Milagros Mumenthaler's The Idea of A Lake is a pensive study of loss and memory, a film which brilliantly deconstructs rhe long lasting impact those who are lost can continually have on those they've left behind, with desth itself being merely a physical construct, and only one important aspect of an individuals' contribution towards others they loved. Shifting between past and presemt, exploring the memories of our main protagonist, Ines, The Idea of A Lake taps into the primal nature of lost, crafting a beautiful tapestry in which both subjective and objective memory play a part in Ines' psyche as it pertains to her father, a man who was taken from her at a young age during Argentina's "Dirty War" which saw many men of political oppositiom to the central authority sent to the gulags or to their death. Being my first film by Argentinian and Swiss filmmaker Milagros Mumenthaler I was wasnt sure ehat to expect from what had been labeled as a family drama, What I got was some truly phenomenal direction, as Mumenthaler manages to balance this family drama with biting realism and surrealist flourishes, a film that artistically exposes the effect long resonating loss has on the individual. In the flashback sequences, Mumenthaler presents the serenity of life as a child, where Ines idyllic summers present her fondest memories of her fsther. In these sequences the filmmaker reveals mostly a suvjextive reality, ever so often obstructing this through the use od Ines' mother, who brings glimmers of objectivism to the past, a character eho subtlely reveals the possibility of dangsr on rhe horizon. While Ines charscter is front and center and her emotional journey unquestionable anchors the film, the filmmaker's still provide strong characterizstioms of both Ines' mother and brother, each who seemingly have been dealing with the loss in different ways. A soul-affirming study of loss and memory that is both haunting and genuinely touching, The Idea of A Lake announces Milagros Mumenthaler as a filmmaker I must continue to keep my eye on.
Theo Anthony's Rat Film is a revelatory documentary, a film which uses Baltimore's most prevalent rodent, the Rat, to detail the troubled past of Baltimore, a city thats government institutions were primarily responsible for not only the white flight to the suburbs, but also the oppression of the black community through coercive financial methods administered by the cities government officials. Examining the history of the rat in Baltimore, the people who live with them, the people who share an affinity for them, and the people who kill them for a living, Rat Film is an experimental-type documentary which juxtaposes the history of the rats in Baltimore with the history of segregation itself, telling a convincing narrative which draws parallels rats and people, while simultaneous capturing how scientific method and government coercion fueled the troubles of my hometown. Theo Anthony's Rat Film is both intimate in its examination of the people of Baltimore, and grandiose in its deconstruction of the social issues the city faces from an historical perspective, showing an affinity for the unique personalities and determined mentality of its people. Detailing major federally funded research about Rats in Baltimore through the years, Rat Film showcases how an ecological approach, raising the standard of living among citizens around Baltimore was never fully enacted, with the government always turning to the more offensive approach, one which only target the rats, instead of focusing on the larger cause, the poverty and poor conditions of many of the communities of the city. Rat Film paints a convincing argument that man and rats share similar traits, detailing John Calhoun's behavioral study of rodents, drawing troubling parallels between the treatment of blacks by the coercive, racist government elements and those of the rats which achieved the higher social status among those in Calhoun's study. A documentary with character, Rat Film introduces us to individuals, all of which have unique ways of dealing with the rat infestation. While one man has a full armory of various pellet gun weaponry for fighting the rat infestation, another set of men resort to turkey lunchmeat, peanut butter, a fishing rod, and a baseball bat, all of which have a shared struggle against the rats who threaten their homes. Of all the colorful characters of the film, the professional exterminator stands out the most, whose philosophical ramblings introduce us to a man whose introspective, empathetic, and hard working, an inspiring figure in the film. Many of these character profiled focus on the offensive strategy of elimination instead of the ecological one, with Rat Film brilliantly capturing the long-reaching effects which racist government coercion has had on the city and its people, detailing how such things have long lasting effects on the culture and lexicon of a community, which still remains relatively segregated to this day, due to wrongdoing in the past.
Featuring nearly any dialogue, Yuri Ancarani's The Challenge transports the viewer into the lavish world of Qatar among the ultra rich Sheikhs, whose passions are fueled by excess and a genuine appreciation for falconry. An observant, non-judgmental documentary, The Challenge explores a unique, never before seen world, one which is dominated completely by men, who spend their fortunes on lavish things, whether that be sports cars, gold-plated accessories, or falcons, anything which serves as both as entertainment and a symbol of status. Directed by Yuri Ancarnai, whom is probably best know as a video artist, whose work has been displayed in museums, galleries and art events around the world, The Challenge features a visual striking aesthetic, offering a host of imagery that I promise you have never seen before. Detailing various Sheikhs as they converge on an area of the desert where this contest of falconry will take place, Yuri Ancarani's film introduces us to a world of excess that is both highly comedic and slightly infuriating, detailing the things men that have it all financial do in an attempt to entertain themselves. From one Sheikh's man who drives a Lamborghini and is always accompanied by his pet Leopard, to another man who arrives by private jet, whose had nearly all the seats removed for the purposes of transplanting the prized selection of falcons for the sporting event, The Challenge details the exploits of these individuals with detail and humor. While lacking judgement is unquestionably a good thing, I couldn't help but find myself wishing that the film attempted to gain more entry into the personalities of these characters, showing little interest in that capacity, totally comfortable simply presenting their lifestyle from an outside perspective. With that in mind, one detail that still stood out to me is the fact that there are absolutely no woman in the entire film, only men, and their sons, a detail that stands as an eerie reminder of the secondary status of woman in this region, who could never have this type of monetary or social status. Perhaps best described as a film about "Men and their toys", Yuri Ancarani's The Challenge is a fascinating expose into the ultra rich of Qatar, exposing the excess enjoyed by these men who look for ways to spend their money for the sake of both status and entertainment.
A self-proclaimed fan of the Berlin school of filmmaking, I was eagerly anticipating Angela Schanelec's latest film, as I've always found her to be one of the most enriching and genuine contemporary filmmakers working today. With her latest effort, The Dream Path, Angela Schanelec has crafted another intoxicating experience which attempts to cut to the core of human emotion through a relatively plotless mood piece, shifting seamlessly from character to character, with many of these individuals only true connection being their sense of loneliness, alienation, and longing. A beguiling experience that is sure to frustrate less adventurous viewers, The Dreamed Path spends a lot of time with two distinct characters in Kenneth and Ariane, each of which are suffering deeply due to the hand that has been dealt to them in life. When we are first introduced to Kenneth he is presented as joyous and carefree, an aspiring singer whose happily in a relationship with Theres, a young woman who is interested in studying language. A frantic call shatters Kenneth's world, as he soon learns that his mother has suffered a terrible accident, a revelation that throws Kenneth into a spiral of depression, as he struggles to deal with the trauma and pain associated with the potential loss of his mother. Kenneth is a character who is completely lost after this tragedy, a man who has lost faith in the future and optimism itself due to this hand which has been dealt. When we leave his character, shifting to the life of Ariane, we see a man in Kevin who is indiscernible from the man we were introduced to in the beginning, a man in pain and anguish who has no peace. Angela Schanelec's The Dream Path shows little interest in defining its timeline, with our only understanding of events coming from the characters themselves, their transformations, nothing more. When the narrative shifts towards Ariana we are not sure if there has been a time shift at first, with the revelation of Kenneth,who has become a homeless man and lost all hope, being the only true indication of a severe leap in time. Ariane has no relationship or connection to Kenneth physically, but shares the similar pain, an actress who herself struggles with a terrible sense of longing, adrift in a loveless marriage, unable to find any semblance of happiness even after she cuts the cord on her failed marriage. For Ariane, she is a character suffering from depression and alienation, a woman who has never been confortable in her own skin, never happy with her own successes in life, stuck in a perpetual state of dreaming she was someone else, free of her pain and anguish. Angela Schanelec's direction is paramount in this exploration of loneliness and alienation, as the filmmaker uses stoic, unconventional compositions throughout, rarely fixating on the character's faces, often focusing on their bodies, voiding the viewer of facial intimacy at times, seemingly an attempt to force the viewer to feel the same cold void as her set of protagonists. Without question an enigmatic experience, Angela Schnaelec's The Dreamed Path taps into the harsh reality of loneliness and internal anguish, a film which details the lack of empathy it creates in all of us, which inevitably leads to some form of tragedy, whether it be through the loss of life or the pain which it causes those around us.
Sporting an aesthetic more akin to horror cinema than introspective drama, Kiro Russo's Dark Skull is a brooding story of grief and self destruction, detailing the struggles of a young man in Elder Mamani, who is forced to take up his father's coveted place in the tin mines in the Bolivian city of Huanuni after the tragic death of his father. Elder is a disgrace to the family, a young man who spends most of his time with the bottle, uninterested in supporting his family and his community which still holds onto the tin mines as their only source of community, camaraderie, and self-worth. Kiro Russo's Dark Skull is as much a story about family and sacrifice, as it is about the stark reality in which miners inhabit, a film which manages to balance both elements quite beautifully as this nightmarish experience unfolds right in front of our eyes. Kiro Russo's direction, use of ambiance, sound, and lighting truly make this film a harrowing experience, where darkness itself is a character, both figuratively and literally. Immersive and moody, Kiro Russo's detailed examination of the harsh conditions of the tin mines feels like a descent into hell, as the filmmaker beautifully uses interlaced editing of the machinery and the clings and clanks as they distort the rock-face to effectively transport the viewer into this troubling profession and the headspace of young Elder, a young man who has no desire to be subjected to these types of conditions. Kiro Russo's use of black space and darkness is truly something to behold, with much of the compositions throughout Dark Skull being filled with significant amounts of black space, a symbolic representation not only of this troubled young character of Elder, but also serving as a reminder of the cruel conditions of this profession. As the film progresses, Elder becomes more and more unpredictable, drawing scorn from other workers in the mine who view him as a distraction at the very least, and potentially even threatening the safety of the operation. No matter how much Elder's godfather attempts to help him into the role, he rejects this life. The ending of Dark Skull perfectly encapsulates the nature of the environment these characters' inhabit, offering up a slight role reversal of both Elder and his godfather, who is now the character who is drunk and needs some form of assistance. A film of such darkness offers only a glimmer of light, not exactly showing that Elder has grown up in this moment, but for the first time in the film, showing that he may have found some form of empathy and comraderie with his community and family. A stark, atmospheric piece of filmmaking that ventures into the heart of darkness, Kiro Russo's Dark Skull is impeccably well made film about grief, camaraderie, and empathy, a story which is both intimate in its drama but grandoise in its deconstruction of this small mining community in Huanuni, Bolivia.
Brazen and enigmatic, Eduardo William's The Human Surge is a film that brings a pensive yet observational eye to the state of the world as we know it, a film that shows no interest in plot, only story and themes, as it attempts to deconstruct the ever changing landscape of our globalized world. Spanning three continents, going from South America to Africa to Asia, The Human Surge examines three sets of young individuals, each sharing a similar form of detachment to how they feel about their place in the world. Adrift and routinely only finding any form of solace with others their age, The Human Surge showcases how this idea of working to satisfy oneself creates a void of emptiness within, as each of these individuals pine for some form of substance outside the monetary system we inhabit. Impressionistic and moody, The Human Surge examines how technology connectivity is a red herring in a lot of ways, blinding the individual to true connectivity and intimacy. All these characters are individuals who are often seen on their phones or the internet, yet they lack any semblance of true happiness, drained by a material system that promises everything except what it means to be human. The use of setting, notably nature-based landscapes, illustrates this globalized convergence of the old with the new world, as filmmaker Eduardo William's seems to be pleading for us as individuals to not lose what makes us human. While The Human Surge is powerful and transfixing, it's short sighted in it's hostility towards work and materialism, as the filmmakers never touch on the positives of such technological progress, focusing solely on the negatives, and detachment it can cause. The film doesn't give a fair shake to the world of possibilities technological progress can provide to those, with the film's only example of this being a sequence which shows teenagers selling their sexuality over the camera of their computer, a quite narrow-minded and pointed way of manipulating the positives of technological connection by showings sexual exploitation. The film ignores the positives such connection can bring, while also fundamentally lacking an understanding of how work itself is one of the noble endeavors, in that it forces the individual to provide for others, not allowing them to simply pine about this and self-absorbed cognitations. Impressionistic, thought provoking, and well designed, Eduardo William's The Human Surge attempts to deconstruct the globilazation of our world, with mixed yet always fascinating results.
Ben Wheatley's Free Fire is a streamlined, no-holds-barred, action comedy which wastes little time in diving headfirst into its brutal action and comedy lynchpins, delivering a gleeful mixture of masculinity-dripping violence and uncouth humor that should be enjoyed by fans of that type of thing. Taking place almost entirely in one location, an abandoned warehouse, Free Fire details a arms sale gone wrong, with two gangs soon finding themselves in a shootout, which both comically and brutally transforms into a game of survival for all individuals involved. Early on, Ben Wheatley's Free Fire shows a great sense of escalation, detailing how these two groups of gangs are on high alert, with the slightest incident sending them to a point of near eruption, as both parties involved show little trust for the other in this world of criminals. When the violence does erupt, for debatablly trivial reasons, it comes furiously, leaving every character on both of the sides of the aisle injured in some form of another, each of which crawling around, screaming at each other - the equivalent of a bunch of children fighting in a sandbox, throwing a fit over who is to blame for this arms deal gone so wrong. Relying heavily on the performances of its actors, most notably Sharlto Copley, Free Fire exhibits the utter stupidity of violence in a very unique way, displaying a group of hooligans who comically fight to survive, with Wheatley placing little emphasis on establishing the good guys and the bad guys in this chaotic display of survival, instead focusing on the utter absurdity of these characters, laughing about how so much death was caused over such a stupid inciting incident. Fast-paced, brutal, and very funny, Free Fire finds Ben Wheatley return to a more playfully toned film, than his previous efforts, with Free Fire taking up the mantra of 'There is no honor among thieves", and using it to deliver a truly entertaining romp where a bunch of low-level criminals whom the viewer doesn't really care about, which isn't a bad thing given the comedic intentions of the film, fight for survival.
Matias Pineiro's Hermia & Helena is subtle yet rich, a beautifully constructed film about dead ends and new beginnings, capturing the idyllic uncertainties and decisions which sculpt life itself. Following a young Argentina theater director, who travels from Buenos Aires to New York to attend residency and help with the Spanish translation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Pinerio's Hermia & Helena is a character-driven story, which uses narrative structure and artistry to near perfection, in telling its tale of a young woman who has come to both physical and emotional crossroads in her life. Through its oscillating structure, which goes back and forth between New York and Argentina, Hermia & Helena slowly unravels the character of Camila, revealing more and more of herself to the audience as the film progresses, exhibiting a woman who is vibrant yet also feels a sense of alienation, a character who herself is simply trying to make the right decisions for the sake of her future and her overall happiness. Details of Camila's life are slowly revealed throughout the cleverly structured narrative, detailing a woman whose at somewhat of a crossroads in her life, unsure about not only her professional life, but also her personal life, as the film slowly reveals a character who is indecisive when it comes to romance, while also establishing later in the film that she never met her biological father, a man who lives nearby in upstate New York. Hermia & Helena's visual design is structured yet free-flowing, using cinematography which is very precise in its use of static composition, yet often delivers moments of free-flowing camera movements which also give a sense of freedom, an air of uncertainty and intimacy, visually expressing the introspective nature of our main protagonist, a woman whose work as a translator is full of precision, yet whose life itself is stuck between two worlds, yet full of endlessly possibilities. Pinero's direction is understated, yet creative, with his interlaced photography, particularly during slow-forming transitional shots, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and change, visually expressing the main protagonist's entangled emotions. One of my favorite sequences involves when Camilla goes to see her father, a man she has never met in person. During a powerful scene where they get to know one and other, they ask each other questions, each getting a turn to ask the other what they want. Instead of going back and forth between these two characters, PInero's lens statically focuses on each character for an extended period of time, not changing up the composition when the other person asks a question, opting instead to stoically stare into the soul of each of these characters, exposing what they are like both on the offensive, when it is their turn to ask their question, and when they are at their most fragile, when it's their turn to answer a question from the other. This decision, Pineiro's insistence in not letting the character's breath, visually goes a long way in capturing both these characters internal state, one where inquisition, fragility, honesty, and openess, all converge in a moment of quiet, touching jubilation between father and daughter. Perhaps the filmmaker's most clever yet telling directorial decision comes literally over the final credits of the film, a static shot of a door opening and closing, a simple yet effectively use of symbolism that exhibits the oscillating nature of Camila, a character who is full of indecision, stuck at a crossroads of life, between her old life in Buenos Aires and her potential new beginnings in the states. The way Hermia & Helena unravels, through its oscillating structure and light tone, Pineiro has delivered a film which manages to be breezy yet introspective, full of universal truths and emotional honesty, which beautifully exhibits the inner workings of a character who feels stuck between two worlds, full of uncertainty, yet driven by the promise and endless possibilities which are presented for her to explore.
James Gray's The Lost City of Z is a rich, layered tapestry about the human condition, an "adventure film" based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, which is complex and introspective, examining various aspects of humanity as it relates to family, status, ambition, culture, nationalism, and power. The Lost City of Z tells the story of a man who journeyed deep into the Amazonian jungle at the onset of the 20th century, intent on discovering an advanced, lost, civilization despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment, who regarded the indigenous people of the region nothing more than savages. Through Gray's engrossing and detailed narrative, The Lost City of Z is a film that touches on the absolute necessity of individualism, with Percy Fawcett being a character who routinely must resist the indoctrination of his culture, one which has narrow-minded convictions about the potential of another culture unlike their own. Through Percy Fawcett's pursuit of evidence, The Lost City of Z details how complex it is to deconstruct a mind which has been so indoctrinated by its version of truth, detailing the arrogance of humanity which runs rampant and restricts progress, whether it be fueled by cultural, state, or religious indoctrination. James Gray's film is both intimate and grandiose in its deconstruction of this character, detailing a man who is first a foremost a truth-seeker, who refuses to simply accept what he is told. Humanity pretends to have such a great understanding of the world, but Gray's biopic of British explorer Percy Fawcett reminds the viewer that this is merely a deceit we tell ourselves as individuals, with The Lost City of Z exemplifying the importance of dreaming big and never letting society define or dictate one's beliefs or pursuits. James Gray is a filmmaker who fully understands that little decisions in life are simplistic or binary, and his treatment of Percy Fawcett is a beautiful illustration of that, exposing a man who is partially fueled by status and pride. When we are first introduced to Percy Fawcett he is a man who is chasing rank in the military, a man who doesn't feel accomplished at all due to his inability to receive accolades in the form of medals for his accomplishments, a struggle he faces due to his individualistic decisions that didn't conform to the group identity. It's his desire to prove his worth which initially sets him on his quest in Amazonia, with his pride blinding him to what is right in front of his face, in the form of his loving wife and young son. Through Percy Fawcett's intent to gain notoriety, he sacrifices time away from his family, and while James Gray's film never demonizes him for these actions, the film doesn't shy away from showing the pain and strain it causes, as Percy Fawcett attempts to forge his own path and legacy despite the forces of society which oppose the mere though of a civilization other than theirs sharing the same potential for knowledge and innovation. Percy Fawcett is a man who only has his families best intentions at mind throughout, but he at times, especially early on, is too consumed by societies' definition of personal worth and prestige. Through this man's journey, The Lost City of Z captures the utter importance of culture itself, showcasing how our differences aren't a curse but a blessing in a lot of ways, with humanities abilities to share these distinctions and differences being the key to prosperity, mutual gain, and hopefully peace. One example of this captured through the rich socialite James Murray, who accompanies Percy Fawcett on his journey to find the Lost City of Z, a man whose arrogance and preconceived notions about a culture different than his nearly destroy him, with Gray capturing how he is the real savage, a man whose only mission in the end is self preservation. Gray's film wisely exhibits the distinction between individualism and selfishness through the juxtaposition of Percy Fawcett & James Murray, something which is often conflated by many who foolishly view them as one and the same. Through this film's praise of Percy Fawcett's individualistic pursuits, The Lost City of Z also says something about nationalism and the destructive power of nation states themselves, detailing how states, in their quest for more power or influence, tend to bring nothing but pain and suffering to the individual, who often feels a false notion of allegiance to this tribalistic, collectivist ideal of a nation state. A complex, intricate, wholly introspective biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett, James Gray's The Lost City of Z is a grandoise examination of humanity and life itself, a film that beautifully and un-sentimentally pleads to the viewer to dream big.
F. Gary Gray's The Fate of the Furious is another high testosterone, stylish entry in the monstrous franchise, that once again ups the ante in its attempt to throw all the laws of physics, and much of the laws of logic, out the window. The Fast and Furious Franchises has gone through one of the most fascinating evolutions in mainstream cinematic history, starting as a small "point break" knockoff about fast cars, that slowly evolved into what can only be described as a global espionage thriller where street racers who can drive really fast are the best hope for humanity against elitely trained cyber terrorists. The Fate and the Furious finds Dominic Toretto being enthralled into a state of betrayal by a mysterious new enemy, played to perfection by Charlize Theron, who forces Dominik to go against the very thing he treasures the most: Family. The Fate of the Furious has reached such levels of over-indulgent heroism that it at times feels as much of a superhero movie as it does a spy thriller, with one example being how the The Rock is essentially The Incredible Hulk in this franchise, dispensing those in his way with his masculine-dripping, brute strength. Dominic Toretto on the other hand, his decree of family and general presence, particularly in the opening sequence in Cuba, has reached a borderline prophetic/ supernatural levels, a character who carries an aura about himself throughout the film, as if he is a force of nature who simply can't be stopped. Of course, what makes The Fate of the Furious work, much like many of the franchises recent efforts, is the continued chemistry shared by Dom's team, with the various characters all slotting into their roles, and delivering more so than not what fans of the franchise would expect - loud, dumb, fun. That being said, the introduction of Scott Eastwood into the mix, his infusion into the team, simply doesn't work, as he lacks charisma, feeling simply like a less-Paul Walker substitute that I'm not sure they should continue to use. While The Fate of the Furious doesn't reach the same heights as its recent predecessors, it's still a fun entry in the franchise, with Charlize Theron's character being a gleefully diabolical entry in this franchise, regardless of the conceit of how she gets Dominik to betray his team being a tad flimsy from the onset. Charlize Theron's Cypher character is the thematic enemy to Dominik Toretto's whole way of life, a character who deconstructs the idea of family throughout the film, a snake who believes any empathy to others is merely a deep-rooted, evolutionary-rooted survival instinct, a villain who wishes for Dominik to live his who life "free" of the burden of family. While the pacing of The Fate of the Furious isn't as streamlined as previous efforts, getting bogged down a bit in the middle by the character's struggles to accept that Dominik is now the enemy, The Fate of the Furious still manages to deliver with a few highly entertaining action set pieces, as well as a finale that finds (spoiler alert) Jason Statham decimate some baddies with fisticufffs while holding a baby! For all the film's pacing issues, The Fate of the Furious' biggest problem comes from F Gray Gary's direction, which is repetitive and lacks imagination at times, overusing slow motion to the point of agitation, which only stalls the film's action sequences from being as visceral and chaotic as they could have been. I'm sure most film critics will simply scoff at this brain dead franchise, but they miss the point, as The Fate and Furious knows its audience and delivers simple yet visceral thrills, relying heavily on its relative self-awareness and the chemistry of its characters to create another enjoyable film in the franchise, regardless of some of its undeniable flaws.
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