Here’s what the cat brought in this week. I’ve got two movies to talk about this week, and both of them are worth seeing. This doesn’t happen very often, so I’m grateful.
Director: Stefan Razowitzky
A competent neo-noir B-film that delivers. I’m glad directors are still making movies like this. The plot: A brother-sister duo rob a casino and make a clean getaway with their driver. But the vehicle hits a deer, flips over, and careens off the road. More bad things happen after that, and the body count begins to stack up. The duo (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) have to split up, and from there the film follows them on separate adventures.
Bana decides to make right for the border. He alternately charms and terrorizes anyone who comes into contact with him. We also have here perhaps the best chase scene with snow-mobiles ever filmed. Olivia Wilde (who looks pretty damn good) uses her own skills to charm and seduce a random guy who turns out to be a former boxer out on parole from prison. He’s got his own problems, too. There are overtones of incest, hints of broken dreams, and suggestions of wasted lives. All of these people–in the best noir tradition–are headed for an intersecting collision, and we just know the end result is not going to be pretty. It never is.
All of this takes place in the frozen north near the Canadian border, a fact that lends a nice quiet chill to the whole. The drama here comes from the human interactions and motivations; yes, there are some set-piece chases and shootouts, but we have to remember that this is a noir film. The characters each have their own dark secrets, and as much as they try to escape their fates, it’s not going to happen.
The Last Days (Los Ultimos Dias) (2013)
Director: David & Alex Pastor
We all know that apocalypse movies are some of the most tired and over-exploited of all genres. We’ve seen the end of the world come from zombies, asteroids, plants, bacteria, alien invasions, and other causes too numerous to mention. It seems that by now nothing new would be possible to inject into the equation.
But this movie does just this, in a way that never seems forced or artificial. The premise here is that the world is slowly ensnared by an agoraphobic “panic” that makes people deathly afraid of going outside. No one is quite certain why this is happening, but it seems to be bacteriological or biological in nature, since infants born after the great event are not afflicted by the fear. Of course, society begins to break down, and we see Barcelona slowly go to pieces. Even though we’ve seen this scenario play out many times before, something about the way this one is filmed makes it especially haunting.
Two men team up to try to find their respective families. One guy has a pregnant girlfriend he needs to reunite with; the other has an elderly father. Together the two of them move through the sewers and tunnels of the city to try to make it to buildings they think may help them. By necessity the overall feel here is claustrophobic, and it really begins to wear on the viewer after a while. And this is as it should be. The directors are aiming for a particular effect here, and they pull this whole job off with style.
Bravo here to Spain’s film industry, I have to say. Of all the foreign movies I’ve seen over the past few years, it is Spain and France who consistently produce the best entries. They just do. I’m not saying that other countries don’t, but Spain and France have a track record of thoughtful, intelligent, and engaging films that make some of the other European countries look deficient by comparison.
Why didn’t this movie get more publicity in the US? I have no idea. It deserved far more attention than it received. My guess is that jealous Hollywood types blocked its distribution, afraid that an intelligent foreign picture would expose the schlock they’ve been peddling to the US public for years. Or it may simply be that the producers didn’t have the budget or inclination to market the film overseas. In any case, you should see this movie, and reward the creation of good, intelligent entertainment.
(But I’m going to deduct two points here for the bear fight scene, which in its conclusion is shamelessly ripped off from the 1997 David Mamet film The Edge. Come on guys. You should have known better.)