Saturday, July 02, 2016

Attention Shallows fans: re: Jaume Collet-Serra, plus The Neon Demon

A few movie thoughts: having enjoyed - with a few misgivings - the effective shark horror film The Shallows, and having previously kinda loved (Shallows director) Jaume Collet-Serra's Unknown, a smarter-than-usual formula action  film (with Liam Neeson, who seems to be cranking out five of these a year while the work is there and the money is good), I went out and picked up two other Collet-Serra DVDs: Non-Stop and Run All  Night (also both with Neeson). Non-Stop is the weaker, drawing on a formula I find tedious (better handled in Unknown, which had a twist that I could not anticipate and kept Mom and I guessing and engaged throughout, when we watched it a few months ago, back when Mom was still alive, obviously): it's an "is the hero nuts film." Without spoiling anything, 99% of the films in this genre answer that question "no," so there's not much sense of suspense left in the question, plus Non-Stop has the unfortunate added drawback of being an "is the hero nuts ON AN AIRPLANE" film, which kind of reached its generic apotheosis with Flightplan (not a good film, but the one that flies its formula to such maximal heights that it somewhat exhausts it for all future time; no more really needs be done with this subgenre, really, or at least not for decades). Story is simple enough: Liam Neeson is an air marshal who is texted terrorist threats on a flight - but is he himself the terrorist? It's effectively done, and Neeson acquits himself fine - at least it's not another Taken sequel - though Julianne Moore is kinda wasted, and in the end its just not that notable a movie. Unknown is more fun - it's a hero-with-memory-loss film, who wakes into a Twilight Zone world to discover that no one remembers him: it's somewhere between a middle-aged Bourne movie and Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, with, as I say, a twist that I did not, could not guess (and energetic, confident direction by Collet-Serra, who is definitely good at this sort of thing).
The best film of them all, though - including The Shallows, which is tense but pretty simple - is Run All Night, which has some excellent performances (including Ed Harris), telling a story of family loyalty and gangland crime that doesn't exactly get your pulse racing, but gets you invested in the characters. It reminded me a bit of Phil Joanou's State of Grace, a film I haven't seen for years, but remember having a similarly tragic trajectory and fine cast (also including Ed Harris!). It's not perfect: the showdown at the end lacks freshness, and Collet-Serra keeps insisting on gimmicky zoom shots that take us miles in a few seconds, a distracting "look Ma I have a computer" effect that kinda brought back David Fincher's 2002 film Panic Room: it actually seems a DATED GIMMICK, unlikely to impress, and totally irrelevant to the story (at least the trick shots in Limitless are motivated by the perceptual changes brought on by the drug in the film). But it's the best neo-noir I've seen in awhile, and Neeson reminds you that he actually, beneath all the action movie bullshit, is a fine actor. It's worth seeking out.
In terms of other films recently consumed, I just wanted to say that I rather loved Nicolas Winding Refn's ill- received The Neon Demon, in much the same way that I rather loved Only God Forgives. It's maybe not quite as fresh as that film, but between Refn's images and Cliff Martinez's soundtrack, I was gripped throughout; Refn is one of a handful of filmmakers out there I'm excited to follow at present, a master craftsman with a very intelligent and very dark sense of humour - though surely he needs another Drive to get people's attention again, since he won't be able to keep making films like this for mainstream audiences if he doesn't through the morons a bone once in awhile (I mean, I liked Drive, but it's a kind of Happy Meal compared to his subsequent films, which are kind of for-cinephiles-only. It isn't exactly a surprise that the new film is being poorly received). Must say that I particularly love that he is working with Jena Malone, whom I loved in Donnie Darko, Corn, and The Ruins, and who seems an agreeably eccentric, smart young woman who more could be done with in Hollywood (Google "Jena Malone and her Bloodstains" sometime). David Lynch should work with her. I'm glad Refn did. (I can imagine the conversation when the film was pitched to her: "you want me to play a LESBIAN NECROPHILIAC? I'm in!").

Anyhow, that's about it, I'm kind of rushed, but these are some entertaining films I've been watching. The Neon Demon continues its run at International Village, but only late at night. Thanks to Chris Desjardins, on Facebook, for getting me to get off my ass and see it while there were still matinees.

Of course, now my thoughts will turn to De Palma... Planning a triple bill on Sunday at the Vancity. More on the retrospective below, I have nothing to add, though I was happy to learn that Adrian Mack and I share many DePalma-y enthusiasms....

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