Welcome to Denis Villeneuve Week here on Plot and Theme! I have been fascinated by Denis Villeneuve (pronounced, Deh-NEE Vill-NEV) for about the last six months, when Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent resurgence led me to Enemy. Since then, I have devoured everything Villeneuve, and truly believe he is one of the best directors working today – especially if you’re into something a little darker. In celebration of Sicario, which enters wide release on October 2nd and has hooked me since I saw this trailer, I have chosen to review all of Villeneuve’s previous features. We start with a truly weird one: Maelström.
The Zeller Brothers (David and Nathan) have clearly drawn a great deal of professional and artistic inspiration from the Coen Brothers in the creation of the pleasantly melancholic Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. In response to the modern world surrounding her, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Pacific Rim fame) seeks something more rewarding than the doldrums of her everyday life. She finds her solace in her pet rabbit Bunzo and an old beaten up VHS copy of the Coen Bros. magnificent film Fargo, and believes that the film actually is based on a true story, as the title card to Fargo suggests. To unearth the treasure, Kumiko embarks on a quixotic adventure to escape from the greyness and isolation of her everyday life.
In this century, properties like Twilight, Vampire Academy, and even things like Underworld and Blade have infantilized the vampire genre. These films are overtly focused on either relationship drama for the girls or supernatural action for the boys, leaving very few recent vampire movies capable of approaching these creatures of the night and their mythology with any nuance or depth. Enter A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, a wonderful bit of nuance and grim splendor.
The best action movies succeed by crafting sequences with jaw-dropping visuals and physical stunts, hopefully with characters that we care about and in a way that advances the story. More and more often, action movies in this century lean hard on the crutch of CGI to dazzle us, and usually they are happy to dispense with the story and characters in favor of large explosions, cartoonish monsters, and entire sequences “filmed” in a computer program. Used well, CGI is a powerful tool which can instill a film with detail, and acts to enhance that which appears on the screen – but we seldom see such restraint (the revelatory Mad Max: Fury Road is the most recent exception). In light of this trend, it is an absolute and almost visceral pleasure to experience The Raid from director Gareth Evans. The Raid (aka The Raid: Redemption) is a hybrid between your standard crime film and a martial arts escapade with a story semi-reminiscent of Dredd: an elite police team stages a raid on an apartment building controlled by a crime lord, but things go horribly wrong about six floors up, and the team is forced to fight their way out and struggle for survival as the crime lord’s henchmen descend upon them,