Jim Bennett lives a double life. By day, Mr. Bennett is an English professor at a prestigious University, by night he can't resist the gambling urge, betting large sums of money whenever the chance presents itself. Down a substantial amount of money to the operator of a major gambling ring, Bennett borrows from a very dangerous gangster, offering his own life as collateral. Burning through money like it's nothing, Bennett falls deeper in debt with his various creditors, pitting them against one and other, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse as he attempts to score big, pay off his debts, and if he's lucky, get a second chance. Rupert Wyatt's The Gambler is a well paced, entertaining enough drama that is bound to suffer from comparisons to the James Caan original, a superior film in every way. This version of The Gambler doesn't have the soul of the original, missing the ability to effectively transport the viewer into the psyche of its main protagonist in an effort to understand him. Mark Wahlberg is serviceable but ultimately miscast in the role of Jim Bennett, incredibly hard to buy as an astute English professor, and even harder to root for, as a man who simply comes off as an angry individual with no reason to exist. Much of the film's failures can't simply be blamed on Wahlberg though, as The Gambler's script never even attempts to scratch the surface of these characters. The film doesn't really attempt to understand Jim Bennett's addiction, why he does it, or what it brings to him, opting for a straight-forward finale that left me uninspired. Rupert Wyatt's The Gambler isn't a bad film in its own right, but it's a straight-forward, dumb-downed version of the original.
Hsiao-Hsien Hou's Dust in the Wind centers around two teenagers, Wan and Huen, high school sweethearts who live in a secluded, low-income mining community of Jio-fen. Uninterested in the dead-end lifestyle Jio-fen offers, Wan and Huen dream bigger, deciding to move to Taipei in an effort to find employment and support their respective familes. Wan spends his days working at a paper mill, fully intent on continuing his education via night school. Huen soon joins him after finishing school in Jio-fen, finding work as a seamstress. Hsia-Hsien Hou's Dust In The Wind is a poignant, mediatative coming of age story that runs the emotional gamut of love, loss, happiness, and despair. Using a minimalistic approach, Hsia-Hsien Hou has created a film that captures what it means to become an adult in a profound and meditative way. Wan and Huen are youngsters who set out into an unknown environment, and Dust In The Wind effectively captures the effect this has on young minds who attempt to adapt, believing the world is very much theirs for the taking. Dust in the Wind is a quiet film that carries tremendous poetic weight, deconstructing our notions of individuality and simultaneously questioning how much we and individuals control. With cinematography that evokes the sure magnitude of nature and life itself, Dust in the Wind argues that us are individuals are not as free as we believe, with all of us being slaves to the hands of time and fate. While the film's clinical nature is sure to turn off some viewers, Hsiao-Hsien Hou's Dust in the Wind is not a cynical film but it's certainly a somber one, beautifully deconstructing the passage from child to adult that effectively touches on just how little we as individuals actually control.
On the morning of December 6, 1941 a squadron of B-17 bombers takes off from California, Destination: Hickham Field, Hawaii. The crew of the Mary Ann, one of these B-17 bombers, is the focus of Howard Hawk's Air Force, a film that was very much viewed as a contribution to the war effort during its release in 1943. The film chronicles these men during the early days on the Pacific war front, from witnessing the attack on Pearl Harbor that leaves their plane unarmed and running on fumes, to the counter offensive against the Japense empire. Lives are lost, and what Howard Hawks has created is a strong film about the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers. What may have been considered as anti-japanese propaganda at the time reveals itself as a Howard Hawks film about an isolated group of men, capturing gender dynamics of soldiers who are from all over the country. Hawks focuses on the close-knit brotherhood that develops in difficult times, using the constricted spaces of the bomber which are reminscient to many submarine movies. Hawks captures how WWII affected generations of Americans, crew members having fathers or sons who themselvers are serving in this monumental war. The action in Air Force jumps out for a film from 1943. It's impressively designed and choreographed, using compositions which effectively capture the dire circumstances of combat. One of the best action films of its time, Howard Hawks' Air Force is a without question a tribue to the brave men who served in WWII, but it is far more than simple propaganda film released for the war effort.
A high-rise apartment complex, on the outskirts of a major city, is the central location of Gotz Spielmann's Antares. The apartment complex is like any other high-rise, featuring thousands of faceless windows and a clean exterior, but what Gotz Spielmann finds inside these walls are the lives three very different, yet very flawed couples. Antares is an ensemble film about three very different relationships, all dealing with extremely strong emotions, both postiive and negative. Jealousy, abuse, love, love, life and death are all explored throughout Antares, using these three powerful stories that intersect. The first story is centered around a nurse who lives a comfortable family life. Driven by carnal desires, she gets involved in a passionate affair whose sex-drive matches her lust. The second story revolves an emotionally unstable woman who lies about being pregnant to her philandering boyfriend. Lastly, a recent divorcee whose ex-husband is violent and in deeply-in denial about his abusive, mean-spirited ways. The stories barely connect on a physical level, but what Gotz Spielmann's Antares says about our environment is an impressive observational study. With Antares, Spielmann beautifully captures how we are interconnected to the people around us and how we affect each other whether we subconsciously realize it or not. All three stories feature terrific performances with moments of poignancy within the cold cinematography. While Gotz Spielmann's films tend to be too cold and stagnant for some viewers, Antares is another well crafted film with lots of punch..
Clint Eastwood's American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S military history. Chronicling his early life as a young boy to his four tours in the Iraq war, American Sniper presents a rather engrossing portrait of a man living on the edge. For those paying attention, many critics have cited American Sniper as a "Red State" movie which I find quite frankly laughable. Make no mistake, Chris Kyle is a man who grew up in Texas, a good ole boy, but to attack this movie for having any type of political agenda is incredibly stupid. In fact, one of the film's best attributes is its apolitical nature; the film isn't interested in saying "War is Bad" or any other half-ass, obvious statement, instead it focuses on the effect war has on the man, how it shapes him and changes him forever. I'd go as far to argue that American Sniper exposes those individuals who tout their own agenda, with the fim being the best example in recent memory of how some film critics manipulate a film's attentions in an effort to support their own agenda. That being said, American Sniper's greatest strength is its ability to capture the mindset needed to be successful as a military sniper. Overall it does it rather subtlely too, at least compared to most other films of its type, showcasing the loss of morality that goes hand and hand with being a soldier. The film doesn't set out to expose Kyle as a monster with a death streak, but someone who is able to cut-off the emotion necessary to do his job. American Sniper skillfully deconstructs the dehumanizing nature of being a soldier. One can't talk about American Sniper without bringing up Bradley Cooper, who delivers a subtle, nuanced performance that captures the war raging in the mind of this man. This is without question Cooper's best performance to-date, as he completely transforms into his character. American Sniper is far from a perfect film, suffering from some of the typical hollywood tropes of over-sentimentality and on-the-nose sequences, but overall I was rather impressed with the films portrait of post traumatic stress, never drowning the viewer in the negative, but presenting an honest depiction of what many soldiers sacrifice.
1950's Mexica, Andres Cabrera, the landlord of a poor community, is intent on evicting his tennants in an effort to sell the land for a large sum of money. However, the community fights back, led by community Carmelo Gonzalez who leads the people to resist Andres demands. Too old to deal with this problem, Andres hires a monstrously large man, Pedro El Bruto, a slaughterhouse worker, to initimidate Carmelo and the other resident into abandoning their homes. Carrying out Andres' wishies, Pedro intimidates Carmelo, punching the weak man which accidenttly kills him. With tensions running high throughout the community, Pedro goes into hiding, inadvertently meeting Carmeo's daughter Meche, with the two falling in love. Luis Bunuel's The Brute is an early film from the masterful filmmaker that carries a lot of similaries to the Frankenstein story. El Bruto is a product of his environment, a man that is perceived as evil due to his affiliations with Andres. Much like Frankenstein, Pedro is an unintelligent man whose naivety hides behind his brute strength. El Bruto is a film with obvious social themes revolving around class but Buneul keeps the film rather apolitical, much more interested in exploring the melodrama. While nothing close to some of Bunuel's most famous works, El Bruto is a solid melodrama exploring a brutish man who is perceived as a monster due almost entirely to things he has no control over.
Based on a true events, Tim Burton's Big Eyes tells the story of Walter Keane, one of the most successful painters of the 1950s. Keane revolutionized popular art, with his enigmatic paintings of children with big eyes, being the first artist to break into the mainstream and show the commercial possibilities of popular art. Years after building his successful empire the truth came out, Keane wasn't responsible for his art, his wife Margaret was, being the true artist behind the iconic works. Tim Burton's Big Eyes centers on the awakening and empowerment of an artist and woman in Margaret, setting out to try and understand her tumultuous relationship with Walter and simply how she could sit silent for so long while her husband takes credit for all her work. Big Eyes is a film that completely lacks subtlety in its story-telling, with nearly every character in the film underdeveloped and paper thin, feeling simply designed for no other purpose but to drive the story forward. Even Margaret's character is underdeveloped, with Big Eyes bringing up interesting thematic discussions about gender and artistic expression but never actually doing much to develop these themes. The whole film just comes off lazy and rushed, going from beat-to-beat without much thought outside wrapping up the narrative. Visually, Big Eyes feels very much like a Tim Burton movie, using an over-saturated color palette to create this vibrant, colorful world. As Tim Burton's return to more serious, dramatic work, Big Eyes is a massive disappointment, which really struggles to establish a consistent tone and present the audience with characters worth investing in.
Ruben Ostlund's Involuntary consists of five unique stories, each intimately capturing human behavior in a group dynamic. A bus driver discovers someone on his bus damaged his washroom, coming to the decision that until someone confesses, the buss goes nowhere. A grou of male friends prank one of their friends Ollie, but the aftermath paints a picture more representative to rape than any type of prank. Two teenage girls pose for semi-erotic pictures, dance in a very sexualized manner, but are more a facade than actually promiscuous. An old man is injured at his party, opting to conceal his pain rather than ruin the night for everone. Lastly, a school teacher discovers a fellow faculty member being overly abusive with a student. Each of these stories consist of very different circumstances but they all display the power of collective thinking and/or social influences. Ostlund's Involuntary is humorous and poignant, offering a unique viewpoint in individual vs. group dynamics and how that influences and or manipulates what we tend to consider good judgement. Shott in a very unique way, Ostlund's film can only be described as observational, almost always using a single-frame to capture the action in each sequence. This choice detaches the audience from the film, often even keeping the character's faces off screen, in an attempt to aid the audience in diagnosing each of these situations from a completely unbiased perspective. Ruben Ostlund's Involuntary is a film that forces the viewr to pay attention to detail, quietly exposing the faults that exist in human behavior, specifically as it pertains to the individual vs. collective dynamic.
Amalia, a single child, lives with her divorced mother, Helena, and her uncle, Freddy, in the quaint, run-down Hotel Termas, which the family owns and operations. When not at choir rehersals, Amalia and her best friend, Josefina, spend a lot of time in the classroom, seeking further education on vocation and faith. When ENT physicians gather at the hotel for a medical convention, middle-aged and married Dr. Jano immediately is drawn to Amalia. When a crowd of people gather to watch a street performer, Dr. Jano presses himself against Amalia in a sexual maner, though he immediately is digusted with his actions. Meanwhile, Amalie begins to find herself drawn to Dr. Jano, believing he is her vocation. Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl is an intimate piece of filmmaking that subtely explores burgeoning sexuality and religious devoutness among a young impressionable woman. The Holy Girl isn't so much a coming of age story in the traditional sense but more a portrait of the power of our primal desires, with all characters in the film, including Amalia's own mother, desiring something that is missing from her life. The film exposes how religious beliefs can confuse the impressionable young mind, manipulating their values of love. Martel's films feature some of the most unique compositions in contemporary cinema, with The Holy Girl routinely capturing its characters among large groups of people, using the framing to single them out, as well as remind the viewer how their situations are not unique. Reserved, nuanced and elusive, Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl is a fascinating exploration of sexual desire, religion, and guilt
Marty and Bobby are best friends in a destructive relationship, where Marty finds himself routinely abused both physically and mentally. Fed up, Marty and his girlfriend, a victim of Bobby's own demented abuse, hatch a plan to murder Bobby. Together with a group of their inebrieted friend, they commit the murder in their small suburban Florida town. In the midst of the aftermath, many of the teenagers come face-to-face with the consequences of their actions. Larry Clark's Bully tackles the darker side of teenage suburbian life, attempting to capture the naive, narcissitic attitude that runs rampant. Given his films, Larry Clark has always had a deep fascination with youth. It's a type of voyeurism, with Bully completely complacent on sitting back and watching these characters destory their lives. The film certainly captures the clueless, naive nature of teenagers whose troubling actions are fueled by pent-up angry and teenage angst. Compared to some of his best efforts, Bully is a film that seems to aim more for shocks and sensualism than any type of poignancy. Bobby is a great example of this, a clearly homosexual young man who hides his secret through machoism and mean-spirit. Bobby is a character who could be much more explored and dramatized but Clark isn't very interested in exploring it. That being said, the film does do a great job with escalation, capturing the increasing peer pressure and naive nature of these characters. Even the Larry Clark haters have to appreciate his unique ability when it comes to casting and recognizing talent. The entire cast of this film, mostly no-names at the time, is loaded with great performances. Most notably of the bunch is Brad Renfro's performance of Marty, a deeply damaged kid with major rage issues because of it. Renfro does an incredibly job blances the two elements of this character, being both passive and unassuming as well as compustible. Darkly funny and as shocking as one would expect from Larry Clark, Bully is a lesser effort from the filmmaker that features strong performances and a twisted viewpoint on american suburbia.
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