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 Handsome, tall, self-confident, a mile away from the plubby withdrawn kid of yore.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









Still Alice

Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore in Still Alice

 

 

A super confident woman, top of her game, a linguistics professor, one day discovers herself grasping for a word while she’s giving a lecture. This being the movies, where a cough in one scene leads to coughing up blood in the next, we automatically suspect she’s got Alzheimer’s. The title providing another nudge (why Still?). And so it turns out, in a movie that seems determined to put a polish on the disease of the week movie, and largely succeeds.

 

Polish number one is that it’s not just any old Alzheimer’s but familial Alzheimer’s, in which the gene – should you have been unlucky enough to have inherited it from an affected parent – means you have 100 per cent chance of getting Alzheimer’s yourself.

 

But really the claims for genre transcendence are made by the quality of cast that writers/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have attracted to the project. Julianne Moore plays the unlucky Dr Alice Howland and in the scenes set in the doctor’s consulting room, where the camera rests entirely on her face as she told one awful truth after another, the wisdom of that casting decision becomes obvious. Matching her in strength and subtlety is Alec Baldwin as her uxorious but never sappy husband, Kate Bosworth as her prickly daughter, Hunter Parrish as the largely superfluous son and Kristen Stewart, clearly making a decision to step back from the spotlight, as the youngest daughter, who finds herself promoted to more of a caring role as the rest of the family quietly shuffle backwards.

 

It’s also an unusually nuanced film, and gives its victim far more agency than we’re used to in this sort of thing. So, alongside gruesome scenes like the one in which Alice pisses her light grey joggers – not a good look – and fails to recognise her daughter, there are others where she clearly uses her advancing condition to her advantage, ducking out of a dreary dinner party, or reading her youngest daughter’s diary and putting it down to “my illness”.

 

They’re an unusual duo, Glatzer and Westmoreland, who you might remember as the names behind 2001’s The Fluffer, a well acted, quirky gay rom-com. And might not remember as the names behind 2013’s The Last of Robin Hood, which cast an excellent Kevin Kline as Errol Flynn in his final skiddy years (and, incidentally, gave a small role to Errol’s grandson, Sean). That’s when they’re not working as producer/consultants on America’s Next Top Model.

 

That TV background will count against them in some quarters, where this film will be pegged as a disease of the weeker not worthy of even a first look. It’s irrefutable: that is exactly what it is, and the plaintive piano and string quartet soundtrack isn’t trying to deny it either. But no matter how mangey and emotionally manipulative, every dog has its day. And this, ladies and gents, is that canine.

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Black Rock

Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton in Black Rock

 

 

Three young women are chased around an island by three crazed ex-soldier guys in Katie Aselton’s boo-goes-there horror story which would slot nicely into the big book of feminist films if it weren’t for the gratuitous (oh come on) nudity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with god-given nakedness. But back to the film. Directed by Aselton and co-written with her partner, Mark Duplass, Black Rock takes three old schoolfriends, Aselton, Lake Bell and Katie Bosworth, sends them off to a remote island they used to visit as kids, but not before pointing out that one of the three did something bad with another of the trio’s boyfriend some years back, and that the wound is still suppurating.

Out on the island, the girls (“women” doesn’t seem quite right; “ladies” definitely not) bump into three ex-army guys, one of whom is a vague friend of a friend. But things go from uneasily friendly to extremely nasty in a short time after a bit of booze, some unwise campfire flirting with one of the soldiers, a rape attempt and retaliation in the form of a big lethal rock to the skull.

The other two guys – we have just learnt that they got dishonourable discharges for some seriously nasty shit out in Afghanistan – decides for justice in the form of death.

But I’m telling you the plot when what all you want to know about is the nudity. Well, you could say that it is justified by the story Aselton is telling, since two of the girls have swum out to a boat, failed to get into it and are now back on dry land in wet clothes and the quickest way to get warm is… take your clothes off?

Does it last long? No. Does it matter? Maybe, because though Aselton is a good actress (though her showing in The Puffy Chair is all I’m going on) I’m not sure about her as a director.

But she’s competent enough for a cat-and-mouse thriller that flirts with themes of sex, power and violence – Should women be able to cocktease for ever and get away with it? Is sex a form of power that women use over women too? – only to abandon them as the film slides into its final third.

Director Aselton moves things along briskly, gets decent “girls together” performances from her cast and knows how to squeeze atmosphere from a restless camera, minimal rig and a soundtrack of strings and washy synths.

But I’m not sure it’ll be remembered for any of those things, so much as being the film in which a female director asked her cast to get naked because the script strictly demanded it.

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

Black Rock – at Amazon