David Michod's The Rover is the highly anticipated follow-up to his first feature Animal Kingdom. Taking place 10 years after a global economic collapse, The Rover is the story of Eric, a ruthless, hardened loner who travels from town to down in the desolate outback. After a gang of thieves steal his car, Eric is given a purpose, to track these men down and get back what is rightfully his. As he travels through the lawless outback, he takes a wounded, dim-witted, young man as his accomplice. David Michod's The Rover is a post-apocalyptic nightmare exploring the loss of law and morality through an extremely hardened man. This is basically the complete opposite of a feel-good movie - this is brutal, unrelenting filmmaking intent on exposing the dark side of humanity and loss of morality. While the film lays this sense of dread on thick with fantastic production design and cinematography, The Rover really succeeds because of Eric's character, with Guy Pearce delivering a memorable performance. This is a character whose completely devoid of any compassion or optimism and the journey which The Rover puts him through is engrossing, slowly but subtlely unraveling how this man has become so hopeless. Robert Patterson as the dim-witted Rey is impressive as well, delivering his best performance to-date. He is a great ying to Eric's yang, a man whose more well-intentioned but easily manipulated. David Michod's The Rover is a ambiguous exploration of humanity, effectively capturing conflict between light and dark, and the power of loss.
Stephen King's directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, is an absurdly silly b-movie that never manages to be fun enough to mask its overall stupidity. The story revolves around a radiation storm that somehow inexplicably animates all machinery across the world, causing them to violently turn against their makers. The film centers around Bill Robinson, an ex-con, who works at a small diner where he is taken advantage of by his mean-spirited boss. When the machines become self-aware, Bill, among with other restaurant patrons, find themselves held captive at the Dixie Boy Diner by a group of angry semi-trucks. Maximum Overdrive is a film that should have been a lot of unadulterated fun, but its incessant desire to give its character's depth and a through-line ultimately drag it down from b-movie heaven. The direction of the film really personifies the style of the late 70s/early 80s mainstream filmmaking, consisting of an abundance of slow-motion action shots and overblown score, courtesy of AC/DC in this particular case. Full of plot holes, Maximum Overdrive takes itself far too seriously instead of embracing the silly premise and going all out. The initial setup of the story is a lot of fun, featuring a great montage sequence of various seemingly harmless machines turning on their owners. When the narrative kicks in it becomes uninteresting, mainly due to the fact that all these characters are either annoying or boring. Maximum Overdrive is a film that could have been way better if it further embraced its b-movie sensibilities but unfortunately it takes itself too seriously, becoming a surprisingly dull film with a few fun moments.
Juraj Lehotsky's Miracle is the story of Ela, a deeply troubled 15-year-old, who is sent to a teen correctional facility by her mother. Her mother is a tough woman, whose own parental ability is questionable at best, seemingly more interested in getting rid of her daughter than helping her. Completely cut off from the outside world, Ela becomes a bit of a loner, spending most of her time writing letters to a boyfriend. After learning that she is 14 weeks pregnant, Ela escapes from the facility in an effort to reconnect with her boyfriend. Their reunion doesn't go as planned for Ela, who soon finds herself facing a life-changing decision. Miracle is a dark and complex character study that deconstructs a troubled-youth in front of the viewers eyes, attempting to analyze how she has reached this point in her life. The film presents Ela as a woman who has no comprehension of compassion due to a boyfriend and mother who show little of it themselves. While the direction of the film is a little too obvious towards the end, Miracle is a poignant dark story about the silver lining of hope. Through all the conflict, strife, and anguish Ela has faced over the years she is given hope through the birth of her child, given a chance to correct the mistakes committed by Ela's loved ones on her. While I've seen better more even films to tackle similar issues, Juraj Lehotsky's Miracle is an impressive first feature that lives off its emotional poignancy.
Philip Ridley's Heartless is an incredibly well done Horror film that transcends the genre itself, showing that horror films can be just as intelligent and though-provoking as other genres. Heartless tells the
story of Jamie Morgan, a man who was born with a large birthmark across his
face. Jamie has disdain for his existence because of this birthmark, and he spends most of his time isolated and alone. One night Jaime discovers that demons live among humans on the streets of East London, causing chaos and violent crimes. Heartless is a film that falls under 'the less you know the better' moniker so without going too much into the plot, this film has fascinating philosophical musings on death, beauty, evil & good. It's a surprisingly profound film that is challenging and no doubt will require additional viewings just to grasp everything Philip Ridley wanted to say. From atechnical standpoint, the cinematography and art direction completely set the atmosphere of this creepy world of East London. The cast is great, especially Joseph Mawle, whom is frightening; his presence alone demands your attention. Philip Ridley is a filmmaker whose filmography is up and down but always interesting and what he has crafted with Heartless is a tense, creepy, intelligent, and beautiful experience. Heres to hoping Ridley gets back behind the camera sooner rather than later.
Maria and Paul are a married couple whose better days are behind them. Along with their daughter and Maria's friend Claire, they are on a road trip to Madrid. On their way, they come across a village where a man is wanted for shooting his wife and her lover. Maria has long suspected that Paul and Claire have been having an affair for years but this coincidence along with her desire to catch them in the act, leads her on a path of alcohol abuse. Maria becomes obsessed with this murderous man, hoping to help him escape from the police. Jules Dassin's 10:30 P.M is an incredibly stylish journey into a devious love triangle told through the eyes of a deliorious, heart-broken woman. Dassin has created a film that through sound and visuals evokes exactly what this main protagonist is going through, and It's safe to say this is Dassin's most stylish endeavor. One of my favorite sequences takes place on the balcony where through one of her alcohol-indused dreams she witnesses Paul being unfaithful with Claire. Dassin's use of editing and cinematography are incredibly well designed, putting the viewer into Maria's sorrow-stricken headspace, disorienting the viewer in an effort to make us feel like her. In a way, one could say that Dassin's film is a cautionary tale about the power of passion, with every character being slave to its power but what elevated Dassin's 10:30 P.M. above what some would consider pretentious is its ability to capture the distress and fragmented emotional state of a wife who discovers her husband is cheating.
After a mysterious alien race lands on Earth, they quickly engage in an unrelenting assault, pushing humanity to the brink of defeat. Major William Cage is a public relations officer whose never seen a day of combat in his life. After being reassigned to the European front, Cage finds himself thrown into a combat situation that could only be described as suicide. Killed within minutes of arriving on the battlefield, Cage finds himself stuck in a time loop, thanks to the alien technology, reliving the same day over and over again. With each day, Cage's battle skills increase and together with Special Forces officer Rita Vrataski, they may be able to change the fate of humanity and defeat the alien race once and for all. Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow is a well-structured sci-fi action flick that manages to never feel tired or stale given its core-concept. Like Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow is a film about a man living the same day over and over again. A concept that could easily become stale, Edge of Tomorrow's keeps things moving forward with a narrative velocity full of stylish action and dark humor. Cage's 'learning curve' never feels stale to the viewer, as it's always evolving as things change from day to day. Perhaps the film's greatest strength is the way it balances its dramatic weight, the end of the world, with a wonderful dose of humor. Edge of Tomorrow isn't a game-changer but it completely succeeds on its intentions, being a relatively smart bit of escapism that's thrilling and just flat-out fun.
Kelly Reichardt's Night Moves centers around Josh, an environmentalist devoted to protecting the Earth from corporate greed. He is a very private person, working on an organic farm. Josh recruits Harmon and Dena, two fellow environmentalits, to help concot a plan to raise awareness about energy resources. Dedicated to the cause, the three of them execute an extreme protest that involves blowing up a hydroelectric damn - a symbol of the energy-sucking industrial culture they despise. Kelly Reichardt's Night Movies is an extremely well crafted meditation on the consequences of our actions, examining whether our convictions are good enough to demand illegal or harmful actions. Even though the story is centered around environmentalism, Reichardt is not interested in making any type of political statement. She is simply exploring idealism at its core, questioning how far it can go before becoming dangerous to oneself and those around them. Ths is a film that very much aims for the head, not the gut, with its drama, crafting a fascinating and intelligent dissection of idealism. The direction in Night Moves is exceptional, with Reichardt using visuals to flesh out the larger themes of the story. One of my favorite examples oft his being when the three environmentalists arrive at the lake with their boath. Reichardt gives the whose sequence leading up to the detonation an ominous tone, juxtaposing innocent children and families playing on the river with our three environmentalists intent on destroying the damn. Night Movies is well acted, shot, and written, a film that The East wishes it could be, delivering an impressive examination of what happens to someone's idealism when they are backed into a corner.
In the spirit of films like Claudia Weill's Girlfriends, Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking is a story examining the mid-20s/early-30s crisis of identity and fear of loneliness that plagues so many people of that age. Amelia, a Manhattan resident, struggles with loneliness in the face of her best friend's imminent marriage to her longtime boyfriend. Desperate to find someone, Amelia resorts to dating the nerdy, horror-movie obsessed video store clerk whom she doesn't even find physically attractive. Between this unfavorable encounter and some awkward continual conversations with her ex-boyfriend, Amelie becomes more depressed about her future prospects until she discovers that Laura's seemingly happy relationship has chinks of its own. Walking and Talking is a well-crafted, acted, and written film examining the longing and loneliness that can plague the post-college, mid-20s crowd. Amelia and Laura have been best friends from childhood but Laura's engagement has created expected distance. What the film does so well is capture how much communication, or lack there of, can be the true culprit to a tumultuous relationship. Each of these woman is struggling in their own lives, but the only reason they are truly growing apart is their lack of communication. It's essentially an example of "the grass is greener on the other side", with each woman projecting their desire for happiness onto their best friend, making the assumption that the other is extremely happy and they are alone to deal with the problems. Amelie and Laura are in very similar situations, facing their own doubts and insecurities but it's their lack of communication that puts a strain on their relationship. Their relationship is quickly resolved and even strengthened after Laura and Amelie express themselves to one and other. Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking is rather lightweight in approach but it's a charming, well-acted portrait of childhood friendship and how it evolves in adulthood.
Taking place around the time of the Tokyo Olympiad, Escape From Japan chronicles the midsadventures of Tatsuo Ihara, a mentally slow, small-time criminal who dreams of one day becoming a successful Jazz Singer in America. After a bath-house heist goes bad, Tatsuo finds himself on the run from the police with a young female accomplice in tow. Yoshishige Yoshida's Escape From Japan is very different than most of Yoshida's work, venturing into genre filmmaking territory though with satiricial intentions aplenty. The film works as a strange black comedy and even stranger romance between our dim-witted main protagonist and the young female accomplice but Escape From Japan's true intentions are much more grandoise. Thematically this film is very much about imperialism, showing the footprint the American occupation has had on Japanese culture. Yoshida portrays the Japanese as individuals who have become enthralled by American pop culture. We see this not only through Tatsuo's infatuation with Jazz but also in smaller moments, one example being a Japanese woman and her GI boyfriend singing a famous American song. Setting the film during the 1964 Olympics was a brilliant decision, with Japan celebrating its restoration, raising a profound question about this so-called "restoration" - is it Japan rediscovering their personal identity? or are they introducing a Westernized version? Like many great filmmakers, Yoshida never makes his intentions abrubtly clear, simply raising the question to the masses. Yoshishige Yoshida's Escape From Japan isn't a top tier title of his but when you are talking about one of the greatest and most underappreciated filmmakers of all time, does it matter?
Ricky on Rezzori is a German man who is returning to Munich after serving in the Vietnam War for the Americans. On his arrival, he meets up with his old contact Franz, who sets him up doing contract killings for a group of crooked detectives. Fed up with their inability to catch Tony, a prominent underground figure, the detectives have no issue using Ricky to do their bidding. After completing his assignment, Ricky requests a woman be sent up to his hotel room. However, the detectives get word of Ricky's request, sending one of their own wives, Rosa, to Ricky's room in order to spy on the killer. Rosa begins to fall hard for Ricky whin in turn sends Jan, her husband, into a jealous rage, taking out a hit on both his wife and Ricky. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's American Soldier is an unconventional detective story that's an homage to the American Gangster film. Shot in a stark black and white and full of misogynistic characters, this is a film very much drawing from Noir-type films of Sam Fuller. The film's narratie isn't particularly interesting but Fassbinder injects the film with an unyielding amount of machoism and unpredictability to the point that it hardly matters. I particularly found Fassbender's treatment of woman in the film fascinating, with nearly every female character being objectified and treated like dirt, presenting an exaggerated version of Noir's machoism. Fassbender has turned Munich into a city of sadness, with almost every character in the film desperately alone. There is one truly dark sequence where a hotel maid commits suicide in a hallway after being rejected by her lover, only to be ignored completely by two guests who walk past her, paying her no mind whatsoever. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's American Soldier is not one of his best films, feeling quite divulgent from most of his other work, but it's certainly worth your time.
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