Tag Archives: john malkovich

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

19 Feb

After the searing portrayal of a neurotic video journalist from Nightcrawler, I was ecstatic to see director Dan Gilroy and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo team up again, this time in a pseudo-horror satire set in the world of exclusive art collecting.

Gyllenhaal plays Morf, a well known critic in the Los Angeles art scene. He has just ended things with his Partner Ed and begins to pursue a romantic relationship with art broker named Josephine (Zawe Ashton) whose boss Rhodora (Rene Russo) is constantly on the lookout for new, fresh exhibits to showcase at her prestigious gallery. Josephine, upon returning home one afternoon, discovers her mysterious neighbor has died and left behind all his paintings (though he ordered the property manger to destroy all his work upon his death). Claiming she found all the paintings herself, Josephine and Rhodora begin exhibiting the paintings and circulating the deceased artist’s work throughout the community – with spooky results.

Boasting an ensemble cast (Natalia Dyer, Daveed Diggs, John Malkovich, Toni Collete, and Billy Magnussen all play minors roles throughout the movie) Gilroy creates a vibrant and colorful vision of art-fueled Los Angeles. In Gilroy’s world, all the major players overflow with such vapid narcissism so that they become caricatures themselves rather than actual characters; every person on screen turns up the gaudiness dial up to 11 but perhaps none more so than Gyllenhaal’s Morf, who acts more as unintentional comedic relief than an audience conduit for Gilroy’s whimsically slimy universe. Watching the conversations and interactions weave in and out of this web is devilishly entertaining – Gilroy’s penchant for writing glib dialogue shines brightly here and is one of the reasons Velvet Buzzsaw remains so damn entertaining even when it ventures off into trope-ridden genre territory.

The editing also deserves special praise. Things start off mid-conversation inside an art gallery where most of the setting is delivered to us through characters hamming off into their phones. A quick pace keeps things tidy though and the layers of the story get slipped in gradually rather than in specific plotting points. This makes the film strangely gripping and near impossible to turn away from, although many individual scenes are relentlessly awkward and cringe-inducing. Above all else, Velvet Buzzsaw manages to be a very playful film – unpredictable and engaging – even when it meanders off with a wild goose chase in the second half.

Bottom Line: Self-indulgent to the point of parody, Velvet Buzzsaw certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those inclined to leave most (or at least some) reservations at the door, the film is a wildly entertaining romp. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Nocturnal Animals + Neon Demon 

Cut Bank (2015)

24 Apr

“Hi! Welcome to Cut Bank, Montana – where the Rockies meet the plains!” exclaims Cassandra (Teresa Palmer) as she rehearses for her Miss Cut Bank Pageant trial video. The town, nicknamed “The coldest spot in the nation” has all the makings of your typical small town. There’s the local hermit Derby Milton (Michael Stuhlbarg), Sheriff Vogel (John Malkovich), who heads the local law enforcement, Big Stan (Billy Bob Thornton), and Georgie Wits (Bruce Dern) the neighborhood mailman. Dwayne, (Liam Hemsworth) our protagonist, dreams of leaving the sleepy town in favor of moving to Butte, or maybe even California. He gets his big break when he stumbles across a murder (Cut Bank’s first on record), and has the chance to exchange evidence of the crime for a large sum of money. This particular murder may or may not be connected with a larger conspiracy however, and Dwayne soon learns that some of Cut Bank’s inhabitants aren’t as friendly as they appear.

Directed by Mark Shakman, Cut Bank has major ambition to being a grade-A crime thriller. The main issue here is with its execution. While the pulpy story overflows with Coen-style writing tropes, the script unfortunately is sub-par and riddled with plot holes. Though it boasts an ensemble cast most of the performances here are passable and borderline campy. And yet despite its flaws, Cut Bank somehow makes for some engaging and immersive viewing.  Though it relies heavily on delivered exposition, the story still manages to be unpredictable, and at times genuinely suspenseful.  Shakman clearly knows what genre he is in, and he plays to the plot’s strengths.  If we were to go back to the TV days before The Wire, then Cut Bank would play out like one of the best dramatic episodes of all time. But this is 2015, and while surely not an innovator in the crime genre, Cut Bank is still a very solid, entertaining, and worthwhile experience.

Bottom Line: Cut Bank is saturated with pulp and borderline camp at times, but yet most importantly, it brings enough thrills to be satisfying.

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: Fargo (1996) + The Counsellor (2013)