Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

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Dude, Where’s My Car? Stark Raving Mad. Bulletproof Monk. The Dukes of Hazzard. Mr. Woodcock. Cop Out. American Reunion. Movie 43. Just Before I Go. The cinematic oeuvre of one Seann William Scott doesn’t exactly cry quality merchandise. Even his dislocated voicework couldn’t raise the likes of Planet 51 and four (!?) Ice Age sequels to anything much beyond meh.
     Scott’s best reviewed film to date, Goon (2012), was an amiable slob comedy (i.e., pervasive stupidity, overage drinking, genitalia) about a doofus hockey fan who’s signed by the Halifax Highlanders after the team’s coach witnesses him brawling on the ice. Unfortunately, Doug doesn’t even skate, let alone know where to stick the puck.
     It was inevitable that, five years on, Scott would be recast as Doug “the Thug” Glatt in Goon’s “long-awaited” sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, and sure enough, here he is! But as we learned earlier, a quick peruse through the actor’s embarrassing filmography tells us that most anything with Scott in it—sadly—is likely to be a dud. And Goon: Last of the Enforcers doesn’t disappoint.
     Ooh yah. Dud-ola.
     Tonally, the film is all over the ice. The hockey sequences zip along but first-time director Jay Baruchel (a Seth Rogen crony; he was in Knocked Up and This is the End) flips between bloody face-offs, sports-center aggrandizing, and sentimental domestic moments so randomly that the film fails to find any kind of rhythm. Baruchel has a recurring and, thankfully, small role as Doug’s best bud Pat—he’s repulsive. Fleshing out the name performers are Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Doug’s pregnant wife Eva, Elisha Cuthbert (Fox TV’s 24) as Eva’s girlfriend Mary, and Liev Schreiber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as a former hockey pro, Ross Rhea, who teaches Doug to fight with his left after the coach’s son (Wyatt Russell, Kurt and Goldie’s kid) relegates Doug and a dodgy right shoulder to a short-lived career selling insurance.
     While Scott himself isn’t the worst thing in the film—Dougie’s darling dimwittedness generates an occasional chuckle—it’s not exactly a performance he should feel, you know, proud of. And it does beg the inevitable question: Dude, Where’s My Career?


(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Wind River (2017)

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On Wyoming’s remote Wind River Indian Reservation, the body of a barefoot young woman lies face down and frost bitten in the snow. Despite incontrovertible evidence indicating foul play, the medical examiner rules the cause of death pulmonary edema—her lungs had filled with blood, a sure sign she’d been running. But from what, out here? The closest habitable structure is six miles away. Most people wouldn’t make it 600 yards in these frigid, subzero conditions, let alone six miles.
     The man who finds her is Cory Lambert, a veteran game tracker for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He hunts predators for a living—coyotes, mountain lions, hungry wolves. The FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner from Vegas, inadequately attired, to investigate. Clearly she’s out of her depth here. She asks Cory if he will come hunt a predator for her.
     He agrees, partly, because he knew Natalie, the dead girl. She was his daughter Emily’s best friend, but Emily is gone now too. “I suppose you’d like to know how?” he asks Jane, during a rare moment of downtime, pausing to add “so would I.”
     The enormity of loss in Taylor Sheridan’s stark and unforgiving Wind River is a powerful presence, and the film’s performances, by Jeremy Renner as Cory, Elizabeth Olsen as Jane, and Gil Birmingham as Natalie’s father Martin, are equal to it. Birmingham is especially good, but Renner has rarely been better, and Olsen continues to impress. Dead daughters and sad, wasted lives make for emotionally difficult cinema and Wind River’s got them in spades. The scenery is spectacular, but some of the film’s brutal content requires a strong constitution.
     Sheridan, an occasional actor better known for writing the recent Hell and High Water and Sicario, takes a second stab at directing here (after the Vile slasher from 2011) and crafts a marvelous mood piece; he also penned the taut screenplay.
     Wind River is both thrilling and intensely moving, a testament to its novice director and fine cast which also includes Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) as Ben, the local law enforcement, and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1) as Cory’s estranged wife.


(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

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The absolute best use of Philip Glass’s opening title music for Koyannisqatsi—other than in the Godfrey Reggio film of the same name, of course—is in 2013’s “action” comedy Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (renamed for American audiences as simply Alan Partridge on the assumption that Americans don’t know what an Alpha Papa is). In that silly, irresistible film, the “’otherworldly’ dark, sepulchral basso profondo” of Albert de Ruiter, the “Voice of Koyannisqatsi,” overlays picturesque scenes of the Southeast English coastline with the underwhelming caption “Northfolk.” It turns out that Alan, North Norfolk Digital’s fictional radio “d. jock.,” is broadcasting Glass’s title song over the airwaves—and luxuriating in its funereal afterglow.
     ”Koyannis-catsy…” [affecting a deep baritone ala de Ruiter] “Dah dah dah dah, bom bom bom bom… Well now, that music was very foreboding; it made a shiver go right down my spine.”
     In the actual Koyannisqatsi, Reggio’s first film in his ‘Qatsi trilogy—Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi followed in 1988 and 2002, respectively—the initial musical strains are indeed foreboding, with repeated bass motifs and simplistic chord structures adding to the soundtrack’s sinister suggestions of malevolence. But Glass’s minimalist music, which later features brisk choral passages, is only half the picture.
     To look at, Koyaanisqatsi is like perusing a National Geographic magazine really slowly one minute, upsetting an anthill the next. Waterfalls and weather patterns, purposeful pedestrians and street people caught unaware, architectural implosions and the red glare of rockets—all are slowed to sublime submission. These hypnotic images soon give way to frenetic visuals that swirl and dance and careen in kinetic, time-lapsed motion—cabs and cars and subway riders. There’s no dialogue or dubious narration, just cinematographer Ron Fricke’s beautifully-crafted and wide-ranging scenes presenting a rich and vibrant “life out of balance” (the translation of the Hopi word koyaanisqatsi), the natural world juxtaposed with one of humankind’s own making.
     A majestic minimalist experiment, Koyaanisqatsi should send a shiver down your spine too.


(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

Dave Made a Maze (2017)

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Bit player Bill Watterson’s directorial debut, the curiouser and curiouser Dave Made a Maze, ups the art of cardboard construction exponentially. Production Designers Trisha Gum and John Sumner teamed with the paper magicians—papier-mâchéians?—at the Cardboard Institute of Technology and fashioned some 30,000 square feet of cardboard into a pale brown labyrinthine world like no other, with pipes and vents and conduits belching forth steam and smoke and interior noises with equal ferocity. It would have made for a fantastically immersive installation at the Guggenheim; as a film, however, it’s less successful.
     Dave (everyman Nick Thune), a failed slacker artist, has built this particular maze in his apartment on a frustrated whim but now finds himself inexplicably lost inside—it’s a lot bigger within than without. When his girlfriend Annie (bit player Meera Rohit Kumbhani) arrives home, Dave has her contact various foul-mouthed friends for advice, including a documentary film crew led by Hal Hartley staple James Urbaniak. All eventually enter the maze to rescue Dave despite his repeated warnings to the contrary.
     The cool DIY construct and Alice in Wonderland-styled whimsy cannot compensate for the obnoxious cardboard characters who descend into Dave’s kitschy domain and run afoul of its booby-trapped dangers. Paper-bag puppets and origami cranes are among its stop-motion delights; there’s also a rampant Minotaur for good measure (Dave did warn them, after all). In many ways, the film is a lot like the recent Aimy in a Cage, an inventive Terry Gilliam-esque fantasy populated by fey and screeching poseurs you’d sooner want shot of. Clearly Dave’s maze was a better idea on paper than in execution.


(c) 2017 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com