Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Don't Breathe (2016)

"It's kind of messed up to rob a blind guy."

Director Fede Alvarez' Don't Breathe (2016) is my kind of American horror film. It's high on tension and suspense and dramatic thrills and low on gore. Fans of the torture porn variety will be sorely disappointed here. Don't stop here.

As I get older myself part of the problem is I just don't have the stomach for horror, but Don't Breathe is just a straight up, tight, gripping little thriller. Though it's not without violence.

It's a picture that seems perfect for these morally ambiguous times surrounding the year of its release.

The director, the man behind the latest girl with the dragon tattoo story (The Girl In The Spider's Web), took a good deal of pride in painting his characters with both good and bad qualities. Who you would root for rested entirely with your interpretation of their motivations. At least that's the approach.

Of the four characters, the blind man and the female lead have the most background to suggest their situations are complicated and murky.

Though, for fear of coming off a curmudgeon or old school, let's be clear, these are generally bad people or at least compromised people forced into making some very, very bad and criminal decisions. There are no two ways about it. While I was sympathetic to both the blind man and the female lead, yes I was at once concerned for them and repulsed by them, these people are doing terrible things. In that I cared for these characters a bit Alvarez succeeds. But these are generally corrupted people doing very bad things and it must be said, because there is no way this writer would excuse their behaviors in any way, shape or form, regardless their circumstances. So long as you can draw breath there are other options.

Performances by Stephen Lang (the blind man) and Jane Levy (Evil Dead) and others are solid and extremely physical. The production design created for the house, the focus of the shooting for the film, is also quite spectacular and creepy in its own right.

I'm not normally inclined to write about horror pictures, but in the spirit of Halloween and given today is the day (October 31st) it seemed a good fright picture should be recommended here at Cinematic Wonders. For me, Don't Breathe wins the day. This is a great, taut, judiciously edited little thriller worth breathing in for 90 minutes after the trick and treating is over and Michael Myers is captured.

Don't Breathe subverts conventions and defies traditional genre expectations that tend to get stale and generate those ruts.

Home invasion stories are a wonderful subgenre and ideas like Hostage (2005) and David Fincher's Panic Room (2002) pit the innocent against the villains. Alvarez turns the tables and asks us to wonder who is who.

This is ferocious, primal human nature at its worst and yet the film profits from the idea that less is more and it's all the better for it. See the film, and despite the directive, don't forget to breathe when you do.

Don't Breathe. Director: Fede Alvarez. Writer: Fede Alvarez/ Rodo Sayagues.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sorcerer (1977)

"I had persevered to make a film that I would want to see, a relentless existential voyage that would become my legacy."
-William Friedkin, The Friedkin Connection-
Cinematic Wonders brings you our second entry by director William Friedkin.
As a fan of film, The Exorcist (1973) remains an essential films for any film library, certainly mine. It remains for me one of the very best cinematic wonders available.
The French Connection (1971) and later To Live And Die In LA (1985) are two of the finest examples of crime films in cinema and will always be among the top tier in that category.
To this writer's surprise came the follow-up to The Exorcist, Sorcerer (1977), which arrived on Blu-Ray nearly forty years after its release and yet was only recently discovered by these astonished eyes.
The film starring Roy Scheider with an ensemble multi-cultural cast is an exploration of location shooting, largely filmed in the Dominican Republic, as the film reinterprets a classic French film called The Wages Of Fear (1953; available on Criterion), in turn based on a 1950 French novel. So Sorcerer is a second go at the book and it is a stunning cinematic experience for those versed in the finer art of cinema and those not corrupted by the preposterous use of computer imagery via CGI today and the advent of dumbed down spectacle cinema.
Sorcerer is easily a superior visual experience to many of today's movies.
Sorcerer positively blew me away, no pun intended for those who have seen the picture. The film has quickly taken its place next to The Exorcist as my favorite film by Friedkin. It is truly a film with which to experience and marvel and represents an auteur at the height of his directorial prowess.
Look no further than the bridge crossing segment of the film in inclement weather as just one component of the film that is simply awe-inspired filmmaking.
The trucks created for the film are like monstrous beasts and characters themselves. With such tremendous detail to production design today's computer soaked films simply cannot compete with this kind of breathtaking cinematic work. This is a bold, beautiful seemingly lost and still underappreciated film.
The film seems to balance between equal parts lush jungle beauty and tense, gripping desperation of man on the brink chased out of civilization.
Friedkin is critical to the look and feel of the film but writer Walon Green brought his equally gritty take on the world coming off of a film like Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) and even later writing for NYPD Blue (1993-2005) with David Milch (Deadwood) as well as for Chris Carter's Millennium (1996-1999).
There has been much written about the film and it is covered extensively in Friedkin's own book The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir (2013).
Not unlike Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) or John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) opposite Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) all released that same year, Sorcerer arrived one month after Star Wars (1977), and judged against that film coupled with its own promotional confusion this visionary film too was deemed a failure by many to most critics. There were a handful of exceptions like Roger Ebert calling it an overlooked classic and one of the ten best of 1977. Leave it to the late Roger Ebert to be one of the few to get it right (not that he got it right all of the time but these things are relative).
Fortunately like the aforementioned masterpieces of cinema, Sorcerer is being reevaluated and reappraised as a cinematic wonder to be elevated among the very best in cinema. Not unlike the near supernatural air and intangible destiny of fate that surrounds the out-of-control world of its characters' journey in this film, or the title bestowed upon the picture and given one of its very vehicular beasts to traverse the film, Sorcerer is a film blessed with the kind of gorgeous cinematic magic any sorcerer would be proud.
In its reappraisal, Sorcerer is seen as the end to a more intellectual era of cinema, a more uncompromising period of filmmaking in which many see Star Wars as effectively terminating. Film was taken away from a gritty, unrelenting portrait of human nature and essentially whisked away into fantasy and escape that would place investors in the green in the ensuing years to come.
Much is known and has been said of the problematic, troubled, conflicted shoot surrounding Sorcerer. It's evident in nearly every image of the film how difficult this film had to be to make. Ultimately though every effort pays off and it is a remarkable piece of cinema that appears on that screen before you in nearly every relentlessly sweaty, grimy, intense, breathtaking image. This one is a wonderful work to behold.
Sorcerer. Director: William Friedkin. Writer: Walon Green.

Crimson Tide (1995)

"I n the nuclear world, the true enemy is war itself." H ollywood simply cannot help itself when it comes to expressing its lib...