June 30, 2013

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Dmitry Vasyukov & Werner Herzog, 2010

A beautiful film that examines a part of the world hardly explored. It's a magnetic film that really puts you in the middle of the remote Siberian village. It's a raw study of human survival and community in the harshest of climates. It's a village built on a patriarchal family structure, with the man of the house constantly having to go out into the vast forest to tap into his biologically-inherited hunter-gatherer abilities.

The inhabitants have a strict routine that they follow, mainly because their very survival depends on it. With the assistance of their loyal hunting dogs, they travel miles into the snow-covered Siberian landscape to set traps, clear traps, hunt game, and build tools and structures with the very trees that surround them. It's a very honest film, the protagonists don't sugar-coat anything about their life. They must kill animals for their food, and have no shame in doing so. At one point in the film one of the men even says that he feels more honest about killing his food - because he's the one with the blood on his hands. Although the town of 300 is completely removed from the world around them, they are very accommodating and appear to be very comfortable in front of the camera. They are true survivalists, most people wouldn't be able to endure the harsh winter climate or the isolation. They not only have to endure both, they have to endure long periods of both, for months on end. They build the cabins they sleep in, and craft the skis and canoes that they travel in. Herzog's narration adds a noticeable tone to the film, and you are THERE with the people of the Taiga. You are underwater when they drop their nets into the icy river, and you are with them as they traverse the narrow winter paths via snowmobile. It's a refreshing escape from the Western World, removed from technology. Removed from dependence of the superficial. Removed from the meaningless drama that finds its way into our daily lives. These people have REAL drama, like maybe not having a next meal. There are a lot of question marks for them when they wake up in the morning. Will there be anything waiting for them in their traps? Will one of their beloved dogs get attacked by bear? When they arrive at their outlying cabin in the forest, will it be intact? Every one of these variables can have a profound impact on their survival. It can certainly make parts of the American life feel trivial.

The film is VERY similar to the independently produced documentary "Heimo's Arctic Refuge" which is part of the "Far Out" series created by Vice. It follows a man named Heimo for a week while he participates in very similar activites around his secluded cabin in rural Alaska. That film can be streamed HERE


David Cronenberg, 1999

Allegra Geller is a video game designer who is very proud of the new incarnation of her virtual reality game titled "eXistenZ". While showing the game to a group of enthusiastic fans, a mysterious assassin interrupts the presentation. Searching for clues, she figures the only way to get to the bottom of who is after her is to go into her own game and see what she can find.

If The Fifth Element and The Matrix had a baby, it would be eXistenZ. This is a film that perhaps can only be created by Cronenberg. The film is very Cronenbergy; absurd visuals, bizarre stop motion animation similar to his oddball creations in Naked Lunch. At times the film has a very The Fly-like feel to it combined with a very cerebral and intricate story. While a film like History of Violence likely took Cronenberg out of his comfort zone, eXistenZ is a film right in his wheelhouse. It's satirizes humans obsession with technology, specifically with video games and the sense of escapism involved in playing them - but doesn't stop there.  Allegra (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is an enigmatic, yet accessible character. Because of the hours spent in seclusion developing her game, she lacks proper social skills and has an odd demeanor to her. When she pairs up with Ted Pikul (Jude Law) to search for the mysterious assassin (or assassins), it's really two opposites coming together. She is the quiet, awkward type and Pikul is the over-cautious extrovert. Jude Law, who is a quite consistent actor, was clearly still working on his American accent while working on this film (the process was quite humorous actually). Cronenberg does a great job of building up the anticipation of actually seeing the virtual world created by Allegra. When you do finally see it, it doesn't disappoint. You enter another dimension and you quickly indulge in the elaborate digital world constructed by Allegra. Just like a video game, the characters even have their A.I. limitations (ie. going off script to an in-game character may throw them off). The comprehensive story maintains it's pace all the way to the climax, and the ending is surprising yet very satisfying. This is a Cronenberg film that probably slipped through the cracks for a lot of people. It reminds me that he's probably one of the more under-rated directors out there. His unusual visual concepts can be compared to Lynch or Burton, and he doesn't just lean heavily on the visuals - with this film specifically he works off of a sophisticated screenplay that should leave viewers feeling satiated. Or at least the ones who like the weird, heady stuff.

June 29, 2013

Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea

Chris Metzler & Jeff Springer, 2004

The Salton Sea was a rapidly growing tourist destination. A accidentally created man-made oasis in the California desert, it looked as if it were going to be another Palm Springs. Unfortunately, the engineers didn't foresee the increased levels of salinity caused by agricultural runoff, or the varying water levels which would eventually flood the area. This would ultimately cause a fish die-off, which didn't exactly smell inviting. The vacationers stopped coming, and by the 1990's the only people who remain are nostalgic retirees and eccentric loners.

John Waters does a good job in narrating this quirky documentary. The archival footage of the Salton Sea really paints a vivid picture of an exciting vacation spot. The remaining residents are left with nothing other than distant memories of a thriving local economy, and all that remains are salt-encrusted abandoned buildings. The images of the corroded building skeletons feel apocalyptic. The current community, who look like people who got lost on their way to Burning Man, don't exactly give you the sense that your home would be safe unlocked. From the nudists to the urban dodgers who wanted to escape the L.A. gang-violence, the rough-talk and vulgarity doesn't appear to be a family-friendly environment. There is not one view of an educational establishment or grocery store. The unofficial mayor greets passer-bys by mooning them. There doesn't even seem to be a police presence. When you see building lots on sale for as low as $400, it seems as if they are just giving away land now, and even that price feels inflated. Unfortunately the innocent 1950's water-sports has given way to teenage keg-parties and opportunistic desert-thieves. The wet-paint on the motel sign has dried and decayed. All that remains is the scattered arrangement of RV's on the cracked desert landscape. Sonny Bono tried to save the area but his untimely-death only seemed to reinforce the Salton Sea's inevitable demise. Some optimism remains of the Salton Sea being restored, but I am not one of the believers.

June 24, 2013

Devil's Playground

Lucy Walker, 2002

When an Amish teenager reaches the age of 16, they are able to participate in a rite of passage tradition called "Rumspringa". Because the Amish faith believes that one must willingly decide to be baptized as an adult, they are never baptized as babies. Instead, when they turn 16, they are allowed to temporally vacate the Amish lifestyle and return when they are ready to be fully committed to their faith. Some teenagers leave for a month, for some it is years. Lucy Walker directs this documentary that films a group of teenagers indulging in the "English" freedoms in the middle of their Rumspringa.

Before discovering this film I had no knowledge whatsoever of this tradition. Being familiar with how conservative the Amish faith was, it seemed so surprising that they would approve of such a tradition that my own parents would have never condoned when I was 16.

Walker focuses on a small group of teenagers, all of whom participate in similar Rumspringa behavior.  They basically indulge in the same activities that most 16 year old's participate in. Keg parties, cigarettes, "English" clothing, music, dating, driving cars. They are raised in a very strict environment, and of course when they get old enough to spread their wings a bit, they are going to want to do so. It seems as if no matter how much you try to repress natural adolescent impulses, they are eventually going to manifest themselves in one way or another. It's healthy in a sense that the youth are able to express themselves, even if for a short period of time. I suppose it's a very effective tradition, because every person of the Amish faith I have ever met has been nothing short of friendly and welcoming. It also appears to be a very successful tradition - ninety percent of Amish teenagers eventually choose to be baptized. What makes me feel sympathetic is that they lay such a profound sense of guilt on themselves during their Rumspringa. They feel that because of their indulgences in what I personally feel is very normal developmental behavior, they will be punished for it in the afterlife. One of the subjects of the film, Faron Yoder, struggles with drugs and alcohol. He is reluctant to return to the Amish lifestyle, but has a noticeable sense of conscience and innocence to him. He is a heavy-hearted boy who may join the church at some point, but in the meantime he just wants to experience life OUTSIDE of his community.

Walker is effective at moderately examining the subjects of the documentary, but the film lacks organization. There seemed to be an over-emphasis on the methamphetamine use. Instead of focusing so much on the parties and the mind-altering aspects of Rumspringa, it would have been nice if she dove deeper into the mind-set of the teenager. There should have been more of a multi-perspective approach. It would have been interesting to interview a recent returnee to the Amish faith, rather than just focus on outsiders treating them as if they were escapees. The film is noticeably low-budget, looking as if it were all shot with a cheap camcorder. The scenic transition shots are devoid of color, bland... a blank landscape. The fields may be barren, but the lifestyle is not. It's a fascinating way of life, and I wish Walker would have done a more intensive examination of it.

June 23, 2013

World War Z

Marc Forster, 2013

In this adaptation of the popular Max Brook's novel, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is a former UN employee who has to renew his role to help stop an outbreak that is moving so quickly that the entire human race is quickly vanishing by the millions.

Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland) directs this story that is an interesting take on the zombie genre. It focuses more on the macro effect of a zombie outbreak than the micro. Instead of following a small group of survivors, you are witnessing a group of panicked high-ranking military officials strategize as large governments have fallen. Instead of a simple foot pursuit, you're seeing swarms of creatures piling on top of each other and hanging fearlessly from helicopters. They come very rodent-like in that sense, which ultimately feels more realistic. The zombies in the film are pretty terrifying (although they look more like the creatures in I am Legend than a George Romero creation). Rapid infection turns into seizures, which is followed by the sound of their bones breaking as their bodies make erratic twitches and jerking movements. The first ten minutes of the film are gripping as the outbreak hits Philadelphia while Gerry and his family are stuck in their car in the middle of a traffic jam.

The biggest flaw with the film is the fact that it has a PG-13 rating. It watered down the carnage, which one would come to expect in this age of The Walking Dead. When the camera pans away quickly to avoid the view of bloodshed, something just isn't there. That makes films like 28 Days Later stand out so much, that sense of realism. There is a certain requirement for gore that reinforces the barbaric nature of a zombie. Also, with that PG-13 rating you lose a certain sociological component. The unpredictable nature of not only the zombies but fellow humans. People aren't so willing to open their doors to strangers in the middle of the apocalypse. You find that the world is limited to three commodities: guns, gasoline and food. World War Z lacks that dystopian element. You don't get a sense of that darker side of humanity in this film. Instead, strangers open their doors and offer food and shelter. Generous and inspiring, yes... but not realistic. Part of what makes zombie films so interesting is not only the idea that you are fighting off these blood-hungry creatures - you are also fighting off your fellow man. At the end of the day, it's just not THAT type of zombie film and that's still okay. The action sequences are satisfying and Brad Pitt is effective in his role as Gerry. Pitt dedicated the film to his two sons, who are both zombie fanatics. I suppose there is room for both types of films in the genre, and World War Z still makes an impression with some original ideas and visual elements.

The rumors were running wild during the production of World War Z. The ending was re-shot which pushed back the initial release date (Q1 2013). The ending of the film leaves it open for a sequel, but ultimately does a good job of wrapping things up. It certainly seems to be well-received - people were actually applauding in the theater during the end credits.

June 22, 2013



Martin Scorcese, 1990

Scorcese's adaptation of the non-fiction book "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi. The story follows the rise of Henry Hill, from kid to adult, working for the Lucchese crime family.

Finding someone who has not seen Goodfellas would creative feelings of jealousy. I would want to immediately sit them down and play it for them. I would likely become hypnotized, like I usually am, and watch the entire film again. It's Scorcese's true masterpiece. His mafia symphony. His flawless gritty gangster epic. The single take scene with the camera panning through the restaurant. Ray Liotta breaking down the fourth wall. The resonating soundtrack that spans time, from The Moonglows to The Rolling Stones. The elevating strings of cigarette smoke, the bubbling meat gravy, the puffy lines of cocaine. After watching it for the tenth time, you still find little gems here and there that previously went unnoticed. Not only that, the surprise moments in the film that you've become to expect are still magnetic. Ray Liotta has never been better. Liotta, like James Gandolfini in his role as Tony Soprano, - provides such an impeccable performance that he is permanently type cast. The progression and deterioration of Henry Hill is so well detailed. The 146 minutes move so fast, you forget that you had to flip the DVD over to side B. I used to have dreams about this film. The number one rule for making a mob film is you have to create anti-heroes that have some kind of endearing quality that makes you invest in their character. Scorcese creates these characters that embed themselves into the fabric of your mind. The actors are so good in this film that they are cherry picked for future mob roles. The film currently sits at #15 on IMDb's Top 250 and is preserved in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress.

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

Lasse Hallstrom, 2009

Based on a true story, Parker Wilson (Richard Gere) discovers a stray dog at his local train station. Not wanting to surrender it to the pound, he decides to take it home. He soon discovers that the dog returns to the train station every day to await his return from the University where he teaches.

The Japanese story of Hachiko, the loyal Akita Inu, is told in Western form. It's a compelling story and a look at an everlasting emotional bond of dog and man. Richard Gere is reunited with Jason Alexander, who plays Carol the station manager. Although the film is quite formulaic, it doesn't need to run on much more than its rather basic story to extract the teardrops. Gere is effective as the forbearing father who can't think of the dog spending the night in the cold puppy pound. Ironically, Hachi sits through the cold winter months waiting for Parker to step off of the train cart. The connection between the two is both unique and inspiring. Hallstrom uses creative techniques such as shooting from Hachi's perspective, using vague colors to mimic canine vision. The emotional tone of the movie will solicit memories of Marley and Me. While somber at times, its a story worth being told.

June 19, 2013

Natural Selection

Robbie Pickering, 2011

Linda (Rachael Harris) discovers that her husband Abe (John Diehl), while he is hospitalized, has an illegitimate son living in Florida. She decides to track the son down and reunite him with his biological father.

Rachael Harris provides a multi-faceted, vulnerable performance in this indie dramedy. Eager to have children of her own after being married to the same man for 25 years with no luck, she gets to the point of desperation. When realizing that her husband's son is out there somewhere, she jumps head first into a pursuit to find him. Naive and optimistic, she assumes he will be a mirror image of her husband and is surprised to find he isn't. Her kindness is contagious, and her oblivious demeanor is convincing. Linda looks back on two decades of marriage with a sense of distrust. She looks forward to the potential relationship with her husband's son as an opportunity. It's a thorough examination of bible belt hypocrisy, secrets hidden in a long marriage, and societal facades. It has the sudden comedic moments reminiscent of the Coen Brothers work, but blends it well with genuine emotion and curiosity.

June 17, 2013

Castaway on the Moon

Hey-jun Lee, 2009

Kim has hit rock bottom. With accumulating debt and a recent breakup, he feels he has nothing to live for. He decides to end it all, and jumps off of a bridge into the Han River. He wakes up on the shores of an island, wet and confused. He's not even sure if he's alive, or in some form of an afterlife. 

Castaway on the Moon maintains more of an imaginative, dream-like tone than Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away (2000, Tom Hanks). Initially, you sit in doubt as to whether or not Kim is alive, dead, or in some alternate dimension where sits as a lone observer of the lively city in front of him. He's left with no resources other than what washes ashore on the island. He's left to his wits, which he admits actually makes him smarter. While he labors on the island to survive and keep himself busy, he doesn't realize that a bedroom-dwelling hermit is observing his activities via camera. He gives her a new-found passion, a curiosity for what's outside her bedroom door. She hides her face from an mysterious incident from years past. Her grocery list is sent via text to her mother who nervously places it outside her bedroom door. Each day passes, and the garbage bags pile up in her room. Kim needs to hit his rock bottom to see the beauty in life, and that beauty resides in the small things. He creates his own universe, far removed from credit card debt. Far removed from dead-end relationships. Far removed from courtesy callers. His duck-boat home feels welcoming. In the end its rewarding for everyone involved. 

June 16, 2013

[REC] 2

Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza, 2009

Balaguero and Plaza take you back to the same apartment building where the first film is set. A few SWAT team officers accompany a health minister into the building in an effort to find survivors. When they enter the building, they realize that they are not in the company of a health minister. He's a completely different type of minister, one who is very aware of what's inside the building and how to stop the infection from spreading.

[REC] 2 picks up immediately after the end of the first film, and does so seamlessly. The film immediately takes an interesting turn. It starts off as a Zombie found-footage film very much like the first, but soon morphs into this religious-possession-zombie hybrid. The viewer sees the film through the lenses of helmet cams and handhelds, and the unreliable cam-light guides the way through the narrow corridors of the building. The jittery shots add to the feeling of sudden panic. Shadow play, zombie babies, technical difficulties with the camera that lead to abrupt blackness create this spectrum of terror that easily rivals any horror classic. In fact, just the ceiling trembling from the pitter-patter of baby zombies crawling is enough to scare the hell out of anyone. The found footage element also puts you in the company of the officers as they reinforce the feeling of being trapped in this decaying apartment building. Balaguero and Plaza perform this camera trick a few times where there is a skipping to the video image, almost 3D like. The image freezes, skips a bit, all lined up with the audio track. It felt unique and only added to the tension already present in the scene. Of course sometimes its also what you DON'T see, and the filmmakers effectively let your imagination go to work on the unknown elements that are on the other side of the door, or lurking in the shadows. The film succeeds in its minimal story, effective pacing, and solid scares. [REC] 2 is an evolved, more multifarious version of the first film. But it never tries to separate or out-do itself from the first, and that's why it stays consistent.

Plot Hole? It's surprising how obedient the SWAT officers are to the minister. He continues to tell them they cannot leave the building until they complete the mission, but what is stopping them from just turning around and walking out? He doesn't appear to be in a position to reprimand them or threaten their careers. Besides, their careers would be the last thing they would be thinking about after enduring a night like this. I would imagine when they leave the building they would be job-hunting the next day.

June 15, 2013

Game of Thrones (Season 3)

David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, 2013

          There has been much bloodshed, and no end is in sight. Rumors of dragons continue to echo through the world. Many of the royal families have endured much loss and many of of them are struggling to find their way back to each other. The death of Ned Stark still lingers. While Daenerys slowly builds her army piece by piece, King Joffrey Baratheon becomes more consumed with his rule in King's Landing. Robb Stark seeks vengeance for his father's death, while Stannis Baratheon continues to plan his next move using darker methods. 
          Season 3 of Game of Thrones appears to have more gore and torturous violence than the previous seasons. The series is incomparable, and each episode could be on par with any feature film. The study on such a barbaric existence that it makes you question what your own life expectancy would be if you were there. The series continues to prove that it's another trophy on the shelf of HBO's achievements, with much company. Each episode has a $6M budget, and you can see it in the rich effects and detailed set design. Joffrey Baratheon is one of the most cruel and sociopathic characters ever put on the screen. Still laughing over the scene where Tyrion asks him "did you kill any puppies today?" You get a sense of the arch's that are bound to happen at some point in the distant future. Some of the scenes this season are haunting, and will certainly stick with you (especially one of the episodes in particular, which may be one of the most shocking of the series thus far). Intricate story and sophisticated character structure, distinguished imagery. It's certainly hard to find a flaw with this series, and it continues to maintain all of its qualities. It's gained much popularity - fortunately or unfortunately. I would imagine years from now my son (who doesn't exist yet) will be dating girls named Sansa and Cersei - and they won't be nearly as interesting as the characters on Game of Thrones.

June 10, 2013

The Horde

Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher, 2009

          In this French Zombie film, a small group of cops decide to raid a condemned apartment building where a group of gangsters are holding one of their own hostage. When they get into the building, they have to battle more than just gangsters.
          Okay, so there are a number of factors that go into making a zombie film nowadays and a lot of those details have a big impact on how effective the film will be. It's unarguably an over-saturated genre and there are certainly more losers than winners. One, how fast do they move? In this? Fast. Very reminiscent to the fast-moving zombies in 28 Days Later. Actually, they closely resemble those zombies than any other film in the genre. Two, are they actually scary? Yes. Very. Three, do the living know what they are dealing with, and do they attempt to fight them off in a manner that's original? Absolutely. Actually quite originally. What is appealing in this is their absolute inability to actually take them down. They have no idea why the dead are suddenly rising and why bullets seem to do nothing against them. Are there twists in the plot that will set this film apart from EVERY other zombie film? Eh, not really but that's okay. The world falling apart around them, how realistic is it? Because it focuses on the events unfolding in the building itself, the explosion-filled skies and the distant booms become more of a backdrop.
          The Horde succeeds in the sense that it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It know's exactly what it is and doesn't try to be anything else. It focuses on the style and not so much on the substance. The story itself doesn't carry a lot of weight, nor does it really need to. Sure, it adds an interesting dynamic in the sense that the humans don't even like each other let alone whats on the other side of the door. But the tension between them seems to dissipate to a point where it's not so evident. The "OH SHIT" scenes where they find themselves cornered, while predictable, are still suspenseful and are well-crafted. The scene with Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins) standing on top of the car was beautifully orchestrated and well-shot. The film is very similar to The Raid Redemption except it's taking a converse trajectory. These people are trying to make their way DOWN the steps to the first level to get out of the building, not even focusing on what they are actually going to have to confront when they get out of the condemned building. One of the most thought-provoking concepts with the zombie genre are the constant moral dilemmas. There's also the common questions that go through your head while watching. You're likely going to gravitate to a specific character during the film. Is he/she going to make it to the end? And even if they do, what kind of world are they going to be living in? Do they even want to be living in it? Life seems awfully cheap when you see people around you falling rapidly and your very existence hinges on you simply not tripping over your own feet.

Iron Man 3

Shane Black, 2013

A more reflective film than the former two, Iron Man 3 follows Tony Stark as he is confronted with enemies new AND old. Not only is he confronted with dealing with new global terrorist "The Mandarin", his new enemy is a person he ignored years before and now that brush-off is coming back to haunt him. Also, some recent events are causing Tony to confront a new foe he hasn't seen before: anxiety.

Iron Man 3 maintains a consistent continuation of the story, but is a much smarter sequel then its predecessors. Tony Stark is in a much more reflective state of mind. He is more vulnerable and less arrogant than in the previous two films. The film focuses more on Tony Stark the person, rather than Tony as Iron Man. He's forced to seek help wherever he can get it. Drew Pearce & Shane Black's script provided some witty dialogue that gives the series a fresh feel. The exchanges between Tony and Harley (Ty Simpkins) were funny and didn't run out of steam. Great acting on all fronts. The regular cast (Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Don Cheadle) are all great. The new faces, Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley, provide a new energy that is different and ultimately effective. James Badge Dale (The Pacific, Shame, The Grey) continues to prove that he has the chops to be in leading roles. The film cleverly calls back to events from The Avengers but doesn't make it required viewing. There a couple of plot-holes in the film, but the film is ultimately satisfying. In the end, it ties up it's loose ends and the climax is satisfying.

June 9, 2013

Holy Motors

Leos Carax, 2012

Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant) is a man with a busy schedule, spending the day traveling around Paris via limousine. Each stop he makes involves him changing his wardrobe, speech and overall persona to fit that particular appointment.

It's a Surreal Art-House piece that's so confidently artistic, so boldly eccentric that you spend most of the film in sheer confusion as to what you are watching but can't take your eyes off the screen. It's an abstract piece that is likely controversial in terms of its appeal. This is not a film with a three-act structure. It's not even necessarily a film with a beginning or end. Oddly, Certain elements of the film reminded me of Eyes Wide Shut. Without a doubt one of the strangest films I've ever seen. I had thought initially that there would be some kind of significant reveal at the end of the film, but I soon realized that it doesn't even matter. It's a film that changes form, much like Mr. Oscar's attire. At times you feel as if you are watching a performance art piece. At others, a musical. In the end, it's a wild ride but a provocative one.

June 7, 2013


Steve McQueen, 2011

          Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a man living in New York in his mid-thirties. During the day he has a sleek office job. At night he scours the darker side of New York looking to feed his sex addiction. His all-consuming proclivity spills into every facet of his life. His steady routine becomes disjointed when his unstable sister shows up, unannounced and uninvited, to his small apartment to crash on the couch to try and get over a recent breakup.
          It's probably the most courageous role seen from Fassbender, who figuratively and literally exposes himself quite a bit in the film. His character Brandon is heavily flawed, but effectively draws sympathy as you see there is nothing fun about his disease and that its a ever-going struggle. Brandon is vulnerable, presumably dealing with issues that go back to his childhood. The tension between the two siblings is so evident you could cut it with a knife. Sissy (Carey Mulligan), Brandon's sister, clearly has issues of her own but doesn't have the domestic comforts that Brandon can escape to. Instead, her escape is to run to him but it's not well-received. You get the feeling that Brandon is not able to associate any interpersonal relationship with anything other than a lack of a control of his sexual impulses - therefore, he keeps his distance when it comes to anything else.
          McQueen has a seemingly mature and experienced approach to his film-making. Even though the film is very bleak and disturbing at times, it's very nice looking. McQueen relies on a lot of beautifully glowy night-lit shots of New York juxtaposed with the not-so-nice features. Some gorgeous modern-decor martini bars but contrasted with cold fluorescent lit steel subway cars. The day-time scenes are very deliberately overcast. This is not a film where you will see blue skies and sunshine, people holding hands while joyfully singing in the middle of Times Square.

June 3, 2013

The Way Back

Peter Weir, 2010

          Set during World War II, a group of prisoners escape from a Siberian labor camp and brave the harsh winter conditions and venture through the freezing snow-covered forests, sand-ridden desert, and the Himalayan mountains in an effort to ultimately seek refuge in India. Based on a true story.
          Peter Weir takes you on a long journey much like Edward Zwick does in Defiance (2008). Instead of focusing on Jewish prisoners though, this story focuses on mostly Polish prisoners but also an American (Ed Harris) and a Russian (Colin Farrell). While the story is at times dragging along, Weir does a good job of really focusing on the surrounding environmental struggles and the sheer will they have to survive. Not only do they have to worry about the harsh conditions that surround them, they also have to be very conscious of anyone who may try to retrieve a bounty for their head if seen by the wrong person. The film is very effective at studying human morality in many ways, especially during a time when the world around you is being destroyed. In the end all you're left with is the urge to keep walking, and every step counts. By the time the group reaches the desert, and sees the miles of scolding earth in front of them - you assume that most people would simply give up. The main attraction to the film are the beautiful landscapes... the rocky tundra, endless mountains. Good acting manages the story well, but its a long journey and by the end you are exhausted along with them.

June 2, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

          Luke is a motorcycle stunt rider who performs with a traveling carnival group. When he returns to Schenectady a year after hooking up with one the locals, Romina (Eva Mendes), he suddenly finds a reason to stay there. He soon realizes that he's not very equipped to make living there nor is Romina very inviting. He turns to crime to make a quick dollar, soon finding himself in the cross-hairs of rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).
          While Blue Valentine was saturated with melodrama, Cianfrance tones it down here to a digestible, sufficient level. Though he does play on familiar themes of relationships overlapping each other, difficulty of maintaining love. Monetary struggles. He also broadens the spectrum of a love drama by adding issues of heredity and predisposed personality traits. He is sharp in examining relationships from a realistic perspective, studying the not-much-explored gray areas. Love is not always conveniently timed, and its not unusual for relationships to overlap one another or for exes to resurface without an invitation. Cianfrance makes many bold moves in this film. Making a drastic turn halfway through the movie is ballsy, let alone some of the shifts in time.
          I don't agree with the comparisons that have been made to Drive. I think it minimizes Cianfrance's efforts here, and that shouldn't be done. Yes, Gosling is a stunt rider like Drive. Yes, he does that very Goslingy thing where he leans up against a wall looking cool. This time its a cigarette in his mouth, and not a toothpick. His character in Pines has more depth, more history. He's been through one hell of a life. The many tattoos are like chapters. He didn't live with the world's greatest father growing up, or hardly lived with any father. He is sensitive to people's condescending tone with him (ie. when Romina is talking to him in the diner). Upon hearing that he has a son he has the immediate reaction to be present in his life and the intention to be a provider, presumably not wanting to make the same mistakes his father made. 
          There seems to be some maturity seen from Cianfrance from his last effort. The pacing is effective, and never drags on. The use of sound was present but not overpowering. He let the scenes breathe a bit. For example, when introducing you to Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), he didn't just have him run into Luke at a gas station. He did a pan shot of him watching Luke race through the woods on the motorcycle. It gave you a feeling of uncertainty, uneasiness. Mendelsohn, a perfect pick for that role, is an impressive character actor. Interested in seeing more of him in future roles.
          The climax of the film was already very satisfying, and then the Bon Iver song "The Wolves (Act II & II)" played as the credits roll which pulled on my heart-strings. I would imagine there are people that will be critical of the last scene in the film. I found it to be imaginative and rewarding.

June 1, 2013

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1

Jean-Francois Richet, 2008

          Part Two of the Mesrine films (sequel to Killer Instinct), Public Enemy #1 is a continuation of the story of Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine continues to elude police, successfully rob banks, and uses his quick-wit and charm to attract beautiful women. 
          A satisfying and consistent sequel to the original. While Part one possessed more story, Part two certainly provides more action. The film jumps head-first into the action within the first twenty minutes. Very effective, erratic cinematography through suspenseful street-chases. Vincent Cassel continues to be chameleonic in his role, with his mood changing as quickly as his disguises. Mesrine, who is consumed by the fame, becomes complacent with it. His hunger grows for something MORE than notoriety, something more than glory. His unpredictable, violent nature becomes radicalized and begins to shift into a more political mind-set. His ideals shift from anti-establishment to a more anarchistic motivation. He even turns on the press, the one loyal force that had always embraced him. But the women on the other hand, always embrace him. His charismatic abilities have a magnetic ability with the women who are looking for the bad-boy. It takes him little time to seduce Sylvia Jeanjacquot, even in disguise.
          The final moments are a book-end conclusion, with an expected call-back to the opening scene in Part One. The fact that it's seen in a different perspective gives it a fresh feeling. Mesrine is the "French Robin Hood", "The Man of  Hundred Faces". In the end it's quite clear that he was a danger to society, a clear sociopath. But the fascination with a notorious criminal is clearly a global phenomenon.