Lucky

There is no doubt that the death of Harry Dean Stanton earlier this year has provided Lucky with the momentum to secure a cinematic release wider than what might have otherwise been likely. Whilst Stanton has amassed more than 200 acting credits since his screen debut in 1954, it was his roles in ‘80’s classics Repo Man and Paris, Texas that earned him an almost cult-like reverence amongst film buffs the world over. It is perhaps somewhat strange therefore that, despite working constantly since, Stanton has, until now, been unable to secure another leading role, confined largely to character pieces and supporting roles that are often more memorable than anything else the film or television show has to offer. So, if nothing else, Lucky will be remembered for the fact that it afforded Stanton another opportunity to take centre stage, albeit at 90 years of age in what has ultimately proved to be his penultimate performance.  In Lucky, Stanton is very much at the forefront of the action as the titular character, although action is perhaps a poor choice of words given that very little happens during the course of 90 minutes.

Lucky poster

Lucky is a US Navy veteran who lives on the outskirts of a small town in America’s south, most likely Arizona given the desert landscape that Lucky traverses each day as part of his daily routine, the elements of which drive the narrative. After beginning each day with yoga and a glass of milk, Lucky sets off into town where he adheres to a regimented sequence of interactions. Although brusque and impatient, the straight-talking Lucky is liked well enough by the people he encounters in the coffee shop, bar and convenience store that he visits each day before returning home to spend his afternoons entrenched in television games shows and crossword puzzles. First-time director John Carroll Lynch, who has a slew of acting credits in film and television, has roped in a treasure trove of actors to spar with Stanton. Ed Begley Jnr, Tom Skerritt, Ron Livingston and David Lynch are amongst those who feature in a series of scenes that play out more as a collection of individual sketches more so than as part of a cohesive, connected series of events.

Lucky 1

Whilst there is plenty of quirk on offer here – Lucky watering his cactus wearing only his saggy underwear and cowboy boots for example – the lack of narrative tension will prove infuriating for some. We only get glimpses of the various relationships that Lucky enjoys with both the townsfolk and those merely passing through and just when it seems as though something more substantial be might be forthcoming, such as when Loretta (Yvonne Huff) visits Lucky and it seems a friendship is born, nothing comes of it and we move onto the next vignette. As such, some of the scenes don’t present as particularly authentic and the interactions in the bar are perhaps the least convincing. Conversely, the interactions between Lucky and shopkeeper Bibi (Bertila Damas) are wonderfully warm and result in one of the best moments of the film when Lucky attends a birthday fiesta for Bibi’s son.

Lucky 2

Ostensibly a film about the waning of life, it is certainly not morose and, in fact, the message seems to be that the inevitability of death shouldn’t be something that dictates how we think and behave. Devoid of the demonisation that typically pervades cinematic renderings of those who inhabit America’s more remote communities, Lucky captures a small slice of life in a part of America that is a far cry from the hustle, bustle and bluster of the big city. Whilst calls for Stanton to be recognised for this performance in awards season might be more to do with sentimentality and affection than the performance itself, it is not hard to admire his commitment to the role. Despite its failings, Lucky is an enjoyable exploration of mortality in which the central character is often alone, yet is never presented as somebody for whom we should feel sorry or as a threat to themselves or others, which is quite refreshing.

Detroit

Given the success, both critically and commercially, of her two previous films (The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty), the expectation surrounding Kathryn Bigelow’s latest offering was always going to run the risk overshadowing the film itself. Furthermore, comparisons between Detroit and Bigelow’s two war films (which won seven Academy Awards between them) were inevitable and not altogether fair given that every film should be assessed on its own merits. Having said that, it is easy to understand why Detroit has been such a hotly anticipated release given that, despite the fact it is a historical drama set some 50 years ago, it is perhaps as much a window into the current social and political climate in America than either of her contemporary military dramas, if not more so.

Detroit Poster

Based on true events that occurred during the 1967 riots which left much of the city a mess, Detroit concerns itself more with one particular incident that took place amidst the conflict, rather than delivering any over-arching narrative on the broader course of events, perhaps because are they are too large in scope to try and explore within the confines of a feature length running time. Whatever the reason, the absence of context – other than a brief animated sequence which opens the film and attempts, in just a couple of minutes, to explain how millions of African-Americans migrated from the south to cities in the north (such as Detroit) where they hoped to find jobs and a prosperous future, only to be faced with the same racism they had fled – does a disservice to the significance of what transpired over the five days of unrest that left 43 people dead and more than 2000 buildings destroyed. As such, when the story kicks off with the raid on an unlicensed after-hours bar that is widely accepted as the event that triggered the civil unrest, you haven’t developed any real sense of the tensions that had obviously been simmering for quite some time prior to this point. Bigelow only allows for a few scene-setting episodes to show the spread of the riot before shifting focus to the events at the Algiers Motel.

Detoit 2

When a guest at the motel decides, playfully but ill-advisedly, to fire a starter pistol out the window, the police and military personnel patrolling the surrounding streets assume they are being targeted and converge on the Algiers. Those partying inside in defiance of the chaos unfolding on the streets include two white women, a Vietnam veteran and members of doo-wop group The Dramatics. Krauss (Will Poulter), a bully cop who has kept his job despite having shot an unarmed looter in the back, leads the charge in trying to locate the weapon and identify the shooter. Except, of course, there is no real gun to speak of, a fact that Krauss simply refuses to accept as he sets about beating and berating the various ‘suspects’ with impunity. Poulter (We’re the Millers, The Revenant) delivers a remarkably unnerving portrayal of this sneering, hate-filled racist whose bigotry is as unrelenting as it is illogical. Many will find the vitriol and violence that spews from Poulter somewhat unsettling and there is a point where this extended sequence, which takes up the bulk of the running time, starts to become tedious despite the inherent tension that permeates the scene. The audience is never expected to understand Krauss’s mindset and the subsequent legal proceedings against the police officers, which apparently lasted for several years, are condensed to just a few minutes and will no doubt leave many bristling with indignation at the lack of consequences for Krauss and his sidekicks.

Detroit 1

Although featured heavily in the marketing material, John Boyega (Attack the Block, The Force Awakens) actually has little to do as Dismukes, a security guard who attends the Algiers in an effort to prevent the exact course of events that ultimately transpired. Anthony Mackie (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) features as one of those under assault from Krauss, as do Hannah Murray (TV’s Skins and Game of Thrones) and Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now), the only two women with any significant screen time. Despite the superficial attention given to the political, social and historical contexts that are so critical in understanding how things had reached such a crisis point, Detroit still delivers as a powerful indictment of American race relations and a reminder of how little progress has been made in the treatment of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

 

Ingrid Goes West

A movie that could not have been made before now, Ingrid Goes West delivers a scathing indictment of contemporary culture, particularly those Instagram and online identities who serve up every aspect of their life to the millions of gullible and delusional followers who are seemingly incapable of making any kind of decision for themselves; such as whether or not their choice of scatter cushions (or anything else similarly asinine) are ‘on trend’. Whilst these faux celebrities seem easy targets for ridicule, director Matt Spicer avoids the temptation of simply serving up a piss-take, instead delivering a powerful, biting expose that explores the darker reality for many who live vicariously through the artifice of these curated lives. Aubrey Plaza is remarkable as the eponymous Ingrid, a delusional young woman who just can’t help herself when it comes to falling under the spell of the latest social media darling dishing up all manner of wisdom and good taste.

Ingrid Goes West poster

When we first meet Ingrid, she is crashing a wedding and assaulting the bride in retaliation for not being invited. We subsequently learn that the two women weren’t even friends and it was just a case of Ingrid interpreting her obsession with the bride’s Instagram feed as some kind of personal connection between them. After a stint in a psych ward, Ingrid returns to the house she shared with her recently deceased mother. Seemingly with no friends or family, it isn’t long before Ingrid finds herself under the spell of another social media celebrity named Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Using money she inherited from her mother, Ingrid heads to Taylor’s California neighbourhood and rents an apartment from Batman–obsessed aspiring screenwriter Dan Pinto (O’Shea Jackson Jnr). Before too long, Ingrid has wheedled her way into Taylor’s life and everything looks rosy, for a little while at least, until cracks start to appear in the various relationships and it become apparent that not everything is at it seems between Taylor and her artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russell). Throw in Taylor’s boorish brother Nicky (Billy Magnusson) determined to expose Ingrid, and much emotional upheaval ensues.

Ingrid Goes West 1

Perhaps best known as April Ludgate on television comedy Parks and Recreation, a role that has seen her subsequently declared the queen of deadpan, Plaza featured in supporting roles for directors such as Whit Stillman (Damsels in Distress), Judd Apatow (Funny People) and Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) before landing her first lead in Colin Trevorrow’s Safety Not Guaranteed. Described by Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Shur as the weirdest girl he has met in his life, Plaza was flagged by MTV as the perfect choice to play sarcastic, cynical high school student Daria in a live-action version of the ‘80s cult animation, should such a movie ever come to fruition. Whilst she has built a career playing such unconventional types, this is a much darker turn for Plaza and she is pitch perfect as a lonely, damaged young woman whose single-minded determination to befriend Taylor knows no bounds.

Ingrid Goes West 2

Plaza is unnerving at times as Ingrid stumbles from one embarrassing decision to another, leaving you conflicted about whether you should pity her or despise her because, although the inherent sadness of her delusional disposition demands our sympathy, there are many moments when she is infuriatingly selfish and self-sabotaging. Plaza makes Ingrid both hilarious and tragic and just when it seems as though she has  secured our sympathy, the final frames might just leave you feeling a sense of betrayal. Even though you realise that the ending is, in fact, the most likely scenario given what we know about Ingrid, it is no less infuriating when it happens, although not in a way that detracts from the movie. In fact, it is terrific that first-time feature director Matt Spicer (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Branson Smith) has opted to stay the course, rather than deliver a redemption story in which our protagonist undergoes some kind of transformation in the interests of leaving audiences feeling good about what the future may hold for Ingrid. With great performances all round, Ingrid Goes West is a timely reminder that the rise of social media, like any fundamental shift in social practice, has implications for those on the margins trying to find a place for themselves in a world in which personality is performative and social ‘worth’ is measured in ways we couldn’t have imagined just 10 years ago.