After two young boys get into a fight on a local playground, the parents of the kid who was assaulted invite the parents of the bully over to discuss the situation and sort out how to deal with it. Both couples are polite about the situation at first, but slowly everything begins to unravel, leading to verbal warfare between the couples. Roman Polanski's Carnage is the type of film that is a lot of fun to watch but doesn't really have any lasting impact, having very little to say other than providing some genuine mayhem. The entire cast, specifically Christopher Waltz as the bully's father, is a lot of fun to watch from start to finish, as they bicker and moan. As the arguments escalate they switch from arguing about their sons, to the men arguing with the woman, to the individuals each arguing with their significant others, doing so in a way gives the film no semblance of structure, feeling like the audience is at the whims of these characters. Examining the manners and fronts that individuals put on is an interesting exercise in Carnage though I feel like it could have been a deeper film, possibly even reaching Bunuel type levels. Alas, its nothing like that, but its still a fun little film with some strong actors, that makes it an easy watch.
Jacques Rivette's Duelle is a challenging and moody fantasy film telling the story of a battle between two otherworldly forces who are permitted to spend 40 days on earth. The Queen of the Night and the Queen of the Sun have arrived in an eerily unpopulated Paris, seeking control over the magic diamond that will allow the winner of their feud to remain on earth for eternity. What is important to understand when sitting down to watch Jacques Rivette's Duelle is that this is a film far more interested in creating an atmosphere of suspense, mystery and fear , with story being only an afterthought to mood and artistic expression. Haunting yet understated by today's standards, Duelle is dripping with mood and feels very much like an homage to Val Lewton's films, particularly The Seventh Victim, similar in the way that it isolates its characters, with Duelle making the presence of the two Queen's more unsettling. The menace of Duelle is ambiguious but extremely felt, as Rivette's narrative remains rather opaque from start to finish. While i'd be lying if I said I undestood much of what Rivette was trying to say, It was fascinating to see a film where the female characters take over the dominate role, with the only male character being the man these two goddesses are pursuing. Jacques Rivette's Duelle may have left me a little lost at times but it's an artistic achievement in itself, due the lush cinematography, imaginative fantasy elements, and atmosphere.
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to see a retired, blind, ex-military geriatric go one-on-one with a werewofl? Of course you did! In Adrian Garcia Bogliano's Late Phases, Ambrose McKinley, a grizzled, no-nonsense war veteran, is forced to move into Crescent Bay, a retirement community, by his son Will, who simply can't deal with the old man anymore. On arrival, Ambrose finds that his abrasive personality rubs his fellow residents the wrong way, but he soon discovers that the idyllic retirement community has been dealing with mysterious animal attacks for several years. After the death of his beloved dog due to another one of these mysterious attacks, Ambrose sets out to destroy the beast responsible, soon discovering that neither animal nor man but something in-between is culpable for these killings. Late Phases is a welcome throwback werewolf story that relies heavily on practical effects, atmosphere, and a great main protagonist to deliver an engaging and rewarding horror experience. Like most great horror films, what makes Late Phases impressive is what happens when the monster is off-screen, being a surprisingly potent tale of an old man who is simply trying to find a purpose in the late stages of his life. While the relationship dynamics between father and son feels borderline didactic at times, Late Phases excels thanks to Nick Damici's performance as Ambrose, a cynical man who speaks his mind and has little to live for. Playing with tropes of the genre, Late Phases uses the werewolf threat as a symbolic instrument for Ambrose, giving this old man one last battle to prepare for. The biggest problem with Late Phases is it does get a little too wrapped up in side-characters at times, which inevitably hurts the pacing of the film. Personally, I would have liked the film a lot more if it got ride of the whole church subplot, focusing simply on the idea of this old man in Ambrose having 30 days to prepare for the last battle of his life. Featuring some fantastic practical effects which includes a memorable werewolf transformation sequence, Adrian Garcia Bogliano's Late Phases is a solid horror film centered around a deeply cynical old man looking for a purpose.
Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is the final film in the director's self described "being a human being" trilogy, a dreamlike exploration of the various traits, good and bad, which make up humanity. Reminiscent of the great filmmaker Jacques Tati, Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting on Existence is a meticulously staged black comedy that finds humor in the human condition. The static compositions, long takes, and great use of depth work together to create an entirely unique cinematic experience, one which gives the film a dreamlike feel, almost as if the viewer is a god, looking down on the behavior of those in which he created. Roy Andersson's film is more a series of vignettes about life than a cohesive narrative, with Sam and Jonathan, a pair of hapless novelty salesman, providing the narrative through-line of this remarkable film. This is a filmmaker that doesn't shy away from humanity, showing an uncanny ability to find the humor and absurdity of life and death. These vignettes provide a kaleidoscope of human emotions, but what really resonated with me is the film's ability to tackle both intimate and grandiose aspects of the human condition, showing the quiet longing and inherent selfishness that exists in humanity while simultaneously commenting on some of the more horrific aspects of human history- doing so in an absurdest fashion. While much of this film's deadpan humor is constantly fun and pensive, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflection on Existence has moments of gravity, particularly in a sequence that finds Andersson commenting on European imperialism, a deeply haunting and transfixing experience. While Roy Andersson's A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence is a film that is sure to confound some viewers, the meticulous staging and cinematography make it a film that is hard to turn away from, as Andersson comments on the pettiness, selfishness, grandeur, humor and tragedy that makes up life as we know it.
Billy Corben's Dawg Fight takes place in West Perrine, Florida, a suburban ghetto of Miami where over two-thirds of the population is African-American and more than one third are unemployed. This is a town where violent crimes are committed on a daily basis, with most men ending up either dead or in prison by their 30th birthday. Thanks to one man , Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris, there is some semblance of hope, as the ex-bodyguard of Kimbo Slice has built a ring in his mother's backyard, where he holds illegal backyard fights. There are no gloves, no referees, only two men in a 12x12 ring, fighting for supremacy. On the surface, Billy Corben's Dawg Fight is a film about the barbaric nature of machoism, opening up to a scene of brutal violence as two men brutally fight in a ring - a sequence that resembles two feral animals who have reverted to their wild state. This of course would be simplistic diagnosis of a fascinating film in Dawg Fight, that challenges the viewer to look past the surface and discover the true reason why these individuals set foot in the ring. To outsiders these street fights may seem like pointless barbarism, but the truth of the matter is that the ring gives individuals a place where they can centralize their aggression, solving arguments via fists as opposed to more deadly ways such as gun violence. Many of the men in these fights view the ring as a way to feed their families, as they attempt to fight their way out of the ghetto and into the professional MMA scene. Dawg Fight never apologizes for the brutality that is displayed in the ring, but it does attempt to understand where these men are coming from, never judging individuals who come from a world far more harsh and unforgiving than most of us could ever understand. While the social aspect of the film is the most important and powerful part of Dawg Fight, the film takes on an underdog story of its own in capturing Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris' return to the ring. Being discovered by professional scouts, the final act of the film follows Harris as he gets his shot turning pro. He trains with professional MMA trainers leading up to his debut fight at the Hard Rock Cafe & Casino, a fight that plays out in front of the viewer in a way that feels more riveting and nerve-racking than any fight, fictional or not, that I've ever seen on celluloid. It isn't because of the quality of the fight or the idea of two mammoth men pitted up against each other that makes it riveting, but the simple acknowledgement that Dhafir "Dada 5000" Harris isn't fighting just for himself, but a better life for his family.
Ming-lliang Tsai's The River opens with a chance encounter between Xiao-Kang and his old friend, who works as a production assistant on a film set. When the fake body in their film doesn't look right, Xiang-Kang is recruited by the director to play a corpse floating in a polluted river. Afterwards, Xiao-Kang struggles to wash away the River's stench, while beginning to develop a pain in his neck he cant shake. Tsai's The River is a haunting and challenging portrait of yearning that offers up more questions than answers, in exploring the dismal life of young Xiao-Kang. Living in a dilapitated apartment with his parents in Taipai, Xiao-Kang tries desperately to shake the pain from his neck, though no cure whether via science or superstition seem to relieve the pain. Nothing is spelled out in The River but as the film progresses it becomes clear that Xiao-Kang's neck pain is a symbolic representation of the harsh world around him, with his mother and father being emotionally abusive to their young boy, forcing him to participate in some form of underground pornography that they are a part of. Tsai's tepid pacing only further sets the somber mood, offering up a stunning portrait of a young boy who has been contaminated by the transgressions of his parents. Similar to The Hole, the symbolic presense of Water throughout The River feels paramount, being a visual representation of life and hope attempting to break free. It's water that first forces Xiao-Kang's parents to look after him, as they have to take him to various doctors and spiritual individuals in attempt to help their son deal with the pain. Water is also routinely leaking through the ceiling of the apartment, eventually flooding a major section of their living space, as if Tsai is commenting on the life force of Xiao-Kang desperately trying to break free of his parents. The River is a moody, somber piece of minimalistic filmmaking that offers a surreal journey into the mysterious life of these three individuals, offering a difficult but ultimately rewarding look at corruption, innocence and life.
After spending weeks on the road in search of his teenage daughter Maggie, Wade finds her at the hospital, quarantined. Maggie is infected by the outbreak that causes humans to transform into Zombies, but in the world of Henry Hobson's film, it takes several days to weeks, depending on the person, for the individual to lose their humanity. Having his daughter released under his care, Hank brings Maggie home to spend her remaining days with her family. Anyone who goes into Henry Hobson's Maggie expecting a typical zombie horror film is bound to be disappointed. Maggie is a film that uses the tropes of the Zombie genre to create a small, intimate film that explores the emotional effect of the loss of a loved one, the trouble in saying goodbye, and the importance of moving on. Maggie is a clever film that uses the zombie aspects as simply a layer on its sad story, getting strong performances out of both Arnold Schwartzneggar and Abigail Breslin. The film explores the idea of one knowing they are slowly turning into a zombie, with Breslin's performance being very much about a girl who knows she is dying. Wade is a character who has already lost his wife, and Maggie's mother, struggling to accept the reality of the situation. Even as a viewer you know he is simply delaying the inevitable, but when he gets physical with a police officer who wants to take Maggie into the quarantine, you can't help but root for Hank. There is another powerful sequence where Hank is forced to kill two neighbors who have already turned. They are clearly zombies but Hank is still convinced there is something still behind their eyes, a subconscious hope that is related to his inability to accept his daughter's situation. The film's screenplay does show moments of oversentimentality, but overall Maggie manages to stay relatively understated. Atmospheric with a simple emotional story, Henry Hobson's Maggie is a welcome addition to the zombie genre that pays little interest in the violence or gore.
Picking up after the events of the prior films, George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road finds Max in full on survival mode, constantly haunted by the deaths of the many innocent people he was unable to save. Captured and enslaved by 'the War Boys, an army of men who follow a tyrannical cult leader Immortan Joe, Max finds himself as a designated "blood bag" for a sick member of the clan. Meanwhile Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe's trusted drivers, betrays the leader, attempting to free his Five Wives, who have been imprisoned by Immortan Joe for the sake of breeding. As the War Boys head in pursuit of the Renegate Imperator Furiosa, Max reluctantly becomes an ally to Furiosa and the Wives, attempting to help them across the desert and back to Furiosa's childhood homeland where she believes they can find peace and life. Mad Max: Fury Road is a fast-paced, action-packed extravangza that puts the petal to the metal and never stops until the credits roll. Fury Road doesn't shed its b-movie roots, it embraces them, offering one of the most boisterous and bonkers studio action films of the decade, that is incredibly imaginantive and creative in the world it presents. While I would not go as far as to say Mad Max Fury Road is the best film in the series, it does feel like the film Geroge Miller always wanted to make. With technology giving him the ability to create a much larger world, Miller injects this film with lots of imaginative carnage, while commenting on a host of topics including religion, cult, hope, and sexual politics. It's incredibly refreshing to see an action film that consists of so many strong female characters, particularly Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa, who provides a nice equillibrium to Max's quiet coldness. These woman are enslaved by the cult leader solely for the sake of procreation, with George Miller using this fantastic apocalypic world to comment on the need for feminism in modern society. If there is one way to describe Mad Max: Fury Road it would be chaos, with the seventy year old filmmaker dropping the mic on modern action films and showing everyone what a truly visceral action experience should feel like.
Collin Schiffli's Animals is a harrowing portait of addiction, following the exploits of a young couple in Jude and Bobbie, who live their lives solely for the purpose of getting high. Homeless and impoverished, the young couple masterfully con and steal from unexpecting citizens, doing whatever it takes to feed their addiction. Eventually the young couple comes face-to-face with the stark and dangerous reality of their situation when Jude becomes hospitalized and forced into a treatment center. While there have been many films about drug addiction, Cllin Schiffli's Animals stands out in its ability to capture the all consuming quality of addiction, the wasted potential, and destructive effect it has on all rational thought and feeling. From the elaborate schemes and swindles the couple pull off in order to make money alone it's apparent early on in Animals that Jude and Bobbie are intelligent and imaginative individuals, but all their efforts, energy and focus are solely consumed by their need and desire to get high. They are a case of wasted potential, each coming from middle-class familes where they had the ability to make something of themselves. Animals uses these characers to expose the power of addiction, showing how far junkies are willing to go in order to reach their next high. Jude and Bobbie are two individuals that love each other, and the film's strongest attribute is how it slowly exposes their willingness to risk each other's safety at times for the need to fuel their addition. Even the powerful essence of love feels under-matched against the force of addiction in this film. Animals is a bleak film about drug dependency but luckily it has more to say than simply being a cautionary tale, showing the importance of rehabilitation. When Jude and Bobbie are confronted by the police it ends in unecessary violence and more drug use, with Jude and Bobbie only getting help when they are forceably removed from one and other, due to Jude being forced into rehabilitation after a hospital visit. Animals comments on the collective mindset of addiction, showing how even priviledged individuals can fall victim to drug dependence. These two indivdiuals contemplate and do horrible things to feed their addiction but Animals makes a very important point, in reminding the viewer that the actions of drug addict does not define their actions as a human being, simply someone who needs help. Buoyed by two fantastic performances by David Dastmalchian & Kim Shaw, Collin Schiffli's Animals is a grim examination of addiction that offers a glimmer of hope in capturing the importance of rehabilitation.
Taking place at the end of the nineteenth century, John M. Maclean's Slow West tells the story of Jay Cavendish, a 16 year-old Scottish immigrant, who journeys across the American frontier in search of the woman he loves. Somewhat oblivious to the true dangers of the American Frontier, Jay meets a mysterious man in Silas, who offers to help Jay travel westward and reach Rose. Slow West is a beautifully photographed deconstruction of the Western genre that aims to capture the brutality of the time period. This is a film that lives cloaked in mystery for much of its running time, keeping the viewer in the dark about the true intentions of Silas, a man who clearly is used to killing. As the film progresses it becomes clear that nearly anyone can be trusted, with Jay being almost entirely surrounded by harsh men who are solely out for themselves. While the film's insights about the old West are a little unfocused, the character of Jay Cavendish is the one beckon of love and kindness throughout the film, the one man who hasn't been corrupted completely, even though he is surrounded by death and despair. His relationship with Silas is the most interesting aspect of the film, as Silas slowly becomes affected by his relationship with the kind-hearted Jay. Slow West does a really good job at capturing how little a man's life means in the old west, showing how murder was simply an aspect of survival, with life itself having very little value in this brutal landscape. Characters speak of death in such a trivial way, with one scene of black humor standing out where a man tells a story of how he accidentially killed a man, which is received by laughter not horror around the camp fire. Typical of genre, Slow West is a beautiful looking movie that juxtaposes sweeping and vast landscapes with the brutality and violence of the era. The compositions are beautifully realized, using lighting that contrasts themes of darkness and light in a visual way. Slow West ends in a way that just feels right for this Western fable, being a somber look at a time period where survival was all that mattered.
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