called Sil, but as in any film like this it soon becomes apparent how ill advised such an experiment will come to be. Sil, played by an excellent Michelle Williams at preteen level and later by eye catching supermodel Natasha Henstridge, is an endlessly fascinating character with so much potential, but this being nothing more than a Schlocky B flick elevated oh so slightly by the presence of an ensemble cast with considerable pedigree, she is sadly relegated to pedestrian movie monster archetype, and the premise falls short of fruition as a result. Using the seductive powers of her human form (Henstridge is a babe) she evades recapture and seeks an earthling mate to perpetuate her species and probably cause a full scale invasion via systemic procreation, while the doctors and a team of experts including zoological guru Forest Whitaker and big game hunters Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger pursue her all over a metropolitan area while she looks for Mr. Perfect to make slimy babies with. Sex is treated in a very lurid, shallow and unpleasant way here, like with the budget and firepower behind a film this big you’d expect a modicum of maturity and respect for the female form, but they’ve thoroughly exploited the concept to sickening levels that probably looked fun on paper, but don’t translate very nicely on screen. Worth it for Sil, for both Williams’ and Henstridge’s take on the character and to think about what might have been had they written her character with more class, care and depth, but other than that this is just cheeseball slime without a brain or heartbeat. Followed by two sequels that pretty much go the same route of disappointment.
Before Angelina Jolie blew up front and centre, she got her start in some wild and wacky b movies and genre stuff, the weirdest of which has to be Mojave Moon. It’s one of those low rent flicks where not much of anything happens, the characters meander in and out of a non-story and almost everyone is completely nuts. ‘B movie dramedy’ I suppose would be the specific sub-genre. The ‘story’, as it were, follows drifter Al (Danny Aiello), who meets pretty young Ellie (Jolie) in a diner and hitches a ride out to the desert for seemingly no reason at all. As Ellie takes a shine to him, he begins to fall for her mother (Anne Archer). Only problem is, her mom has a boyfriend played by Michael Biehn who is quite possibly one of the weirdest characters I’ve ever seen in a film. Volatile, berserkly unstable and constantly in near hysteria mode, it’s an odd performance that off-sets the quirky tone straight into the twilight zone. That seems to be the idea here though, the dreamy desert climate having a strange effect on these folks, causing all kinds of outrageous behaviour and scenarios. The town offers a rogue’s gallery of characters including Michael Berryman, Alfred Molina, Jack Noseworthy, Peter Macnicol, John Getz, Michael Massee and others, all of whom don’t really do much other than show up, act weird for a bit and then wander off again. I like this type of film though, purposeless other than to languish about with characters who don’t want much, their arcs sputtering in a flatline of small town doldrums and behaviour that only makes sense to them. It’s not for everyone, which is why no one really gives credit to this stuff, but it’s enjoyable once in a while, when you’re in as strange a mood as the residents of this one horse sideshow of a town.
Undertaking Betty (or Plots With A View, as it’s called in the UK) is British black humour at its most brilliant, hilarious and surprisingly touching, in the tradition of stuff like Waking Ned Devine and Monty Python. It’s carefree and harmless but not without a raunchy sting that can’t help but be met with loving reception due to its charm and top drawer silliness. Brenda Blethyn plays a woman who has spent thirty years of her life in a small Welsh town, married to an absolute pig of a man (Robert Pugh). He’s a sleazeball who is shagging his slut of a secretary (Naomi Watts in full gumball sickening skank mode). Blethyn is secretly in love with the local undertaker and mortuary owner (Alfred Molina), the romance sparking up as the two try to find a way to get her away from Mr. Awful husband. Molina has the brilliant idea to fake her own death, letting her off the hook and allowing them to elope. She’s willing but reluctant, and so they proceed. Only one problem: Molina isn’t the only funeral outfit in town. Garish eccentric Frank Featherbed (Christopher Walken) and his peevy associate (Lee Evans) owns his own business and plans to steal Blethyn’s funeral for his own. Walken dials up the kook factor to the maximum and is pure genius, an entertainer at heart who believes that every funeral should have the showmanship and dazzle of a broadway show, leading to some amusingly awkward scenes. Just the fact that an american Chris Walken is working as a funeral home director way out in rural Wales is enough to bust a gut, let alone his off the wall performance. The resolution reaches comic heights that made me truly query why this film’s praises weren’t sung to high heaven upon release, but such is life, and death. The romance between Blethyn and Molina is sweet, endearing and balances out the larger than life sense of humour that the film keeps tossing around like confetti. Walken fans, dark comedy fans, film fans alike…please check this out.