Wild Indian

Makwa as the grown-up Michael

Wild Indian starts out looking like it’s going to be a film about a troubled kid, abused at home, struggling at school, who suddenly takes matters into his own hands and does something heinous. It turns out to be a film about the two grown-ups involved in that heinous event – the guy who did it, and the friend who was there when it happened.

We first meet Makwa (Phoenix Wilson) and Ted-o (Julian Gopal), a pair of Native American kids cusping on puberty. Makwa isn’t having too good a time of it – beaten at home, bullied at school, unable to get the girl he fancies – and in a moment of rash madness, while out in the woods with Ted-o one day, he impulsively shoots and kills his love rival. Ted-o is horrified but loyally helps his friend bury the body.

That’s the spoilerish setup. The payoff is actually what the film is about, so not too spoilerish then. Decades down the line, Makwa is a successful dude in California, with a lovely home, a beautiful wife (Kate Bosworth), a child and another on the way. Handsome, tall, self-confident, a mile away from the plubby withdrawn kid of yore. And yet there is something not right about Makwa, who now calls himself Michael, a coolness that could merely be poor interpersonal skills, or might be psychopathic tendencies carefully masked. Michael Greyeyes, who plays the grown-up Makwa, is tending towards the latter, but there’s enough leeway in his performance that it could be either.

Meanwhile, just getting out of prison and with a tattoo on his face, is Ted-o (now played by Chaske Spencer, in a beautifully tortured performance). The innocent one, remember, has clearly gone to the bad and has spent most of his life thus far locked up. This time he’s left prison determined to make things different, and so re-connects with his sister and her kid, gets a job and tries to put the past behind him. That includes dealing with the thing between Mako and himself, which has clearly never been spoken about since.

Chaske Spencer as the grown up Ted-o
Out of stir: Ted-o (Chaske Spencer)

A thrillerish drama about old guilt staking a claim on the present is the result, the wrinkle in writer director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr’s debut feature being that it’s the guilty guy who’s had the golden life, his solid friend who’s taken the hit, as if he just happened to be on sineating duty that day. Cape Fear was in similar territory, both the original 1962 version and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake.

Also like Cape Fear, inner psychological states are expressed via externals – an alienated camera, music designed to keep us just out of the comfort zone – and there’s the odd plot event dropped in to remind us just who the bad guy and the good guy really are here. Don’t be fooled by the way they look.

Given how much US movies romanticise resourceful individualism and survival against the odds, you’d have thought there’d be more featuring Native Americans, especially since we’re now two generations on (at least) since Hollywood got its revisionist view of the “Red Indian” up and running with the likes of 1950’s Broken Arrow.

Corbine Jr insists that this is a movie about Native Americans, rather than just a story that happens to feature them, by bookending his tale with flashbacks to “the last Ojibwe” of his tribe, a man covered in pustules (possibly smallpox, possibly picked up from a European). Is the modern psychopathy of Makwa, the recidivism of Ted-o, a manifestation of a similar white man’s infection? If so, it’s a very clumsy one.

There’s also a hint of ethnic essentialism (the upbeat kissing cousin of out-and-out racism) here and there, like Ted-o heading off to the woods at one point to sleep in a tent, because Native Americans need to connect to the earth, or something.

This film needs neither of those distractions, nor does it particularly need Jesse Eisenberg in it, playing Makwa/Michael’s almost entirely unnecessary work colleague, though the demands of international sales and marketing have their own logic, and Eisenberg is an exec producer so hey. By which I mean it works entirely on its own terms, as a good story of the processing of human guilt by two quite different personalities. One who feels too much, and the other nowhere near enough.





Wild Indian – Watch it/buy it at Amazon



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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Resistance

Jesse Eisenberg in white face make-up

Heartfelt rather than gut-wrenching, Resistance is an origin story. Not of a superhero, which is what origin stories usually concern themselves with. But of the world’s most famous mime, Marcel Marceau, who died in 2007 aged 84. This seems, at first glance, amazing in itself. After all, who’s interested in that? But it turns out there is more to Marceau, a lot more, than the white face make-up of his most famous character, the silent Bip the Clown.

He was born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg, France, in 1923, which means Marcel was about 15 in 1938 when Resistance takes up his story. The Nazis are just over the border and Strasbourg is regularly receiving Jewish refugees from Germany. Not that Marcel really notices. He’s a self-absorbed philosophical sort, though he’s connected enough to the world to have spotted the pretty Emma (Clémence Poésy) and it’s to get into her good books that he starts to assist with the evacuees, helping to place them with local families. He also entertains them, with the cabaret act he’s trying to work up, in the spirit of his idol Charlie Chaplin.

At around 37 you’d think that Jesse Eisenberg would be a bit old to be playing a teenager, but he just about gets away with it, even though his mime skills aren’t that hot. Fair enough, Marcel is only on the nursery slopes. Nervy, nerdy, expressive though tight-lipped, Marcel is very much a familiar Eisenberg character.

Doctoring his name on his own passport – Mangel becomes the less Jewish Marceau – Marcel realises he has a skill for forgery and is soon helping the French resistance produce fake ID for the refugees. But that’s about as far as it goes for the pacifist Marcel until the entire city of Strasbourg is evacuated out to Limoges and infamous Nazi torturer Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer) shows up, en route to earning his nickname, the Butcher of Lyon.

Marceau, as he now is, becomes increasingly involved with the Resistance, doubling down on his commitment after Barbie gets hold of Emma’s sister, Mila (Vica Kerekes), and does unspeakable things to her, eventually becoming a key figure in the spiriting of thousands of Jewish children to safety in Switzerland.

Marcel tries to impress Emma with a trick
Marcel tries to impress Emma with a trick



Barbie is a brute, an absolutely appalling man and Matthias Schweighöfer (star of the nonsensical but entertaining TV seriesYou Are Wanted) gives it both barrels as the frothing über-zealot who we first meet beating a “homosexual Nazi” with a chair leg. Later, we’re introduced to Barbie’s torture chamber, which is full of the sort of hooked instruments you don’t want to look at twice. And yet writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz takes pains to present Barbie not as a monster but as a human being – Barbie has a child who he loves and whose future he frets about.

There’s a problem here. The film spends so much time in Barbie’s company that its centre of gravity starts to drift his way. Barbie is a horrible man, but because of the way he’s been written, and the way Schweighöfer is playing him, he’s also a compelling screen presence.

Also muddying the water a touch is Jakubowicz’s decision to tell the entire story in flashback. Ed Harris bookends the entire film as General Patton, introducing entertainment-hungry troops to Marceau’s first professional performance as a mime in post-liberation France.

There are modern resonances and Jakubowicz’s screenplay more than once takes time out to explain the Nazi rationale for exterminating the Jews, how they conspiratorially ran the world etc etc. The echo in a world of Soros bashing, QAnon nonsense and the like is astonishing.

Resistance has plenty of fantastically tense moments and a lot of fine acting. It’s full of expertly engineered set pieces, is lavish with period detail and tells a fascinating-because-true story. But for all of Eisenberg’s twinkling and the immense charm of his performance, his Marceau – a cheap gag but also true – never really speaks to us.





Resistance – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









The Social Network

Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

 

 

It’s often said that Kids Today can’t concentrate, that they don’t love words the way their parents did. Well, they flocked in the droves to see The Social Network, an old fashioned, plot driven, very talky film that seems aimed at people capable of mastering fine detail, people with an almost legal mindset. Regardless of the true state of the ADHD generation – isn’t it obvious that anyone who sits and plays a computer game for hours on end demonstrably has no problem with concentrating? – The Social Network tells the story of one of its generation’s figureheads, for good or ill: Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. In particular it spins on the relationship between Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, the money brothers who spent years pursuing Zuckerberg through the courts because, they claimed, he either stole their idea or failed to compensate them adequately for their input on the original FaceMash project. In the way that Facebook hooks people up, The Social Network mashes together a lot of fine talent – and the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. We have Aaron Sorkin’s fast, involving dialogue – the opening scene between Zuckerberg and a date (Rooney Mara) tells us everything we need to know about the subject’s personality, his attitude to women, his intelligence, his arrogance, his obsession (she says obsessed, he says motivated; Sorkin lets us decide). David Fincher is the perfect directorial choice too, a guy obsessed with process and function (you only have to see Seven to know that), whose muted pallette of oranges and browns, low lighting, and decision to pump Trent Reznor’s music up high – suggesting intense brain activity, the frenzy of creativity, the buzz a bright idea delivers – allows the viewer to scope the areas where words cannot go. And around one hour or so in, it might suddenly hit you that Jesse Eisenberg isn’t actually Mark Zuckerberg, such is the perfection of his playing of this character – charming, yes, but just this side of overweening – even though Eisenberg is clearly too old to be playing a 19 year old.

In terms of plot the film breaks down into how it was done – how hacking into the personal files Harvard kept on its students (a late-night computer prank fuelled by sexual rancour and a feeling of social exclusion) gave birth almost magically to a once-in-a-generation megacorp. And then how that idea was subsequently monetised (enter Justin Timberlake as Napster guy Sean Parker, Mephistopheles dressed as a cruising shark). Running like a sore under this rise-and-rise plot strand are the Winklevosses, the socially connected (in all the right but old ways) brothers about to be shafted by a new paradigm. The Winklevoss stuff injects an old-fashioned courtroom drama ambience, and – set in brightly lit lawyers offices and Harvard professors’ studies, all suited and booted – provides relief from the bars and bedrooms and really lets Sorkin crack wise. Fast moving and littered with just enough references to MySQL and Apache, The Social Network entirely succeeds in making us feel like we’re inside with the new kids on the block, not outside with… er… us.

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The Social Network – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Social Network

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

3 October

 

 

The Mickey Mouse Club debuts, 1955

On this day in 1955, Walt Disney launched The Mickey Mouse Club on the ABC television network. Essentially a variety show that made stars of its mini-vaudevillians (named Mouseketeers), it was hosted by a number of adult comperes. Initially this was Jimmy Dodd, who would intersperse performances by the kids and old episodes of shows such as The Hardy Boys with a song and a homily of his own composing, thus setting the tone for the MMC – sunny, positive, virtuous. The show continued until its cancellation in 1959, but then continued to be shown in popular syndicated repeats on US television. Those reruns were still being shown when the show was revived in 1977, using the same basic formula (theme days, cartoons, episodes of serials, chunks of movies) for a short run. And it was revived again in 1989, the mix augmented now by music videos, comedy sketches, and live performances by the Mouseketeers. Among the Mouseketeers in this final 89-95 run were Keri Russell (91-93), though it was the class of 93-95 which proved particularly noteworthy. It contained Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.

 

 

The Social Network (2010, dir: David Fincher)

The film about the creation, early days and volcanic rise of Facebook, and its disputed (what the film is all about) creator Mark Zuckerberg could be said to belong to any number of people. For sure, it’s a David Fincher product, slick, beautiful, well paced and confident. But most of those adjectives could also be applied to Aaron Sorkin, who wrote it. And what of Jesse Eisenberg, as geeky Zuckerberg? Or Rooney Mara as the girl who dumps him. Or Armie Hamer as the Winklevoss twins (the “Winkelvi”) whom Zuckerberg swindles/beats (delete according to taste for litigation) in the race to set up a Bebo-style chatspace for university students – Facemash, Zuckerberg initially called it. The casting and writing are so assured in this film that no matter who we’re with, even Mara, who’s not in the film for long, while they’re on screen it’s their film. Which brings us to Mickey Mouse Club alumnus Justin Timberlake. This surely is his best role and he is in some respects the beating heart of the film, playing Sean Parker, the file-sharing-site Napster inventor who swoops in late to pick up something bright glinting in the sunlight. His involvement, advice and money enabled Facebook to leapfrog any number of hurdles, got it its first serious investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and set it on the road to where it is now. In the process Parker became Facebook President. But is he a good guy or a bad guy? An enthusiast for new media or an opportunist? The beauty of Timberlake’s performance is that he makes Parker an immensely attractive character, the person with whom Zuckerberg forms the alliance that mattered when it mattered. In the process Parker might have stolen the soul of Facebook, or Zuckerberg might have given it to him willingly, in return for the untold riches that Parker was dangling under his nose. In essence it’s Faust updated, Faustbook, with Timberlake as Mephistopheles. And he knows damn well that that’s what this role is all about. You can almost smell the sulphur coming off the screen.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Give or take the odd disputed fact – and the lawyers have been all over this film – the history of the founding of Facebook
  • The breakout role for Armie Hammer, as the Winklevoss twins
  • Trent Reznor’s great soundtrack
  • Sorkin’s script makes this a movie for anyone who loves words – no knowledge of PHP or MySQL required

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Social Network – at Amazon