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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

DVD Reviews: Brotherhood of the Wolf and The Promotion.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 3:36 PM

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The Promotion came out earlier this year with little fanfare, but upon rewatching it, I think it might be one of my favorite films so far of 2008. It's modest and small and smart and funny and sad, and it features a great sequence set to Steve Miller, and I don't care what anybody says, Steve Miller rules.

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The French Brotherhood of the Wolf came out in 2001, and until last week, I hadn't seen it since it was in theaters. But upon rewatching the film--via a new director's cut--I'm fairly astonished about just how bizarre the whole thing is, and how much I still like it, probably against my better judgment.

Quick thoughts on both recently released DVDs (The Promotion came out yesterday, and Brotherhood of the Wolf hit stores on August 26) after the jump.

Writer/director Steven Conrad walks a tightrope throughout The Promotion, a film that's never quite hilarious enough to be marketed as a knee-slappin' comedy, and not quite weighty enough to sell as a drama. I hate the word "dramedy," but it probably applies here as well as anything else: The Promotion never veers into sitcom territory, but despite its sometimes somber material, it's also sly and witty enough that it never ceases being enjoyable.

The basic premise: Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly play two employees at a shitty Chicagoland grocery store, and when a new branch opens up, both of them decide they want to manage it. What starts as a friendly competition soon evolves into passive aggression, sabotage, and slapping fights.

Unlike lazier films, The Promotion never sets up an easy hero to root for or a villain to hate on--both of the films' protagonists are good, likeable guys, and both are desperate for the job. You spend most the film rooting for both of them, but also feeling bad for both of them, and throughout, there's a sort of sad, middle American pop malaise (a similar kind to what got doled out in 2005's surprisingly good The Weather Man). It all feels melancholy and familiar and goofily accurate, and if you missed it when it was briefly in theaters, I'd definitely recommend checking it out on DVD.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of The Promotion--it's a film I believe is filed on the "absolutely fucking bugnuts" shelf in the video store. One could describe it as a period drama/kung fu flick/historical melodrama/fantasy/horror/romance, but then you'd also have to cram in a few more descriptors to let people know that it's also a monster movie, and that there's an incest-driven subplot, and that the whole thing seems to be about how eeeevil Catholics are, and it also has something to do with the French Revolution or something. Also there are spy/prostitutes, and swords made out of bones, but then the swords actually turn into whips! And some other stuff!

The general idea of the film centers around the Beast of Gevaudan, a wolf-like monster that supposedly killed a bunch of French people in the 18th century; Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is sent by the king to investigate, and he brings along his Native American pal, Tonto Mani (Mark Dacascos) for backup. Soon enough, there's political intrigue and chamber-room romance and slow-mo kung fu fights and gristly murders and a big CG monster running around the otherwise beautiful French countryside, and rather than trying to come up with a halfway believable explanation for the whole Beast of Gevaudan business, Brotherhood of the Wolf instead comes up with a story that's so cartoonishly ludicrous that the whole pseudo-historical epic becomes this batshit crazy, dark fantasy film. But it's consistently entertaining, with some solid-enough action sequences, and interesting enough characters and, you know, a big fucking monster and shit. Despite the fact that this thing is shot like an '80s music video and probably would have gotten an F in Screenwriting 101, it's almost impossible to not enjoy it.

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