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Aural/Visual Bullying: Traitor—Take 2

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Aural/Visual Bullying: Traitor—Take 2

When I look at a film, as an individual viewer with my own distinct DNA, biochemical profile, ocular deficiencies, brain damage, life experiences, needs, wants, peeves, and perversions, I don’t necessarily see what you see. But there is something called a “communal experience.” I remember looking over at a row of 40 or more people staring up at the Valkyrie helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. Every face wore the same expression. I remember the gasps and applause that erupted in the packed house at Symphony Space when a deranged kidnapper fell to Takashi Shimura’s sword in slo-mo in The Seven Samurai. I remember the cloud of compassionate despair that suffocated me and others when young Igor struggled to look after dead Amadou’s wife and baby in La Promesse. We were in this together. And I can recall, just the other day, a room full of men going “Woooo shit!” when Sergio Leone panned up a monumental tangle of leather chaps and duster jacket to the roguish, angelic face of Woody Strode at the beginning of Once Upon a Time in The West.

Those utterly unrelated flicks share a respect for time and space, for the moment, that has disappeared from American films. Few of our big gun filmmakers know how to leave a tender moment alone. As a result, we leave the theater alone in our disappointment. Or at least I do. But judging from the casual “what’s next” atmosphere of contemporary moviegoing, I feel pretty comfortable saying “we.”

Traitor is a movie about some of the most terrifying and inescapable facts of our times, and I walked out of it whistling and chewing gum. What’s next? I could give you an intricate, sequence by sequence breakdown of why it is so forgettable despite its memorable performances and action cinematography, but I’m tired, man. Tired of writing the same review for each of Ho’wood’s precision engineered attempts at serious fun.

Traitor is a summer thrill ride that contemplates the limits of devotion—to country, to faith, to loved ones, to personal and professional codes. Sounds tasty, except that the filmmakers’ temporal and spatial disregard turns the whole shebang into one of those zippity TV intelligence agency procedurals that TV Guide would call “Riveting!” I could swear I just heard the same drum-machine electronica riff that accompanies a Traitor prison break sequence on a DVD of the crime show Kidnapped. And Alias. And CSI. And 24. Ditto the digi-snap-zooms, King Kong-amplified body blows, synth stabs, Private Ryan shutter judder, desaturated colors, oversaturated colors, flimsy depth-of-field, pitying piano tinkles, frenetic cuts (on even the simplest, quietest moments) and Syriana faux verité (every time craggy higher ups gather in conference rooms to speak gravely about the plot point of the moment.)

Seasoned screenwriter/first-time director Jeffrey Nachmanoff supervises with state-of-the-art professionalism, which means that the film’s primetime visual flow and aural assault blunt the impact and intrigue of his genuinely thoughtful screenplay. Much of that thoughtfulness comes through in Don Cheadle’s performance as an African-born American arms dealer drafted into the ranks of Islamic terrorists. Nachmanoff has an eye for masculine screen presence almost as piercing as Leone’s eye for Strode, Bronson, Robards and Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. He has flinty fun with the banter between good-Fed/bad-Fed duo Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough; studies the Arab handsomeness of Saïd Taghmaoui’s deadly profile and Aly Khan’s oversized dark eyes. These are some dashing fanatical maniacs.

But unlike Leone, or, say, the Coen brothers on No Country for Old Men (the 2007 film that all of Ho’wood’s shop steward genre directors should be forced to watch at the point of a scimitar), Nachmanoff just doesn’t care for the moment. He drowns, abbreviates or telegraphs every opportunity to make us live in a life-sized, real-time, subjective, suspenseful incident. When the film’s second major plot twist, a scene of horrible/triumphant violence, occurred, the audience at the screening I attended erupted in laughter. Many critics will swear it was the plot point’s improbability that had them rolling. I say a real filmmaker who doesn’t follow the prevailing crowd of aural/visual bullies can make us believe damn near anything—and feel it in our bones.

Steven Boone is a New York-based critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl Is Heavy and the publisher of Big Media Vandalism.

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Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

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The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

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Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

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Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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