Mini-review: "Only God Forgives"
The last time Nicolas Winding Refn teamed up with charismatic star Ryan Gosling, we got "Drive," a superb retelling of the classic western "Shane" in modern street garb.
For something completely different, "Only God Forgives" verges on a David Lynchian nightmare that mashes trashy sensational exploitation with tasteful art house pretense.
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Larry Smith's eye-grabbing camera work bathes the screen in various intensities of red as it chronicles the icy, almost Shakespearean tale of violence, blood, death, honor, justice and overtly Oedipal relationships.
Gosling plays Julian, an American drug dealer operating out of his Muay Thai boxing club in Bangkok. When his older brother Billy (Tom Burke) coldly butchers a 16-year-old prostitute, a mysterious, retired Bangkok cop named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) lets the girl's father dismember Billy before administering his own brand of justice on the father for not protecting his daughter.
This is one brutal, stylishly violent movie, and it belongs to Kristin Scott Thomas as Julian's mother Crystal, the Cruella de Vil of moms, an evil, manipulative woman whose unnatural affections for Billy come through loud and clear. She demands justice for her dead son. Julian explains that Billy killed and mutilated a teenage girl.
"I'm sure he had his reasons," Crystal replies. She pushes Julian to avenge Billy's death, setting in motion an unpredictably violent neo-noir tale that plays like a Quentin Tarantino film covered by Stanley Kubrick, right down to the non-emotive main characters.
"Only God Forgives" offers us unapologetically despicable people swallowed up into Beth Mickle's otherworldly set designs accompanied by composer Cliff Martinez's throbbing, lushly symphonic music that appears to pay fitting tribute to the score from the 1980s release "Shogun Assassin."
"Only God Forgives" is tough stuff, a provocative exercise in stylish sleaze that fans of Greek tragedy might truly appreciate.
"Only God Forgives" opens at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Rated R for extreme violence, sexual situations and language. 89 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½
I am really tired of "found-footage" thrillers, even when they try to mix things up as Olatunde Osunsanmi's graphic crime drama "Evidence" does.
Radha Mitchell and Stephen Moyer play investigators called to the scene of a massive massacre.
What happened? Who did it?
To answer the questions, the cops assemble all the available video footage from cellphones, security cameras and other mobile devices to trace how several people on a bus became the victims of a welding torch serial killer after their vehicle crashes in the desert.
Even if we grant that these cops would be able to pull together this ridiculous amount of video and make sense of it, the story's strained, reaching plot goes so far off the CommonSense-o-Meter that there's more than enough "evidence" to convict this movie of impersonating a good mystery.
"Evidence" opens at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg. Not rated, but for mature audiences only. Contains graphic violence, adult language. 94 minutes. ★ ½
Did I mention how tired I am of "found footage" thrillers?
"V/H/S/2" is the sequel to the low-budget 2012 horror anthology with several enterprising directors trying their hands (and other appendages) at graphic, horror shorts.
This sequel includes five storylines, each one vying for the most ridiculous excuse for people to be recording on a video camera.
In "Phase One," director/writer Adam Wingard plays a car crash victim who receives an artificial eye that magically picks up ill-mannered dead people that only he can see. (The eyeball has been rigged so that its images can be recorded, right?)
In "Slumber Party Alien Abduction," most of the footage comes from a camera mounted on a pet dog that runs around, chronicling alien visitors' attempts to sweep screaming human kids into their scary, elongated arms.
"A Ride in the Park" shows the effects of a sudden zombie apocalypse on a family birthday party. "Safe Haven" recalls the Jonestown massacre with its psycho spiritual cult leader plans to take followers into paradise.
The connecting plot is called "Tape 49," about two detectives on the case of a missing kid when they come across that mysterious media room filled with TV screens and tons of VHS tapes just waiting to be seen.
"V/H/S/2" fares slightly better than the jaggedly uneven 2012 original. There's a certain primitive vibe that bypasses the brain's left-side gatekeepers and pays dividends for patrons into visceral, graphic, paranoia horror that may not win critical respect, but will probably inspire post-viewing showers.
"V/H/S/2" opens at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated R for extreme violence and gore, language, nudity and sexual situations. 95 minutes. ★ ★
More alien encounters
• Dear Dann: Just finished your article ("Alien Encounters") in the Time out! section. I was really freaked out by those brain-head aliens in "Mars Attacks." They were funny, but then they sorta gave me bad dreams later that night after seeing the movie. They're what comes to my mind when talking of UFOs. -- Beth Small, Elgin
• Loved all your picks. Some favorites of mine are "War of the Worlds" (original Version 1953), "Independence Day" (campy, but very entertaining), and "Mars Attacks" (funny and satirical). -- Mark Batinich, North Aurora
• You have four of my all-time favorites on there: 1. "Alien" 2. "The Day the Earth Stood Still" 3. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" 4. "The Thing."
I saw a documentary on TV with Stephen King the other day. They asked him if he was on a desert island and could only take one horror movie with him, which would it be? He said the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Good choice. -- Gary Koca, Pingree Grove
• My picks are: "Alien Nation," "District 9," "Predator," "20 Million Miles to Earth" and "Enemy Mine." -- Thomas Leipold
Reel Life film notes:
• The After Hours Film Society presents Oliver Assayas' coming-of-age drama "Something in the Air," 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 22, at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Tickets cost $9. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com.
• Welcome back, Des Plaines Theatre! The 87-year-old theater, originally built as a vaudeville house, will reopen Saturday, July 20, after nearly five months of repairs on its ceiling.
On the schedule will be films from India as well as the Silent Summer Film Festival, an annual event that moved to Des Plaines from its previous home at the now-shuttered Portage Theater in Chicago. Go to desplainestheatre.com for times and details.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!