Redefining Loss… Hesher Style

♣♣♣♣♣      out of       ♣♣♣♣♣

When a movie is really, really good, it gets stuck in your head like a song. Now this isn’t always the truth in reverse because some of the worst songs get stuck in your head for days and days… but with a bad movie, you only remember how bad it was. Only the good ones get talked about at work the next day. In some cases a film can be indescribably good, and such is the case with Hesher.

Hesher‘s title character (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt) looks about as pissed off as I’ve ever seen a hero (if you can call him that). There are moments in the film’s opening sequences when I doubted his existence within the film’s reality due to Hesher’s insane, erratic, and overtly-violent behavior. This story could have played very very differently, but it doesn’t.

At the heart of this movie is a red Volvo wagon and the boy who needs it. I won’t spoil anything, but when we first see the wagon, it is being towed away. Behind it, a young man on a bmx bike frantically races to keep up. He ducks in and out of traffic, his eyes tear-streaked and glued to the smashed red Volvo that seems to be further and further out of his reach. When he turns a corner and runs into a car, spilling up onto the hood, the boy simply rolls off- grabs his bike- and pedals on. He finally catches up with the red wagon in a tow-yard and opens the driver’s door to climb inside. As he sits behind the wheel we can tell he isn’t really there. He is lost somewhere in memory as he places his hands on the wheel and stares into space. This is TJ.

TJ is alone. His mother has just died, his father (brilliantly played by Rainn Wilson) is in a pharmaceutical-induced coma on the couch, and his grandmother (Piper Laurie) is… well, elderly. On his way to school one morning, fate intervenes in the form of a buried pipe. When TJ hits this pipe and goes flying over his handlebars while riding through a seemingly abandoned construction site, his suppressed rage and emotion cause him to pick up a rock and defiantly chuck it through the nearest window. A few seconds later, Hesher appears, grabbing TJ by the throat and pulling him into the unfinished house. Outside, a security patrol truck pulls up, and Hesher tells TJ, you fucked me…” while tossing an improvised explosive device out the window and bolting in his black van. Hesher has a thing for fire.

When TJ gets home from school later that day, Hesher is standing in his grandmother’s kitchen. He is a scary looking guy with hair down to his waist, homemade tattoos, and a taste for Metallica, gasoline, and cigarettes. He also no longer has a place to stay, so he takes up refuge in  grandma’s garage… naturally.

At this point the movie really begins, and I will stop. This is one of those films that you don’t want to know much about. What I will say is that Hesher is one of the rawest, funniest, and also saddest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It weaves a magnificently broken trail through the course of its running time, and no matter where the plot goes it is thoroughly supported by the performances of the actors involved. I’m talking hands-down, grade-A independent film making here.

At it’s core is Joseph Gordon Levitt, who has come along way since 3rd Rock From the Sun, and cements himself (in my mind anyway) as one of Hollywood’s best actors with this role. Rainn Wilson, of The Office, sports a Jack-Bauer-Style “Beard O’ Grief” throughout the film and makes up for all his silly NBC-shenanigans by totally losing himself in the part of the grieving husband/father. There is also an amazing performance by young Devin Brochu, who plays TJ. It’s refreshing to see new young actors that are able to carry the weight of such a film without a hitch. Brochu delivers such a great performance that no matter how unbelievable the story might become- we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Lastly Natalie Portman (who I believe is incapable of giving a bad performance) does a great job in a role that I won’t tell you anything about. You’ll just have to watch the damn movie.

I will leave you with the pledge that you are not prepared, neither for Hesher, its title character, or the elegant mayhem that ensues.

Hesher rules.

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House of the Devil…? Yes, Please!

♣♣♣♣♣  out of  ♣♣♣♣♣

I want to start off bold because this movie got to me- This might be my new favorite horror film. I must also clear up the distinction between “scary movies” and “horror films.” This is a fine example of the later. Aside from the PG-13 Prom Nights and Shutters as well as your typical R Saw, Hostel, and any other of the recent remakes of 80s flicks, sits a genre of film so close to my heart- horror. When I go to a scary movie I want to jump in my seat, I want to see awesome and gross special effects, I want to shove popcorn in my face. On the other hand, when I see a horror movie I’m signing up for something different. I want to be on the edge of my seat, I want to be disturbed, I want to feel the panic that characters feel, I want to be scared. The House of the Devil does just that, and without any of the tricks and CGI that accompanies so many movies these days.

Released in 2009 HOTD looks like it was shot in 1983- straight down to the grainy film stock and the huge cassette tape player with big black headphones. (Although, during the pizza place scene toward the beginning the sign in the background says “Margarita Pizza” on sale- did they have that in ’83?) It is set sometime in the early 80s, and the detail is painstakingly dead-on. I literally could not tell that this movie was made a year ago, I was convinced it was some gem I’d never caught when I was a kid, and was blown away when I found out. HOTD manages to pull off sheer terror with simplicity.

A broke college girl takes a babysitting job in the middle of nowhere and, of course, at the wrong house. Turns out there aren’t any kids, just the old lady sleeping in the upstairs room. I guess no one responds to “elderlysitter” anymore? Anyway, some time during the night the strange noises start coming from upstairs, while outside there is a full lunar eclipse. There are no quick-and-flashy edits here, no thundering sound effects to try to scare us, just a lot of long and stable camera work that follows the heroine around the house. There are a few instances where the camera lingers beyond the girl’s frame of sight, revealing to the audience what the heroine doesn’t know, and they are shocking and effective.

Toward the end all hell breaks loose, literally, and where any other movie would spend the last half of the film with a never-ending chase scene, HOTD picks up fast, and leaves off just as quick. Once the blood begins to flow, the climax of the movie is upon us, and the burner gets cranked up to HI. All the while the subtle-yet-scary scraping of strings soundtrack slowly grates away at our ears… what else do you need in a horror movie?!

In my opinion, House of the Devil is one of the great horror films in the last few years. It’s a horror film disguised as a scary movie from 1983. I strongly recommend it for any fans of suspense (there is little gore and only at the end) no matter if you are a horror buff or not. See this movie soon!! THIS MOVIE IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN UNDER 14 AT LEAST (AND THOSE 14 YEAR OLDS WILL LOVE IT I’M SURE)

“House of the Devil” Directed by Ti West Starring Jocelin Donahue and Tom Noonan Rated R for Some Bloody (good) Violence