Sunday, March 15

The Hunt Review

The Hunt
Dir: Craig Zobel
Starring: Betty Gilpin, Ike Barinholtz, Emma Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Wayne Duvall, and Hilary Swank

In a world so divided by difference, so angered by political party affiliations, and so consumed by the validity of their own opinions, a film that points its social commenting lens at all of these issues through the design of a shrewdly crafted genre film makes complete sense. The execution of this concept, at least for director Craig Zobel, has proven much more difficult than expected. 

“The Hunt”, directed by Zobel and written by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof, was supposed to be released late last summer 2019 from Universal Pictures. However, after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas brought political discussions about violence across America into the forefront, the film about blue-state Americans capturing, hunting, and killing fellow red-state Americans was postponed before anyone had seen it. 

Now that the world is consumed by new pandemic issues, “The Hunt” finds its release closer to an election event but still within a world where opinions and differences divide groups as fast as the crate of weapons, which arrives early in this film, divides prey from predator with bullets and explosions.

The premise is simple but the details of how everything moves forward is part of the fun, so we’ll keep the narrative specifics as basic as possible. A group of people, who all have the same disdain and hate for the unnamed President in the film, sip champagne and enjoy the luxuries of a private jet. They all share the same political sentiments and discuss how they can’t wait to bring justice to a group of “deplorables” (a word used specifically within the film). Soon after a group of people, who are gagged with a locked device, wake up in the middle of nowhere. They find a mysterious crate that, once opened, reveals a surplus of weapons of every size and shape. Once everyone is armed, the mayhem begins. 

“The Hunt” proposes an interesting idea that unfortunately never feels completely developed to its full potential. The characters and narrative within the film hit with the same sledgehammer subtlety as the viscera and violence throughout. While it feels purposefully designed that the viewer isn’t supposed to side with any of the characters in this film but rather meant to reflect on how each one is treating and speaking to each other, it only works in small pieces. However, when the film spends less time on gore and big emotional characters and embraces its satirical and dark comedy foundations, the thematic caricatures of hatred, mistrust, resentment, and pettiness reveal themselves and “The Hunt” finds its most interesting narrative beats. 

Anger is a great narrative vehicle, it leads stories to numerous emotional conclusions both happy and devastating. The anger in “The Hunt” is focused on the indifferences found with Americans; how at the core of difficult conversations about religion, policy, race, or politics, everyone begins to despise one another. “The Hunt” uses this device of anger to build a sometimes interesting, yet mostly underdeveloped idea, constructing a genre film that feels more like basic exploitation cinema than deeper social commentary. For some viewers, this more comical, less serious structure will be the fun you might crave during the ever-changing times we are living in. 

Monte’s Rating
2.75 out of 5.00

Friday, March 13

First Cow Review

First Cow
Dir: Kelly Reichardt
Starring: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shephard, Gary Farmer, and Lily Gladstone

Food is emotional. For Native American people, its value is one associated with love, well-being, and companionship. Food is history. Whether from the assortment of ingredients that example the development of societies throughout the world, to the way that good food can spark mighty memories that take the person back in time to feelings and emotions both pleasurable and hurtful. Food is personal. For the creator, food is an artistic expression of their individuality but also their relationship with the emotions that connect them to everyone that eats their offerings. 

“First Cow”, director Kelly Reichardt’s newest fable set in mid-19th-century Oregon Territory, composes all these unique emotions connected with food and the relationships humans have with it; emotions defining how the food was viewed, consumed, and abused by humanity. Amidst all these emotions is a beautiful friendship between two unlikely men who hatch a plan to get beyond their poverty by stealing milk from the lone cow in the area to make “oily cakes”, basically a doughnut, to bring a small taste of joy to the rugged and dire situation during this time. Kelly Reichardt’s allegory is a mix of sweet friendship challenged by the overwhelming sense of bad omens on the horizon.

Cookie (John Magaro) is the cook and chief forager for a group of trappers who are in the final days of their venture into the woods, their animosity for one another is felt with every move and word uttered. While Cookie is out searching for food he encounters King-Lu (Orion Lee) hiding completely naked in a nearby bush. King-Lu is trying to evade murderous circumstances involving a group of Russians. Cookie helps hide King-Lu with his party but on their voyage back to Fort Tillicum, King-Lu leaves. It doesn’t take long for the two men to find one another again, they bond through circumstance and create a business partnership utilizing Cookie’s culinary skillset and King-Lu’s salesmanship. 

Director Kelly Reichardt crafts minimalistic films centered around specific emotional relationships; whether with humans, animals, nature, or other unique products of emotional connection, Reichardt has an undeniable ability to make the most simplistic of stories feel overwhelmingly complex. 

“First Cow” composes this same quality. While focused on the relationship between Cookie and King-Lu, Reichardt charts a relationship founded on desperation which soon moves to the camaraderie and then progresses simply to loving friendship. It’s a beautifully structured composition that is assisted by two actors, John Magaro and Orion Lee, who provide nuanced and natural performances. 

Interesting still is that “First Cow” composes an even more complex relationship with the animal in this film. The cow, new to the region at this time, provides a political, historical, and poetic relationship and sensibility to the film. The political economics of supply and demand found with Cookie and King-Lu’s “oily cake” company, the historical memory found with the bountiful bovine living at the home of the Chief Factor (Toby Jones) who composes a picture of wealth from a foreign land but also the powerful memories associated with food primarily founded by the animal. As one man explains, the “oily cakes” taste like something his mother used to make. There is also something wholly poetic between the connections between the cow and the humans using her; a sense of comfort during complicated times, of peace in a place so ravaged by greed, of life during a time when death seems imminent. 

“First Cow” may serve as the perfect example of the kind of art director Kelly Reichardt creates; emotional, historical, personal, and deliberate stories about relationships. It may also be looked upon as one of the director’s finest works when her stunning career is completed.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

Sunday, March 1

The Invisible Man Review

The Invisible Man
Dir: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, and Michael Dorman

In 1933, director James Whale adapted the H.G. Wells novel, “The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance”, into an elegant thriller about a consumed scientist whose experiments turn him into a murderous invisible monster. This classic horror movie gets a creative and timely update from the hands of director/writer Leigh Whannell who turns the “Invisible Man” into a creepy and tense tale focusing on the trauma suffered by an abused woman.

Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) wakes up in the middle of the night, the arm of her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is wrapped tightly around her waist. Cecilia carefully and quietly gets out of bed, tiptoeing around the large beachfront mansion gathering her belongings to escape the abusive and controlling grasp of Adrian. She narrowly gets away, finding safety in the home of a police officer (Aldis Hodge) and his young daughter (Storm Reid). However, Cecilia doesn’t feel free and gets a sense that Adrian, who was found dead in his home, is still stalking and invading her every move.

There is a lot of creative choices made by Leigh Whannell in building and manipulating the mystery to provide unexpected twists and turns. Whannell also does a great job in crafting and squeezing the tension of the atmosphere, applying a combination of elements in very effective and affecting ways. It starts in subtle ways, with camera pans to empty spaces that keep the eyes of the viewer searching the edges of the frame for clues, with small occurrences like the movement of a knife or the revelation of someone’s breath condensation. It moves to big blatant horror strokes, with butcher knives and a nicely composed scene in a hospital setting.  Whannell has creative roots in the horror genre, it’s obvious once the more grotesque elements reveal themselves, but it all works so nicely in giving “The Invisible Man” a unique sense of style. 

All of these designs wouldn’t be possible without a strong narrative and believable characters. Whannell deliberately paces the story, structuring through different scenarios how manipulative Adrian is while also allowing a bulk of the focus time to feel and see the extent of Cecilia’s trauma. Elizabeth Moss provides an exceptional performance, taking the character through an array of convincing emotions and allowing Ms. Moss the opportunity to build the character into someone to get invested in. 

“The Invisible Man” may not offer the scares some may be expecting but instead crafts a thrilling and creepy story from start to finish, building a masterclass of tension through filmmaking designs consistently. Leigh Whannell’s skillful strokes within the narrative structure and intriguing filmmaking style make “The Invisible Man” a welcome remake and one of the most thrilling films of 2020 so far.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00