Once the prosperous capital of Imperial China, the city of Datong has fallen off significantly, being a city with a decrepit infrastructure, widespread poverty, and rampant pollution. Mayor Geng Tanbo is determined to change the prospects for the city of Datong by initiating a bold and risky venture that would return Datong to its former glory as a cultural haven of China. In order to acheive this, Geng has intiated a plan that will require the relocation of half a million residents, which equates to approximately 30% of the city's populace. Zhou Hao's The Chinese Mayor is an intricate look into one man's attempt at progress that mirrors many of the issues facing present China, a culture and economy that is rapidily evolving and changing faster than its people can keep up. Examing the tangled web of economic progress, politics, corruption, and citizen's rights, The Chinese Mayor offers a unique, in-depth snapshot of China, using the story of one town in Datong to do so. The major is a man whose intentions seem geniune and heartfelt, and the film does a great job at showing his dedication to the people of his community. To the outside observer Geng's plan seems more focused on the city becoming a haven for tourism, not interested in the benefits of its civilians, but given Geng's geniune intentions it's hard to judge him for what he believes will only help in the end. Nothing is black and white about what Mayor Geng is doing though, and the film does capture both sides of the issue, involving the impovershed individuals who are effectively homeless due to Mayor Geng's plan, never having the property certificate necessary to guarantee their relocation. Where the film does present a more seething commentary about modern day China is the corruption of business and politics, that sees Hao fighting corrupt corporations implimenting cost-custting measures to maintain profitability, with the citizens not being at the top of mind. The finale of the film sees the Party relocate Geng to another district, effectively destroying hope in the community for real change in Datong. Pensive and deeply observant, Zhou Hao's The Chinese Mayor is a fascinating film about the current state of China.
Robert Aldrich's Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte opens with an unusually long pre-credits sequence which establishes the tragic past of Charlotte, a Southern Belle, who witnessed the murder of her love, John Mayhem, and subsequent suicide of the her father, the man who Charlotte believes must have been responsible for the crime. Since the grisly murder, Charlotte has been shunned by the southern community, viewed as a looney old woman who is probably responsible for the death of her lover and father. Living a life of solitude in her decaying southern mansion, Charlotte finds her home come under fire, when the local government declares it be demolished to make way for a new highway. Desperate to preserve the only thing that ever meant anything to her, Charlotte summons her cousin Miriam, one of the only people she can trust, to help her fight the state over the destruction of the estate. Robert Aldrich's Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a highly stylized, atmospheric thriller that is brooding with atmosphere and intrigue. Aldrich was on the top of his game with Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a film that uses crisp black and white cinematography to create a tense, foreboding sense of intrigue around its characters, visually expressing the battle between darkness and light that is prevalent throughout this well-executed mystery thriller. While the film isn't winning any awards for its geniune portrayal of mental illness, Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte provides a highly enjoyable, schlocky performance by Davis, a character who is deeply haunted by the death of really the two men she loved. She is creepy and unpredictable, with the film effectively creating a sense of uncertaintly around Charlotte's damaged psyche, making one empathetic of Charlotte but also uncomfortable with her volatility. When it becomes clear that there is a link between Charlotte's increasingly horrific visions of suicide and death, and the arrival of her cousin, Miriam, Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte becomes a great little horror gem about the corruption of money and greed, with Miriam effectively attempting to drive the fragile Charlotte completely to madness in order to take over the estate. Featuring a great hysteria-fueled performance by Bette Davis, Robert Aldrich's Hush..Hush, Sweet Charlotte is a well-crafted Southern gothic thriller that keeps the viewer engaged from start to finish.
Sharunas Bartas' Three Days is a staggering work of art that pays little mind to the traditional rules of cinema or narrative, delivering a spellbinding film of immense sadness. The film is centered around a group of four young individuals, two Lituanian boys and two Russian girls, who meet in Kaliningrad, a decaying city that has been ravaged by time, still baring the marks of World War II. There is no backstory to these characters, with Bartas refusing to spell anything out for the viewer, instead Three Days is the type of film that one must allow to simply wash over them, as it exudes an overwheming sense of dread to the hopelessness of these individulas, who are struggling to find a place to stay. While Bartas' true intentions may not be abundantly clear, Three Days is unequivocally a powerful and profound film of transcience, speaking to the fleeting nature of youth, with time being the ultimate equalizer for all things. These characters are all sarching for some meaning in their lives, unable to find purpose in this city, much like the small town they are from. The relationships and ambitions of these characters are vague and ambiguous, but Three Days is a deeply empathetic film towards these individuals, that seem fixated on the importance of the individual to find a place where they feel they belong, There is a great exchange in the film between one of the Lithuanian boys and a vagabond in which he proclaims that "the soul punishes the self not god", with the film capturing the self-desructive power sadness and negativity can have on our livelihoods. Three Days is a masterclass in cinematography that visually captures the isolation and loneliness of its characters through wide open spaces and urban decay. The dimly lit hallways these characters inhabit visually represent their sadness, with the desolated buildings symbolically representing their inability to find a purpose or meaning. While Bartas intentionally makes Three Days a film that is up to interpretation, the final shot provides some clarity of vision - a static shot of the Lithuatian boys small home in the country, showing the accelerated passing of seasons, visually capturing the transcient nature of life.
Set in Algeria, 1954, David Oelhoffen's Far From Men is the story of two very different men who are forced to work together admist the turmoil and death around them. Daru, a French school teacher in a small Algerian village, is forced against his will to transport Albanian man, Mohamed, who is wanted for the murder of his cousin. Forced to journey across the Atlas Mountiains during the Albanian Wars, the two men form an unexpected bond during this tumultuous time. David Oelhoffen's Far From Men is a simple, yet elegant tale that relies heavily on its two lead performances to spin a poignant story about accountability, the touch choices that make up life, and the darkness of war. Shot in a way the accentuates the vastness of the desert, Far From Men creates a setting where behind every mountain and beautiful landscape lies a brooding sense of danger and uncertainty. As these two characters walk through what has essentially become a war zone, with each side, the French & Algerians, fighting for what they believe is rightfully theres, the film captures how ideologies and civic allegences can cause men to do terrible things. Being a French Algerian man, Daru faces existential questions about where he belongs, and in doing so Far From Men really captures the stupidity and absurdity of defining a man by anything but who he is as a man, not his country, race, or religion. Mohamed on the other hand is a man who must feel accountable for his actions, caught in a cycle of revenge that only fuels more death and hatred. This vicious cycle is precisely what makes him want to turn himself in, sacrificing his own life in an attempt to stop the bloodshed and revenge-fueled violence that will burden his younger brothers if "justice" in the form of his execution isn't upheld. Far From Men is beautifully photographed and superbly acted flm that uses a simple narrative to examine the complex nature of ideology and the moral code of men.
When most blockbusters these days simply don't have that same feeling of wonder as the films of the 1980s, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland comes along, being a flawed but imaginative blockbuster film that is very well paced. The film is centered aroud Casey, a bright, and hopelessly optimistic teenager who looks up to her father, a Nasa engineer. Through mysterious circumstances Casey comes across a magic pin, which has the ability to transport her to a futuristic world known as "Tomorrowland". Without going into too much detail, Casey embarks on an epic journey where she is forced to team up with another man who has seen Tomorrowland, a former born genius, Frank, to save the world. With a creative narrative that manages to keep the viewer engaged for most of its running time, Tomorrowland is a fun thrill ride with a message about the importance of optimism and hope in a world of negativity. The film's brisk pacing is one of its best assets, and while it does get a little clunky in the final act, I wouldn't go so far as it call it convoluted, though it's rushed and simplistic. This is a film that plays almost like a moral lesson to the audience at times, with the filmmakers making it very clear that they feel like the world is far too pessimistic than it should be. While not having the same tact as Spielberg's films, Tomorrowland is a film in wonder of imagination, hope, and the ability to dream as human-beings. Never living in the negative is a resounding theme of Tomorrowland, and while the film flirts with even more interesting thematc ideas centered around intellectual elitism, it never goes far enough to properly explore it. While more an Adventure film than a Action film, Brad Bird once again shows an ability to create well executed action sequences with Tomorrowland, ones that are engaging, unpredictable, and never disorienting to the viewer. Brad Bird's Tomorrowland is far from a great film, but it's a film I admire for its important message it wears on its sleeve, and filmmaking that mirrors that message.
Most viewers should have a pretty good idea going in if Jordan Rubin's Zombeavers is a film they are capable of enjoying. When the story itself is centered around Beavers that somehow mutate into carniverous zombie creatures, it's certainly best to check your brain at the door. Zombiebeavers is another fun horror spoof, but while films like Sharknado seem to be grabbing most of the attention with their over-the-top excess, the lack of excess in a smaller film like Zombiebeavers is one of its stronger attriburtes. Zombiebeavers isn't just interested in being "extreme", instead the film shows geniune sincerity in its horror aspirations. The film does a great job at balancing the line between horror and comedy, and while it's obviously intended to be a spoof, the horror sequences are still imaginative and well-executed. The plot is centered around three attractive college girls (surprise!), who arrive at a remote cabin for a weekend getaway. While things start out well, with lots of time spend down at the lake, they quickly find themselves in for the fight of their lives when the result of a chemical spill creates these bloodthirsty, zombie-esque beavers. Another interesting aspect of Zombeavers is its comical spoof of the relationship drama that always seems to unfold in these movies, where secrets are revealed and friendships are threatened in the heat of a battle for survival. Zombeavers embraces its low-budget b-movie roots, with incredibly cheesy action sequences that bound to get a smile. All the female characters routinely wear gratuitiously revealing outfits, the violence is gorey but silly, and the supporting characters are walking stereotypes, all which together make Zombeavers a worthy spoof of the horror genre.
Alex Ross Perry's Impolex is a wildly unhinged narrative that is sure to frustrate most viewers with its dry absurdist sense of humor. The film centers around Tyrone, a United States soldier whose mission is to locate and retrieve two German rockets at the end of World War II. As he ventures through the woods in long stretches of silence, Tyrone begins to stumble across various people from his past, most notable his ex-girlfriend, but also a talking octupus for good measure. Impolex isn't your typical first feature, being a balsy examination of masculine ethos that is a scatter shot of ideas and hilarious deadpan humor. There are long stretches that I wasn't sure what Perry was trying to say, but I did particularly like the sequence where he uses the rocket as a phalic device, symbolizing a man's obesession with his penis. This isn't a film that always hits the mark in terms of clarity of vision, but it certainly shows glimpses of the filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has become with Listen Up Philip and The Color Wheel. The film is silly and absurd but eventually there is that scene that comes out of nowhere and startles you with its emotional poignancy. That scene in this film is when Tyrone's girfriend played by Kate Lyn Shiel delivers a fantastic monologue that reveals details about their relationship, a sequence that should resonant with anyone who has been in a relationship. Perry shoots the monologue with a single take, static close-up shot, a sequence the is probably 10 minutes long. The lead actor in this film feel intentionally bad, disinterested in his performance in a way that only elevates this powerful single shot sequence. Impolex just feels befitting of Alex Perry Ross' first film, a hit and miss film showcasing that this was a filmmaker to watch.
Anna, is an introverted child who spends her days nestled in her sketch pad. Anna could certainly be described as a loner, as she herself proclaims that she lives outside "the circle" where most people belong. With Anna shutting herself off from the outside world, her foster parents decide to send her to spend the summer with her relatives in the quiet seaside town of Hokkakido. Anna is a character that is frustrated and alone, a surprisingly cynical foster child for a movie like this, but absolutely believable in depicting a character that feels abandoned. Anna appreciates her foster parents but questions how much they care for her, knowing that they collect the government subsidy that is given to couples raising a foster child. Eventually Anna meets a young girl In Marnie, who lives in a beautiful secluded mansion on the water. Marnie likes Anna for who she is, sharing extravagant stories of her wealthy and succesful parents that makes Anna feel appreciative to have a friend she can confide in. As Anna comes down from the high of escaping from loneliness, she begins to discover that Marnie herself doesn't come from the perfect life either. Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There is a signifcant step up from his last Studio Gibli film, The Secret World of Arriety, being a far more poignant tale. When Marnie Was There is a great film for adults and children alike, telling a story about the importance of being positive and reminder that focusing on the good things that you do have is an important aspect of happiness. Without going into much plot details, this film is quietly devastating, with a narrative that is probably a little convoluted, but by the end this film shook me emotionaly with its powerful tale. As one would expect from any Studio Ghibli film, When Marnie Was There features beautiful animation, and what I always love about these films is how cinematic they feel, with the detail popping thanks to 2D textures. If this is going to be the last Studio Ghibli film, When Marnie Was There is a solid conclusion to a great studio, delivering another touching tale full of sadness, love, and hope.
Based loosely off of actual events, Andre Techine's In The Name Of My Daughter is centered around the Le Roux family, owners of a long standing casino on the French coast. Headed up by Renee Le Roux, the casino has fallen on hard times, struggling to keep its doors open amongst the competition from Fratoni, a rival casino owner with alleged mob ties. Fresh out of a failed marriage, Agnes, the daughter of Renee, has come home, but her interest couldnt be farther away from the family business. Determined to make it own her own, Agnès opens a bookstore while simultaneously striking up a relationship with Maurice, Renee's personal council and lawyer for the casino. What begins as a seemingly innocent romance quickly deteriorates, when it becomes apparent that Maurice interest in Agnes is about more than meets the eye. Andre Techine's In The Name Of My Daughter is a impressive relationship drama masquerading as a murder mystery. This isn't a film interested in the true life mystery itself but instead the film focuses on drawing rich characterizations of it's three main characters, attempting to understand their emotions and desires. Agnès is a woman whose death is still unknown and Techine doesn't want to jump to conclusions himself with this film, instead providing a poignant portrait of the slowly deteriorating emotional stability of Agnes. None of the characters are demonized but Techine reveals the inherent selfishness in all three individuals, with both Maurice and Renee giving money precedent over their relationship with Agnes. Renee is a character so wrapped up in saving her business that she fails to see her daughters emotional fragility which indirectly leads to her disappearance. Maurice true intentions are vague but the film does offer glimpses of empathy, unwilling to broadly statr him as rhe man responsible for Agnes disappearance. While one may argue that In The Name Of My Daughter is anticlimactic, I'd argue the ambiguity is essential, with Techine's film being very much about the twisted mix of money and relationships.
Fatih Akin's The Cut is an epic spanning the better part of a decade that is centered around the events of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, which saw mass killings and forced migration of the Armenian minority. The narrative is centered around Nazaret Manoogian, a blacksmith and family man, who is sent from his native village of Mardin to work as a forced laborer. Surviving the mass murder due to a great deal of luck, and an act of kindness, Nazaret sets out on a journey to find his family. Fatih Akin's The Cut is the filmmakers's least interesting film, a survival story of a man who ends up spanning the globe in search of his two twin daughters, whom he believes escaped the starvation and violence. There are moments of brilliance throughout The Cut but the film falls victim to an overly sentimental screenplay, feeling almost episodic in approach towards the back-half of the film. Don't get me wrong, The Cut is an important film that is deeply effective in stretches, capturing the monstrosities subject to the Armenian people. It can be a hard film to stomach at times, containing some deeply disturbing imagery, particularly in the first half of the film. In one of the more harrowing scenes, a mass killing, the captain tells his soldiers "Don't Waste Bullets", a casual reminder to the viewer that the Armenian people's lives were not even worth the price of the bullet it cost to kill them. Aforementioned, Akin's film does have some flashes of brilliance, like a post-genocide sequence that sees the Armenian people violently throwing rocks at the Turkish people leaving the area. While the showing the kid being struck with a rock feels a bit cheap, Akin uses this sequence to capture the violence that comes from anger, reminding the audience that violence begets more violence. While not exploring it enough for my liking, The Cut does provide glimpses of the fractured state of Nazaret's broken down psyche, with a few powerful sequences demonstrating how this is man haunted by the death of his wife and loss of his children. Akin's also raises interesting questions about faith and religion, questioning how anyone could have faith in their god after seeing such death and carnage all around them, but once again it is something that falls by the wayside to the plodding narrative. While Fatih Akin's The Cut feels by-and-large like a missed opportunity for such a talented filmmaker, this is a film that does a serviceable job at documenting the Armenian Genocide, being an ode to the Armenian immigrants who had to start all over again elsewhere.
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