Friday, July 4, 2014
When I first saw “Snowpiercer” close to 5 months ago I honestly was stunned. Here was a unique, mesmerizing vision from Bong Joon-Ho, a South Korean filmmaker who had made the riveting “Mother” and turned the monster movie up on its heels with “The Host”. He has never really adhered to a particular formula, except that he has made movies that are generally very hard to place into a particular category. He is of course an “auteur” in the truest sense of the word. He has garnered quite a cult following over the last few years, which gave him a free ticketed chance at making a film within the American studio system. Let me tell you, he seized his chance. This is one hell of a crazy ride he’s given us with “Snowpiercer”, a film of blazing originality that rides by on its own free will taking chance after chance after chance until it stumbles down near its end.
Much has been said about how Harvey Weinstein wanted “Snowpiercer” edited down from its original 126 minute cut and, having watched the film twice now, I can understand why the big boss was so adamant at editing it down a little. That 126 minute cut was eventually released. As incredible as the first 100 or so minutes are, the film starts to lose a bit of its momentum once it reaches its final act. Not that big of a deal in my opinion, given that what came before it was such a brilliant and uniquely dystopian vision of the future. I found “Snowpiercer” emulated shades of brilliance reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s masterful “Brazil” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children Of Men”, two movies that are of course slightly better than Bong Joon-Ho’s, but can you name me any science fiction movies released in the last 30 years that can be considered in the same league as those? I highly doubt it and if you do, you can probably count them in one hand.
The film takes place in 2031 where a failed global-warming experiment has frozen all of Earth and wiped out all life. The only survivors are the passengers on a train that is on a never-ending ride. The train has been running for 17 straight years and a social class system has developed as the passengers of the rear end live in extremely poor conditions and those in the front view… well you get the point, right? However, our main protagonist, played by an impressive Chris Evans, tries to start a rebellion to push his way across the many different levels of the train. That’s where the dirty fun starts and you get to see every social class represented within each individual section of the train. The mystery of this ride is what keeps pulling us in – I had no idea what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how unpredictable the journey was.
Just like Bong Joon-Ho’s past films, some scenes veer on the borderline ridiculous but he somehow manages to balance those moments really well with the more dramatic ones. There’s an incredible action scene that he has set up between the rebels and the guards, who are awaiting them with axes. The bloody and violent confrontation begins, only to be interrupted as the train is approaching a bridge. The fighting stops for a few seconds only for the violence and mayhem to continue. There are several moments like this where Bong perfectly balances these gorgeously crafted choreographed scenes with moments of quirky comedy and a real twisted sense of humor. The best example of this type of humor comes from a character played by Tilda Swinton (great as usual) who is so over the top hilarious but bewilderingly evil, lunacy only Tilda Swinton could pull off on screen, as she is quite possibly the greatest working actress around at the moment.
I really loved a classroom scene that felt completely out of place compared to the working-class part of the train, but that is shot with such vibrant and persistent colors that you’d think you were in a deranged science fiction film directed by Wes Anderson. It goes on and on, one surprise after another, one diabolically set-up scene after another. The influences are there but none more so than Terry Gilliam, who’s futuristic vision in “Brazil” and “12 Monkeys” made a movie such as “Snowpiercer” possible. The gifted South Korean director takes Gilliam’s influence and infuses it with his own unique brand of social disorder. It’s an impressive feat that will likely get talked about for years to come and will unremarkably garner a massive cult following in the process.
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Take for example Kelly Reichardt who’s “Night Moves” premiered earlier last year at the Toronto Film Fest. Reichardt is a filmmaker that doesn’t adhere to any conventions, in fact a film by the talented female writer-director has in a way become a convention in itself. If you’ve seen “Old Joy”, “Wendy And Lucy” or “Meek’s Cutoff” –two spectacular movie- you would know just how promising and exciting a filmmaker she is. In this new film she tackles eco-terrorism as three radical environmentalists, expertly played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard, concoct a plan to make a hydroelectric dam explode. Of course there repercussions and what follows after is in a way predictable, something Reichardt has never really been know for. “Night Moves” moves at the same slow, burningly real pace we’ve come to expect from her film’s especially in the film’s first half which is by far the strongest part of the film. The wait and execution of the bombing is tightly edited and constructed that you will likely be biting every single one of your fingernails in anguish. It is one of the most excitingly constructed sequences I have seen this year and more than makes up for the lackluster second half which pits our protagonists in agonizing self-conflict and betrayal. The film is minor Reichardt but nevertheless a Reichardt through and through.
Another film that is finally getting its due release is Nadav Lapid’s Israeli film “Policeman” which I saw close to 3 years ago to this day at a film fest. Here’s a film unafraid of tackling tough, deeply difficult issues that are at the core of modern-day Israeli society. It knocked me out for a loop. The film tells of two stories. The first half has to do with Yaron, a hard working Israeli Police Officer with a pregnant wife and a sense of unequivocal fraternity amongst his unit. The second half of the movie is more political - a group of five young Left wing radicals decide to start a revolution to protest the vast difference between Israel's Rich and Poor societies –a very relevant topic today even if the film got made more than 4 years ago. These radicals want to create a new order in a country they see decimated by poverty. Both stories come together and converge into a thoughtfully carried out finale that consequentially ups the tension a notch. Lapid's film is one like no other. He shoots it with a bracing poet's eye, choosing the right shots and experimenting with a uniquely sketched out style. Here's a small budget movie made into a grandiose cinematic statement, I wouldn't be surprised if more people hear about it in the months to come and I do know quite a few critics are starting to back this one up including Lisa Schwarzbaum, Todd Mccarthy and Manhola Dargis.
Seek it out. “Cheap Thrills” is a film that got a VOD release as well as a minimally scattered theatrical release. That’s a real shame because it really is one hell of a ride and the only reason why I even caught up to it was because the film is starting to get its fair share of a following over at IndieWire. The story follows Craig (Pat Healy, in an extremely demanding role) a man down on his luck and in need of immediate cash to pay up for rent and support his family. He hits the local bar on the way home from work and sees an old high school buddy (Ethan Embry, doing the whole asshole douchebag thing as perfectly and humanly possible) and the two meet up with a strange couple that wants to have a drink with them (David Koechner and Sara Paxton, who are both the highlight of this sick twisted movie.} The four then have what one can only describe a truly horrific night film filled with truth or dares and money grabs. 33 year old writer-director E.L Katz has made a movie that a younger Michael Haneke would be super proud of. The shock factor here is quite high and to talk let alone even hint at the plot would be to ruin some of the most surprising aspects of this twistedly deranged film. What Katz is trying to show us is how far two desperate human beings would go for money. It is an indictment of our society and what the definition of happiness actually means. Some will blame Katz for going for shocks way too many times in his movie but I couldn’t have liked that decision better myself. I dare you to try and get his movie out of your head, it’ll be impossible to shake it off.
Monday, May 26, 2014
“Blue Ruin” is very much a “crime” film that infuses a boatload of originality to reinvent that aforementioned genre. He properly structures his narrative to get us intrigued from the very first shot. This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s so intriguing, wholly original and so fascinating to watch that you automatically forgive any of its shortcomings. The story involves a beach bum – an astonishing Macon Blair - who finds out his parents’ murderer is getting out of jail after a 20 year stint. He hops on a stolen car and travels back to his hometown of Virginia with revenge on his mind. The story is of course more complicated than that, but I won’t say more. There are many surprises that come about, and Saulnier would rather you don’t know about them before entering his mystery filled structure.
Saulnier obviously owes much to the early crime works of Tarantino and the Coen brothers, especially “Blood Simple” which this film has clearly been much inspired by. As I mentioned to a colleague after the screening, there are far worse films to rip off than that Coen classic. I wouldn’t even go as far as saying it’s a rip-off, as it’s more a reinvention of a genre that was decidedly changed by the Coens in the mid 80’s and early 90’s. Saulnier is obviously a talent to watch and the great news is “Blue Ruin” is currently available on VOD so seek it out.
Another film available on VOD is David Gordon Green's "Joe" starring Nicolas Cage. This one is from a reputable director that has had weird ups and downs throughout his career. I wasn't the biggest fan of Green's stoner comedy phase in Hollywood when he churned out the god-awful "Your Highness", "The Sitter" and the - at least - watchable "Pineapple Express". Now it seems like he's slowly getting back to his roots, which started in 2000 with "George Washington", a stunner of a film that the late Roger Ebert backed up from Day 1. Ebert was a big Gordon Green fan and comparisons to Terrence Malick weren't far off at all. "All The Real Girls", "Snow Angels", "Undertow" and last year's "Prince Avalanche" were all a slice of Americana that were at the same time very meditative and naturalistic in their approaches.
Another talent that has strayed on the wrong path lately has been Nicolas Cage, who seems to sign up for roles that not only don't demand much, but also veer towards stupidity. It has of course diminished his reputation as a solid actor, let us not forget his brave and exciting performances in "Adaptation", "Leaving Las Vegas", "Raising Arizona", "Wild At Heart" and "Red Rock West" just to name a few. In "Joe", Cage also goes back to his roots giving us his best performance in a very long time as an ex-con that runs a tree-poisoning business in the rural south and befriends a teenage boy that gets abused daily by his drunkard of a father (Gary Coulter).
Add both of these underappreciated talents together and you might get something special, which in a way "Joe" is. It's a film that - like "Blue Ruin" - gives indie cinema back its good name. Yet, I've forgotten to mention the best part about the film: Gary Coulter. As the aforementioned abusive dad, Coulter, who sadly passed away last year, is so damn good that I've heard some people mention a possible posthumous Oscar nod, which is stretching it considering how small of a film this is and how early in the year it got released. Coulter, a non-actor, was homeless when Green decided to cast him in the role of Wade, which only adds to his haunting portrayal of a man so brutal and evil that you flinch every time he's on screen.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
It has been a while since I've done an Image of the day so I figured I'd post one that is really deserving of a second -or a third-look. Josh Cooley, a famous pixar animator decided to create a few amazing stills of how some famous, R-Rated movies would look like if they were "Pixar-ed". It's terrific stuff and I'm sure you'll appreciate the artistry and Pixar-ness on display. Here are some of my favorites.
Friday, May 2, 2014
1. The Conjuring An instant horror classic. I had the liberty to catch the premiere here at fantasia film festival and I left the theatre with a overpowering ad overwhelming sense of uneasiness and foreboding. Lily Tomlin is phenomenal and its so fun and frightening to see her go mad. James Wan has made his horror masterpiece.
2. 12 years a slave Steve McQueen is killing it. Obviously a lot of hype around this best picture Oscar winner. Just a superbly executed story that needed to be told. Fantastic use of sound on the score. (take notice during the boat scene).
3. The Spectacular Now I love movies about troubled youths. This film is one of the best in years. It is spot on with the emotional depth of the characters. The two leads are fantastic, great chemistry. More very solid independent cinema.
4. American Hustle David O. Russell has made his New York City/New Jersey crime classic. Although it does owe at least a nod and some stylistic elements to Martin Scorcese, it stands on its own as a classic NYC crime film. Christian Bale is captivating and he really nailed the voice of a New Yorker named Irving.
5. Nebraska Alexander Payne's latest is a black and white majestic wide angle view of the midwest. This film has all the usual existential angst and dark humor of payne, (pun intended). I am a big Bruce Dern fan but the entire cast is excellent. The mother character steals the show, I laughed out loud at literally everything she says.
6. Renoir Normally I am not huge on biopics but this film is not only gorgeous but captures french rural life during WW1 superbly. The story deals with Pierre-Auguste Renoir the master painter in his golden years and his son Jean, the master filmmaker who returns home as a wounded soldier. Must see for any art or film buffs.
7. Inside Llewyn Davis A minor work in The Coen's oeuvre but minor work from geniuses is still genius. Great live musical performances from Oscar Issac who acts in the lead as a struggling folk singer in greenwich village during the 1960's. Even if you don't like folk music you will enjoy the soundtrack. T-Bone Burnett never disappoints (just think O Brother Where Art Thou.)
Honorable mentions: Wrong Cops, Her, The Way Way Back.
8. Blue jasmine Woody Allen's latest drama film shot in san Francisco. Cate Blanchett (who nabbed the oscar) and Sally Hawkins are great as usual. Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K are both surprisingly effective in non comedic roles. Great acting and great script, Woody' still got it.
9. This is the End Just when I was getting really sick of all those dudes. They nailed it. I love how the first thing they do is go to Carls Jr though full disclosure; I am partial to In and Out burger(Animal style!). Danny McBride is hilarious as a cannibal pimp. Definitely my favorite ending to a film this year.
10. Don Jon Impressive directorial debut film from Joseph Gordon Levitt. Internet porn addiciton...we've all been there, oh wait wrong blog. Basically you can't go wrong with Tony Danza as a lower middle class New Jersey dad, classic! Very solid independent cinema
By Jesse Konter
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
A few weeks back I wrote a Summer Movie Preview in which I tried to pin down the studio films that looked the most promising this summer. That piece was met with mixed approval – some thought I should have included more big name blockbusters. It was indeed a mistake to leave out the new “Godzilla”, which finally gives Bryan Cranston a long overdue leading role in movies and looks like it could erase the bitter aftertaste of that god awful 1998 films starring Matthew Broderick. What were they thinking? Also “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” could either kick ass or put out a real stink bomb. Given that director Bryan Singer is back and he made the best X-Men film to date (X2) I have high hopes for this new one. Otherwise, I do stand by everything else that I selected. I have seen “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″ and it is in fact not very good. Also does anyone actually expect anything good to come from “Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “The Expendables 3″ and “Hercules”? I doubt it.
I’ve written a follow up to that first article but this time focusing on independent and foreign fare coming out in these dog days summer. I have seen a big chunk of these, whether at film festivals or advanced press screenings, while other promising fare I have yet to catch up with.
“The Double” (May 9th).
Jesse Eisenberg goes insane when a doppelganger of his appears at his work. Directed by Richard Ayaode (Submarine), “The Double” is a dark comedy that, despite fizzling out at its end, has shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” throughout its running time. Ayaode’s depiction of a future society is both bleak and humorous and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. A dark comedy served black.
“Neighbours” (May 9th).
This indie and Hollywood partnered comedy is as good as the advanced buzz makes it out to be. Why? Well not only because it is one of the most outrageously hilarious things I’ve seen in quite a while, but also because of the way director Nicholas Stoller shapes his characters as not just merely stereotypes, but – shock – actual fleshed out human beings, which you rarely see in these sort of comedies these days. This has the potential to become a huge summer hit à la “The Hangover” or “The Wedding Crashers”.
“The Immigrant” (May 16th).
I loved James Gray’s “Two Lovers” which featured Gwyneth Paltrow’s last truly great performance and an always incredibly tense Joaquin Phoenix. In “The Immigrant”, Gray teams up with Phoenix once again, but this time with mixed results. The pacing is at times awkward and the story never really sets off. It is a shapeless and unsatisfying film, but has lots of passion and exquisite performances. I wouldn’t count Gray out just yet, he still has lots of talent and in the smaller moments of this film he really just takes your breath away.
“Tracks” (May 23rd).
The biggest applause I saw any movie get at the Toronto Film Festival wasn’t for “12 Years A Slave” or “Gravity”, but actually for John Curran’s “Tracks”, which is based on true events. In 1975, Robyn Davidson set out on a 1700 mile journey through the Australian outback with 3 camels and her faithful dog. Mia Wasikowska plays Davidson and she’s great. So is Adam Driver as the pushy photographer that follows her through this journey. This is a very by the books account of the story, but it gets the job done.
“Night Moves” (May 30th).
A much anticipated film for cinematic enthusiasts would be Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, a film about eco-terrorism that strips down the genre conventions and ends up giving us the bare bones of its topic. I deeply admired Reichardt’s past films (“Wendy and Lucy”, “Meek’s Cutoff”), but this one works because it moves along at a faster pace than the aforementioned. There are tense, gripping moments in “Night Moves”, and its performances – notably those of Jesse Eisenberg and Peter Sarsgaard – contribute to the film moving along admirably well.
“All Is by My Side” (June TBA).
Directed by John Ridley, “All Is by My Side” or, as people here tend to call it “The Jimi Hendrix Bio-Pic”, is a flawed mess of a movie that features a great performance by Outkast’s Andre Benjamin as Hendrix. I wouldn’t call this a Bio-Pic since it only covers a year in the life of Hendrix, but an important year nonetheless: 1966. That’s when Hendrix moved to London and found fame. However, there isn’t enough material in this one year to justify such a long, stretchy film. The bright spot is Benjamin, who’s phenomenal as Hendrix and sometimes makes you forget that it’s actually an actor playing the legendary guitarist. Will he get an Oscar nomination or any critics awards for this? Probably not, but he does prove he’s a fabulous actor.
“Snowpiercer” (June 27th)
Director Joon-Ho Bong became a household name in the indie circuits after making 2009′s great “Mother”. As the director of Snowpiercer, it’s his first foray in English language film. Harvey Weinstein fought an infamously long and hard battle with the director about the final cut of the film. Bong wanted a 2 and half hour cut, whereas Weinstein wanted it closer to 2 hours. They finally settled for the longer cut, but with the film getting weaker distribution in the U.S – They were both wrong. The film is indeed half an hour too long, but highly ambitious and fascinating, especially in its first 100 or so minutes, which are just really hard to describe. I won’t ruin anything but here’s a movie set in an apocalyptic future that will likely garner a cult following in the years to come.
“Life Itself” (July 4th).
Also known as “The Roger Ebert documentary”. I’ve read good press about it since its successful bow at Sundance earlier this year. Most critics have praised it as a very emotional journey and what I do know about the film is how unprecedented it is in its depiction of the final days of Roger’s life. Cameras were there in the final weeks with the approval of Ebert. Director Steve James is just the man to direct it, Ebert discovered -and was the first critic to back up- his landmark “Hoop Dreams” at Sundance exactly 20 years ago.
“Magic in the Moonlight” (July 25th).
The new Woody Allen movie. Given that the prolific director usually makes one film a year these days, you don’t always get a “Midnight in Paris”, “Blue Jasmine”, “Match Point” or a “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Sometimes you get a dud, like “Scoop” or “To Rome with Love”, which is why I’m not too sure what to expect with this new romantic comedy starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone and shot in the French Riviera.
“The Rover” (June 13th).
This looks amazing. Selected in Official Competition for this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “The Rover” is directed by David Michod, who made 2010′s intense Aussie drama “Animal Kingdom” which gave Jackie Weaver her first ever Oscar Nomination and was a surprising worldwide success. Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson star and, if the trailer is any indication, we’re in for something very special here.
“Begin Again” (July 4th).
When “Begin Again” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year it began the biggest bidding war of any movie at the festival. Harvey Weinstein eventually got the last word and bought out everyone, and for good reason. “Begin Again” is a sweet and caring musical comedy that will be a big audience pleaser when it comes out this July. Directed by John Carney, who made “Once”, this is a movie that might not have the simple acoustic magic of “Once”, but is so consummately made that you forget all about its feel-good predictable trappings. With Harvey backing this one up, who knows maybe Oscar will call?
“A Most Wanted Man” (July 25th).
The last Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. It could be a memorable one too. Add in Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams and you might have something interesting going for your movie. The screenplay is based on a John Le Caree novel about a Muslim that gets caught up in the international war on. The director is Anton Cobijn (“Control”,” The American”) a true original if there ever was one
Monday, April 21, 2014
FrozenWith its combination of great music and amazing animation it showed the importance of family and taught us all valuable life lessons we should never forget, like don’t marry a guy you just met.
For its balsy humour and true depiction of Quebec culture.
Director Richard Linklater's movie wasn’t afraid to “go there” as it depicted the true nature of the difficulties and differences in relationships, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Dallas Buyers Club
Director Jean Marc Vallee showed us the real struggles of people who are diagnosed with AIDS and depicted troubles that can apply to anyone who is diagnosed with an incurable disease.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour
Although slightly too graphic at times, director Abdel Kechiche showed the high and ultimate heartbreak that comes with losing a love and how hard it is to get over your first love.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
This is the third year I’ve been doing the Sumer Movie Preview for Awardsdaily and it seems like every year the quality only diminishes. Think about it, most of the big name blockbusters that will rake up all the money in the world this summer are either based on a TV show, a superhero movie or a sequel to a movie that never really needed a sequel. So yes, this list does have a few of those and I’m willing to believe they will be good films, but while researching this list I was really trying hard to find stuff that will come under the radar and really aim for more than just cheap thrills. I found eight movies that peaked my interest.
22 Jump Street (June 13th)
I loved 21 Jump Street. That was just one of the funniest theatrical experiences I’ve had in quite some time. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are really on a roll. They both made that incredible, well reviewed “Lego Movie” which came out earlier this year and now they’re back with this sequel to their 2012 hit. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill – also on a roll these days – are back and ready to attack with this one and I personally cannot wait. The chemistry they had in the first one was really fun and loose and come on, this list doesn’t have to include just serious, Oscar bait material.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 13th)
Let’s continue with the fun stuff. This can actually be a major contender for Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars (especially since there is no Pixar film coming out in 2014). The original film was really good and probably the best use of 3D in an animated movie that I’ve ever seen. It was also a great idea bringing back director Dean DeBois, he really did a fine job with the original.
Jersey Boys (June 20th)
I’m really curious to see what Clint Eastwood is going to do with the beloved Broadway play of the same name. He’s a great filmmaker that has slightly stalled of late with “J.Edgar, “Hereafter” and “Invictus”, not living up to the standards he set when he was on fire early on last decade with “Mystic River”, “Million Dollar Baby”, “Letters From Iwo Jima” and “Gran Torino”. I think he still has a few great movies left in his tank, but is this one of them? I’m not sure. I do believe this is Mr. Eastwood’s first crack at directing a musical so we can’t blame him for not taking risks.
Boyhood (July 11th)
This is probably the movie I’m most looking forward to. I don’t know many people who don’t like Richard Linklater. His vast, ambitious filmography really just speaks for itself. After he triumphed with “Before Midnight”, he brings us an even more ambitious film called “Boyhood”, which was filmed in a 12 year span. The story follows a boy’s life from the ages of 5-18. The cast includes Linklater regular,and fellow Texan, Ethan Hawke and, one of my favorites, Patricia Arquette. If the reviews from Sundance and Berlin are any indication, Linklater has just made another great movie.
Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes (July 11th)
2011’s “Rise of The Planet of the Apes” was such a surprising gem. Not only was it a really well made Hollywood blockbuster, but it left us wanting more. We will be getting more on July 11th, albeit with a different director at the helm as the original film’s Ruper Wyatt stepped down and in came Matt Reeves (“Let Me In”, “Cloverfield”) who will have the hard task of one upping Wyatt’s fantastic film. In this new film, the evolved apes will be battling human survivors in a battle of earth’s species.
Get On Up (August 1st)
Given all the time and legal problems it took to finally get a James Brown bio-pic in the works, I was sceptical we’d ever get one. Well folks, we’re getting. It’s about time too since James Brown had one hell of a wild life – one that could easily translate cinematically. The director here is Tate Taylor and he made “The Help”, so all the Oscar cards are set for this one, even though I wasn’t a big fan of that film. We’re probably going to get something à la “Ray” or “Walk The Line”, very by the books but probably very well made. If early buzz and the trailer are any indication, Chadwick Boseman’s performance of James Brown could be worthy of a statuette.
The Giver (August 15th)
Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges do Science Fiction? Yea, you heard it right. This has the potential to be really good. Not many people are talking about it. Add in vastly underrated filmmaker Philip Noyce (“Rabbit-Proof Fence”, “The Quiet American”) and the potential is truly there. This is based on the award-winning novel by Lois Lowry about a futuristic utopian society that gradually appears to be more and more dystopian.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (August 22nd)
“Sin City” came out in 2005, got critically acclaimed, built a loyal cult following, was a surprising box office success and – in my eyes – was the best film Robert Rodriguez ever made. Since then, plenty of imitators have tried to copy the film but they all failed (yes, I’m even counting “300”), most of them were based on Frank Miller novels. For almost 9 years now there’s been talk of a sequel but it just never materialized. So finally now we get our sequel and,judging by the trailer, it looks as visually sumptuous as the first one. Rodriguez is back in the director’s chair, so we’ll hopefully be getting a good shot of that dark pulp film noir that made the first movie so good.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
This is part of our 2013 "Year In Review" series, where our contributors get to share their favorite movies of the past year. Today Stanislav is checking in to give us his picks.
1. The Act of Killing
Definitely the best movie of the year and of the last several years, in fact. The movie that has possibly made me think more than any other one. It is not an easy watching experience, but an extremely enriching one. Halfway through I was wondering why I did not quit, but I am grateful I stuck to it. The plot is revolutionary in itself, a concept Kiarostami only dreams of. It is about a bunch of gangsters (or as they call themselves “free-men”) re-creating the killings against the “communists” in 1965-66 after the military coup in Indonesia. These killings (which were partially ethnic cleansing of the Chinese) took the lives of possibly several million people. The killers in this movie boast of having killed at least a thousand. They are given free rein to stage the torture sessions and murders as if they were in their favourite movies, be they westerns, gangster movies, etc. All through the movie, I was hoping for it to be some kind of satire, for it not to be real, but I knew all along that it was. The horror of this movie is not that it shows us a dark part of humanity’s history removed from us in time and space. What scared me so is that it allows us a glimpse – and a very personal one at that – into what it is like to be a person killing others for ideological reasons (or often for no reason at all) without questioning himself. Because it is clear that these people did not question, not until this movie at least. It explains so much of the horror committed in our world. But the movie goes further than this. It not only shows us, but staging these scenes allows the “actors” to see themselves, if only a little. It does more than I could imagine art doing as a meta-tool for self-reflexivity. Hegel’s remark that evil can also reside in the very gaze that perceives the world around it as permeated by evil comes to mind, and on so many levels. What is evil? What role does the gaze play in it? Only one thing remains clear to me: we all need to ask ourselves these questions. Everything else in my world-view was turned upside down by this film. Required viewing for everyone. Should be made mandatory in high school in my opinion.
The reason it is difficult to make science-fiction movies today is that they can no longer follow the structure of the old science-fiction flicks. And it is also why the few that succeed are very original. Her is a love-story between a man and his operating system. It is first and foremost a wonderfully acted, shot and edited emotional romantic movie. While discussions of technology’s effects on our ability to socialize are all the rage, this movie does not get bogged down in simplistic for or against arguments. It seems to not judge at all. It simply documents life as it… Not as it will be, but – really – as it is already. The slight exaggeration of a clearly delineated artificially intelligent ‘entity’ falling in love provides us with the ability to look into an interpersonal relationship as if from outside of a conventional relationship. But just as in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – where through the eyes of a biologically human being raised on Mars we are allowed to observe human civilization – the main character is ultimately human, the relationship we see in Her is ultimately an interpersonal relationship in general, because we can no longer easily tell where the biological ends and the technological begins. Thus, granted the viewer accepts the premise, which I had no trouble doing, the rest of it is a very realistic depiction of life after the zero-point of radical transmutation of humans’ perception of the world around them as well as of their interactions – an apocalypse if such a word may be used, an apocalypse we are living at this moment. Without giving anything away, let me just say that it appears to me that Jonze wanted to use the operating systems in his film to show us where we can go, what abilities humans have.
3. The Great Beauty
The Great Beauty is a 21st century version of Wild Strawberries, but without being Bergman-esque in any way. It is about a man getting on in years who has the opportunity not many get to look back at his life and reflect. And like Dr. Isak Borg, our main character seems to regret the life he has lived and is continuing to live. Yet, the movie is definitely a comedy. It laughs at itself, laughs at its characters, laughs at its style. It is the ultimate art-house movie, but goes beyond this even and criticizes art-house. The director did a wonderful job, the dialogue cannot be improved upon, but what touched me most was the reflection upon the pursuit of beauty. The main character, who Servillo does a wonderfully funny job playing, is under the impression that he failed in this life-long pursuit of the great beauty, and although it is a shame he is not conscious of it, I believe that he is wrong.
4. Blue Is The Warmest Color
This one needs no introduction as it has taken countless prizes including the Palme d’Or. It is a simple and very well-told story of love and its decay. I think it could have been a little shorter than the three hours it runs, but pinpointing what could have been cut is very difficult, as each scene, especially the mundane ones, allow one to feel as if present alongside the characters. I did not especially identify with either of the characters, but I certainly felt what they were feeling. This was also due to Exarchopoulos’ sublimely engrossing acting. She certainly has an illustrious career ahead of her. Moreover, she was a great choice for Kechiche’s exploration of female sensuality (the shower scene among many is a visual masterpiece). While the sex scenes seemed a little over the top, I must remember here that I am a prude, and ultimately, I would not have changed them, because they are unique in cinema’s depiction of sex (be it same-sex or not). Finally, I am a sucker for powerful endings, and this one was both powerful and restrained at once, the restraint only serving to enhance the potency.
5. The Past
Expectations were set very high for Farhadi’s new feature after A Separation. The Past does not deviate far from what we have grown accustomed to from him. No other director can make such a gripping mystery out of a family drama. This one is about what awaits an Iranian man when he comes back to France to sign the divorce papers after having not seen his ex or her children in years. However, it is not so much about him. The characters all take a back seat to the intertwined connections between them. It reflects wonderfully (for lack of a better word) a love that is simultaneous with frustration. A perfectly told story that pays careful attention to the details, such as moving supporting child acting, sets (and weather) that reflect the characters’ states of mind, and just-under-the-surface contemporary political undertones.
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers did something slightly different this time in my opinion. Like some of their best, a first viewing leaves you satisfied and not much more, but then with time you find yourself often thinking about the movie and anticipating a re-watch. This was a musical/comedy where a folk singer in early 60s New York shows us the inseparability of (mis)fortune and the choices we make. Llewyn’s bad luck does not surprise us once we get to know him a little, but the choices he makes steering him away from even a possibility of happiness do. For its duration, the film teeters on the edge of hope and despair. When Llewyn picks up his guitar and sings, our hopes are renewed, but we are quickly reminded that despair suits him better. The musical scenes are powerful. Oscar Isaac is a great singer. The cast is delightfully quirky (Goodman, Phillips, Driver and the rest all do wonderful jobs of portraying weirdoes). Inside Llewyn Davis just might not be fully appreciated until a couple of decades down the line.
7. Blue Jasmine
Another black comedy about exasperatingly down on their luck Americans. This one by Woody Allen. His other recent efforts have disappointed me considerably, but he has redeemed himself yet again with Blue Jasmine, the story of an East Coast socialite snob (Cate Blanchett) who – after her exceedingly rich husband (Alec Baldwin) is caught, sent to jail for his fraudulent financial activity and commits suicide while inside – goes west to stay with her floozy trusting hippy-esque sister appropriately named Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Jasmine has always disapproved of Ginger’s lifestyle, and continues to do so, even though the ground she thought was beneath her own feet is now obviously inexistent. Blue Jasmine is a portrayal of the sad consequences of people deluding themselves with notions of security and self-importance, and a very serious Cate Blanchett delivers a convincing performance embodying that delusion.
8. Frances Ha
Frances (delightfully played by Greta Gerwig) is in some respects the modern female version of Llewyn Davis, although as cheery as he is gloomy. She also differs from Llewyn in that she does not have one anchor in her life (Llewyn’s music). She has no anchors, in fact. Frances represents so many young (but no longer so young) people I know today, the ones that believe they are younger than they actually are or younger than the world sees them. She is someone that probably never had a responsible adult ever take her by the hand and show her the ropes, and it is most likely almost too late for that now. What is beautiful about Frances is that despite her naivety (or perhaps rather because of it), she is exceedingly charming and upbeat. This charm does her no good, but it warms the audience’s heart. Frances Ha reminds us of two young Americans to watch: the very original director Baumbach and the enchanting actress Greta Gerwig.
After Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols showcases his diversity by delivering another complex Americana in Mud. It is about two young boys from poor Southern families who search for love and the truth and think they have found someone who will guide them in that search in Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey), a man who is hiding in the woods, seemingly from the whole world. As the film unfolds, and we learn a little about Mud, it turns out that he may actually not be the best guide for the boys, but they take their lessons as they can. Contrasted with the “wisdom” Mud tries to emulate is the wisdom of another character central to the film and its mood: the river around which all of the action takes place. The river connects everyone and everything and yet also seems to be of another world. In Mud, Jeff Nichols has succeeded in telling another great story filled with symbolism.10. Stranger by the Lake
The Certain Regard directing award in Cannes went to this movie, which is usually a sign of something innovative. I failed to do my research before going to the theatre for this one, so let me warn you. There is lots of very graphic man-on-man sex, but as long as it is not a total surprise for you, the sex scenes actually add to a certain raw suspensefulness. Just do not watch it with any squeamish homophobes. The plot is very simple. It is about Franck, a young man looking for love, who finds lust on a summer beach in Michel, a man he witnesses drowning his lover. It would not be completely true to say that fear was the turn-on, and yet, Franck (played by Pierre Deladonchamps, who won the Cesar for most promising actor) continues to see Michel. At 97 minutes, it is a short movie that nevertheless feels like it takes its time to unfold, and I, for one, went from being slightly bored to being on the edge of my seat scared as hell. The last several minutes I must have been holding my breath too, because I distinctly remember breathing out as the credits started rolling. If you are looking for an uncomplicated thriller, and are not afraid of gay pornography, see it.
Sunday, April 6, 2014
You've really got to hand it to Lars Von Trier, every time one of his movies come out a sudden, intense, stifling conversation happens with all cinephiles. There's those who revile his work and find it pretentious, mean-spirited, gruesome and then there's those like myself who find his made to shock-frustrate-ponder style to be absolutely brilliant when it does hit the spot. Von Trier isn't perfect, he's made his fair share of duds but the core of his filmography (Breaking The Waves, Dancer In The Dark and Melancholia) is the stuff that dreams are made of. In fact, Von Trier is at his best when he makes us suspend our disbelief and dreams big things. The grotesquely dark song and dance numbers in "Dancer In The Dark" or the end of the world planet collision in "Melancholia" vividly come to mind. Here's a filmmaker that wants us frustrated and hating on him, just because it turns him on.
With all that being said his latest is a 4 hour epic about Nymphomania, more specifically a Nymphomaniac played by the ever so reliably brilliant Charlotte Gainsbourg who's become a sort of muse for the director with this being her third straight collaboration with Von Trier. You really got to hand it to Gainsbourg, the positions -sometimes literally- Von Trier puts the female actresses in his movies would probably not be accepted by many. I mean after all, wasn't it Bjork that decided to retire from acting after having to endure a -now- legendary feud with the director. Bjork was even quoted as saying “He needs a female to provide his work soul. And he envies them and hates them for it. So he has to destroy them during the filming. And hide the evidence.” Those aren't rose colored words folks, but they might explain the way Von Trier operates. All of his films have dealt with a female leads put into the most harrowing and inhumane of situations.
'Nymphomaniac' is really no different. Split into two volumes, with the first one already out and the second one coming out on friday, the films are an absurd series of sexual vignettes that only promote the harsh, frustrating style we've come to know from Von Trier. Gainsbourg plays Joe, a self diagnosed nymphomaniac that in both volumes recounts the erotic experiences she's had the last three decades from troubled, horny teenager to disturbed, criminally minded adult. It's a heavy voyage that justly needed to get split into two. After the first chapter ended I was happy I didn't have to sit through another 2 hours of tormented sexuality, I however happily dove into the second chapter a few days later but came out feeling the same way. It is probably how Von Trier intended to make you feel, downright dirty and wanting to take a shower immediately.
I know there are quite a few film fests that have screened the -now infamous- 5 and a half hour cut Von Trier intended to release worldwide, to which I say thank the heavens we didn't get tortured into that one and some sane studio head decided to split the film in half. Of course, I know quite a few people that would have sat through the entire damn thing but did they really know what they were getting themselves into? Of course I'm acting like the two Volumes are disastrous, which they are not, it's just that I'd like some sort of justification to be made for such a film with such little subtlety to be this long. I guess the answer lies in the fact that we are dealing with a director that is as explosively unpredictable as the characters he writes for the screen.
Both volumes have brilliant moments, one of which comes courtesy of a 10 minute acting lesson from Uma Thurman herself - a scene typical of Von Trier in its distressing, brilliant uncomfortableness. Another very funny one involves Gainsbourg, frustratingly not able to orgasm anymore, deciding to pick up two African guys who don't know a word of english and having sex with them. There are many other flashes of brilliance from Von Trier throughout both volumes but one wishes that he could have maybe taken the best scenes from both volumes and made one good 2 hour movie out of it. The subject matter and story are just not worth the 4 hours of investment and the feeling of excess is very apparent throughout the running time.
Monday, March 31, 2014
Jonathan Glazer's "Under The Skin" comes out in a week. It will polarize people, anger them, frustrate them. Others will get blown away by its vision and call it brilliant and say there hasn't been anything like it. If that's your type of movie then by all means go ahead and watch the film, because it is my type of movie and ever since I saw it more than 6 months ago I couldn't get it out of my head. It did cause the most walkouts out of any movie I've ever seen, and that's saying a lot, but again aren't you intrigued? I do think Glazer does push it a bit too far at times, testing our patience, but most importantly we get rewarded with a picture that is visionary and extreme in its uniqueness.
Much press will be made about how naked Scarlett Johansson gets in this picture, so I will come out and lay it to rest and state that yes she does get naked and yes it is needed for the kind of story that is being told here. One about seduction, humanity, extra terrestrial life etc. Have I lost you yet? I hope not. Johansson is an alien sent to earth to seduce as many men as possible into her car and then kill them. The repetitiveness of the film's narrative might have turned off many but i had a blast watching Glazer's film. Its originality and absurdity is what I liked the most about it and of course Johansson who is just perfect for the part. She's had a real comeback of sorts lately with this and her voice work in "Her", indie queen in the making perhaps? maybe that's pushing it a bit too far but I like what she's been doing with her career of late and I do hope it continues the way I think it will.
What Glazer has accomplished here is quite remarkable and shouldn't be forgotten. He's made a picture that defies all cinematic conventions and has reinvented a new kind of language. He showed real promise with his first film "Sexy Beast" back in 2000, a cerebral and intense film that paved the way for Ben Kingsley's best performance. He followed it up with "Birth" which was kind of all over the place and not as successful as I wanted it to be and now he's really surprised me with this one, an out of left field vision that will really put many people off guard. I don't know if I've actually managed to convince you to see this film and I didn't really want to reveal too many details because a) there isn't so much to reveal plot-wise and b) whatever that needs to be revealed shouldn't really be revealed if you want to fully experience this film for what it is. After reading what I have to say about "Under The Skin" I think you'll figure out if this picture is for you or not.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" comes out with a storm of expectations. The 9pm showing I went to on the weekend was packed with 800 people waiting to see what his next quirky vision would be like. Suffice to say he didn't disappoint the least bit with this new one. It's not just the distinctive visual and narrative style that makes this an incredible achievement, it's also the fact that he has infused his obsessive dollhouse-like world with real heart and passion for character. Moreso than usual, something I haven't seen from a Wes Anderson film since quite possibly "The Royal Tenenbaums" back in 2001. It helps that the film is anchored by a remarkable Ralph Fiennes performance -maybe the best of his career?- a theatric yet compassionate performance that is filled with depth and persuasiveness. To mention Fiennes as a Best Actor contender this early in the game would be foolish and understandably irresponsible but he is so good in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that it would be a real shame if he gets forgotten amidst the October-December awards shuffle of contenders.
It's not just Fiennes, the entire cast is uniformly good, as expected with any Anderson film, he even finds the time to sneak in long time collaborator Bill Murray for 10 minutes. It's just that kind of movie, one where anything goes and the fun comes in watching the director perform a balancing act with his odd narrative structure. And what a balancing act it truly is. In fact, in this and every other picture of his the story itself is only secondary to its execution. Anderson juggles three different timelines and eras and plays around with the assortment of characters he has created in his little dollhouse. From the fake sets to the lightning quick camera angles, to the OCD-like attention to detail, his movies are not for everyone but those willing to give Anderson a chance might get rewarded.
What I like best about Anderson's films is how they get better with each subsequent viewing. This one is no exception, the attention to detail and the uniqueness of it all will most likely make secondary viewing as essential as any of his previous films, particularly "The Fantastic Mr Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom" which at first seemed distant but slowly revealed themselves as fantastic art by looking closer. Which is why having a final opinion on "The Grand Budapest Hotel" after one viewing is just not fair to its creators and to the film itself. There is a lot to digest upon first viewing and I find that with Anderson, moreso than any other director working today, watching his films a second time plays an essential and integral part in understanding his language and body of work. What I do know is that this is probably the first great movie of 2014 - anything else of high quality come out?