Brawl in Cell Block 99

brawl-in-cell-block-99-poster

By now it’s become quite clear that writer/director S. Craig Zahler enjoys torturing his protagonists. In Bone Tomahawk, a cripple and a sheriff face against a horde of satanic cannibals, in what remains one of the most entertaining and brutal Westerns in years. That dynamic carries on in Brawl in Cell Block 99, in which Bradley (Vince Vaughn) goes through a series of spectacularly lousy events, each one seemingly more grueling than the last.

It gets so bad for the poor guy that at one point I stopped having any fun. What else does Zahler have up his sleeve for Bradley to endure? Luckily for us, or at least for the patient viewer, the answer is carnage. Lots and lots of carnage. But the violence is not there purely to shock; the fist fights, broken noses, dislocated backs, possess a sense of 70s cultish ridiculousness. There are plenty of laughs to be had in between, and during, the bloodshed.

B

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Blade Runner 2049

blade runner 2049

10 minutes into Blade Runner 2049 a character says, “that’s because you’ve never seen a miracle happen”. Growing up in the Age of Blockbuster, I have been turned a cynic regarding anything that has to do with sequels, reboots, extended universes and the likes. In cinema world, a miracle is as foreign to me as rain is to the operating systems of Los Angeles, circa 2049.

But then rain stars pouring down, and an artificial intelligence which had been secluded to a tiny apartment from the moment her power was turned on, discovers the beauty in water falling down from the heavens.
Right there I knew. I was witnessing a miracle.

A

25th Hour

25th hour

There’s three different approaches that I can take in discussing Spike Lee’s masterpiece 25th Hour, and they all possess an equal part of my brain as to make this decision much more difficult than I would have guessed. As I am a glutton I will then attempt to have my pie and eat it, too, by briefly discussing all three.

  • The “fuck you” monologue: One of the hardest parts of repentance is the admission of personal responsibility. Be it because it makes us look weak, or there’s an innate issue we seem to have with being genuinely sorry, admitting that our current dilemmas are the products of our own poor choices is a very hard thing to do. Much easier? Blame it on everybody else.
  • The 24 hour period before going away: I have trouble recollecting another movie which made such an effective use of the ticking of the clock as this one. Every word and gesture is one less until Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) goes away to prison, and Spike Lee really makes you feel it. You wish you could stop time in its tracks.
  • The “dream life” monologue: The powerful and melancholic ending comes courtesy of a monologue in which Monty’s father tells him a tale of fiction. “ThisĀ  life came so close to never happening.”

A+

The Scorch Trials

the scorch trials

Rarely has a movie title been more appropriate than this one, a series of scenes in which the characters are assaulted by relentless tests, each one more difficult than the last. It truly hits the ground running and doesn’t let go, well, never actually, since it ends with a cliffhanger that is to be resolved next year, I believe, with the release of the final one in this trilogy. A trilogy which, I must say, is turning out very, very exciting.

B+

The Lost City of Z

lost-city-z

Above all else The Lost City of Z is a testament to the tenacity of filmmaker James Gray. Here is a man that, had he been born half a century earlier, would no doubt possess the the prestige of the Elia Kazans and Ford Coppolas of Hollywood. His previous film, The Immigrant, is a masterpiece. It is a harrowing tale of survival in the New World, of the beauty of the perseverance of dreams, featuring a once in a lifetime performance by Marion Cotillard. Its haunting final shot, which I am sure remains one of the most powerful ones in motion picture history, is worth everything.

With The Lost City of Z, James Gray has positioned himself as an unparalleled talent in his field. This not only because again he wows the senses and inflames the emotions with another powerful final shot, but because he has crafted an intimate and sprawling historical epic, the type of movie which had gone the way of the dodo. I was reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus, Barry Lyndon, at times. The lighting seems to be natural, and the sets appear lived in.

There’s a sequence taking place at a large hall, where British men argue about the worth and value of the South American native. It is illuminating and hilarious in equal measure, both pointing towards the respect James Gray has to his audience, since when was the last time you encountered such a series of scenes in a major motion picture?

There’s moments that take place in war trenches, in the bedroom, and in piranha infested waters, and they are all intimate, beautiful and exciting. I think it’s fair to say that the description applies to the film as a whole, as well.

A