Set in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 1992, where a civil war rages after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Grob's In Bloom tells the story of two young girls, Natia and Eka, inseparable friends who spend nearly every waking moment together. These two woman are on the edge of adulthood, surrounded by mayhem that ranges from family dysfunction to violent outbursts on the street that are viewed as merely a daily occurrence. When Natia is given a gun as a present from a male admirer, the girls begin to feel more in control of the world around them, but they soon discover the error in viewing violence as a solution to a problem. In Bloom is a fascinating coming of age story set in an incredibly bleak environment where oppression, violence, and delusion are commonplace. The filmmakers create a grim world around Natia and Eka, where male oppression over woman is a matter-of-fact, capturing the overall numbness of being a woman as they search for their identity in a society that constantly threatens them with violence. The narrative unfolds in a way that intentionally only gives the viewer half of the story, staying solely in the psyche of these two young girls. While both Natia and Eka struggle to find themselves, I personally found Eka's story to be incredibly compelling. Through subtle storytelling, In Bloom captures a young woman who begins to understand the significance of the brutality around her. With the discovery that her father was arrested for a violent act himself, Eka recognizes the ugliness of violence on all things, beginning to grasp the horror of violence in a world where it's so commonplace. Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Grob's In Bloom is a haunting evocation of the importance of ident
Jude, a college literature professor, has found himself completely uninspired when it comes to his work. Recently he has become entranced by a specific paragraph from a Dostevesky novel that he reeatedly discusses in class. While many of his students either fall asleep or find themselves disgusted by a man they deem to be a fraud, Sophia, a relatively kooky student, is fascinated by Jude. The two begin a relationship together, eventually having to deal with the inevitable pain of a doomed love built upon fascination. Hal Hartley's Surviving Desire is an elegant film of poetic beauty that effectively captures the stigmas of a transgenerational relationship, among other things. For those not familiar with Hal Hartley's work, his style takes some getting used to, being almost abrasive due to being so outside the norm of narrative contemporary filmmaking. Surviving Desire for example feels based in this sorta hyper-reality state, where we watch a college professor attempt to deal with his desire. It's philosophical in approach, with long stretches of Surviving Desire revolving around long conversations between its two main protagonists that feel a little too smart to be natural, but it's engrossing none-the-less. I believe one could take a lot out of this film but for me Hartley is commenting on the un-quantifiable power of desire. At barely an hour in length, Hal Hartley has created a deep narrative experience that subtlety touches examines the power and influence of love, lust, sex, and desire.
Juan, Sara, and Samuel, all 15 years old, come to the decision that the only way they can live a better life is to flee from Guatemala and head to America. Leaving with very little in terms of resources, the trio of friends set off on their journey. Along the way they meet Chauk, a Tzotzil Indian, who speaks no Spanish at all. With youthful optimism, they all believe a better world awaits across the Mexican border but they soon discover the harsh reality of the world around them. The Golden Dream is a honest portrait of the plight of so many immigrants that is heartbreaking and poetically envisioned. Quemada-Diez's story is simple but incredibly invigorating, delivering a film similar his protege Ken Loach. While there have been a lot of films made about USA-Mexico immigration, I'm not sure any film is done is such a poetically subtle way. The Golden Dream spends a lot of time showing the tremendous amount of obstacles standing in the way of these children on their journey but the hope and optimism that it captures along the way is what truly stands out. Don't get me wrong, this is a deeply tragic story but it does offer a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel while simultaneously capturing the dangerous path to get there. The narrative is straight forward but gripping, shedding characters as they go through this harsh environment, reminding the viewer that none of these characters are bigger than this vicious cycle. This is a harsh, bleak film but it also never manipulates the viewer or creates drama when it isn't naturally there. Diego Quemada-Diez's The Golden Dream is a poetic tale of teenage Guatemalan migrants that stands its ground as one of the best films on the subject matter I've seen.
Eric, an Amsterdam artist who seems to specialize in sculpture and paintings of the perverse variety, spends much of his time wandering around the streets of Amsterdam, picking up young female lovers who he disposes of directly after with no remorse, even keeping mementos of his conquests in a scrapbook. While Eric's promiscuous nature implies a care-free spirit, he is deeply haunted by the memory of the only woman he ever loved, Olga. Told almost entirely in flashback, Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight is a sexually-charged psychological drama following the epicurean adventures of a deeply flawed couple. Like most of Verhoeven's work, the emotions and style are elevated above normalcy, giving Turkish Delight an energy which equals its main protagonist's lifestyle. Behind Verhoeven's brash expose of a flawed couple lies a poignant study of love and life, capturing the fragility of humanity and the power of our emotions. Olga and Eric are quite unlikeable characters by traditional standards, but Turkish Delight packs an emotional punch regardless, something Verhoeven deserves a lot of credit for. Verhoeven's direction flawlessly encapsulates the emotions of its characters, my favorite example of this being a sequence where Olga and Eric quarrel in their apartment - with Verhoeven adding the abrupt downpour of rain that ef, capturing Olga's emotional state. Paul Verhoeven's Turkish Delight is a bold effort from the always brash filmmaker which encapsulates the fragility of humanity in a way only Verhoeven could.
Like many sequels, The Purge: Anarchy expands upon the concept of its predecessor, telling an ensemble-type narrative about a group of people trying to survive the New Founders of America's latest annual purge. A couple on their way home find themselves stranded when their car breaks down just as the Purge commences. A poverty-stricken mother and daughter who find themselves running for their lives when their house is broken into during the purge. A police sergeant who willingly goes out during the Purge, seeking revenge on the man who killed his son. Through chance, these five people's lives intersect, leading them to stick together in order to survive. James DeMonaco's The Purge: Anarchy is a larger scale version of its predecessor, carrying the same social-warfare parable of the corruptible powers of money. While the film surely beats the viewer over the head with its message, there is a confidence throughout The Purge: Anarchy that is quite refreshing. James DeMonaco's film is dark, dirty, and loud, feeling almost like a grindhouse film, as it wears its message on its sleeve while simultaneously taking every chance it can to up the ante. DeMonaco takes pride in capturing the impending chaos and violence The Purge brings, making it hard not to appreciate on some level. Personally I found this film's predecessor to be nothing more than a missed opportunity, but with The Purge: Anarchy, DeMonaco is able to capture an America controlled by greed, where one's monetary benefit supersedes their morality. While watching The Purge: Anarchy I couldn't help but wonder how Frank Grillo hasn't become more of a household name. In a performance that almost felt like he was auditioning for Marvel's The Punisher, Grillo brings a quiet, focused vengeance to his role, a tortured-soul whose sense of morality leads him to help the young couple and mother-daughter. While The Purge Anarchy isn't nearly as smart as it thinks it is, James DeMonaco has delivered a much more entertaining film than its predecessor, a bleak, action horror film that is fun to watch, even if DeMonaco needs to lay off a bit on the slow motion shots.
War Story (2014) - Mark Jackson
Lee, a celebrated war photography, has recently endured a brutal detainment in Libya, witnessing the murder of one of her colleagues Mark, a man she was very close with. Now in Sicily, Lee stays in a local hotel, unwilling and unable to return back to the States as she attempts to come to terms with this whole tragic ordeal. Staying very much to herself, Lee happens to cross paths with a Tunisian migrant who dreams of safe passage to France, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to a Libyan girl Lee photographed right before her detainment. Mark Jackson's War Story is an intimate portrait of an individuals fragility as she tries to come to terms with tragedy. Catherine Keener is a revelation in this film, bringing a haunting physicality to her performance, making the viewer feel the pain and anguish of this woman. War Story is a quiet film that lets its story flow organically, taking its time in revealing the full background of what Lee has been through. Lee has dedicated her life to documenting war, and the way the character's idealism is shattered by a horrific situation is fascinating to watch, as she comes to question her professional existence. Along with Keener's performance, the cinematography visually communicates Lee's tortured soul, capturing the isolation, loneliness, and sadness she feels. The relationship Lee forms with the Tunisian migrant is very important to the films themes, with this woman being Lee's salvation per se. Through this woman Lee is given an opportunity to leave a positive impact in an environment nearly devoid of goodness, even reigniting Lee's passion in the process, allowing her to move on from the traumatic situation that threatened to end her career.
The Guest (2014) - Adam Wingard
After the sudden death of their son who was serving in the military, the Peterson family struggles to move forward with their lives. One afternoon, David arrives, an ex-soldier who claims to be a close friend of their son who died in action. Welcomed into their home with open arms, the family is able to find solace in the stories David is able to share but soon enough it becomes apparent that David isn't exactly who he appears to be. Adam Wingard's The Guest is a sadistically twisted action-horror film that effectively balances its various genre elements, delivering a fast-paced thriller that's full of demented violence, thrills, and laughs. Like Adam Wingard's other work, The Guest is a film that defies classification, being a hybrid of many genres that manages to bring it all together in one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year. The character of David, played by Dan Stevens, is a great character to watch, being someone that is both terrifying and hysterical at the same time. Dan Stevens plays this character with such mystery, giving the character an eerily calm demeanor that just seems to be on the verge of exploding into violence at every turn. While I found the actual narrative of The Guest to be a little convoluted, the film delivers a fast-paced, thrillingly demented experience, using its blissfully self-aware approach to create a film that's a blast from start to finish.
Leading up to the publication of his second novel, Philip finds himself filled with constant rage. Between the constant chatter and noise of New York and his deteriorating relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley, Philip wants nothing to do with the promotion of his novel. When his idol, Ike Zimmerman, extends an invitation to stay with him in his isolated home as refuge, Philip immediately agrees, anxious to be mentored by a man he has always admired. Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip is a up-close and personal look into a narcissistic man whose dedication to his art has led him to alienate anyone and everyone he cared about. A film about an artist's pursuit, Listen Up Philip creates one of the most intricate and impressive films about social isolation i've seen in a while. Philip is not a character who garners sympathy from the audience but as the narrative unfolds one can't help but feel sympathetic for him, a man whose pursuit of greatness has left him isolated. Similar to his previous film, A Color Wheel, Alex Ross Perry subverts viewer expectations by spending long stretches of the film with other characters, most notably Philip's girlfriend, Ashley, showing the effect Philip's actions have on these characters even when he isn't physically there. The way the film jumps from perspective to perspective works beautifully, giving the film a unique and fresh strucuture that never falls into various indie tropes or becomes overly-sentimental. Incredibly funny, narcissistic, and profound, Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip is a fascinating look into the selfishness that exists in every creative individual, capturing the impact it has on any and everyone around them.
Currently in an unspecified South American country, Terry, a beautiful and promiscuous woman uses her sex appeal to climb the social ladder, getting friendly with high-ranking bureaucrats and other government officials. When the latest government event is interrupted by a group of revolutionaries led by Blossom and Django, Terry finds herself in a concentration camp for woman. In charge of this camp is Warden Zappa, an evil man, who subjects the women to sadistic cruelty on nearly a daily basis. Meanwhile, Django and Blossom make plans to liberate these imprisoned woman, with Blossom infiltrating the confines of the prison by intentionally getting arrested. Jack Hill & Roger Corman's The Big Bird Cage is a very fun, exploitative 'women in prison' film with fantastic performances by Pam Grier, Sid Haig, and Anitra Ford. Jack Hill's films never take themselves too seriously but they always embrace their off-beat premise, with The Big Bird Cage being no exception. Pam Grier plays Blossom, the tough-as-nails revolutionary leader's girlfriend to perfection, and together with Ford's free-spirited nymphomaniac, they provide strong, dynamic characters whose take-no-shit attitudes are only matched in brazen by their skimpy prison attire. I'm not sure a review of The Big Bird Cage can ever be written without mentioning Sid Haig, who in an attempt to infiltrate the camp pretends to be a homosexual guard. Incredibly out-dated and borderline offensive by today's standards, Haig's flamboyant and fun performance provides much of the laughs of the film, helping to soften the blow of the more intense moments. I've always found Hill's movies to be fascinating in their ability to be simultaneously be about the empowerment of woman while also objectifying them at every turn. The Big Bird Cage is sexy, violent, sleazy, and well-crafted, delivering a fun exploitation film that's entertaining and captivating.
13 Sins (2014) - Daniel Stamm
Elliot is a nice, intelligent guy who is struggling to manage his growing debt. A pushover type, Elliot works as a salesman where he labors to impress his supervisors. When he is laid off from his job, Elliot becomes incredibly desperate, fearing he has no chance of supporting his mentally-challenged brother and future wife. One night Elliot receives a mysterious phone call informing him that he is on a hidden game show where he must complete 13 tasks in which he will be compensated with a sum of 6.2 million dollars. In disbelief about the validity of this so called "game" Elliot completes the first task, quickly discovering a cash deposit in his bank account. This leads Elliot to continue on in the game, with each task growing increasingly more extreme which leads to a devastating conclusion. In the same vein as the Saw or Hostel franchises, Daniel Stamm's 13 Sins is a horror film where a seemingly upstanding citizen is pushed to extreme measures out of desperation. 13 Sins is a much better film than these similar franchises, taking the time to establish its characters and let the audience feel empathy for Elliot who is struggling to take care of his family. The game that unfolds in 13 Sins provides a lot of twisted fun, though like most films of this ilk, suspending disbelief would surely enhance the experience. My biggest problem with the film lies in the ending, which becomes a little too illogical for my taste, with the betrayal between brothers making little sense, especially considering how they are both doing the game for each other. The film wraps itself up a little too well, with a questionable final scene that feels way too tonally uplifting considering everything that has occurred. Thematically the film is very similar to E.L. Katz's Cheap Thrills, a pointed commentary on the corruptive powers of money, though its approach isn't nearly as streamlined from a narrative perspective. Daniel Stamm's 13 Sins doesn't bring that much new to the table, but its inventive scenarios and well-defined character, especially for the genre, make it worth seeing for any fans of this type of film.
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