Tag Archives: Imogen Poots

The Art of Self-Defense

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a meek man. He gets bullied at work by the very clique he wishes most to belong to. He photocopies their favourite tittie magazine in black and white xerox to study it, and by doing so, completely misses the point.

One night, coming home with dog food, he is attacked by a motorcycle gang and beaten within an inch of his life. He survives and decides to make some changes. He signs up for karate lessons at a dojo where we encounter toxic masculinity at its most pungent. He learns punches and kicks, but more importantly, how to be a MAN, a manly MAN: to listen to metal, to learn German rather than French, to replace his beloved wiener dog with a more aggressive variety. He’s also encouraged to beat people as severely as he was beaten. These changes do in fact make him more confident. And also a dick.

Nothing in this film is played for laughs. In fact, it’s delivered largely in deadpan monotone, a stylistic choice applied fairly evenly throughout the cast. It takes a minute to get used to this, or get over it maybe, but it’s also an important clue that we’re investing in satire and critique, and if the film seems a little outrageous, a little over the top, well, that’s the point.

Casey is quickly swept up by the dojo’s charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt but second class citizen Anna (Imogen Poots). If it sounds like a cult, good. It is not not a cult. But it’s also kind of karate, a homoerotic, needlessly violent, testament to testosterone. But when Casey gets promoted to Sensei’s mysterious night classes, it’s a whole new world of brotherhood, brutality and a special brand of hyper-masculinity that requires constant proving.

The humour is dry and dark as hell; in this script, a well-chosen word can wound as much as hand or foot. Or gun, though guns are for the weak. Eisenberg is well-suited for the role; he channels nascent neuroses as well as the yearning to be more. Writer-director Riley Stearns is perhaps a little inconsistent, but is brave in his stinging skewering of American masculinity, economic with words but generous with derision. It’s a little hard to take at times, but patience will be rewarded.

Frank And Lola

Frank and Lola are a newish, happy couple. He’s older, takes care of her. They’re lovey-dovey, meeting parents and wondering about saying I love you. Until.

Until something prompts Lola (Imogen Poots) to confess that she was raped by her mother’s ex-boyfriend not long before meeting him. Frank (Michael Shannon) is already feeling jealous, and now he’s got this black stain to focus on. If only he could have protected her – would things be different between them? Better?

frank-and-lola-michael-shannon-02Then Lola’s new boss (Justin Long) drops an opportunity in his lap: an interview in Paris, which is conveniently where rapey ex-boyfriend (Michael Nyquist) lives. Two birds, one stone? The movie is billed as a “psychosexual noir love story” but all you had to tell me is “Michael Shannon.” That man makes some damn interesting choices and I’ll always go along for the ride.

The film has obvious themes of love, obsession, sex, betrayal, revenge: all the ingredients for a psychosexual noir love story, I suppose. Tonally, it’s very dark. Shannon is so gravelly, so good at pained expressions, allows us to wear Frank’s obsession like a second skin so that it feels dirty and urgently real. He brings intensity and suspense to a movie that is otherwise only second-rate. Writer-director Matthew M. Ross has something to say about the male psyche, but perhaps lacks the maturity to give Frank the inner life that would truly express it. He does, however, have an eye for the seediness of life, and the depravity of people. But with each twist in the plot, the emotional investment is diluted.

Setting the film in both Paris and Vegas gives an authentic flavour to the proceedings. Vegas lends itself to broken characters and a certain loneliness amid busy-ness. Watching Frank And Lola is an exercise in lie-detecting: do you think you’ll pass?

 

Green Room

I think we can all agree that Jeremy Saulnier would make a terrible dinner party guest. He’s the writer-director of the most sadistic movies I’ve ever seen and I think someone needs to give him a houseplant and one of those sappy Hallmark cards with a nice beach scene on the front. Like, the man needs a hug only I wouldn’t recommend anyone get close enough to give him one. A man who makes movies this crazy has to be a little deranged, right?

Okay, I don’t really know a single thing about Saulnier, and judging by his IMDB profile pic, I’d say he’s a Mumford & Sons listening, Wholefoods shopping, Keds wearing dude like any other. Only he’s also a brilliant writer and director who just happens to like fucking with people.

I watched Blue Ruin all by my lonesome and survived. Green Room is even downloadmore of a trial. It’s about a not very successful punk band on a tour of tiny bars and rec rooms about to head home when they get one last gig that pays too well to ignore. They should have ignored it though because the neo-Nazis who show up to hear them play are a little more than they bargained for. Shit goes down, and it’s not just uncomfortable racist undertones, it’s more the literal tearing out of your throat variety.

It’s a horror-thriller that doesn’t apologize for relishing the bloodiness of greenroom4the genre, but this one has the surprising addition of exceptional acting. I liked Blue Ruin for defying my expectations of the genre, and Green Room of guilty of the same, to some extent. It has a real plot and a set-up that won’t make you cringe in its obviousness or its thinness. When Saulnier’s name is attached to a film (this is his third – the perfect opportunity, and maybe his only opportunity to indulge and be indulged in such a gorefest) you’re pretty much guaranteed a nail-biter. There’s breathtaking cruelty around every corner, but I was even more surprised by the tiny flickers of humanity that sneak up on you.

Green Room is not an easy watch, but if you think you have the stomach for it, you should probably put Saulnier on your watch list.