Sunhi, a young woman who recently majored in film at college, returns to the school in which she graduated to garner a recommendation letter from Professor Choi. Sunhi wants to study in the US and Professor Choi agrees to write the recommendation, telling her he can only write what he knows about her. While at the University, Sunhi runs into two other men she knew: Munsu, a man she used to date who recently directed his first film, and Jae-Hak, a well-established director and professor at the university. Sang-Soo Hong's Our Sunhi is a minimalistic exploration of characters stuck in neutral, looking for something or someone to jump start their life. Sunhi is a woman of great potential as an artist and person, but her inability to take action or risk leaves her constantly spinning her tires. As an artist, Sunhi hasn't quite figured out her ambitions and desires relying on her professor to help steer her in the right direction. She is fascinating character that is both incredibly timid but also strong at times, much like most people. Being a Sang-soo Hong film nearly every character revelation in Our Sunhi is done with great subtlety, often being revealed through casual conversations and moments of silence. The characters and emotions of this story feel distant and obtuse at times but in the end they are strangely true to life. Hong's films are definitely not for most people but his ability to capture character's at such a genuine level is masterful.
Anna and Elsa are two young sisters growing up in a thriving kingdom, with Elisa, the older one, in line to take over the throne from her dying parents. On the outside Elsa looks poised for these responsibilities but in reality she lives in constant fear due to her secret ability to create ice and show from her fingertips. While it's a beautiful ability, it's also extremely dangerous, and Elsa is constantly haunted by the memory in which her magic almost killed her younger sister when they were playing as children. After an emotional Elisa accidentally sets off an eternal winter in this thriving kingdom, Anna must venture into the snow-soaked wilderness to find her sister, who has isolated herself completely, and convince her she can control her powers and is no monster. Between Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen Disney's animation department is proving its worth in recent years. As a matter of fact one could make an argument that Disney Studios has surpassed Pixar in quality originals the past few years, though I'm not sure this is a trend that will continue. Frozen is one of the better animated films in recent memory that touches on some interesting themes of destiny, willpower, and the all important lesson of being comfortable in your own skin. Featuring some of the best musical numbers in recent memory, beautiful animation, and strong voice work, Frozen is a entertaining and cute film that should satisfy fans of Disney both new and old. Without giving it away Frozen is a film that doesn't exactly play into the fairytale status quo, subverting expectations throughout its narrative with a finale that defies what many would expect. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's Frozen isn't a perfect film but it's a refreshing children's fairytale that is far from one-note, being both light and dark while subverting expectations as much as a film like this could hope too.
For real-estate agent Suzanne Barrington Christmas is by far the best time of the year. This Christmas in particular is looking up too, she just closed on a house and her husband scored a great new job in Hawaii. All that changes after a sudden tragedy takes Jeff from life, leaving Suzanne lost and incredibly lonely. Zach Clark's White Reindeer is an effective dramedy that blends the elements of comedy and drama well, creating an impressive portrait of a woman suffering from grief. Suzanne is a character of general pathos as we watch her go through serious attempts to cope by dance parties, shop lifting, drugs and even a swingers' party encounter. Suzanne is trying to feel alive again and the joy and happiness associated with Christmas provides a great juxtaposition to her struggle. White Reindeer may sound somewhat generic in structure but it's anything but that, with Clark and company doing a great job at subverting expectations at every turn with lots of bizarre surprises that only help the film work as both a comedy and drama. While the film is definitely a character study I found the idea that Suzanne would spend extravagant amounts of money on Christmas as a coping mechanism to be an interesting choice. I think it feeds into one of the bigger points Zach Clark is trying to make - the consumerism aspect of Christmas, the trees, the presents, etc. has reached the point where it completely dwarfs the true meaning of the holiday in the first place.
Wayne Kramer's Pawn Shop Chronicles is a film that defies plot description by traditional standards but the easiest way to sum it up goes like this: It's a film of intersecting segments with the common thread being a small Southern small-town pawn shop. There is a man searching for his kidnapped wife, a pair of white-supremacist meth heads, and an Elvis impersonator who isn't exactly doing well in life. There is nothing particularly profound or even intelligent about Pawn Shop Chronicles but boy did I have a lot of fun watching it. Much like Kramer's previous film Running Scared, the direction shows a great ability to understand the type of film he is making, never taking himself too seriously in delivering a chaotic and highly enjoyable experience. The film is oozing with style and not just the derivative kind, doing a few things that quite frankly I'm not sure I've ever seen before. Don't get me wrong, Running Scared is definitely more serious than Pawn Shop Chronicles, as this film by and large makes little sense with it's three story-lines that aim more for shock and awe then any true meaning. In a way I think this film deserves credit for that though, simply creating a bizarre piece of filmmaking that is without question fun, loaded with style and a great sense of humor that is incredibly self aware.
Based on true events, Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of four Navy Seals on a covert mission to neutralize a high-ranking Taliban member that goes terrible wrong. Long Survivor is an intense story of courage that i'm sure would be incredibly effective to anyone who served in the military. The film begins in a rather frightening 'Ammmurica" type way but once the film gets past the initial chest-bumping machoism aspect it becomes a much more compelling and interesting film. Luckily this is a film apolitical in approach that captures how the morality of war isn't easy or pretty. The film doesn't try to make it this squeaky clean conversation but definitely captures the muddled morality that is so commonly the truth in these situations. This is most prevalent during the inciting incident where the four seals come across a father and two sons from the village under Taliban control. This isn't a major aspect of the film but a very important one for me. The action sequences are intentionally disorienting in an attempt to put the viewer into the action. It isn't done in the traditional shakey-cam way but more in the way the camera moves around the action making a frantic, visceral experience. Above all things, the stunt work in Lone Survivor is top notch, you really feel the pain on every fall. There are some poor directorial choices though, like Berg's overuse of slow-motion in a few key moments that ring cheesy and almost laughable in their self-importance. With any film similar to this one I did find myself questioning some of the validity of this true story at times, but I can't judge the film on something I don't know enough about. Peter Berg's Lone Survivor is not a great movie by any means but it serves it purpose in delivering a apolitical story of survival and resilience.
When the Yakuza imbeds itself within the heart of LA, the police turn to one man to take down this deadly crime syndicate - Samurai Cop. With his martial arts moves and constant swagger, Samurai Cop tears through the Yakuza unwilling to stop until the job is done. Amir Shervan's Samurai Cop is film firmly planted in the 'so bad it's good category'. The film has everything one would expect and hope for out of such a film - extremely low budget, wooden acting, horrendous and at times nonsensical editing, an overabundance of expositional dialogue, as well as just being cheesy as hell. Played by Maniac Cop star, Robert Z'Dar, our main protagonist is a suave ladies man who always gets his man and nails his woman. Maniac Cop is certainly a film that seems to have a passionate filmmaker who is really trying, a quality I find very important for a movie to truly be "so bad it's good". There are lots of great gratuitous moments as well, particularly a few sex scenes that feel right out of an 80's soft core porn. For all the silliness there are a few moments in this film that could have been quite disturbing but as you would expect they have little impact overall on the viewer thanks to this film's over-the-top nature. While Samurai Cop pales in comparison to some of the better films of this so-bad-it's-good subgenre the film is a quotable dumb flick that could easily be enjoyed with a group of friends over some alcoholic beverages.
Sophia, a young photographer, exchanges flats with a woman from Marseille in order to presumably escape from her current life. Her reasoning for coming there is uncertain, with Sophia herself not having a strong explanation as she drifts through the city taking photographs. She meets a young car mechanic and the two share a blissful evening at a bar enthralled in conversation. She leaves soon after, returning to Berlin immediately immersed in the complications of her life. Sophia has love for Ivan, who happens to be her best friend's husband, a love that will never actually come to fruition. Angela Schanelec's Marseille is a character study that sets out to capture the trivialities, unexplainable emotions, and confusion of feelings that encompasses all of our lives. This is a film that many are certain to find jarring, being intentionally shot in a way that leaves the viewer as merely a spectator in this young woman's life. The film gives very little information about the characters intentions or her plans and I think that's the point . Many of us, just like the characters in Marseille, aren't entirely sure what we want and Schanelec goes to extreme lengths to capture this melancholic sense of uncertainly. Much of the film is meticulously photographed, intentionally leaving the viewer at a distance from the actions of its main protagonist. It's certainly off-putting but a fascinating creative decision for sure. Marseille is tough piece of filmmaking that effectively captures a young woman who like all of us at one point or another is unsure about many aspects of life.
While trying to describe Denis Villenueve's Maelstrom the only thing that kept coming to mind is a dark fairytale. The film revolves around a a young upper-class woman whose life is in a downward spiral. For starters she is dealing with the guilt of having an
abortion, her brother is cutting her out of the family business and one night
she leaves a party and hits an old man with her car. The film's structure is unconventional, in that the film kinda jumps around juxtaposing different scenes with one and other and oh, did I mention it's a love story? For the most part Maelstrom does work quite well, with an odd tone that somehow manages to make this material come alive from both an emotional and visceral perspective. Given all that happens to the lead protagonist one could wonder if the film feels overstuffed or just plan too dark but that is simply not the case at all, with Villenueve creating a striking portrait of a suffering woman that is ultra convincing thanks to a great lead performance. The visual design of this film is really stunning, with impressionistic lighting that perfectly gives the viewer a window into this woman's aching sole. Make no mistake, Maelstrom is not an easy viewing experience. It's strange, unconventional and challenging but if in the end I found myself incredibly touched by the evolving relationship between the woman and man she meets. This is certainly not a fan for anyone and it is quite challenging early on in its running time, but if you stick with it, by the end the film will have you convinced.
This is only the second of Christian Petzold's films I have seen and what remains very clear is his ability to tell a strong emotional story with nuance, subtlety and grace. Ghosts is a film about two characters longing for normalcy, looking for peace and hoping to feel whole again, or for the first time. The film is split into two intertwined narratives, one involving Nina, a teenage orphan who suffers from some mental deficiency, who lives at an orphanage of-sorts where she spends most of her time working in the nearby park. One day while working she meets Toni, a troubled teenager who seems to live a vagabond lifestyle. The two hit it off and fall in love with each other but Toni is not the type of individual who settles down. The other half of this story revolves around Francoise, a woman who has just been released from psychiatric care. Francoise is still haunted by the loss of her child who went missing at age 3. These two stories are alone for most of the film, letting the viewer grasp these two characters and understand what haunts them. Nina is a very lonely individual who seemingly bounced around from orphanage to orphanage never truly having anyone in her corner. She is searching for connection and Toni provides that to her, at least initially. On the other hand is Francoise, a character who is haunted by the tragedy of her past, never capable of coming to grasps with the loss of her child. With Ghosts Petzold has created a story with two incredibly interesting characters who both are looking for a more normal life. The film doesn't force-feed the viewer anything letting it unfold naturally and while it's powerful it never ventures into sentimental garbage or exploitation. Petzold's never gives any strong indication as to whether Nina is in fact Francoise's missing daughter, opting instead to let the audience draw their own conclusions. In my opinion, this just makes the whole experience that much stronger.
After a subway encounter with a casual acquaintance, Alphonse Tram begins to head home. While leaving the subway he discovers the acquaintance murdered, with Alphonse's knife piercing his belly. Having no recollection of the events Alphonse reports the crime to his neighbor, a police inspector. The inspector has no interest in this crime, stating he is not on duty. A night passes and Alphonse learns that his wife has been murdered. With her hapless murderer showing up at Alphonse's door to confess, neither Alphonse or the Inspector seeming to care in the slightest. This is a major commentary throughout the film, as nearly every character lacks compassion when it comes to loss, showing no emotional effect even when people close to them are murdered. These three individuals steal each others woman, bicker amongst themselves all over Paris in this strange black comedy disguised as a crime thriller. Bertrand Blier's Cold Cuts is an incredibly absurd black comedy that looks at the dehumanizing effect modern urban life has on the individual. Blier argues that this inorganic urban world has created a home that is unnatural for humans, dehumanizing us to point of insanity where one acts out in violent ways in an effort to feel connected to someone. This isn't done in a highbrow way, not even close, rather Cold Cuts is a incredibly silly comedic farce. Blier's visual design fits the theme of the film well, using lots of wide lens photography to comment on this dehumanization and void of compassion that has consumed these three individuals. While the film has a lot to enjoy it did come off a little too schizophrenic for its own good, losing me at times to its almost directionless narrative. Obviously directionless narratives can be fantastically orchestrated but Cold Cuts had a few moments that seemed to verge too far away from its central ideas and themes.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.