October 31, 2016


Neil Jordan, 2013
Next to the zombie genre, the next sub-genre of horror movies could certainly be vampire movies. Although lacking in offerings over the last five or so years (Twilight fatigue perhaps?), its a category sure to continue contributing to the world of film. I will start right off the bat by saying I believe the best vampire film of all time is Let the Right One In, and I don't even have to think about it. There are things done in that film that I still think about from time to time, and it has one of the best movie endings ever made. It is a horror film full of confidence, not afraid to break the vampire conventions. It's unique, bold, darkly beautiful. It examines eternal life fully, negative aspects and all. Something that Interview with a Vampire wasn't able to fully do. But Byzantium is actually more like Let the Right One In in the sense that it gives a more broad examination as well, while also breaking some of the stale vampire conventions that dull the genre.

You could argue that its a character study; mostly focusing on Eleanor's (Saoirse Ronan) struggles. She never had a choice when it came to becoming what she is. Spared by death but cursed by eternal life, she is lonely in her perpetual existence. Eager to share her story with anyone interested in hearing it, not able to keep it bottled inside of her, most people aren't able to comprehend. And of course when she meets an elderly man who is able to understand what she is, he looks at it as more of a swift exit for him and an offering for her. Byzantium has a stylistic aesthetic that is also similar to Jim Jarmusch's 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive in the sense that it follows two floating bloodsuckers through a decaying modern landscape. But Byzantium manages to make the story more compelling. While Lovers is more of a draining (no pun intended) bought of depression that you are forced to endure for 2 hours, Eleanor's struggles are more compelling and the backstory is ripe with intrigue.

One of the best parts of Byzantium is it doesn't struggle to offer you a complete story. It literally gives you a modern day storyline with flashbacks going back to 200 years prior, and still manages to wrap things up with a good sense of closure and a satisfying ending while maintaining balance. And that is by definition a good movie.

The Confirmation

Bob Nelson, 2016
There are many angles in which the Father / Son movie dynamic can be approached in film. In real life it's a complicated relationship. Living up to the expectations of each other, letting each other down, reflections of oneself in your own offspring. Being hard on your self, being hard on your son. Martial troubles that trickle down to the rest of the family.

In The Confirmation, you step into the lives of Walt (Clive Owen) and Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) long after any familial conflict. They are now in a state of reconstruction. Walt and ex Bonnie (Maria Bello) have been divorced for a while, long enough for her to remarry. This is presumably because of Walt's drinking, which reveals itself pretty early on in a conversation between the two when she pleads with him not to drink while taking Anthony for the weekend.

Walt is down on his luck. He's in that sort of purgatory state of existence where he can't seem to get out of his own way. Truck won't start, phones not ringing with construction work. Rent is late, no money to pay the rent. All he really has is this weekend with Anthony. Bad turns to worse when Walt discovers that his antique wooden toolbox has been stolen from the back of his truck while in a local tavern. The film soons morphs into a modern day take on The Bicycle Thief as Walt and Anthony spend most of their weekend together searching for clues. They are forced to approach the (what would be considered) more deplorable people in town that would do that kind of thing (steal toolboxes). Interestingly enough these people don't come off as criminals but more as characters. There is certainly an effort to humanize these types of people in this film. And there is a lot at stake for Walt. With an eviction notice on his apartment door, he desperately needs money right away and not taking the carpentry job on Monday is out of the question.

The Confirmation works largely because of great casting choices. Clive Owen's Walt character solicits sympathy, as the character really needs to. You want Walt to find his tools. You want the relationship between Walt and Anthony to flourish. Walt doesn't take on a victim mentality at all. Not only does he bear the weight of his own mistakes, he bears the weight of his generations mistakes one apologizing to Anthony for leaving his generation with a infrastructural mess to clean up. One should come to expect nothing but an impressive nuanced performance from Owen, who is quietly one of the best working actors in modern cinema. Bello succeeds in her Bonnie role, as she balances the perfect amount of firmness and fairness. Anthony's character works because of its authenticity. He so accurately nails that whole kid being happy with the nothing moments as long as you are with your father. Sitting in front of the TV watching boring black-and-white repeats is enough. Riding shotty in an old pick up truck is enough. The Confirmation is an endearing film that has some appreciation for film history but also has heart in it's own story.

October 21, 2016

The Shallows

Jaume Collet-Serra, 2016
The shark attack genre is a genre completely saturated with ridiculous premises and generous usage of CGI. Oddly enough at the top of the genre is Jaws, but it's the gold standard. There's a big drop off from there. Nothing has really come close to topping Spielberg's masterpiece that caused an entire generation of kids to be afraid of the ocean. While there is one great Jaws film and three forgettable sequels, there are 4 probably forgettable (wouldn't know, haven't seen them nor do I plan on seeing) Sharknado movies. And then we have Shark Night, Ghost Shark, Shark in Venice, and what feels like a thousand other B-Movies. What separates Jaws from the others is the craftiness of suspense-building, playing with multiple senses and not just throwing visual carnage at your face. Often these movies just take a shark and exaggerate all of the natural behaviors, ultimately making it a bloodthirsty beast that just so happens to look like a shark and live in the water.

The shark in The Shallows is no exception. The shark appears after Nancy (Blake Lively) approaches a dead whale while surfing nearby. This in turn causes the shark to become agitated and eager to defend it's feeding site. Your bullshit detectors should go off here, because one would assume that the shark would just be happy enough with the giant floating meal that is already right there for the taking rather than chase after a much smaller meal that would be more difficult to obtain.

Nancy is able to escape the attack and finds a short term refuge on top of a rock. The film then becomes a limited storytelling piece of Nancy trying to figure out how to get to shore with very little resources and one heck of a shark bite on her leg. She conveniently has a medical school past that helps her in dressing the wound. For what it is, it's not a completely horrible film that wastes 90 minutes of your life. Lively is totally serviceable with her Nancy character and does the best that can probably be done with the character. The cinematography is rather good, along with the editing. The Shallows is not breaking any new ground, but to cut it some slack, it's not really supposed to. Like a slice of decent pizza, it goes down easy enough.

October 15, 2016

Vikings (Seasons 1-4)

Michael Hirst, 2013-2016
Vikings is probably what Kurt Sutter wished The Bastard Executioner could be. Being quite obvious that Sutter wanted to make his version of Game of Thrones, Vikings has the period aesthetic of Thrones while also managing to possess the volatile relationships and sometimes calculated deception of Sutter's owns Sons of Anarchy series. Vikings own set of characters often generates memories of the Sons characters, most notably the similarities between Ragnar and Jax Teller. I'm certainly not the only one who sees this. But Sutter is not involved with Vikings at all. Who knows if he is even aware of it. In 2016 Game of Thrones continues to get all of the love when it comes to the Fantasy Drama genre, but hopefully Vikings will continue to build an audience because it's pretty great.

Vikings creates an immersive world, at the center of it is the anti-hero Ragnar Lothbrook. Ragnar has big ambitions, an urge to explore the world around him and make his mark in the pages of history. It's this very hunger that made the Vikings important people. Their ability to travel and and make broad impacts on what was considered a small world at the time. They were able to make that world bigger.

Vikings is the first scripted series created by The History Channel, and hopefully it inspires them to continue to create original scripted content rather then mediocre scripted cheap reality shows (*cough* Pawn Stars). And while Vikings is certainly unique and original on it's own, it's probably always going to be compared to Game of Thrones on some level because they exist at the same time. To be fair, there are certainly similarities between the two. Gratuitous violence. Seemingly endless battle. Sudden twists. Successes and failures. Deception. But where Vikings takes a turn is it's focus on the duality of Paganistic religious faith and the spread of Christianity. The evolution of military technology. Of course the biggest difference is Vikings is rooted in some real historical context and Thrones is pure fiction.