Turist ****/**** starring Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wttergren, Vincent Wettergren written and directed by Ruben Östlund
by Walter Chaw As so few people saw the magnificent The Loneliest Planet (including a few who actually reviewed it), it's hardly a spoiler to say that Ruben Östlund's Force Majeure is essentially the droller, married version of Julia Loktev's masterpiece of relational/gender dynamics. Set at an exclusive ski resort in the French Alps, the picture follows handsome workaholic Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and his beautiful wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), as they spend a week with their two adorable children in what should be a winter paradise. On the first day, something terrible happens and, more to the point, Tomas doesn't act or react in the way one would expect of a husband and father, leading to a series of increasingly awkward conversations between not only the couple, but also their friends Matts (Kristofer Hivju) and Matts's much-younger girlfriend, Fanny (Fanni Metelius). The brilliance of Force Majeure is how carefully it builds itself to the "big event" and then, after, how perfectly Östlund captures the way people talk to one another, whether married with children or just starting off. It's a withering essay on masculine roles and ego--one, too, on the parts women play in easing or exacerbating those expectations. It's amazing.
Virus */**** Image C+ Sound B Extras B starring Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay, Robert O'Neil screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, J.M. Cunilles directed by Bruno Mattei
Rats - Notte di terrore *½ Image C- Sound B Extras B starring Richard Raymond, Janna Ryann, Alex McBride, Richard Cross screenplay by Claudio Fragasso, Hervé Piccini directed by Bruno Mattei
by Bryant Frazer It's quite possible there is no better-known director of truly terrible genre movies than the late Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei. Though I've not seen any other Mattei films, I feel comfortable making that assessment based solely on the "blood-soaked double feature" assembled here by the B-movie mavens at Blue Underground. By any rational measure, Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror are cheesy barrel-scrapings, budget-starved and blandly offensive horror counterfeits. But by the standards of Mattei's oeuvre--which also includes nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, women-in-prison flicks, and mondo-style "documentaries"--they are the cream that rises to the top of the milk. Unless you're willing to make a case for his nunsploitation flick The Other Hell, or maybe one of the early Nazi sexploitation pictures, these two films seem to form the cornerstone of Mattei's reputation, such as it is, among genre buffs.
Eliza Graves *½/**** starring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Caine screenplay by Joe Gangemi, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe directed by Brad Anderson
by Walter Chaw Brad Anderson has made a few interesting movies that seem to be more interesting to other people. I like Session 9 well enough, The Machinist is fine, Transsiberian's fine; they're all fine. His latest, Stonehearst Asylum, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe that's been adapted a couple of times already, is fine, too, I guess. It's the literalization of inmates running the asylum, following young Dr. Newgate (Jim Sturgess) as he travels to the titular nuthatch to begin his tutelage under good Dr. Lamb (Sir Ben Kingsley), who has some pretty unconventional ideas about how the best way to treat psychotics and the like is to not treat them at all. Also, there's a beautiful noblewoman with people-touching-her issues named Eliza (Kate Beckinsale), after whom the European version of this film is still named, which says something about what distributors think audiences will tolerate in our respective markets, methinks.
**/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B starring Rory Calhoun, Paul Linke, Nancy Parsons, Wolfman Jack screenplay by Robert Jaffe and Steven-Charles Jaffe directed by Kevin Connor
by Bryant Frazer SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. If you give Motel Hell credit for anything, score it full marks for its infamous abattoir-set climax, in which an overalls-clad farmer wearing a grotesque pig mask and wielding a chainsaw battles the local sheriff--also wielding a chainsaw--over the body of a damsel in distress bound to a conveyer belt feeding an industrial meat slicer. Motel Hell wasn't particularly original, even in the annals of American B-movies of the era, and it's not especially scary or creepy--director Kevin Connor doesn't have much of a taste for horror. But he was certainly able to recognize a spectacle. During a long career, Connor directed Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Mickey Rooney in a fantasy called Arabian Adventure, shot on location in Japan another horror film starring Susan George, and even helmed a TV biopic of Elizabeth Taylor starring Sherilyn Fenn. It's the signature image of Farmer Vincent wearing a hog's head and brandishing a power saw, though, that has followed him through the decades.
***½/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg, Gisken Armand screenplay by Nicolaj Frobenius & Erik Skjoldbjærg directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
by Walter Chaw A rather astonishing feature debut, Erik Skjoldbjærg's Insomnia is dour, surreal, nihilistic, and steadfast in its theme of masculine self-reflection. It's as slippery to pin down and single-mindedly purposeful as its protagonist--a procedural only inasmuch as Oedipus Rex is a procedural. It's a work of Expressionism, in other words: its exteriors are projections of its interiors in all their canted, perverse, blighted ugliness. An essential misnomer to call it a "noir," Insomnia in its best moments is an absurdist nightmare that pinions male behaviour as these constant vacillations between violence and frailty. (This choice to discuss the world in terms of gender relationships is likely why it's considered a noir at all.) It's the movie that brought Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård to international prominence via a role that suggested a departure, hot on the heels of Breaking the Waves, though a quick peek at his earliest work (especially Zero Kelvin) hints at the volatility of Insomnia's Det. Engstrom. He's the centre of a dark universe. Setting the film in a place above the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn't set has the interesting effect of lighting Engstrom, as he commits his many black deeds, like a particularly ill patient in a doctor's examining room.
Die Frau hinter der Wand **½/**** directed by Grzegorz Muskala
THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY ***/**** written and directed by Peter Strickland
by Walter Chaw Grzegorz Muskala's moody, sexy Whispers Behind the Wall updates Matthew Chapman's little-seen but well-remembered Heart of Midnight. Both films are about a young, vulnerable, single person in a new space, discovering Monsters of the Id hiding behind the walls. Where Chapman's film tossed literal apples at a quailing Jennifer Jason Leigh, Muskala introduces vaginal holes in his hero Martin's (Vincent Redetzki) new flat, the better to hide illicit diaries and, ultimately, ease egress into the climax. More, Muskala fills Martin's never-draining bathtub with red sludge, and hides in its drain, in one of several nods to Hitchcock, the key to the whole bloody affair. It seems that Martin, a student who looks just like Ewan McGregor in Shallow Grave, has secured his new, coveted lodgings on the strength of his willingness to allow a creepy caretaker to take a shirtless picture for hot landlady Simone (Katharina Heyer). It also seems former occupant Roger has disappeared, leaving Martin to eavesdrop on Simone banging her insane boyfriend Sebastian (Florian Panzer) before finding himself in Simone's eye, in her clutches, and in her bed.
***/**** starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick screenplay by Simon Barrett directed by Adam Wingard
by Walter Chaw With The Guest, Adam Wingard continues his examination of '80s exploitation genre flicks--'90s, too: the film is among other things a canny update of James Foley's Fear, which was home to not only Mark Wahlberg's best performance but arguably Carter Burwell's finest hour as well. Like Wingard's You're Next, The Guest acts like what it mimics and, like any good predator, breaks from camouflage at the most unexpected moments. It's funny throughout for the fan familiar with this sort of thing, but it's really funny in its final shot, when it reveals an understanding that people love movies like this because of their absurdity and not in spite of it. Best is how in its focused nastiness, it highlights exactly how grim-verging-on-nihilistic '80s teensploitation often was, how low it was willing to go, how ugly it was willing to get. Yeah, I loved it.
*½/**** starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña written and directed by David Ayer
by Walter Chaw Signifying not much, David Ayer's Fury is another of his brutal excoriations/celebrations of men under pressure that people like Howard Hawks did really well because people like Howard Hawks are geniuses. It follows Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a tank commander in the 2nd Armored Division doing mop-up duty in the heart of Nazi Germany during the first months of 1945. His motley crew of battle-hardened, psychopathic misfits is composed of backwoods inbred "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal); the quietly religious one who's going to go insane, Bible (Shia LaBeouf); Mexican guy Gordo (Michael Pena); and clean-cut-rookie-whom-Wardaddy-will-take-under-his-wing-and-see-himself-in-while-they-both-learn-something-from-each-other-they-didn't-think-they-could Norman (Logan Lerman). Episodic in the way of such things, it's a story of men and war told through a series of tank battles, intra-tank squabbling, and dramatic scenes like the one where Wardaddy makes Norman kill someone in cold blood, and that other one where Wardaddy makes Norman sleep with a beautiful young fräulein they discover hiding in the rubble (Alicia von Rittberg). Woe be to any woman in an Ayers joint, however. Spoiler.
****/***** Image A Sound A Extras A starring Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer written and directed by Bob Fosse
by Bryant Frazer Celebrated as an incisive, self-lacerating backstage spectacle and razzed as an indulgent and pretentious passion project, genius director-choreographer Bob Fosse's All That Jazz is one of the most ambitious American films of the 1970s. At this point in his career, Fosse had nothing to prove to the show-business establishment (in 1973, he won the Oscar, the Tony, and the Emmy, all for directing), but a 1974 brush with death--exhaustion, heart attack, life-saving surgery--put him in an introspective mood, and the results were spectacular. Not content with reaching a dazzling apotheosis in the on-screen presentation of song and dance, Fosse wove singing and dancing into a semi-autobiographical narrative chronicling the final days in the life of Joe Gideon, a genius director-choreographer whose non-stop work regimen is making him physically ill. Underscoring the threat, All That Jazz opens with a line attributed to the high-wire artist Karl Wallenda, who fell to his death during a performance in 1978: "To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting," Joe's work is his life, and the irony is that his work--along with the pills and smokes that keep him going--is what kills him.
Kraftidioten ***/**** starring Stellan Skarsgård, Pål Sverre Hagen, Bruno Ganz, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen screenplay by Kim Fupz Aakeson directed by Hans Petter Moland
by Walter Chaw I've been a fan of Hans Petter Moland since his ferocious Zero Kelvin, starring a relatively unknown Stellan Skarsgård as a psychotic trapper alone with two other men in the wintry Norwegian wilderness. A wildly-successful commercial director, Moland's work is more contemplative than you might expect, considering. He was hand-picked by Terrence Malick, to give you an idea of his style, to take over The Beautiful Country for him when the director was called to another project (The New World). Moland returns to the frigid Norwegian winter with In Order of Disappearance, which opens with a man shaving, cutting a square swath through the foam on his face. Cut to the man on a giant snowplow, describing the same shape through a blanket of white. It's a beautiful moment. Moland's films are full of them.
Autómata */**** starring Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, Birgitte Sorensen screenplay by Gabe Ibáñez, Igora, Javier Sánchez Donate directed by Gabe Ibáñez
by Walter Chaw Though I've seen worse movies than Gabe Ibáñez's Automata, I've also seen Automata what feels like a few dozen times. Rather than turn this into an exercise in listing source materials, however attractive shooting fish in barrels might be, best to focus on how the picture makes Isaac Asimov's three rules of robotics into two (making it different!), and how its closest film analogue is probably somewhere in the junction between Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium and Richard Stanley's Hardware. That'll have some of you feeling pretty excited and most of you either puzzled or properly dissuaded. Yes, Automata is a muddy piece of pseudo-profundity showcasing its creators' lack of vision, discretion, and judgment. It needed at least a few more passes through the typewriter, frankly, and a mid-film appearance by a distractingly-altered Melanie Griffith--altered by real-life plastic surgery, not in-film techno-debauchery--highlights exactly how brutal the Hollywood machinery is in destroying people like her and Kim Novak and Lara Flynn Boyle and on and on. Griffith's kind of like the girl-version of Mickey Rourke at this point. There's more sadness and auto-reflection embedded in how she looks now than in anything in the film.
***½/**** starring Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Jo Odagiri screenplay by Tetsuya Nakashima, Miako Tadano, Nobuhiro Monma, based on the novel by Akio Fukamachi directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
by Walter Chaw Takashi Miike's Natural Born Killers, essentially, with a bit of the old Park Chan-wook ultra-violence (or is it Shohei Imamura's A Clockwork Orange? Tarantino's Hardcore?); I'm finding it next to impossible to talk about Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako free of larger contexts, and its short-circuiting of my hard drive is perhaps intentional. The film is extremely stylish, distractingly so--or it would be if not for a central, anchoring performance from Koji Yakusho as disgraced detective Akikazu Fujishima, demolished by a long drunk and roused back to furious, ugly action by the disappearance of his daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Yakusho is so good, so grounded in his self- destruction and loathing, so extraordinary, really, from calamity to atrocity to spurious bloodletting, that watching him in this Grand Guignol is something like a true privilege. He's manifested possibly the most disgusting hero in the history of such things (Mickey Rourke's Harry Angel? Eagle scout), a creature of this dank, abattoir noir who gets progressively filthier, baser, as the picture unravels. His performance, not to gild the lily, is fucking genius.
***/**** starring Niamh Algar, Stephen Cromwell, Gerry O'Brien, Ged Murray written and directed by Conor McMahon
by Walter Chaw Conor McMahan's From the Dark is a hell of a film. Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are taking a little detour into the moors when they're predictably bogged down as night approaches. What they don't know is that a peat farmer has just been summarily attacked in a stagnant pool after unearthing what appears to be some sort of bog mummy earlier in the day. It's a nifty set-up for a spam-in-a-cabin scenario, and indeed, Mark discovers a ramshackle farmhouse where he and Sarah decide to spend the night--especially once they're attacked by some unseen thing apparently repulsed by light of any kind. It's an amalgam, in other words, of The Descent and Nosferatu: a horror film resting on those genre pillars of transgression, transformation, and contagion that cannily milks every possible light source in its rural environment (cell phones, an old tube television...more would be telling) for surprise and plot points.
***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras B+ starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie and Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth, based on the graphic novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka directed by Doug Liman
by Angelo Muredda Whatever one thinks of his weaselly insouciance as a performer, it's hard to argue against Tom Cruise's record of choosing solid collaborators to bring a certain kind of high-concept amuse-bouche to life. From Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, a derivative film about derivatives, to the more or less solid auteurist permutations of the Mission: Impossible franchise, the results have varied, but Cruise's reputation as the sort of star who can get moderately interesting pulp bankrolled and realized by moderately interesting talents has deservedly persisted. So we arrive at Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman's first kick at the Cruise can--a clever, fleetly-paced sci-fi riff on Groundhog Day with all the paradoxes of Duncan Jones's structurally similar Source Code but a more playful demeanour.