Black Moon (1975) - Louis Malle
A surreal, erotic nightmare by Louis Malle which is far different than almost any of his other films. Louis Malle's Black Moon opens with the viewer following an adolescent girl as she tries to escape from a war that has broken out between Men and Women. She comes across a Manor which is occupied by a strange old women whose only connection with the outside world is a two-way radio. This woman also have two children, a son and daughter, whom live on the grounds but never utter even a single word. Malle's film is like Alice in Wonderland on acid, offering very little explanation or reasoning for what goes on in the film. There are screaming/weeping plants, a unicorn which patrols the grounds, naked children who run around with a flock of sheep, and talking animals - just to name a few oddities which exist in the film. It's puzzling yet addicting, the type of film in which I found myself hating and loving at the same time . While the message of the film is a little hard to grasp, If I was forced to take some stab at what it all means, it may have something to do with sexual awakening, but even this aspect would only merely be a part of the puzzle. Given the time period in which this film was made, with womans rights being at the forefront of social change, one could argue that Malle is hoping for a social revolution by showing the chaos that must exist before massive massive change can take hold. The old woman represents the old ways, while the young girl represents the changes which are coming. I don't know, anyone's guess is as good as mine to what Malle's true intentions actually were. I have read that Malle also told viewers to go into this film expecting to watch some form of a dream, and I can totally see why. Fascinating and thought provoking, though I wish I could ask Malle to explain exactly what he was trying to say.
Searching for Sugar Man tells the remarkable true story of Rodriguez, the greatest rock icon, who never was. Discovered in a dingy bar in Detroit, Rodriguez's music combined soulful melodies with poetic lyrics which two celebrated producers quickly recognized. Sure of the type of talent they discovered, they released Rodriguez's debut album which completely bombed, leaving Rodriguez alone again, falling into obscurity. The crazy part of this story centers around how Rodriguez would become a legend in South Africa, fueling a movement of equality in South African and becoming a legend, even though Rodriguez himself is completely unaware to this fact. Searching for Sugar Man is a heart-warming story about persistence and the power of the human spirit. A blue-collar man who never had much money, Rodriguez is an inspiration, who never gave up, with a soul which simply wouldn't quit. The concept alone of a man going from a bit of an outcast to an icon who is more famous than the Rolling Stones or Elvis is just incredible. The film wisely uses many of Rodriguez's songs throughout the film, serving loosely as the structure of the story, simply emphasizing the poetic nature of this man's music. I particularly found the anecdote about how Rodriguez would play with his back to the audience in small bars, as if he wanted people simply to focus on the message behind the music. The film has a lot of interesting themes from the notion that popularity or fame have no correlation with quality (they don't), to how someone's wealth has absolutely nothing to do with the type of person they are, this is a nice documentary that I guarantee will leave anyone who sees it touched.
Project X (2012) - Nima Nourizadeh
Three nerdy high school seniors throw a massive birthday party in an attempt to make a name for themselves and become popular. They succeed at their mission, but as the night progresses the party spirals way out of control. Project X is the latest film of the found footage genre, tackling the teenage sex-comedy to no avail. The irony of Project X is how it uses the found footage angle in an attempt to feel real and genuine but it ultimately comes off as very fake and staged. The Costa character is essentially a poor rip off of the Jonah Hill character from Superbad with the performance coming off as some type of half-assed wannabe performance. The main problem with Project X is it just isn't that fun or interesting, consisting of laugh out loud moments which are few and far between. Thomas, our central character, has a story arch where he must choose between the "hot popular girl" and the "friend", who happens to be pretty hot in her own right. The problem is nothing is developed with this whole situation, opting instead to simply throw the viewer into a world where this super popular girl just happens to want to have sex with Thomas. The whole thing just feels so unnecessary, particularly for a film that seems to be wanting to break typical genre conventions. Ultimately the message of the film is just dumb, essentially supporting this bullshit idea that popularity is an important concept. The fact that Thomas is noticed now makes everything else not a big deal. Don't get me wrong if the film was more fun, then this concept would have totally been warranted. Essentially, the fact that the film never fully embraces it's premise, instead opting for a generic high school storyline which is ultimately boring.
Twister (1989) - Michael Almereyda
Not to be mistaken for the special-effects driven blockbuster of the same name, Twister is about an oddball family living on a Kansas farm who find themselves trapped inside with news of a tornado approaching. The head of the family is a retired soda tycoon, who is currently dating an evangelist who hosts children's television program. He shares the home with his daughter, who herself has a young daughter, his insanely strange son, and the maid. Michael Almereyda's debut feature is an incredibly weird endeavor that essentially defies any true plot description. In a way it's an absurdest comedy, having some pretty hysterical moments throughout, though definitely not the type of film one should expect to sustain laughter continuously. It's truly a film that is hard to grasp, as it has an abundance of tonal shifts making for a truly bizarre experience. Really the only aspect of the film that is consistent is its absolute weirdness. Given that the film is about a dysfunctional family, this seems to be intentional, though I can't say I really grasped the point Almereyda was trying to make. Many of the performances in the film are stilted and awkward, with dialogue equally as strange. There are plenty of recognizable faces, from Harry Dean Stanton, who is great as the father of the family, to Crispin Glover, who truly gives one of the most bizarre, strange performances I have every seen. I think it's pretty safe to say that there may have never been a weirder performance. The direction by Almereyda is not flashy but acute, especially for a fantastic sequences in which Chris and Maureen, the daughter of the household, share a kiss. Almereyda uses a rear-projection type device in which he projects a cartoon in the background of the actors intimate embrace, almost as if he is suggesting that their love is immature and childish. An incredibly odd experience which is both entertaining and frustrating all at once.
The Hunger (1983) - Tony Scott
Given the recent passing of director Tony Scott, I decided to revisit his feature debut 'The Hunger' a film which I haven't seen in over a decade, yet had found memories of. The story of Miriam, a centuries-old vampire, who preys on victims with her lover, John, who she herself turned, granting him immortality - or so he thinks. When John realizes that his own sustained youth is not in fact permanent, he begins to age at an incredibly alarming rate, passing away in a matter of hours. With John gone, Miriam turns her seductive ways towards Sarah, a scientist who researches the effects of aging, tirelessly looking for a cure of sorts. For what Tony Scott's The Hunger lacks in concise storytelling, it makes up in spades with brooding atmosphere and style. Starting with a highly memorable opening sequence, Scott uses lots of experimental filmmaking techniques to heighten the primary emotion of the scene, whether it be tension, sadness, etc. Fragmented editing is also used, particularly when alternating between Miriam and Sarah's individual narratives, suggesting even early on that they have some form of connection going on between the two of them. Using fog heavily in its aesthetic, the natural light of the film is magnified, creating another great atmospheric device to bring the viewer into the Vampiric world of Miriam. The Hunger does feel quite uneven at times, seeming to have a hard time balancing both the vampire mythos portion with the scientific/humanistic storyline, though I think the film is intentionally more concerned with atmosphere and style. Erotic, sexy and violent, The Hunger is a worthy film in the vampire genre, giving us an early indication of the type of filmmaker Tony Scott would become.
The Baby (1973) - Ted Post
After recently losing her husband to an accident, Social worker Ann Gentry takes on the case of investigating the Wadsworth family. A very strange family, the Wadsworths consist of a mother, her two 20-something daughters, and a diaper-clad baby, who happens to be over 20 years old. Ted Post's cult-classic, 'The Baby' is an original, off-beat horror film that succeeds more so than not because of its dynamic performances and off-kilter finale. Part exploitation, horror, and even social commentary, The Baby is a very strange endeavor basically taking they typical horror convention of the psychotic parent, to all new heights. Ruth Roman plays the nutcase mother, a woman whose failings with the respective fathers of her children have given her much angst towards her youngest son. Through intense negative reinforcement, she has effectively stopped her son from ever learning how to do even the most basic of tasks such as walking, hence the 20-something baby. Marianna Hill and Susanne Zenor also deserve mention as the two sisters, each do a fantastic job at creating this creepy, mysterious aura with every inquisitive stare. Definitely with its dated moments, The Baby is the type of horror film that can be viewed with plenty of laughs throughout, yet still having the ability to hold onto its creepy tone despite this. Not a violent film by any means, The Baby relies heavily on both the perverseness of the story and the creepy performances to create something that isn't scary by traditional standards, though it's certainly something that is hard to forget. Probably above everything else, the thing that stands out about 'The Baby' is how the finale pulls a sorta role-reversal in which the mother strangely becomes sympathetic. I don't want to give anything away, but the ending is quite amazing and while it doesn't completely work in convention of the narrative, I'm not sure why I should have expected anything else.
Keyhole (2011) - Guy Maddin
Ulysses Pick arrives home after a long absence with the body of a teenaged girl and a gagged young man in tow. A gangster, Ulysses is greeted by his gang who has been waiting for him after a long standoff with the police. Strangely enough, Ulysses house seems to be haunted, leading him on a journey upstairs, attempting to reach his wife, Hyacinth, locked in the bedroom upstairs. Guy Maddin's Keyhole is not an easy film to describe. Featuring his trademark style, Keyhole is probably the closest thing to a haunted house film we will ever see by Guy Maddin. The film plays like some type of mystery noir in the early stages, but ultimately it becomes clear that this is an emotional journey for Ulysses in which he comes face-to-face with some of his darkest secrets, locked deep away in his own memories. Keyhole is like a nightmarish dreamscape that is as fragmented and mysterious as our main protagonists memory. Primarily a film experimenting with memory and ultimately forgiveness, the film uses unconventional editing and camera work to create this world. While it's haunting and enigmatic, the film never grabbed me much on an emotional level, making the home stretch of the film a bit of a let down. This has got to be Maddin's most perverse outing in years, making it certainly worth a watch for anyone who is a fan of strange, off-beat cinema.
Bombay Beach (2011) - Alma Har'el
Located on the shores of the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is one of the poorest communities in Southern California. Once a beautiful vacation destination, the area has become a desolate wasteland of dead fish and extreme poverty. Bombay Beach turns an observant eye on the small community, following the trials and tribulations of three individuals. Benny, a young boy whose suffering from bipolar disorder; CeeJay Thompson, an aspiring football player who took refuge in Bombay Bach in an effort to avoid the same fate as his cousin, who was murdered by gang violence in Los Angeles; and Red, an ancient man, who has an inspiring love for life, even amidst the fact that cigarettes and whiskey are his main companions. Alma Har'el's Bombay Beach is a pensive look into a small world which tonally has much more in common with a poem than the straight-forward approach of most documentaries. The cinematography of the film is breathtaking, perfectly showing the beauty and struggle which takes place in these people's lives. There are moments which are captured on film that essentially capture humanity in ways that hard to put into words, leaving the viewer emotionally invested. Bombay Beach achieves the most important thing in creating a documentary like this, in that it transports the viewer into another world, never being exploitative, rather showing the subjects in a genuine, naturalistic way. A rather hypnotic experience, the film effectively captures the humanity and souls of these characters in both beautiful and resonant ways.
Margaret (2011) - Kenneth Lonergan
Lisa, a 17-year-old New York High school student, inadvertently plays the role in a tragic bus accident which claims the life of a woman. Somewhat responsible for distracting the bus driver, Lisa becomes more and more intent on setting things right, meeting opposition from all angles. Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret is an incredibly ambitious, affecting drama that takes a penetrative look into the cost or weight of human life and suffering, among other some other issues. Margaret does an impeccable job at capturing how trauma and guilt can affect the individual - seeing how Lisa becomes more and more abrasive, lashing out at her family and loved ones. She is a woman who is haunted by her experiences and while most films would be almost as abrasive in delivering this message, this film does so in a very subtle way, slowly unfolding and showing the tension, guilt and weight which Lisa is feeling. This type of trauma is something Lisa has never experienced before, and the film gives a very personal look into how this type of event can change a young mind forever. We see the effect this traumatic experience has on her own sentimentality, how she becomes distant, almost cold - one major example being how she ops for the purely physical relationship with a boy who has no real interest rather than the young man who clearly cares about her. The film touches on other dense topics, but they all fit into the larger theme, making for a compelling experience. Anna Paquin gives a great unrelenting performance, as we see a scattered, abrasive young woman trying to make some sense of this world after dealing with trauma. Margaret is not the masterpiece that some proclaim, but it's atmospheric, deeply resonant and ambitious, making for a film that should not be missed.
The Campaign (2012) - Jay Roach
Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) has had the luxury of running unopposed for the last four re-election campaigns in North Carolina. After a highly publicized gaffe which hurts his public image, two billionaires, played by Dan Aykryod and John Lithgow, decide to support a naive man in Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), with billionaires true intentions being about exploiting the small town for monetary gains. Jay Roach's The Campaign is a comical look into cutthroat, ridiculous world of political campaigns. The film follows a rather traditional trajectory for this type of comedy, with both the men being complete buffoons, who in the end realize the error of their ways. What surprised me so much about the film is just how well the political commentary is actually executed. So many films like this, or people for that matter, attempt to demonize one party or the other in a their effort to make a statement about politics but the Campaign never takes shots at either the Republicans or Democrats, rather understanding that they are both equally capable of folding to the powers of greed and monetary gain. This is why i hate politics and most of the people who are so firmly republican or democrat, with the film exposing how similar they are. We see the absurdity of political elections and how both parties spend more time demonizing each other instead of actually trying to help the people of America. Enough of the political talk as I am sure anyone reading this is far more interested in the entertainment value. Well, it mostly succeeds in being quite funny. Both Farrell and Galifianakis do there typical thing to decent effect, with the film having some rather clever dialogue and comedic ideas. I particularly found the majority of the campaign ads to be the highlight of the film, delivering on some hilarious moments.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.