Articles

Capone

Surreal Drama

/ Remi
Capone cover

Al Capone was, despite his reputation, not a hardened tough guy. After being incarcerated for tax fraud, he became a frequent target of bullying in prison and relied his cellmate’s protection to get through his time there. Ten years or so into his sentence, the system took pity on him do to his literal degradation from syphilis. He lived the last year of his life in his Florida mansion, where Capone picks up.

Capone is, despite what one might expect, not a biopic. It builds pretty faithfully on accounts of the last year of Capone’s (known as Fonse during this period) life but is more of a surrealistic horror-drama than anything.

True to reality, both the FBI and Fonse’s inner circle are searching for the ten million dollars the former crime boss was rumored to have hidden on his property. Where it is, no-one knows, and Fonse’s mind is so far gone he barely remembers he ever hid it. Or even if he did.

Fonse is reduced to a shell of a man at this point. He is forced to wear diapers, which he utilizes frequently, and events from his past muddles with reality. Long gone, deceased people come and go, having long conversations with him, often about the lost money.

There is a lot to like about Capone. Particularly Fonse’s dream sequences are fascinating and illustrate how far gone his mind has actually gone. They’re beautifully filmed, too, even though they might be a bit on the nose at times. Fonse has a fascination with The Wizard of Oz; during his dreams, a golden balloon guides him through a labyrinth of corridors. Yellow brick road aside, it’s an eerie sight, his wanderings, and it does illustrate his confusion well.

Portraying the titular character is an almost unrecognizable Tom Hardy. He looks aged and haggard and shows Fonse as a vacant shell. Scenes that otherwise would be considered extreme are delivered with empty, aloof expressions, even uncontrollable defecations. Those scenes could come off as borderline parody, but Hardy is committed to them to a point where they feel uneasy and disturbing.

The supporting cast fares equally well, and particularly Linda Cardellini (recently seen in Dead to Me), delivers a nuanced performance as Fonse’s wife. Kyle MacLachlan, too, does well as the doctor who also works as an informant for the FBI.

As a surreal drama or horror, Capone works well, and it’s too bad some more conventional plotlines are thrown into the mix. This includes an integral part surrounding Fonse’s illegitimate child, which does little to further the main story. It feels like it was lifted from a different script altogether, and comes off as jarring when paired with the dreamlike flow of the main storyline.

Toward the end, I’m not sure Fonse’s actions really make much sense — a scene with a gun comes out from nowhere — and again comes off as something from a different movie. It’s too bad. The juxtaposition between Capone’s two sides ruins a good chunk of the movie’s flow.

It’s still worth watching, Capone. The scenes that work, work almost exceptionally well and Hardy gives it his all. A lesser actor could have made the movie unintentionally funny. If you’re a fan of surrealism, and if you can forgive some slower parts, Capone is fascinating enough to be worth your time.

Kill Your Friends

Dark Comedy

/ Remi
Kill Your Friends cover

Set in 1997, Kill Your Friends takes place smack in the middle of the Britpop craze in a movie that does a shaky job at capturing the essence of American Psycho.

We follow Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult, known from X-Men: First Class and Mad Max: Fury Road), an A&R man for a never-named record label, furiously trying to reach the top of the business. Ruining somebody’s career by falsely outing them as pedophiles is not an issue for him, nor is literal murder.

I don’t know a whole lot about the record industry, though it sounds entirely plausible it was cutthroat toward the end of the nineties. Britpop was arguably the last zenith of artistically driven, top-of-the-charts music (the average number one single today has a dozen writers; twenty-plus is not uncommon), and while Stelfox seemingly can see the end of the heyday on a visceral level, it only feeds his drug-fueled hunger.

Does Stelfox know anything about music? No. He’s a businessman, and when his secretary brings him an up-and-coming group, he tosses the CD in the trash. Foreshadowing. And when his best friend, the hilariously named Roger Waters (an unrecognizable James Corden), gets the job as the head of A&R man, Stelfox cold-bloodedly snuffs him out. His rationale being Waters not knowing that Paul Weller writes his own music. (Why do you think he’s called a singer/songwriter?)

It’s a good premise, backed by a killer soundtrack consisting of hits from Britain’s finest. Blur (Beetlebum), Oasis (Cigarettes and Alcohol), Radiohead (Karma Police), and Prodigy (the unfortunately titled, but impossibly catchy Smack My Bitch Up) make a showing, and even the original music lives up to the era’s penchant for ultra-catchy pop/rock.

Yet, the premise isn’t executed as well as the original idea, based on screenwriter Joel Niven’s own novel.

Good as Hoult is in the starring role, the character never lives up to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. For all of his flaws – being a murderer and all – Bateman was somebody you couldn’t help but kind of root for. Stelfox? He is inherently unlikable, not unlike the rest of the characters in the film. That is by design, but it gets tiresome after a while, and the final thirty minutes drag on.

Too, the subplot about a detective being bribed with a songwriting contract to look away from the Waters’ murder is beyond unbelievable. Kill Your Friends is a satire, but those kinds of elements color too far outside of the lines.

So there are peaks and valleys. When the music is pumping, Kill Your Friends shows off a great side of British rock’s final hurrah (for now), and it is fascinating to see the end of it from the inside. At the end, when the formulaic pop-band hits the top of the charts, it’s obvious where the business is going. It goes too far into la-la land more than it should, but squint your eyes at the right time, and you’ll see the bones of a good satire in Kill Your Friends. And as a free Shudder streamer, it’s worth the price of admission.

Darling

Trippy Horror

/ Remi
Darling cover

Darling is a movie delightfully full of itself. It’s the type of film that would prove anyone who finds arthouse movie making obnoxiously pretentious more correct that I’m comfortable admiring. Yet, Darling is so good at what it does, that I can forgive it for going somewhat too far in its dazzle.

We follow the titular Darling who has accepted the role as a live-in caretaker of a mansion that may or may not be haunted. Stories of occult experiments in the house run rampant around the neighborhood. Soon after moving, Darling starts having visions of violence and abuse, maybe from her past, maybe from her future, and her grips of reality start rapidly slipping.

The plot is seemingly straightforward, while the execution decidedly is not. If you’ve seen a video installation at a modern art museum, that is pretty much what you get here. There are ambient noises abound and highly stylized steadicam shots, all (of course) presented in black and white. The aesthetics are striking, with echoes of an experimental Hitchcock and sixties French cinema. It’s something a young David Lynch could have produced; maybe even an older David Lynch, going by episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return.

There might also be a bit too much of a good thing. Even at 78 minutes, the story ends up slogging through sections of beautiful sceneries. That is too bad, as when more substantial plot points do get pushed through, they are as captivating as the slower showboating. The balance isn’t quite where it should be, and an otherwise disturbingly slow, creeping story sometimes stops in its tracks.

When it does move, it is effective, and time and place and who is who get thrown into question. At its most successful, the Darling is an unsettling story, helped well along by Lauren Ashley Carter as the titular character. (And Sean Young has a small role, too, which was a welcome surprise.)

There is a great movie somewhere inside Darling, but the visual wizardry keeps some of it locked inside. That can be exasperating, but Darling is still a very good movie. If you’re a fan of modern art and striking aesthetics, it is a must watch all the same.

VFW

Joe Begos Watch

/ Remi
VFW cover

Following the trippy vampire movie Bliss, comes Joe Begos’s take on an over-the-top action story with VFW. We join Fred (Stephen Lang), who, alongside a group of fellow war veterans, is forced to defend their VFW post from a group of drug dealers. A teen girl (Sierra McCormick) has, after her sister ODed, stolen their stash and barricaded herself inside the post, hunted not just by the dealers, but also a herd of drugged-out mutants.

There are echoes of Bliss in VFW, in such that the vampires served as a loose metaphor for addicts in the former. Here, he mutants aren’t really mutants, but rather stoned-out, adrenaline-pumped human beings. In a sense, VFW is a zombie movie without zombies. Night of The Living Dead without the dead.

A large part of the team behind Bliss is back, meaning we get treated to some deeply saturated shots courtesy of DP Mike Testin and a droning synth soundtrack by Steve Moore. VFW both looks and sounds like its predecessor, though without being derivative. While the lighting is similar to its predecessor, VFW is less grungy and more dusty, which goes well in hand with the group of aging veterans. The bar might not be pretty in its deprecating state, but the red, blue, and purple hues make for a captivating scene all the same. It’s also great to see Dora Madison back after her tour-de-force performance in Bliss.

It’s a violent movie, VFW, but it also goes far enough over the top not to be taken too seriously. The borderline cyberpunk clad antagonists aren’t anything many would identify with. That’s not a bad thing, and as hoards of mutants are storming the VFW, you can sit down and enjoy the carnage without investing too many emotions into it. That’s not to say the veterans themselves aren’t likable. They are, and there is even a bit of a real feeling to their we do what we have to do to defend the young girl. Yet, this isn’t a film where you form connections on a deep level. You both come and stay for the action, and cheer for the old guys to win. It’s escapism, and that’s perfectly fine.

I’m sure VFW was shot on a B-movie budget – there basically are only two locations in the whole film – but on a technical level, it fits squarely in the A grade. Consider VFW a highly satisfying watch if you’re feeling like rooting for a pack of old veterans mowing down hoards of mutants.

Norm!

As in Bliss, George Wendt has a small role in VFW. I don’t know why, but it’s fun to see him sitting in the same spot he sat at in Cheers all the same.