In a large high-rise apartment in New York City lives Skye and Cisco, a couple very much in love. Much younger than Cisco, Skye paints for a living, while Cisco is a successful actor in-between projects. What seems like a normal day for the couple initially is anything but, as the entire planet has learned that at 4:44am EST, the world will end. The apocalypse didn't come without warnings but their is no escape from humanities fate, with Cisco and Skye now tasked with coming to terms with their lives. Abel Ferrera's 4:44 Last Day on Earth is a unique end-of-the-world film that is an existential study of humanity and emotion. A much quieter film than most films dealing with the same subject matter, 4:44 Last Day On Earth isn't emotionally loud but instead a poetic exploration of our humanity, as these two characters attempt to find peace in their existence. Abel Ferrara explores the various emotions likely to emerge in a time of such crisis, with characters attempting to accept their fates and come to terms with their past mistakes, regrets, and loves. It's a film about human desperation, with people attempting to deal with something so much larger than themselves in different ways. Some people simply refuse to accept it, some try to intellectually interpret their fate, some just want to feel alive one last time, while others quietly fade away into the night. Ferrara also seems to want to comment on humanities relationship with technology, with computers, televisions, and cell phones playing a major role in the film. Technology is what gives many individuals the ability to say goodbye and come to terms with their existence, but Ferrara also seems to want to express how all we can hope for when the time comes is the ability to say goodbye. Shot almost exclusively in one location, 4:44 Last Day On Earth isn't a film you would necessarily expect to have a strong visual style but Abel Ferrera does a great job evoking the emotions of his characters in a visual way whenever possible. I particularly found Ferrera's use of Silhouttes fascinating, often back-lighting characters during moments of intimate embrace, as if to remind the viewer that all of us as human beings are the same in the face of an unprecedented event like the end of the world. Ferrera showcases the diversity of humanity and what makes us unique, doing so in a existential way that makes 4:44 Last Day On Earth a fascinating entry in the end-of-the-world genre.
Set in 1960's London, Edwin Abonek's The Monster of London City is a horror mystery film examing the fine line which can be walked between art and reality. While a succesful adaption about Jack the Ripper rocks London's box office, a new series of Jack the Ripper murders terrorize the city. Richard Sand, the actor responsible for the powerful central performance as Jack the Ripper, is a method actor, drawing suspicion from the lead detective and other parties. With a serviceable story and stellar cinematography and direction, The Monster of London City is a unique film that subtlely raises a lot of interesting questions about the boundaries between artistic expression and public safety. The film explores an intense method actor consumed by his performance, who himself begins to feel the guilt of these terrible murders hanging over his head. While Richard Sand is the main suspect, the director of the film also goes through conflict with ticket sales souring as more blood is shed. While the director character doesn't have any problems with making money off of misfortune, it's an interesting antedote to this mystery thriller. The narrative itself keeps the viewer guessing about the identity of the killer, intentionally trying to throw the viewer off the scent. Unfortunately the finale does not live up to the previous 70 minutes, with a reveal that never earns its merit early in the story. The Monster of London City features beautiful cinematography, from some really impressive long takes to immersive lighting and composition, particuarly during the murder sequences. The Monster of London City is nothing special from a mystery perspective, but the direction and thematic strings it pulls make it worth your time.
Damon Russell's Snow On That Bluff tells the story of Curtis Snow, a crack dealer who routinely robs competing dealers, living in one of Atlanta's most dangerous neighborhoods known as 'The Bluff'. A very unique experience, Snow On That Bluff is a pseudo-documentary that seems to be mostly authentic, outside of a few stages sequences. The films begins when Curtis Snow steals a camera from some college kids who have stumbled into his neighborhood looking for dope. He decides to start documenting his life, filming himself rob dealers and sells drugs in an effort to provide for his baby momma and 2-year old son. When one of the drug dealers Curtis ripped off comes looking for him, things begin to spiral out of control. Snow On That Bluff has raised controversy and questions about authenticity due to a few seemingly staged sequences, and while I certainly agree with these criticisms what makes Snow On Tha Bluff fascinating is its authentic main character, Curtis Snow. Snow is a man whose born and raised in the hood and the film subverts typical documentary expectations by letting this man essentially document his life through his perspective. Snow On That Bluff provides an in-depth, personal look at the hopelessness of the ghetto, the inability for anyone to actually leave and make a better life, using Curtis and his young son to capture this. In fact, some of the most effective sequences of the film revolve around Snow and his young boy, showing the elliptical lifestyle of the ghetto, with Curtis trying to make a man out of his young son, almost completely devoid of any type of nurturing ability due in large part to the tough lifestyle being all he knows. Say what you will about the film's staged sequences but Damon Russell's Snow On That Bluff is a unique portrait of urban crime that's greatest attribute is its ability to capture the underlying sense of chaos and violence that can strike at any point in this drug-based lifestyle.
Carla, a young secretary, has been a long-time employee of a major property development company in France. Loyal and hardworking, Carla begins to realize her career prospects at the company are stagnant, with her timid personality and so-so looks being the primary obstacle to her advancement. Enter Paul Angeli, a new Secretary assistant, who Carla decides to hire on for assistance. Only 25 years old and fresh out of jail, Paul is completely unskilled, but yet Carla selects him, being a good-looking man who treats her with respect. Jacques Audiard's Read My Lips is a subversive romantic thriller about two very different indivduals who form a special, yet dangerous bond. Paul and Carla are two characters who couldn't be more different but what Audiard has crafted is a dark and strangely poignant look at love and relationships, almost challenging our notions of love as a society by capturing our inability to define it, even though we constantly. This isn't a happy-go-lucky love story but a dangerous one, with Audiard generating an uncomfortable look at the psyhological aspect of romance, using these two troubled characters to showcase the various needs and desires which inhabit all of us. Carla is the definition of a passive character; shy, timid, and still suffering socially due to her lack of hearing from an early age. Paul is the opposite, bold, braze, and sexually acute; the two form a pseudo-relationship that works, each filling a void missing in the other's life. Narrative-wise, Jacques Audiard's Read My Lips is a well-paced, clever thriller that explores love and relationships, dancing the line between between darkness and light.
Dziga Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera is a groundbreaking silent film that showcases the true power and importance of cinema as an art form. With no intertitles or narrative to speak of, Man With A Movie Camera capturing both the vastness and intricate detail of city life, Dziga Vertov sets out to create a film that documents life as we know it. Seeking to differentiate cinema as an art form, arguing that it has unique benefits that literature or theater simply can't offer, Vertov has created a hypnotic ode to the moving image and its ability to document emotion and life like nothing else before it. A hypnotic, visceral experience, Man With A Movie Camera's kinetic editing and fast-moving imagery transport the viewer into the hustle and bustle of city life, focusing closely on mankind's technical achievements revolving around engineering and architecture. Man With A Movie Camera is basically a show-reel for the power of cinema, as if Vertov was one of the first ones to create the language of movie-making, with sequence after sequence showcasing the potential for the medium that is sure to make all film lover's fall in love. Given the film's experimental nature it's somewhat difficult to fully grasp what type of statement Dziga Vertov was going for with Man With A Movie Camera, though it certainly stems from the importance of humanities newfound ability to visually document our world - not just tell stories. In a day and age where cinema has basically become a secondary medium of expression, Vertov's Man With A Movie Camera is a beautiful reminder of the power of the moving image.
Talya Lavie's feature debut Zero Motivation can only be described as a off-kilter, dark comedic portrait of life for the young, female soldier in the Israeli army. The film primarily follows two irresponsible young soliders in Daffi and Zohar, who work in a Human Resources office in a remote desert base. While Daffi is desperate to get transferred to Tel Aviv, Zohar spends most of her time on minesweeper. In the thick of boredom and clashing personalities aplenty, Zohar and Daffi find their friendships put to the test. Zero Motivation is a sharp comedic treat about what it is like to be a female solider in a male dominate society. The film doesn't exactly sound the trumpet of social injustice, but it does subtlely expose many of the disadvantages of being a female in current society. This is not even close to the film's only focus which is probably Zero Motivation's biggest weakness, having far too many provocative ideas, which leads to many of them feeling half-baked. Zero Motivation touches on love, friendship, country, gender politics, and female empowerment, with poignant stretches that never are quite capable of sustaining themselves due to being overstuffed. As far as first-features go, Zero Motivation is without question the birth of a interesting new voice, with its effectiveness struggling at times due to trying to touch on too many topics.
After a devastating cyber attack leaves a Chinese nuclear facility severly damaged, a joint Chinese-American cyber unit discovers traces of a computer code written by Nick Hathaway, an extremely talented hacker. With parts of Nick's code being used in the hack, the FBI is forced to release him from prison, being possibly the only man capable of tracking down the cyber terrorist responsible. Michael Mann's Blackhat is a fascinating film for the simple reason that it's a hacker movie that's poorly written but very well-directed. The opening sequence is dumb but interesting, a sequence that attempts to visually capture the hacking of nuclear power plant as it happens. Reminiscent of the Nos sequences that used to be a major part of the Fast and the Furious series, the film showcases how something so small can be so devastating- something very important to establish in a Hacker film. Michael Mann is essentially evolving as a filmmaker, adapting to the new digital photography in a way that makes this film a visceral experience, with action sequences that are some of the most intense ones you can find. Typical of most of Michael Mann's recent output, Blackhat has a forced romance arch but the real problem lies in its inability to have a lead protagonist that is anything but boring. With the way the film is written, Nick Hathaway has no soul as a character til the last act, making it hard to be invested in the story. The story itself is also odd, being intentionally convoluted about the stakes at times, but Blackhat does a great thing by choosing to keep the antagonist almost completely in the shadows, giving the viewer no clue as to his intentions until the end of the film. Blacklist is certainly a silly film but Mann's film is full of interesting thematic discussions centered around surveillance and technology, keeping the film so interesting from a visual and audio perspective in a way that makes it hard to not enjoy the ride.
Keisuke Kinoshita's Jubilation Street tells a story of war but it doesn't focus on the soliders on the front, instead the film focuses an empathetic eye on civilians living on the outskirts of Tokyo. Following a small group of neighbors, Jubilation Street is without question a propaganda film used to boost patriotism, but it's also an effective melodrama. The main emotional weight centers around Shingo, a young pilot, and his pending proposal to his neighborhood girlfriend, Takako. Her parents, in particularly her mother, do not approve of her marriage, putting a wedge between the two lovers' plan. Shingo's plight is emotionally affecting but it also serves as a perfect parable for the japanese war effort. With World War II escalating, this tight-knit community must relocate from their homes and move to country, doing so the government can use the space for the war effort. Jubilation Street is a film all about the personal sacrifices everyone must make for the greater good of the country, doing so in a way that isn't particularly ham-fisted all things considered. It exposes the strain and stress that these circumstances have on the family unit, with an entire community coming together in harder times. Given the limited resources of the production, Jubilation Street is a well-made feature with a few breathtakingly directed sequences, most notably the scene where Takako learns of Shingo's death. Given that it's basically a propaganda film, Jubilation Street is a solid film, featuring resourseful direction and a modestly effecive melodrama.
Shirin,a twenty-something young woman, lives in Manhattan where she struggles to find acceptance in nearly every aspect of her life. Shirin is bi-sexual, and part of a loving family but being of Iranian descent, She is terrifed of being honest about her sexuality. To compound matters, Shirin has just gotten out of a long term relationship with Maxine, a woman that she was deeply in love with. A tad aimless due to her inability to live freely, instead of using her masters in Journalism, Shirin decides to teach a moviemaking class to a bunch of energetic six-year-old. Overloaded by the pressure of trying to be someone she is not around her loved ones, Shirin embarks on mini-rebellion, which eventurally leads to personal triump. Desiree Akhavan's Appropriate Behavior is a film about coming up, capturing the importance of never needing to hide who you are a persion. Shirin is a woman dealing with the difficulty of just ending a long term relationship and Appropriate Behavior is emotionally effective but the real strength of the film is how Shirin struggles as an individual. She is truly in a fight over her sexual identity, almost subconsciously fighting her true self out of neccessity from whats been engrained into her over the year from family and society. The editing and narrative structure are impressive, almost being intentionally vague when it comes to linear timeline about past and present with seamless transitions that form a cohesive whole. It's also appropriate to potentially recognize a three-way threat in Desiree Akhavan, whose acting shows an impressive amount of range and charisma, as long as a what feels like a personal story. Well-acted and written, Appropriate Behavior a funny and poigant film that feels like a geniune portrait of a woman struggling to be free.
In the need of easy money, Norbert, a young teenager, gets a counterfeit 500 franc note from his friend. He spends it at a camera store, dooping the owner into accepting the fake currency. Not wanting to hurt the bottom line, the shop keeper passes on the counterfeit currency to Yvon, an honest delivery man, who has no idea he has just been paid in fake money. Grabbing a bite to eat, Yvon is arrested for using the fake money, with any attempt to assign the blame to the camera store falling on deft ears. Being arrested causes Yvon to lose his job, and as desperation grows he agrees to become a getaway car driver in an effort to support his family. The heist is foiled by the police, sending Yvon to jail for three years. Robert Bresson's L'Argent is a challenging yet rewarding film whicch clinically deconstructs the effects of money on our society. Bresson's last film is designed in a way that is sure to alienate viewers, using fragmented space to great effect, especially towards the end of the film. Intentionally cold, Bresson routinely fragments the image, reluctant to show the characters faces or emotions, which in turn forces the viewer to us their imagination to decipher these character's actions. Bresson is not a filmmaker known for his social ideas but L'Argent certainly focuses on the power of money, with the framing routinely focuses on the monetary exchanges throughout the film. Bresson's film feels more spiritual than social, with L'Argent capturing how money itself can strip away our humanity directly and indirectly. Nothing feels forced in L'Argent, with Bresson simply using his clinical visual eye and poetic storytelling to capture the cost of money. L'Argent is a dense film that certainly requires multiple viewings, but what the film says about the cost of money and how it can so easily transform us, is truly special.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.