Turning an observational eye towards the world around him, Robert Downey Sr's 'No More Excuses' is a absurdest mockumentary about the state of sexual culture during the late 1960s. More specifically, the film looks at the change of morality taking place during the time, in terms of relationships and changing ideals around marriage which many have dubbed 'the Sexual revolution". This is a wild film, full of absurdest humor and surrealism which really captures this generation's feelings in a fun, yet intellectual way. There are bits involving a Civil War soldier turning up in New York City- lost and confused, inter-cutting footage from the Vietnam War, comparisons between the primal nature of this sexual revolution and primates, and even a segment involving the President of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals giving a speech about why animals should be forced to wear clothes. Very Off-Beat, Downey Sr's film is never judgmental or critical of this "sexual revolution" rather observational, giving us insight into how he views the current cultural landscape from both the new and old generations point-of-views in a surreal, hysterical way.
Small Town Murder Songs is a dark, layered crime story taking place in a small, rural town in Ontario, Canada. The film centers around the grizzly murder of a young woman whose body is found in the middle of swamp land. An older police officer, Walter (Peter Stormare), begins to investigate this heinous crime but in doing so, begins to have dark secrets from his violent past resurface, ultimately messing with his new reformed life and overall sense of calm. This is a great character piece for Peter Stormare, a man better know for showing up as an off-beat character in Michael Bay type films. It's superbly well layered, opting to give the viewer very little information about Walters past through most of the film, leading up the end where Walter is forced to confront his past demons. Stormare balances both these characteristics well- a man whose found solace in his life, yet is haunted by these old feelings coming back to the surface. It's a very subdued performance, that is multi-dimensional and unique. It's a very simple story, that unfolds naturally with some great nuances. At 75 minutes it never drags or wears out it's welcome. The films direction and story is nothing incredible or groundbreaking, but its a perfect rural setting for this type of film, with a great central performance out of Peter Stormare, a man who hasn't had many chances to deliver one in his career.
Wes Anderson's latest film is a sweet tale of young romance involving Sam, a very mature young orphan, and Suzy, who is the black sheep in her family. Escaping from their authoritative constraints, the two run away together, into the wilderness. Moonrise Kingdom will definitely satisfy Anderson's fanbase, but I'm not entirely sure it will do much in terms of converting his naysayers. His trademark aesthetic is definitely intact- the use of ultra bright color scheme, and panel-like set designs are really elevated in this film by Anderson's camera-work. The amount of lateral movements in this film are amazing, as if Anderson wants to create this type of visual window into this charming-exaggerated reality. There is no doubt that this film, even more so than his previous efforts, draws inspiration from 60's french new wave film's like Pierre Le Fou, but Anderson's aesthetic continues to evolve, as he is much more confident in his decisions-breaking his cinematic window a few specific times with added emotional impact. The script is smart and witty, and given the subject material, it's his most charming film to-date. Moonrise plays with a ton of the genre tropes associated with romantic narratives and even has some fun with action conventions in a few particular scenes. There is a sense of nostalgia while watching the film, as one is reminded of the distress and bliss young love brings, and as always, Anderson's use of music and sound is perfect. This is definitely an upper echelon Wes Anderson film, that is charming, cute and funny, though it didn't have the lingering emotional impact on me which is necessary to proclaim it his best film.
Street of No Return opens on a dark, grimy street where we witness Michael (Keith Carradine), a grizzled street bum, who is intoxicated by the allure of the liquor store across the street. Standing in his way of his dreams of drunken bliss is a barrage of street violence, which seems to be heavily race related. Samuel Fuller's last film as a director is a low-budget film about Michael,a rockstar, who experiences a fall from grace after entering in an affair with Celia, a woman who happens to be the mistress of a ruthless crime boss (Marc de Jonge). Fuller's raw style of filmmaking is apparent, but this film has an added element of surrealism and experimentation which isn't all that typical in his work. It definitely has its fair share of 80's cheese, but if you can get past that, it's really a well-made film that has some interesting things to say about race and urban living, though not incredibly deep. The visuals are very expressive with lots of good examples of visual storytelling through compositions, positioning and camera movements. Anyone familiar with Fuller's work will know that subtlety isn't exactly his strong suit, and this film is no different. A few of the smaller character's performances are borderline bad, but the lead performance of Carradine is solid/strong and it's fun to see Bill Duke as Lieutenant Borel, a headstrong, no-nonsense captain whose very driven to clean the scum off the streets. Low-key but quite effective in it's imagery, Fuller's last film provides an adequate send off to one of the brashest filmmakers of all time.
From the very beginning, this story makes it clear that Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) is the typical screw-up character type who has great potential but needs direction. As you are probably aware, this is based off the board game and while I thought that was going to be a detriment, it ends up being the most fun part. The battle sequences between the alien ships and the destroyers were very entertaining, especially given the fact that the aliens weapon looked like the pegs from the board game. All the acting is fairly serviceable with no one completely embarrassing themselves, but it sure seems to me like they cut around Rihanna. It's incredibly stupid, cliched as hell , but ultimately enjoyable if you like big explosions, cheesy lines, and colorful CGI. The third act turns into this fist-pumping patriotic display celebrating our veterans and current seaman with a spree of emotionally exploitative sequences. It's pretty entertaining and the United States Navy must love this movie. Peter Berg basically does his best Michael Bay impression with the action sequences, and even has a scene reminiscent of Armageddon's infamous animal cracker scene-in look and stupidity. Essentially if you want to put your brain on cruise control it's fairly entertaining.
Dark Shadows, the latest Tim Burton/Johnny Depp endeavor tells the story of Barnabas, a vampire who has just been freed in the early 1970s, after spending 200 years underground. Freed and in a time in which he knows very little, Barnabas returns to his ancestral home. As he lives there, we come to realize that his descendants have issues of their own. Let me just start off by saying that I have never seen the show and I can only imagine it is far more interesting than this film. The whole fish out of water shtick which the film uses is indeed surprisingly charming and engaging early on, but I found that it wears its welcome out extremely fast. What is left is a really uninspired film that's just dull and uninteresting. I have not been a fan of Burton for years and this film re-affirms how boring and generic his aesthetic has become. The one thing that I can credit Burton with is the follow-thru in remembering that Barnabas is a creature from the horror genre. There are two sequences where Depp's character murders a group of people, which are well-directed and pretty frightening. I also enjoyed the Burton homage to T2 with Pfeiffer doing her best impression of Linda Hamilton but this is just lazy storytelling, particularly with all the reveals at the very end.
The Parallax View opens with an unforgettable sequence in which a ambitious U.S. Senator is assassinated on the top of the Space Needle, subsequently followed by a Government commission claiming that the Senator's death was the work of a single man's warped mind. Fast-forward a few years as we are introduced to Joseph Frady (Warren Beatty), an intelligent, yet flawed news reporter who barely missed being on the space needle that day. He is contacted by Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss), his ex-girlfriend and reporter who was present for the assassination. She is borderline delirious fearing for her life, since all the witnesses of the Senator's shooting keep ending up dead. Without going into too much detail, The Parallax View is a conspiracy thriller in which Joseph begins to uncover a dark secret about the true nature of the assassination, learning that the Senator's death was just the latest in a much larger conspiracy. The first thing about this film that struck me was it's fantastic cinematography. This alone creates a brooding, voyeuristic atmosphere, which really elevates it above most of the political thrillers out there. The camera moves feel more like a surveillance camera than any type of cinematic endeavor, slowly panning left and right- following Joseph as he investigates, informing the viewer that Joseph is being watched by this secret corporation. There are lots of extremely wide angled compositions as well, particularly when Joseph is on screen, as if to suggest that someone is watching him from far away. A sequence taking place on an amusement park train in which Joseph gains information from a character, is a great example of this. The camera routinely changes it's point of reference between the conversation between Joseph and the informant (tight shots), and this observer (extremely wide-angle shots). The direction is extremely confident, in its decisions whether it's holding on to a particular shot longer than is typical or having something happen off camera. Pakula really deserves a lot of credit for this one. Our lead character, Joseph Frady is well designed, serving the story well, in that we are routinely reminded of his bouts with alcoholism and mischief, with his editor at one point referring to him as "creatively irresponsible". If you are a fan of Political Thrillers or Conspiracy flicks, this is a must watch film.
A post-apocalyptic vision by Xavier Gens (Frontier(s) & Hitman ) about a group of nine tenants of a New York apartment who escape a nuclear attack by hiding out in the building's basement, which happens to be more like a bunker. The film chronicles the passing days underground as these nine survivors attempt to survive with horrific results. Essentially it's a tale of hopelessness and it's indeed grim, unrelenting, and violent. While watching this film, it becomes quite clear where Xavier Gens lies on the whole "Humanity is inherently good vs. evil debate", as slowly the characters succumb to their grotesque human nature. This is a pretty insane experience that is quite disturbing in a lot of ways you could never have seen coming. It's inventive, fast-paced, and a helluva a lot of fun if you enjoy this type of sick stuff like me. The performances are also universally strong, from Rosanna Arquette to Michael Biehn, which it was awesome to see playing the "know it all" landlord. Watching him chew and spit out tough guy dialogue was a lot of fun. The one MAJOR weakness in this film is the dialogue, which at times is pretty "eye roll" inducing in it's direct nature, but considering Xavier Gens impressive direction and nihilistic viewpoint, I barely noticed the poor script, after the first 20 minutes. This is the type of film that will most definitely become a cult classic.
Luis Buneul's 'Tristana' is a complex examination of human relationships and societal implications with some good old Catholicism bashing. It's the story of Tristana, a young woman, who is entrusted to the guardianship of the well-respected, Don Lope, after the death of her mother. The relationship between the two of them is odd, as Don Lope is the authoritative figure of the household, yet desires her intimacy. Essentially he is both her father and husband. His jealously keeps Tristana sheltered from the world, as she wants to experience new things. The most brilliant aspect of this film is the character-shift which takes place as the film progresses. For the first part, the viewer completely confides in Tristana, this poor sheltered girl. The scene between Horacio, the painter she begins to see behind Don Lope's back, and her is particularly powerful at showing a woman who is considered "tainted" or "used" by society's standards, yet she has never really truly experienced anything in this world, essentially a slave of Don Lope. While we sympathize more in the beginning, Don Lope is never painted as any type of monster, far from it. In fact, as the film progresses we begin to feel for Don Lope, a man who clearly has so much love and compassion for Tristana. The dinner table sequencer in which Don Lope pretends Tristana is still by his side, even though she has been gone for over 2 years, is particularly unnerving. By the end of the film, the audience's sympathy has completely flipped as Tristana becomes the dominate figure in the relationship, coming back into Don Lope's life after realizing she would much rather live in a loveless marriage than deal with the harshness of society. This is a much more subdued Bunuel, that still has and undercurrent of surrealism but nothing like some of his more celebrated efforts. Personally I find Bunuel's criticism of Catholicism boring, but the social criticism holds much weight, even today.
In 'Interiors" Woody Allen essentially pays homage to Bergman in this story of three daughters who attempt to take care of their emotionally destroyed mother, Eve, while attempting to manage their own lives. It's a film that is soaked heavily in family dynamics, exploring the relationships between the three sisters among themselves, their mother and their wealthy Father, who is considering re-marriage. Each sister has problems of their own whether it's an inferiority complex, a husband whose resentment is only matched by his appetite for booze, or a vanity towards self-image. Given that Woody Allen is not known for his direction skills, I was actually quite impressed with his effort in this film. There are some really nice compositions throughout the film, which help tell the story visually (something I think Allen has lacks), while also having a strong sense of silence in the film, amounting to some great reflective moments of loneliness and despair. Well acted, these character really do come to life, all being severely flawed and/or damaged from both the trials and tribulations of their mother and father's relationship, to their personal problems. This is not as great or potent as some say, typical for Allen enthusiasts, but I liked it quite a bit.
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