Taking place in the not-so-distant-future, Elio Petri's The 10th Victim takes place in a world where society's lust for violence and death has led to the creation of 'The Big Hunt', an international game that has effectively legalized murder. In this organized game, the members continuously alternate between hunter and victim during each round, with goal of living through ten rounds. When two of the world's top assassins, Marcello and Caroline, are pitted against each other, the media wants in on the action, hoping to document and monetize this deadly game between two of the world's most dangerous and sexy assassins. Elio Petri's The 10th Victim is a ultra-campy, tongue and cheek, take down of media and societies obsession and sensualization of violence, and while the film's broader thematic elements don't always succeed, it's hard to not at least appreciate the ingenuity and style brought to the production. This is a film that embraces its silliness, being a fine example of the gaudy color palette, pop music, and absurd production design which ran rampant during this era of European cinema. As these two characters play a very convoluted game of cat-and-mouse, Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress inject the film with a lot of sex appeal, with Petri creating one of the most vibrant, sexy, and dangerous visions of the future. Another interesting aspect of Petri's film is its critique of masculinity, with Marcello Mastoianni's character being a man who is unwilling to commit to any type of relationship. It's probably a stretch to call The 10th Victim an idictment of the swinging sixties culture, but the way the film ends, with Marcello only committing to a relationship after being faced with a violent alternative is another interesting aspect of the film. While Elio Petri's The 10th Victim is a little too stylish for its own good, this is utterly unique and hypnotizing vision of the future, offering a spirited critique of consumer culture, societies penchant for violence, and masculinity's relationship with such forces.
John Magary's The Mend is an impressive debut feature film about family dysfunction, cynicism, and happiness, telling the story of two estranged brothers in Mat and Alan, who each have their own ways of concealing their restlessness with the world around them. Mat wears his disdain in a much more open way, embracing it with a crude demeanor and do-what-I-want attitude that shows little empathy for anyone or anything that stand in his way. On the other hand is Alan, who buries his discontent inside himself, which inevitably leads to his long-time girlfriend beginning to question their long-term future as a couple. Through unexpected circumstances, Mat and Alan become reunited as roommates of sorts, sharing a New York apartment where they drown their discontent in booze while working through their issues. Consisting of a lighter tone than one would suspect for this type of film, John Magary's The Mend is a unique and transfixing descent into deep-seeded emotional trauma, exploring how two brothers deal with their inner turmoil in very different ways. Embracing the characters in its story, The Mend's narrative is told in a very unpredictable, meandering way, making the film's true intentions hard to decipher at first, shielded beneath the witty disdain of Mat and Alan. This is the the type of film that spells very little out for the viewer, relying on the performances, razor sharp script, and character interactions to supply the viewer with an understanding of where both these brothers are coming from. Through nuance and subtlety, it eventually becomes clear that both these brothers are dealing with issues associated with their father, each struggling to cope with their depression and sadness that is at least somewhat associated with a broken relationship with their hard-nosed father, a man who seemingly had very little love to share with his two sons. Each brother possesses many of the same issues as their father, and how each of them routinely sees their father in themselves is just another aspect of what makes them so angry. While this study of anger and sadness could have easily been ham-fisted, The Mend brilliantly creates a world around its principle characters where dysfunction and chaos are always present. From a couple that argues above the brothers as they have lunch, to the subtle insecurities which exist among party guests in the beginning of the film, The Mend captures society in a strange but truthful way, displaying how we are all just individuals drifting through life, each with our own desires, wants, needs, and issues. While Mat is the most literal form of dysfunction and chaos, there are a lot of dysfunctional characters throughout The Mend, and the film's ability to capture how people deal with their issues differently is another strong aspect of the film. The Mend captures life in all its pain and glory, using these two brothers in a way that speaks to larger truths about society and humanity, beautifully capturing how all individuals are struggling in one-way or another, but it's how we choose to deal with it that is important. Featuring a sharp, funny script with some of the most quotable lines I've seen from a film in a long time, John Magary's The Mend is a one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking that in a way is about the overall importance of empathy, as it explores the human condition in a truly unique way.
Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor tells the story of CIA researcher Joe Turner, who returns from lunch to find the entire staff of his small New York Office murdered. Desperate for answers, Joe connects with his boss and friend at the CIA to fill him in on the assassination, but on his arrival he is shot at, sending Joe fleeing for his life. On the run from not only the police, who believe he is responsible for the death of his coworkers, but his own agency as well, Joe finds himself holed up with Kathy, a nondescript civilian, who slowly becomes Joe's only ally. With pressure mounting, Joe expects foul-play from the CIA, the very organization which hired him, leading him with no other choice but to bring the story to the New York Times in an attempt to spare his life and expose the truths to the shady practices of the intelligence community. Being one of the more iconic conspiracy thrillers to come from the 1970s, Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor finds the working every-man, a mild-mannered CIA researcher in this case, confronting big government through his discovery of a far-reaching conspiracy that casts a lot of criticism on federal wrongdoings. Given the time period of its release, Three Days of the Condor certainly draws inspiration from the congressional investigations of the time period, such as Watergate and the Pentagon Papers for example, but what Three Days of the Condor is able to say about the value of human life is what makes it still ring very true today. Through the wholly convoluted dealings of the intelligence community which routinely features multiple parallel operations and double-crosses, Three Days of the Condor reveals the low value put on human life, exposing the amount of death and destruction the intelligence community is willing to commit for the perceived greater good. While I'd argue Three Days of the Condor pales in comparison to some of the great 70s paranoia thrillers like, The Parallax View, the film is at its best when captures the sense of isolation many operatives experience, something which can leave them with a form of humanistic detachment, something which intelligence agencies exploit with immunity in their practices. While I'd argue that the whole relationship which unfolds between Ted and Katherine takes away from the momentum of the thriller at times, one could argue that it's this relationship which Ted experiences with Katerine that symbolically represents Ted's ability to break free of the detachment and isolation of his job, inevitably leading him discovering the true nature of this far-reaching conspiracy. Three Days of the Condor features cinematography that wonderfully elicits a sense of paranoia, using point-of-view shots, well-placed compositions, and slow, meandering camera movements which have a voyeuristic quality, only aiding in transporting the viewer into Turner's predicament. Pollack's direction routinely lingers on certain moments of tension, giving the viewer a real sense of unease that makes the life of Joe Turner feel threatened at every turn. Featuring a narrative that keeps the viewer intrigued from start to finish, Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor is a sharp political conspiracy thriller about the dangers of an intelligence community with far too much impunity.
Fed up with his childish antics and unable to keep a parental eye on him anymore, Tomas is sent to live with his older brother, Sombra, who is attending the National University. With the University being on strike, Sombra along with his roommate Santos have been living a stagnant life, showing little initiative or purpose in life as they kill time waiting to see what this strike brings. Tomas' arrival throws a wrench in Sombra's idiosyncratic routine, as Tomas convinces his brother and friend to help him track down the Mexican fold-rock hero Epigmenio Cruz, a revolutionary, albeit unsung musician who is rumored to be on his deathbed. Alonso Ruizpalacios' Gueros is hypnotic journey of self discovery, which uses the political unrest swirling around its characters to deliver a poignant study of the importance of discovering ones own voice. Gueros is not so much a political film but a film about the importance of having a voice in your community, as Tomas, Sombra, and Santos eventually learn the pitfalls of being an observer, with youthful disillusionment being portrayed as a cyclical process of life. Gueros has a meandering quality to its narrative, echoing its protagonists who have fallen into a world of complacency, but as the film progresses one of the strongest aspects of Gueros is how it is able to capture the abundances of voices which exist in society, as Sombra, Santos, and Tomas find themselves caught in the middle of conflicting voices of socio-political activism. As they meander through the streets of Mexico City, Gueros' exposes the importance of one finding their own unique voice through the static of society instead of falling victim to disillusionment which can only stunt personal growth and progress. Alonso Ruizpalacios shows a strong sense of visual storytelling in Gueros as well, using compositions and lighting which further elicit the mood and feelings of its characters. Featuring crisp black-and-white photography and the occasional use of surrealism, Ruizpalacios has created one of the most stunning films of the year. With Gueros, Alonso Ruizpalacois has created a unique vision of youthful disillusionment, a film that manages to balance its more serious and profound truths about youth with a great sense of humor and wit that perfectly captures the exuberance of youth.
James C Strouse's People Places Things is the story of Will Henry, a college professor and graphic novelist, who is struggling to find happiness after breaking up with his long term girlfriend, Charlie, who also shares twin girls with Will. Will's life was flipped upside down one night when he walked in on Charlie with another man, shattering what Will had to perceived as a happy existence and sending him on a spiraling path towards depression and loneliness. One year later, Will is attempting to still get his life together, eventually entering into a relationship with Diane, the mother of one of Will's students from class. James C Strouse's People Places Things is a film this unable to sustain its simple premise, delivering a straight-forward narrative about the difficulties of getting over a long-term relationship that simply doesn't have much new to say on the subject. Will Henry is a character who struggles to get over a woman he loved very much, and People Places Things remains interesting thanks to its unique blend of awkward humor and wit. The film does have a few moments of poignancy, having a tender approach, but unfortunately many of the characters in the film just aren't very interesting, something the film's unique tone is unable salvage. These type of off-beat films have become a dime a dozen in the indie circuit of filmmaking, but People Places Things is one of the better ones due to its ability to capture the indecisiveness which comes with the fragility of someone who has just had their heart-broken. Touching on the doubts and vulnerability which can develop with age, loneliness, and heart-break, People Places and Things is a film about coming to terms with oneself, and even though its narrative plot points leave something to be desired, it's hard not to appreciate this thoughtful comedy that is full of wit and charm.
Running a small motel on a isolated stretch of roadway is hard work, and in the case of the Mt. Vista motel it doesn't seem to be paying off for its proprietor, John Henley. After seeing his wife desert him for greener pastures in Florida, John has grown increasingly despondent to his young son Ted, a child who desperately needs someone as he attempts to grow up in a world of utter isolation and loneliness. Being neglected by his father and having very little adult supervision, Ted begins to become infatuated with death, as darker impulses being to emerge in the nine-year-old boy. Craig William Macneill's The Boy is a brooding psychological horror film thats greatest attribute is its stunning cinematography and skilled direction. Featuring a dark, ruminating score and gorgeous imagery, The Boy could be described as an effective mood piece, atmospheric to a fault at times though being skillfully done. Unfortunately what keeps The Boy from being great is its meandering plot points, which are mostly uninspiring and are certainly not helped by the film being overlong. For awhile The Boy feels like it is one elaborate tease, with the boys increasingly demented antics feeling a little too forced, and almost completely lacking subtlety. While the film may lack subtlety at times in how is captures this boy slowly being shaped into a psychopath, the film does a fantastic job at telling this story through lighting and photography. It's a tad unfortunate that the The Boy lacks the nuance necessary to be something special because it's impressively crafted, which is why I'd argue that it's best to think of the film as more of a horror film instead of a psychological study of a budding psychopath. The film's intentions seem to be more towards providing a study of a boy's loneliness and isolation, showing how the circumstances of his life can send him down the wrong path, though I'd argue it's a little too gleeful in its depravity at times to fully achieve it. I almost wish The Boy was a film that went more all out in being a straight-up, slow-burn horror film, as the filmmakers show a much more observant eye when filming the boy's wickedness than it does when examining what sent him down this path. While The Boy may not achieve all of its ambitions, its impressive craft and demented mindset make it slow burn horror film that fans of the genre should enjoy.
Dan and Melanie, a young couple who are both in their final year of college, have known each other since childhood, having been in a romantic relationship for over 6 years. When Dan is offered a promising job in Brooklyn from the record label with whom he interns, Dan and Melanie's relationship is put to the test. Hannah Fidell's 6 Years is the type of film that lays its cards on the table from the get-go, being clearly a melodrama about young love and how the forces of life and adulthood can clash with the adolescence ideals of soul mates. The film does a great job at capturing how personal growth can have a major impact on a dissolving relationship, as Dan's ambitions and future begin to conflict with his past desires and feelings, most notably his long-term relationship with Melanie. While the film does speak to some profound truths about young love, 6 Years is unfortunately a film that struggles in the script department, lacking nuance in its storytelling which unfortunately makes the whole experience predictably and somewhat uninspiring at times. What holds the film together afor stretches through some of its more didactic sequences are the two lead actors, Melanie Clark & Dan Mercer, who each give powerful performances of two young individuals who are seeing what they perceived as their ' ideal love' slowly shattered by outside opportunities and influences that go hand-and-hand with becoming an adult. While the plot itself is rather uninspiring, 6 Years does have success at delivering an honest portrait of young love, capturing the volatility of emotion and the complacency which can exist in a long term relationship that was forged at such an early age. While much of the film leaves something to be desired, the final scene of 6 Years is a powerful sequence which beautifully captures how the fear of uncertainty and hurt feelings can create a false sense of love and complacency which desperately needs to be shattered for the betterment of both parties. While Hannah Fidell's 6 Years is a problematic film from script and story standpoint at times, the film is unquestionably heartfelt in its examinations of young love, making it a hard film not to appreciate.
Joe Swanberg's Digging For Fire tells the story of Tim and Lee, a young married couple who is in the midst of raising a young child. Given the chance to stay at a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills thanks to Lee's personal connection with the owner, their quiet summer becomes far more complicated when Tim discovers a bone and rusty gun in their backyard. Obsessed with discovering the secret behind this mystery, Tim wants to dig further, but Lee prefers he focus on finishing their taxes, something which Lee was supposed to finish days ago. When Lee goes to visit her parents for the weekend, the time apart sends both Tim and Lee on personal journeys of self-discovery. Using Joe Swanberg's signature style of heavy improvisation which more so than no leads to very fluid and honest dialogue, Digging for Fire is a touching portrait about marriage and parenthood. This is a film about two individuals who feel they have been stripped of their individuality due to marriage and parenthood, forced to be contempt in their respective new-found roles as parents to a young child, something which in itself provides little time for self-reflection. Digging For Fire wisely never makes the relationship of Tim and Lee ever feel "on the rocks" or dysfunctional, rather it subtely reveals the tensions that exist when individuals feel strained by their responsibilities both as husband/wife and parent. Digging For Fire is about the sacrifices one must make in any successful marriage but more importantly the film touches on the importance of not living vicariously through one's child. This is a film which paints a portrait of two individuals who have dedicated so much of their love to their young child that they have little left for one another, though their relationship is never portrayed as overly toxic. I particularly liked the how Swanberg uses the mystery behind the bone and gun which Tim becomes obsessed with is nothing more than an allegory for his desire for adventure and need to break free of the grind of his everyday existence. Tim's tunnel vision to discover the mystery is nothing more than a symbol of his inability to make sacrifices for the sake of his family, a man who must be comfortable in giving up some of his more youthful desires for the sake of the two people he loves. As the film progresses, each of these characters find themselves face-to-face with the opportunity to break free of their commitments in marriage, and Swanberg's Digging For Fire uses this to build a surprising amount of tension as it barrels towards its conclusion. Digging For Fire is a simple effective portrait of the internal struggles which can exist when entering into marriage and parenthood, offering up beautifully realized truths which feel completely honest.
Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako is the filmmakers latest journey into depravity, telling the story of Kanako, a beautiful teenage girl from a broken home who goes missing without a trace. With all of her belongings left behind, Akikazu, Kanako's father, begins a desperate search for his daughter, intent on tracking her down by any means necessary with the hope of bringing the family back together. The World of Kanako is hyper-kinetic piece of filmmaking that uses fast-twitch editing, animation, violence, and extremely dark humor to tell its nihilistic tale of one man's attempt to find his daughter. This is a film which routinely jumps all over the timeline of its narrative, providing insights not only into how Kanako got into this mess of prostitution, drugs, and organized crime, but also providing valuable insights into the home she grew up in, one where she was routinely abused by her alcoholic father, Akikza. The World of Kanako is a film that begins very much like a personal redemption story for Akikza but as the investigation progresses, the story of circumstances revolving Kanako's disappearance become increasingly deranged. The World of Kanako's story of revenge and redemption becomes something much more interesting, a powerful study of darkness. The morals in The World of Kanako are murky at best, but what Tetsuya Nakashima has created is a film that questions whether love can exist in utter-darkness, questioning the true power associated with paternal bonds. The film eventually reveals that Kanako herself is far from a victim, being a character whom became seduced by the dark world of drugs and prostitution, manipulating friends and family around her to fulfill her own twisted inhibitions. This revelation makes Akikazu one of the more fascinating characters to come out of cinema in recent years, a despicable character in his own right who is desperate to get to the bottom of his daughter's death even after learning of her evil transgressions. He is a man who is desperately trying to hold-off his own self-loathing and despair through vengeance for a daughter who essentially had fallen down the same path of darkness. Tetsuya Nakashima uses this man's warped morality centered around avenging his evil daughter as an interesting study of the relationship between love and hate, darkness and light, capturing how love can exist among utter darkness, as Akikazu himself essentially wrestles with the internal question of whether he can love a daughter who is a borderline psychotic and certainly a sociopath. Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako is a wholly unique experience, full of visceral energy that wold make Tarantino blush, while also being a alluring and subversive study of paternity, love, evil, and vengeance.
Andrew Droz Palermo's One & Two is an extremely well-crafted indie sci-fi picture which uses impressive cinematography and brooding atmosphere to tell its tale. One & Two is a story that is ambiguous to a fault, telling the story of two siblings in Zac and Eva, who live with their parents in a secluded farmhouse. Living a lifestyle which finds them living off the land with no technological comforts such as electricity, a rift in the family begins to develop when the wife and mother of the household becomes very sick. You see, this isn't your typical family, as Eva and Zac have supernatural abilities based around teleportation, something which leaves their father fearful of something he simply doesn't understand. At its core, One & Two is a film about the bond of siblings, using a supernatural story of two teenagers being oppressed by their fear-riddled father as an allegory for the importance of love in times of duress. The father character is perhaps where the film succeeds the most at being more than just an effectively made, beguiling piece of filmmaking, as this character perfectly personifies the notion of humanity fearing anything it doesn't wholly-fully understand. The father as a character can't decide whether his children are a "gift from god for humanity" or "something which goes against God's design", and one of One & Two's best thematic attributes is the way it captures how the father's fear ends up leading him down a path of violence and destruction. While the story itself is solid, albeit purposely elliptical, One & Two is a visual feast, featuring beautiful cinematography and lighting that creates a brooding contrast between darkness and light. Creating an atmosphere that is meditative and oddly transfixing, Andrew Droz Palermo's One & Two overcomes its narrative shortcomings and intentionally vague setting thanks in large part to its artistic design.
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