Dreamscape (1984) - Joseph Ruben
All the people touting Christopher Nolan's Inception as groundbreaking in terms of originality clearly never saw Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape. Dr. Paul Novotny is in charge of an experimental research department, which attempts to alleviate individuals who suffer from recurring nightmares. The process of 'dreamlinking' is used, where a psychic projects their consciousness into the sleeping person's subconscious, or dream-state. Enter Alex Gardner, an extremely talented psychic who wastes his gifts to hustle gamblers and meet woman. An old student of Dr. Novotny, Alex reluctantly agrees to join the program that is funded by the government. Lets just say from there Government corruption runs wild through Robert Blair, a powerful political reactionary who will do whatever he believes is necessary to "protect the people'. Given the release date of Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape it's no surprise to find the film running rampant with political commentary centered around the nuclear bomb. With the president having horrible nightmares about nuclear winter, he decides to attempt lasting peace with the soviets, forcing Blair to take the necessary steps to make sure this doesn't happen. While the film has a very serious subject matter Dreamscape never stops having a sense of humor, something that is far less frequent in the films of today. The film uses some well-timed editing transitions and music cues to give the film a nice touch of tongue and cheek humor, which is quite important given the film's far-fetched concept. This is a film that is loaded with narrative threads and themes but it somehow manages to touch on everything without feeling convoluted. One of my only complaints revolves around the character Tommy, Alex's fellow psychic mind reader. His general arch is fine and very necessary but I really think he should have been less antagonistic towards Alex early on in the film, making his dealings with Robert Blair more of a surprise. The dream aesthetics are creative and interesting, from the use of handheld and various atmospheric techniques, the dreamscape feels very different than the normal world. The climatic sequences where Alex and Tommy go toe-to-toe in the President's dreamscape has got to be the highlight of the entire film featuring lots of stimulating imagery and inventive ideas. Joseph Ruben's Dreamscape features great actors such as Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow, a genuinely unique concept, and a generally light but dramatic tone that all work together to deliver a solid piece of filmmaking.
I must admit that I went into 'The Cabin in the Woods' pretty skeptical. I was concerned that the film would be too witty or self-indulgent for its own good, forgetting that it's
still a horror film. Fortunately, Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods succeeds a lot more than it fails in delivering a funny, scary genre film that twists conventions and supplies us with something
relatively unique. Dabin in the Woods doesn't hold back on the gore and besides a few sketchy CGI effects, it has some of the better practical monster effects I have seen in awhile. I would even say that one or two of designs beckoned to some of Clive Barker's imagination and ingenuity with creature effects. The 'reveal' being the centerpiece of the film is solid, if not spectacular, but you have to appreciate the film for going balls out in every way for the finale. The highlights for me were Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who supply a great amount of tongue and cheek humor to the film. Their liveliness pays major dividends in keeping the film engaging and entertaining. Drew Goddard's film is hard to review without giving away the finale but it's definitely a film that is best to walk into knowing nothing.
Taking place in 19th century Denmark, Babette's Feast tells the story of two elderly sisters who've sacrificed their lives, romantic possibilities and even some happiness in order to fulfill their father's religious ministry after his death. They live in the remote town, Jutland, where they continue the teaching of this small protestant sect. Years pass and the woman are greeted by a French refugee, Babette, who begs for them to take her in, committing herself to work as their housekeeper and cook. Years go by and Babette's tireless efforts enables the aging congregation to remain together. When Babette experiences unexpected good fortune she implores the sister to let her prepare one last meal, commemorating the 100th anniversary of their father's death. Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast is a sweet and charming film about grace and more importantly the human condition. The film doesn't judge these deeply religious individuals but it does question whether they've missed out on aspects of life. This leads me to believe that the film is really about the balance of life. As devout Christians, these two woman have devoid themselves of the pleasures of life which make them human, but with the dinner which Babette provides, they are able to experience feeling alive. The meal unifies the individuals, who were constantly bickering among themselves beforehand, serving as a symbolic gesture of love from Babette. Babette's feast is also a moving ode to art. In the final scene of the film we learn Babette has spent all of her winnings on preparing the meal, making her poor once again. The sisters are in disarray to learn of this but Babette merely replies that the feast wasn't simply for the sisters because a great artist is never poor. Babette's Feast is a surprisingly light and charming film that is easy to digest. While the film is tepidly paced it touches on lots of interesting themes though given my personal preferences, I wish it would have at least recognized the darker side of humanity.
Brandy Klark is not your typical high school student. The valedictorian of her school, Brandy is highly organized and bossy. On the eve of attending college, Brandy begins to feel the pressures to become more sexually active /experienced from both her friends and family. In a way which the overly organized Brandy only could, she creates a list of sexual things to accomplish before campus in the fall. Maggie Carey's The To Do List sets out to be the next big female-centric comedy in the vein of Easy A or Clueless, but unfortunately it doesn't surmount to much past its unique and entertaining concept. The To Do List is a one trick pony, that relies almost exclusively on the humor of an inexperienced Brandy fumbling through various sexual favors. Don't get me wrong, the film does have quite a few funny moments, particularly centered around Bill Hader and Rachel Bilson's characters, but the film did begin to wear out its welcome towards the end. While the comedy is serviceable, the film really struggles to deliver any type of resonant thoughts on female sexuality. The film tries to balance gross-out sexual gags with gender politics and self-discovery but it can't pull it off to the point where I even became a little disheartened by the films message. One could make an argument that the film is even socially irresponsible, telling young girls that sex is not a big deal at all, completely ignoring any mention of sexually transmitted diseases outside of being used for a joke. Every member of Brandy's family is walking stereotypes, with her father being the sheltered conservative and her sister being a sex addict. Maybe I'm being too harsh but The To Do List feels raunchy for the sake of being raunchy, whiffing at any true element of poignancy.
James Mangold's The Wolverine takes a different trajectory than its predecessors, opting to chronicle Logan's adventures in Japan. The beginning of the film finds Logan as a vagabond, living an isolated life of solitude. One fateful night he meets Yukio, who is there to summon Logan to Japan for an old acquaintance. Logan saved this man's life years ago and reluctantly agrees to return to Japan to grant the man's dying wish. On his arrival in Japan, Logan finds himself embroiled in a sinister plot in which his enemies and allies are hard to decipher. The Wolverine is a massive improvement over its predecessor because it's a film that understands and respects its character and fans. Wolverine is a man whose constantly fighting his inner demons and the film captures this very well. He isn't a boy scout but a warrior with a code, and the narrative wisely infuses the Japanese samurai culture into the character's mythos. One small scene that convinced me the filmmakers understood the character is when Yukio is pooring her heart out to Wolverine and he merely responds by saying "I don't have time for this shit". Wolverine has never been good with expressing his feelings but that doesn't mean he doesn't have them and I really thought Mangold and company did a great job at capturing that. Sure, the Wolverine has a good amount of action but in understanding the character it makes everything feel much more genuine. For the first two thirds of the film I was very pleased with the film but unfortunately the final act falls victim to clunky villainous character motivations and the propensity to make things overblown. The Silver Samurai character in general is absolutely wasted in this film and I really didn't think the twist revolving around Yashida was earned in the slightest. Obviously some of the science and explanations are completely nonsensical as well, but I can forgive that sort of thing. James Mangold's The Wolverine is far from perfect but it's a great step in the right direction, exploring the man behind the claws and giving a fantastic end of credits sequence that is bound to make fans of the x-men universe extremely anxious for next summer.
Luke and Kate are co-workers at a local brewery. While Kate manages the clientele, Luke works behind the scenes as a brewer. The two have a ton of chemistry and spend most of their time drinking and being very flirtatious. Why aren't they an item? Mainly because they both are in relationships. While Luke has been in long running relationship with Jill, a teacher, Kate's relationship with Chris, a music producer, appears to be much more low-key. Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies is a solid relationship drama that does a great job at balancing its comedy and drama elements. Swanberg knows how create well-defined characters and Drinking Buddies strength lies in the charming lead performances by Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde. While Kate and Chris' relationship feels out of convenience from the beginning, Luke and Jill's relationship is presented as genuine and loving. The film teases this concept of Luke and Kate falling in love but really the film is truly about how lost both of these character's are. Both are afraid of commitment and as the film progresses we begin to realize that Luke's connection with Kate is more brotherly than romantically driven. Kate's one night stand with Dave, another co-worker, is a perfect example. We are fooled into thinking Luke is merely jealous but what develops is more protective quality. I found myself questioning whether Luke just felt sorry for Kate, trying to take care of her any way he can. This would definitely be the strongest approach, given the early trajectory of the narrative and character dynamics, but I do think it's little unclear what Swanberg is trying to say. Swanberg uses alcohol as a cinematic cheat, making it easier to create these situations between Luke and Kate, further blurring the lines in their relationship. I think in the end Swanberg is commenting on the blurred lines between friendship and romance that can co-exist but I don't think it was as wise or profound as some give it credit for being. While I certainly enjoyed Drinking Buddies like most Sundance movies I found it overpraised.
Haunters (2010) - Min-suk Kim
Haunters is a unique, interesting take on the superhero genre that opts to throw the viewer into this realm of possibility rather than setting everything up. So many films of this genre feel the unnecessary need to give an origin story for
any character with powers but what Haunters does is refreshing and completely the opposite. From the onset of Haunters we are merely shown a young character's psychic ability to control anyone he comes in contact with, but that's all the set-up the viewer is given. The film quickly fast-forwards 10 years where we learn that this child has grown up to be a psychotic who uses his powers for completely selfish means, leading us to our main protagonist, a man who for unknown reasons is immune to these psychic powers. This all that is given to the viewer, which makes the film far more interesting and engaging to watch. I could see some people wanting more explained, but I enjoyed the ambiguity of the connection between these two men, with destiny being a major theme. Tonally Haunters is kinda a mixed bag where there are many scenes which are comedic and relatively lighthearted but when the violence or drama does come it's pretty intense. Haunters is not an amazing film by any means, and I do wish it could have been a little more epic in structure/action set pieces but it's unique and interesting enough to be worth most people's time.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do in film criticism is write about a film in which you are wildly indifferent on. Todd Rohal's The Catechism Cataclysm is one of those films; a not quite funny enough, not quite profound enough film that ends up being nothing but odd. Father Billy, an eccentric priest, is forced to take a sabbatical from his job for his serious lack of interest in sharing the word of the lord. Billy tracks down his high school idol Robbie, who much to his dismay, agrees to go on a canoe trip. On the trip the two men reminisce about the good old days before getting lost, with things getting progressively weirder. The Catechism Cataclysm intends to be a film which shatters all typical forms of narrative storytelling, blurring the lines between religious allegory, coming of age story, etc. While the film mostly succeeds at doing this it hardly mattered because it's all painfully unfunny. Obviously comedy is the most subjective genre out there but The Catechism Cataclysm relies far too heavily on Steven Little's tiresome schtick. While it can work great in supporting roles like Eastbound and Down, Little's efforts become stale extremely fast when solely focused on him. Robbie's stories are by far the most interesting aspect of the film. They are unique and interesting for starters but they also provide a bulk of the explanation to what the film is truly about. The Catechism Cataclysm is about the power of perception in terms of storytelling but unfortunately I found almost all the comedy, which is most of the films intent, to be stale and un-enjoyable.
Researching for a book about the various dark magic practices from all over the globe, Cathy, a writer, finds herself in Bali. Intent on studying the black magic of Leák, Cathy seeks the console of an evil witch who promises to train her in the dark arts. Unfortunately for Cathy, the witch's plans are far more devious, turning Cathy into this vampiric-type slave who dines on the local villagers, aiding the witch's plan to gain immortality. With the witch growing stronger, it's up to the local holy men to fend off the forces of evil. H. Tjut Djalil's Mystics in Bali is a bizarre horror film combining western film structure with eastern mysticism. This is certainly another film that fits into the "so bad it's good" category, with this particularly film reminding me quite a bit of Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's films. The effects are gloriously cheesy by traditional standards but Mystics in Bali is loaded with creativity, bringing lots of unique and horrific ideas to the table. My favorite of these has to be Cathy's vampiric slave - a floating head with her various guts and entrails dangling from below. The film's atmosphere is simple yet effective as well, using lots of dense fog and darkness that is reminiscent to some of John Carpenter's work. Narrative speaking, the story is done in a very matter of fact type way, with details emerging throughout in an attempt to aid the viewer in explaining the convoluted web of mysticism. I do wish the film didn't waste time with its super cheesy love story between Cathy and her guide, Mahendra, a narrative thread that no doubt was pulled directly from western filmmaking. In the end I wish a subtitled version was more readily available (the dubbing is awful), but Mystics in Bali is certainly recommended for fans of the B-movie Horror and "So Bad Its Good" sub-genres.
Fear City (1984) - Abel Ferrara
In the seedy New York City of the 1980s, a psychotic killer is on the loose, stalking and killing strippers who work at various nightclubs. Affected by these killings are Matt and Nick, two consummate lowlives whom run a booking agency which caters exotic dancers to the mafia-controlled strip clubs spread all over Manhattan. Between Al Wheeler, a persistent police detective on the case, and the Mafia's desire to get this problem solved, Matt must come to grips with his inner demons and stop this psychotic killer before he murders again. Abel Ferrara's Fear City is a sleazy, crime drama that excels at transporting the viewer into the dark underbelly of 1980s New York. Ferrara has never been a filmmaker to shy away from nudity and/or violence and Fear City has plenty of both. The opening twenty minutes or so are spent introducing the setting, showing Times Square as a grimy place where people go to fulfill their lust-fueled desires. Ferrara's camera always seems to linger far longer than most filmmakers, showcasing a cynicism and stomach which few share. At the center of the film's narrative lies Matt, a former boxer, intent on escaping from his troubled past. I'm not sure the romantic thread concerning Matt and Loretta was necessary at all, but Loretta's constant struggles with drug abuse add another layer for Matt to overcome. Fear City spends a fare amount of time with its main villain, giving the audience a lot of insight into his warped perspective. This is a man who is very methodical, highly intelligent, and truly believes what he is doing is for the betterment of society. Make no mistake, Fear City is quite cheesy at times, particularly the laughable pre-fight montage before the climax,but it's another unique film by Ferrara that has a perverse romanticism to its seedy story.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.