Tara Miele’s Wander Darkly

To properly absorb the fascinating, highly emotional, metaphysically challenging piece of introspection that is Tara Miele’s Wander Darkly you’ll have to literally turn off the part of your brain that processes films in a linear, logical and systematic fashion. That’s not to say it’s some super abstract art installation on celluloid like some filmmakers traffic in, this is a discernible story simply refracted through a prism of unconsciousness, largely taking place in a realm different from ours, and the way that one observes it should be adjusted accordingly. I hate to use comparison all the time but it does help a bit in understanding the journey you’re about to embark on so picture something like Michel Gondry by way of Terence Malick and you’ll have some notion but, as always, this is a singular piece all its own and one of the most impressive, affecting films I’ve seen all year, starting with a performance from Sienna Miller that redefines the idea of acting for camera itself. Her and Diego Luna play a thirty something couple who have just had a newborn baby and are looking forward to their lives ahead.. until a brutal car accident changes everything all in one moment. Moment is the key word for how the film progresses after this even because the only way I can describe the narrative flow employed here is a series of ‘moments’ untethered from any sort of structure or beats. Most of the film takes place in a sort of purgatorial realm between worlds where we wonder if she’s dead, or he’s dead, maybe both of them are or perhaps they’re just stuck in the gauzy limbo between life and death. In any case they find themselves thrown into an elemental algorithm of shifting memories, hazy recollections and free flowing subconscious experience, revisiting keystone moments along the path of their relationship involving their issues as a couple, the baby coming into the world, her fight against mental illness, their stormy relationship with her parents (Beth Grant and Brett Rice, both superb) and a whole nebulous cluster of defining events in their lives distilled into moments, here one second and gone the next. It’s a disorienting, waking-dream experiment and I’ve never ever seen a story told quite like this on film, I promise you what they’ve done here is utterly unique and singular. There are transitions between scene to scene that happen with the kind of surreal fluidity where I didn’t even notice there *was* a transition until halfway through the next moment because it just felt so… elemental. Sienna Miller gives an award worthy performance here and then some, she bares all in an emotionally naked, psychologically raw and disarmingly vulnerable piece of performance that I’m still thinking about days later. Director Miele uses aforementioned transitions, an angelic score by Alex Weston and intuitively placed editing to make this something simultaneously out of this world yet also so human, so relatable and so down to earth despite being lost in the clouds of non-traditional storytelling and profound ambitions. One of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake

Layer Cake is a British gangster flick whose posters say ‘from the producer of Snatch and Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ and indeed director Matthew Vaughn did work on those sub-genre defining films but it’s a bit of a sneaky ploy to splash that across the poster because this film is galaxies away from those two in terms of tone, style, pacing and overall fibre of content. Guy Ritchie’s Brit crime films (which I adore) are akin to Wonka’s factory all colour, swirl and flash but this one exists in something more like an upscale steakhouse and provides solid, grounded content to digest and work over later on. That’s not to say it isn’t without flair or flourish, there’s a lot of propulsive mayhem, cheerful dark humour, peppy British dialogue and menacing extreme violence but it just somehow feels… more down to earth.

Daniel Craig is a London coke trafficker credited simply as XXXX, a wry gesture that hits the mark because this guy, although far from anonymous, could be any one of us: a strait-laced, level headed dude who thinks he can tread around dangerous waters without getting his feet wet. Well there be dragons in those waters, dragons who have big plans for him in the form of various London underworld figures from brain dead, peacocky underlings to Machiavellian figureheads of immense, baroque and frightening power. His operation is funded and mother goosed by a wealthy thug called Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham in a study of pigheaded volatility), who scoffs at Craig’s plans of early retirement and tasks him with two seemingly simple tasks: 1) mediate a sizeable ecstasy transaction that is in danger of flying off the rails and 2) babysit the wayward druggie daughter of his own boss Freddie Temple (Michael Gambon basically playing the devil to the point of self referential glee), a man with whom you never want to fuck. Of course neither of these errands are cakewalks and things begin to viscously spiral spectacularly out of control in ironic, deliciously karmic fashion until it ain’t readily clear who’s betraying who, who wants what and who is simply wandering about in a narrative haze wondering what they did to deserve such a conniption fit of cacophonous roundabout shenanigans.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is an overly confusing or messily told tale because it’s not, it makes perfect and clear sense (like all these mad dash crime flicks) if you’re paying rigid attention or spin it through the DVD player more than once, it’s just refracted through a stylistic prism whose purpose is to befuddle, but that’s half the fun. Craig’s character is a terminally busy guy once things all kick off, so much so that not even getting to third base with a gorgeous lady friend (Sienna Miller) can stop him getting hauled out the door back to work (been there). He’s a smart guy in a sea of other guys who are either way smarter than him or way dumber, both species proving equally as dangerous. There’s his two mates Clarkie (a boyish Tom Hardy) and Morty (George Harris is superb) who race to keep up, Jimmy’s hotheaded righthand man Gene (Colm Meaney, who can’t sit still for two seconds, love his energy), one very angry Serb (Marcel Iures), a dirty cop (Dexter Fletcher) who comes in quite handy and all manner of other cretins and oddballs for our hero(?) to contend with. At the end of it you kind of sit there, in a daze and in the dust, wondering what kind of speeding locomotive just hit you, and kind of wishing it would turn 180 degrees on the tracks and come back for more as it was so much fucking fun. And the end? Well, let me just say that no American studio film would have the balls to pull a stunt like that and I was admittedly stung by it at first but when you think back to what kind of lifestyle Craig’s character leads, who he associates with (on purpose or by circumstance), his profession and exactly the kind of thing all these seasoned criminals warned him of, it makes sense as a sort of brutally poetic final thunderclap to his arc. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill