The Strongest and Most Silent Type Entry – Mute

Mute_poster

By now, some of the shine has worn off the novelty of Netflix Original movies. For me, this is largely due to the fact that there are so damned many of them, with everything from horror to comedy, both foreign and domestic. It’s far, far too much to keep up with and as a result, a lot of titles slip through my net unless something about them stands out – such as a director I really like (Duncan Jones!) a cast I really like (Paul Rudd! Justin Theroux! ALEXANDER SKARSGARD!), and an intriguing premise (Amish man searches a futuristic dystopia for his missing girlfriend). Thus we have Mute. 

Overall, Mute‘s appeal was also its biggest drawback – it had a rawness that a big studio would have no doubt filed and sanded down, which was what I appreciated about it. There were also so many characters and fascinating paths to follow that it was hard to stay focused on the main story. Although its parts seem sci-fi, the sum is actually a story with its roots in film noir. It finds Skarsgard playing Leo, who was silenced as a child in a boating accident and now works as a bartender in a club in Berlin. After his girlfriend disappears, he embarks on a journey through the city’s underworld, crossing paths with the likes of Rudd, Theroux, and even Dominic Monaghan in a bizarre and fun cameo.

I would recommend Mute to fans of cyberpunk and noir, with the proviso that it’s definitely got its own strange, bloody flavor. The world it posits is brutal and cruel, which makes Leo’s kindness and compassion stand out all the more. Skarsgard is eminently watchable doing anything and his Leo is fascinating and communicative. Paul Rudd makes an interesting diversion from his usual Likeable Snarky Guy to an edgy bastard. The real standout performance though is Theroux as Duck. From the very moment of his introduction Duck is difficult to pin down, seeming alternately warm, friendly, and predatory. He and Rudd’s character, Cactus Bill, are in a toxic relationship, and he ends almost every line of dialogue between them with a creepily murmured ‘Babe.’ Bill’s verbal and physical abuse wounds him openly, and Theroux does a great ‘hurt’ face, but after finding out what he’s been up to the very sight of him made my skin crawl.

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Captured during mid -“Uhhhnnnn, what’re you gonna do about it?” face

Mute is a familiar story made more engaging by its characters and their performances; we’ve seen this kind of grotesque dystopia before so seeing it again with a somewhat fresh take involving the Amish was definitely entertaining. I wish there had been more  female characters but we can’t have everything.

 

Werebeasts Week: Cat People (1942)

It turns out Irina has a secret… If the movie title hasn’t already tipped you, she’s a cat person!

October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE!

Hello and welcome to Werebeasts Week here at Late to the Theater! This week’s selections are hairy, scary, and usually unfairly judged – They just want to be understood! Or fed! Either way, we’re looking at people who sprout fur, fangs, and bad attitudes this week, so make sure your shots are up to date and you’ve packed a doggie bag. Let’s get going!

Today I’ve got a real treat for y’all: 1942’s inspired and yet totally banana-balls Cat People. It’s a delightfully weird little film that bears only a passing resemblance to the 1982 remake that starred Natassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell and is totally ripe for the MST3K treatment, if it hasn’t already happened. Because it’s just so gosh darn fun and I need to discuss it, there will be spoilers. 

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Let’s jump in, shall we?

Continue reading “Werebeasts Week: Cat People (1942)”

Gyllenhaalin’ Skincrawlin’ Entry: Nightcrawler (2014)

Nightcrawler is an absolutely brilliant film. It’s a modern noir take on a generation raised by journalism and the internet without being preachy, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of dark humor and incisive social commentary. Since they are both about sociopaths, it inevitably draws comparisons with films like Taxi Driver and American Psycho, with good reason.

HEY WANNA GO FOR A RIDE?
HEY WANNA GO FOR A RIDE?

[SOME SPOILERS!]

Nightcrawler surprised me. I had read the reviews on a few sites and knew it was good, but it also looked like the kind of dark thing I’ve been trying to avoid lately. A veteran of some pretty weird and extreme cinema, I wasn’t interested in spending 90 minutes with a Jake Gyllenhaal who keeps dead babies in his freezer or something. I barely leave the house as it is.

But as I said, it surprised me. For one thing, although it explores the pathology of sociopaths, it wasn’t as violent as I thought it would be. Gyllenhaal’s character of Lou Bloom is certainly a dangerous person, incapable of empathizing and soon begins leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, but the movie is almost like an origin story for a serial killer who hasn’t quite gotten started yet. Instead, it posits something even scarier – not a killer who hunts and pursues prey, but an opportunistic predator a little lower down on the food chain. Bloom is the kind of predator who has the patience to cultivate relationships and then strike when people are at their most vulnerable. In the Wiki entry, the filmmakers said that they were trying to characterize Bloom as a jackal, and I think they really succeeded. Some opportunistic predators are the last thing prey sees before they die, just as happens in the story.

The story is thin but more than balanced by the brilliant characterizations and performances. As mentioned, Gyllenhaal plays Bloom, a sociopathic autodidact who aggregates data like an algorithm, a metaphor fitting for the internet age without being overbearing. Just like Gmail doesn’t understand the context of some of the weirder terms in my personal emails (true story: years ago in my Google ads sidebar an ad for a white supremacist website came up because I was lamenting the existence of neo-nazis- No Gmail, that was wrong) Bloom fails to understand meaning or context. A junk metal scrapper and small-time thief, he wanders across the path of some freelance videographers and scents opportunity. Soon he’s haunting the police radio band and rushing to the scenes of crimes, sometimes before the first responders themselves arrive (another horrifying point, how late the cops sometimes are to the party) and capturing all the gory details with no concern for personal boundaries or the law.

HA HA, BUSINESS LAUGH!!!
HA HA, BUSINESS LAUGH!!!

He hires an employee played by Riz Ahmed, a sort of shiftless stoner guy. I’d never heard of Ahmed before but I loved the vague, ‘wait what’ tone of his performance. I hope he goes far. The scenes where they’re tearing around L.A. in Bloom’s sweet red SRT (and somehow not being noticed by the cops) are so well-done.

Rene Russo, perfectly capturing the world-weary newscaster with decades of bad road behind her as Nina Romina, is Bloom’s connect for buying footage. Although she senses the sickness behind the smile, she needs his footage and can’t cut him off, and soon finds herself strong-armed into a “relationship” with him.

As I said, the trope’s familiar but the strength of the performances saves it. If you’re going to have a film about a sociopath, your lead has to have the right kind of eyes, and Gyllenhaal does. 

The Abyss Stares Back!
When the abyss stares back, it will have Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyes.

Bloom has studied human behavior and empathy, and on the one hand he is absolutely earnest in his desire to please Romina. He knows all of the notes of the symphony but none of the meaning, and everything he does is calculated to benefit himself, so it makes sense that he really believes he can help her, because by extension he’s helping himself. Of course that’s not the problem; the problem is that he is forcing her into a relationship with him and leaving quite a trail of bodies in his wake.

BAH. There was a scene that I can’t find a .gif of that is just hilarious and shows the weirdly playful side of the movie, and it occurs during their disastrous and deeply unsettling “date.” Ah well! I’m curious to know if other people laughed the way I did at a certain line.

Bill Paxton shows up as a competitor of Bloom’s, who is obnoxious at first but comes to recognize Bloom’s talent and suggests a partnership, which Bloom blows off.

Look again at that gif up above. Look at the beautiful eyes, the self-assuredness, the complete confidence that Bloom emanates: He is right and she is wrong, he knows what’s best, and she just needs to accept it. Sociopaths are known for their charm and charisma.

Now look at this:

*jumps and falls backward out of chair*

I hate that I made such a pat point, but it really is amazing, his performance. He was nominated for a Golden Globe, but not an Oscar. There are so many great, passionate actors in the world! I would give them all Oscars if I could! Heh, and then everyone would be special so no one would be special. 

Anyhoodle, Nightcrawler is an absolutely brilliant film. It’s a modern noir take on a generation raised by journalism and the internet without being preachy, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of dark humor and incisive social commentary. Since they are both about sociopaths, it inevitably draws comparisons with films like Taxi Driver and American Psycho, with good reason.

Nightcrawler is available on Instant Watch.

In a Nutshell: The Mythology of Veronica Mars

To wit: much of the show is about class warfare, about have and have-not. But if you think about it, the Greek/Roman mythology angle can be applied to this dynamic as well: The haves, the O9ers as they’re called because they live in the super-affluent 90909 zip code, are also the Gods. The gods of the Greek/Roman mythos were not bastions of goodness and honor; they were selfish, childish, and not above entertaining themselves by antagonizing and torturing mortals. The have-nots represent the beleaguered mortals, ever powerless in the face of the haves’ money and influence.

I’m stewing on a much longer entry about Veronica Mars Seasons 1-3, which I just finished watching for the first time, but thought I’d just mention this about the Mars use of mythology. There’ll be spoilers, if you’re trying to avoid them before watching the series.

I noticed (like everyone else) the use of mythological names and places–Veronica Mars, who lives in Neptune, drives a Saturn, and occasionally wanders into the River Styx. I especially liked their little nod to the Greek story cycle by having someone watching Clash of the Titans, a childhood favorite of mine starring Harry Hamlin (who plays action superstar Aaron Echolls).

But there are more layers than just the obvious ones.

To wit: much of the show is about class warfare, about have and have-not. But if you think about it, the Greek/Roman mythology angle can be applied to this dynamic as well: The haves, the O9ers as they’re called because they live in the super-affluent 90909 zip code, are also the Gods. The gods of the Greek/Roman mythos were not bastions of goodness and honor; they were selfish, childish, and not above entertaining themselves by antagonizing and torturing mortals. The have-nots represent the beleaguered mortals, ever powerless in the face of the haves’ money and influence.

'And after the lightning bolts come the unkind status updates on Facebook! Alcmene is totally a whore!'

That much of the comparison is obvious, but where does Veronica herself fit in?

Since Veronica moves in both worlds, she represents the cthonic heroes: Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, Bellerophon. Chthonic heroes were more earthly gods, and were often people who were half-god or were elevated to the status of deities; if you’re at all familiar with the old myths you know that part of an Olympian’s daily routine was impregnating mortals–just after the morning wine and olive buffet.

These half-gods were usually the ones who stuck up for mortals: who else would? (A fun example of this is the old Hercules: The Legendary Journeys show, all of which is available on Netflix. It starred Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst, and was a hoot most of the time)

Add 50 lbs, a stupid haircut and an oversized Xfiles tshirt, and it's me in high school!

Enter Veronica Mars, whose name is a derivation from Berenice, which is Latin for ‘She who brings victory.’ In the context of the show, that’s just brilliant right there.

Veronica enjoys some status when her father is Sheriff, making her partly one of the haves, but after he is stripped of his office and becomes a PI she becomes an outsider, a former-have who is no longer welcome among either group.

In my world, Mars and Bunk from 'The Wire' solve mysteries in Miami or New Orleans while wearing straw fedoras and linen suits.

Keith Mars himself is no one’s idea of a god of war, at least not Kratos–short, bald,  and generally good-natured, he can nonetheless throw down when necessary. Somewhere in the film world, there’s a ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ coffee mug with his name on it, and rightfully so. (A sidenote, if Veronica had just fessed up to her Dad more often, her life would have been simpler and thus less television-worthy).

And while there are probably more salient points to the whole mythology angle of Veronica Mars, I think I’ll leave today’s entry at that. It really is a fun show–the funny thing is, you can’t put your finger on why it’s so good, I mean nothing about it particularly sticks out. Possibly because every aspect of the show is that interesting and well-done. The subtle California Noir aspect of the show is one of my favorite things about it, and it’s done well without hitting you over the head. Like many other people, I wasn’t that into the 3rd season, probably because it was so uneven and the new intro didn’t do it any favors, but I still watched and enjoyed it.

All three seasons are available on Instant Watch.