Ben and Mickey, two former minor league baseball players, wander aimlessly across a post-apocalyptic New England. Sticking to the back-roads and forests, Ben and Mickey avoid the undead, slowly agitating the hell out of one and other in the process. These two guys couldn't be more different, with Ben being someone who embraces this lawless, nomadic lifestyle while Mickey is unable to accept his new reality, almost living in a delusion, unable to let go of the comforts and relationships he formed in his past life. When Ben and Mickey intercept a radio communication from what appears to be a thriving and protected community, Mickey becomes obsessed with tracking them down, despite the fact that the community has made it abundantly clear that neither of them is welcome. Jeremy Gardner's The Battery is an exceptionally made, low-budget horror flick that distinctively puts violence and gore on the back-burner, being far more interested in exploring the relationship between its characters. The Team dynamics that are explored in The Battery are funny, engaging, and intelligent, with the two men almost taking up gender roles, with Jeremy being the protector and provider, while Mickey struggles to accept this new world. This relationship-driven approach pays off, with The Battery slowly developing a strong emotional core between its two characters, which leads to a powerful and resonant conclusion that puts most zombie movies to shame. While i'm sure this description is sure to turn-off some fans of the Zombie genre, make no mistake, The Battery is an absolute blast, with a very funny script that uses tropes of the genre to create one of the most funny and engaging Zombie films I've seen in awhile. Original, funny, and emotionally devastating, Jeremy Gardner's The Battery is an impressive low-budget effort that is one of the best Zombie films to come out in recent memory.
Set directly after the end of World War II, Christian Petzold's Phoenix tells the story of Nelly, a concentration-camp survivor, who requires major facial reconstructive surgery. After having the operation, and against her friend's best judgement, Nina returns to postwar ravaged Berlin, wandering the streets in search of her husband Johhny, a man who may have been the one responsible for turning her into the Nazis. Eventually she does find him, but he doesn't recognize her, though he proposes a plan due to "her resemblance to his wife". Christain Petzold's Phoenix uses a pulpy premise to deliver powerful film about the way people and nations warp their perspectives in order to move forward and keep on surviving. Lene, the woman who was with Nelly all the way through her surgery, doesn't want Nelly to have anything to do with her husband, angry at Nelly's husband and a country that could turn on its own citizens, and not simply trying to move on and overlook what happened. In a sense, Lene symbolizes he brutal moral realities that some people have trouble dealing with, while Fanny symbolizes those who succumb to the need to identify with an oppressor. This is what makes the film great, with Phoenix capturing how Nelly really has two seperate identities, one before she was persecuted for being Jewish, where her husband and friend's adored her, to afterwards, where she was arrested and sent to a concentration game. This is a film that can feel almost like a psychological horror film for stretches, asNelly deceives herself, playing along with Johnny's plan to get her money, almost as if she is falling in love all over again. Nelly feels the need to fit in, but while the film technically remains ambiguous to the fact of whether Johnny turned her into the Nazis, it couldn't be more clear due to a powerful ending. Raising some interesting perspects about post World War II, specifically around German citizens of Jewish descent, Christian Petzold's Phoenix is a powerful examination of post war trauma which features another stellar performance from Nina Hoss.
Sung-bo Shim's Haemoo centers around Captain Kang and his fishing crew, men who have fallen on rough times due to seas that are not as giving as they were in the past. Kang is struggling so much financially that he is about to lose his boat, and in an act of desperation he agrees to a smuggling job, that entails sneaking Chinese immigrants into the country. Captain Kang doesn't tell his crew about the smuggling job until they are already at sea, but when an unexpected tragedy takes place, Kang finds his desperation isn't equaled by everyone else in his crew. Sung-bo Shim's Haemoo is the latest dark and gritty film to come out of South Korea, focusing on extreme lengths men are willing to go in order to survive. Haemoo is a film that is best going into blind, as it features a reveal about halfway through the film that triggers a descent into madness. Without giving too much away, lets just say that Haemoo focuses on Captain Kang, a character who goes to extreme measures, including murder, in an attempt to keep his business alive. Stylish and well-designed, the film does a great job of using its setting to evoke the mood of the story, using clear waters and sunny oceans in the beginning of the story that quickly turn dark and stormy after the traumatic incident. I particularly liked the use of sea fog that rols into the film after the incident, which supplies a gloomy atompshere that clearly matches the darkness of what is going on in the story. While the film seems to have something interesting to say about the Male psyche in general, as many members of ship's crew seem to be borderline obsessed with some form of sexual interaction with the Chinese immigrants, Haemoo doesn't follow through much on these ideals, focused more on delivering a stripped-down, intense narrative. While at first I had major problems with the love aspect of the story involving the youngest member of the crew and the lone Chinese immigrant that survives, Haemoo redeems itself in the final sequence, showing how their love was more a mirage for the sake of survival than any true connection, subverting the viewers' expectations from what was built up throughout the story. Haemoo is a solid and unrelenting thriller, being just the latest in a long line of gritty thrillers to come out of South Korea.
On backpacking holiday in England, American college kids David and Jack wander the English moors when they come across a quaint pub that goes by the name 'The Slaughtered Lamb'. The bar patrons aren't the most inviting, and under an awkwardly tense atmosphere they warn David and Jack to not leave the road after dark. Irreverent to the advice, Jack and David decide to shake a short cut, leading to a furious and disorienting attack from something or something that leaves David in the hospital and Jack deceased. With David in a state of shock and confusion, he finds himself being visited by the deceased and decomposing Jack, who warns David that he will become a Werewolf when the moon is full, with the only way out via suicide. John Landis' An American Werewolf in London is a creative film that beautifully balances its horror and comedy elements, managing to succeed at being both funny and scary. Revitalizing the horror genre at the time, An American Werewolf in London is a film that is part satire and part love-letter to the old monster movies, using tropes of the genre to both frighten but also exploit for the film's more satirical intentions. From a horror perspective, An American Werewolf in London does a great job at creating an intense and mysterious atmosphere, operating on the less is more approach when it comes to gore. When the violence does come the film doesn't hold back, with the reluctance to show excessive violence only aiding in elevating the moments of violence and death when they do arise. John Landis' film isn't just about the physical transformation but the psychological effects of the transformation, painting a surprisingly potent portrait of a man in David who is becoming increasingly mentally unhinged, as he attempts to wrap his brain around what is happening. Featuring a legendary transformation sequence that holds up very well even today, John Landis' An American Werewolf in London is a textbook example of the filmmaker's impressive abilities as it pertains to blending comedic elements into a brooding, mysterious horror film.
While re-visiting Jacques Demy's classic, The Umbrellas of Cherbough, the first thing that struck me was just how colorful the entire film is. The set's and costumes are bursting with color creating an atmosphere which really fits the film's style. For anyone not familiar, the entire film is a musical, with every bit of dialogue sung by the actors making it quite unique for the genre. It's an epic love story of sorts which is split into three parts as we witness a young couple, madly in love, being separated because of a military service obligation. With this film Jacques Demy seems interested in the way chance and circumstance affect our lives but more in an almost whimsical sense than the esoteric way that Kieslowski's Blind Chance examines life, for example. The cinematography flows and considering the subject matter, Demy seems to intentionally keep the film rather light, offering only small moments of poignancy. The Umbrellas of Cherbough has some scenes that are a little too sappy for my taste but the ending is excellent and is handled very well. The plot is nothing new and could be considered by some as almost Banal but it's such an original treatment of the idea, with the potent collor palette and whimsical tone that if still feels refreshingly original. .
Danis Tanovic's Tigers takes a seething look at the activities of large Multinational companies in the developing world, raising questions about the lack of accountability these large corporations have from a morality perspective. Focusing on the true events centered around a Nestle baby formula in Pakistan, that lead to the deaths of hundreds of babies on a daily basis, Danis Tanovic has created an impressive film on both a social and artistic level, with a truly unique narrative. The film tells the story of Ayan, a pharmaceutical salesman in Pakistan, who takes on the multinational health care conglomerate he works for after discovering the devastating effects of the formula he has been selling. This aspect of Tigers is compelling but familiar, though Tigers' does a great job of showing how these large corporations use the promise of a better life to take advantage of people like Ayan, who just want to see their families thrive. While the film's David vs. Goliath story line is nothing groundbreaking, Tanovic uses an unconventional narrative style, that makes Tigers a unique, meta experience, that gives it a very documentary type feel. Tigers has dual narrative, jumping between Aya's journey and the story of the filmmakers themselves, who are attempting to grasp the best and most socially responsible way to tell this story. We see Danis Tanovic himself debating with the lawyers and producer's about using the Multinational companies real name in their film, with Tigers not only being a stellar social commentary about greed but also a very intimate look into the filmmaking process of such a high profile, socially-sensitive case. Perhaps the film's ending is what makes Tigers so powerful, with Tanovic's lawyer explaining to him that his firm views this whole story as too 'high risk', unwilling to go any farther in the filmmaking process. Of course Tanovic made the film anyway, but this in itself is a haunting and terrifying indictment on the real terror of stories like this, showcasing how a large billion dollar company has the ability to scare away anyone, given their enormous economic and political weight. Powerful, infuriating, and truly groundbreaking from a storytelling perspective, Danis Tanovic's Tigers is yet another truly impressive film from this great contemporary filmmaker.
Aleksandr Kott's Test is a challenging and fascinating film which is both an intimate love story and a larger allegory centered around geopolitics, love, and hate. Featuring absolulely no dialogue, Test is a film that relies almost entirely on its visuals, which fortunately live up to the old saying, 'A picture is worth a thousand words". Centered around a father and daughter who live a quiet and isolated life in the Central Asian steppe, Test is a simple story that is powefully realized thanks to the film's striking visual acume. Using meticulously designed compositions, Aleksandr Kott tells the story of a gentle and caring young woman in Dinara, who takes care of her more mischevious father. Dinara is really a symbolic representation of innocence and love, with Diane being courted by two suitors: a young local boy, and a Russian photographer who arrives by acident after his bus breaks down. What's interesting about Test, is the film is al ove story that shifts slowly into an allegory about mankind's destructive nature, with these unwitting characters having their lives shattered by cruel fate. With no dialgoue, Aleksandr Kott's Test will be a challenging experience for a lot of viewers, but i'd argue the film could win some of them over, atuning their aesthetic sensibilities with a masterfully photographed film. The message isn't particularly profound, but Test captures the conflicting forces in humanity between love and hate, doing so in a wholly visual experience.
Film actor Ryan Gosling tries his hand at writing and directing with Lost River, a dark, dreamy fairy tale pulsating with emotion. Taking place in the brokein-down, abandoned city of Lost River, the story centered around Bill, a single mother of two, who relucantly accepts a strange job that takes place in the world of macabre, doing so in an effort to save her house and keep her family together. Her teenage son Bones tries to help his mother by stripping homes for raw materials, drawling the ire of a local psychopath that has basically staken claim to the abandoned area. Lost River is without quest a mess, being full of half-baked thematic ideas that never fully develop. Fortuntely, Lost River is the best type of mess, being an evocative and impressionistc display of raw emotion. Beautiful, stylish, and excessive, Lost River is a film that is begging to be a midnight movie, with its strange, exaggerated reality that it creates, something that can only be described as a dark fairy teale. Ryan Gosling's various cinematic inspirations are very potent and prevalent trhoughout Lost River, and while there is without quest too much unmotivated stylisthic choices, Lost River does create an intoxicating atmoshpere and mood. At its core, Lost River is a story of survival, with Billy and Bone each navigating through an extremely dangerous world that sees them have to fight for surivial, scratching and crawling to have a better life. Half-baked but interesting, Lost River almost feels like an alegory for the inherent problems with capitalism, as we see weathy banker, played beautifully by Ben Mendelsohn, taking advantage of Billy, introducing her to this violent and sexual world. Lost River isn't a "good" movie but it's a visceral experience that pulsates with romantic melancholoy and hopefulness, making it the most interesting type of mess.
Hsiao-hsien Hou's first film in several years that saw him return to the urban setting, Daughter of the Nile uses gangster tropes to tell a introspective drama, having a lot to say about the urban lifestyle. The first thing that jumped out to me about Daughter of the Nile is the abundance of pop music in what seemed like every scene of the film, almost like Hou is using it as a canvas to create this tale. The music combined with Hou's array of static compositions that showcase the neon-light soaked cityscape, Daughter of the Nile feels somewhat frantic, at least for a Hsiao-hsien Hou film. Its still done with elegance and care, as Hou seems to be doing this to capture the hustle and bustle of urban life. The story is mostly centered around Lin Hsiao-yang, who spends her time taking care of her younger sister and grandfather. When not caring after them, she spends her nights out on the town with her friends, at clubs and beaches, living the life of most 20-something American girls. Her brother is a gangster, working with his friends out of a restaurant they own together. With him barely around, Lin Hsiao-yang's lives in constant fear, not for her life but his or anyone else she know due to her affiliations by association. She is a character who cann't deal losing anyone else in her life. Daughter of the Nile uses this gangster tale to be a film about departure and loss, both physically and emotionallly, with intimacy and scale. Hsiao-hsien Hou creates a devastating portrait of a woman who sees loss all around her, using a very powerful opening sequence at the start, centered around her mother's death. I particularly liked how Daughter of the Nile isn't just about physical death but the loss of friendship or companionship, as Lin Hsiao-yang is even focusing on her friends leaving the city, with Hou seemingly commenting on the fast city lifestlye of moving from place to place. Examing further, Daughter of the Nile exposes Lin Hsiao-Yang as a woman who has completely lost a void with the death of her mother, something that her tough guy brother and father, who have a very rocky relationship, can't fill. With his elegant filmmaking style, Hsiao-hsien Hou's Daughter of the Nile is a unique gangster tale, introspective in may ways about loss and urban decay
With their mother ailing in a Taipei hospital, two young children are sent to live in the countryside at their Grandfather's home. What begins as an idyllic summer full of fun in the sun soon dissipates, as the two young children capture glimpses of troubles among the adults. Hou Hsiao-hsien's A Summer At Grandpas may be the quintessential coming of age story, as it captures the illusion of childhood, a time where the darker and sadder aspects of life are hidden underneath youthful exuberance. A Summer At Grandpa's is especially impressive in how it manages the delicate balance between sadness and exuberance, shining just as bright in both categories, managing to be funny & emotionally poignant at the same time. This is a film that captures the mind of a child in vivid detail, the sense of wonder and excitment that can be found in even the mundane. There is darkness around them from various angles, from their mother's sickness to their uncle's trouble with the law, but what I found particularly compelling is the relationship the younger girl strikes up with a mentally handicapped woman, who is deeply sad due to the death of her child. This relationship is only a small part of this story, but how it evolves into a something remenscient of a mother/daughter relationship is poetic and beuatifully captured, with each of them able to create some semblance of what they are missing. The compositions in A Summer At Grandpas are also beautifully realized, with Hou Hsiao-hsien using hallways, doorways, and windows to give the film incredible depth of frame, almost as if he is trying to make the world feel bigger than it is, mimicking the eyes of a child. Through the eyes of a child, Hou Hsiao-hsien' captures the faults, ambitions, fears of the family, capturing the importance of family for the youth being the ones that instill morals and values. Elegant, charming, funny, and sad, Hou Hsiao-hsien's A Summer at Grandpa's is quiet, but a monumental work in cinema.
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