Here’s The Trailer For Never Grow Old!


As I watching the trailer for Never Grow Old, I thought to myself, “Hmmmm.  A Western starring John Cusack and Jack Black….”

Then I realized that I was actually incorrect and this is a western starring John Cusack and Emile Hirsch.

That, of course, leads to one very important question.  WHEN DID EMILE HIRSCH TURN INTO JACK BLACK!?

Anyway, this trailer makes it look like this film is either going to be very good or very bad.  I guess it depends on whether or not Cusack’s performance is going to be as eccentric as the trailer makes it appear that it might be.  The trailer, itself, is full of atmosphere and I like that final shot of the American flag so I hope this film lives up to its potential.

 

Sundance Film Review: Alpha Dog (dir by Nick Cassavetes)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2006’s Alpha Dog, which premiered, out of competition, at Sundance.

Sometimes, I suspect that I may be the only person who actually likes this movie.

Alpha Dog is a film about a group of stupid people who end up doing a terrible thing.  Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a 20 year-old living in Los Angeles.  His father, Sonny (Bruce Willis) and his godfather, Cosmo (Harry Dean Stanton), are both mob-connected and keep Johnny supplied with the drugs that Johnny then sells to his friends.  It’s a pretty good deal for Johnny.  He’s got a nice house and a group of friends who are willing to literally do anything for him.  Johnny, after all, is the one who has the money.

When Johnny’s former best friend, Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster), fails to pay a drug debt, things quickly escalate.  When Johnny refuses to accept even a partial payment, Jake responds by breaking into Johnny’s house and vandalizing the place.  (Just what exactly Jake does, I’m not going to go into because it’s nasty.  Seriously, burn that house down…)  Johnny decides that the best way to force Jake to pay up is to kidnap Jake’s younger brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin, who is heartbreakingly good in this film).

It quickly turns out that Zack doesn’t mind being kidnapped.  Everyone tells Zack not to worry about anything and that he’ll be set free as soon as Jake pays his debt.  Zack decides to just enjoy his weekend.  Since Johnny is better at ordering people to commit crimes than committing them himself, he tells his friend, Frankie (Justin Timberlake), to keep an eye on Zack.

And so it goes from there.  While Johnny leaves town, Frankie introduces Zack to all of his friends.  Everyone laughs about how Zack is “stolen boy.”  Zack’s going to parties and having a good time.  However, Johnny returns and reveals that he’s been doing some thinking, as well as talking to his lawyer.  Regardless of whether Zack’s enjoying himself, both Johnny and Frankie could go to prison for kidnapping him.  Frankie argues that Zack won’t tell anyone about what happened.  Maybe they could just pay him off.  Johnny thinks it might be easier to just have him killed.  Frankie’s not a murderer but what about Elvis Schmidt (Shawn Hatosy)?  Elvis is a loser who desperately wants to be a part of Johnny’s crew and he owes Johnny almost as much money as Jake does.  How far would Elvis be willing to go?

(While this plays out, the film keeps a running tally of everyone who witnesses Zack not only being kidnapped but also held hostage.  In the end, there were at least 32 witnesses but none of them said a word.)

Alpha Dog is based on the true story of Jesse James Hollywood and the murder of 15 year-old Nicholas Markowitz.  Hollywood spent five years as a fugitive from justice, hiding out in Brazil and reportedly being protected by his wealthy family.  He was arrested shortly before the Sundance premiere of Alpha Dog.  Since it was filmed before Hollywood’s arrest and subsequent conviction, Alpha Dog changed his name to Johnny Truelove.  Johnny Truelove is a good name but it’s nowhere near as memorable as Jesse James Hollywood.

Alpha Dog sticks close to the facts of the case, providing a disturbing portrait of a group of aimless wannabe gangsters who, insulated by money and privilege, ended up getting in over their heads and committing a terrible crime.  Emile Hirsch gives one of his best performances as the sociopathic Johnny Truelove while Ben Foster is both frightening and, at times, sympathetic as Jake.  Justin Timberlake is compelling as he wrestles with his conscience while Shawn Hatosy is properly loathsome as the type of idiot that everyone knows but wish they didn’t.  The dearly missed Anton Yelchin is heartbreaking and poignant as Zack.  And finally, there’s Harry Dean Stanton.  Stanton doesn’t say a lot in this movie.  Often times, he’s just hovering in the background.  The moment when he reveals his true self is one of the best in the movie.

As I said, I sometimes feel as if I’m the only person who likes this movie.  It got mixed reviews when it was released and, in the years since, it rarely seems to ever get mentioned in a positive context.  Personally, I think it’s a well-done portrait of privilege, stupidity, and the lengths to which people will go to avoid taking a stand.  In the end, no one escapes punishment but it’s the rich guy who, at the very least, gets to spend at least a few years enjoying his freedom in Brazil.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (dir by André Øvredal)


I have to admit that I’ve watched so many horror films that I’m sometimes tempted to get a little bit jaded about them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the genre.  I love watching horror movies.  I love analyzing horror movies.  I love writing about horror movies.  It’s just that, after you’ve watched a few hundred of them, it becomes easier to pick up on all the little tricks.  For instance, I now know not to worry whenever anyone hears a strange sound in the kitchen because it’s inevitably just going to be a cat in a cabinet.  Instead, it’s only after the cat has run by and caused everyone to jump that you have to start worrying about something terrible to happen.  I also know that there’s a good chance that the first chase scene is going to turn out to be an elaborate nightmare.  As such, I sometimes I get cynical about whether or not I can really be frightened anymore.

But then I watch something like The Autopsy of Jane Doe.

I watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe back in Decemeber.  It was two in the morning.  I was alone in the house.  It was raining outside.  I was having trouble sleeping so, of course, I decided why not sit in the dark in my underwear and watch a horror movie?  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I was essentially putting myself in a classic horror movie situation.  It was only later, when I was lying in bed with all the lights on and freaking out about every little noise that I heard that I realized my mistake.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe takes place in a morgue in a small town.  The body of a woman has been brought in.  It is believed that she died in a house fire but there are no signs of trauma on her body.  Her finger prints are not on record.  No one knows who she is.  Over the course of the night, coroner Tommy Tilden (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch), examine the body.  With each incision, the mystery of Jane Doe’s identity deepens.  The inside of her body is as damaged as the outside is perfect.

As the night continues, strange things start to happen inside the morgue.  It’s small things at first.  Strange sounds are heard.  Austin thinks that he sees something out of the corner of his eye.  A storm starts to rage outside.  Austin says that they should stop the autopsy but Tommy says that they have to finish what they’ve started…

And things only escalate from there.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe sneaks up on you.  It starts out as a collection of small scares and subtle hints that all is not right.  At first, you’re kind of like, “Yeah, it’s weird noises and shadows in the corner.  It’s a horror movie.  Of course, that’s going on…”  And then suddenly, about halfway through the film, you realize that you’re totally tense.  All of those small scares have added up, leaving you wondering when the big scares are going to start.  And when those big scares do arrive, they deliver.  By confining the movie to one location, director André Øvredal creates a palpable atmosphere of claustrophobia and impending doom.  It helps that Brian Cox is one of those older, paternal actors who you always expect to be in control of things so seeing him in a situation where he has no control carries an unexpectedly strong emotional impact.

If you doubt the power of horror, The Autopsy of Jane Doe will make you a believer.

Shattered Politics #83: Milk (dir by Gus Van Sant)


Milkposter08

For the past three weeks, I have been in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 94 films about politics and politicians.  It’s a little something that we call Shattered Politics.

And while I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, it does worry me a bit that I may have made the Shattered Lens into a far more cynical site to visit.  That’s largely because I don’t trust politicians or the government in general and, despite the fact that we started off with Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the majority of the films that I’ve reviewed have reflected that fact.

So, in order to combat that cynicism, I’m going to recommend a film from 2008 that, despite being a biopic about a politician, is actually rather inspiring.  I am, of course, talking about the 2008 best picture nominee, Milk.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office.  Now, just consider that.  Up until 38 years ago, nobody who was openly gay had been elected to public office.  Nowadays, the idea of an out gay man or a lesbian running for public office is only shocking to a dwindling minority of homophobes.  Even down here Texas, which everyone up north always smugly assumes to be so intolerant, nobody is surprised when a gay or a lesbian not only runs for office but wins as well.  Sheriff Lupe Valdez has served as sheriff of Dallas Country for over ten years and, though she’s been controversial, none of that controversy has concerned her sexuality.  Meanwhile, Annise Parker has served three-terms as mayor of Houston, making Houston the biggest city in America to have an openly gay mayor.

However, before Lupe Valdez could be sheriff or Annise Parker could be mayor, Harvey Milk had to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk follows Harvey (Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his performance) and his much younger boyfriend, Scott (James Franco) from the moment they first meet in New York to when they moved to San Francisco in 1970.  We see how Harvey first found fame as a neighborhood activist and how he challenged both the political and gay establishment of San Francisco in his campaigns for political office.  When he finally wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he does so at the cost of his relationship with Scott.  He enters into another relationship with the self-destructive Jack (Diego Luna), which ends tragically.

By winning office, Harvey becomes a spokesman for gays everywhere.  When a sinister state senator (Denis O’Hare) attempts to pass a bill that would forbid gays from teaching school, Harvey leads to opposition.  And, while Harvey’s career continues to rise, the career of another supervisor — Dan White (Josh Brolin) — plummets.

Elected at the same time as Harvey, Dan is an uptight former cop.  Though he and Harvey originally strike a somewhat awkward friendship (Harvey is the only supervisor to come to the christening of Dan’s child), Dan soon comes to resent Harvey.  (At one point, Harvey suggests that Dan might be closeted and Brolin’s tightly coiled performance certainly implies that Dan is repressing something.)  Eventually, Dan shoots and kills both the mayor (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Though the film ends in violence and anger, it also ends with hope.  Though Harvey may be dead, the activists that he inspired are there to carry on.

Because the film was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, and tells the story of a gay man, Milk is often dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as just being a gay film.  But, actually, it is a film that should inspire anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been pushed into the margins of our national culture.  By the film’s end, Harvey Milk has emerged as not just a gay hero but as a hero to anyone who has ever been told that their voice does not matter.  When Harvey says, repeatedly, “You’ve got to give them hope,” it’s hope for all of us.

Lisa Marie Does Killer Joe (dir. by William Friedkin)


I nearly didn’t get to see Killer Joe.

Killer Joe, the latest film from William Friedkin (who, 40 years ago, won an Oscar for directing The French Connection), is rated NC-17 for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”  That, more than anything, was why I wanted to see Killer Joe.  I wanted to see just how extreme a film starring Matthew McConaughey could possibly be.  However, I also knew that the NC-17 rating would mean that I would have to show my ID before being allowed to have my mind corrupted.  See, I might be 26 years old but most people seem to assume that I’m 17.  That is, until I speak.  At that point, they usually realize that they’ve guessed incorrectly and decide that I’m actually 15.

Sure enough, when me and my BFF Evelyn bought our tickets to see Killer Joe earlier this week, I was asked to show my ID. Smiling my sweetest smile, I held up my driver’s license.  I was expecting that the ticker seller would just glance at the ID and then say, “Thank you,” but instead, he literally appeared to be studying my picture.  His eyes shifted from the license to me and back to the license.  I was starting to get nervous because, after all, it’s not like I was trying to get through airport security.  I just wanted to see a forbidden movie.

Behind me, I heard Evelyn say, “That looks like a fake to me.”

“Ha ha,” I cleverly replied.

Evelyn responded with, “I don’t trust her.  Maybe you guys should strip search her…”

Finally, the ticket seller looked away from my driver’s license and, as he handed me my ticket, he told us that the theater’s management had instructed him to make sure that we understood that we were about to see an explicitly violent film.  He also told us that there were free donuts available at the concession stand.  That was nice of him.

So, after all that, I finally got to see the forbidden film Killer Joe and you know what?  Killer Joe earns its NC-17 rating, not so much because it’s any more exploitive than any other mainstream film released this year but because it’s actually honest about being an exploitation film.  Killer Joe may be playing in the arthouses but it’s a grindhouse film and proud of it.

Killer Joe takes place in my hometown of Dallas (though it was filmed in New Orleans) and it features perhaps the sleaziest group of losers that you’ll find on a movie screen this year.  Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who lives with his mother and who moves, talks, and thinks with the scrambled energy of a meth addict.  His father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) is an affably stupid alcoholic who lives in a trailer park with his second wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon, who gives a ferociously good performance here) and his daughter, 16 year-old Dottie (Juno Temple).  Dottie is a spacey girl who is given to sleep walking and who doesn’t appear to be quite all there.  Chris is creepily overprotective of her and, though it’s never implicitly stated, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s a rather disturbing subtext to her relationship with both Chris and her father.

Chris has managed to get into debt with some local criminals but he’s got a plan.  As he explains to Ansel, his mother has got a sizable life insurance policy and if she dies, the money will go to Dottie.  Chris and Ansel hire a hitman to carry out the murder for them.  That hitman is Joe (Matthew McConaughey, giving the performance of his career), a demonic charmer who always dresses in black and who has a day job as a homicide detective.  When Chris and Ansel explain that they don’t have the money to pay him in advance, Joe agrees to take Dottie as a retainer. 

Soon, Joe is living in the trailer park with Dottie, Chris is getting brutally beaten up every time he goes out in the daylight, and the murder doesn’t seem to be any closer to actually happening.  When Joe finally does make his move, it all leads to a lot of very brutal violence, a series of betrayals, and a very disturbing scene involving a drumstick from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  As I said before, Killer Joe earns that NC-17.

William Friedkin, who has had a rather uneven career, dives right into the film’s sordid atmosphere.  The majority of the film takes place in that Hellish trailer park and Friedkin perfectly captures the feeling of a society made up of people who are trapped by their own lack of intelligence, imagination, and status.  There’s been a lot of films made about white trash but Killer Joe gets it right, creating an all too believable Hell where everyone can afford to buy a pit bull but not a decent suit (or, in the case of Dottie, a bra).  When the violence does come, Friedkin doesn’t shy away from showing it nor does he try to pretend that violence doesn’t have consequences.  When people get hurt in Killer Joe, they stay hurt. 

Matthew McConaughey is a wonder as Killer Joe.  Whereas many actors would tend to go overboard with such a psychotic character (and you’d be justified in expecting McConaughey to go overboard as well), McConaughey is actually rather restrained for most of the film. The power of his performance comes from the fact that, while everyone else is going crazy, McConaughey is subdued and steady.  It’s only when he speaks to Dottie that we get a few clues of just what exactly it is that lurks beneath Killer Joe’s coolly professional manner.  It’s only towards the end of the film that McConaughey allows his performance to get a bit more showy but, by that point, the entire film has gone to such an extreme that Joe still seems almost sensible.

Killer Joe, however, is not a perfect film.  Though the film is set in North Texas (and, in fact, the Texas-setting is pretty important to the film’s overall plot), it was filmed in Louisiana.  Speaking as someone who has lived in both of those fine states, trust me when I say that, visually, there’s a huge visual difference between Texas and Louisiana.  (Evelyn and I shared a laugh  when we spotted Palm Trees in the film’s version of Dallas.) 

While the clumsy use of Louisiana as a stand-in for Texas probably won’t be noticeable to anyone outside of the Southwest, a far more noticeable problem with Killer Joe is that the film is based on a stage play and, despite some efforts to open up the action, the film still basically feels rather stagey.  This is the type of movie where people tend to deliver semi-poetic monologues about their childhood at the drop of a (cowboy) hat.  To a certain extent, the staginess made it easier to handle the film’s violence (and perhaps that was Friedkin’s intention) but, at other times, it just caused the action to drag.

Ultimately, Killer Joe is a film that I would recommend with reservations.  It’s definitely not for everyone and I don’t know that it’s a film that I’ll ever want to sit through again (seriously, I’ll be surprised if I ever manage to eat another drumstick) but it is a movie worth seeing.  If nothing else, it’s the closest were going to get to a true grindhouse film this year.

Trailer: The Darkest Hour (Official)


Timur Bekmambetov is not the director of this upcoming alien invasion film The Darkest Hour. The director is actually one Chris Gorak, but the trailer is definitely pushing Bekmambetov’s name as if he is the director. Then again I think the film does seem to have Bekmambetov’s stylistic flourishes written all over it.

The Darkest Hour looks to be set in Russia from beginning to end as we follow a group of young Americans on vacation and hitting up all the party night spots in Moscow. This makes for an interesting premise in that we see an alien invasion from a wholly different perspective. It’s an alien invasion seen through the Russian perspective even if half the cast are American tourists.

I hadn’t heard much about this film until now, but after seeing the trailer I’m definitely going to run out and see it when it comes out.

The Darkest Hour is set for a December 23, 2011 release date.