Violet and Daisy are a pair of young, gun-toting teenage assassins who have just learned that their favorite pop artist, Barbie, has just canceled her concert. Determined to raise more cash, the duo takes on a new hit, but when they arrive at the location they discover a nice, lonely, dying man who wishes to end his existence. Violet & Daisy is a film I had trouble grasping the intention of. Is it a self-aware Tarantino Parody or a film that takes itself far too seriously? I'm not sure, and that is a major problem. If I had to guess, I would have to side with the latter, with the film constantly reminding the viewer that these contract killers are simply young impressionable woman but by-and-large it doesn't earn anything it tries to sell. I never felt anything throughout the film whether it be the weight and severity of death, or the youthful emotions that these woman are supposed to exude, with the film completely lost in what tone it wants to have. This leaves Violet & Daisy relying completely on spectacle which isn't a good thing, considering how obnoxious this film is. I found myself feeling sorry for both Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel who deserve better material than this. It's really distracting that both Violet & Daisy are supposed to be in the 18-20 year old range but you couldn't tell from this script, which seems to be written with 12 year old characters in mind who routinely play patty-cake with one and other. The one silver-lining in the entire film is James Gandolfini, who brings a small amount of heart and substance to the film but it's not nearly enough to make Violet & Daisy worth watching. Geoffrey Fletcher's Violet and Daisy is a film completely unable to establish its tone, leading to an uninteresting and dull experience.
Omar, a Palestinian baker, routinely climbs over the separation wall in order to see his two best friends, Tarek and Amjad. He is a baker only by title, with his real job being a freedom fighter against the Israeli military who occupy the area. Omar has also fallen in love with Tarek's sister, Nadja, hoping one day to gather the courage to ask Tarek to allow them to wed. After the killing of an Israeli soldier, Omar is captured and tricked into confessing to the crime where he faces life imprisionment. In order to escape he agrees to become an informant, setting off a dangerous game, where Omar begins to play both sides of the conflict, leading to tragic results. Hany Abu-Assad's Omar is a tense, fast-paced thriller looking at one man's tough choices on the frontlines of a conflict that has shown no signs of letting up. While so many films about this conflict deal with major themes on a much larger scale, this film opts for a much more confined story of three childhood friends who are eventually torn apart by the world they live in. While I appreciate this simplicity, Omar never really has all that much to say from a thematic perspective, besides emphasizing the deceit that runs rampant in this setting. From the long-time friendships that Omar, Tarek, and Amjad share, to Omar's love for Nadja, this is a film that simply tells you about these important relationships rather than showing the view through actions. Personally I never found myself nearly as invested in the romance between Omar and Nadja, feeling that it needed more time to develop naturally. From a narrative perspective, Omar is lean and mean, filled with enough twists and turns to keep the audience engaged and uncertain of the outcome from start to finish. In the end, Hany Abu-Assad's Omar is an enjoyable little thriller but given the weight of the Israeli-Palestian conflict I wish it had a little more to say.
Pinky, a socially awkward teenage girl, has just moved from Texas to a small California desert town. She finds work at a spa for the elderly, where she meets Millie, a very nice but lonely woman who tries desperately to make friends with her constant up-beat attitude. The two become friends, even moving in together, but Pinky grows overly attached to Millie, adopting aspects of her personality. The two begin to clash when Pinky discovers Millie with Edgar, a macho cowboy type who happens to be married to Willie, a local artist, leading to a subversive turn in the narrative. Robert Altman's 3 Women is an enigmatic experience that puts more focus on imagery and atmosphere than typical narrative conventions. Altman's typical voyeuristic camera is a nice fit for the material, a constant observer in this ellipitcal experience that only aids the off-kilter, ominous tone. 3 Women is a film that could be almost described as a fever dream, with Altman creating a complete role reversal of its two characters after Pinky suffers an "accident". Altman's 3 Women has obvious comparisons to Bergman's Persona, with each film taking a look but I wouldn't say it's fully realized. There is also an interesting subtext in 3 Women centered around gender roles, but like most things in 3 Women it's a little hard to pin down exactly what Altman's intentions were. The performances all around are fantastic with Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall each giving great performances in their respective roles. Robert Altman's 3 Women features a second half that is even more enigmatic and hypnotic, making for an interesting if not perfect examination of identity.
On the eve of an election, a succesful businessman running for public office gets into a serious car accident, killing a pedestrian on an isolated road. Fleeing the scene of the crime, Servet contacts Eyup, his driver, making him an offer he can't refuse. If Eyup takes the fall, Servet agrees to continue paying his salary as well as a lump sum of money when he is released. Living in a modest flat with his wife, Hacer, and son, Ismail, Eyup knows they could use the money and agrees to take the fall. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's beautifully composed Three Monkeys is the closest thing to a melodrama one could imagine from the talented filmmaker. At its core, Three Monkeys is essentially a story about an affair between Hacer and Servet that begins to unfold, with Hacer's son discovering the truth unbeknownst to Eyup. What makes this film so compelling though is how Ceylan raises the biggest question about this deception, examining how truth and lies intertwine, questioning if some truths are better left unknown. The story is nuanced, the characters are well-developed, and Ceylan examines these souls trapped by class, sorrow, guilt, and greed. Enough cannot be said about Ceylan's gorgeous visual design, with beautiful cinematography and compositions which leave little doubt that Ceylan is one of the most impressive contemporary artists working today. Three Monkeys was the last of Ceylan's films I had to see, and it has become clear that not only is he one of the best contemporary filmmakers working today, he seems to be getting better and better with each successive film.
Heli, a young Mexican teenager, lives with his father, his son, his young wife, and his 12-year-old sister, Estella, in a small two-bedroom home. Working at the Hiro plant, Heli and his family make a modest living in a region run by the drug cartels. When 17-year-old police cadet Beto falls in love with Estella, the two concoct a plan to run away together, setting off a cataclysmic event that plunges Heli and his entire family into the brutal and merciless hands of the drug cartel. Amat Escalante's Heli is an incredibly unnerving experience that should not be seen by the faint of heart. Escalante paints an alarming portrait of modern Mexico where the drug cartels reign but no matter how bleak, Heli never feels like empty provocation. Escalante argues that the system itself is broken and I really loved his choice of having many of the adults be secondary characters, capturing how Heli and Estella are forced to grow up far too fast, never having the opportunity to simply be children, something many of us take for granted.
Heli has sequences of raw power that are impressive and unforgettable but even with all the despair Escalante's film is somewhat a story of resilience. Don't get me wrong, this film has nothing close to a happy ending by traditional standards but even after the characters of Heli are mentally and physically beaten they still find themselves together as a family. Amat Escalante's Heli is a brutal, bleak journey into modern Mexico which features sequences of raw power that I won't ever forget.
In the year 2028, Detroit finds itself overrun with crime. The police do their best but they cannot protect the streets by themselves. When Alex Murphy, a loving husband and father, is nearly killed in the line of duty, a multinational conglomerate, OmniCorp, sees their chance to build a part-man, part-machine police officer in an effort to build public trust for larger financial gains. Jose Padilha's Robocop remake isn't a bad film by any means, just a wholly unnecessary one. Following Hollywood's current trend of remaking hard R films "more accessible", this version of Robocop is a castrated version of its ultra-violent predecessor. While its PG-13 rating doesn't necessarily kill the film, it makes this new Robocop feel very uninteresting, lacking any real stakes or consequences. The bigger problem is that this new version has nothing interesting to say, having no real social commentary. This is a film completely satisfied with making a shallow, uninteresting action film but probably what's so frustrating is its missed opportunities. The film dances around an interesting commentary on society's freedoms and media manipulation but it never goes anywhere interesting, simply scratching the surface and moving on to the next action sequence. While I must admit I enjoyed watching Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson chew up scenery, it's not nearly enough to make this film worth recommending. Jose Padilha's Robocop does do enough from a story perspective to separate itself from the original film but unfortunately it has nothing interesting to say.
From universally acclaimed filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki comes his final film, The Wind Rises, an epic but deeply personal story that spans decades. It's the story of Jiro, a young Japanese boy who dreams of flying and designing airplanes. Near-sighted from a young age, Jiro is unable to be a pilot, but whe nhe finishes school he quickly joins a japanese engineering firm, becoming one of the most innovative and accomplished designers. The Wind Rises is a fitting conclusion to Hayao Miyazaki's career, being a film that celebrates the beauty of life and the importance to live it to the fullest. Jiro is a incredibly kind and generous man, yet throughout this film despair and sadness seem to follow him wherever he goes. Given the time period when The Wind Rises takes place, Jiro lives through the massive earthquake of 1923, the great depression in Japan, an epidemic of tuberculosis, and of course Japan's entrance into World War II. Through all of this, Jiro still pushes forward, striving to be the best he can be and help out wherever possible. The Wind Rises captures the darkness and light that is so prevalent throughout our lives ultimately showing the beauty of life itself while doing it. I've always preferred 2-D animation to 3-D animation, especially in Miyazaki's films. It's hard to explain but I feel 2-D simply has more soul and artistry, with Miyazaki's penchant for grandiose, lush settings full of detail being very prevalent throughout The Wind Rises. Miyazaki is one of the few animation filmmakers in which visual design and cinematography play a major role in telling the story, with The Wind Rises being full of beautiful moments a plenty. If this is in fact Hayao Miyazaki's final film it's a worthy one, though I totally expect this won't be his last.
Acclaimed filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, whose Koyaanisqatsi debuted 30 years ago, returns to deliver another hypnotic exploration of humanity with Visitors. Shot in beautiful black and white imagery, Visitors is a stunning, wordless portrait of the humanities place in the universe. I guess the easiest way to describe a film like Visitors is as a art exhibit on celluloid which features high contrast black and white imagery that accentuates every detail. Visitors is about a lot of things, which is in part what makes it so fascinating. Visitors is an examination of humanity's relationship with technology, contrasting the emotional effect it has on us but what always seems to stand out about Reggio's films is the scale at which he examines humanity's place. Visitors is a film that reminds the viewer that us humans are merely a small spec on the massive scale of time and space. While we as a species confide in our technological achievements, Visitors reminds us that time is the only absolute. There is tons of imagery throughout Visitors that evokes all sorts of mixed emotions, and while this is not a film for everyone, it's essential viewing for anyone with a love or passion for art and/or photography.
Felix and Sol, a happily married couple, are out visiting the countryside with their two children, a preteen son and teenage daughter. When the two children go missing overnight on a desolate moutainside, Felx and Sol are left in an absolute panic. Luckily, the two children turn up the next day but they seem different, exhibiting strange and ominous behavior that lacks any reasonable explanation. Thinking rationally, given the situation, Felx and Sol suspect that their children were sexually assaulted but as these strange occurances become even more impossible to explain, they begin to realize something supernatural is involved. Adrian Garcia Bogliano's Here Comes The Devil is an above-average supernatural horror film that borrows heavily from genre fare of the 1970s. Compared to most of the horror films coming out these days Here Comes The Devil is a refreshing throwback, with an atmospheric tone and scares that don't rely solely on jump tactics. Very stylistic, the film implores whip-pans, quick-zooms, depth-filling compositions, to create a film very reminiscent of 70's horror. While the film is technically strong and great compared to most horror films of today, Here Comes The Devil lacks a real presence, almost feeling like a hodgepodge of creepy encounters instead of a cohesive story with thematic intentions. The plot itself works well enough but Here Comes the Devil never seems to have much to say, satisfied with blending tropes of arthouse and horror filmmaking together, but it has done better elsewhere.
Rachel, a stay-at-home mom, lives a seemingly perfect life in her affluent Silver Lake neighborhood with her successful husband and adorable child. In reality, Rachel is wound up too tight, living a mundane existence in a marriage that has lost nearly all passion. When Rachel and her husband visit a strip club, in an effort to spark their sex lives, Rachel meets McKeena, and soon after, invites her to be a live-in nanny, in an effort to help help McKenna out. Jill Soloway's Afternoon Delight is an examination of the typical, middle-class suburban housewife and while it does come off a little too preachy at times, it provides an honest and refreshing depiction. Rachel is a great protagonist for this type of film, a woman whose own privileged lifestyle has smothered her growth. She is an incredibly good natured character who wants to help out the less fortunate, not realizing she also needs to help herself. Kathryn Hahn, an actress mostly known for her comedic work, gives a great performance as Rachel, bringing a rich and complex character to life with great fragility. This film is all about the role swap between Mckenna and Rachel, capturing how these two extremely different walks of life can educate one and other. We all have problems whether worn on the surface or hidden, and Afternoon's juxtaposition of these two characters is probably its greatest strength. I'm not sure the film quite achieves everything it sets out to do, feeling a bit unfocused at exactly what it wants to say. Hahn masks a lot of this with her performance, but the themes which Afternoon Delight examines feel more teased than actually developed and while I don't think the film is cohesive enough in its conclusion, one cannot deny that it is compelling from start to finish thanks to largely to Hahn's performance.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.