Thursday, March 14, 2019

On Blu-ray/DVD: LONDON FIELDS (2018), THE LAST MAN (2019) and TYREL (2018)

(US/UK - 2018)

Based on the acclaimed 1989 novel by Martin Amis, LONDON FIELDS' arduous journey to the screen has already taken its rightful place among cinema's most calamitous dumpster fires, while also confirming every suspicion that the book was unfilmable. David Cronenberg was originally attached to direct all the way back in 2001 before things fell apart in pre-production, with Michael Winterbottom (24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) and David Mackenzie (HELL OR HIGH WATER) also in the mix over the next several years. It wasn't until 2013 that filming actually commenced, with music video vet Mathew Cullen at the helm, making his feature directing debut, from a script initially written by Amis (his first screenplay since 1980's SATURN 3) and reworked by Roberta Hanley (VERONIKA DECIDES TO DIE). After a private press screening at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, where the film was acquired by Lionsgate, the planned public festival screening was abruptly canceled due to various lawsuits being filed amidst a very public spat between Cullen and the producers. These included: several of the producers suing Cullen after he missed two deadlines for turning in the finished film and they found out he was off shooting a Katy Perry video instead of completing post-production; Cullen countersuing when producers took the film away from him and recut it themselves; the producers suing star Amber Heard for breach of contract after she refused to record some required voiceovers after production wrapped and badmouthed the film to the media; and Heard countersuing, claiming the producers violated her no-nudity clause by hiring a double to shoot explicit sex scenes involving her character after she left. Deciding they wanted no part of the rapidly escalating shitshow, Lionsgate dropped the film, which remained shelved until the fall of 2018 when settlements were reached with all parties and a compromised version--assembled by some of the producers and disowned by Cullen--was picked up by, of all distributors, GVN Releasing, a small company specializing in faith-based, evangelical, and conservative-leaning fare, which the very R-rated LONDON FIELDS is decidedly not.

A movie about the making of LONDON FIELDS would be more interesting than watching LONDON FIELDS, an incoherent mess that looks like it was desperately cobbled together using any available footage, with little sense of pacing or narrative flow. Seeking any spark of inspiration, blocked American writer Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton) answers an ad to swap apartments with famed British crime novelist Mark Asprey (Jason Isaacs). While Asprey writes his latest bestseller in Young's shithole Hell's Kitchen hovel, Young works in Asprey's posh London pad and finds his muse in upstairs neighbor Nicola Six (Heard). A beguiling and clairvoyant femme fatale, Nicola wanders into the neighborhood pub wearing a black veil and mourning her own death, having a premonition of her inevitable murder--on her 30th birthday on the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes Day--at the hands of one of the three men she encounters: the dour and jaded Young; upwardly mobile investment broker Guy Clinch (Theo James, at the beginning of the apparently perpetual attempt to make Theo James happen); and skeezy, lowlife, would-be darts champ and Guy Ritchie caricature Keith Talent (Jim Sturgess), who owes a ton of money to scar-faced, bowler-hatted Cockney gangster and chief darts rival Chick Purchase (an uncredited Johnny Depp, long before his and Heard's very acrimonious split, which should give you an idea of how old this thing is). Observing near and from afar how Nicola manipulates the men in her life, the dying Young weaves a complex tale that becomes the great novel he's always had in him. It seems like there's some kind of twist near the end, but it's hard telling with what's here.

Cullen put together his own director's cut that got into a few theaters for some select special engagements. It runs 11 minutes longer and with many scenes in different order (for instance, Depp appears seven minutes into this version but not until 35 minutes into Cullen's cut), but the only version currently on home video is the shorter "producer's cut" that GVN released on 600 screens to the tune of just $433,000. It's doubtful, but there's perhaps a good--or at least better--film buried somewhere in the rubble, and there's some enjoyment to be had from the scenery-chewing contest going on between Depp and Sturgess, who gets a ridiculous scene where he's dancing in a torrential downpour to Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." It's an amusingly silly sequence but therein lies the conundrum of LONDON FIELDS: it hasn't the slightest idea what it's doing or what it wants to be. Is it a romantic murder mystery? A drama about manipulation and obsession? A grotesque black comedy? The climactic tournament showdown with Keith and Chick gets perilously close to turning into a darts version of KINGPIN, with both Sturgess and Depp fighting over who gets to be Bill Murray's Big Ernie McCracken. It's easy to see why there were so many conflicting intentions on LONDON FIELDS: there's a ludicrous 12 production companies, 46 credited producers, four credited editors, and even three guys credited with doubling Thornton. Heard seems game to play a seductive and dangerous femme fatale in a twisty noir thriller, but LONDON FIELDS is not that movie. Or any kind of movie, for that matter. (R, 107 mins)

(Argentina/Canada - 2019)

The first narrative feature from Argentine documentary filmmaker Rodrigo H. Vila is a resounding failure on almost every front, save for some occasionally atmospheric location work in what appear to be some dangerous parts of Buenos Aires. A dreary, dipshit dystopian hodgepodge of THE MACHINIST, JACOB'S LADDER, and BLADE RUNNER, the long-shelved THE LAST MAN (shot in 2016 as NUMB, AT THE EDGE OF THE END, with a trailer under that title appearing online two years ago) is set in a constantly dark, rainy, and vaguely post-apocalyptic near-future in ruins from environmental disasters and global economic fallout. Combat vet Kurt Matheson (Hayden Christensen) is haunted by PTSD-related nightmares and hallucinations, usually in the form of a little boy who seems to know an awful lot about him, plus his dead war buddy Johnny (Justin Kelly) who may have been accidentally killed by Kurt in a friendly fire incident. Kurt also falls under the spell of messianic street preacher Noe (Harvey Keitel, looking like Vila caught him indulging in some C. Everett Koop cosplay), who tells his flock that "We are the cancer!" and that they must be prepared for a coming electrical storm that will bring about the end of civilization (or, on the bright side, the end of this movie). Kurt gets a job at a shady security firm in order to pay for the fortified bunker he becomes obsessed with building, and is framed for internal theft and targeted by his boss Antonio (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE's Marco Leonardi as Almost Benicio Del Toro), while at the same time having a clandestine fling with the boss' ex-model daughter (Liz Solari).

Oppressively dull, THE LAST MAN is an incoherent jumble of dystopia and apocalypse cliches, dragged down by Christensen, who still can't act (2003's terrific SHATTERED GLASS remains the only film where his limitations have worked in his favor), and is saddled with trite, sub-Rick Deckard narration on top of that (at one point, he's actually required to gravely mumble "If you look into darkness, the darkness looks into you"). Vila's idea of humor is to drop classic rock references into the dialogue, with Kurt admonishing "Johnny! Be good!" to the dead friend only he can see, and apparent Pink Floyd fan Johnny retorting with "Shine on, you crazy diamond!" and "You're trading your heroes for ghosts!" And just because a seriously slumming Keitel is in the cast, Vila throws in a RESERVOIR DOGS standoff near the end between Kurt, Antonio, and Antonio's duplicitous right-hand man Gomez (Rafael Spregelburd). The gloomy and foreboding atmosphere Vila achieves with the Buenos Aires cityscapes is really the only point of interest here and is a strong indicator that he should stick to documentaries, because THE LAST MAN is otherwise unwatchable. (R, 104 mins)

(US - 2018)

It's hard to not think of GET OUT while watching TYREL, and that's even before Caleb Landry Jones appears, once again cast radically against type as "Caleb Landry Jones." The latest from provocative Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva (NASTY BABY), TYREL is a slow-burning cringe comedy that takes a sometimes frustratingly ambiguous look at casual racism in today's society. With his girlfriend's family taking over their apartment for the weekend, Tyler (Jason Mitchell, best known from MUDBOUND and as Eazy-E in STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), who runs the kitchen in an upscale BBQ restaurant, accompanies his friend Johnny (Christopher Abbott) to a remote cabin for a reunion of Johnny's buddies, who are gathering to celebrate Pete's (Jones) birthday. The cabin is owned by Nico (Nicolas Arze), and it's an eclectic mix of rowdy dudebros that even includes openly gay Roddy (Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum). Tyler is already somewhat nervous as the outsider of the group and he's the only black man present, and things get off to a slightly awkward start when one of them thinks his name is "Tyrel," and Pete seemingly takes offense that Tyler doesn't remember meeting him on a prior occasion. The first night is mostly ballbusting (including casually throwing around the word "faggot" as a playful insult) and their usual drinking games that an uncomfortable Tyler doesn't feel like playing. He ducks out and pretends to go to sleep, which only earns Johnny's derision the next morning, so to put himself at ease, Tyler starts overdoing it, getting far too intoxicated over the course of the day, especially once a second group of guys, including rich, eccentric Alan (Michael Cera), show up.

Almost every comment is loaded with a potential misread, from questioning chef Tyler whether grits should be eaten with sugar or salt to someone asking "Is this a Rachel Dolezal thing...am I allowed to do this?" All of these guys are liberal and affluent to some degree, and TYREL speaks to how words and actions can be interpreted even if the intent isn't there, making the point that assumptions and belief systems are ingrained into one's psyche. No one says or does anything that's intended to be overtly offensive (Roddy brushes off the homophobic slur directed at another, because it's just guys being guys) or blatantly racist, but Tyler has been on the receiving end of it enough that his guard is always up. He frequently exacerbates the situation by overreacting in an irrational way, especially on the second day when he gets far more intoxicated than anyone else, even drunkenly helping himself to an expensive bottle of whiskey that was a gift for Pete, as Silva starts using subtly disorienting camera angles to convey Tyler's--and the audience's--increasing discomfort. TYREL is mainly about creating a mood of one unintentional microaggression after another, but Silva somewhat overstates the point by setting the getaway bash on the same weekend as President Trump's inauguration, a ham-fisted move that puts a challenging character piece squarely into "MESSAGE!" territory, especially when Alan breaks out a Trump pinata and smirks to Tyler, "Oh, you'll love this!" TYREL moves past that heavy-handed stumble, and ultimately, there's no big message to be had here, but while it seems slight on a first glance, much it will nevertheless stick with you. It's anchored by a perceptive performance by Mitchell, supported by an ensemble that's strong across the board, with a nice late-film turn by the late, great character actor Reg E. Cathey--in his last film before his February 2018 death from lung cancer--as one of Nico's neighbors. (Unrated, 87 mins)

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