Thursday, January 28, 2021

#2,529. Locke (2013)


Some movies are designed for a communal experience, to be viewed on the big screen in a packed theater. Locke is not one of those movies; it is best seen when you are completely alone.

And “alone” is exactly what the lead character is for the duration of this stunning 2013 film. A life-altering phone call has Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), loving family man and hard-working foreman, making a late-night drive to London, abandoning his workplace on the eve of the biggest moment of his career.

Knowing full well his actions will likely cost him his job, his wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson), and everything he holds dear, Locke nonetheless is compelled by family history to undertake this journey, and will spend the entire hour and a half trip on his cell phone, trying his damnedest to salvage the life he worked so hard to build.

Writer / director Steven Knight’s Locke is incredibly bold in its approach; it’s a one-man show, set inside the lead character’s car. Fortunately for Knight, he cast the perfect actor in the title role. Tom Hardy is brilliant as the controlled, ultra-professional Locke, a man everyone has come to rely upon. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is Hardy’s finest performance.

Several strong actors lend their voices in supporting roles, including Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott (especially good as Locke’s panic-stricken co-worker), and a young Tom Holland (as Locke’s son, Eddie), but this is Hardy’s show, and he is mesmerizing from start to finish.

If you think there’s no way an almost 90-minute single-setting drama can keep you on the edge of your seat, think again. Locke is a modern masterpiece.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Thursday, January 21, 2021

#2,528. The Dead Don't Die (2019)

The 2019 zom-com The Dead Don’t Die strikes the perfect balance between a genre outing and a Jim Jarmusch film, and I had a great time watching it!

The normally quiet town of Centerville is thrown into chaos when the dead start rising from their graves. Police Chief Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) and his deputies Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) do what they can to protect their town, but it’s Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), Centerville’s very strange funeral director, who might ultimately prove most useful in defeating the zombie horde.

The Dead Don’t Die gives us the macabre and the quirky in equal measure. The characters, played by such Jarmusch regulars as Murray, Driver, Tom Waits (as Hermit Bob, a vagrant who patrols the nearby woods), and a few others are always interesting, and that little trait that the director gives his zombies - each one uttering a single word that encapsulates what we assume was most important to them while they were alive - was a nice touch (the first two zombies, played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, can only say “coffee”, which might explain why they attacked the local diner). All of the citizens of Centerville are a little bizarre, but none more so than Tilda Swinton’s Scottish undertaker, and I loved where they ultimately went with her character.

Headshots and all, The Dead Don’t Die is still very much a Jim Jarmusch film; the morning after the attack at the diner, Chief Robertson is called to the scene, where he makes the gruesome discovery. Before long, both of his deputies also turn up and walk into the diner - one by one - to see the carnage for themselves. In most other films, we’d only see the mutilated corpses when Chief Robertson arrived, then the faces of Donnie and Wendy after the fact, when they walked back out. But Jarmusch spends time with his characters, and follows each one inside to give us their initial reactions to the bloody mess in front of them (by doing so, we, the audience, see the gory outcome of the undead attack three separate times).

But The Dead Don’t Die is a zombie flick as well, with all the high drama and dread that goes hand-in-hand with the subgenre (in one very intense scene, Chief Robertson is finishing off as many of the walking dead as he can when he happens upon a zombie who used to be a good friend).

I really enjoyed The Dead Don’t Die, so much so that I’d now rank it right up there with Mystery Train and Dead Man as one of my favorite Jim Jarmusch films.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (see it immediately!)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

#2,527. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)


Directed by Mouly Surya, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts crosses genres to tell the story of Marlina (Marsha Timothy), a widow living on the remote Indonesian island of Sumba. Having lost both her child (which is buried just outside her house) and – more recently - her husband (whose unburied corpse still sits in the corner of her front room), Marlina now finds herself completely alone.

One day, she’s visited by Markus (Egy Fedly) and several of his cronies, all of whom intend to rob and rape her. Marlina turns the tables on her would-be assailants, however, by poisoning most (they demanded that she cook them dinner) and beheading Markus while having sex with him.

Determined to see justice done, Marlina packs up Markus’s head and sets out for the local police station, intent on telling her side of the story. She meets her pregnant friend Novi (Dea Panendra) along the way, who accompanies Marlina for the remainder of her journey. 

Unfortunately, two of Markus's accomplices have discovered what’s happened, and are hot on Marlina's trail, looking for revenge.

As played by Marsha Timothy (who won Best Actress at the 2017 Stiges Film Festival for her performance), Marlina is one of the strongest characters in recent cinema, a woman still reeling from personal tragedies who nonetheless refuses to play the victim for Markus and his gang.

In addition to its formidable lead, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is often quite funny (even after spotting the severed head that Marlina is carrying, Novi does nothing but complain about her pregnancy), and with its sparse landscapes (beautifully photographed by Yunus Pasolang) coupled with the music of Yudhi Arfani and Zeke Khaseli, the film even gives off a westerns vibe.

Expertly executed and featuring strong feminist themes, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is one of the most unique, unsettling, and gorgeous motion pictures I’ve seen in quite some time.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Thursday, January 7, 2021

#2,526. Mondo Cane 2 (1963)

In the opening paragraph of my review of 1962’s Mondo Cane, an “exploitation film posing as a documentary”, I said that “while (it) does have something to say about the world we live in, the ultimate goal of Mondo Cane is to shock and disgust, which, on occasion, it does quite well”. That same sentiment also fits its 1963 sequel, Mondo Cane 2, to a T.

Like the first movie, Mondo Cane 2 is a crossbreed of documentary and straight-up exploitation. Shot on-location in (among other places) Italy, the United States, Africa and Vietnam, Mondo Cane 2 follows suit with the original by featuring plenty of bizarre scenes (in Portugal the faithful clean the outside steps of a church with their tongues, and elderly U.S. tourists in Hawaii shell out top dollar to get covered in Volcanic mud, which supposedly will rid them of wrinkles) as well as some gross ones (Mexican farmers keep their crops clear of pesky bugs by wrapping the parasitic invaders in tortillas and eating them, and the filmmakers pay a visit to a small village in Africa, where the women use their bare hands to make roofing material out of animal manure).

Like many films of this ilk, Mondo Cane 2 also has its share of disturbing moments; in Saigon, a Buddhist Monk protests against the current policies of his government by dousing himself in gasoline and striking a match; and we witness first-hand the dissection of a dead crocodile, which is a delicacy to the citizens of an almost extinct African tribe (why is the tribe almost extinct, you ask? Well, according to the filmmakers, a steady diet of crocodile meat has caused sterility in the male population). This sequel even tackles some environmental issues; in Africa, white flamingos die by the hundreds when a nearby lake is polluted by a British factory.

Still, even with the above scenes, Mondo Cane 2 isn’t quite as shocking as its predecessor, but it is, nonetheless, a worthy follow-up to the popular original.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 - Worth a watch