Mini-Reviews: Drug War, The Way Way Back, 20 Feet From Stardom

Drug War:

Here’s an action film with something to say. It’s not interested in the glorification of violence, but in violence’s consequences. It’s not interested in flippantly racking up a body count, but in what a body count may mean. Drug War, Johnnie To’s newest thriller, is a gorgeous and tense piece of social commentary, giving action aficionados what they want while refusing to back away from the ethical dilemmas and the complications inherent within the war on drugs. In China, producing a bit of meth results in a death sentence, so when Timmy (Louis Koo) is captured, he makes a deal with the police captain (Honglei Sun)– according to him, he’s no more than a small fish, and he can bring the captain to the bigger game he wants. The basic conflict is simple: in order to apprehend these villains, a police department must walk the thinnest of tight ropes to perfection, whereas drug dealer have the benefit of existing outside of the restrictions of law and morality. The closer they get to capturing the drug lords, the blurrier the lines get between sides of the fence. To uses some exceptional camera work (the crane shots in particular) to give Drug War a stylish sheen, but don’t mistake it for a violent shoot-em-up romp. It develops its characters, states its case, and leaves you with a chilling conclusion unlikely to drift from memory.

The Way Way Back:

Jim Rash and Nat Faxon remember that being a teenager can be awfully awkward and unpleasant. That awkward unpleasantness is certainly reflected in The Way Way Back, their follow-up to their Oscar-winning script for The Descendants– in particular, in their characterization of Duncan, played by Liam James in the most painfully accurate depiction of a teen in memory. While I admired the performance, unfortunately the scenes with his mother (Toni Collette) and her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) are neither funny nor particularly illuminating: the adults at the hellish beach house are sadly one-note. The Way Way Back does spring to life every time Duncan goes to work at the water park, where Sam Rockwell brings the laughs and the heart in ample supply. He saunters into frame with his ne’er-do-well charm and waltzes away with every moment in one of the most entertaining characters of the year. One wonders how much the film would have benefitted from a dimensional female character; they’re all either helpless pushovers, shrill harpies, or unrealistically forgiving angels (though Maya Rudolph and AnnaSophia Robb do admirable work in the latter category). It’s a shame too, as half of the movie is thoroughly enjoyable and warm. I fully admit perhaps those who found high school summers to be an unbearable slog may find more to relate to here than myself. For me, it’s just too much of a chore getting through the Rockwell-less half of the film to ever give yourself fully over to The Way Way Back.

20 Feet From Stardom:

“The entertainment business is full of dreamers. Anyone who loves singing, writing, filming, acting, painting, or any form of artistic expression enough to pursue it as a lifelong profession is almost certainly certifiably insane. You have to love the art enough to languish and struggle for decades just to make ends meet. This struggle is the behavior of lunatics– noble, inspirational lunatics. 20 Feet From Stardom follows four such maniacs…Their ups and downs, their fortune and misfortune, make for a compelling documentary, full of gospel music, rock factoids, and old souls. It’s a literal Behind The Music special, revealing through extraordinary women the incredible driving power of a dream… Like most warm-blooded Americans, I love gospel music with all my heart. I also love stories told by old souls. Thus, I was weak in the knees right from the jump. Truthfully, a film of Lisa Fischer riffing into a mic for ninety minutes might get a better grade from me than this doc as is. The director, Morgan Neville, doesn’t do a great deal stylistically: it doesn’t look much different than anything you’d see on VH1 from a visual perspective. The film’s success is determined by how compelling its characters’ stories are, simple and plain. Neville has centered on funny talented women with rich histories to recount, and he shapes his narrative capably around those stories…This is the type of film that should be shown to any teenagers aspiring to endeavor a career in the arts. Women this talented and this hard-working didn’t make it. If you don’t love your craft as much as they do, you’ll be miserable and you’ll fail. 20 Feet From Stardom is hardly Herzogian in its tale of dedicated individuals chasing a dream, but it’s soulful, heartfelt, and aurally delicious.”

Read the rest at Movie Mezzanine.

~ by russellhainline on August 2, 2013.

One Response to “Mini-Reviews: Drug War, The Way Way Back, 20 Feet From Stardom”

  1. Reblogged this on Kultural Yakuza.

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