The tale of a struggling stand-up comedian, Matt, who is having trouble dealing with the multiple issues of his life. Between his stalled career as a stand-up comedian, and the stale long-time relationship with his girlfriend, Abby, things are spiraling further and further out of control. Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me is a autobiographically inspired story, that's core strength is the honestly it exudes. The film is very much a character-study of a good-natured man who is facing conflict and questions from all directions. The film is funny and heartfelt, with Mike Birbiglia turning in a great performance as Matt, the lovable loser type character who you can't help but relate too and root for. Whether it is intentional or not, the film is really about artistic expression as Matt begins to realize that the only way he can truly succeed at becoming a stand-up comedian is completely opening up about everything - laughing at and sharing his most intimate fears and desires. I'm sure this thought will come off as a little pretentious to some but while watching the film I couldn't help but think about what John Cassavetes said: "You must be willing to risk everything to really express it all", which is precisely what Matt's character realizes in the end of the film. The other part aspect which is explored is simply the fear of adulthood and responsibility, and while it is debatable whether Matt truly grows up, I would argue that it doesn't matter given how the story unfolds. Sleepwalk with Me is one of the funnier films of the year, but its ability to capture a man dealing with the stress in his life while attempting his dream, at such a microscopic level, is what makes it such a gratifying experience.
Tobin Frost, the most dangerous renegade agent the CIA has ever known, comes back onto the grid after being gone for over a decade. While in United States custody at a South African safe house, mercenaries attack, with only a young inexperienced agent, Matt Weston, and Tobin Frost able to escape alive. On the run, the two unlikely men become allies in an attempt to figure out who wants them dead. Daniel Espionosa's Safe House is a conventional, run of the mill Denzel Washington vehicle in which we seen Denzel playing that same type of character for the one millionth time. The main problem with Safe House is that the story just isn't all that interesting or compelling, with stakes that never feel very important to the viewer. It's definitely nothing you haven't seen before, and as usual for Hollywood film, there is this absolutely worthless romantic interest subplot that is completely forced, unnecessary and boring. One could even argue that this romantic sub-plot completely slows down the pacing of the film, but really it's all pretty boring regardless. The one bright spot of the film would have to be the director, Daniel Espionosa, who tries his best to make this film interesting. The action sequences are well done both in choreography and cinematography, having a nice balance of capturing the frantic nature of the action, but not to the point where the viewer has trouble following what is going on in front of them. Safe House is just too generic to be interesting, delivering nothing new to the viewer.
Compliance (2012) - Craig Zobel
Based on true events, Compliance is the story of Sandra, a middle-aged manager of a fast-food restaurant, and Becky, a teenaged counter girl, who works under Sandra. On one particularly stressful day, a police officer calls, accusing Becky of stealing money from a customer's purse. Sandra who is rightfully overwhelmed by her responsibilities, complies with the officer's orders in detaining and strip-searching Becky. Without going into too much detail, things escalate to the point where legality and morality become blurred. Compliance is a film that is hard to review, simply because of the nature of its content. The story itself is an incredibly fascinating endeavor, but ultimately the film comes off more as simply public service announcement than a film exploring rich and interesting themes. There is no question that this is a tense and uneasy experience, as we see things escalate to the point that one can't help but question how this type of thing is possible, or rather how much of this story is exaggerated for cheap manipulative purposes. Early on, some of the dialogue comes off stilted and unnatural and I really had some issue with the only black character in the film being a walking stereotype. My main problem with Compliance is that the filmmakers really didn't have anything to say, essentially pointing at the stupidity of the people allowing something like this to happen; sure this sounds incredibly insensitive, but it sure seems that this was the only point the filmmakers wanted to make. Compliance is the type of film that is sure to be talked about and liked by many, but I couldn't help but wonder how great a film like this could have been in more capable hands.
Parents (1989) - Bob Balaban
Taking place in the 1950s, Bob Balaban's Parents is the story of Michael, a young boy who slowly begins to suspect that his rather conventional parents are actually cannibals. Although Parents is categorized as a black comedy, the comedy aspect of the film is few and far between. Don't get me wrong, the film does have some great absurd comedic moments, but overall the film is incredibly tense and consists of some haunting, even graphic imagery. Almost entirely from the point of view of Michael, the film does a great job at showing how his perceptions and fears continuously escalate, as he becomes more and more certain that his parents are indeed cannibals. For a film that is more interested in entertainment value than intellectual endeavors, the film does a surprisingly affective job at capturing a young boys fragile mind. The entire cast is great, particularly Randy Quaid, who gives one of his best performances as the father of the household. Quaid brings such a calm, creepy demeanor to the film that he commands your attention every time he is on screen. The aesthetic of the film is very unique, using the 50s setting to perfection. Up-beat music from the time period plays throughout the film, even during some of the most intense sequences, giving the film a nice playful feel. The cinematography is creative as well, utilizing depth of frame and first person early on to get the viewer into the mind of the young boy. Some of the visuals work better than others, but either way it's a fairly unique visual experience that is a lot of fun. Although Bob Balaban's Parents isn't nearly as funny as I was hoping for, its playful style make it a lot of fun, being one of the better films of the cannibal sub-genre.
The Promoter (1952) - Ronald Neame
The story of Edward Henry, a young man who lives a modest life with his mother in a poor area of town. A charming and ambitious young man, Edward, begins to slowly climb the social ladder in both some honest, and somewhat suspect ways. Ronald Neame's The Card is a whimsical, charming endeavor that relies heavily on it's central character to tell a compelling rags to riches story. Lucky for Neame, he cast Alec Guiness, who does such a great job at playing this charming character who is incredibly cunning at getting what he wants through mostly honest, or at least harmless, means. Edward has an uncanny ability to realize business opportunities, which quickly see him climb higher and higher on the social ladder. The film isn't particularly interested in a deep dissection of the class struggle, rather focusing on how a poor individual is just as capable of greatness as any wealthy one. This can't be more apparent than in the use of Edward's mother. Even though his mother is barely in the film for more than 10 minutes, she represents the pure uncorrupted individual, who isn't jaded or transformed by power, money and greed. We see her give no bother to Edwards increasing fortune, choosing to live the same life she always had, just happy for her son's success. Ronald Neame's direction keeps the film very light, given the subject matter, never letting the film become overly dramatic or heavy-handed. The film shows great comedic timing from both Alec Guinness as well as the editing, to create a very charming experience.
Mostly an act of desperation due to his lack of funds, a disillusioned poet, Babylen Tatarsky, falls into the advertising world, quickly discovering that he has a supreme talent for coming up with distinct Russian slogans and/or selling points for Western products. After much success, Babylen finds himself pulled into the world of politics, where his unique selling ability comes in handy. Victor Ginzburg's Generation P is a surreal experience suggesting that politics in Russia are not too different than advertising for any product, going so far as to suggest that politicians themselves can be created virtually in an effort to sway the unsuspecting public towards the desired legislation. Generation P is a cynical look into newly Capitalist Russia, using Babylen to exemplify the young disillusioned generation. Given it's cynical nature, the film is actually quite bright, clean and vivid, opting for a much more fast-paced, kinetic visual style that uses tons of surreal imagery to create a rather unforgettable visual experience. While Generation P should be praised solely for its ambition, the film struggles at times balancing its themes with a narrative that feels a little bit wobbly and unfocused at times. To be fair, the film does appear to be deeply routed in post-soviet discourse, so there are probably some things which I just missed, lacking the knowledge background necessary. In the end, the sheer passion of the filmmaker shines through creating a flawed, yet ultimately fascinating look into the world of media manipulation and politics.
Set a few years before the new Millennium, The War of the World: Next Century is about Iron Idem, a TV reporter who breaks the news that a Martian race had begun to invade earth. Shortly after, Iron loses control of his television program, and is given a script informing him on what to tell the mass populace about the alien invaders. After it becomes clear to Iron that the Martians and government are taking advantage of the general populace, his wife is kidnapped and his ability to report the news is taken from him as well. What ensues is Idem's attempt to fight back against the regime and broadcast the truth to the people about the alien invaders. Piotr Szulkin's The War of the World: Next Century is quite similar to his other films in that Piotr blends science fiction and social commentary, in this case creating a cautionary tale about the powers of mass media and how it manipulates the general public. The Martians appear to be friendly yet there demands continually escalate, wanting more and more from humans. In the film we never see the Martians doing this, rather the police and government, who are imposing this Martian rule. The martians in the film are really irrelevant, as the film is simply making a point about a system of institutionalized oppression and how easily it can all take place when the common people simply do nothing, believing what they are told. The film makes a point about how important independent thought truly is, showing how easily it can be stripped away with a group mentality. Being made on what I'm sure was a small budget, for a science fiction film,the film uses some creative cinematography and ingenuity to create this sci-fi landscape. The film does so much from a visual standpoint, with the compositions and framing constantly driving the story forward, emotionally giving the viewer additional insight into Iron Idem, our main protagonist's struggle. Even more so than the beautiful compositions, the lighting in The War of the World: Next Century is expressionistic and vivid. Szulkin uses an abundance of high contrasting colors and lighting to create this stark, vivid world that visually is simply magnificent. It's only fitting that Piotr Szulkin's film begins with a tribute to Orson Welles, as much of the ideals of the film can be linked to Welles initial radio broadcast, but Szulkin has created a Science Fiction opus that stands right with Godard's Alphaville or Fassbender's World on A Wire, even arguable surpassing them.
What has always been incredibly impressive about Terence Davies films is his unique ability to create films which seem to so perfectly capture the feelings and emotion which one would associate with memories. A subtle piece of visual storytelling, The Long Day Closes, uses beautiful cinematography, lighting and compositions to create an emotional portrait of childhood, which no doubt mirrors his own experiences as a child. The film feels like a dream and it's hypnotic dissection of space and time is both engaging and affecting throughout. The main difference between this film and Distant Voices, Still Lives is Davies focuses solely on this boy's childhood subtly revealing traits about him - his loneliness, lack of ability to make meaningful relationships outside of his family, his love of cinema, etc. It's a series of Vignettes, each memory giving us small details into this character while simultaneously disappearing back into the darkness of the mind as quickly as they first appeared. Most of these events are not big dramatic decisions rather more are quiet moments, which almost seem insignificant on their own, but offer up pieces of a puzzle which tell the story of this young boy's childhood. It's a hard thing to describe, Davies Aesthetic, I would say it's very fresh and clean as if to try and capture the innocence of the young boy. Light is uses quite frequently, reflecting off the characters and settings, creating this feeling of warmth and innocense. Terence Davies The Long Day Closes defines cinematic storytelling.
After a high speed chase ends just south of the Mexican-USA border, a career criminal is arrested by Mexican authorities and sent to a hardcore Mexican prison - the two arresting officers taking his four million dollars in mob money for their own gains. While in this prison, the man learns that things are very different down south, where he befriends a young 10-year-old kid, who is able to show him the ropes. Adrian Grunberg's Get The Gringo, is a somewhat entertaining action-adventure in which the core strength of the film lies in both the setting and it's much maligned star. Get the Gringo is a return to form for Mel Gibson, as his character is a hardened criminal whose smart-ass persona is a lot of fun to watch. The film is very similar to Payback, in that Gibson's character narrates the film, supplying a good amount of laughs. The narrative is quite complicated, filled with gangsters and gun play, which all somehow works in creating a nice little pulpy storyline. The setting is the other major strength of the film, and it does a good job at introducing this strange world of a Mexican penitentiary where corruption runs so rampant that certain inmates are allowed to carry around guns at will. It's a dirty, dingy world and the film makes that pretty clear with some amusing set pieces. Where Get The Gringo struggles is when it gets a little too wrapped up in sentiment, particularly between Mel's character and the young boy, but overall, behind Gibson's pulpy entertaining performance, it's a decent case of escapism.
Hubert Cornfield's Plunder Road is a stripped down, no-nonsense thriller starring Gene Raymond as Eddie, a professional thief whose latest plan is to rob a government shipment of gold from a Mint train. Plunder Road begins with a memorable opening sequence, in where we witness an elaborate heist of the train carrying tons of gold. Late at night, the entire heist is conducted in a massive rain storm, which adds a great amount of suspense to the robbery, while also helping to set the tone of this gritty noir-thriller. The whole opening sequence is rather lengthy, featuring no dialogue between characters, instead having multiple voice overs from the different members of the gang. These men appear to all come from different places - some question whether the plan will work, others are simply waiting for something to go wrong, with a few of the more battle-tested men simply anxious to get started. Plunder Road is a film that is entirely from the point of view of these robbers as they attempt to make their way across the border unscathed. The viewer is never shown any of the police work which is being conducted to catch these men, instead only seeing exactly what these robbers see, as they make their way across the country in contraband filled trucks, incredibly nervous and tense about the the police's pursuit. Each of the characters is well defined and multi-dimensional in the film. They aren't best buddies, just men who are working towards a common goal of getting to the border unscathed, money in tow, of course. Gene Raymond is great as the no-nonsense career thief who is clearly the brains of the operation. He brings a calm cool presence to the character, providing a nice contrast to the fast-paced, tense experience of Plunder Road.
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