Black Friday. Movies reviewed: White Raven, Save Yourself, James White, Trumbo PLUS Blood in the Snow
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Today is Black Friday, a bizarre, uniquely American festival that worships the gods of conspicuous consumption. This week no shopping movies, but I’m riffing on the Black Friday colour scheme. There’s a biopic about a Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted; a drama about a man named White who gets the blues from taking care of his mom; and an all-Canadian horror film festival that flies the national colours of red and white in the form of Blood in the Snow.
Dir: Andrew Moxham
(Spoiler Alert!) Kevin, Jake, Dan and Pete (Andrew Dunbar, Aaron Brooks, Shane Twerdun, Steve Bradley) are old school buddies. Now they’re grown ups — a business exec, a pilot, a restauranteur, and a guide — but they still go camping together every year. They need to commune with nature and hash it out with their buddies while shot-gunning cans of brewsky. So, all kitted-out in the full lumbersexual regalia of toque, beard and plaid, they turn off their smartphones and march off into the woods. They are heading for White Raven Falls, a place rife with native legends. Sure they have their problems at home — drinking, infidelity, girlfriend troubles — but now’s the time to forget all that. Problem is, one of the four has a screw loose. He hears voices coming from White Raven Falls telling him what he has to do… or whom he has to kill. Who will survive this camping trip into the unknown?
Another horror movie also playing at Blood in the Snow is not a boys’ brewcation, but a girls’ road trip.
Dir: Ryan M Andrews
(Spoiler Alert!) Kim, Crystal, Sasha, Lizzie and Dawn (Jessica Cameron, horror favourite Tristan Risk, Tiana Nori, Caleigh Le Grand, Lara Mrkoci) are a team of horror filmmakers on the verge of success. They’re riding high from fan adulation at their world premier — and all the parties and sexual opportunities that come with it. So they’re all geared up for their long roadtrip to LA. But after a day on the highway they unwittingly find themselves the guests of an odd family, the Sauters, on an isolated farm. These people are weird. Mom speaks with a sinister German accent, daughter stays locked up in her bedroom, son likes hunting a bit too much and Dad (Ry Barret) is partial to weird medical experiments. The “serial” they serve in this place ain’t breakfast cereal. (Shades of Eli Roth’s Hostel here.) Will they all work together to escape from this real-life horror movie, or is it every woman for herself?
These two movies are similar in plot but quite different in style. White Raven is a slow-moving, realistic psychological thriller, while Save Yourself is much faster, with lots more action, fights, and gore. I preferred the second one. Total over-the-top fantasy, but with the satisfaction of heroines fighting villains that are truly evil.
Wri/Dir: Josh Mond
James White (Christopher Abbott) is the prodigal son who returns to his Manhattan home under a cloud. His dad has just died and mom, a retired and divorced schoolteacher, has stage four cancer. James just wants to party with his best friend or stay home with his girlfriend. But he ends up as his mom June’s caregiver.
June (Cynthia Nixon, Sex in the City) is not an easy patient. She moans and groans and screams and cries under constant pain. She pukes and poops her pants. She wanders off in the middle of the day, getting lost in the supermarket. The police get called, the nurses don’t show up, there’s no room at the cancer hospice. And if James isn’t there, she lays on the guilt trips. James is a total mess himself. So he takes it out on everyone he sees, punching out insipid partygoers who don’t share his grief. Hospital administrators, doctors, and friends of the family are all evil and every conversation is torture for him. Will James and June ever get through this trying time?
James White is a hyper-realistic movie about suffering, illness death and all around miserableness. It makes Still Alice, last year’s dying mom movie, seem like Disneyland in comparison. The acting is OK and the story sad with a few tender moments (with some strange Oedipal undercurrents going on). If you’re in the mood for depression and relentless, vomiting sound-effects, this one’s for you. Otherwise, stay away.
Dir: Jay Roach
It’s the late 1940s and Hollywood is booming. Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad) is a scriptwriter at the top of the heap. He revels in the perqs his success at MGM has brought him: a sprawling ranch home, swank cars and membership at the top clubs. He’s friends with the famous and glamorous. Until he gets a knock on his door from the FBI asking him: are you now or have you ever been a member if the Communist Party? He and the rest of the Hollywood 10 are summoned to Washington. They are ordered to appear before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee and name names. He refuses, of course, and is sent to prison on the dubious charge of “contempt of congress”. But this leaves him blacklisted, unable to sell his scripts to any of the studios. He’s forced to move to a smaller home, enduring rocks through his window and contempt from his former Hollywood so-called friends and allies. He writes B movies under assumed names for the schlockiest studio in town, churning out cheap scripts as fast as he can type. He has a family to support. But is his relentless work alienating the ones he loves – his wife (Diane Lane) and his kids? And can he stand up to the wrath of rightwing figures like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by a venomous Helen Mirren in a wonderful performance), and will he ever make his way back rot the top of the heap?
Trumbo is a lot of fun. It’s clearly “Oscar Bait” but enjoyable nonetheless. It holds to that weird Hollywood formula they think will win an Oscar: liberal in story but conservative in style, linear, non controversial, vanilla and easily palateable. And it doesn’t deal with the widespread purges and blacklisting of the McCarthy Era, just sticks to what happened in Hollywood. But I liked this movie — it’s a lot of fun, and definitely worth seeing.
James White and Trumbo both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. And White Raven and Save Yourself are playing at B.I.T.S. which runs through the weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com