Got The Blockbuster Blues? Moriarty Reviews Summer Alternatives SON OF RAMBOW! David Mamet’s REDBELT! Norweigian REPRISE!
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. We’re a few weeks into the summer season, and I’m already getting e-mails from people fatigued by “big movies.” I love this time of year, but I recognize why some people would need some counterprogramming to keep them sane. So today, I thought I’d recommend three movies that are rolling out in limited release right now, and they’re all worth you seeking them out. They’re very different, though, so no matter what your tastes, you’ll find something here you should see.
SON OF RAMBOW
I had a chance to chat with Hammer & Tongs a few weeks ago, and it’s not a shock to learn that they’re totally normal film freaks, guys shaped by the golden age of VHS just like myself. SON OF RAMBOW is a film that perfectly captures what I think is a fairly common experience for most film geeks, that moment when you’re first bit by the bug and you realize that film is a language you want to spend the rest of your life speaking. It’s a movie that is drunk on the act of creating, and on the friendships that result from that sort of creative partnership. It’s sweet and rowdy and heartfelt and rude all at once, and it’s one of the best films released so far in 2008. Garth Jennings has long since proven himself to be a smart, witty visualist in his video work and with his feature debut on HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, but here, he proves himself to be a keen observer of human nature as well with his knowing, funny screenplay. Will Proudfoot (played by the exceptional Bill Milner) is a weird kid. No other way to put it. His mother Mary (SPACED’s co-creator and all-around-comedy-god Jessica Hynes) is hyper-religious and more than a little damaged and dour, and his father’s gone, lost to some distant war. When he meets Lee Carter (played by the also-exceptional Will Poulter), it’s not an immediate friendship. Lee Carter’s sort of a shit to Will at first, and Will’s sort of a dishrag who just lets this kid run over him. The way their friendship begins to establish itself is the real soul of the film, and it’s where I think Jennings does his very best work. This film appreciates that kids have secret lives that they live away from their parents, lives filled with danger and forbidden things and all sorts of wildly questionable behavior. I lived that way. My friends and I had afternoons and weekends and nights we snuck out, all of it totally secret from our parents, and I’m sure my boys will have the same sort of private lives. It’s part of becoming who we’re eventually going to be, and in those heady wild times when we’re young, we are reactions to the people around us more than anything else. Just as Will is having his year of awakening, so are his classmates, but in reaction to a totally different catalyst: Didier Revol. Jules Sitruk plays this French exchange student who hits the school like a Flock of Seagulls, enchanting both male and female students alike with his alien cool. And when Didier and Will Proudfoot strike up an even stranger friendship of necessity, worlds collide, and things build to a surprisingly adult and sober conclusion. It’s hard to oversell just how great this young cast is, but they deserve the praise. Jennings elicits such natural, unaffected work from them all, and as someone who survived being a teenager in the ‘80s, I’m impressed by the way the period detail is played real, not as a joke. They get the ‘80s right in all the little ways that matter, and it’s important that the film be set at that moment because that’s when suddenly video cameras were in the hands of everyone. Or they could be, anyway. They were affordable. They were still big and technically crude, but goddammit, we had cameras. Movie cameras. And it wasn’t like film. I’d shot a little bit of film before then, but that could easily become an expensive hobby, and video... videotape was pretty close to free, or so it seemed. It seemed suddenly like we could try to make movies ourselves. Like it was a real possibility, and not the brick wall that so many people tried to convince me a career in film would be. It was a moment of empowerment, and that’s the thing I get from this film most clearly... what it feels like when you get your first real taste of freedom. SON OF RAMBOW bottles that sensation, that joy and trauma and danger and laughter, all of it mixed up together. Pretty heady stuff, and I hope this is an indicator of what we can expect from Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith in the future.
I’m hot and cold on Mamet as a director. Mamet as a writer, I’m a stone-cold long-time fan. When I was in theater school at Florida State, I got to direct and act in various scenes from his plays, and it was electric, exciting to be able to play material like that. I’ve read some of his plays dozens of times. His trademark cadence can certainly be parodied, but there’s a reason he writes like that... he is a musician of language, and when he’s on, there are few guys with better ears. But as a director, I think he’s had a spotty career. I think he gets cut a fair amount of critical slack because we all know he’s not a hack. I may be alone on this one, but I think HOMICIDE is his high-watermark as a director. I don’t dislike many of his films, but I always find he can derail his own best efforts with unfortunate casting choices (oh, I rue the day he met Rebecca Pidgeon) or too-obvious con games (I don’t quite rue the day he met Ricky Jay, but come on... we get it already... con games are cool), and as a result, I respect THE WINSLOW BOY or THE SPANISH PRISONER or STATE AND MAIN or HEIST more than I actually like them. I think HOUSE OF GAMES is a cool little movie, and THINGS CHANGE has its charms, and SPARTAN is tough and cool and intriguingly uncompromised. But REDBELT... this is a Mamet we haven’t really seen on film before, and I like it. Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of the most charismatic leads working today, and over the last ten years, he’s been slowly but surely building a body of work that establishes his range and the sheer force of personality he can project when given the right role. As Mike Terry, owner of a small mixed-martial arts dojo that is drowning financially, Ejiofor walks the fine line between dignity and petulant pride. He teaches fighting, but he refuses to compete as a fighter because he believes it muddies the “art” side of “martial arts.” He’s reaching for a purity of some sort, and the reasons for that and the ways his determination are tested are the things that really drive this film. A great MMA match doesn’t have to be about powerful punches or explosive kicks. It can be determined in close contact, in a grapple or a choke-hold, with the exertion of pressure more than force, and this entire film is like a match for Mike Terry. He’s wrestling with his responsibilities to his marriage and his business and his faith and his philosophy, and the more he struggles, the harder it is. For a moment, it looks like fate smiles on Mike in the form of a chance encounter with movie star Chet Frank (Tim Allen, bringing real credibility to his work as an unapologetic Hollywood asshole), but it’s a feint, a sucker-punch, and by the end of the film, Mike finds himself tested in every way possible but determined to find the escape that he knows exists in every fight. He knows there is a way to win, and it’s a matter of head and heart and fist all lining up at once. Whether or not he can do that is the question of the film, and it sounds like pretty standard sports movie fare. Only... this is Mamet. And he comes at it all sideways and oblique, and he weaves in so many oddball story threads that it takes a while for the film to come into focus. It’s almost like CRASH with kickboxing for a while, only Mamet never gives us the easy miracles and sickly bromides of the Haggis film. The film ladles on enough subplots and drama to bury Mike, and he has to shake it off and figure out who and what he’s really fighting, and the way Mamet builds to the film’s climax, it’s some of the most straightforward stuff of his career. He doesn’t approach it with his trademark emotional detachment. In fact, the characters in the film that most sound like Mamet characters are the ones that the film seems to savage the most, while Mike Terry, a new kind of Mamet hero, a man of reluctant force, is held up as the new ideal. I found myself emotionally pinned by the film’s conclusion, something that doesn’t happen with Mamet often. He shies away from emotional release so often that this sort of blindsided me. Robert Elswit’s been having a heck of a run lately, and his work on this movie is rich and textured. The way the fight sequences are staged and photographed is very clear, very communicative. Mamet hasn’t shot much action in his films, but here, he gets right inside the fights, and I think it’s because this entire project developed organically from Mamet and his son becoming obsessed with mixed-martial arts themselves. They took classes together, graduated from belt to belt together, and Mamet really fell in love with the particulars of these fights, the dynamics of them. That’s what he and Elswit manage to capture, and it’s quietly impressive work. Overall, REDBELT is a sports movie, and it certainly does not manage to evade all of the conventions of the genre, but think of this as a high-end version of the sports film, more akin to something like a RUDY or a FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS or a HOOSIERS, and a real treat considering how sure I was that I knew all of Mamet’s tricks at this point.
Mental illness in our friends can be terrifying to confront.
So can success.
That’s the basic theme of REPRISE, the debut feature of Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier. Released abroad in 2006, it’s just now making it to the US, and it’s definitely worth seeing, particularly if you want an antidote to the typical American teen film right now. Here in America, the Disney Channel and that whole vibe seems to rule youth culture right now, while overseas, it’s still possible to make a film that explores the transition from idealistic youth to clear-eyed adult with something more than a popcorn desire to placate while selling soundtracks. Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner) are best friends, both with literary aspirations. As the film begins, they are both done with their first novels, ready to send them in to the publishers, sure that they are about to become famous. What happens once they drop those manuscripts in the mail is a fairly brutal but honest rollercoaster. One novel is published; one is not. And just that would be enough meat for a film normally, but there’s so much more at play here. Love, obsession, self-loathing, cowardice... it’s a tough road for both Phillip and Erik, but for different reasons. What’s true of both of them is that they bring most of their woe on themselves, and for people who want to write novels and communicate some sort of truth about the world to others, they’re remarkably young and lacking in self-awareness. That’s a big point the film makes... that these young men are so desperate to be artists, but they have nothing to say. Their art is little more than the work of their literary heroes regurgitated. They don’t have anything to say because nothing’s really happened to either of them.
And then things do start happening. And both Erik and Phillip are rocked substantially by the events in the film, and they’re tested in terms of character and in terms of their friendship. The film plays rough, but it also manages to find just the right places for some raw and edgy humor. He wraps things up a little too neatly in places in the script, sort of like a punk-rock Richard Curtis, but there’s a lot to like here anyway. He appears to be a huge fan of early Truffaut, and there’s a giddy sense of release to the filmmaking that so often marks the work of young men finally turned loose with a camera. If you see this as a bookend to SON OF RAMBOW, this is what happens when Will and Lee grow up, still in love with movies, and then they never quite become who they think they’re going to be, and disappointment sets in, and sorrow, and maybe they’re not strong enough to carry all of that. Trier is interested in the small behaviors of his characters, the easy rapport between friends, the tensions between strangers, the frustrations of long-time friends. Normally, I’m bored by films that are about the creation of art, but like SON OF RAMBOW, this is a film that gets it right, that appreciates the release and that also acknowledges the cost. It’s not perfect, but it’s alive, and that’s reason enough to make sure you see this one.
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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May 14, 2008, 5:37 a.m. CST
May 14, 2008, 5:43 a.m. CST
There are plenty of other films out there. I don't buy this concept. Yeah, there's loads of publicity and marketing out there at the moment, but Iron Man and Speed Racer (RIP) are the only ones out at the moment. I wish folks would do a little looking around themselves instead of the usual kneejerk reaction to something we all knwo comes around this time of year without fail. However, Mori has made some good examples. Particularly Son of Rambow. Saw Hammer and Tongs last year at a Scottish Students On Screen. Damn nice blokes and got a nice wee t-shirt off them.
May 14, 2008, 5:45 a.m. CST
Double U Tee Eff. REDBELT VS NEVER BACK DOWN. Make it happen.
May 14, 2008, 6:05 a.m. CST
It's a terrific movie, though I was a little disappointed, possibly because my expectations were high. Some of the plot threads are tied off a little neatly at the end, and considering Will has only seen one movie he seems to reference Rambo: First Blood Part Two a bit too often. That's just quibbling, though. It's got a lot of heart, and it's funny, and my God, it's good to see some properly populist British movies, and by that I mean entertaining films made with conviction and integrity and intelligence and attention to detail, and not just the usual hacky bullshit romcoms and period movies that have substituted themselves for real filmmaking. Mori, I remember you really really really hating Be Kind Rewind, a film I ended up preferring to Rambow. I like that we have two movies out now saying a similar thing, that creating art on a level not previously thought possible is now within our grasp. All you need is ingenuity and passion, and the technology is there and ready to help you. Rambow was a good movie about childhood, but Rewind was inspiring. At least, that's how it affected me.
May 14, 2008, 6:13 a.m. CST
by barnaby jones
Iron Man and Speed Racer were good, but surely Hollywood can do better than that !
May 14, 2008, 6:13 a.m. CST
Oh and Speed racer which was a bit gash!<P>we in UK aint had RAMBO yit unless i completely missed it!?<P>can't wait for Indy and everything else to come out as I'm actually gagging for some big screen fun!<P>Pidgeon is excellent what's your probs with her?
May 14, 2008, 6:15 a.m. CST
by barnaby jones
May 14, 2008, 6:18 a.m. CST
You forgot the profusion of miserabilist film which seem to blanket us like some kind of pishy rebellion to US blockbusters. You know, the type no one really goes to see. Although I am assured that Roundin Up Donkeys does not fall completely into that category and has a brilliantly black sense of humour. More populist (and good) UK films please! More Wright, Marshall and Hammer & Tongs!
May 14, 2008, 6:48 a.m. CST
i do enjoy blockbuster big flashy effect-laden entertainment, but in between those saccharine overdoses one needs some proper filmatic nourishment...like much of the stuff they make in europe.
May 14, 2008, 6:48 a.m. CST
And less Three and Out, or any of those disposable shitty comedies we seem to pump out every week. God, the British film industry is a shocking wasteland. That said, the miserabilist stuff can be good (look at Lynne Ramsay's work; she's possibly my favourite British director), but so often it's made by people with no understanding of what they're doing, coating their movies in a layer of "authentic" grit as if terrified even the slightest moment of glamour or artistic flair would compromise them. The majority of British films made in the last ten years are awful, with some bright spots (The Descent, Last Resort, Morvern Callar, Red Road, Sunshine, Hot Fuzz, a handful of others).<p>FILMFUNK, Son of Rambow was indeed out a while back as barnaby jones said, but disappeared really quickly. And, just to rub it in, no UK releases for Redbelt or The Fall. Fucking hell, last year I had to go to America to see The Mist last year (okay, I was there already, but if I hadn't gone that week, I'd never have seen it). Fucking UK.
May 14, 2008, 7:15 a.m. CST
He is a hack and he lost it because he is old. Welcome to AICN.
May 14, 2008, 8:40 a.m. CST
Looks around for trolls. None here. Move along.
May 14, 2008, 8:41 a.m. CST
but I wouldn't be so quick to shove it into the "sports movie" genre, even by saying it's an offbeat sports movie. It's a very good, dramatic film with some excellent acting from Ejiofor.
May 14, 2008, 10:52 a.m. CST
by Ninja Nerd
Already going to see it this weekend with my son...we're actually both Red Belts...but it's nice to see a positive review. I was especially jazzed to find out that Mamet and his son did MMA together. I'll appreciate the film at a whole different level now. Really intrigued to see Tim Allen's work in this. I mean, you expect a Bill Macy or Ricky Jay in a Mamet film...practically a requirement...but Tim Allen!?!? I think it's gonna be a great weekend!
May 14, 2008, 11:45 a.m. CST
did anybody else find the character of Didier really stupid and annoying? The most interesting thing about his character was literally the last 10 seconds he was in the movie (when he's on the bus), because you start to question certain things about his actual character underneath the facade. But that is completely lost in the rest of the movie, and he's just left as a completely two-dimensional idiot. Why did everybody think he's cool (besides the fact that the plot required it)? His clothes? Because that's all there was to him. It was very, very irritating. It was a good movie despite that though, the two main kids were great. By the way, I recorded Garth Jennings' Q&A session from the Chicago screening, I can post it somewhere if anybody's interested.
May 14, 2008, 12:29 p.m. CST
Love most of it (Glengarry is still my favorite), but my GOD are some of the lines stilted, awkward, and NOT the way people would speak at all. Example: Devito saying "My nephew, Jimmy Silk. Yep--that's who he is!" Another: Rebecca Pidgeon saying into the phone: "Now wait, if it's about your WIFE, if it's about your WIFE--" which sounded so much like Mamet was echoing his own "Oleanna" that it took me right out of the story. In all fairness, though, one of Hackman's lines makes up for everything: when Devito says "Don't you wanna hear my last words?", Gene says "I just did", and blasts him with a shotgun. Perfect. Also, Delroy Lindo was terrific as always.
May 14, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST
Never understood this one, but I like it: "My man is so cool that SHEEP count HIM."
May 14, 2008, 12:44 p.m. CST
Brought to you by the Anal Retentive Society.
May 14, 2008, 4:57 p.m. CST
Danny DeVito: "Everybody needs money. That's why they call it money." A totally nonsensical Mametian line that still made the whole cinema laugh. Weird.<p>Spartan was the shit. I couldn't believe how awesome that movie was after seeing it. I figured it was some inconsequential late career shit, but it was really strong stuff.
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