F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 12, 2014)

12 12 2014

WalkerThe end of the year is drawing near, which means plenty of “great man” biopics that paint flattering portraits of “important” men in history.  (Rarely are these ever about women, I feel.)  2014 brings with it “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything,” just to name two, that fit this description.  To the surprise of very few, both those movies are predictably pretty good.

But it is time for someone to take a radical approach to the biopic once again.  These formulaic, color-by-numbers films are getting too safe for their own good.  So, in order to revitalize the sagging genre, I would highly recommend that all daring filmmakers brush up on Alex Cox’s “Walker.”

This is tied for the oldest movie I have featured in my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column, but this 1987 release feels completely fresh.  Cox does Tarantino’s style before Tarantino made it famous, and he even has the guts to apply his eclectic, anachronistic, and oftentimes outright bizarre technique to real people and events.  Can’t imagine the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt was too thrilled about a cinematic portrayal of the business magnate where his most prominent feature is his flatulence…

Cox, working from a script by Rudy Wurlitzer, can certainly have more liberty with his subject given his relative obscurity.  “Walker” follows Ed Harris’ William Walker, a soldier of fortune who somehow ends up in Nicaragua doing the bidding of businessman in overthrowing their government.  Eventually, in a turn that no one who understands the effects of power will find surprising, Walker seizes what is essentially dictatorial control of the country.  And yes, this is a true story.

There is no inside baseball, political calculation, or dreary historical tedium to be found in “Walker” – only awesomeness.  Every turn of the film brings a new and unexpected joy in the form of a bold risk taken by Cox.  Whether it is in the characterization of Walker himself or in the gratuitous flow of blood in a battle, “Walker” constantly elicits the response, “I can’t believe he just did that.”  And it works practically every time, too!

Furthermore, “Walker” is not just style for style’s sake, a trap into which Tarantino far too often seems to fall.  What better way to show the connection between the factual past and controversial present of the film’s release, the Iran-Contra scandal, than to literally merge them within the movie itself?!  This is a work of pure, mad genius.

F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 21, 2010)

21 05 2010

I thought I would give a one-week reprieve from the heavier movies. Now, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” takes a step towards the wrenching with “Monster’s Ball,” a movie with the power to conjure up all sorts of emotions. You might remember the movie because of Halle Berry’s emotional Oscar speech after becoming the first African-American to win Best Actress. But as soon as you watch the movie, you will remember the movie because of her performance, which is the film’s heart and soul.

Berry inhabits the character of Leticia Musgrove, a woman who is stuck in circumstances she can’t stand. Her husband (Sean Combs or whatever shortening of his name he goes by now) is set to receive the death penalty. Her son (Coronji Calhoun in a mesmerizing and powerful debut performance) is morbidly obese, and she can’t get him to lay off the candy bars. Her car is busted, her house is about to be foreclosed, her job situation is hectic. Most of all, her soul is weak under all these burdens.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a correctional officer at the prison where Leticia’s husband is executed. He is a cold-hearted racist and doesn’t hesitate showing it. He can’t stand his son (Heath Ledger) who is trying to follow his own moral compass. He is bitter for being straddled with the care of his ailing father (Peter Boyle), an even more extreme racist than himself.

Don’t Leticia and Hank sound like an unlikely pair?  Moreover, doesn’t Hank’s shoulder seem like the least likely place for Leticia to cry into?  Yet as events unfold, the two connect in surprising ways, shocking the traditional Southern community around them.

Halle Berry is absolutely astonishing, hitting every emotional high and low with pin-point precision.  There’s no doubt that she deserved the Oscar.  I haven’t seen “Things We Lost in the Fire,” her only non-comic book or action movie since her win, but I’m a little upset that she has squandered such incredible talent on such unworthy material.  She needs to get back to roles like these, ones that accurately showcase just how talented she is.  Maybe Mo’Nique and “Monster’s Ball” producer Lee Daniels will give her a role in the Hattie McDaniel movie – here’s hoping!