Talking Movies: First Reformed, Bigger and Rust Creek

Spling reviews First Reformed, Bigger and Rust Creek as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.

TRANSCRIPT

Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a mystery drama thriller, an American Dream biopic and a backwoods thriller.

Starting off with a film now on Netflix…

FIRST REFORMED

A minister grapples with mounting despair brought on by tragedy, worldly concerns and a tormented past.

Writer-Director: Paul Schrader

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles

– Refocusing his career to become an auteur over a screenwriter, Schrader has delivered a film that almost encapsulates his filmography.
– Echoing aspects from Taxi Driver, First Reformed isn’t the sleepy and offbeat little drama you’d imagine from the star and title.
– It’s a soul-stirring meditation on religion, the environment and life as one man’s core beliefs and faith are put to the test.
– This is a character portrait of the highest order… allowing Hawke to accurately reflect the dizzying and layered drama in response to its epic overarching themes.
– Schrader’s not trying to debase the church but rather his lead character, whose human fragility becomes more apparent as pressure mounts, setting the soapbox alight by venturing into the hypocrisy of “company” churches and corporate “responsibility” similar to Dark Waters and Planet of the Humans.
– First Reformed is composed of brilliant dialogue, allowing Rev Toller to examine his own existence through the troubles around him.
– The undeniably bleak drama sounds portentous but has an ordinary feel as Toller goes about his day.
– Schrader’s film teeters on the brink of masterpiece, a spiritual, philosophical and epic journey building to the same soul-stirring heights of Calvary.
– Much like religion, First Reformed wrestles with paradox, using it to create a strange tension between real and unreal.
– Toying with hope and despair in every scene, it builds to a crescendo as one grand political statement seems imminent only to bathe in what very nearly becomes a movie ending to rival Wayne’s World.
– First Reformed culminates in a risky and purposefully unsatisfying final flourish designed to irk, haunt, frustrate and ultimately provoke thought.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer
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Moving on to another film streaming on Netflix…

BIGGER

Joe and Ben Weider overcome poverty and prejudice to build a fitness empire and inspire future generations.

Director: George Gallo

Stars: Tyler Hoechlin, Julianne Hough and Kevin Durand

– The American dream and pursuit of happiness is a popular narrative.
– Built around two brothers, the focus of the story is on Joe Weider and his fitness magazine empire, telling the story of a man from an immigrant family whose self-determination and commitment to health shaped the landscape of bodybuilding and fitness publications.
– Discovering Arnold Schwarzeneggar, who writes extensively about Weider in his autobiography, Total Recall, their stories parallel as both launched their careers in the United States through discipline, determination and raw talent.
– Weider’s an interesting character whose difficult childhood turned him into a real fighter, obsessed with the human form and getting people to peak physical condition in a bid to improve their lives.
– Glorifying the human body, creating a lifestyle brand around his products and information, he built an empire around himself in spite of his tough upbringing and anti-Semitic opposition.
– It’s an extraordinary story told by way of flashback with strong production values as the chronicle of Weider’s life plays out.
– While respectable, entertaining and covering a wide expanse of Weider’s legacy, Bigger does come across as somewhat superficial.
– The American Dream story is well-worn and while an amazing entrepreneur the drama is more event-based than character-driven.
– Checking story milestones rather then immersing us in the thoughts behind the deeds, it feels a lot like the glossy magazine covers he pedalled.
– It’s a powerful story with some timely themes, but does come across as a professional rather than passion-led project.

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!
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And finally on DStv Now…

RUST CREEK

A wrong turn leaves an overachieving college student stranded deep in the Kentucky forest.

Director: Jen McGowan

Stars: Hermione Corfield, Jay Paulson and Sean O’Bryan

– This is a gritty and suspenseful backwoods thriller that will appeal to people who enjoy breakdown or survival misadventures.
– Making full use of its carefully calibrated and tense encounters, it’s effective and well-acted.
– Starring a fresh talent in Corfield, she powers a proud, headstrong and smart young woman lost in Kentucky’s wilderness.
– There may not be any recognisable name stars but Rust Creek’s a great showcase for Corfield who pushes off her solid supporting cast in Paulson and O’Bryan.
– Capturing elements from films like Breakdown, Deliverance and Winter’s Bone, Rust Creek quickly hooks you with its tense chase down before settling into some modern Western vibrations.
– An isolated girl-on-the-run, predatory bandits, a good Samaritan and a bent Sheriff, Rust Creek operates with poise.
– A spirited indie film, the messaging about an independent young woman fighting her own battles comes through with force, carried through by a powerful closing shot.

A solid 7 on the splingometer
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So just to wrap up…

FIRST REFORMED… a bold, edgy, powerful, timely and soul-stirring character portrait underscored by one of Hawke’s greatest performances… An excellent 8!

BIGGER… an extraordinary story and solid production values compel this competent yet superficial chronicle… A satisfactory 6!

RUST CREEK… good performances and great suspense fuel this spirited backwoods indie survival thriller… A solid 7!

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!

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