Saturday, June 05, 2021

A Dragon and His Wrath

Jason Statham in Wrath of Man (2021)

Thou hadst been better have been born a dog
Than answer my waked wrath! 

--Williams Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, Scene III


Guy Ritchie's The Gentlemen was one of the last films I saw before the Covid pandemic closed the theaters. That film was pretty good, and on brand for Ritchie who has always been a deft hand at the achronological semi-comic crime thriller. The theaters are open again, finally, and I've been vaccinated against the virus, so I finally returned to in-person movies at a goddamn theater on Memorial Day, 2021, after the longest absence from moviegoing in my entire long life. As it so happens, the film I chose to see is another Guy Ritchie film: the doom-haunted Wrath of Man (2021), and it suggests that Ritchie could dispense with shit like live-action Disney remakes and King Arthur rehashes and spend the rest of his career playing variations on crime cinema. On the evidence, he would never exhaust the possibilities of the form. Wrath of Man is as different a film from The Gentlemen as you can imagine for being essentially the same damned thing. Like The Gentlemen, it pulls its central events apart and rewinds through multiple perspectives to view them from an almost cubistic perspective. Both of them are crime films. But where The Gentlemen is nimble and fairly light, with jokes aplenty, watching Wrath of Man is like watching a tornado approaching your house and you're in its path without a storm shelter. The gloom is only the precursor to the calamity. It's a stone-faced revenge tragedy that doesn't bother with niceties like humor or sympathetic characters. Its protagonist isn't a hero so much as he's an elemental force. He most reminds me of Clint Eastwood's revenant gunslinger in High Plains Drifter. But even that film cracked a smile once in a while.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Couple's Therapy

Barbara Crampton and Larry Fessenden in Jakob's Wife

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Brian De Palma had cast Barbara Crampton as the lead in Body Double, rather than as Craig Wasson's faithless girlfriend. It was Crampton's first film role, and her one scene in the film only asked her to take her clothes off for the part. Crampton, for her part, has proven to be a more capable actress than either of that film's ostensible leading ladies. Deborah Shelton had her lines dubbed by another actress in the movie (perhaps as one of the film's metacinematic in-jokes), while Melanie Griffith was launched into the big time with indifferent results. One wonders what Crampton might have made of that kind of career launch. For her part, Crampton attained cult immortality in Chopping Mall, and in a trio of films for Stuart Gordon. I'll take her performance in From Beyond over any performance ever given by Melanie Griffith, thank you very much. She worked for years in soap operas after that and then vanished from the screen for a decade or so in order to raise a family. She could have slipped quietly into obscurity had Adam Wingard not cast her as one of the victims in You're Next. What followed was an unlikely career resurrection that has seen Crampton expand her cult immortality in a series of daring horror movies. The capstone for this resurrection is Jakob's Wife (2021, directed by Travis Stevens), which Crampton produced herself and which co-stars fellow horror luminary, Larry Fessenden.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Hammer Time

Mortal (2020)

In the mostly silent opening of André Øvredal's latest film, Mortal (2020), there is a huge sense of landscape. Even once the film moves out of its initial wilderness about ten minutes in, the landscape is ever-present. Filmed on location near a couple of Norway's more scenic fjords, it acts as a tourist promo to a point that I said to my long-suffering partner--who was folding laundry in the other room at the time--"What do you think about moving to Norway?" "What's in Norway?" she asked. "Fjords! This movie is gorgeous!" She waited two beats before answering: "So you're pining for the fjords?" She has excellent timing.