Tuesday, June 27, 2006

KBT Presents: PUSHER

Where to begin with Nicholas Winding Refn's crime drama, Pusher? Made in the age of the dizzyingly slick stylizations of Michael Mann's Heat and Luc Besson's Leon: The Professional; Pusher stands out as being a rolling in the gutter, mad-dog of a film. One week in the lives of mid-level criminals Frank and his not-too-bright partner Tonny spans the gamut from kings of the street to the most desperate of beggars.

Frank has been steadily contributing to his rolled wad of cash by building a diverse list of clients in the Copenhagen underworld. He buys his drugs from a dangerously calm and friendly Serbian drug-lord who runs a restaurant on the side. He has a semi-permanent relationship with one of his stash-girls, a high class 'champagne girl' named Vic. When an opportunity to move a serious amount of heroin (a deal which is perhaps out of his league) comes along, his tale becomes a cautionary one in just how edge-of-the-knife the existence of 'middle-man' for his line of work can be.

With an emphasis on the criminal day-to-day life, Pusher has a ring of authenticity that is paradoxically enhanced by the in-your-face handheld camera work and pounding industrial soundtrack. That the film is unafraid to go places most films of the type shy away from, not just to the desperate and violent corners of the criminal existence, but also the dysfunctional sense of intimacy that living on the edge gives to its central characters. A scene where Frank’s world is spiraling out of control, but he still stops to by Vic a present and takes her to a party is contrasted starkly by how he deals with her thanks for the gift. Going this deep into Franks personal life, while turning up the fire at his feet imparts a rare sense of pathos and pity for such a thoroughly unlikable thug. A scene with Frank visiting his mother in suburbia somehow takes things even further. All the while, Refn never lets the screws stop tightening on Franks spiral of diminishing hopes and growing debt.

Pusher ultimately becomes cinema at its most masochistic: The audience is punished in the form of inventive genre cinema at its transcendent peak. This is a whopper of a debut film from a director who was under 30 at the time. Or perhaps I gush because the along with the two sequels, the Pusher trilogy creates a crime milieu with astonishing depth and human resonance.

Expect the other two films to follow as screenings in the future (which I assure you, will eradicate any impulses to take of a life of crime, no films have shattered the false glamour better than these). Come out Tuesday night for this harrowing and punishing crime drama. Drinks at 8. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Probably the most famous critic on film before Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel introduced their thumbs to the world on TV was Pauline Kael. This film derives its title from one of her famous quotes on movies: "The words "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," which I saw on an Italian movie poster, are perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this."

Here is a movie that is smart, funny, glossy should have been a big hit. Was it the lack of a major star? The October release on only a few screens? The fact that other than a small niche, there is no interest in noir these days? (A fabulous little film which has been dubbed teen-noir, Brick, was similarly ignored in theatres a couple months ago.)

Taking its chapter titles from Ramond Chandler novels, and its title from film Pauline Kael, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a screen writers movie. But you can ignore all that, this film has two fabulous lead performances doing pitch perfect action buddy comedy schtick: Robert Downey Jr. doing what he does best, playing it big, loud, and full of snark and Val Kilmer playing to his strengths, namely a charismatic, stylish, deadpan tough guy. But here is that 2005 spin, he is gay. He is a private Eye nicknamed Gay Perry who is hired to coach petty criminal turned actor, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr.).

Bodies show up, as do a couple of femme fatales, a string of clever and witty quips (many of these featuring the narrator casually conversing with the audience, to the point of pointing important bits out, critiquing other films, or even rewinding the movie on occasion) all pepper the fast paced narrative. It all adds up to nothing, but it is damn entertaining getting there. The movie is smart-alecky, wise ass, and needy all at the same time. It wants to be loved, even as it throws out wild tonal shifts (comedy to violence) and grotesque situations in all directions. And there is nothing wrong with that, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not even a year old and is already considered a vastly underrated comedy gem.

No fuss, no muss. Come out Tuesday and enjoy this dressed up, but deep down, pure and simple entertainment. No Subtitles, no 'establishing mood,' no subtext. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD-folks welcome. Beers & Cocktails at 8pm. Trailers & Showtime at 8:30.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Being that the date is 6/6/6, it is strongly tempting to do a horror picture for this weeks KBT. But I have a DVD that just arrived in the mail Monday that is too good to pass up: The Spanish/Argentinean corporate thriller El Método.

Seven applicants arrive at the gigantic tower of the headquarters for Dexia, a multinational corporation. They are all there to apply for the same position, some high-level executive job within the company. The first clue that something is not quite the right and the usual protocol is not being followed is that typically companies bring in applicants separately for interviews whereas here they are letting the applicants mingle. The candidates are as suspicious of this aberration as Dean Keaton and company were in The Usual Suspects. The second clue is that the company makes them all redo their applications in the front office in front of each other. You can feel the competitive juices begin to flow as each candidate sizes one another up. They are brought into a large conference room near the top of the building and told that the company has a new method for recruiting for senior positions. They all are going to have to go through a bunch of tests against one another (in each other presence and at the mercy of each others judgements) until it is last man or woman standing.

This is the latest and greatest corporate recruiting system: The Grönholm Method. If you have ever done job interviews or businmeetings which employ consultant designed systems (from Six Sigma to Myers-Briggs) you will quake in fear from this unholy incarnation. For example, one of the tests involves simply selecting a ‘leader’ for the group. Considering that all of these people are power-players, just the act manoeuvring for, or around, this position is fascinating. Another test poses the hypothetical situation of the earth being ravaged by some disaster and there is bunker that will hold a number, which is one less than then the number of candidates. Each has to justify their worth to the society within this bunker, using only what is on their resume, and vote would be the most expendable. Much like a certain successful reality-based TV show, when the person is voted off, they are out of the interview process. Several of the candidates are even on to this, immediately expecting one of their fellow interviewees as a company planted mole. The psychology, power struggles, and scheming is taken about as far as one can take it as office politics are played on dizzying level which includes humiliation and cruelty so savage, you might even accept that these executive wannabes might kill one another for the position.

The seven characters are all types, but are so well written and distinct that they manage to go beyond two dimensional cut-outs. This is helped by the solid acting across the board which make the film as perfect as this type of pure dialogue film can ever get. The dialogue is razor sharp, insightful and always crackling, but in a way distinct from say the ratta-tat-tat of David Mamet.

There is not a weak note in the entire film, which manages to sustain the mystery and ‘what is going to happen’ nature of the film right to the very last, sublime minute. The tension and black humour are exceedingly well crafted and directed with a nice audio-visual palette: Impersonal blue-dye wool, crisp white shirts, sparse hardwood conference rooms and brushed metal executive bathrooms are scored to that harmless musak, because, ironically, anything else may be offensive to someone. There is also the bleak irony of a globalization demonstration going on at the base of the skyscraper, as the battle the very power that is being condemned goes on in the Ivory Tower well above the rabble.

El Método brings to mind the best elements of Glengarry Glen Ross, Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men, Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men and fellow Argentinian director Fabián Bielinsky’s top-shelf grift flick (a previous KBT), Nine Queens. The mask that is put on in the guise of a pin-striped ‘power’ suit for the dance of worst aspects of business: The pitch, the con, the betrayal is pulled off, put on, and switched (sometimes quite literally) across the applicants. The folks at Dexia aren’t working for a win-win situation. They are playing a zero sum game, and the human resource department have clearly spent a lot of time reading William Poundstone’s explanation of game theory, The Prisoner's Dilemma. Wordplay and structure suggest that El Método may have been based on a play, much like all of the films mentioned above are. There is even a warped corporate team-building version of the tennis-match from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

If you like films that deal with the art of the con, El Método will make your year. In fact, I’m so impressed with director Marcelo Piñeyro’s film that I don’t think Mamet need bother heading into this territory as this is already the definitive film in this area.

Come out Tuesday Night at 8:00pm for drinks (sorry, no pie this week!). Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.