Covering cinema from the highest of the highbrow to the lowest of the low-grade.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
On DVD/Blu-ray/Netflix streaming: THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS (2011) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (2011)
THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS (Australia - 2011; 2012 US release)
This harrowing, profoundly disturbing chronicle of the worst serial killings in Australia's history is appropriately grim and bleak, but director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant do assume that the viewer is already familiar with the story. And that's to be expected for a film made for Australian audiences. I'd strongly advise reading up on the case via Wikipedia or chances are you'll find it impossible to follow the convoluted story and keep up with who's who and how they relate to other characters. The film centers on teenager Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway, who looks like a cross between Heath Ledger and Andy Samberg), living a downtrodden, Aussie white trash life with his mom (Louise Harvey) and two younger siblings. When one of the mom's potential suitors turns out to be a pedophile, a friend introduces the neighborhood to John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), who gets on everyone's good side by endlessly harassing the child molester to the point where the creep packs up and leaves town. Bunting is alternately funny, chummy, ingratiating, aggressively pushy, and ruthlessly manipulative, and soon has everyone in this close-knit group of friends and neighbors under his thumb and ready to go along with anything he suggests. Slowly revealing an intense dislike of not just pedophiles, but also homosexuals and anyone he deems "not right" (like drug users and the mentally challenged), Bunting and his friend Robert Taylor (Aaron Viergever) start murdering people, and with the help of dim-witted neighbor Mark Haydon (David Walker), and a traumatized Jamie (introduced to killing when Bunting bullies him into shooting his dog), dispose the bodies in acid-filled tubs and store them in the vault of an abandoned bank in nearby Snowtown. Filled with much disturbing imagery and an almost suffocating sense of hopelessness, THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is a grueling and upsetting experience, filled with murder, torture, drug abuse, and child molestation (Jamie is also raped by an older half-brother at one point). But even as confusing as it often is, Pittaway and especially Henshall are so good that you can't take your eyes off of it. Henshall brings to mind a diabolical Ricky Gervais in his portrayal of Bunting, who's currently serving ten life sentences for his crimes. THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS is brutal and horrifying without being exploitative, though it will almost certainly leave a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. (Unrated, 120 mins)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Turkey/Bosnia and Herzegovina - 2011; 2012 US release)
Fascinating, challenging film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan (CLIMATES) is a murder mystery and police procedural that unfolds very deliberately and expects its audience to pay attention. It's a long and demanding work that pays off for the patient viewer who takes the time to invest in the characters and their traits, the dialogue and its rhythms, and just how it all impacts the gut-punch of a finale. Ceylan explains some things, but not all, as ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is the kind of film with plot threads intentionally left open to interpretation. In the dusk and eventual darkness of an evening, three police vehicles travel a total of 37 kilometers out of their jurisdiction in search of a body that's buried somewhere in the vast hills of the Anatolian steppes of Turkey (the cinematography by Gokhan Tiryaki is stunning). In the three cars are, among others, the irate lead detective (Yilmaz Erdegan), the prosecutor from Ankara (Tanar Birsel), a local doctor (Muhammet Uzuner), and the murder suspect (Firat Tanis). Erdegan feels Tanis is wasting their time, taking them to numerous locations before claiming he was drunk and can't remember where he buried the body. Birsel shares a story about the sudden death of a beautiful woman with Uzuner, who seems perpelexed that the prosecutor never ordered an autopsy. Some of the men argue about mundane subjects like yogurt and crack inappropriate jokes as a coping mechanism for the grimness of their job. Erdegan confesses to the doctor that he'd rather spend all his time at work than deal with his autistic son. Conversations seem to meander all over the place and some are certain to get frustrated and view this as a cinematic endurance test. But it all has a point and it all pays off with a devastating final shot that recalls Paul Thomas Anderson's HARD EIGHT in a strange way. Admittedly not for the casual viewer looking to kick back with a flick, but ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA is a compelling and original piece of cinema. (Unrated, 157 mins)