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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Argentine Bitters

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday March 19, 05:00 pm
Wild Tales is wonderfully mean-spirited

 WILD TALES

Broadway (opens Friday 27)

4/5

Wild Tales was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category this year, but it clearly had no chance. While the rest of the candidates could be described as humanistic to a fault (none more than Ida, the winner), Wild Tales is proudly mean-spirited. Almost every character is an asshole, and the entertainment comes from knowing that most of these people deserve what’s coming to them.

The six stories included in the film aren’t explicitly related, but the undercurrent is the same in each: confronted with the choice between taking the high road or getting even, odds are people will choose the latter. In each case, there are no cool heads in sight and, as Ron Burgundy would put it, the situations escalate quickly.

The tales unfold as follows:

Pasternak: A group of strangers on a plane realize they all know the same person. Not only that, they’ve all wronged him in some fashion — and none of them had to pay for their ticket. Paranoia ensues.

The Rats: A loan shark stops at a highway café, where he’s recognized by the waitress as the man responsible for her dad’s suicide. The cook offers to add rat poison to his meal, but the girl can’t bring herself to kill someone. Meanwhile, the moneylender grows more objectionable by the minute.

The Strongest: The best of the bunch, this story sees a yuppie and a mechanic make each other’s lives miserable on a deserted highway. A flat tire forces the yuppie to park next to a bridge, where he becomes a sitting duck for the irate trucker. Each driver gets the upper hand at different times, without realizing they’re trapped in a vicious circle.

Little Bomb: The most relatable. A chain of mishaps and escalating humiliations turn a regular Joe into a big ball of anger, causing irreparable damage to his career and his family. Moral of the story: the only thing worse than a bureaucratic nightmare is a corrupt bureaucracy.

The Proposal: A trust fund brat runs over and kills a pregnant woman. Ahead of his capture, the boy’s dad offers the gardener to take the fall in exchange for money. Soon the family’s lawyer and the detective in charge of the investigation also want a piece of the pie.

Until Death Do Us Part: In the midst of her wedding party, a bride finds out her spanking-new husband has been unfaithful with a woman in attendance. The information sends her into a rage, and she attempts every possible form of revenge before the cake is even cut.

There are no low points in Wild Tales. (Perhaps the last story is less disciplined than the others, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.) The movie is at its best whenever it’s hitting disturbing notes. “The Strongest” episode is the most conspicuous offender — it provides you with a lot of information about yourself, depending on which driver you side with.

Produced by Pedro Almodóvar, Wild Tales is actually better than his last four or five movies, perhaps because it’s devoid of the phony sentimentality that permeates his recent work.

The movie is full of lessons, but it doesn’t hammer the audience with them. The most obvious one? A cool head is a blessing — and there isn’t one in sight for two hours.

 

THE GUNMAN

Ciniplex

2.5/5

Amongst all the European-flavored shoot-‘em-ups Luc Besson has produced, The Gunman is one of the better ones — although that’s not exactly high praise, considering its peers (the Taken saga, the Transporter franchise, From Paris with Love and Three Days to Kill).

If nothing else, The Gunman at least tries to come off as more socially minded. How else could Besson attract notorious left-leaning talent like Sean Penn and Javier Bardem, and noted theatre snob Mark Rylance? But at heart, the film is about as silly and senseless as your average Besson film.

Penn is Jim Terrier, a security supplier for an NGO in the Congo who doubles as a contract killer for multinationals. In the midst of a romantic tryst with a pretty doctor, Jim is hired to kill the Minister of Energy, who’s considering the nationalization of all mines in the country (SOCIAL COMMENTARY ALERT!). After the deed is done, Jim obviously has to leave the continent — with a broken heart and a burgeoning case of PTSD.

Years later, as Jim tries to atone for past sins, he discovers the people involved in the assassination are being exterminated, with the exception of two shadowy characters: Cox (Rylance), who’s gone legit, and the client’s liaison (Bardem), who’s now married to Penn’s former love interest.

The action unfolds in an entirely predictable fashion from there. The only significant surprise of The Gunman is the treatment of the main female character, Annie (Jasmine Trinca). While the objectification of women in film isn’t news to anyone, The Gunman actually treats the character as an object. Penn and Bardem trade Annie back and forth without even asking her, and Trinca’s role basically comes down to either running or shrieking while being held captive. Oh, and one character off-handedly implies that Annie was raped by rebels in the Congo, without context or follow-up. It’s seriously off-putting.

Penn, meanwhile, makes the best of a mediocre movie and at least manages to keep the audience’s attention. Maybe he’ll become the next Liam Neeson: a well-reputed actor who slums for a quick buck.

 

MISS JULIE

Roxy

2/5

Miss Julie is a faithful adaptation of the August Strindberg play — and that’s a problem, because it’s too faithful. Despite the best efforts of a top-notch cast tearing into the material, it’s hard to engage with a story in which everycharacter seems to be having a two-hour-long panic attack.

Set during a midsummer night in late 19th-century Ireland, Miss Julie revolves around the power struggle between the title character (Jessica Chastain) and her father’s valet, John (Colin Farrell). Initially, an infatuated Miss Julie openly pursues John, right in front of his fiancée (Samantha Morton), and she’s not above using her position to get him. Unbeknownst to her, John has been nursing a crush of his own, but he lacks emotional intelligence and has a massive chip on his shoulder regarding his status.

A major battle of wills ensues, peppered by matters of class, religion and male privilege, and gaining the upper hand is more important than building a relationship. But because of the neurotic way the argument unfolds, it’s difficult to figure out what the movie is trying to say. Chastain and Farrell are terrific, but their unrestrained performances seem better suited for the stage.

Miss Julie is directed by favourite Liv Ullmann (who’s also responsible for the screenplay). As actors-turned-directors tend to do, she gets remarkable work from her cast without being too concerned with the cinematic aspects of the story. It’s a noble effort, but a failed one.  

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