I’ve never understood the dislike or lacklustre reception for Gone, a moody, propulsive suspense thriller starring Amanda Seyfried. It’s not especially groundbreaking or crazy in any way but it’s a solid genre piece with a lead performance that proves once again what kind of pure star-power she has, enough to carry a film and then some. She plays a girl that allegedly escaped the clutches of a serial kidnapper/killer who tossed her down a hole somewhere way out in the wilderness. The cops never really believed her as there was no actual proof and their searches turned up fuck all, but she won’t be deterred, especially when her older sister (Emily Wickersham) seems to vanish into thin air one night and she’s convinced the guy has returned. Once again the lead detectives on her case (Daniel Sunjata and Ray Donovan’s Katherine Moennig) give her the skeptics eye and she has no choice but to launch her own solo investigation, a dangerous option but the girl has no shortage of bravery. Inherently creepy looking Wes Bentley plays another cop who is decidedly more helpful for his own reasons, but he exists mainly as a red herring and ultimately doesn’t do much of anything useful. This film is about her journey and not so much her destination, as it’s essentially a heightened Nancy Drew yarn fuelled by a constant vibe of suspense and blanketed in the thick atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest region where it was filmed. When her eventual confrontation with the killer does come, it seems a bit after the fact and even rushed, but it was never the point anyways, as the story’s effectiveness lies in her relentless search and resilient, charismatic tactics to discern each clue along the way. The cast here is full of gems, including Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter as her waitress boss, Joel David Moore, a very young Sebastian ‘Bucky Barnes’ Stan, Nick Searcy, Socratis Otto and legendary tough guy Michael Paré as the Lieutenant of the local precinct who is helpful but stern and concerned about Seyfried’s seemingly drastic actions. Don’t let any negativity spoil a fun evening in with this one, there’s really nothing to hate about it. Tightly wound, nicely acted by everyone, and shot with the benefit of the Northern locale. Admittedly broad and farfetched in terms of plotting, but what thriller isn’t here and there anyways, get over it. Mainly it worked so well for me because Amanda is such a vivid, present actress who can hold a scene like nobody’s business and really commits to her craft. A diamond of a flick in my books.
I have never read the Hunger Games books, and didn’t rush out to see this first installment when it was released. I have this thing where I sometimes resist a largely popular project simply because it’s buxzingwith so much hype. There’s a word for that that I resist even more, which starts with H, but good luck getting me to admit to that. Anywho, I did watch it one day on netflix, loved the hell out of it, and have seen every subsequent entry, up til last year’s final one. It’s damn great storytelling that soars on a brilliant extended performance by Jennifer Lawrence, who is the actress of her generation and a genius of the craft no matter what anyone says. People called this a slick version of Battle Royale, and while that may be true, it’s certainly not a bad thing, and not the sole extent of what the franchise achieves. There’s stinging social commentary which both condemns and makes satirical light of modern North American culture. It examines the power of propoganda for both good and bad ends. It looks at the abuse of power, and the potent rise of fascism and fear tactics, and how quickly they can become commonplace. And this is all in a young adult orientated film that stars a strong, unhindered female protagonist. Gives you hope for the world. Lawrence is powerful as Katniss Everdeen, a young woman chosen from her district to compete in the much celebrated and very violent Hunger Games, a death tournament which serves as a purge and reminder to the citizens what it cost them to rebel against their oppressors years before. This is all at the behest of mega villain President Snow (Donald Sutherland oozes quiet malice with every articulate and icy syllable), who lives in the wealthy and decadent capitol city of Panem, a dystopian version of North America. Along with Katniss there’s also Peeta (but no hummus) a local baker’s boy played by Josh Hutcherson, who really struggles to match the skill level of almost everyone around him, especially Lawrence. They are thrust into the posh and stylized razzle dazzle of Capitol life as they train for the ruthless games, watched over by previous Victor and proud alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), as well as preening diva Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks channellig Marie Antoinette crossed with a poodle). The film takes some time to ramp up to the games, but as soon as it does the events unfold in breathless fashion set against a lush wilderness background, each and every member fighting tooth and nail to stay alive against both each other and the obstacles which gamesmasters have placed in their way. Anyone with an intense fear of wasps will want to be warned. A clever riff on the talk shows of our climate is shown, as the competitors are quizzed by Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) a manically hopped up pop personality with a hairstyle that would make a samurai jealous and teeth so white they get accused of stealing oscar nominations. Tucci is truly a well of energy and the proceedings go electric whenever he’s around. Watch for Paula Malcolmson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, a kindly fashion guru who takes a shine to Katniss and designs her a dress to end all dresses. Lawrence carries the entire thing on her mockingjay wings, making Katniss a spirit of unrest, a true symbol of hope and above all, a scared girl tossed into events she can’t possibly imagine navigating. Her performance is most of what makes these films so solid, and they couldn’t have made a better casting choice. Be sure to stay fpr the credits to hear ‘Abraham’s Daughter’, a fittingly grandiose original song by Arcade Fire.
We’re back to a “regular” episode where we discuss a film that is underseen, underrated, and/or unfairly criticized. This week’s episode is Peter Iliff’s RITES OF PASSAGE, and we were fortunate enough to have Peter back on our show to discuss his film. This film hits an array of genres, has a fantastic cast, and excels madly. RITES OF PASSAGE is available on DVD, blu ray, and streaming via Amazon or you can buy or rent the film digitally on Vudu.
I’m a huge admirer of the filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and his wildly underrated effort from 2000, The Claim, is a hugely impressive piece of work that’s begging for reconsideration and an upgrade to the Blu-ray format Alwin Kuchler’s muscular and expansive 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography painted a forbidding canvass of mountain life circa 1867, with the intelligent and morally ambiguous screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (loosely based on the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy) borrowing shades from Altman’s masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Michael Nyman’s score is blustery when called for, and subtle most everywhere else, contributing greatly to the epic sweep of Kuchler’s full-bodied images. Winterbottom has always struck me as the British version of Steven Soderbergh, a restless talent interested in exploring every possible genre, refusing to be pigeonholed, always bursting with vitality and style and smarts. Peter Mullan is, as usual, fantastic as the strong willed ruler of Kingdom Come, the Northern California town that was crafted entirely for the film, only to be totally destroyed during the fiery final sequences (I’m spoiling nothing as this much his hinted at in the trailer). Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, and Nastassja Kinski are all excellent as the other main characters, all of whom cross paths with Mullan and get in the way of his perceived sense of happiness. This is narrative that hinges on jealousy, deceit, loyalty, love, business, and the ever burning quest that some people have to own and control all that they come into contact with. There are shades of Serena (an overall disappointment but not without its technical merits) and There Will Be Blood (one of the great films of the century) and other recent American period pictures detailing the harsh living conditions and the discovery of valuable resources (The Claim centers its dramatic action over the great California Gold Rush). The film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, and it truly looks it – The Claim feels cold, remote, challenging, and daunting. This is an obscenely undervalued piece of cinema that seems to have snuck by way too many people. I can remember seeing it in a mostly empty theater in Los Angeles and thinking to myself that I was secretly being treated to one of the best films of that particular year.