Director: Alice Winocour
This is one of those great, slow-burning movies that slipped under the radar (at least here in the United States). It’s part character study and part suspense drama, but the end result is a very satisfying cinematic experience. Lead actor Matthias Schoenaerts is a great actor whom I’ve admired for a long time; he deserves to be a big star and I hope he continues on the trajectory he’s on. To get an idea of just how good he can be, you should check out the great horror film Left Bank (2008) and the drama Bullhead (2011).
The French title of this film was Maryland, the name of a villa on the French Riviera where the action takes place. The plot: a former soldier (named Vincent) suffering from PTSD takes a job as a personal security guard for a wealthy businessman. The job is to look after his German-American wife and son while he’s out-of-town on business. It soon becomes clear that the businessman has some real enemies that are determined to kidnap the family. Vincent must remain focused on the job despite his personal issues, but it is not clear if he will be able to do so.
The greatness of the movie lies in the tension created by Vincent’s tortured psyche. He knows he is walking a fine line between stability and instability, but his pride prevents him from admitting it. Schoenaerts has always been great at giving off vibes of wounded, repressed angst; for proof of this, look no farther than his film Bullhead. In the end, this movie is far more than an action film: it is a film about confronting, and conquering, our own psychological scars.
Director: Denis Villenueve
I saw this recently on an international flight and liked it so much that I saw it again on the way back home. (Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the ambient noise prevented me from hearing the audio as well as I would have liked). Like all of director Villenueve’s movies, this is a competent, technically flawless, and tight production. The plot: extraterrestrial visitors suddenly appear at various points around the globe. A linguist (Amy Adams) is recruited to try to communicate with the mysterious visitors. Progress is slow, but eventually the aliens start to convey information through the use of circular logograms.
But what do they mean? Are the visitors friendly or hostile? As these mysteries are slowly unraveled, it becomes apparent that the visitors are utterly unlike anything in human experience, possessing the ability to range across time and space as easily as a man might cross the street. Scientists must somehow use their glimmers of understanding to convince governments to work together, rather than retreat into isolationism and hostility.
Despite some forgivable political overtones, this is intelligent, first-rate science fiction, comparable in vision to Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic Interstellar.
Dog Eat Dog (2016)
Director: Paul Schrader
I still can’t decide if I liked this or not, but….damn, this was an insane crime movie. Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Cook team up as a trio of murderous lowlifes looking (of course) for the one big score the will allow them to live out the rest of their useless lives in comfort. They think they’ve found it when a crime boss asks them to kidnap the infant of a guy who owes him a lot of money. The film is based on a novel by Edward Bunker (which I have not read).
Of course, nothing goes as expected. None of these guys has any brains or any ability to control his emotions, and so it’s just a matter of time before all of them self-destruct. The thing is, we can’t take our eyes off the screen. Willem Dafoe (thank God this guy still makes movies) never looked so grizzled and weasely. Nicolas Cage affects a Humphrey Bogart impersonation that is so bad it’s actually good. And Christopher Cook looks like a 2017 version of Lawrence Tierney.
This is an extremely violent film. Some of it is done for the sake of black comedy, but if there is any criticism I have of Dog Eat Dog, it’s that the gruesome violence at times threatens to overwhelm the madcap humor. Maybe that’s the whole point. I don’t know. I’m going to recommend this one, simply because it’s so off-the-wall bizarre that I don’t know what else to do with it.