There is a Meadow in my Perfect World of Wind River

The Native American reservation of Wind River is as far from perfect as one could imagine, a destitute landscape of snow and silence where forgotten people can’t rely on luck…they survive or die. But the inhabitants there can still dream of better places. They can make their way if they fight for it.

The film opens with a thoughtful young woman’s voice-over reading a poem about “a meadow in my perfect world” while we watch on the screen a battered young woman running for her life across a deadly nighttime landscape of moonlight snow and sub-zero winds. It’s another fifteen minutes or so before we witness her body discovered days later by Cory Lambert (an Oscar-worthy Jeremy Renner), a game-and-wildlife tracker hunting a lioness on the reservation, who has his own tragic past that casts a shadow on the current events. Into town comes a green but game FBI agent (a fabulous Elizabeth Olsen, evoking a young, steely Michelle Pfeiffer), who along with the reservation police force (lead by a stoically sardonic Graham Greene) and our determined tracker forms a posse to catch the predator who drove the young woman out into the cold and her ultimate death.

Writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s neo-noir meditation on grief and resilience is a brutal and beautiful thing that also operates on the surface level as a rip-snorting crime drama/police procedural which satisfies our hunger for the perverse while defying our expectations with novelistic depth of back-story and character. Continue reading

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Let’s Have a Chat Upon Arrival

arrival_02

The arrival of Arrival in American theaters couldn’t have come at a more poignant time just after the most contentious and draining of elections. In cinema there has always been a fine line between entertainment and art, and the greatest of films are often rendered great through the cultural lens through which they are viewed.  I (and I’m sure many others) might read too much into the fact that the alien’s arrival on Earth occurs on an otherwise calm, fine Tuesday in Autumn. Fear and rioting ensues.

In steps a linguist (Amy Adams) and a scientist (Jeremy Renner) to help the US Government figure out why the aliens are here…and most importantly, do they mean us any harm? One of the central themes of the film is the importance of communication…cutting through language barriers to find common ground and how we have to work together to avoid disaster. One of the other central themes of the film is that the most common of grounds might be grief. It’s all at once timely, hopeful and a little bit sad.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s melancholic and seemingly always tracking camera (the opening shot scans under a dark ceiling stretching out toward the dull light coming through a window overlooking a beautifully serene lake) sucks you in from the get-go while Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” plays on the soundtrack before Amy Adams’ philosophical and heartbreaking voice-over begins. I breathed a deep sigh (of relief), as I knew instantly we were in the hands of a master at the height of his craft. Richter’s music has been used in many films before this, but here it sounded new. When not employing the Richter theme, master of minimalist tension Johan Johannsson seeps under the celluloid skin with nerve-shattering precision. Meanwhile, cinematographer Bradford Young’s use of light and color compliment Villeneuve’s probing eye. And all three – artist, musician, and cameraman – work cinematic wonders in those slow-burn scenes of our wondering wanderers wandering down that dark tunnel to the light…and the otherworldly conversation at the end. Continue reading

Everybody’s Hustling Hustling American Style

American Hustle - Cast

Some of this actually happened.  In 1978.

Irving Rosenfeld (an overweight and badly combed-over Christian Bale in total method mode) is a con man with a heart of gold from the Bronx.  He got into the con game as a kid as a way to help his dad’s glass business by breaking windows to drum up customers (awww).  He runs a series of dry cleaners while selling fraudulent knock-off art and running loan schemes.  He fell hard for a young passive aggressive sassy lass named Rosalyn (a delightfully scenery-chewing Jennifer Lawrence with full-on Long Island accent and big hair), married her and adopted her cute baseball card loving little boy (double awww).   But Irving can never show his true self and feels trapped emotionally and financially to his overbearing wife who uses the kid as collateral against Irving jetting off to fantasy land with his new red-headed saucy mistress, Sydney (a never sexier Amy Adams).  You see, Sydney is like Irving’s soul mate or something, a woman who reinvents herself to survive and is now his fully fledged partner in crime posing as a British Lady with banking ties to take the loan schemes to the next level.  This set-up is presented to the audience in crisscrossing voice-overs full of lies, back-handed insults and memoir-esque longing between Irving and Sydney, whose beautiful dry cleaning chemical soaked romance comes to a screeching halt when curly-haired hot-shot FBI Agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, hilariously pent-up) entraps them.

And then the fun starts.  To get immunity, our lovers are forced to bring in more marks for take down to the feds.  And what starts out as “just take down four more guys” explodes with DiMaso’s wacky ambitions and crooked nice-guy Camden Mayor Carmine Polito’s (Jeremy Renner, doing a great South Jersey Italian accent) connections into…you guessed it!  ABSCAM! Continue reading

Becoming a Townie

Now, Ben, I'd really like to help you revive your career. What can I do for you?

The Town is one of those rare mainstream Hollywood movies where it seems the stars have aligned for all involved, including an audience desperate for some A-list entertainment.  Writer/director Ben Affleck is back in Boston with some street cred after his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, proved he had some talent behind the camera and his Oscar win for screenwriting was no fluke.  Here he takes his gamble one step further by casting himself as the star, and he does a decent enough job with the role, not surprisingly giving himself all the best angles and never demands too much of himself while he’s clearly playing on home turf in this Charlestown crime drama.   

As a director, he’s smart enough to line up a great supporting cast.  Continue reading

A Review of Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”

Kathryn Bigelow creates imagery in THE HURT LOCKER that invokes the iconography of science fiction films as a way to diffuse viewers conflicted emotions over the harsh realities of war.

Kathryn Bigelow creates imagery in THE HURT LOCKER that invokes the iconography of science fiction films as a way to diffuse viewers' conflicted feelings over the harsh realities of war.

 Bigelow Detonates All the Right Marks
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the “wild man” team leader who has defused more than eight hundred bombs and has built his reputation on being an adrenaline junkie in order to mask his inability to cope with the emotional connections he feebly tries to make at home and on the job.  Sergeant JT Sandborn (Anthony Mackie) approaches his work with a by-the-book stoicism that can’t comprehend the recklessness of James.  Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is highly trained but still feels overwhelmed by his morbid thoughts on war and his role in it.  These are the members of the EOD Army bomb squad stationed in Baghdad in 2004, and The Hurt Locker is their story.

After failing to do so with the depressingly somber and obvious In The Valley of Elah, screenwriter Mark Boal wisely places politics and moralizing aside this time to give us an intimate look into one squad with a highly specialized job to do.  Hollywood has always loved to play with the grunt’s-eye-view-of-war-as-hell theme, but The Hurt Locker spins that volatile cocktail on its head and blows it up all over the screen by focusing on an elite team and proposes the notion that maybe war is a drug…for some.

Director Kathryn Bigelow hits all the right detonators with her fascinating presentation of modern warfare in the Middle East.  Bigelow hasn’t really made anything memorable since her 1987 breakthrough, the cult vampire/western Near Dark, but she has always managed to make interesting failures —  just take a look at her attempt to do a literary adaptation with the superficially obtuse The Weight of Water.  Often living under the shadow of ex-husband James Cameron or having to share the title of “that female action director” with Mimi Leder — until Mimi murdered her film career with the abominable Pay it Forward — Bigelow, determined to finally leave her mark, displays an astounding technical prowess with The Hurt Locker that can only come from the wisdom of experience.   Close-ups, slow-mo’s, quick cuts and inventive plays with the camera’s point-of-view are used sparingly and with pin-point precision to heighten tension.  Here she shows the “good ol’ boys” she once emulated but has now trounced that style can be used for dramatic effect but need not be excessive.  Her sense of space allows us to be right there with the bomb squad as they are faced with unimaginable danger.  We always know where each character is positioned in relation to the bomb, and we always find in turn our stomachs have hit the floor.  Her technique is brilliant and delivers a picture that is so taut it might be the most intense experience this side of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear.  Now knowing all the moves, however, I wonder how the film will hold up on return viewing.

The Hurt Locker  is not for those seeking generic thrills or anyone currently on medication for emotional problems.  It gets deep down into the gritty nature of bomb defusing by offering us lessons on suicide bombers, IED’s and body-bombs that will make your gut churn.  There are also some fantastically rendered sniper scenarios that are used not just for a visceral jolt, but also as a way to explore character development.  Soldiers are not only put in precarious situations during combat but also in their day-to-day life dealing with their own conflicted emotions on top of a moody Iraqi populace that includes people treating them as tourists and looking to make a quick buck, people looking at the carnage as a spectator sport, people suffering as innocent bystanders, and people who wish to kill the soldiers and any one else in any way possible.

While there are a few details one could quibble with — for instance, the title is never explained — The Hurt Locker is impossible to dismiss and sometimes hard to digest.  It paints a picture of war that shows there are no politics when it comes to the daily experiences of soldiers in the field.  Their everyday heroism is painted in varying shades of moral ambiguity, while their internal struggles are shown to receive no emotional closure.  As in real life, the story arcs of the fictional characters seen here are left open-ended, and the possibility of redeployment looms not just as an act of cruel fate but as a conscious and determined choice.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.