So much has been written about American Sniper over the past few months, about its unkempt, pro-war patriotism and its torn apart anti-war expose of human trauma, that it is somewhat shocking how little has been said about the one thing that really reveals its essence: Clint Eastwood. Whichever stance Sniper takes, it is unquestionably the work of its director, the old individualist who loves to raise the American male up on a pedestal of his own making and tear him down again, and the only filmmaker working today who understands the old-school spirit of mid-century genre pics by the likes of Sam Fuller, Sam Peckinpah, and John Sturges. American Sniper is at its best, and its worst, when it is most similar to its subject Chris Kyle, knowing his clean, blunt efficiency to a fault, and sharing not a little of his single-minded apprehension for anything out of its sights. Continue reading
William Friedkin’s deliciously fleshy, brazen black comedy Killer Joe is a whole lot more meaningful than its word-on-the-street cred as another film in a long list of newfound career-redefining roles for Matthew McConaughey might suggest, but his performance speaks more than anything to the tone and effect of the movie. He re-reads the laid-back seductive charm he built his career on to play a crawling-king-snake of a Southern devil here, a police detective moonlighting as an assassin as convincingly nasty as he is ruthlessly in-human and clever. He’s the backbone of not only a number of fine performances dancing around his pointedly superficially cool-as-can-be anti-hero (the veterans Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon in particular giving us two commandingly lived-in performances as a husband and wife struggling to get-by), but a damn fine film. Continue reading
The Wolf of Wall Street
Martin Scorsese’s 2013 quasi-biopic of American greed and self-destruction in the ’90s has a number of very notable factors acting in its favor. Primarily, it has Martin Scorsese really just tearing up the cinematic joint. Here, he’s a cavalier madman again, a persona he hasn’t adopted in a long while. The Wolf of Wall Street is less interested in telling a narrative than in expounding upon destructive impulses and raw propulsion, and the fact that the film adopts the disorderly persona of its main characters is almost categorically a civic good.
Secondly, Leonardo DiCaprio throws himself into the role of Jordan Belfort, the early ’90s capitalist fat-cat du jour, like a deranged madman – as a performance the closet thing it approximates is loose-limbed, improvisational jazz, and it’s a stunning display of pure physicality and cognitively-dissonant charisma. This too is of no small import, as he’s the center of the film. The Wolf of Wall Street is touted by many as a “film about us”, and that’s true in the sense of its emphasis on American debauchery and inequality more prevalent today than in the ’90s the film depicts. But it is also a film uniquely about Jordan Belfort, a singular man who could convince just about anyone to follow him, and who is depicted less as a villain or a conflicted person than a living “performance” of a human being, having no inside core other than to perform his wealth. The film’s attitude toward him is mocking, yes, but it also undeniably sees his charisma for the undeniable appeal it breeds. Continue reading
Above all, Guardians of the Galaxy is notable as the most auteur-like (yeah I said it) film within Marvel Studios’ ten-headed monstrosity of a pop-culture phenomenon. It is very much the product of James Gunn’s pen and camera. That it also happens to be the best film of the bunch is not necessarily linked to this fact, but you know, the connection is there after all. While Marvel’s other films have varied from ehhh to pretty good, right from film number two they seemed more interested in building up a brand than functioning as unique, thoughtful films with identities on their own. None are out-and-out bad, but fatigue set in fairly early, and only the original Iron Man really maintains its spark and, above all, its character-focused sense of nervy, anxious fun today (I also have a soft-spot for Shane Black’s profoundly messy second sequel for the character). Continue reading