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Posts Tagged ‘Hilary Swank’

The other day I was a little surprised to discover I still had a checklist in my head of all those movies which the onset of lockdown back in March 2020 stopped me from seeing in a timely manner. Possibly the outstanding item on said list is a movie called Military Wives, which may sound like a niche magazine but is actually one of those uplifting true-life comedy dramas which almost invariably make me feel like opening a vein whenever I watch one. I got as far as watching the first half hour of that at the cinema before the building’s electrics blew and we were all sent home with the promise of a free ticket to a future showing. Five days later the cinemas all closed, and I’ve never heard anything about this movie since (I wasn’t actually enjoying it much so I’m not that bothered about seeing the rest of it).

Perhaps even more unlucky was Craig Zobel’s The Hunt, which had already suffered one delay to its release and came out just in time to play for less than a week. But at least The Hunt has resurfaced on one of the big streamers, where it doesn’t seem to have made a particular impression. Perhaps that’s because this is a movie which was the product of a very particular moment in American culture, which has now to some degree passed, or possibly it’s simply because it’s a rather odd film.

It opens with the audience being made privy to a chat exchange between a group of liberal friends, complaining about the latest outrages committed by (we are invited to assume) Donald Trump. (As we have noted, the film was due to come out in early 2020.) The friends console themselves by discussing an upcoming social occasion, when they will gather at the mansion home of one of them and then hunt and kill a dozen or so ‘deplorables’ – this being a rather loaded expression, derived from a disparaging comment about Republican voters made by Hillary Clinton.

A sequence set on the flight to the hunting grounds then follows, which mainly seems to be here for shock value and to pad out the film to a decent ninety-minute length: the first class passengers gang up to kill someone from cattle class who recovers from the sedative they’ve been given unexpectedly early. And from here we’re off into the hunt itself.

A dozen people wake up on the edge of woodland, close to a large wooden crate; they are all gagged. Inside the crate they find weapons of various kinds, before coming under fire from a hide nearby – several of them are gorily killed before the survivors flee into the woods, contending with booby traps (spike pits, land mines) along the way.

That’s basically all you need to know about the premise of the movie; there isn’t a great deal more to be said about it, to be honest, without getting into the realm of spoilers. There’s a weird diversion where it looks like a replica of rural Arkansas has been constructed in Bosnia to confuse the quarry in the hunt, but this once again feels a bit like diversionary filler – there’s a distinct smell around this film of it being a case of a strong premise that they really had trouble blowing up to feature length.

The idea of people hunting people isn’t an especially new one, after all – readers with serious psychiatric issues may recall that, after The Hunt had its theatrical run cancelled, I consoled myself by watching The Most Dangerous Game, another movie with a similar premise from the early 1930s. It crops up in various genre TV episodes as well – see The Snare, an episode of the Hulk TV show from the seventies. But one also gets the sense that this was conceived as a piece of satire as much as a thriller or a horror movie (it’s certainly gory enough to qualify as the latter).

Exactly which genre The Hunt falls into is a somewhat contentious issue, which has even earned its own Wikipedia footnote. I originally heard it advertised as a horror movie (not surprisingly, given it was produced by Blumhouse, the makers of the Paranormal Activity, Purge and Insidious franchises, as well as the (rather good) recent Halloween films). However, if you slap together any combination of the words horror, action, thriller, satire, and comedy, it is practically certain that someone will have described the film this way.

And the odd thing is that they all do describe the film: there’s more than enough gore for it to qualify as a horror, parts of it are very funny, and there’s at least one really well-staged action sequence. The problem is that, rather than blending all of these things into a single, coherent whole, The Hunt has a rather frenetic quality, hopping from sequence to sequence and topic to topic as if it’s afraid that if it lingers on any of them the audience will realise it’s actually a fairly insubstantial film. The irony is that if anything’s likely to create this impression it’s the fact the movie can’t keep still.

Wrong-footing the audience is often a good idea, and the film does have a go at this, being deliberately misleading about what exactly’s going on. It also attempts to do the old Psycho routine of introducing a character as, ostensibly, the lead, and then spectacularly killing them off relatively early in the film. This can work quite well – but The Hunt does the idea to death, repeatedly seeming to establish a protagonist only for them to meet a grisly fate a few minutes later. It gets a little bit wearisome, to be honest.

The scattershot approach of the film does occasionally pay off: there are some very funny moments, most of them satirical – the liberal elitists responsible for the carnage often pause in planning their mass slaughter to pick each other up for things like cultural appropriation and inappropriately gendered language. These scenes are so knowingly absurd that only an idiot could genuinely find The Hunt to be a provocative and dangerous incitement to division – it’s an exaggerated parody of the splits already existing in modern America.

Needless to say, Donald Trump weighed in and suggested an upcoming film was intended to ‘inflame and cause chaos’ (possibly that very stable genius was concerned about demarcation issues). To be honest, The Hunt is very small potatoes on that particular score, but the central idea – liberals hunting conservatives – was always going to be a bit controversial. The script does attempt to subvert audience expectations, by turning out to have as its main target the tendency of some people to believe anything they read on the internet, and the inflexible and nuance-free nature of so much modern political discourse. But this turns up rather late in the day, and feels like a bit of an afterthought.

Nevertheless, I did rather enjoy it: there are solid performances from what’s largely an ensemble cast (Hilary Swank, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts and Justin Hartley all get their moments of prominence) and the piece does have pace, energy, and a degree of wit about it. I’m not sure it hangs together as a coherent political thesis but there are certainly some very nice moments along the way.

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Even in the rapid-turnaround world of mainstream Hollywood film-making, this is some going: having been miraculously revived by a four-leafed clover he picked up off-screen towards the end of the previous movie, everyone’s favourite mutant vigilante claws his way out of a shallow grave and shreds his way to vengeance, aided by a string of unlikely and serendipitous happenings…

This is not the premise of Logan Lucky, of course. (But if Hugh Jackman’s interested, I’m sure we can work something out.) The actual premise of the film is actually rather secondary to the fact that it marks the reconstitution of the remarkable filmmaking collective which likes to operate under the name of Steven Soderbergh (look, have you seen the Soderbergh filmography? It can’t be just one guy). The Soderbergh announced a temporary dissolution – or ‘retirement’ – a few years ago, but now they have reconjugated themselves and, to judge from Logan Lucky, and it’s like they’ve never been away.

Soderbergh favourite Channing Tatum plays Jimmy Logan, who is experiencing some financial trouble after losing his job as a construction worker. Jimmy’s brother Clyde (the bane of galactic furniture Adam Driver), who himself lost a hand in Iraq, thinks this is because the family is cursed. Jimmy is not convinced of this, despite his various misfortunes. Nevertheless, Jimmy and Clyde embark on a rather ambitious scheme to rob a motor racing track on a race day, by breaking into the system the track uses to physically transfer cash to its vault.

The problem is that to do this they need the assistance of an actual bank robber and explosives expert, who goes by the name of Joe Bang (he is portrayed by that most uncomplaining and under-recompensed of movie stars, Daniel Craig), and Joe is currently in prison, where he is likely to remain throughout the window of opportunity for their big heist. And so an already convoluted scheme becomes practically baroque, as a means of springing Joe from the slammer in order to help with the robbery, and then reinserting him without anyone noticing his absence, has to be added to the plan. What could possibly go wrong? Well, given the supposed family curse, just about anything. But, when the dust settles, will Jimmy be able to get to his daughter’s junior beauty pageant like he promised?

Seasoned Soderbergh-watchers – or perhaps that should be sniffers – have apparently smelled a rat with regard to Logan Lucky‘s script, which is credited to one Rebecca Blunt. No-one knows who Rebecca Blunt is, as she is a non-person as far her film-making history is concerned, and the only person who seems to have had any contact with her is Soderbergh himself. Soderbergh has form for doing multiple jobs on the same film under a variety of pseudonyms, and so some people are leaping to the conclusion that Blunt is actually the director or someone close to him, working under a false name. It’s such a polished and casually effective piece of work that this is very easy to believe, if such things matter to you.

One of the hallmarks of the first phase of Soderbergh’s career was the deft way in which he moved between smart, broadly commercial projects, and equally smart niche and experimental ones – thus, a moneymaking hit like Ocean’s Eleven would be followed by an audience-confounding bomb like his version of Solaris. Logan Lucky is definitely one of his commercial movies, being something of a variation on the theme of the Ocean films. It’s essentially another caper movie, albeit a caper executed by hillbillies and rednecks, and with the comic potential of that idea by no means under-exploited: most of the characters, one way or another, are comic caricatures or grotesques, and the actors attack these roles with considerable gusto.

It’s an ensemble piece, obviously, and Soderbergh has assembled an impressive cast for it – people like Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes and Katherine Waterston turn out for what are basically quite small roles. And, to be fair, top-billed Channing Tatum recedes into the background for much of the film. Dominating the centre of the film, and delivering as big a performance as I can remember him giving, is Daniel Craig. Is he wildly over the top? It’s possible some people might think so. This is certainly big acting, one way or the other.

And on the whole it’s a rewarding piece of entertainment, although one which works much better as a straight-down-the-line don’t-take-this-too-seriously comedy than an actual comedy thriller. Quite apart from the general absurdity of the plot, there are some pleasingly unexpected jokes – there’s an involved Game of Thrones-related gag which I found particularly droll, though I’m not sure what future generations will make of it – and it is never dull or slow, even if at one point the final act of the movie shows signs of losing focus. On the other hand, there are a few dead wood characters – I’m not really sure what the characters played by Seth MacFarlane and Sebastian Stan actually contribute – and you really have to cut the film some slack in fairly essentially areas – given that Jimmy Logan can’t remember what day he’s supposed to be picking up his daughter, it seems pushing it a little to suggest he is the brains behind a ferociously involved and tricksy prison-break-stroke-robbery-stroke-spoiler-redacted. But this is the kind of thing you either go with or you don’t, and I expect most people will choose to go with it, as that option is much more fun.

There’s also something very slightly Coen brothers-ish about the film’s sardonic view of the details of lower-income mid-west life: it never seems to be outright mocking its cast of rednecks and hillbillies, but at the same time this is a comedy film, and many of its jokes come out of the presentation of this section of society. Mostly it seems entirely good-natured, but at the same time it’s very clear that this is, on some level, a group of well-educated and prosperous artists, some of them not even from the USA, who are choosing to tell a story about a gang of crooks and dimwits from the lower echelons of society, which is absolutely played for laughs. It’s not outright offensive in the way it’s handled, for the film is generally good-natured, but I was aware of it.

In the end, of course, Logan Lucky is simply one of Soderbergh’s more mainstream confections, and was it not for his recent lay-off it would probably be subjected to less critical scrutiny. And as such, there is not much wrong with it – it is consistently entertaining, and beyond that it is frequently interesting (which is not always necessarily the same thing), not afraid to surprise the audience or provide unexpected moments of ambiguity. Nice to have him back.

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One day someone will make a movie in which the main character moves into a delightful and surprisingly cheap new apartment, and goes on to have a thoroughly pleasant and life-affirming time with the new friends they make there. However, to the best of my knowledge this day has not yet dawned, and even if it has then the film in question is not Antti Jokinen’s 2011 offering The Resident.

Despite a good cast, this movie is mainly notable as a product of the resurrected Hammer Films, with all the associations that brings with it. However, rather than being a full-on excursion into horror, The Resident finds the House in Mystery and Suspense mode – this is an heir to old-school Hammer thrillers like The Nanny, Fear in the Night and Straight on Till Morning rather than the studio’s celebrated gothic extravaganzas. The comparisons in this case are particularly inviting, mainly because of the presence in the cast of Sir Christopher Lee, one of the company’s greatest icons.

And so to the plot. Spoilers await; this is that sort of movie. Hilary Swank (one of those actresses who always reminds me of someone else, but I’m never completely sure who) plays Juliet Devereau, a New York City doctor who – as previously alluded – is looking for some new digs after a romance-related embuggerance. After all the usual problems people have with this sort of thing in movies, she happens upon a delightful and surprisingly cheap new apartment, leased by the apparently studly Max (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). What luck! Even the unsettling presence of Max’s elderly grandfather August (Lee) does not put her off.

The little frisson going on between Juliet and Max is sufficient to take her mind off the vexed question of whether or not to forgive her unfaithful possibly-ex-boyfriend and the perhaps more pressing issue of whether or not someone is creeping around her apartment behind her back. But even so, the dilemma remains: no matter how hunky and charming he is, should you sleep with your landlord?

Well, my landlord is a happily married bald septugenarian called Raymond who reads the Daily Mail, so that’s a bit of a non-issue for me, but as a general principle I think probably not, especially when your landlord is secretly a obsessive psycho who’s renovated your apartment to have less actual privacy than the Big Brother house. And lo, this turns out to be the case with Max. The film has one great revelatory moment where – having previously been told entirely from Juliet’s point-of-view – it rewinds and shows events again, from Max’s perspective this time. Suffice to say he is not the ideal landlord he has previously been depicted to be.

This bit comes quite early on; arguably too early on, to be honest. With it out of the way all we are left with is a film about a woman and her stalker, with the main points of interest being a) exactly what’s he going to do to her? and b) how long before she figures out his game and we get to the bit with the kitchen knives? (There’s always a bit with kitchen knives in this kind of film.) The answers are a) the usual stuff, but also some really unpleasant shenanigans involving him drugging her while she’s asleep and b) about 75 minutes or so.

That said, both of the lead performances are reasonably good. In the past I have grumbled at length about Hollywood’s fondness for taking luminously talented, Oscar-winning young actresses and stuffing them inelegantly into dimbo genre movies (see: Halle Berry in Catwoman, Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, Natalie Portman in Thor, and so on), but if the alternative to that is to wind up in this kind of low-rent, low-octane cobblers, I would suggest that Hilary Swank (a double Oscar winner, no less) get her agent on the phone and start lobbying hard to play Tigra or the Scarlet Witch in the next Avengers movie. In any case, Swank’s role here is so nondescript there isn’t really very much she can do with it. Morgan actually manages to give his character a bit of pathos and depth, which is fine until you remember what an absolutely repulsive piece of work he is.

I suppose this to some extent reflects the central dichotomy at the heart of this kind of fem. jeop. exploitation movie: like good citizens, we’re ultimately all siding with the female protagonist (well, I hope we are), but many of us have probably only turned up on the understanding that prior to her triumph there will be scenes where the camera (much like the bad guy) spies on her in the bath, watches her changing and rubbing on skin lotion, etc. This is all incidental, by the way; The Resident is in no way smart enough to address this kind of stuff consciously.

Which leaves us with the presence in the movie of the great, nay, legendary Christopher Lee. To be perfectly honest Lee is much more prominent on the poster than he is in the film itself – I suspect he gets more on-screen time in Revenge of the Sith than he does here. To be blunt, he’s barely in it, and his character functions only to suggest a possible reason why Max is as messed up as he is, and to serve as a red herring as to who it is that’s spying on Juliet at the start before All Is Revealed. Even in this cough-and-spit cameo, Lee still manages to blow everyone else off the screen: he’s still an effortlessly creepy presence. There’s a bit where he’s talking to Swank and whispers ‘I get very lonely, you know’ – and despite the 52-year age gap between them, the suggestion that he’s coming on to her is unsettling rather than absurd. Alas, the movie makes very little use of its greatest asset and the film may prove to be notable in Lee’s mammoth filmography simply for the fact he fell over on set and did his back in, resulting in the seeming-frailness of the great man in recent public appearances.

There really isn’t anything else to make The Resident stand out from any one of a dozen other cheap and not especially cheerful direct-to-DVD psycho-thrillers. The plot trundles along, never really thrilling or surprising, none of the major characters is especially vivid or engaging, and  – the narrative flourish previously mentioned excepted – there’s not one moment in it you don’t see coming some considerable way in advance. I have to say that I’ve always found the old-school Hammer thrillers rather wanting compared to their fantasy and horror movies, but even the most pedestrian of those had more of interest about them than The Resident. Probably one for Hammer and Lee completists only.

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