The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a fun, whimsical comedy about a mild-mannered, slightly aloof man who is constantly walked all over in life by his mother and coworkers, mainly due to his constant daydreaming stemming from his wild imagination. Essentially being at the wrong place at the wrong time leads Walter on a real-life adventure unbeknownst to these very people who baby him. I think my biggest problem with this film is that the actual adventure which Walter experiences is rather tame
and not nearly as zany or adventurous as I was hoping for, especially given the premise. It all just felt too simple through most of the film, with the narrative lacking any great set pieces or adventure/comedic sequences of grandeur. The best scene centered around the main plot has to be a great scene where Boris Karloff, an evil psychiatrist who is after what Walter stumbled onto, convinces Walter that everything that he is experiencing is just a matter of his imagination. The daydream sequences are without question the best part of this film. The use of technicolor aids in enhancing the dream-like aesthetic where Walter imagines himself as a fighter pilot, cowboy and pirate. The character of Walter is such a clueless, yet sincere character that Danny Kaye's portrayal is a lot of fun and does provide some nice physical comedy in sections. It's fun and has a solid little message of a sheltered man learning how to stand up for himself, but I just felt it could have been so much better if it was a little more adventurous in it's execution and structure.
Salt for Svanetia is an early documentary from Mikhail Kalatozov about the post-Revolutionary expanses of the USSR, giving a detailed portrait of Ushkul, a small village in Georgia. The film chronicles the lives of these villagers and their way of life which
often is full of hardship, as they try to live off the resources which the land around them provides. The film isn't quite the visual feast of images and techniques
which Kalatozov's later films would create, but it's full of some arresting imagery and features many sequences which I will not soon forget. The editing really stood out for me-- the kinetic style and the way some of the sequences are constructed is really quite groundbreaking. While the subject matter is somber, the film is surprisingly comedic and playful, mostly through the title cards, which really do break up the more somber parts like the gaze of winter's decent on the town. It's a film that gives us blunt, honest depictions of birth, death, work, and this lifestyle in a way that's both harrowing, yet inspirational. In a way, as corny as it sounds, this film is about the cycle of life and man's strength to endure through the hardships as they present themselves- given this is film could be classified as a Propaganda film, that makes sense.
Elysium (2013) - Neill Blomkamp
Taking place in the year 2154, Neil Blomkamp's Elysium is the story of a world divided, with the very wealthy living a life of pristine health on the space station Elysium while everyone else lives on vastly overpopulated Earth. On earth, Max, an ex-con, is trying desperately to live an ordinary life but when an accident at the factory leaves him contaminated with radiation, he becomes desperate to make it Elysium where they have state-of-the-art medical care that would save his life. Elysium is a fast-paced, visually stunning film that's highly entertaining while managing to have an interesting social commentary as well. The first thing that jumps out about Elysium is how impressive the visuals are. Blomkamp has a great visual eye and everything in Elysium from the cinematography, visual effects, and production design is top notch. The film is full of some really inventive weaponry and futuristic ideas that feel fresh with Blomkamp still keeping his grimy, dusty, futuristic aesthetic intact with how he captures Earth. Blomkamp is not nearly as skilled as a writer and Elysium does have a few clunky narrative threads,characters, and genre tropes that stop it from being exceptional. While some reviews seem to be much harsher on this issue, it didn't really bother me too much though because Elysium completely delivers on what it promises. The film's social/political allegory is very transparent with Jodie Foster's character being a little over-the-top but I don't think Blomkamp was really trying to make her anything but that. Foster is shown as a deceitful and power-hungry individual from the very beginning, not a typical wealthy individual, so I don't think it's fair to criticize Elysium for being too one-sided in its argument against the upper-class. The robots in Elysium also play a very important role, showing the detachment from humanity which ensues under a machine workforce. These robots make it even easier for the wealthy to suppress the poor because of the lack of face-to-face contact. In the end, Elysium is not ground-breaking from a storytelling standpoint but it's without a doubt a smarter than typical blockbuster, albeit heavy-handed, which provides a lot of entertainment value.
Taking place in the late 1980s in the aftermath of a massive forest fire responsible for leaving thousands homeless, David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche is the story of Alvin and Lance, two road construction workers. Both coming from the city life, they work in this isolated landscape that forces the two men to confront each other and themselves. Prince Avalanche is a film that beautifully balances its humor and drama in delivering a touching and resonant story about life itself. Alvin and Lance couldn't be more different with Alvin being an introverted narcissist and Lance being an irresponsible man who refuses to grow-up. At least this is what it feels like at first but as the film progresses Green begins to show how these very different men are really one in the same. They are both lonely and somewhat lost in life but the film doesn't present them as outliers but the norm of all individuals. I know it sounds silly but for me Prince Avalanche is about the beauty of life and how the ugliness and sorrow are just part of finding oneself which in turn leads to happiness. Prince Avalanche is very funny with lots of great dry humor but tthe drama is very resonant. There is an incredibly affecting scene where Alvin comes across an elderly woman digging through the ashes of her home. This is a beautifully directed sequence that captures the lost memories of this woman with grace. The setting of Prince Avalance isn't used a merely a backdrop but a thematically device to display how happiness and misery are merely two extremes of life which blend together. David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche is a film that is impossible to categorize delivering both comedy and a profound sense of life itself.
Models (1999) - Ulrich Seidl
Models is a rather bizarre film which follows the everyday lives of three
models who pine for fame and fortune in the modeling game. The first thing that jumped out at me about this film is Uldrich Seidl's use of wide, steady voyeurist shot compositions which really do aid in creating a documentary type
feel. This effect really works to the film's advantage, convincing the viewer that what they are seeing is reality itself. We are shown a slice of life type film from a very cynical man who has a rather negative viewpoint on the daily social scene of modern life. We witness everything in their lives from the casual conversations, to their sexual escapades and it all feels very geniune to the audience. These characters talk about their wants and desires but Seidl's wide angles show loneliness in these characters, who unbeknownst to them, seem to just be searching for some type of emotional connection. I have a lot of trouble quantifying this film, but for me it really spoke to the selfishness and vanity which plagues modern society or humanity as a whole, but I really need to watch this one a few more times to grasp it. Hell, being that this is my fifth Ulrich Seidl flick, I still can't decide if I even like him or not but there is no denying that he is a unique voice in cinema.
Jim Dodge, a 21-year-old dreamer, goes from job to job with no real direction in life. While his life appears to be the definition of dead-end, he routinely makes up intricate fantasies of adventure, chatting with the neighborhood kids who buy his lies completely. Being just fired from yet another job, Jim is hired at Target to work as the night cleanup boy. On his first night, he starts off well but soon enough he begins to procrastinate - skating around the store, watching television, etc. Soon enough though, Jim discovers he is not alone in the store, but with Josie McClellan, the town's rich girl, whose hiding out from her over-protective father. Bryan Gordon's Career Opportunities is a film very much in the John Hughes mold, exploring two young adults who are a little lost in life and seeking some direction. John and Josie couldn't be more different, as John is terrified of leaving the comforts of living with his parents while Josie feels imprisoned by her father. Career Opportunities certainly isn't on the same level as the upper-echelon of Hughes films but it still manages to be smart, resonant and a fun experience. I've always enjoyed Frank Whaley's schtick and he is in full force as the directionless Jim. A young (and stunning) Jennifer Connelly is certainly nice to look at but this film is really made by it's supporting cast. Wiliam Forsythe's Janitor, John Candy's store manager, and Dermont Mulroney's petty thief highlight an eclectic cast of strong character actors. While Bryan Gordon's Career Opportunities may not live up to the best Hughes films it's a playful experience that managers to be both emotionally resonant to the young adult age group and quite funny.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where an endless winter engulfs Earth, Jeff Renfroe's The Colony tells the story of humans whom struggle to survive in underground outposts. When Colony Z receives a distress call from a nearby outpost, Sam and Briggs, the leader of the colony, venture out into the frozen wasteland on a hazardous rescue mission. When they arrive at the colony they discover something else entirely to fear, mankind's primal need to survive has turned a contingent of the group into Cannibals. The Colony is a lazy, generic post-apocalyptic film that uses recycled characters and sub-plots from just about every similar film to create this snooze inducing effort. From its tacky narration to Bill Paxton's generic antagonistic character, everything about this movie feels incredibly familiar and uninteresting. Usually when I watch films like this I am merely looking for a pleasant dose of escapism but The Colony even fails in that capacity by lacking any real amount of suspense or stimulating action. Thematically the film strives to be intelligent but fails miserably, touching on the same morality vs. survival topic that is explored far better in other films. In the end, while watching The Colony I just felt bad for Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, watching them attempt to save this turd.
Ever since a young age, Mounir has lived with Doctor Pinget, his adopted father. Living under Dr. Andre Pinget has provided Mounir a comfortable life, including a job at the doctor's practice. Mounir meets Murielle, a nice Belgium girl, and they fall passionately in love with one and other. Wedding bells are in the air and the two quickly get married and have children, moving into Andre's home. While Andre's ability to provide is seemingly nothing but helpful, it soon becomes excessive, sending Murielle into a anxiety-fueled tailspin which leads the family towards tragedy. Joachim Lafosse's Our Children is a subtle, yet effective tale that builds naturally towards its emotionally devastating conclusion. Our Children could almost be described as an intellectual horror film, relying on simple and subtle sequences of strife that create a snowball effect, building up inside of Murielle's mind. To say Andre's character is insidious in nature just wouldn't be fair, as one could argue he is simply trying to help in some cases, but he certainly is an incredibly egotistical character unwilling to grasp the emotional devastation he is bringing to Murielle through his headstrong nature. Don't get me wrong, Andre is not a loving individual, far from it, but some of it's indirect abuse, like how his excessive giving leaves Mounir and Murielle to feel inadequate in regards to providing for their children. Murielle's degrading mind is at center stage throughout Our Children and the film does a great job at showing how these conflicts create anxiety and conflict in her everyday life.
Brian De Palma's Passion tells the story of Isabel, an up-and-coming advertising executive, who works under the powerful and manipulative, Christine. With both Isabel and Christine being extremely ambitious their seemingly friendly rivalry becomes a deadly power struggle which escalates from public humiliation to murder. A remake of the French Film 'Love Crimes', Brian De Palma's Passion pales in comparison due to its miscast leads and lack of subtlety. Rachel McAdams is terribly miscast as Christine, the hard-boiled ad executive, delivering a one-note performance. She lacks the understated devious nature of Christine which Kristen Stewart Thomas pulled off so well. The narrative of Passion doesn't feel nearly as organic as its predecessor with plot point after plot point feeling merely the means to and end. It's almost as if De Palma was simply enthralled with the murder mystery aspect which envelopes the last third of the film, briskly going through the motions to get to the fun part. This would also explain why the murder aspect of the film is by far its most impressive segment, when De Palma really ramps up his signature style. De Palma's camerawork is certainly the highlight, using lots of expressionistic devices to create an effective atmosphere. He uses some nice camera angles that really give off a voyeuristic feel seemingly emulating the various security cameras which could be found around an office. I also liked his use of shadows during certain scenes which elevate the tension considerably, particularly during the finale. While Love Crimes felt plausible, a realistic nightmare, De Palma's Passion feels far more exaggerated and almost supernatural, painting a fantasy of violence, sex and murder with a narrative is surprisingly dull.
Hirosukie,a young medical student, finds himself imprisoned in a insane asylum where he has vivid and unnerving dreams. He is shocked one day to see a deceased man in the newspaper who has his splitting image, further complicating the puzzle of Hirosukie's forgotten past. Determined to learn the nature of these strange events, Hirosukie escapes from the asylum and takes the identity of the dead man in order to discover the mystery behind his weird doppelganger. Teruo Ishii's The Horrors of Malformed Men is essentially a Japanese version of the Island of Dr. Moreau, though it's by far the most unhinged and subversive version I've ever seen. What Hirosuki discovers is that his family is responsible for surgically turning normal human beings into deformed monsters, plunging himself into the depths of murder, incest, and madness. The Horrors of the Malformed Men is a subversive work of art and Ishii injects the film with a ton of surrealist imagery and atmospherics which give the film a very ominous tone. The imagery of this film is simultaneously grotesque and surreally beautiful being far ahead of its time when it comes to macabre cinema. The make-up work is top notch, with an abundance of unique and creepy designs that are only elevated in creepiness by Ishii's cinematography and various color filters. All that being said the film never was able to reach me on a sentimental Teruo Shii's The Horrors of Malformed Men does take a long time to get going, suffering from a tepid pacing early on, but once Hirosuki reaches the Island the film becomes something special and should be seen by all fans of macabre.
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