Atom Agoyan’s Remember

Atom Agoyan’s Remember is a totally uneven film that teeters dangerously on the line between earnest, emotional drama and lurid, shock value thriller. It yanks the rug out from under the audience violently and overall isn’t perfect.. but damn if I don’t admire the sheer balls in trying to pull off a story this unorthodox, a narrative so weird that I could almost picture it happening for real. Christopher Plummer gifts a tricky role with a brilliant performance here as Zev, a Holocaust survivor living in an Ontario retirement home who embarks on a personal journey to track down the Nazi commandant responsible for the murder of many of his community decades before. Only problem is, Zev suffers from pretty severe dementia and needs to be coached over phone correspondence by his pal Max (Martin Landau) who is back at the home. This is a risky endeavour for many reasons; his dementia and age make moving about and tracking down identities and records long lost to time very difficult, and plus he was never supposed to even leave the home unsupervised so his kid (Henry Czerny) is subsequently also trying to find him and bring him back. He meets many along his journey and there’s an excellent supporting cast including Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris and Jürgen Prochnow. Aside from all the hurdles I mentioned above that Zev must endure, there’s a dark secret hovering over the proceedings, a hidden bit of poison knowledge that literally upends the narrative and it is at this point some viewers will decide this isn’t what they’d call a good film and has shit the bed, which I find totally understandable and wouldn’t fault anyone for doing so. The film asks a *lot* of the viewer in accepting such a turn of events as plausible, concise and even in good taste and while I don’t want to get into the specifics of it or say whether I personally think it ruins or brightens up the film, I will say that it certainly provides a fascinating, horrifying and altogether chilling third act that, like the film’s title beckons you to do, I Remember to this day. Perhaps that’s better than going the generic dramatic route, unboxing the Kleenex and cloying for overdone emotional resonance, which this film certainly does not. You decide for yourself.

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

Terence Malick has gone through a fascinating evolutionary path, from the hazy, formative Days Of Heaven and Badlands spanning out to the free flowing, elemental and incredibly lyrical aesthetic he owns these days. Most of his films I’ve tried since Tree Of Life have kind of been lost on me; they’ve struck me as Malick playing in the artistic sandbox with literal handfuls of A list cameos but in experimenting loosely he lost a sense of narrative that was necessary as well. I was pleased to find that his newest film A Hidden Life progresses away from that and shows the most considerable growth in him as an artist I’ve seen since the leap from The New World to Tree Of Life. A Hidden Life contains a carefully distilled symbiotic dance between Malick’s newfound, esoteric style of filmmaking and telling of a linear, structured story with dialogue and beats, the result is something wholly fulfilling and transcendent. This is a simple story one one Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstetter (August Diehl, so evil and malicious in Inglorious Basterds it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor playing this gentle, compassionate soul) who refuses against all coercion, peer pressure and principle to go along with Hitler’s reich or anything it stands for. This naturally causes him and his family no end of trouble until he reaches a nexus of his own making and his choices lead him down a path from which there is no return. Now we all know that gorgeous, pristine widescreen cinematography is a given in any Malick film but I can say most assuredly that this one has the absolute best and most drop dead gorgeous photography of anything he’s ever done. His images sweep over the Austrian hills, craggy mountains and misty glens with a movement and life force independent of simple camera work, and the sense of place, time and feeling instilled deep within the viewer is unparalleled. Later scenes in Berlin have a sort of regal, magisterial reverence to them, with ornate chapels midway through being painted and an over elaborate courthouse where Franz meets his ultimate fate. Austrian actress Valerie Pachner is unbelievably striking as Franz’s wife Fani, a fiercely protective, strong spirited woman who doesn’t always understand her husband’s defiance (same goes for me) but stands with him nonetheless. The strongest aspects of the film are carefully shot, almost holy sequences of day to day farm life in the Austrian countryside, filled with the same impossible beauty and studious observance we remember from Tree Of Life. We never even see the atrocities of war that Franz defies, and there’s scarcely a violent moment in the film save for his mistreatments in military prison. But through the simple act of watching this small village, it’s children, elders, tradesman, see these souls live through routine and love one another we get the sense of exactly what is at stake and what Franz is fighting for, despite never observing actual conflict. With Tree Of Life Malick searched the heavens for the same patterns of life and kinship he saw within one 1950’s American family, and drew forth wonders of filmmaking. And now with A Hidden Life he shows us one tiny Austrian village observed with all the detail and resonance one might see in the cosmos and asks us decide for ourselves as just how valuable such a place is, and what an act like Franz’s does in the long run to preserve it. Phenomenal film.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

Episode 9: Ridley Scott’s THE COUNSELOR, new trailers and Top Five Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz

Episode 9 is now live.  We discuss Ridley Scott’s THE COUNSELOR, new movie trailers and Top Five performances of Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz!

Enjoy!