Courtney Hunt's quietly electrifying debut Frozen River (****) is everything independent cinema should be: thought provoking, risk taking, strange and new, and extremely powerful. Anchored by Melissa Leo's Oscar nominated, tour de force performance of a woman nearing her emotional breaking point, Frozen River subverts its thriller genre roots, and by its conclusion, provides a strange tableau of hope amidst a cold background of despair. The plot revolves around the smuggling of illegal immigrants over the Canadian/NY border in Mohawk territory, with shades of Wages of Fear and Sorcerer thrown in for good measure. Co-starring Native American actress Misty Upham as the woman who brings Leo's character into the smuggling ring, Frozen River takes it time mounting an intricate story that reflects the problems of these two women, who while coming from very different social circles, are very much alike. There is a distinct feeling of tension running throughout every scene of Frozen River; you never know what's going to happen from moment to moment. Simple plot strokes become major developments, and Hunt's expertly conceived original screenplay (which was Oscar nominated) never sags for a second, allowing all of its characters to come full circle, and the plot to connect all of its dots in a richly satisfying way. The ending is a whallop, something you'll want to discuss right away, and while it might seem like a little too much, it makes complete thematic sense upon further reflection. This is a fantastic and intimate movie.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Provocatuers Larry Charles (Borat, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Bill Maher absolutely crucify (pun intended) all religious sides in Religulous (****), a piercing, hysterical, and often enraging documentary about the world's dependence on the belief of a higher power. Maher, a sarcastic prick if there ever was one, focuses his efforts on all religious sects -- nobody is safe in this incendiary piece of cinema. The fact that he's totally right all throughout the documentary is beside the point; what's most fascinating is the blind devotion that some people have for the idea of god, something that Maher justifiably trashes in this film. Going up against scholars, theorists, scientists, priests, rabbis, politicians and anyone who'll talk to him, Maher cuts everyone down to size, leaving many of them searching for words, words they'll never be able to find. The points that Maher and Charles are making are obvious and direct -- without any concrete proof and with so many biblical contradictions throughout any number of religious texts, how could anyone take any of this seriously? Sure, the film is one sided; Maher is an atheist and this film's goal is to essentially debunk anyone with a religious belief. This is a film that will piss a lot of conservatives off; I think it's a spot-on expose of how corrupt the world's religious leaders have become, and it provides ample evidence of how inane and backwards some religions operate. The sexual abuse scandals of the Roman-Catholic church, the endless years of religious-based death and war in the Middle East, the ridiculous contradictions of Judaism, the absurd notions that Scientologists and Mormons cling too -- all of these issues are discussed and critiqued. And to be honst, it's all rather disgusting, and, in a nut-shell, fucking retarded. Religulous is an incisive, angry, and yet thoroughly emotional documentary, something that everyone should see at least once, no matter what your religious inclinations are.