Saturday, June 11, 2011

MEEK'S CUTOFF (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

****
USA
A stark, prickly neo-Western that does for Pioneer wagon trains what McCabe and Mrs. Miller did for Pioneer whorehouses: strips the romance and idealism, punches in on the uncertainty, the dehydration and the harsh, relentless landscape that stretches on and on and on.

The narrative is never really resolved, because the narrative isn't the point. Kelly Reichardt's idea here is to immerse you into, then gradually pick apart the mindset that still defines a foundational patch of American history. She dissects the blind, institutionalised optimism and the crude dynamics that most likely defined what history has since whitewashed into 'the Pioneer spirit'.

The Native American - with a characteristic lack of fuss, credited only as 'The Indian' - is neither the noble nor ignoble savage but an ordinary, earthy man with his own equally straightforward self interests. He is enigmatic only insofar as the Pioneers themselves insist to endow him with murky motives and legends. If anything, the filthy, bearded man who has been ostensibly guiding the Pioneers throughout the dire six-week slog - that was meant to last two weeks - seems just as enigmatic and unnerving.

This inscrutable oddity, in many ways the anti-Stagecoach, is too idiosyncratic even to be pitched into the 'revisionist' bucket. The preternaturally gifted Reichardt chooses to present it in the long abandoned 'Academy' ratio (which has been out of fashion since approximately the 50s). Particularly in light of its focus on [wo]Man dwarfed by dumb, unimaginably vast Nature, you would expect majestic, imposing Widescreen vistas. But nothing in this film says that Reichardt gives a flying fuck about what you expect.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

TRUE GRIT (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2010)

***½
USA

For the first time in years the Coen Brothers shift away from icy, piercing existentialism towards something more traditional, something almost heartwarming until another [haunting] downer of an ending.

This remake of a 1969 John Wayne vehicle (which people remember for no other reason than its sorry-we-ignored-you-for-decades-we'll-ignore-Dustin-Hoffman-this-year Best Actor Oscar) is significantly stronger than the Coens previous shot at a remake (which people remember for no other reason than Tom Hanks playing Gargamel in a suit).

The setup here plays into their strengths: a plucky heroine, a scruffy ne'er-do-well grudgingly doing the right thing, a horde of funny-voiced small-towners and unending opportunities for grisly violence.

It doesn't resonate or obliterate narrative foundations like the Coens' finest, but it's a solid, satisfying yarn.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

THE FIGHTER (David O. Russell, 2010)

****½
USA
The world needs another underdog boxing drama roughly as much as it needs Jennifer Aniston to squint her way through another romcom. But David O. Russell here shows how even a thuddingly generic setup can be invigorated into fresh, exciting cinema - into a palpable, credible world of thorny, resonant relationships.

It's all about the details: the hairsprayed trailer chorus of Ward sisters parking/slamming their car into a row of rubbish bins; the half-assed heart shape Amy Adams draws around her phone number on a bar napkin; the repeated buzzer that punctuates a feral and fairly hilarious speakerphone tirade; the astounding apparition of women in a boxing drama encouraged to exhibit elements of personality beyond 'swooning', 'bruised' or 'pleading'.

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