Hollywood is lean on fresh ideas to feed the beast: the literary classics have long been covered (even Fear and Loathing), comic books have been mined pretty thoroughly (Ant-Man has his own movie) and after you wade through the teeny bopper lit (Divergent/Maze Runner, etc) and the garbage cultural one-offs (50 Shades) there isn't all that much left.
Except video games — Hollywood loves a built-in audience and there's no denying video games have that, if you can just get them to leave the couch. And they probably will for Hardcore Henry, a first-person-shooter movie opening this week at the illustrious Village 8.
Written and directed by newcomer Ilya Naishuller, this one looks like a gimmick at first: the entire film is from the POV of its protagonist. It's a helmet-cam/GoPro movie designed to make the viewer its main character as all sorts of carnage unfolds.
For some people (probably older people) that is gonna be disconcerting and unsettling, the camera work may even induce vertigo and vomiting (hopefully), but for anyone who grew up post-Doom and with a video game system at home, Hardcore Henry is more than a cool trick, it's actually pretty kickass, totally ultraviolent and a pretty neat new foray into storytelling.
Upon regaining consciousness, Henry (you) discovers that he's (you've) lost your memory and voice, but have a hot wife and super-soldier powers. From that point on it's about 95 minutes of balls-out action and ass kicking as you (Henry) put the pieces together one exit wound at a time.
This film is visually groundbreaking, narratively imperfect, and very interesting because it is the closest mainstream cinema has come to what we sort of imagine virtual reality will look like. And it's Russian (remember that crazy Internet GoPro action sequence from a few years ago?) so that only adds to the fun.
Also opening this week, The Boss, which had no pre-screenings but looks to be pretty shitty and 2016's first step backwards for women in film. Essentially a fish out-of-water/redemption movie, The Boss stars Melissa McCarthy as a cut-throat rich bitch who is suddenly penniless and at the mercy of those she used to overbear (Kristen Bell).
The redemption plan appears to hinge on a rogue Girl Guide group and seems to be built off the already-played -out comedic effect of selling Girl Guide cookies outside a medical marijuana outlet. This followed by a Girlz in the Hood-style gang war. McCarthy has solid comedic chops but I doubt the script here will ever push her potential, and the idea of little girls fighting each other for success seems shitty to me. Skip this one at all costs.
This weekend also sees the kickoff of the World Ski & Snowboard Festival which means dreams will come true on Wednesday night for the Filmmaker Showdown and the line between art and sport will continue to erode. There's a pretty solid argument to be made that high-level snowboarding, biking, skiing, wing suiting, slacklining and whitewater paddling requires similar levels of vision, courage, creativity and flow as quality painting, writing, sculpting and filmmaking. The brush stroke on a canvass may not be that much different than a single track down an untouched slope.
Suffering might be the key component in all of it so the Download of the Week is a new(ish) Netflix documentary called The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young. Based on a historic prison escape, this 130-mile ultra-marathon through the brambles and backwoods of Tennessee might be the toughest race on Earth — only 14 people have finished the race in the past 40 years and North Vancouver's Gary Robbins just missed the finish line at the 2016 marathons earlier this week after navigational issues on the fifth and final loop.
The film features highlights from the 2012 racing season and showcases the mad genius of creator "Lazarus Lake," who takes pleasure in the low-fi approach to organizing and has a penchant for messing with the competitors — he even chooses one contestant each year based on their total unsuitability for such a gruelling endeavor.
The Barkley Marathons likely won't woo over the video game crowd but for anyone that understands the camaraderie of suffering together and the Zen of pushing yourself way beyond the safe zone, this one is both inspiring and fun.
Interestingly, the 60-hour time limit on the Barkley Marathons is not so different from the 72-hour slog of the Filmmaker Showdown. Pace yourself kids, the end is a long time coming...