Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Daredevil season 2

I literally minutes before starting to write this, just finished binging the second season of Daredevil having premiered on March 18th, given its assignment by Nathaniel R. as the latest Hit Me With Your Best Shot entry. This is one of those special entries where you could select best shots from each episode or just one or any group of episodes you want and I am just about crazy enough to give it quite a shot, even if I don’t think some of the episodes are visually impressive enough to warrant picking a best shot.

Daredevil, for those unfamiliar with the show or the comic book character, is a TV series set in the comic book based Marvel Cinematic Universe following Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind yet perceptive up-and-coming lawyer with Catholic guilt and crippling morality pushing him to protect his beloved home of Hell’s Kitchen from the gangland violence that pollutes it under the armored superhero alter-ego of Daredevil – The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen or The Man Without Fear. It is basically the MCU’s own attempt to have their R-rated Batman cake, with Nolanized color palettes of yellow, green, and brown and an overabundance of violence (in season 1, it wasn’t half as self-indulgent as season 2’s gore was – though it did boast a death scene with the ickiest sound mix ever, I felt like I was going to throw up just hearing a man die).

In this latest season, a new vigilante dubbed “The Punisher” (Jon Bernthal – my favorite actor for shithead characters and given that the Punisher is a comic book character I hate, I think this is a beautiful match) is going around taking bloody gruesome retribution with various unaffiliated gangs in Terminator-like fashion. While the firm of Nelson & Murdock – namely their assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) – dig into the Punisher’s situation and get to the bottom of it, Elektra (Elodie Yung), an old lover that Matt had long since abandoned on account of her lust for death, makes a grand return. She coaxes Matt into helping her battle the Yakuza off her tail and finding out their biggest plan for Hell’s Kitchen.

If I’m to start with a mini-review of the whole season (I usually reserve my tv show reviews to Panel & Frame), it’s gonna be the frank fact that I thought season 1 of Daredevil is still superior and I wasn’t one of season 1’s biggest fans (though I think both are great). There’s definitely a lot more cleanliness in streamlining a plot to essentially “Murdock v. Fisk” and having the rest of the storyline simply branch out from there. Season 2 is not that way – at no point do the Punisher or Elektra storylines intertwine and that means a lot of the storytelling has to pick and choose when and where to exit certain scenarios.

Still there are a lot of comic book “cool” moments in this season to enjoy and a lot of strength within both storylines that brought out my interest in them both, so let’s pick ’em out.

EP. 2.01 “Bang”

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Very quickly up into the second season, the show really takes advantage of Netflix’s liberal standards for strong content by having a bloody and gory massacre take place in an Irish pub on an Irish gang waxing passion over their heritage (undoubtedly a savage bit of irony for a show that premiered the day after St. Paddy’s Day). And while it’s the primary bloodbath, it doesn’t reach the chilliness of Daredevil’s discovery in a meat freezer of dead Mexican cartel members hanging dead on meathooks. The earlier killings were all Boondock Saints in style, this is Saw, and I hate both, but that doesn’t make them any less emblematic of the violence in the show and how eager Marvel is to shed a family friendly image when the kids aren’t watching.

This is MAX mode.

EP. 2.02 “Dogs to a Gunfight”

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And to continue off of that violence, we have one of the main anchors of humanism within this tale of titans, other than Page, being Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) – Matt’s best friend and legal partner who is, by the end of season 1, aware of Matt’s double life as Daredevil. Nelson just witnessed the Punisher and Daredevil fighting first hand as part of failed police operation and things turned violent and grim the moment he overheard an order to “shoot to kill” both entities. Eventually, they smash their way into a warehouse and Foggy rushes to see if Matt’s still alive and all he finds is this:

Debris and blood. Enough blood to suggest that one is carrying the other. Enough to make Foggy fear that the one being carried is Matt himself. And enough to promise once again the rotting aesthetic of MAX gritty violence.

EP. 3 – “New York’s Finest”

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You ever heard the phrase “out of the fire and into the frying pan”? On of the most famous elements of both seasons is a braggadocio one-shot fight sequence early in each one (which I frankly am not impressed by either – both of them are pretty incompetently edited and framed with less of an understanding of what they want to say with the one-shot presentation than just an eagerness to be like “ooohhh lemme show this”. I will admit the first season’s one-shot fight is superior, while the second season gets nearly incoherent and obstructed by movement to an insufferable degree).

“Out of the fire and into the frying pan” absolutely describes Daredevil’s situation when he escapes from The Punisher’s dilemma only to be forced to fight his way out of the apartment with the entirety of the Dogs of Hell biker gang. He pulls it off, but clearly there’s a lot more of Hell’s Kitchen’s wrath to follow for Daredevil and The Punisher to follow and this shot – showing him post-battle ready to walk right out into the scene of several destroyed motorcycles burning to the ground – is ready to follow him out into the war.

EP. 2.04 “Penny and Dime”

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You know why I love Jon Bernthal as an actor for shitheads? He almost always humanizes them, no matter what. Shane Walsh was almost a non-entity in the comic book version of The Walking Dead, Bernthal made him into a complex figure of confusion and aggression. All one-dimension aside towards Coon-Ass in Fury didn’t stop Bernthal communicating loudly that he is a product of his environment rather than the other way around. And we have Frank Castle aka The Punisher.

The Punisher is gauche as fuck, I don’t care who pretends what about him. He’s a character simply invented to bring Charlton Heston Death Wish anger into Spider-Man and other stories. Even his Garth Ennis and War Journal rounds just have an intense grindhouse anger feel to them rather than any humanity. The one time the character tried to be something like a human being, we got an awful Thomas Jane performance out of it.

We’re later to see what this particular merry-go-round means to him, but in the meantime, the shot has him simply sitting there, watching family’s go round on it happily until it closes down and he’s still by himself in the shadows of his memory.

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He’s not as menacingly built when he’s sitting down anymore, he’s just waiting. Trying to remember some face of his family. Without even moving a muscle, Bernthal is able to suggest to us that Frank Castle knows there is something missing out of his life that he can never get back. And that all that’s left is an outline (lit wonderfully along the top of Bernthal’s head and shoulders) of the man he once was.

There’s no family here anymore.

EP. 2.05 “Kinbaku”

It really pains me to have a whole episode where we are introduced to Elektra and elaborated on her whole relationship with Matt and instead I pick a shot separated from that.

Yet, behold. This is going to go down as hands-down my favorite shot of not just the season outright, but in fact the entire series thus far. One that stands as a mission statement to Daredevil as a character. One that works so much better as a video than as a image (It’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, not “Frame”). So here it is:

I know I was just talking shit about one-shot segments in this show, but here is one that is done so very well. Matt just finished a date with Karen and is almost certain he loves her – this shot begins with a big smile on his face.

Suddenly, he’s walking into the shadows of the street and his smile fades as a man walks into him without any sorry (and keep in mind, Matt is blind). Sirens are heard in the distance and the camera circles around Matt’s head as he remembers the perils of Hell’s Kitchen being his burden. Flashing police lights spray on him and a man is heard angrily shouting “I know what you are!” in the background as if to remind Matt that inside of him lives the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

And it’s all way too much for him as he loosens his tie in a lovely bit of minimalist acting. And he was having such a fucking good time before the world had to remind him of what kind of place he lives in.

EP. 2.06 – “Regrets Only “

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And so begins the selling of Frank Castle. Barely alive after being kidnapped and tortured by Kitchen Irish early in the season, he breathes through a tube waiting to be saved so he can receive the death penalty and that piece of production design that is the taped off floor boxes him in away from the world.

What I love most about this shot, though is not merely how it boxes him off, but how separated he is from the other three characters in the room – Matt, Foggy, and Karen – and this is literally the LAST second of this shot before it cuts away. They won’t even let him share the screen with Matt, who clearly cares enough about Castle to approach him and offer their legal skills to defend him.

Frank Castle is alone.

EP. 2.07 “Semper Fidelis”

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For somebody who hates the Punisher as much as I do, I already picked out three different shots featuring him (and no Elektra ones – which frankly I preferred the Elektra storyline to the Punisher’s).

But I can’t help enjoying the sickening irony of the American flag standing out of focus behind Castle’s beaten and doughy mug (Bernthal doesn’t have the fashion model looks of Thomas Jane and The Punisher as a character works so much better for that) just as he is about to begin what is clearly a circus of a trial and put himself at risk. The legal system is absolutely dedicated to seeing Castle hang for their own deeds, Matt is too distracted by Elektra to be there for half of the trial, and Castle just doesn’t care what happens to him or where he goes at this point.

Also, doesn’t it seem like a bit of a jab at images like this?

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EP. 2.08 – “Guilty as Sin”

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Didn’t I tell y’all Daredevil was the comic book poster boy for Catholic Guilt? This would not be the first life lost that he would put on his back like a cross for the rest of season if his mentor Stick (character actor Scott Glenn in what I’m willing to call his best performance yet) – the third episode had him fail to save a life and muse on it in the following episode.

Elektra is poisoned and dying and Matt, despite spending most of the past few episodes trying to reject everything about her, simply doesn’t want that. Holding her hand in his, bowing his head down while blood is shining on his fingers, Stick’s arms closing him off from Elektra’s head (blocked by the pillow), it’s an overbundance of elements set to portray Daredevil as sitting in his head thinking “This is all my fault. This is entirely my fault. This is absolutely my fault.”

Over and over and over until he can be sure Elektra will wake up.

EP. 2.09 “Seven Minutes in Heaven”

My pick for Best Shot of this episode features a pretty huge spoiler that I honestly don’t want to ruin for anybody interested in the show who hasn’t gotten to this point yet. If you don’t have that problem, click here to see the shot.

As such, I will now begin to explain in vague terms. The character featured at the top of the shot is so much better here than in his previous appearance prior to this season elsewhere in the MCU. In spite of having the HANDS-DOWN MOST PERFECT ACTOR cast as him, the performance in question from his previous appearances have proven to be less menacing and more “stilted man-child with violent tendencies”.

Here, though, he’s got menace now. He’s got weight. He’s got power, even given the circumstances of his current existence. He’s standing over the Punisher smugly like he has the dude right where he wants him. He’s as far away from the Punisher’s grasp as he can be, but he’s got the Punisher right between his hands.

And that’s exactly the sort of character I’ve always wanted him to be. It’s good to see the performance finally reach its potential. It’s good to see the actor relish his role. I hope we see more and more of him.

EP. 2.10 “The Man in the Box”

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Great, now I’m humming Alice in Chains in my head.

Anyway, one of my favorite elements of the journey of the hero doesn’t come from the whole “potential and reaching it” part of him, but exploring the biggest most obvious thing about a hero’s scenario – he DOESN’T have to do it. He doesn’t have to save the world. He doesn’t have to take on problems bigger than him.

Night Nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) stands with Matt on the rooftop trying to convince him to come down to Earth and stand next to Foggy’s side while he recuperates. That he can just be normal like everyone else.

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But remember… Catholic Guilt: The Superhero!

EP. 2.11 “.380”

Seriously, I’m not getting off this Catholic Guilt thing.

Daredevil literally just performed the cross right before suggesting to the Punisher that “sure, we can go ahead and murder the Blacksmith”. He literally did that shit.

Like, if it weren’t for it being just a run-of-the-mill TV series with larger than life violence, I’d swear Luis Bunuel would simply hate this show on account of its blatant theocratic portrayals.

It’s one of the most ridiculous moments in a show that by now has introduced zombie ninjas into its arsenal.

EP. 2.12 “The Dark at the End of the Tunnel”

When we first met Stick in season 1 and saw how he raised young Matt to kick ass for his own usage, there was already an immediately obvious disconnect between the two of them that already made Stick look heartless and chilly towards the child. It was clear well before Stick forced an end to their training when Matt made him a token of affection that Stick was uninterested in personal relationships, especially a patriarchal one to his ward.

He was willing to leave them in the cold if he has to.

Come Season 2 when he rushes in to save Matt and Elektra – who we discover he also raised, though that leaves some serious problems in chronology and makes me wonder what the fuck is up with this show trying to make everything revolve around this small group of people (likewise for the Punisher’s storyline and its final reveal about the fate of his family) – and we know that Elektra was raised to be a wanton murder weapon. We did not expect this in the slightest, though:

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That Stick might actually care for Elektra. That – in spite of earlier scene portraying him attempting to assassinate her – he is trying his hardest to make her feel less like a glitch in the world (even more obvious when the end of this episode reveals her true nature). That he actually is willing to be a father figure to someone if it is necessary.

This flashback of his embracing of young Elektra (Lily Chee frankly is even better than Yung at being a savage killer driven only by her thirst for blood) after saving her from Star (Laurence Mason) is definitely the one big shock of the entire show. The whole time we were under the assumption that Stick merely wanted to use Elektra as a puppet for his projected “War” only to discover that it’s more than that. Stick wants to save Elektra from herself.

EP. 2.13 “A Cold Day in Hell’s Kitchen”

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Two against a bunch. Two against a whole fucking bunch. One of them absolutely a revenant by this point, so he may not stay down.

But it’s TWO. Daredevil and Elektra are finally accepting each other as part of each other’s lives irrevocably. And vowing to leave together after this battle is done and just live as a couple. Daredevil has made his choice: It is a life of relaxation with Elektra.

But hey…

hey…

HEY. Look at Daredevil! He’s looking back while Elektra is looking forward. What do you think that is? The fact that he knows he can’t leave Hell’s Kitchen as it’s a part of him too? The fact that something pulls him back? DAT CATHOLIC GUILT?! Plus, I mean, if there’s one thing a comic book fan knows about Elektra’s history as a character… it’s pretty obvious where this is going to go by the end of the episode.

Nah, I’m just projecting. It’s just a really cool shot of the unpromising odds before they fight a battle for Daredevil’s city.

And if you want to see how that battle turns out, check out season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix. It’s not as perfect as the hype will tell you, but it is a really fun distraction and I can at least say I have enjoyed most of it (I prefer Jessica Jones, but OF COURSE I prefer Jessica Jones).

Thanks for dealing with all these shots. Until the next one.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Atonement

I regret that I have too much on my plate and even more personal things on my mind to actually finish up on a video episode of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” this week in time (and the fact that um… we got season 2 of Daredevil being next week’s assignment promises also a text post rather than a video episode). However, all I can say is I’m working on a lot of really good stuff outside of Motorbreath right now and I still swear by the fact that I will return to every single assignment I didn’t make a video episode for and make one because they’re just too damn fun.

Just right now I’m a bit too overwhelmed.

In any case, Nathaniel R.’s current assignment happens to be Joe Wright’s 2007 adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonementthe Best Picture nominee starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, and recent Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan in essentially her breakout role. I hadn’t seen in a long while since then so it was time to revisit it and I have to admit that my lukewarm feelings about Atonement were not very much changed by the end of this second viewing.

Wright is a fine stylist, but not to the degree that it actually enhances or compliments the stories he tells (I should note that I haven’t seen Pan yet) and Atonement was pretty much the first film that illustrated it to me for the first time. It’s not a bad film, it’s a lovely looking one with a fantastic performance out of Ronan, and it doesn’t feel slow in the slightest. Both viewings I was shocked by briskly it flies by its 2-hour runtime. But it’s not my jam when I feel I didn’t get anything out a visual adaptation of McEwan’s novel that I didn’t already get from reading the book.

In any case, my choice for Best Shot in Atonement is an extremely early exception to that – one where Wright and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey probably didn’t mean anything I read out of this shot, but certainly one that I only could have read in the second viewing of the film:

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Moments earlier in this shot, Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her siblings had abandoned rehearsal for Briony Tallis’ latest play (Saoirse Ronan). Just a little bit off-center of the shot stands Tallis and her latest work of fictions (like the multiples she writes in the story) in a room so big, the ceiling is cut off by the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. All the chairs in the left half of the corner are very apparent in their emptiness and yet they are positioned in a manner that faces entirely to her.

The reason why I think these elements matter is because frankly – and I risk spoiling the movie (and ESPECIALLY the novel) for you if you haven’t seen it, but I won’t go into specifics – even though Atonement as a film is totally marketed as a romance between McAvoy’s Robbie Turner and Knightley’s Cecelia Tallis (Briony’s elder sister), it is at its core a story about Briony, a girl who lives entirely in her head in a world that is much too big for her. This Briony-centered shot full of emptiness it absolutely showcases (there is nothing in this movie that is subtle – which is maybe another reason why it’s not my jam) illustrates this and the fact that he full focus on this particular frame is on her script just let’s us know how she deals with the things that she simply can’t control in the world – like her siblings’ unwillingness to rehearse or Robbie’s lack of reciprocation for Briony’s crush on him:

She writes. And she crafts fictions and scenarios, some of them extremely harmful (like the movie’s central moment where she accuses Robbie of rape) and some of them to try search for some manner of atonement within her soul… the latter of which I really can’t go into detail without actually spoiling in specificity. So, if you have not seen or read Atonement, I would certainly recommend you do so, though not with any real enthusiasm. By then, it will be obvious that Atonement is essentially a story about what causes us to create stories and, in Briony’s case, it is a mixture of jealousy, isolation, and regret.

SHUDDER PLUG PART 1 – 14 DAY FREE TRIAL ON AMAZON PRIME

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Amazon Prime has been offering a bunch of new add-ons for the past three months or so. The most popular ones are SHOWTIME and STARZ, but for my money, the best one is SHUDDER. A collection of more obscure horror movies ranging from modern indie art house flicks to ridiculously over-the-top low budget 80s trash, SHUDDER seemingly has something for everybody. With your Amazon Prime membership, you can enjoy a FREE 14 day trail. Here’s some quick reviews of the first 6 movies I was able to catch during my 14-day trial:

BEHIND THE MASK LESLIE VERNON

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006 / dir. Scott Glosserman / USA) 

Uninspired mockumentary about a camera crew following an ambitious serial killer as he “immortalizes himself.” Derivative of Man Bites Dog, a funnier and overall better film, Behind the Mask thinks it’s a lot more clever than it actually is but features a few good laughs and solid performances all around. (2 1/2 meta jokes out of 5)

 

DEAD AND BURIED

Dead and Buried (1981 / dir. Gary A. Sherman / USA)

Boring and confusing are two fantastic adjectives to describe this lackluster sort-of-zombie film. Dead fishermen come back to life to terrorize and take pictures of the living. There’s some genuinely spooky moments, but they are few and far between in a movie that seems to have no idea what the hell it is doing. (2 unfocused flood lights out of 5) 

 

DEMONS 1985

Demons (1985 / dir. Lamberto Bava / Italy) 

Absolutely fucking ridiculous. When a weird steampunk silver-masked dude in the subway hands out a free pass to a movie premiere, a young woman and her friend decide to go. At the movie premiere, hipsters and aging artists gather only to be possessed by demons one by one and rip each other apart. An Italian movie centered around Americans with awful English dubbing. (3 1/2 Steampunk Phantom of the Opera Dudes out of 5) 

 

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The Innkeepers (2011 / dir. Ti West / USA)

Expertly crafted slow-burn from the director of House of the Devil, that provides a small but incredibly effective amount of scares. It also provides a lot of great humor thanks to two very well developed leads beautifully played by Sara Paxton and Pat Healy. They are the two clerks working at the Yankee Peddler Inn on it’s closing weekend. Apparently the place is haunted and in between virtually ignoring guests, they try their hand at ghost hunting.  There are moments when the film will definitely test your patience, but the pay-off is more than worth it. (4 1/2 ignored towel requests out of 5) 

 

MANIAC COP 1 2

Maniac Cop (1988 / dir. William Lustig / USA)

Bruce Campbell and Tom Atkins battle Maniac Cop, the NYPD’s dirty little secret. Apparently Maniac Cop was once a good cop, he shot first and asked questions later, but he was still a good cop. After getting sent to prison, he was brutally killed and then released onto the public by the police or medical team that brings him back from the dead or something. Anyway, they send him out to the street to “take out the trash” but once he starts killing white people it’s suddenly a problem and Maniac Cop must be stopped. This is a poorly made film that’s just competent enough so it’s not even funny. Since it’s about a cop who murders unarmed civilians and the failure of the NYPD to do anything about it, it takes on a sort of eerie relevance in 2016. There’s even an anti-NYPD protest in the streets towards the end. Oh, and Bruce Campbell’s stunt man clearly has a mullet. (1 1/2 human rights violations out of 5) 

 

MANIAC COP 2

Maniac Cop 2 (1990 / dir. William Lustig / USA) 

Bruce Campbell is back to take on Maniac Cop again. Everyone just assumes Maniac Cop is dead, but he’s not, he’s just more decomposed than he was the first time around. In this one, he’s more like Jason Voorhees meets Sloth from The Goonies. He goes around helping rapists/murders and murdering their victims as well as declaring war on all NYPD officers. It’s offensive, misogynistic, poorly made but in a lot of ways the film the first Maniac Cop should have been. At least this installment is so off-the-rails it’s amusing and features a lot more sequences involving people running around on fire. Just a year before his Oscar nomination for Barton Fink, Michael Lerner appeared in this as a police commissioner rarely seen without his pipe. Technically not on Shudder, but worth the $2.99 7-day rental if you already hate yourself.  (3 Christopher Dorners out of 5) 

Later this weekend, I’ll post mini reviews of the other 6 movies I watched during this 14-day trial period:

MURDER PARTY

THE PACT

PIECES

SHAKMA 

SLEEPAWAY CAMP

THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS 

 

 

 

 

 

CRITERION COLLECTION REVIEWS – VOL. 7 (In the Mood for Love, The Killing, Secret Honor)

THE KILLINGIN THE MOOD FOR LOVESECRET HONOR

IN THE MOOD

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000 / dir. Wong Kar-Wai / Hong Kong / China) Talk about a slow burn, Wong Kar Wai’s little romance story runs 98 minutes but feels like 150. In the Mood For Love stars Tony Leung (Chow Yun-Fat’s sidekick in Hard Boiled) and Maggie Cheung (Hero) as two lonely married people who find solace in each other, but the film really stars some of the most gorgeous and bizarre cinematography in film history. Wai commonly uses multiple cinematographers for his films, for this he used Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping Bin, which can very easily result in a incoherent and jumbled vision. However, In the Mood for Love has a remarkably strong, singular vision. However, the pacing becomes a problem with the film seems to become more concerned with the visuals rather than the human drama. The scenes between Leung and Cheung are beautifully written and touching, but you wish there was more of them. There’s a logical closing point 80 minutes into the film but instead of closing on the movie’s most relevant and powerful scene, it stretches out for another 18 minutes to show us pretty but irrelevant shots of a monastery in Cambodia. Still, this is a powerful and beautiful film that is wholly unique. Grade: B+

 

THE KILLING 2

THE KILLING (1956 / dir. Stanley Kubrick / USA) – Stanley Kubrick’s third film about a racetrack robbery suffers from completely unnecessary and even condescending voice-over narration that was forced into the film against the auteur’s will. Besides that, there is nothing wrong with this blackly hilarious and edgy film noir, Kubrick’s first true masterpiece. The film features solid acting that plays heavily to the genre, including a unique leading man role by the criminally underappreciated Sterling Hayden, gorgeous lighting, and a single tracking shot so good I almost shit myself. The Criterion Collection DVD and BluRay also includes a 4K digital transfer of Kubrick’s previous film Killer’s Kiss. This is an absolute must-own. Grade: A

 

SECRET HONRO 2

SECRET HONOR (1984 / dir. Robert Altman / USA) – Secret Honor could have been a really solid stage production, but instead it’s a Robert Altman film. Featuring really dull cinematography that lingers without purpose, the only saving grace to the film is a powerhouse performance by Philip Baker Hall as a desperate Richard Nixon. I suppose Nixon’s long monologues would have been more engrossing for me if I hadn’t already seen Hopkins and Langella mine the Dick’s psyche in their respective Nixon films. In all fairness, Secret Honor came first, but I had the misfortune of seeing it last. Still, I can still say fairly objectively, that both Nixon and Frost, Nixon were both more engaging motion pictures. If only because they ventured out of one room. Altman should have known better. Available for Streaming on HuluPlus. Grade: B-

33rd Miami International Film Festival Capsule Reviews

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Starting tomorrow, The 33rd Miami International Film Festival will take place in Miami, Florida. Motorbreath has been granted a chance to review many of the films that will screen in it in capsule form, making it the first Film Festival to be proudly covered by Movie Motorbreath (unless you count that post-Cannes ’14 post I did).

The Festival has a history of focusing on independent cinema, both native to the United States (especially Miami-based talent), as well as an excitingly large amount of Ibero-American cinema in addition to the rest of its international interests. The chance to sample this variety of cultural film as well as the various experimental and socially-relevant selections really hypes me up.

As such, I will be updating this particular post with the capsule reviews – as per their requests, based on the varying release dates of the films – of what I watch over its two weeks (and I’ve already begun making use of their online video library) and hopefully give you guys a run-down of what to look out for when it comes to a wide release stateside.

So tomorrow, expect us to begin with a few reviews and keep checking in up until 13 March to see this post updated again and again with more movies underneath!

Thanks to Miami International Film Festival and Miami-Dade College for facilitating this! And thanks to you guys for following up on Motorbreath!

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I’ve Never Not Been from Miami (2015/dir. Omnibus/USA)

Essentially a collection of 10 different short profiles commissioned by WPBT2 (PBS’ South Florida branch), all of them profiles of Miami-based artists in one way or another and all of them directed by a Miami-based filmmaker. And the result is as diverse as you would imagine, though like most anthologies or collections – while there is no short film I out-and-out dislike – the rub is that some are going to outright weaker than others. For instance, one early on that felt more like a video resume than any real insight into the artistic process of its subject (though it still retained an interesting energy that made it a quick and fun watch at least).

But the variety isn’t just in the subjects mediums – from fine art to dance to performance art – but in the styles and approaches the filmmakers make in depicting those artforms. Kareem Tabsch’s short insists on recreating his subject Farley Aguilar’s artwork with models, Tina Francisco’s segment on Bryan Butler parodies the PBS classic The World of Painting (probably my favorite segment with only Monica Pena’s piece of Deon Rubi competing with it). And in many cases, the style of the filmmaker is a perfect match for his subjects work – Swampdog’s stylistic choices in editing style for AholSniffsGlue absolutely helps put someone like me (for whom Ahol’s stuff simply isn’t my aesthetic) into the zone for the 5 minutes in which he is our focus.

Overall, the real rewarding part of this isn’t necessarily the versatility that Miami’s artists presents, but the overall personality of the city’s art culture that they paint – absolutely something more to be gained by watching all of these shorts in a row rather than episodically – one that takes influence from the urban, the raw, the energy, and all of the above into something that feels divorced from many other major art scenes in the US.

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My Big Night (2015/dir. Alex de la Iglesia/Spain)

Your mileage will vary on this exhaustively wacky Opening night comedy, especially with the variable of whether or not you have as little a pulse in the Latin community as yours truly. But there is no doubt there is a good amount to love and enjoy about My Big Night in its rapid 100 minute length. de la Iglesia and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevaria drop us right in the middle of a disastrous New Year’s Eve telecast quicker than one of the cranes could intensely crush an extra and, as a result of that exact incident occurring before we can even register where the primary location is, our only surrogate into the bizarre world of hyper-pop gaudy colors and unrelenting screams and confetti is Jose (Pepon Nieto), an unemployed extra rushed on-set to replace the possibly dead man.

In the meantime, the movie rushes in and out of subplots within the story – Jose’s romantic connection with the extra seated next to him, Paloma (Bianca Suarez), and the certain doom it spells for his life; the vicious feuding between the married hosts (Hugo Silva and Carolina Bang); the potential sexual scandal teenage pop star Adanne the Fireman (Mario Casas) runs himself into; a union riot taking place outside of the shooting lit in smoky greys like out of an apocalypse; etc. – all flipped through with little apparent rhyme or reason so much as a character happened to be in frame as one subplot came to its break, with a devious insistence on suggesting how much worse the event will deforms into a loud nightmare like Pedro Almodovar watching a Robert Altman and figuring “I can do that”.

All the characters from punching bag Yuri (Carlos Arecas) to conflicted assassin Oscar (Jaime Ordonez) to everybody do a great job of carving their characters – whether repulsive prima donnas, schemers, imbeciles, or just sad sacks – into gargoyles of shallow glee, and while there’s a sort of loss of continuity that makes the ticking clock of the show hard to follow and many jokes I feel a novice Spanish-speaker like myself missed out on (much of them played up by legendary ballad singer Raphael in an unambiguously self-parodic role), it only ran out of gas for me within its final 20 minutes, until which I was onboard with all the insanity. And I’m sure if you’re significantly more familiar with Latin culture than I was, you’ll have a bigger blast than I had. The audience sure did.

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Truman (2015/dir. Cesc Gay/Spain & Argentina)

Truman has a reputation preceding its appearance here in MIFF. Not necessarily winning the Palme d’Or like Dheepan or nor coming on an overwhelming wave of praise like The Lobster. It did however win the Spanish equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar (the Goya Awards) and it does also feature Ricardo Darin in it, who is probably the Argentinian actor I am most capable of recognizing without a cue card.

Darin portrays actor Julian, the unexpected host to a visit from his old friend Tomas (Javier Camara). It takes no time for Julian to unearth the meaning of Tomas coming to Madrid from Canada: Julian will cancel his cancer treatment and accept his impending death and Tomas will spend the next four days with him, even if he (and many others in Julian’s life) have not come to terms with Julian’s decision. Julian’s primary concern is less with the fact that he’s going to die and more with who he will be able to trust to care for his Bullmastiff named Truman. In the meantime, Julian and Tomas’ time spent is based on them waxing nostalgic and the most surface philosophy on the lives they’ve lived and the life facilitated around them. Still that doesn’t stop Julian from opening up their conversations to the imminent end of his life and while, truth be told, Truman doesn’t make any brand-new revelations about death, the subject remains a heavy one carried with an amount of unmanipulative frankness and gravity. It helps with how much the Truman situation is pushed in the background, only to eventually come around at the end.

Darin and Camara lend this situation a lot of humor humanity that keeps things remarkably light despite the muted color palette and pointed dialogue throughout (My favorite: “People don’t know what to say to me. They smell death and they get scared”) to make this a somewhat rewarding watch, even if it doesn’t have as much meat on its bones as one would expect for a subject of this kind of severity.

In America

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Brooklyn is a very lovely film. It’s a pleasant film. It is a film that you can hardly walk away and be disgusted by it and it’s tasteful in every single way. Painstakingly so, to the point of feeling like the entire point of the movie was to portray the immigrant experience as remarkably saccharine and inoffensive in every way.

Of course, it would be so. The movie romanticizes the Irish young woman Eilis Lacey’s (Saoirse Ronan) moving to the titular Brooklyn as part of her new life away from her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) as a trip that is a bit intimidating but nevertheless a growing curve by all possible means. And that leads to an incredibly likable movie that director John Crowley and writer Nick Hornby have crafted for us. It just also leads to one that’s particularly unchallenging in many ways. Hornby’s script is pretty well defanged and unconflicted about a majority of the experiences Eilis has, merely showcasing them as stepping stones for her to find life and herself. I’m not sure if I can say it’s simply not my type of story or if the tale is entirely generic and plush in a manner that would make Hallmark call its lawyer, but the lack of conflict in the film is very noticeable for most of its 112 minutes.

What is of course a great source of personality about the film is how Ronan literally handed to her on a silver plate and makes Eilis full of inner thoughts and unspoken moods with every turn of the page. That the episodic manner of the scenarios gives her space to slowly allow Eilis to grow more and more as an entity doesn’t stop Ronan from letting Eilis still change and shift inside herself. It’s a role that Ronan grabs eagerly by the handles and undoubtedly this is the performance of her career so far. I can only hope other projects she attaches herself to compliment her skill so well.

Going back to the story as it is, Crowley and company at least don’t make Brooklyn any less enjoyable of a film than it is. He and cinematographer Yves Belanger have more than enough energy to spare about making the whole of Eilis’ surroundings look at the least photogenic and at most look at least lovely faded into a nostalgic mood. Which is one of the only things that gives stakes to the third act of Brooklyn where it introduces the expected conflict of Eilis picking between her old home of Ireland or her new home of America.

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The other thing giving stake to that conflict, because it’s not going to be anything on paper, is simply how the rest of the cast is willing to stack up with Ronan’s performance and meet it. Most of them are just superficially genial, but it obviously works and makes each side of Eilis’ life seem moving and attractive in one way or the other. For one, it is the only Domnhall Gleeson performance of 2015 other than Ex Machina that I can actually think worked (it probably helps that his character is so restrained and not commanding anyone). Emory Cohen tries to lift the most overt Marlon Brando impression in his love interest to Eilis for the sake of the casual urban quality without being as repulsive as Brando’s characters occasionally were. And Jim Broadbent is simply unable to give inner life to any character he embodies. The difference between New York and Enniscorthy lives within the supporting cast for this movie and their varied presentation of humanity and community is messy and contradictory in a wonderful way. It is the last resort of the movie that keeps it floating to the credits and it does it successfully.

If this ends up feeling like I don’t have much to say about Brooklyn and believe me, it looks that way from this side of the review, it’s kind of because I don’t. I can happily report that I liked Brooklyn if nothing else, but it’s simply an ephemeral pleasantry that doesn’t feel as rewarding as one would have hoped as the successful vehicle of a very talented actress.

A bit of an anecdote that I think very well paints how Brooklyn felt to me: I was volunteering in January for a film festival and one of the fellow volunteers I talked with – maybe no younger than 60, no older than 70 – was talking about how she absolutely hated Anomalisa, hated The Hateful Eight, and adored Brooklyn. And truth be told, I think it’s exactly for that sort of audience – anybody who is looking for simply an affectionate tale towards its characters (Brooklyn‘s has not an inch of contempt in it) but it doesn’t have much more meat behind it.

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