The original 'evil child film', The Bad Seed is really what one would expect from a film of this genre being made in the 1950s. The casting of Patty McCormack as little Rhoda was a valuable decision as she really does a good job at balancing the sweet little girl with this small hint of psychotic tendencies. For most of the film young Rhoda uses her mothers naivety to her advantage, being deceptively a complete sweetheart to her mothers face, quickly turning into a monster behind closed doors, with Patty McCormick delivering a well-rounded performance from a young actress. The main problem I have with the film is that it just feels very "by-the-numbers' and really lacks in suspense and thrills. For a major stretch of the film, Mervyn LeRoy feels a lot like a stage play, with more and more characters frequenting a single location, the home of the Penmarks, with the volume seemingly increasing as more facts come to light around the the unsolved death of a young boy, which Rhoda may be responsible for murdering. Nancy Kelly also gives a pretty good performance as the mother, who begins to slowly suspect that her daughter is a heartless killer. I realize this is a film from the 1950s but they needed to ramp up the evil side of this character more and possibly have more examples of evil things the daughter had done. In the end maybe I just feel that the film is just too melodramatic and talky with not enough brooding atmosphere to make it anything more than a serviceable yet ultimately rather forgettable film.
Michael Obert's Song From The Forest tells the story of Louis Samo, an American man, who after hearing a song on the radio that spoke to him on a spiritual level, decides to venture deep into the Central African rainforest in search of the origin. Discovering the Bayaka Pygmies, a tribe of hunters and gathers, Louis Samo becomes infatuated with their culture, recording over a thousand hours of unique Bayaka music. Twenty-five years have passed, with Louis being a fully accepted member of the Bayaka society, living among them in the Central African rainforest. Making a promise to his young son, Samedi, that he would be introduced to his father's past life, Louis now heads back to New York City, introducing Samedi to another jungle of sorts, this one of concrete and asphault. Michael Obert's Song From The Forest is a profound, poetic, and layered examination of humanity, juxtaposing the big city lifestyle with the tranquil and simple lifestyle of the tribal people. Louis Samo is a man who found happiness in the lifestyle of the Bayaka Pygmies, finding solace in the simple tranquility of the forest and a civilization that must work in tandem, not in competition, to survive. Song From The Forest gives a detailed examination of a man who decided to change his life in such a drastic way, offering a portrait of a man in Louis who dreamed of being a composer from an early age. His love of music is what brought him into the forest originally, but what kept him there was the people, whose love of music is completely from a spiritual perspective, not at all concerned with accolades or recognition. What makes Song From The Forest such a great film though is it doesn't get too wrapped up in being a seething commentary on our financially driven society, its not judgemental at all, but rather an ode to the pursuit of happiness, urging everyone to not be afraid to do what makes them happy. Louis' son, Samedi, plays an important part in this examination, a boy who becomes himself infatuated with New York on arrival. Samedi provides a counterpoint to Louis need for a simplier life, being born in raised in a secluded tribe and finding his own type of awe-inspiring moment in the hustle and bustle of urban life. What makes this juxtaposition even more interesting, is how Song From the Forest effectively captures how similar all humans are, regardless of our extreme cultural differences. Michael Obert's Song From The Forest is a fascinating documentary about happiness, offering a powerful examination of the contrasting cultures.
Giorgos Lanthimos' Kinetta is the story of three enigmatic characters: a detective of some sort who is seemingly obsessed with luxury cars, most specificially BMWs, a part-time photographer who has a day job as a clerk, and a hotel maid with a death fetish. Living in a desolate resort town in the off-season, these three unique characters are caught in the flux of life, looking for some type of meaning or purpose, filming outlandish re-enactments of various murder scenes together in some type of attempt to give their lives purpose. Giorgos Lanthimos first lone feature film, Kinetta, is as ambiguous and as enigmatic as you'd expect from the director of such films as Dogtooth and Alps. Lanthimos films tend to be about what people are like when no one is watching, observant studies of lonely characters who more so than not are in isolation, and Kinetta is no different. Viewers beware, Kinetta is a challenging and somewhat laborious viewing experience about the social and emotional detachment of these characters, which Lanthimos uses to slowly reveal the perplexities that exist in human behavior. Feauturing very little actual dialogue, the film has more in common with a silent film, using wide lenses and positioned compositions that help evoke this sense of loneliness and isolation, with Lanthimos often filling the frame with empty space, personifying these characters own personal emptiness. The meta aspect of the film is an interesting touch, with these poorly reenacted murder sequences seeminlgy the only outlet for these characters to feel alive, giving them a glimpse of connection, as they act and recreate these sequences of human interaction. The reenactments give these characters purpose, giving them the ability to create something, instead of passively drifting through life. Darkly comic and tonally cold, Kinetta features scattered moments of emotionally weight throughout its story, most supplied by the maid, who I personally found to be the most interesting character in the film. While the maid's death fetish is banal and underdeveloped, Lanthimos' vision feels most clear and concise through the treatment of this character, being the catalyst for some of the film's more introspective moments. The maid is a character who seem completely detached from the outiside world, cleaning after society but not feeling a part of society. The re-enactments she acts in are her way to feel alive, as we routinely see her toying with the idea of suicide while alone. On the otherhand is the photographer, a man who seems to be haunted by images of death that cling to his consciouness. Lanthimos seems to suggest that filming is some form of therapy for this man, a way to exonerate some of his darker memories. A challenging and enigmatic viewering experience, Giorgos Lanthimos is a darkly comic and obtuse piece of filmmaking that is likely only to be enjoyed by more adventurous viewers.
While videochatting one night with her boyfriend, Mitch, Blaire finds herself once again partaking in the typical sexual teasing that is a part of any high school romance. Soon the couple find themselves interrupted by their raucous group of friends via vdeo chat, with the six high school friends engaging in a round of high school gossip. Strangely enough, the six friends soon have a mysterious stranger join their video chat, with Blaire also receiving direct facebook messages from a classmate who killed herself exactly one year prior. At first the friends write this off as some sick, twisted prank, but when the mysterious presence starts revealing dark secrets about the group, they soon find out they might be in a battle for their lives. Levan Gabriadze's Unfriended takes a very silly premise and crafts it into an intricate supernatural horror film, which is certainly more likely to appeal to younger generations where technology is or was a major aspect of their social experience. What's interesting about this found footage film is it isn't through a camrea but through the eyes of a character, in Blaire, who uses skype, gmail, spotify, and facebook to communicate with her friends. While the film certainly is lowbrow in approach, Unfriended shows an impressive detail in its ability to capture the frustrations and freedoms of using online applications, being a fun nightmare of technology frustrations in its own right. These rigourous details are used to the film's advantage, with Unfriended creating an impressive amount of tension from a character alternating between various online applications that appear to be haunted by some dark force. While Unfriended is an angry diatribe about cyberbullying, but the way the film is able to capture the petty nature of high school social circles is what I found most entertaining. Featuring a silly premise that is made with conviction, Levan Gabriadze's Unfriended is an exploitative supernatural horror film told completely through a computer screen.
Karim Ainouz's Futuro Beach is a challenging piece of filmmaking that uses abstract storytelling to deliver a powerful examination of life. The film centers around two characters, Donato, a lifeguard who works at the beautiful but dangerous Futuro Beach in Brazil, and Konrad, an ex-military german thrill-seeker who is vacationing in the area with his friend. When Konrad gets caught in the dangerous drift tides of Futuro Beach, his life is saved by Donato, though his other friend isn't so fortunate. There is a sexual attraction between Donato and Konrad, with sparks flying immediately, which slowly transforms into more, a true emotional connection. Falling in love with Konrad, Donato decides to leave everything behind him, including an ailing mother and young brother, heading to Berlin with Konrad. Karim Ainouz' Futuro Beach is a quiet, challenging film exploring the needs of the individual, through Donato, a character who is in desperate need of liberation and reinvention from his life. Futuro Beach is a film about the allure of the foreign, and the fear of the familiar, with Donato feeling like he needs something new, eventually leading him on a personal journey of self discovery. This is a film that gives the viewer absolutely nothing, forcing them to be observant and slowly feel thier way through these characters. Segmented into three chapters, Futuro Beach's intentions become more clear in the last chapter, which fast-forward considerably, finding Ayrton, Donato's younger brother, all grown up and angry at his brother for abandoning his family. Futuro Beach is an interesting film because of its unique perspective of life it presents, showing a chaotic type of universe where love, lust, life, and death intermingle, with Konrad being this element of chaos that ultimately led Donato on a journey of self discovery. Beautifully shot and lyrically told, Karim Ainouz Futuro Beach is a textured and abstract piece of filmmaking that effectively forces the viewer to search for meaning in its layered ideas.
Glenn McQuaid's I Sell The Dead is a low-budget, horror-comedy set during 18th century England. The film is about the adventures of Arthur Blake. On the day of his execution, Arthur Blake reflects on his life from his first outing as a young boy robbing graves due to various strange circumstances during his career as a grave robber. A film that I would classify more as a comedy than Horror, I Sell The Dead relies heavily on the relationship between Arthur and Willie as they stumble across a bunch of strange situations and circumstances. The chemistry between the two leads, along with some clever comedic dialogue, is what really keeps the film enjoyable, as the narrative itself is rather pedestrian, though passable. Don't get me wrong there are some creepy moments but I Sell The Dead is a film where the comedy is by far the film's stronger, more balanced attribute. That being said, the film does have a great atmospheric, using a foggy palette that is reminiscent of the old Hammer films day, creating a great mood for the adventures of Arthur and Willie. While Glenn McQuaid's I Sell The Dead is nowhere near perfect, it's a rather innovative horror-comedy that is a fresh take on the genre.
A surprisingly faithful adaption of Daniel DaFoe's tale, Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars injects the classic tale with a science fiction angle, telling the story of a spaceship comander, Chris Draper, stranded on a hostile planet. Drager was on a mission along with Colonel Dan McReady, but when an asteroid threatens to destroy the ship, Draper and the test monkey eject themselves from the vessel. Safely landing on Mars, Drager must figure out a way to survive, learning how to breath, drink and eat on this foreign planet. Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a great piece of science fiction because it is intelligently creative in approach. This is an epic film told with intimacy, being a survival story at first that becomes more epic in scale as its narrative plows ahead. The first half of the film is really about the mental and physical deterioration that Drager goes through a character. This isn't only about the physical battle of survival, but also the mental wear and tear isolation has on him, as he struggles to deal with the idea of being alone forever on Mars. I particularly liked the idea of his spaceship not being destroyed by the meteor, caught in the gravitational pull, making it orbit the planet, being a depressing glimpse of hope and reminder of his potential salvation that lingers out reach. From there the film becomes more of what you'd expect from a science fiction film, with Draper meeting an alien slave that he names Friday, who has escaped from a hostile species. The two slowly become friends, as Draper teaches Friday english so they can communicate better. The film's attention to detail is impressive, like how Friday's english gets noticeably better as the film progesses, organically becoming more comfortable witth the language before our eyes. The other element of Rubinson Crusoe on Mars that really stands out is the beautiful technicolor matte work, that is intricate in detail, creating an impressive world for Draper and Friday to explore. The film also uses stock footage to great effect, adding a dimension to some of the action sequences that amplies the intensity. In the days of science fiction and blockbuster filmmaking where everything aims to be epic in scope, Byron Haskin's Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a refreshingly intimate film about a man attempting to survive in an alien world.
Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard), an upper-class, snobby intellectual encounters a lower-class flower-girl, Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller), whose grammar, etiquette and pronunciation are uncouth, to say the least. Professor Higgins enters into a wager with his friend Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he can completely transform her and pass her off as a duchess in a mere matter of months. Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard's Pygmalion is essentially a superior albeit lesser known version of 'My Fair Lady'. This version's dialogue is far more witty and fun and the droll humor is perfectly captured by Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. Henry Higgins really is a great character who is pretty much a complete elitist whose intellect masks him from his more humanistic emotional attributes. He is extremely intelligent and knowledgeable but is pretty much clueless when it comes to romance/relationships and Leslie Howard captures these dynamics perfectly. These two characters each are very different, with Pygmalion exposing how each one of them can learn from the other, leading to the looming romantic connection between these two individuals which isn't really even touched until the last 20 minutes. While this approach is definitely something to appreciate, the romance does come off feeling a little too brisk in it coming to fruition, though I can't say if this is something inherent in the source materal. Anthony Asquith & Leslie Howard's Pygmalion is a n elegant, whimsical film, featuring an important message about social class.
Maurice Pialat's Graduate First examines the dead-end futures of a number of young French teenagers living in a small mining town in Northern France. With their studies coming towards an end, the teenagers begin to celebrate, spending their days in a debaucherous mix of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. Pialat's Graduate First is a film that feels like an indirect sequel to Naked Childhood, being photographed in the same region of the country, having that same, grim slice-of-life feeling. Graduate First is a film that examines the journey to adulthood, where individuals go down different paths. Some people have exciting dreams about their future, and others get stuck in their own personal nightmarish world of denile, but what Pialat captures best is the simple abrupt change that impacts everyone, with the structure of childhood being stripped away. Pialat's film is relatively quiet, especially compared to other film of this ilk, but Graduate First is full of drama, pot-induced laughs, a group holiday, sex, and even an incredibly uncomfortable sequence that sees an older man creeping on one of the girls, a man who must be at least 25 years her elder. I was particularly drawn to the characters who are already trapped in the sadness of their lives, a woman caught in a loveless marriage, who desperately wishes she could leave and start over. Pialat's film is stark but it perfectly captures the unknown of this stage in life, with characters of nearly all kinds headed down divergent paths. While I wouldn't say Maurice Pialat's Graduate First is one of my favorite films by the filmmaker, this is a film that gives a unique perspective on the journey to adulthood.
William A. Wellman's Battleground is a gritty, uncompromising portrayal of American troops in WWII, particularly centered around the Battle of the Bulge. The film centers around a single platoon of roughnecks experiences, as they navigate this dangerous terrain. The way the film examines these soldiers and the toll it has on them both physically and mentally is the strength of the film. We see their personalities and attitudes are much more lively in the beginning, when they are in the safety of their own tents at base camp, yet as we follow the group of men, they become much more rough, as they become low on supplies, ammo, and mental sanity. The beautiful cinematography and atmosphere also stood out, with almost every scene consisting of this dense, brooding fog which creates this abyss like feeling, making the platoon and its individuals feel more cut-off and alienated from the world. Wellman picks his moments but there are some haunting images of the death and destruction in this film, like a shot of a soldier's lone boot, laying above the grave-like foxhole where the soldier's body lies. or how Wellman routinely focuses on a soldier's limp or lack of appropriate boots for the dense cold. The mastery of Battleground is in these small details, with Wellman painting a portrait of the masculinity and toughness required of these men as a necessity for survival. Without going into details, this message is perfectly encapsulated in the final scene, a sequence that seems to have influenced many war films that followed it.
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