Creepy twin stuff, Udo Kier, alternate realities—yes, The
Blazing World. I am in.
Co-writer/director/star Carlson Young takes us on a strange
journey as Margaret Winter, haunted twin who lost her sister ten years ago.
Struggling to get by, she relents and visits her needy mother (Vinessa Shaw)
and difficult father (Dermot Mulroney), who are packing up Margaret’s childhood
home for sale.
And that is the last normal thing that happens.
Working with cinematographer Shane F. Kelly (Boyhood),
Carlson conjures a beautifully melancholic world, one that almost seems like
our world but only if you squint. The colors and music suggest a vibrant but
eerie dreamscape, the ideal spot for Margaret to lose herself – and maybe find
The title suggests Margaret Cavendish’s 17th Century feminist utopia, but Young’s script (co-written with Pierce Brown) takes only the loosest inspiration. Rather than the tale of a woman learning to lead in another realm, this The Blazing World reimagines one life’s greatest traumas as fantastical games to be overcome.
Carlson herself does a solid job of shouldering heroine duties,
and she surrounds herself with talent. While Shaw and Mulroney deliver wild and
eerie performances, it is Udo Kier you’ll remember best. Of course it is! As
gamesman, devil and guide, he charms in his wearily creepy way.
Young’s writing can’t quite keep up with her knack for casting, though. While several scenes in and of themselves stand out spectacularly, and the weaving together of the various images creates a strange and intoxicating flavor, the underlying story is just too slight and the metaphors somewhat tortured.
Songwriter Jim Steinman, best known for baroque and dramatically verbose musical epics often belted out by Meat Loaf, has said in interviews that he would love to write 3-minute pop toe tappers, he just doesn’t know how.
Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler can probably relate. Dragged Across Concrete is his third feature as writer/director, and he’s still clearly invested in the long game. Like Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler’s latest is full of strangely indelible characters and memorable dialogue, a film anchored in creeping dramatic dread that finally explodes with wonderfully staged brutality.
Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn), street-smart cops in a fictional urban jungle called Bulwark, get popped when a bystander captures one overly zealous interrogation on video. A suspension without pay is something they’re forced to accept, but it isn’t long before Brett has a plan to make up for the lapse in funds with a little “proper compensation” on the side.
But of course, they’re not the only ones looking for a score.
Henry (a terrific Tory Kittles) is fresh out of the joint and needs money for his family. His old friend Biscuit (Michael Jai White) hooks them both up as drivers for a lethal bank robber (Thomas Kretschmann), and the long fuse to a standoff is lit.
This is Zahler’s slowest burn yet, but he keeps you invested with a firm commitment to character, no matter the screen time. From a new mother with near-crippling separation anxiety (Jennifer Carpenter) to a loquacious bank manager (Fred Melamed) and a shadowy favor-granter (Udo Kier), nothing in the film’s 159 minutes feels superfluous.
In fact, quite the opposite.
As Zahler contrasts the cops with the robbers, the sharply-defined supporters orbiting the core conflict only add to its gravity, despite a few moments than seem a bit too eager for Tarantino approval.
Gibson is fantastic, drawing Brett as the real bulwark here, defending what he feels is his with a savage, unapologetic tenacity. Vaughn, re-teaming with Zahler after a standout turn in Cell Block 99, again shows how good he can be when pushed beyond his default setting of “Vince Vaughn.”
Finally, the steady march of battered souls, desperate measures and eclectic soundtrack choices comes to a bloody, pulpy head, staged with precision and matter-of-fact collateral damage.
Zahler’s command of his playbook is hard to ignore. Though the glory of Concrete‘s payoff never quite rises to the breathtaking heights he’s hit before, his confident pace and detailed observations make for completely absorbing storytelling.
In case you are missing it, Joaquin Phoenix is having one hell of a year. The inarguable talent is fresh off the relentlessly wonderful You Were Never Really Here (watch it right now!). Later this year we’ll get the chance to see him in Mary Magdalene as well as Jacques Audiard’s Western, The Sisters Brothers—both films boasting extraordinary casts.
Sandwiched in between his turns as gun-for-hire (YWNRH) and Jesus (MM), the clearly versatile actor portrays cartoonist John Callahan in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.
Portland-based Callahan used creating cartoons as an outlet for his frustration, creativity and humor following a car accident that left him paralyzed. His simple visual style (both arms and hands were badly compromised by the paralysis) and his dark, taboo-driven humor found favor and protest in his hometown newspaper.
Phoenix charms and breaks hearts in equal measure as Callahan. What the actor conveys in breathtaking fashion is discovery. After Callahan’s accident and through his fleeting moments of clear-headedness, the character affords Phoenix many opportunities to recognize, accomplish or notice things for the first time. His interaction with an adorably saucy sex therapist, for instance, is pure joy.
His is not the only wonderful performance in the film. Jonah Hill effortlessly conveys a wearied tenderness that reminds you how truly talented an actor he is. Jack Black has a small but gloriously Jack Black role, and the AA group (Udo Kier, Beth Ditto, Mark Webber, Kim Gordon and Ronnie Adrian) offer rich and interesting characters regardless of their minimal screen time.
Rooney Mara, on the other hand, seems like she’s acting in an entirely different film. I fully expected her character to be a figment of Callahan’s imagination, pulled intact from another movie.
Van Sant bounces back from a creative lull (The Sea of Trees, anyone?), showing, among other things, his remarkable knack for period detail.
And while the 12-step structure feels both too stifling and too familiar for such an irreverent central figure, Van Sant bursts through that frame with a non-chronological series of vignettes and wild antics. As the film progresses, step by dutiful step, Van Sant fills gaps with quick jumps back and forth through drunken episodes and pivotal moments.
As interesting and entertaining as these flashes are, the chaotic lack of chronology fits so poorly with the rigid timeline of the film around it that the whole feels like an experiment gone wrong.
But so much of the film goes very, very right—thanks in large part to another award-worthy performance by Phoenix.
There is a new Dracula movie, which begs the question: Do we need a new Dracula movie?
No. There’s nothing new to say, and with so many worthy options already available, why buy new? With that in mind, we have pulled together a list of our favorite cinematic Draculas. (Note, we cheated here and there. Sue us.)
10. Frank Langella
In 1979, Frank Langella recreated the Stoker anti-hero as a virile romantic lead and the ladies swooned. Langella is a consummate actor who brings a wry charm to the screen.
9. Jack Palance
Breathy and weird – as always – Jack Palance makes the vampire into a strange beast in a film that’s campy and ridiculous but worth watching.
8. Udo Kier
Speaking of weird! The effortlessly bizarre and uniquely compelling Udo Kier is the anemic and pathetic monster at the heart of Andy Warhol’s Dracula – a gorgeous piece of vampire trash if every there was such a film.
7. William Marshall
Officially, no, he is not Dracula. He is Blacula – respect him! Fear him! Dig him!! There are few Seventies blaxploitation films that can hold a candle to this one, mostly because of Marshall’s rich baritone and compelling presence.
6. Klaus Kinski
In 1979, Werner Herzog revisited F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece Nosferatu – a film that was originally meant to be a Dracula film, but copyright forbade it. Herzog fixed that, with a mesmerizing Kinski as the bloodthirsty count Hypnotic and creepy, Kinski nails it.
5. Gary Oldman
What I love about most of the vampires on this list is that the actors zero in on the inherent weirdness in the role. Oldman channels the Count’s smolder, but that granny version early on is the one we remember.
4. Willem Dafoe
OK, so this is a bit of a stretch. In Shadow of the Vampire, Dafoe plays Max Schreck, the actor who played Count Orlock in Murnau’s Nosferatu. But Orlock was supposed to be Dracula, and the point is, Dafoe is amazing – hilarious, creepy and terrifying all at once. He is easily one of the best.
3. Bela Lugosi
Sure, #3 may seem low for the actor most linked to the role. He’s the icon, we give him that, and even if there are others we find scarier or more interesting, Bela will always be image of Dracula.
2. Christopher Lee
But Christopher Lee – the six foot five inch baritone – is so much more menacing. This was the Dracula to fear. This was the one we believed could turn into a wolf and tear your throat out, the one that had the strength of ten men, the one who could woo the ladies. Christopher Lee was the one.
1. Max Schreck
Hopefully we’ve made the case by now that Murnau’s Nosferatu counts, and our favorite Count is Orlock because Max Schreck is one sick genius. So sick that an entire brilliant film was created to due him honor. He’s the creepiest, most memorable, all time best Dracula, even if he is a vampire by another name.
Sure, you probably caught Woody Harrelson and his shaggy blond wig in Catching Fire, the number one film in the country today (and for the foreseeable future). But this weekend,Woody sneaks back into theaters as the Appalachian meth dealer/bare knuckle boxing organizer Harlan DeGroat in Out of the Furnace. Though you might not notice it at first blush, the two characters have something in common. They’re weirdos. Is that intentional, or is it difficult for Harrelson to do anything else? He’s a tremendous character actor, a welcome sight in any film, but let’s be honest. The dude’s always and forever playing weirdos.
Well, we love that about him, and today we wish to celebrate all those reliable oddballs, freaks and weird dudes. A tip of the hat to Harrelson and his effortlessly peculiar brethren: cinema’s ten best weirdos.
10. Udo Kier
Who’s Udo Kier, you may be asking? We’re sorry for your loss, because you have apparently missed out on the smorgasbord of oddballs that have made up this man’s nearly 50 year career. Between his overly large eyes, wet lips and impenetrable accent, he brings a pervy air to every role, which he’s used to great effect in hundreds of performances.
9. Michael Shannon
Shannon’s size, his quietly observant style, his delayed nasal speaking, his judging eyes all give him a creepy quality perfect for weirdo roles. Luckily for everyone, he’s deeply talented, imbuing each of his unique characters with the fragile humanity that spawned the freaky behavior in the first place.
8. Sam Rockwell
Rockwell’s a huge talent, and with his trademark quirky charm he’s basically invented the niche of oddball leading man. There’s a childlike quality to his performances, and a laid back but somewhat scornful humor that reminds us at times of Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. He brings a magnetic but quirky humanity to every role – drama or comedy, lead or supporting.
7. Tom Waits
That gravely, smoker’s voice, the Eraserhead-esque hairstyle, a face and body that appear to be all angles – Waits cuts an unusual onscreen image. He’s put that to fine use over the years in roles that call for something a little unusual.
6. Mickey Rourke
Back in the day, Rourke brought a uniquely smoldering charisma to roles. He was never a cookie cutter leading man, always a bit off. His current hulking appearance and years of bad decisions have thrust him into the niche of the lumbering nutjob, but you know what? He handles it with aplomb.
5. Dennis Hopper
Dude! It may have been Hopper’s own bad wiring that helped him bring a little mania (sometimes a lot) to scores of roles: the wacked out hippie in Easy Riders, the wacked out zealot in Apocalypse Now, the obsessive investigator in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the Southern madman in Paris Trout, the drunken father in Hoosiers. But he owns it in among the all time great freakshow performances, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.
4. Willem Dafoe
Dafoe brings a malevolent comic ability to roles – including his supporting turn opposite Harrelson in Out of the Furnace. His performances tend toward fearless, and he contorts his own physical presence to bring out the demonic or the strangely comical – or both – in each role.
3. Christopher Walken
The great. Whether he’s requesting cowbell on SNL, adding a peculiar charm to a comedy, or staring down a man about to die in a drama, Walken’s staccato delivery, blank stare and musical timing ensure that every line he delivers feels profoundly, often unsettlingly weird.
2. Crispin Glover
The thing about Crispin Glover (McFly!) is that you get the feeling this is just how he is. He’s drawn to the characters that most closely resemble his own unique personality. I’m not saying he eats cockroaches, but a romantic lead is probably not in his future, on camera or otherwise.
1. Nic Cage
Cage wins this contest because he appears to have trouble not being a weirdo. Channeling his inner normal guy seems to sometimes be too great a task for the actor. Those ridiculous wigs only hamper any effort to mask his natural freakishness, but we say don’t hide it, Nic! Let that freak flag fly.