Karen Moncrieff’s The Dead Girl

Karen Moncrieff’s The Dead Girl is one of the bleakest, most depressing and soul dampening films I’ve seen recently, so much so that it seems to take a bit of you with it after the experience. It’s also quite an important film though, serving to illuminate and highlight the downward trajectories that human lives take after being abused and mistreated as children, and the ripple effect these lives have on others as the years pass on. It’s an ensemble film full of amazing talent that falls into the groove of vignette, and while each episodic chapter isn’t quite as immediate or powerful as others, the ones the work are something profound. In the opening segment a socially stunted woman (Toni Collette) finds the decomposing corpse of a teenage girl in the desert, and struggles to deal with her horribly abusive, bedridden gasbag of a mother (Piper Laurie in curdled Carrie mode), while going on a hopelessly awkward date with a weird grocery store clerk (Giovanni Ribisi). This chapter didn’t really resonate with me whatsoever beyond her finding the dead girl (the connective tissue between all of the episodes) so that’s all I’ll say about it. The second sees college med student Rose Byrne and her parents (Mary Steenburgen and Bruce Davison) dealing with the aftereffects of her sister going missing years before and the new knowledge that the dead girl in the desert could possibly be her. The next segment, starring Nick Searcy and an infuriating Mary Beth Hurt, is one best left not talked about because it’s spoiler territory, it’s well done but maddening. The last two are where the film really shines and finds its broken beating heart, as the mother (Marcia Gay Harden, brilliant) of the dead girl visits the ramshackle motel she was living in with another prostitute (Kerry Washington) who knew her well. Both actresses give a master class in pain, anguish and the brittle regret of lives gone wrong and paths taken from which there is no return, they’re two characters from very different walks of life who find solace as they mourn the daughter, sister and companion they once had. Kerry Washington in particular is so heartbreaking, so absolutely present in her flawlessly pitched performance of outwardly guarded toughness barely hiding the wounded, abandoned soul frying out for help beneath and her work here knocked me just flat. Finally in the last sequence we meet the dead girl in question, played hauntingly and painfully by the late Brittany Murphy in one of her blessedly candid, frenzied performances that shirks mannerisms for uncanny realism and emotion that comes across not as orchestrated by an actress onscreen but organically bubbles and wells up from a living, breathing human being, she was that good. Others make fleeting appearances to round out the ensemble including James Franco, Chris Allen Nelson and a degenerate, crack piping Josh Brolin. The film doesn’t let anyone off the hook, doesn’t hand out happy endings to the ensemble like goody bags and hasn’t a care in the world for conventional catharsis, neatly resolved narratives or crowd pleasing, it’s a film whose outcomes and arcs will leave you cold, hurt, confused, angry and completely disillusioned in humanity overall. So why watch it? Well, aside from being a beautifully acted, directed, scored and edited film it’s important as a mosaic narrative, especially in the final two chapters, because we see how the actions, abuse and effects of one life can scintillate out into others, and how this dead girl, an abuse and trauma victim from a broken home, despite being in a life situation some may regard as utterly hopeless she is still desperately clinging onto one glimmer of light in her life, a plot thread I won’t spoil but one that she so fervently keeps in her mind and thoughts that even after a life of tragedy ends in unconscionable untimely death, her intentions, pure heart and undimmed desire to be there for someone ripple out after she has passed away and affect those she left behind, in the film’s only life affirming aspect. I think that’s incredibly important to observe, and while the film’s first three chapters are important parts of this tapestry, it’s the final two that radiate forth as the most integral, and the showcase acting work from Murphy and Washington that is so good and so essential I felt like life was unfolding for real. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained really and truly feels like the old school exploitation epics that he was going for in everything from style, music, dialogue and especially pacing. Movies were longer back then in more ways than just length, which sounds odd so I’ll try and explain: Django has a great big laconic violent narrative that takes its time like a talkative houseguest and lingers for a while, until it seemingly ends. Then after that ending, there’s like another forty minutes of movie after, as if somehow with this one we discovered that staying past the credits magically extends the film into further, hidden acts. Seems crazy now but that’s the way some movies were back then. People have said that that feels lopsided and is a downfall for Django, but I disagree and think it gets a lot of it’s charm from that structural padding, no doubt purposeful on QT’s part. It’s also some of the most colourful, flat out ballistic and fun pieces he’s ever done. Post Kill Bill, he really delved into the past for some specific genre stabs at various key time periods, in some cases even rewriting history to meet his pulpy, shock ‘n awe oeuvre. Unchained tells the story of intense self freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), jovially verbose bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, the soul of the picture), bratty, psychopathic plantation baron Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio refreshingly cast against type), and a whole sweaty myriad of other cowboys, slaves, businessman and opportunists in a very vivid Old West. Django and King aim to free his imprisoned wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candieland, a hellish property ruled over by traitorous head house slave Steven (cantankerous Samuel L. Jackson) and hordes of vicious, tumbleweed thugs. To say violence ensues is a big old understatement; the blood flows like Niagara here, the heads get shot off in double digit count and bullets tear through people like they’ve got barbed wire on them. Hyper stylized, yes, but never a case of style over substance, as QT’s scripts always see to. The friendship between King and Django is allowed to percolate like their tin campfire coffee pot long before any serious chaos ensues, these two make a stalwart pair. DiCaprio is a grinning antagonist whose heinous personality is obvious in Waltz’s gradual revulsion, a setup ripe with gleeful, knee slapping suspense. Joining them is an all star supporting cast including James Remar in sly dual roles, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Miriam F. Glover, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, M.C. Gainey, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Franco Nero, Don Stroud, Bruce Dern, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Tom Savini, James Parks, QT himself with a horrendous Aussie accent, a Michael Parks cameo and Don Johnson as a hilarious plantation pimp called Big Daddy. The soundtrack samples everything from Rick Ross to Morricone to Johnny Cash to amp up the proceedings, and cinematography traverses rough hewn deserts, snowy peaks and buzzing bayous to provide sharp, succinct atmosphere for this extreme yarn to play out in. QT’s career comes in two halves for me: The hard boiled, present day set gangster flicks that segued into Kill Bill, still set in our times. For the second half he’s gone historical and turned up the dial on violence, characterization, action and colour, and Django can arguably be called the showcase picture in latter day Tarantino. It’s big, bold, audacious,

unapologetic and I love every second of it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory with Nate: Sin

  

Sin is known as the B movie that Gary Oldman did, and he himself has bad mouthed it on occasion. Back then though, this was the only kind of movie like that he had to explain away. These days he has quite a few more of this type in his filmography, so he can’t really talk. It really isn’t the best movie, and functions as well as its limited budget and mediocre script will allow, but I must say there are a few moments, ones with stars Oldman and Rhames, that are just killer, and one in fact that borders on greatness. Rhames plays Eddie Burns, an ex cop or military man who lives estranged in the country, until the organized gang rape of his sister (Kerry Washington) coaxes him back into Reno Nevada. This heinous crime (a scene which borders on exploitation, to be honest) is orchestrated by Charlie Strom (Oldman), a nasty pornographer and drug kingpin who has a decades old bone to pick with Eddie. The film has some lonely atmospherics to it, the eventual confrontation between the two playing out in a poetic, if contrived fashion. For all the two bit moments in the script (and there are a lot), there’s one showstopper of a scene between Rhames and Oldman, that is reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat, and is quietly but surely affecting in its sadness. Brian Cox blusters through as Eddie’s former police boss, Bill Sage hangs out for a bit as a detective, and the one, the only Gregg Henry appears as a sleazy informant who feeds Rhames Intel. He also gets the best line of the film, exclaiming “I haven’t even had my morning fattie” after being rudely awakened Rhames. Watch for Alicia Coppola, Daniel Dae Kim and Arie Verveen as well. There’s some genuine ambition in the script, delving into the complex moral conundrum that exists between protagonist and antagonist, and how the two archetypes aren’t always so clear cut. Conscience and lack thereof is explored as well, with surprising results. I won’t lie and say it isn’t just a trashy b movie, but I won’t pretend there wasn’t some moments and aspects which I greatly enjoyed. It’s somewhere right in the middle.