Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in Carruth's Upstream Color
One of the few things I don’t hate about winter: snow days. I love it when the white stuff forces me into exile because it gives me a chance to catch up on my ever-growing streaming online must-watch list. I said this to my sister this week and she said, “I love that you have a watch list.” “Wait,” I said. “You don’t have a watch list?” “Um, no,” said she. We’re twins, people.
So, in case you are one of those lucky people who aren’t walking around with a mental list of everything you must see before you die, said list weighing heavy on your soul, allow me to suggest the following watch-list adds for your next snow day. They all feature my perfect snow-day trifecta: An element of mystery engrossing enough to ward off cabin fever, a decided bleakness to mirror my seasonally depressed soul, and a dose of finality (crime avenged, mystery revealed, etc.) as an antidote to the feeling that this winter is never, ever, ever going to end.*
I walked out of The Wolf of Wall Streetwith a bad case of brain whiplash. Based on an autobiography by penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort, Wolf is expertly directed by Martin Scorsese (you know: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc., etc.). As I tried to find a way to describe my post-film feelings, the best I settled on is this: Deeply disconcerted. Here’s why:
The amount of talent behind this film is astounding. I’m a Scorsese fan, and he didn’t disappoint. Every frame is interesting (even if there were a little too many of ‘em at 2 hours and 59 minutes). His use of sound and music is sharp as always. His style is assured and unrelenting; you may disagree with some of his choices, but you never doubt that he made them with thought and considerable force.
In one of the better scenes in The Counselor, a wealthy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) buys an engagement stone from a monoglogueing dealer. Many of the characters a Cormac McCarthy protagonist encounters are philosophical, and this diamond seller is true to form. He holds up a beautiful specimen and declares it a “cautionary stone,” and speaks of humans’ hope “to partake in the stone’s endless destiny…At our noblest we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives. That we will not thereby be made less.” But this story is not about people at their noblest. Oh, no. It’s about people who choose see the diamond’s price but not its lesson…and the inevitable, bloody consequences of those choices.
The Counselor is also (unintentionally) about the consequences of filmmaking choices that, oh, let’s say, decapitate a film’s chances for singularity, for hypnotism, for depth.
Prisoners, the first studio flick from indie helmer Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is a taut crime thriller that allows for deeper interpretations. The script by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)slithers and twists, solidly satisfying who-done-it genre rules. The film follows the case of two missing girls, the frustrated officer trying to find them (Jake Gyllenhaal), and their increasingly desperate fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard). The deep-bench cast also includes personal favorites Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.
You’ve probably noticed I’ve cut back on posting movie reviews lately. That’s because I’m trying to focus my extra time on actually writing and making movies, not just writing about them. I’m deep into another draft of a weird feminist Western I’ve been working on for years and in pre-production to direct a sci-fi short written by one of my friends. But I promise to keep reviewing long-discussion-provoking films. And in between those reviews, I promise to give you a list of what I’ve been watching just in case you, like me, are nosy about your friends’ movie and TV habits.
“Hey girl, are you going to see Gangster Squad this weekend? I’m giving myself cancer for the sake of historical accuracy and everything.”
This star-laden period piece is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) and written by Castle-scribe Will Beall, based on the book by Paul Lieberman. It tells the story of how a small team of LAPD officers fought mob-boss Mickey Cohen for control of Los Angeles.
In honor of the Christmas Day opening of Django Unchained, let’s look at Quentin Tarantino’s back catalogue. One of the most unique filmmakers working today, Tarantino has a signature style that borrows heavily from ’70s-era genre films, adds in stylized and idiosyncratic dialogue, then mixes it all up with over-the-top imagery. His films often feature shocking violence and revenge themes. I’m ambivalent about the use of both; sometimes I think he’s being exploitative, and sometimes I think he’s rightfully using them in the service of the story or an issue. More study is necessary: At the time of writing, I’ve only seen half of his films (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Inglorious Basterds). I’m making a New Year’s resolution to see the rest.