Film

Indie Intros: Christopher Nolan’s Doodlebug

I guess I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for black and white film. It was what we used when I went to film school and it always brings back a little nostalgia when I see it used. Watching a monochrome film, for me, is like opening an old book or touching an oil painted canvas.

Christopher Nolan’s “Doodlebug” foreshadows common themes he would later use in his most popular films. Insanity and the workings of the mind are on full display here. One watch will give you hints of Inception, Insomnia, Memento and other Nolan films with one-word titles.

The film follows a man who is dead set on crushing some sort of vermin that has entered his house. As the film progresses, we see his mind begin to waver and struggles to focus on the scuttling of the creature which has infested his home and the sounds of his appliances. Things descend into total bedlam when we realize the invader our protagonist is desperate to smash into oblivion, is not all that it seems.

The special effects aren’t exactly The Dark Knight, but they do the job well enough. Camera angles and close-ups dominate the screen and tell the story for us. They reflect the paranoia our main character seems to be suffering from, as well and give the film a manic pacing. It isn’t towards the end that we get a true special effect, a simple trick that has been used in films predating this one, but used in a unique way to reveal the twist at the end.

Nolan seems to have been limited to the same criteria that I was for my final student film. No dialogue, black and white film only. But he stretches the most out of those limitations, creating a visual tale for the audience. Honestly, if Nolan had the same type of restrictions we did for his final student film as we did, most of the student body would have been floored. I don’t remember anyone, especially myself, that was able to get this creative with so little.

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Indie Intros: Spike Jonze’s How They Get There

Ever see a single shoe on the side of road and wonder, “Who leaves a shoe? I mean, just one shoe? If you’re going to go gutter-stomping shoeless, why not just commit and rock both those knee-highs for everyone to see?” Well, Spike Jonze attempts to answer this in his short film “How They Get There.”

While not exactly his intro into filmmaking (Jonze was a well established music video director whose contributions include such classics as “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys), it was with this film that he began to flirt with cinematic storytelling devices that would eventually lead to his first feature Being John Malkovich.

The film stars Mark Gonzales, a legendary skateboarder, who was the first to Ollie off the Wallenberg Set, a nineteen foot long, four-foot tall series of steps. For those of you not familiar with skateboarding (like myself), it means he jumped his skateboard really far and landed at a much lower place than where he lifted off without killing himself.

It also stars Lauren Curry, who I’m convinced is one of the many Zooey Deschanel clones that have been running around Hollywood lately.

Model Number 13

Model Number 13

The film is simple enough. Two strangers spot each other from across the street and begin to flirt by imitating one another. This comes to an abrupt end when Mr. Mimic is hit by, what might be, the drunkest driver ever and absolute chaos is unleashed. The girl seems horrified at the disaster she’s caused, and yet it begs the question, how many other people have lost their lives entranced by these Deschanel Doppelgangers? What is their true motive? I’m sure a quick analysis of the amount of innocents killed while listening to “Teenage Dream” will produce some startling findings.

What “How They Get There” shows is that you don’t need to get overly complicated to make a good short. In the two minutes of this film we are given enough of what we need to know, character-wise, to understand the type of guy the main character is. Little things, like a trip off the curb, show us that he’s kind of a klutz. The haphazard way he disposes of his milk tells us that his focus is easily drawn, causing him to shirk common sense habits such as using a damn trashcan or looking both ways before crossing the street.

With what could also be considered a Micro-short film, the two-minute runtime is refreshing. It shows that length doesn’t always equal content.

What I’ve Been Up To

Podcast Logo

For the last few months I’ve been hinting at the possibility of a podcast. Also, I’m sure those of you that have been checking up on the blog have also noticed that the posts have been becoming more sparse. Well, truth is these two things are connected. For the past two months I’ve been teaming up with a close group of friends, including Cody Everett, a filmmaker I interviewed early in this blog’s inception, and the fruits of our labor are finally complete.

Cult Film in Review is a roundtable podcast where we look back on the cult films of yesteryear and see if they really do deserve the recognition they receive. We even throw in a few laughs for good measure.

If you have a love for cult films, are a film lover that wants to know what cult films are all about, or just want have a good chuckle, give Cult Film in Review a listen.

You can find it here at cultfilminreview.com or subscribe to us on iTunes.

Enjoy!

Spotlight on Shorts: Punisher: Dirty Laundry


It’s been a kind of good last few weeks for comic book fans. Last week marked the release of Daredevil on Netflix along with, what I’m sure was, a spike in people taking sick days and pizza delivery sales. Then of course there was some extra Hulkbuster footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron and the long-awaited teaser for Superman vs. Batman (along with a leaked trailer, but you didn’t hear that from me).

Going with the trend, I’ve decided that for the rest of the month I will be devoting the Spotlight on Shorts section to comic book based fan films.

We start with “Punisher: Dirty Laundry”.

This film first screened at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con and wowed audiences with the return of the best Frank Castle (sorry Dolph Lundgren fans), Thomas Jane. The film was produced by Adi Shankar who’s made a name for himself producing such films as the survival thriller The Grey and most recently the much talked about “Power/Rangers” fan film.

The film has what I assume all Punisher fans are looking for, a large dose of violence as the cure for criminality. Witnessing a gang of thugs terrorize a city block, Castle begins the film hesitant to don the skull again (for whatever reason), simply looking to hit up the local Laundromat, grab a Yoo-Hoo, and get back to watching the final season of Dawson’s Creek. But we all know it would be a pretty disappointing Punisher film if Frank didn’t reach his breaking point, and I mean “breaking” literally.

As a non-profit fan film, “Punisher: Dirty Laundry” can take a few liberties. The most obvious one is this film didn’t appear to have to be ok’d with Marvel as their name is nowhere on it. Secondly, the entire soundtrack was brought to you by Hans Zimmer and his work on The Dark Knight, which means Shankar managed to steal from Marvel and DC in one fell swoop.

I’m sure all you Punisher fans out there have already seen this and probably chimed in on whether or not this is a fitting film adaptation to the comic. I’ll leave that for you to discuss since the only experience I have reading The Punisher is when he shows up in Spiderman comics and when he steamrolled over Wolverine. From a film lover’s perspective I think I speak for most when I say that 2004’s The Punisher starring Thomas Jane is probably the franchise’s best and “Dirty Laundry” does a good job feeling like a sequel to that film.

5 Shorts That Became Feature Films

I’m at a crossroads. As gamer who still primarily plays retro games, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the recent trailer for Pixels, a mass destruction film where arcade classics from the 80’s come to wreak havoc upon Earth. On the other hand, as a film lover, I couldn’t be more worried that it’s a Happy Madison production. For those of you who don’t know, Happy Madison Productions is the company founded by Adam Sandler, whose title nostalgically reminds us that it was responsible for at least two good films.

I don’t normally like to criticize a film before I’ve seen it, but this one stars not only Sandler, but Kevin James as well, two actors who are much like the two chemical components that Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson ran around New York desperately trying to keep apart in Die Hard with a Vengeance. Sure, alone the actors are harmless enough, but put them together and they create a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying any semblance of wishful thinking from the cerebral cortex.

What may be a saving grace is that Pixels is actually based on a relatively popular French animated short from 2010. Directed by Patrick Jean, the two-minute short is an homage to retro 8-bit era video games where classic sprites run amok throughout New York City.

This got me thinking about what other shorts have made the transition to full-length feature films, but I didn’t really want to do any research so I just cut and pasted five random links to YouTube videos in an attempt to trick the eye.

Ok, I kid, but if you scrolled down to make sure, thank you for reading the whole article and not just skimming to see the videos.

 

La Jetée

A lot of art film geeks and film students know this one. I was first introduced to it in film school. The French short is comprised almost entirely of stills to tell the story of a prisoner who is forced to time travel to the past to rectify the events that led to World War III. This is actually a pretty damn good watch, especially if you’re high because, “Dude that’s not a still! It just moved, I swear!”

Those familiar with the plot might already recognize that this film would become the Terry Gilliam classic 12 Monkeys, a film that ditches the stills and instead goes in the completely opposite direction by casting a manic Brad Pitt who never stops moving for a second.

 

The Dirk Diggler Story

Much like the feature this was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Inspired by This is Spinal Tap, the story follows the tragic story of Dirk as he begins a career in pornography only to get caught up in a life of drugs.

Of course, this film would eventually become the superb classic Wonderland starring the incomparable Val Kilmer, hot off the success of Aces: Iron Eagle 3, as well as Lisa Kudrow from the US version of the BBC series Coupling.

All right, you caught me. It became Boogie Nights and if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out on a true cinema masterpiece.

 

Monster

You know The Babadook, right? If you don’t, you really should. My favorite indie film of last year, The Babadook follows the story of a single mother and her child who are tormented by a supernatural force.

“Monster” follows basically the same premise as The Babadook, with the exception of starring some guy called Trash Vaudeville who is either the lead singer of a punk infused Cole Porter cover band or a creature created from the lesser parts of John Waters’ films.

 

Peluca

“Peluca” was made for the low, low price of $500. Shot on 16m black and white film, the short also stars Jon Heder in the role of Seth, a name that would go down in history when it was changed to the titular Napoleon Dynamite.

Watching the short you can see some of the familiar character traits and plot points that would eventually make it into the quirky Napoleon Dynamite. Much like Napoleon, Seth has an infatuation with martial arts and is always there to help his friends with their follicle mishaps.

 

Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse

“Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse” is less a short film and more a super early trailer for what would become This is the End. As the title suggests, the short stars Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel who would reprise their roles for the feature.

The short acts as evidence to the amount of attention Hollywood is giving viral videos nowadays. The short apparently inspired a bidding war to eventually get it to the big screen. Garnering a budget of $30 million, This is the End would go on to make $126 million at the box office.

 

 

 

 

 

Last Night’s Oscars in Retrospect

Yesterday, before the big night last night, I decided to post my picks for the 2015 Academy Awards. Like most people I was unable to catch all of the films nominated, but that didn’t stop me from predicting the winners of the films I had seen (and even some I hadn’t).

Let’s see how I did.

Ok, so I got one right, but to my credit it was the most important award. I liken this to going eight and eight for the season but still winning the Super Bowl. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.

Allow me to take up some space on your screen and defend what was going on though my head at the time.

Best Cinematography:

I still think this should’ve went to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I understand Birdman taking this one. Certainly both films did some interesting things in the camera work department. Birdman obviously merged some surrealist elements within the film to make it a sort of Magical Realist piece. Not to mention the “one-take” method they managed to pull off. Overall very ambitious and well done. Still, my issue with the win is that Birdman primarily takes place in one setting. It’s basically a backstage dramedy. Because of this, due to the film’s enclosed space and lack of diverse settings it didn’t allow for a wide range of camera work. Compare this to Grand Budapest which moves to a number of different settings such as trains, hotels, a monastery, small villages, etc. Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman were able to bring that signature look they’ve been known for in a film that probably provided them with a number of challenges.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

I really thought this was going to be the only award American Sniper would win. A screenplay adapted from a very popular and rather controversial book to some. I’ll steer away from political contention and say that, although good, this film had no chance to win Best Picture, namely because of some questionable shot and music choices that made me feel I was watching a Michael Bay film at times.

On the other hand, I’ll turn my car right into the political discussion and drive it off the ledge by saying I don’t think this film was a victim of any sort of political stance as I’ve heard some in the media suggesting. I got the same message in American Sniper as every other war film I’ve ever seen. War is Hell, it’s fucks people up and should be avoided. Anyone that got the opposite of that, well I don’t know what movie you were watching.

Best Original Screenplay:

Again, another instance where I completely understand the Academy’s choice. Birdman is a damn good script. Still, maybe it’s because I’m an English Lit major, I just felt The Grand Budapest Hotel was written so well. Smart and extremely funny the whole way through.

Best Actress:

I admit even in my Facebook post that I had not seen Wild, but I had heard this might be Reese Witherspoon’s second grab at the golden statue since she won for Walk the Line. Based on her reaction when her name was not called, I assume she heard the same. From what I’d heard about Wild, this is a film fully propelled by Witherspoon as opposed to Walk The Line where she was basically sharing the spotlight with Joaquin Phoenix.

Still, is there a film Julianne Moore isn’t absolutely amazing in? Yet this is her first Oscar win. Surprised me too.

Best Actor:

I was just really rooting for Michael Keaton to win this Oscar. His lost reminded me of when Bill Murray’s portrayal in Lost in Translation lost out to Sean Penn in Mystic River. Both Murray and Keaton are the same type of actor in my opinion. Both have been in the game for years and primarily play roles that don’t get a lot of attention from the Academy. The stars finally align and they get that one shot late in the game only to have it swept out from under them.

This is not to say Eddie Redmayne didn’t deserve the Oscar. His portrayal of Steven Hawking had all the things the Academy has come to love; a transformative portrayal of an exceptional real-life character who is stricken with some physical or mental plight that they must overcome. Redmayne delivered in spades and it’s a life changing win for him, but, dammit, I really would have liked to see Keaton get that Oscar after the years he’s put into the biz.

Best Director:

I wrote a post pretty much outlining why I felt Boyhood absolutely had to win an Oscar. Upon seeing Birdman, despite the monumental process it took to make Boyhood, I found it to be a more solid film. Still, I think Linklater was completely snubbed on this win for the same reasons I outlined in my post. That level of commitment deserves something.

Best Picture:

The one I got right! Although I never got around to seeing Imitation Game or Selma (for some reason Selma isn’t playing in a lot of theaters out here in AZ), this was hands down a great film. Great performances from a stellar cast, an original story with enough art house appeal to make it feel fresh. Enough said.

EXTRA: Best Original Song:

I didn’t add this pick namely because I had only heard two songs, “Everything is Awesome” and “Glory”. Before the awards I was completely rooting for “Everything is Awesome”. After seeing the live performance and watching David Oyelowo absolutely drenched in tears I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.

I mean, listen to the lyrics of “Everything is Awesome”.  It’s a song about utter conformity. It’s even used in the film ad nauseam in an attempt to keep everyone in Legoland subjugated. It’s like the happy-go-lucky musical version of the Oceania National Anthem.

“Glory” is the absolute opposite. It’s a song about hope and fighting against oppression.

Here’s an excerpt:

One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
Oh glory

Seriously, I have no idea what I was thinking here.

 

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Joris Oprins’ Mute

When we think of the Academy Awards, it’s often the nominations for Best Film, Actor/Actress, Director, etc. that occupies most of the media surrounding the event. It’s important to remember sometimes that among the big names like Clint Eastwood and Wes Anderson, there are other directors of foreign and short film categories that worked just as hard to produce an Oscar nominated film. Since I primarily cover short films, I’ve decided to add at least one director who has been nominated for Best Short Film.

This is Joris Oprins’ first Oscar nomination, but not his first film. He and his two partners, Job Roggeveen and Markieke Blaauw, have been making animated short films since 2003 with their debut film “Wad“.

I have to admit, I’ve always found it strange that the Academy has separate categories for best Feature, Foreign and Animated Films, but when it comes to shorts, live action and animated are lumped together regardless of the country of origin. I suppose it’s because the Academy gives shorts the same kind of attention the rest of the public does.

“Mute” is Oprins’ second short film and his first foray into using CG. The story takes place in a world without mouths. This doesn’t stop people from attempting many of the activities that we orally-blessed take for granted. This all changes when a happy accident with a knife allows the populace to speak for the first time. What results is one of the most adorably gory films you’re likely to see.

Artistically, “Mute” feels like a combination of Despicable Me and Wallace and Gromit. The male character models are reminiscent of Grimace from McDonalds, while the female characters have the addition of breast mechanics straight out of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Furthermore, I could swear they lifted Maggie’s pacifier sound from The Simpsons.

It’s impressive to see a film be able to find humor in a concept so gory. I would be hard-pressed to call this short a dark comedy simply because, absent of the blood, the humor is rather uplifting and cheeky. This is a good example of the type of storytelling power animated films are capable of that live action can’t possibly produce. Unless you have a way to make slicing yourself a new mouth produce the same audience reaction often reserved for kitten videos.

Spotlight on Shorts: From the Future With Love

Let’s be honest, economics isn’t the sexiest topic of discussion, yet if listen to the talking heads from both sides of the right/left political spectrum, you’ll find most of them spend a good amount of time dedicated to the subject. Since most films focus not only on delivering a message, but making it entertaining as well, it’s hard to find a movie that attempts to thematically present the implications economic systems have on society. K-Michel Parandi’s “From the Future With Love” is one of the few short films that manage to address this without getting bogged down with the specifics.

At first watch, you’ll notice that “From the Future With Love” is treading on familiar territory. Films like Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop are also placed in a future where corporations have invested in policing the world. Just as in Robocop, “From the Future With Love” suggests that problems will inevitably arise when the corporate priority of increasing profit margins meets the societal need for security.

In the future presented in “From the Future With Love”, there are various corporate-run policing outfits which all claim different territories. Each provide different packages, much like insurance packages, that ensure varying levels of security. Their jurisdiction stretches as far as their client base reaches similar to telecommunication providers. What we begin to witness is the negative effects this has on people’s security, as those who don’t have the financial means are only allowed a certain level of police involvement and are subject to a bevy of lesser crimes. To add to that, the inherent competitiveness of Capitalism reaches violent proportions as different police outfits begin to fight over territories.

From a filmmaking perspective, “From the Future With Love” uses some interesting storytelling techniques. Much like how Robocop integrated advertisements throughout the film to stress how every aspect of the future had become increasingly commercialized, “From the Future With Love” features its own commercial outlining the technology and packages the police now offer.

Visually “From the Future With Love” is impressive. A lot of detail went into the cosplaying of this film. The police are decked out in black and white armor, similar to a Stormtrooper, but with added red and blue flashing lights as decoration. It’s like the merging of officer and squad car, all in one. Furthermore, each unit is outfitted with their own drone sentry, foreshadowing the result of our drone programs.

The CG also pays a good amount of attention to detail. In one scene you can see an officer take aim at a mechanized dog. Through his visor, you can see a target reticule mirroring precisely where the officer is aiming. All this adds to the ever-important “cool factor” that sci-fi films are known for.

Trailers Have Really Changed Over The Years

One of the unfortunate byproducts of nerdery is the increased susceptibility to hype. Like many of you, I caught the first glimpses of the new Fantastic Four teaser this week and began trying to piece together what I had just seen. As far as I could gather, Reed (wide-eyed intern), Sue (the girl who programmed WOPR from WarGames), Ben (high school varsity baseball player who’s been held back two years) and Johnny (the guy who built KITT) all get in a bunch of steel tubes that explode and send them to Hell. From there, they spend the rest of the movie fighting enemies that are always just out of frame.

I suppose the teaser accomplished its goal. Sure, I want to see more, but only because I have no idea what the hell I just saw. This seems to be the new marketing strategy of Hollywood. We see a teaser, talk endlessly about it for three or four days then forget about it. Later, they release the next cryptic trailer that has us doing the whole song and dance all over again.

Was it always like this?

Searching for answers, a friend and I began to look at the trailers of our ancestors. What we found there was a world of movie marketing long since forgotten. Trailers from these ancient times differed in a number of ways.

Here’s how:

The Length

Nowadays it’s common for an official theatrical trailer to be preceded by a teaser. The lengths of these teasers fluctuate. Normally you’re looking at somewhere between a minute and a half. Then again, some teasers look like they just pieced together all the footage they had from the first day of shooting:

As I’m sure you know, that was the teaser for Breaking Dawn Part 2, unless of course you happened to blink and miss it. Taking out the green preview screen, this trailer clocks in at around forty seconds or around the time it takes to melt butter in a microwave.

Of course, eventually they got enough footage to make a full trailer for audiences, which clocks in at a whopping two minutes, which is about the average running time of current trailers.

Compare that with the official trailer for Lawrence of Arabia from 1962:

That trailer is almost a full five minutes long, where they basically take time to list the entire cast of the film. Furthermore, they take time to give you a basic rundown of who T.E. Lawrence was by opening with nice little quote by Winston Churchill. The equivalent to this would be if the Breaking Dawn trailer opened with a quote from Stephenie Meyer and finishing off by listing off each cast member of the Cullen Family.

The Intros

For some of you that may not be familiar with the Fantastic Four, you may have been curious as to whom these fresh-faced lads and lasses were decorating your computer screen. Now maybe this is because Hollywood is banking on the fact that fans of the FF4 are already familiar with these characters. Still, I’ve found that current trailers still make very little attempt to introduce their characters. Take this trailer from the upcoming Jupiter Ascending:

What can we gather from that? Well, we know that Channing Tatum is a badass with a neck tattoo and he wants to get Mila Kunis for whatever reason because doctors are trying to kill her for whatever reason. Kunis even goes as far as to ask, “Who are you?” to which Channing simply says, “I’m here to help you” for whatever reason. From there it seems clear that the story revolves around Kunis, yet we don’t hear her name till the end of the trailer, where everyone says, “Oh, like in the title! That explains why she’s moving up so many beams of light!”

Now let’s look at the trailer for the sci-fi classic Tron from 1982:

In this trailer we get a pretty good idea who we’re dealing with. There’s the villainous computer introduced in, what can only be described as, the most frightening Apple ad ever seen. Then there’s our hero, Kevin Flynn, who’s of course a genius because he’s searching for answers. They even briefly introduce Tron before explaining what it’s like inside the computer itself.

The Plot

Finally, a big unspoken rule seems to be that you don’t give away too much of the plot. This is particularly the case with modern horror movies that all seem to rely on some big twist at the end.

For instance, check out this trailer for Insidious:

If you didn’t have time to watch it, don’t worry. The trailer is simply a montage of all the scary things that happen in the film in rapid succession. There is virtually no dialogue to explain any of this, just a few blurbs about hiring the landlady from Kingpin and that their son is haunted.

Let’s see how they explained the plot of a movie in 1976 with this trailer from Carrie:

Oh sorry everybody, I should have said SPOILERS, but I believe the statute of limitations runs out at exactly thirty-eight years. Plus, now you don’t even have to watch the film, because that’s literally the detailed, step-by-step plot of the entire film. If they had Cliff Notes for feature films, this would be it.

But my absolutely favorite part of this trailer is the introduction of John Travolta in his first ever film debut. They could have picked any clip from the film to lead the viewer to wonder, “Oh, I wonder what kind of character he plays in the film?” But why even try to instill any sense of mystery? No, instead the editors decided that the best way to introduce this new burgeoning superstar was by letting the audience know within five seconds he was absolutely going to die in the most fiery and violent way possible.

Indie Intros Oscar Edition: Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s Powder Keg

Since my last Indie Intros post chronicled the work of Richard Linklater, a response to Boyhood being nominated for six Academy Awards, I thought I might just cover other nominees till the awards kick off in February. Up until the week of the 22nd I’ll be dedicating the Indie Intros section to filmmakers nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards. We’ll look at some of their humble beginnings before we witness all the bad jokes and musical numbers the Academy is so known for. Then we’ll all go to work the next morning and complain about who should have won.

Before we begin, I’d like to preface something for the sake of controversy. Ideally, I wanted to focus on all of the Best Picture nominees, but the fact is not every filmmaker in this category have short films to view. Short films from James Marsh or Morton Tyldum were nowhere to be found on the Internet. When I searched for a site showing Damien Chazzelle’s “Whiplash”, the short film that is now an Oscar Nominated feature of the same name, I was directed here which just screams to me, “If you dare show this film we’ll sue you back into the Stone Age!” Finally, Clint Eastwood hasn’t had to make a short film to show off has talents, most likely because there has never been a time in his life where he hasn’t been goddamn Clint Eastwood.

With the recent commentary over the amount of nominations given to American Sniper and the lack of nominations given to Selma, I don’t want any additions or omissions to be viewed as political or social commentary (that’s for a different section of my blog).

With that, Birdman director Alejandro González-Iñárritu is no stranger to the Academy. His debut feature film Amores Perros was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 and Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was nominated for Best Picture in 2007. “Powder Keg” isn’t exactly his first short, yet it’s still relatively early in his career. Before ever shooting Perros, he had shot “El Timbre”, a Spanish film that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere. Worry not though, as soon as I do I plan to cover it on my future Spanish sister site, El Barrio de Los Cineastas Amistosos.

“Powder Keg” comes right off the heels of Amores Perros and as a result has some significant star power behind it. It stars Clive Owen, the king of gruff deliveries, and Stellan Skarsgård who shouldn’t to be confused with Alexander Skarsgård, or Peter Sarsgaard, that smug bastard who thinks he can just jam as many A’s into his name as he wants. Skarsgård plays a war photographer who captures local terrorists murder a group of innocent civilians. Embedded in Columbia, the UN sends Owen in to extract him, but things go awry. Basically, it’s a faster paced, less elaborate Argo.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that makes Argo so good. As Owen drives through the Colombian town of Nuevo Colon, you really get a sense that this is a place going through a giant upheaval. Armed soldiers and terrorists alike litter the streets and pose a constant threat to the two protagonists.

Much like Amores Perros, “Powder Keg” gives us a look at the everyday lives of those who live south of the border of the U.S. Here in “Powder Keg” we witness how U.S. demand for cocaine has affected those living in Cartel controlled Columbia. This ties into the overall message of the film; that as we watch the horrors that the drug war wreaks on South America, there is more we could be doing to stop it. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros or 21 Grams might be seeing a pattern in Alejandro González-Iñárritu’s work, to address that the actions of one person can create a Butterfly Effect that can influence the lives of others. In “Powder Keg” he explores this theme on a much grander scale; pointing out that many of us here in the U.S. are content with condemning the atrocities witnessed abroad, yet fail to address our role in them. This is conveyed through Skarsgård’s Harvey Jacobs, a photographer who regrets his lack of involvement for the sake of getting the perfect picture.

Finally, the cinematography works to further stress Iñárritu’s message. Many of his shots give the impression that they come from the POV of an onlooker lurking in the shadows, watching everything unfold but refusing to get involved in fear of the repercussions. Also, the graininess of his shots will remind you of old 8mm war footage, implying that we are content simply being a horrified viewer, but never an active participant.