Ghosts of Sundance Past #2: The Report (dir by Scott Z. Burns)


Remember The Report?

The Report premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was a hit with the critics who saw it.  Amazon acquired the distribution rights and, for the first part of 2019, The Report was one of those films that was regularly discussed as being a potential Oscar nominee.  Not only was it based on a true story but it starred Adam Driver and Annette Bening.  There are several online film critics and award bloggers who are convinced that any film featuring Annette Bening will automatically be an Oscar contender, despite the fact that it rarely seems to work out that way.

Certainly, that ended up being the case with The Report.  Despite all of the hype from Sundance, The Report kind of fizzled when it was finally released.  That it didn’t do much business at the box office makes sense because it was only given a limited release and everyone knew that it would soon be available to stream on Prime.  But even after it was made available on Prime, The Report never really seemed to make much of a dent in the public consciousness.  When the Oscar nominations were announced, The Report was not mentioned once.  Adam Driver did receive a nomination for Best Actor but it was for Marriage Story.

What happened to The Report?  It may have been too low-key for audiences (and, let’s be honest, critics) who have come to expect even a movie about a Senate committee to be experimental and overly stylized.  It could be that, even though the film was critical of the CIA and the War on Terror, it wasn’t angry enough for the same people who thought Adam McKay’s Vice was a brilliantly conceived work of political cinema.  A more realistic explanation is probably that, in this hyper political age, people didn’t want to watch a 2-hour movie about a senate staffer.  Instead, people wanted an escape from all that.

It’s understandable but it’s also a shame because The Report is a very good film.  I mean, I usually hate films like this but I was surprised by how much I liked it.

The Report deals with the efforts of Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) and the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate the CIA’s use of torture in the aftermath of 9-11.  Skipping back and forth through time, the film shows us how Jones was first assigned to lead an investigation into the CIA’s activities in 2005 and how, over the course of seven years, Jones puts together not one but two reports that absolutely nobody wants released.  Along the way, Jones goes from being a generally idealistic and optimistic staffer to eventually becoming the type of paranoid and obsessive man who meets with reporters in underground garages and who considers leaking classified information.  Daniel has what he believes to be proof that using torture is not only unethical but also counter-productive but, as he discovers, even the members of his own political party aren’t particularly interested in releasing his report.  Adam Driver gives a memorably intense performance of Daniel, playing him as someone whose obsession with his report sometimes threatens to push him over the edge and transform him from being a crusader to being a zealot.

Annette Bening plays Daniel’s boss, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.  It’s interesting casting and, to be honest, it doesn’t quite work.  I almost feel like it would have been better for the film to have either kept Feinstein off-screen or to have at least minimized her role.  The problem is that Dianne Feinstein is a widely-known figure and it’s jarring to see Annette Bening, another well-known figure (at least among film fans), in the role.  Bening plays Feinstein as being a ethical and serious-minded stateswoman and she does what she can with what the film gives her but, at the same time, it’s still kind of a boring performance.  The film presents Feinstein, a not uncontroversial figure, in a positive light and I’m sure some, on both the Right and the Left would say that it’s perhaps a bit too positive.  One gets the feeling that Feinstein’s main role in the film is to assure us that the system works but we just have to take one look at Adam Driver losing his mind to realize that it doesn’t.

That misstep aside, The Report still works far better than I was expecting it too.  Taking obvious inspiration from All The President’s Men, Scott Z. Burns directs the film as if it were a thriller and the deeper that Adam Driver gets into his research, the darker and more shadowy Washington D.C. seems to become.  Even though the film clearly has an agenda, Burns gives the other side a chance to make their case without presenting them as being cartoonish villains.  In other words, this is the opposite of an Aaron Sorkin or Adam McKay-style diatribe.  Instead, this is an intelligent movie about intelligent people.  It’s a film that makes some of the same points as many other similarly liberal films but it makes them without taking cheap shots or resorting to a heavy hand. Long after Vice has been forgotten, The Report will be remembered.

And, if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on Prime!

Film Review: Game Night (dir by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein)


In this time of division and conflict, can we all agree that Game Night is a damn funny movie?

The film tells the story of three couples who regularly get together for, as the title suggests, a game night.  Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are quirky and a little bit daffy.  Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are generally dependable and Michelle has a really interesting story about the time that she met a man who may have been Denzel Washington but probably wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are an ultracompetitive married couple, frustrated in their attempts to conceive a child but always confident in their ability to win any game that they play.  At one time, Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his wife used to be a part of the group but, after they got divorced, Max and Annie stopped inviting him.  You really can’t blame them.  Gary’s seriously creepy.

And then there’s Brooks Davis (Kyle Chandler).

Brooks is Max’s brother and, at first glance, he would appear to be everything that Max isn’t.  Brooks appears to have a lot of money.  He claims to have a successful career, even if no one’s quite sure what he does for a living.  He drives a nice car.  When he comes to town to visit his brother, he rents out a mansion.  Brooks is the type of older sibling who always has an embarrassing story or two to share about his younger brother.  In fact, Max feels so inadequate when compared to Brooks that it’s even interfering with Max and Annie’s efforts to have a child.  When Brooks invites everyone to come to his house for a very special game night, Annie and Max are determined to beat Brooks at whatever game he’s planning on having them play.

It turns out that Brooks has hired a company to put on an interactive role-playing game.  While listening to a fake FBI agent (Geoffrey Wright) explain the background of the mystery that they’re about to solve, the couples are shocked when several masked men burst into the house.  Everyone’s impressed as the men beat the fake FBI agent unconscious.  When the men start beating up Brooks, everyone praises Brooks for the realism of his game.  After Brooks is dragged out of the house, the couples set out to solve the mystery of who is behind this kidnapping.  As for the fake FBI agent, he lies on the floor motionless.  Even when Ryan kicks his body, the agent doesn’t move.  Everyone agrees that the agent is a really good and committed actor.

Of course, the joke is that Brooks really has been kidnapped but nobody realizes it.  It’s a good joke but, to the film’s credit, it’s not the only joke.  In fact, Game Night actually get funnier after everyone eventually realizes that they’re no longer playing a game.  Ever after they realize that Brooks actually has been kidnapped, Annie and Max are so competitive that they still keep trying to outdo everyone else.

Annie and Max also discover that they have no choice but to involve their creepy neighbor and former friend, Gary.  Jesse Plemons doesn’t have a lot of screentime but he gives a performance that is so exquisitely strange and awkward that he ends up stealing the entire movie.  Watching Plemons, you both feel sorry for Gary and understand why no one wants to play with him.  His desperation to be apart of the group is both exasperating and somewhat touching.

In fact, the entire cast does a good job, bringing their often clueless characters to life.  Max and Annie are a likable couple and Bateman and McAdams have a natural chemistry that makes them a lot of fun to watch.  There’s a great scene where Max and Annie, still thinking that they’re just playing a game, subdue a group of criminals in a bar.  Max and Annie’s clueless joy is intoxicating.  They’re having fun playing at being tough and we’re having fun watching them.  Of course, it eventually turns out that the gun that Annie thought was a toy is real and loaded and … well, things get a little bit messy.  While the scene where Annie and Max try to figure out how to dig a bullet out of a man’s arm may have made me cringe a little, it also made me laugh.  That’s a credit to both Bateman and McAdams, who made the scene both real and funny at the same time.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Game Night.  Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a briskly paced and good-natured comedy that never makes the mistake of lingering for too long over its own cleverness.  Director Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley both redeem themselves for 2015’s Vacation.  If, earlier this year, you missed this one when it was in theaters, see it now and have a good time.

The Things You Find on Netflix: Christine (dir by Antonio Campos)


I really regret that I didn’t get a chance to see Christine when it played here last year.  I wanted to but the movie was only in theaters for a week and then it vanished.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that Christine didn’t become a blockbuster.  I imagine that most potential viewers were turned off by the fact that 1) it wasn’t a remake of the movie about the killer car and 2) it was based on the true story of a reporter who, in 1974, committed suicide on live television.  I imagine that, to many people, the film sounded like it would be indescribably sad.  It certainly sounded that way to me.  That’s why, when the movie opened at the Dallas Angelika, I said, “I’ll see it next week.”  Of course, by the time “next week” rolled around, the movie was gone.

And that’s a shame.  I just watched Christine on Netflix and I discovered that it was one of the best films of 2016.  Yes, it is a sad film but it’s also a frequently fascinating one.  The movie may tell the story of a tragedy but it’s anchored and enlivened by a brilliant performance from Rebecca Hall.  People who love movies, of course, already know that Rebecca Hall is a brilliant actress but, unfortunately, she rarely gets the roles in the films that she deserves.  As of this writing, her most financially successful film was probably The Town and, in that film, she was pretty much wasted in a nothing role.  She is perfectly cast in Christine, perhaps as perfectly cast as any performer could ever hope to be.

Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who was based in Sarasota, Florida.  In 1974, she started a newscast by announcing, “”In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.”  She then drew a gun from a shopping bag that was sitting behind the anchor desk.  As thousands watched, she shot herself in the back of the head.

Along with the gun, the shopping bag had contained the homemade puppets that Christine used whenever she volunteered at the local children’s hospital.  On the anchor desk, among her papers, was a news report that she had written the previous night, announcing that “Local news personality Christine Chubbuck” had shot herself on live television and had been taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Christine, who was reportedly frustrated both personally and professionally, was briefly the number one story in the nation.

One of the more interesting things about the suicide of Christine Chubbuck is that it happened in 1974, long before YouTube, Facebook Live, or Twitter.  Chubbuck’s suicide was only aired once and the footage has subsequently vanished.  If Christine Chubbuck, or anyone else, committed suicide on television today, it would immediately be all over the internet.  We would end up seeing, at the very least, clips of it on an almost daily basis.  Sadly, we would see it so much that we would probably become desensitized to it.  Since Christine Chubbuck’s death was recorded but remains unseen, both she and her suicide have achieved an almost mythical quality.  One can look at the details of Christine Chubbuck’s death and see almost anything that they want.

Christine follows the last few months of Chubbuck’s life.  As played by Rebecca Hall, Christine is confident enough that she can imagine interviewing Richard Nixon but insecure enough to obsess over whether she was nodding too much while the imaginary President gave his imaginary answer.  She lives with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), a self-described hippie who keeps making references to a breakdown that Christine had in Boston.  When she complains about the pressure that she’s under to sensationalize the news, her boss dismisses her with “You’re a feminist!”  (He says it like an accusation.)  When she gives in and purchases a police scanner so that she can find the stories that the boss is demanding, she ends up spending most of her night listening to two cops brag about “how far” they got with their girlfriends the night before. When she goes to the doctor to complain about chronic stomach pain, she’s told that she has to have an ovary removed and she’ll probably never be able to conceive.  When she thinks that she finally has a date with the man who she’s been crushing on, she is instead dragged to an empty-headed encounter group.  Her group partner has a slick answer for every problem that Christine has until Christine says that she’s thirty and she’s still a virgin.

“Oh,” her partner replies, flummoxed.

In the film, Christine struggles with both depression and, in my opinion, bipolar disorder as well.  Unfortunately, for her mental well-being, she’s a woman in 1974.  The only thing that the world has to offer her are vapid self-affirmation (“I’m okay, you’re okay!  I’m okay, you’re okay!” one co-worker chants at a particularly dramatic moment) and sexist bosses who dismiss what is clearly a manic episode as either “being moody” or “being difficult.”  Speaking as someone who is very sensitive as to how mental health issues are portrayed onscreen, all I can say is that Christine gets it right.

I’m probably making this film sound like the most depressing movie ever made and it’s definitely not a happy film.  I had tears in my eyes by the end of it.  At the same time, it’s also a compulsively watchable character study.  Rebecca Hall gives such a good and brave performance as Christine that you can’t look away, even when you feel like you should.  Rebecca Hall is also ably supported by Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Morgan Spector, Timothy Simons, and Maria Dizzia, who all play her sometimes sympathetic, sometimes annoyed co-workers.

Now, I do think that I should warn anyone from thinking that Christine is a 100% accurate look at Christine Chubbuck’s life and death.  The film left me so moved that I actually did some research and I came across this article from the Washington Post — Christine Chubbuck: 29, Good-Looking, Educated, A Television Personality. Dead. Live and in Color.  After reading the profile, it was easy to see that the film did take some dramatic license.  However, it was also easy to see that Christine gets the essence of the story right.

If, like me, you missed Christine in the theaters, you can now see it on Netflix.  And you should!

Film Review: Cold In July (dir by Jim Mickle)


Cold in July

Cold in July, which is currently available OnDemand and also playing in select theaters, is a great film.

To a large extent, you’re simply going to have to take my word about that because to give too much away about this twisty and emotionally resonant thriller would be a crime.  Quite frankly, I’d rather write a vague review than rob you of the pleasure of discovering this film’s secrets for yourself.

Here’s what I can tell you.

Cold In July takes place in east Texas and, speaking as a Texan, it manages to perfectly capture the odd mix of southern gothic and western stoicism that distinguishes that section of Texas from the rest of the state.  Cold in July is one of the best Texas-set films that I’ve ever seen, one that is uniquely Texan and yet still accessible for those viewers who live elsewhere (except maybe for Vermont).  Director Jim Mickle and cinematographer Ryan Samul fill Cold In July with hauntingly beautiful images of the landscape, capturing that unique Texas stillness that can be both tranquil and threatening at the same time.

Michael C. Hall plays Richard Dane, an ordinary guy who, at the start of the film, confronts and kills a burglar who has broken into his house.  While nearly everyone else in town is impressed by Richard’s actions, Richard is haunted by them.  While everyone else tells Richard that he should be proud for standing up against crime, Richard is obsessed with the bloodstains that now decorate his living room wall.  Richard grows even more uneasy when the town’s police chief informs him that the burglar’s father has recently been paroled from Huntsville Prison.

When Richard goes to the burglar’s funeral, he meets the quietly menacing Ben Russell (Sam Shepard).  Ben reveals that Richard killed his son and then goes on to suggest that maybe, in order to even the score, Ben should now go after Richard’s son.  Even after the police agree to protect Richard and his family, it quickly turns out that Ben is a lot more clever than anyone realized…

And that’s all I can tell you about this film’s plot without spoiling the many twists and turns.  I can, however, assure you that anything you may be assuming about this film or the relationship between Richard and Ben is probably incorrect.  This is a film that starts out like an effective but standard thriller and then, about 30 minutes into the action, the story suddenly goes off in an entirely different direction.  The fact that the film manages to pull off such a sudden shift in tone and plot is due to both Mickle’s confident direction and the excellent performances of Hall and Shepard.

I can also tell you that this film features a great and award-worthy supporting performance from Don Johnson.  Johnson plays Jim Bob Luke, a flamboyant private detective who also owns a pig farm and drives a red Cadillac with vanity plates that read “RED BTCH.”  Johnson brings a jolt of life to the film right when it most needs it.  Jim Bob starts out as comic relief but, as the film progresses, Johnson brings a surprising amount of gravitas to the role until finally, Jim Bob is as much the moral center of the story as Tommy Lee Jones was in the thematically similar No Country For Old Men.

Finally, I can tell you that Cold In July is a violent film but it’s not the empty, consequence-free mayhem that you might expect to see in a thriller like this.  It’s hard to explain without giving away too much of the plot but I would have to describe it as almost being “violence with heart.”  Cold In July may be violent but it’s never mindless and that makes all the difference.

As I said, it’s difficult to review Cold In July because to go into too much detail would run the risk of ruining the film’s many surprises.  So, instead, I’ll just say that Cold In July is one of the best films of the year so far.

It’s a film that you, as a lover of cinema, owe it to yourself to see.

6 More Films From 2012: 4:44: Last Day On Earth, First Position, Flight, The Paperboy, Red Tails, and The Trouble With Bliss


Continuing my desperate attempt to review all of the 2012 films that I’ve seen but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet, here’s six more reviews.

1) 4:44: Last Day On Earth (dir. by Abel Ferrara)

Whether it’s because of the Mayan calendar or the fact the Obama got reelected, people seem to be obsessed with the end of the world right now and it’s been the subject of several recent films.  4:44: Last Day On Earth is one of the more low-key entries in this genre.

Willem DaFoe plays a New York-based actor who deals with the impending end of the world by meditating in his loft, having sex with his much younger girlfriend, and having awkward conversations on Skype with his daughter.  As opposed to the characters in several other end of the world films, DaFoe doesn’t use the situation as an excuse to go on a quest for true love.  Unlike 2012, there’s no talk of escaping the apocalypse.  Instead, the world is ending and DaFoe has no choice but to accept it.  From a cinematic point of view, DaFoe’s passivity can be frustrating (4:44 is a film that’s willing to be boring to make its point) but, at the same time, it does force a viewer like me to wonder how she would handle the end of the world in a way that a film like Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World does not.

One interesting thing that distinguishes 4:44 from other end-of-the-world films is that, in 4:44, the world ends specifically because of the actions of mankind.  Whereas films like Melancholia and Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World presented a random apocalypse, 4:44 presents the apocalypse as the fitting punishment for the sins of humanity.  While I could have done without the scenes of DaFoe listening to Al Gore droning on and on about global warming (because, seriously, Gore always sounds like the creepy community college professor who you know is having an affair with one of his students), this still adds an interesting element to the film.

4:44 requires a bit of tolerance and a lot of patience but it’s still a film that’s worthy of being seen.

2) First Position (dir. by Bess Kargman)

First Position is a documentary about ballet so, of course, you know that I loved it.  The film follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth American Grand Prix in New York City and it brought back a lot of memories (both good and bad) for me.  First Position captures both the beauty and the pain of both dance and life.

3) Flight (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays a cocky and talented pilot who is also an alcoholic and a drug addict.  In a truly harrowing sequence, the plane that Washington is piloting goes into a nosedive over Atlanta.  After Washington manages to crash-land the plane with only a few fatalities, he finds himself hailed as both a hero and also under investigation.  Working with a union rep (Bruce Greenwood) and a slick attorney (Don Cheadle), Washington tries to cover up his mistakes while, at the same time, romancing a recovering heroin addict (Kelly Reilly).

Flight has a brilliant opening and a strong ending.  Unfortunately, the middle of the film tends to drag.  Flight also suffers from the fact that cinematic addicts are always more fun to watch when they’re under the influence as opposed to when they’re getting sober.  On the plus side, the film itself is well-acted and the cast is always fun to watch even when the rest of the film is getting bogged down.  Washington is brilliant in the lead role and John Goodman has a great cameo as the world’s most helpful drug dealer.

4) The Paperboy (dir by Lee Daniels)

In 1960s Florida, Hillary Van Wetter (an amazingly sleazy John Cusack) is on death row for the murder of a small town sheriff.  His girlfriend, the flamboyant Charlotte Bess (Nicole Kidman), convinces reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) to return to his hometown and investigate the case against Van Wetter.  With the help of his younger brother (Zac Efron) and an arrogant colleague (David Oyelowo), Ward works to get Van Wetter off of death row but it becomes obvious that all of the film’s characters are hiding secrets of their own.

The Paperboy has a few isolated moments where it achieves a certain pulp poetry but, for the most part, Lee Daniels’ follow-up to his Academy Award-winning Precious is a total and complete mess.  Unfortunately, it’s not even all that interesting of a mess.  Nicole Kidman’s vampish performance and her white trash femme fatale outfits are definitely the film’s highlight.  As for Zac Efron, he’s not much of an actor but he’s pipin’, boilin’ hot.  It’s just  too bad the character that he’s playing isn’t that interesting.

In the end, The Paperboy showcases everything that didn’t work about Precious and nothing that did.

5) Red Tails (dir. by Anthony Hemingway)

Red Tails was one of the first “major” releases of 2012 and it’s also one of the most forgettable.  The film, which was executive produced and reportedly co-directed by George Lucas, is based on the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-Americans who served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and who had to not only fight Nazis abroad but racial discrimination at home.  There’s undoubtedly an inspiring story to be told here but Red Tails is such a predictable and corny film that it feels as if Lucas and Hemingway essentially wasted the real life story of the Tuskegee Airmen on a painfully generic movie.

6) The Trouble With Bliss (dir. by Michael Knowles)

Morris Bliss (played by Michael C. Hall) is the type of guy who always seems to show up in quirky independent films.  He has no job, he has no money, and he lives in a tiny apartment with his father (Peter Fonda).  Since there’s nothing more attractive than a middle-aged guy with no future, he finds himself being pursued by an 18 year-old (Brie Larson), who also happens to be the daughter of a former high school classmate, and his married neighbor (played by Lucy Liu).

I have a weakness for quirky indie films but the nonstop quirkiness of The Trouble of With Bliss feels less like narrative imagination and more like total desperation.  Michael C. Hall’s a likable actor but he essentially turns Morris Bliss into Dexter Morgan and, as a result, I kept expected for the trouble with Bliss to turn out to be that he had about a few dozen bodies hidden away in a closet somewhere.

Now that would have been a quirky film!

Review: Gamer (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


No one will ever mistake the writer-director duo of Neveldine/Taylor (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor) as the next Coen Brothers, but they definitely have made their mark in creating entertaining films which some have called exploitative, pandering to the lowest common denominator and exercises in excess. Maybe these critics are right, but they also seem to view the films by these two filmmakers through the narrow-minded lens of their elistist and so-called cineaste sensibilities. They won’t be the next Coen Brothers but they’re way ahead of other so-called filmmaker duos such as The Spierig Brothers (Undead and the pretentious and awful Daybreakers) or The Strause Brothers (AvP: Requiem and the awful Skyline). They came onto the scene with their cult classic action thrillers Crank and it’s sequel, Crank: High Voltage.

Their third film took the gaming influences so inherent in their first two films (which for all intents and purpose were video games that happened to be film) and went the next step. Gamer is all about a near-future world where two games with on-line social media foundations have become the rage of the entertainment world. One is a game called “Society” that looks to be the nightmare evolution of privacy advocates everywhere to the on-line virtual world Second Life and The Sims. It is the other game in this film which makes up the foundation of the film’s plot. “Slayers” takes the ultra-popular multiplayer on-line experiences of games such as Call of Duty and HALO to the next level by allowing gamers to actually control real people (inmates sentenced to death) to act as their avatars in a real-life battlefield arena with real weapons and real deaths.

These games which have become the obsession of hundreds of millions of people worldwide are the brainchild of the film’s antagonist. Michael C. Hall plays the creator of these games and his performance looks to combine the sociopathic charm of his Dexter character with that of Steve Jobs is the latter was openly honest about his douchebag tendencies. Playing his opposite is the character of Kable who happens to be the reigning champion of the game Slayers and who knows a secret that could tear down the billion-dollar empire created by Castle. Gerard Butler plays the desperate but very capable inmate Kable who just wants to survive past the final match and earn his freedom thus return to his wife and young daughter on the outside.

Gamer posits the question of how far are we willing to go to experience realism in our games and entertainment. With the game Society people pay to be able to control other people in a social setting (albeit in a controlled area). These so-called avatars will do anything and everything their real-life controllers tell them to do. In the film these avatars get paid to become virtual slaves and with most people signing up for the job being the socially desperate. Their situation is not so dissimilar from the condemned inmates who populate the game Slayers. The film hits the audience with a sledgehammer that these virtual entertainments have become popular worldwide because people have stopped looking at these “volunteers” as real people. Morality has been replaced by the need for instant gratification by way of these virtual on-line systems.

The film doesn’t make any apologies for the heavyhanded delivery of it’s message and also doesn’t skimp on the entertainment side of the equation. Neveldine/Taylor have shown that they have a certain flair for creating visual chaos and action on the screen. Their unique visual style does look like something out of a video game especially those from hyperrealistic shooters such as Call of Duty and its ilk. The filmmakers have always accomplished the high-quality visual look of their films despite the low to modest budget given to them by the studios they’re working for. Gamer is no exception and the film benefits from the decision by these two filmmakers to continue working with the Red One digital cameras thus allowing them to add in the visual effects right into the shot scenes the very same day of shooting.

It’s this very style of hi-tech guerrilla filmmaking which makes Neveldine/Taylor this current era’s Cormans. Unlike most low-budget filmmakers they don’t use the size of their budget to dictate how their films turn out visually, aurally and narratively. The first two this film succeeds in ways that makes an audience think the film was higher budgeted than it really was. The third would depend on the viewer whether the film succeeds or not. For those who seem intent on viewing every film as if they were made to be worthy of high awards and accolades would probably dismiss and hate this piece of exploitation cinema. Gamer succeeds in a narrative sense because it delivers on the promise of telling a story about a world where free will has been seconded to control in the need of a population in search of a the next virtual playground. It’s a heady premise that has been explored in past films such as the Matrix Trilogy and another film similar to this one which came out weeks later in Surrogates.

Gamer doesn’t have the philosophical and existential sermoning in combination with futuristic action sequences as the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy, but it does have the same visceral action DNa as those three films and also more entertaining than the Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. This film will appeal to the very people who it condemns as sheep to the rising tide of on-line control in entertainment, but then that’s what all exploitation films tend to do best. Cater to the very people it uses as examples of what’s wrong in society and build an entertaining film around them and what they represent.

The film’s cast revolves around Gerard Butler and Michael C. Hall and the roles they play. Whether its Amber Valletta playing Kable’s desperate wife who has sold herself to become a controllable avatar in Society to try and earn enough to get her young daughter back or to Logan Lerman playing the role of Simon the gamer who controls Kable during the Slayer matches. They all do enough with their roles to keep their characters from becoming less than one-notes. Again, for some having a film with characters that are quite basic and one-note might make for a bad film, but when put into context of the story being told they’re quite good and needed to become motivators for Butler’s character.

In the end, Neveldine/Taylor have made a modern day exploitation and grindhouse film in Gamer without having to resort to the visual tricks used in the Rodriguez/Tarantino grindhouse homage film Grindhouse. A film doesn’t need to have film scratches, overexposed film stock, scratchy audio track or missing film reels to be grindhouse. It just have to espouse the very nature of the films which made up the kind of films which became prime example of grindhouse/exploitation cinema. Gamer won’t win any awards, but I suspect that more people who saw it were entertained by it’s blatant, in-your-face entertainment than would normally admit to it. It’s a film that has cult status and guilty pleasure written all over it.

Plus, this film is definitely worth at least a curiosity viewing if just to see the musical number performed by Michael C. Hall at the climactic sequence near the end of the film. I don’t think any film has ever combined gratuitous violence, musical dance numbers using bloodied death row inmates and Michael C. Hall singing Frank Sinatra’s “Ive Got You Under My Skin“. That sequence alone is worth a rental or Netflix Instant streaming.

10 Things To Be Thankful For In 2010


It’s the Thanksgiving season, that time when bloggers everywhere come up with lists of things that they are thankful for.  Here’s just 10 of the many things that I’ve been thankful for in 2010.

1) The fifth season of Dexter

I have to be honest.  I’ve been a fan of Dexter since the show’s 1st season but I wasn’t sure if the show would be able to survive after the fourth season ended with Rita (Julie Benz) dead in a bloody bathtub.  However, season 5 has been a triumph.  Yes, a little too much time has been devoted to the domestic troubles of LaGuerta and Batista (Lauren Velez and the always intriguing David Zayas) but Michael C. Hall (as Dexter) and Jennifer Carpenter (as Deb) have done some of their best work this season.  Even better, this season has featured two brilliant performances from guest stars Peter Weller and, especially, Julia Stiles (who really deserves her own spin-off).  Still, you have to wonder if any murder has ever actually been solved in Miami…

2) Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. 

In three films — The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Rapace created one of the first truly iconic film characters of the 21st century and that’s an accomplishment that will stand regardless of any attempts by the Hollywood mainstream to steal her accomplishment through any unnecessary remakes. 

3) Lost

As more time has passed, the more I’ve come to admit just how dissatisfied I was with how the creators of Lost decided to end their show.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that, for several years, I scheduled my life around when the next episode of Lost was going to air.  I may not be thankful for a series finale that left way too many questions unanswered (why couldn’t children be born on the island?  What was the sickness?) but even the final season featured some of the show’s best moments.

4) The Walking Dead

I’m not a huge fan of Frank Darabont (sorry, but The Shawshank Redemption sucks) but I’m happy to say that he didn’t fuck up The Walking Dead.

5) Kathryn Bigelow broke the glass ceiling.

I’m still not a huge fan of The Hurt Locker but I am definitely a fan of Kathryn Bigelow.  As bad as this year’s Oscar ceremony was, it was worth watching just to see Bigelow become the first woman to ever win an Oscar for best director.  In many ways, it almost felt like a fantasy come to life — not only did Bigelow win a historic victory but she did it by beating her ex, James Cameron (who, to judge from his films, has never met a woman to whom he wouldn’t condescend).  The fact that she then gave one of the only genuine acceptance speeches of the entire ceremony was a wonderful bonus.

6) Blue Valentine was rated NC-17.

The upcoming film Blue Valentine (which I have yet to see) was reportedly given an NC-17 rating on account of scenes featuring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams having sex.  That the film would feature characters played Gosling and Williams having sex makes sense when you consider that the movie is specifically about their marriage.  However, despite this, Blue Valentine was rated NC-17 while films like The Expendables, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Saw films — in which thousands of people are graphically killed and tortured on-screen — are given an R rating as a matter of routine.  If Blue Valentine had been about Ryan Gosling murdering Michelle Williams (as opposed to fucking her), the film probably would have an R rating and would be considered appropriate viewing in malls across America.  I’m thankful for this rating because it serves as a reminder that it’s okay to show a woman being humiliated, tortured, or killed just as long as you don’t show her actually enjoying an orgasm.

7) Exit Through The Gift Shop

The rest of you mainstreamers can talk about how much you love the Social Network for the rest of eternity, if you want.  Exit Through The Gift Shop is still the best movie of 2010.

8 ) Lisa Marie finally figured out how to work her DVR.

Yes, yes, I know.  DVR has been around like forever and it’s all old news and I’m sure there’s something even better than DVR that everyone but me is raving about and using right now but — look, shut up, okay?  Yes, I’ve had DVR forever but I just figured out how to actually make it work a few months ago.  And I love it!  Now, if I want to sit down in the living room at 3 in the morning and watch old episodes of Project Runway, there’s no way anyone can stop me.

9) Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating through a dream hallway in Inception

Inception was a film full of excellent set pieces and memorable images but whenever I think about the movie, I will always see Joseph Gordon-Levitt floating through that hallway in a suit and looking rather adorable as he does it.

10) Cthulhu on South Park

Well, of course.

That’s just ten things I’m thankful for and I didn’t even start to talk about Scott Caan on Hawaii 5-0, James Franco in 127 Hours, or movies like Fish Tank, Winter’s Bone, and Never Let Me Go.  What are you thankful for?  Leave a comment, let the world know.  The best comment wins a renewed sense of peace and a happy new year.  (Please note that this is not a legally binding document.)