Set in the wake of a global neurological epidemic, Claire Carre's Embers is a character-driven science fiction film that examines the profound significance of memory to the human experience. Set in a dystopian world where memory is a fleeting concept, Embers investigates the range of emotions that are fundamentally infused with the human experiences' need to remember, chronicling the connected lives of various individuals in this world, whose only shared experience is their inability to retain even the most fundamental memories on a day-to-day basis. Embers is smart science fiction, a film that is endlessly intriguing, thought-provoking, and character-driven, unwilling to get too wrapped up in the fantasy while focusing more on the humanity. An ensemble of characters that mostly never meet, Embers touches on many aspects of the human condition, each character bringing their own unique perspective. There is a young couple who wakes up next to each other, unaware completely to the exact nature of their relationship. Are they lovers? siblings? or simply friends? There is a small boy who ventures alone throughout this dystopian wasteland, interacting with various strangers, completely unaware of the dangers which may surround him. There is also an aggressive young man who has completely succumbed to barbarism, a character whose extreme memory loss has sent him into a state of survival, seeing no real purpose for empathy in the harsh circumstance in which he inhabits. All of these characters struggle with this neurological trauma, and through profiling each of their experiences, Embers is a film that truly captures the true importance of what makes us human. Compassion, meaning, connection, even personal identity are fleeting concepts when one wakes up every morning to a clean slate, having absolutely no memory of the day before. The difficulty of finding any true form of companionship or even understanding time and space itself becomes a constant struggle, and Embers uses its well defined characterizations to reveal the fragility involved with these ideas, as nearly every character feels lost in a world they barely comprehend. There is one character in this story who has not yet been infected, a young woman living in some form of bunker with her father, isolated in a way that is inhuman, void completely of the human experience because of this horrorfying neurological epidemic. Her father wishes to keep the important aspects of humanity alive through their shared memory, not realizing that this form of containment couldn't be any more inhuman. Through this character arch, Embers also considers the idea that life isn't worth living if one cannot experience human interaction with others, as the daughter, while still having her memory, dreams of breaking free of her perceived prison and experiencing the world around her. Featuring economical filmmaking, an intriguing premise, strong characters and thematic ideals, Claire Carre's Embers is a smart piece of science fiction filmmaking focusing on the concepts associated with what makes us human.
Described as the quintessential film to portray the working-class of Northern England, Ken Loach's Kes tells the harrowing story of Billy Casper, a socially awkward teenager, who lives in the dingy mining town of Yorkshire. Featuring a father that is completely out of the picture, a mother who is rarely around, and an abusive older brother who seems to take out his frustrations on his younger brother, Billy's life is miserable, as the young boy spends most of his time in a state of seclusion, isolating himself from those who seem to do nothing but bring the young, innocent boy harm. School offers little reprieve for Billy either, as when he isn't being harassed by teachers who show little interest in his well being or future, Billy can surely rely on being targeted by the bullies of the school due to his awkward demeanor. One day, Billy discovers a young kestrel nest, quickly becoming infatuated with the young falcon which calls the nest home. This animal becomes the shinning glimmer of hope in Billy's cruel world, offering Billy a sense of empowerment that in turn enables Billy to become more articulate and outspoken. The environment in which Billy inhabits has little to offer, but through the relationship Billy forms with the kestrel, he gains companionship and for the first time in his life seems to come out of his shell, one that was certainly formed due to the harshness of the reality around him. Featuring an humanistic approach, Ken Loach's Kes is a naturalistic study of life in the poor mining town of Yorkshire where optimism and hope feel like completely foreign concepts. The portrait of Billy painted by this film is one of of loneliness and solitude, a character who seems to be hiding in plane sight, unwilling to express himself or speak up due to the lack of empathy and interest from those who surround him. From Billy's school teachers to his older brother, Kes presents a world in which nearly all the adults of this small town are disenfranchised by the world around them, beaten down by the harsh realities of life. This tough reality has made many of these adults lack any form of compassion or empathy, in turn taking out their own frustrations on young boys such as Billy, stunting their intellectual curiosity and growth. Billy's brother is an abusive character, someone who drinks a lot to drown the pains of his everyday life. He is a character who has gotten a job in the mines, much like his father before him, a fate which in itself has led to his angst-ridden mindset and general hostile demeanor towards his younger brother. The teachers of Billy' school are extremely authoritative in approach, almost as if feel the need to fulfill the role which should typically be carried out by parental figures. These teachers don't care, for the most part, simply being individuals themselves who can't wait for class to end, showing little true empathy for many of their students who they simply view as lost causes in a cold system. Through these detailed characterizations, Ken Loach details how Billy Casper himself has become so socially awkward, a character who has repressed his youthful exuberance due to this environments self-fulfilling cycle of despair. There is no sense of encouragement among those adults which know Billy, as if they all simply assume his fate will be just as painstakingly dull and harsh. The one exception throughout the entire film is Professor Farthing, a man who recognizes Billy's passion for the kestrel, even inviting him to speak to the class about his newfound friend. It's in this sequence where Billy shows some semblance of passion, independence, and drive, throwing away his natural aura of ambivalence as he embraces his passion and love towards the process of training his new friend. Naturalistic in approach, Kes is a film very much grounded in realism, featuring mostly real locations and non-professional actors. The film's central performance by David Bradley as Billy is remarkable, a balanced, understated portrait of a brutalized youth, whose underlying pain is masked by a quiet sensitivity. The Kestrel itself isn't just a desperately needed companion for Billy but also a symbolic representation of his need for self worth, a wild, fierce, and free creature that does not live by societal based restrictions, something which Billy envies greatly, whether he realizes it or not. Ken Loach's Kes is harsh, realistic portrait of the poor, dead-end mining community of Yorkshire, a film with no interest in sentimental-based endings, only biting realism, with the finale of this film feeling inevitable due to the harshness spelled out before it, one that in reality only supports the inevitablely tragic fate of Casper's new best friend.
Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book is what family-centric filmmaking should be, a well told adaptation of the iconic story of Mowgli, the man-cub living in the Indian jungle. When Shere Khan, a savage tiger, threatens the livelihood of the wolfpack who raised him, Mowgli is forced to flee the jungle in order to protect his family. Guided by Bagheera, the black panther, and Baloo, a free spirited bear he meets along the way, Mowgli finds himself on an adventure full of self discovery and a host of characters, some with not necessarily the best intentions. Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book is a beautiful looking film that features some of the best computer generated imagery I've seen in some time. The textures are vibrant and complex, the emotions are beautifully realized, and the direction seamlessly interweaves reality with this computer generated world creating a unique and transfixing aesthetic. The mythology and world building of Favreau's adaptation is my favorite aspect of the film, creating a believable world in which these creates inhabit and interact. I love how fire takes on a spiritual quality in its supernatural perception by the animals of the land, who live in fear of this force that brings warmth, light, and destruction to whatever it touches. Fire is man's creation, one that threatens all that it touches in the eyes of the animals, and the film uses this to its advantage in crafting its theme centered around prejudice, peace, and what it means to be family. While Mowgli is viewed as family by the wolfpack who raised him, Shere Khan views him as a threat who must be extinguished, his hostility triggred by his past run-in with fire that left his face severely scarred. The story in this version of The Jungle Book unfolds organically for a film of this ilk, letting the audience learn about these characters and their back story as the film progresses instead of feeling the need to spell out everything for them along the way. From Idris Elba's diabolical Shere Khan, to Bill Murray's playfully entertaining Baloo, all the characters of Jungle Book bring something to the table, with perhaps Christopher Walken's small, but memorable performance as King Louise, a singing monkey stealing the film due its sheer hilarity. Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book is just strong filmmaking all around, featuring memorable characters, strong world-building and mythology, lots of thrills, and an important message.
David Ayers' Suicide Squad is a microcosm of all the problems with Hollywood, a film that is so complacent with itself due to its one unique element that it squanders any chance it has to be something different from all the generic hogwash shoved down our throats these days. I can't think of a film that is more poorly put together in recent years than Suicide Squad, a film that lacks pacing to such a mind-numbing degree that I found myself questioning the point of this entire film completely outside of the standard cash-grab culture of Hollywood. Having absolutely no knowledge of the D.C. comic, I found myself intrigued by the idea of a group of psychotic super villains coming to the aid of the U.S. government. The problem is, Suicide Squad is a film that tells you more than it shows you, lacking energy and coherence as a film, meandering along, relying on the audiences kinship to the D.C. brand. The story of this film is flimsy at best, with an incredibly half-baked villain that feels distant from the narrative for almost the entire running time, a shill of a conflict that only becomes a problem because it is stated to the viewer. I haven't seen a major blockbuster in awhile with such a terrible villain, one that is so underdeveloped and really completely undefined. Suicide Act has no peaks and valleys throughout its running time, relying too much on its characters and setup, which unfortunately isn't enough. Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn do their best to give the film energy, but unfortunately the story from top to bottom never feels captivating in the slightest. It's a shame because Suicide Squard feels like a film that wants to be a stripped down, lean, action adventure, yet it never materializes, succumbing to the arrogance of a story that thinks it can skate by on its anti-hero, punk rock attitude. Everything in this film is unnecessarily muddled, with characters that never feel developed regardless of the film's thinly veiled attempts, and a conflict that feels completely tacked on. The only aspect of Suicide Squad that stands out is the introductory sequences of the film, which finds the filmmakers profiling each of the villains with a thrilling montage that is unfortunately never matched throughout the rest of the film's running time. Featuring a truly forgettable performance by Jared Leto that feels more like an imitation than a re-imagining, Suicide Squad is an embarrassing effort at times, a film that can't see its interesting premise overcome its many faults.
A deeply resonant portrait of a broken family, Chloe Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a meditative study of a brother and sister forced to grow up far too fast, living with their single mother on Pine Ridge Reservation. With an older brother already in jail, Johnny and his sister Jashuan's lives are a constant challenge, forced more often than not to fend for themselves due to their mother's alcoholism and neglect. When their absentee father dies in a fire, Johnny decides to look for a better life in Los Angeles, a decision that has major ramifications for his younger sister, whom he would be leaving behind. Chloe Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me is one of the more emotionally effective coming of age films I've seen in some time, a beautiful and poignant examination of the alienation one can feel in the harsh world which they cannot control and only partially understand. Johnny is a character who has grown to resent where he comes from due to the hand he has been dealt, a character who feels trapped and willing to do whatever it takes to free himself from the reservation, which he views as a burden. The one exception to this is his younger sister, Jashuan, who has yet to completely lose her innocence, the only soul who still seems to be capable of tapping into Johnny's youthful exuberance. They have a shared connection, coming from this broken home, with their few moments of peace and happiness coming on open plains, where their exuberance, at least for a moment, is able to thrive freely. Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a ultimately a story of love and sacrifice, as Johnny comes to the realization that his younger sister must always come first. It is a tender, and impressively well acted by both the youth leads, who managed to balances the array of emotions necessary for this ttype of performance. Beautifully photographed, Songs My Brothers Taught Me visually exhibits the emotions of its characters, through the deep blue skies, open plains, and rolling thunder of their environment, showing an observant eye with documentary style cinematography which aims to capture the environment in which these characters inhabit. Soulful and meditative, the visuals evoke a spiritual quality, one in which the land is very much a character, with Songs My Brothers Taught Me exhibiting the native american culture through its visual medium. The mother is barely in the film at all, another broken adult character, as the film paints a rather cold portrait of life on the reservation, one where alcoholism is a rampant problem and families struggle accordingly. The film is a somber reminder of the importance of the family unit, a story told masterfully well with visual punch and a soulful quality. Tender, heartful, and alive, Chloe Zhao's Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a stunning, meditative coming-of-age story which has visual design that beautiful exhibits the culture and emotion of its characters.
David Yates' The Legend of Tarzan is a by-the-numbers summer blockbuster which finds John Clayton, formerly known as Tarzan, now living in England with Jane. Raised by apes after the death of his parents in Africa, by said apes, John Clayton grew to be known as Tarzan for his legendary ability to speak with the animals and live among them. Now living in his parent's home in England, accompanied by Jane, the love of his life, John receives a request from the Belgian King Leopold to come and gaze at all the good he has done for the Congo. Unwilling to accept the invitation at first, John eventually is convinced to do so by an American, George Williams, who believes Leopold may be committing all sorts atrocities such as enslaving the native people. Reluctantly accepting the invitation so George can gather evidence, both men, along with Jane, find themselves in a deadly game with Rom, an associate of Leopold, who plans on offering Tarzan as a prize to the local chieftain, an old nemesis of Tarzan. The Legend of Tarzan is a film that does nothing particularly well, featuring a script that teeters on the edge of irrelevancy, direction that is the definition of passable, and an uninspiring narrative that shows little imagination. The Legend of Tarzan flirts with some fantastic ideas, but never pays them off, almost as if it doesn't realize the potential of some of its characterizations and ideas. They tease about the volatility of John Clayton a man who has a primal, animalistic aggression lurking underneath the surface, but the film never spends much time using this as the important piece of Tarzan's characterization that it should have. The Legend of Tarzan even teases this fascinating juxtaposition between the emotional core of Tarzan, a man whose parents were killed in Africa, and the travesty's committed during colonialism, but unfortunately the film is never brave enough to develop this theme. I think I've decided that I really can't get behind Yates as a director, as nothing he does stands out in a sea of mediocrity. Yates use of tight, blurry compositions is the equivalent of JJ Abrams use of lens flares, a head-ache inducing, often unmotivated distraction. The fight choreography and direction in any sequence that isn't heavy CGI is average at best, with the train sequence being a good example. In this scene, John Clayton takes care of nearly a whole train of Belgian soldiers with his bare hands, yet one never feels the claustrophobia or the sheer power of Tarzan, thanks to I'd argue poorly designed fight choreography. Samuel L Jackson tries his best but none of the characters in this film have any chemistry, with the boring characterizations not aiding the performers. While The Legend of Tarzan feels small compared to the current age of superhero blockbusters, the narrative, characterizations, and action are often far too uninteresting to muster, making for a summer blockbuster which best offering may in fact be abs.
Gianfranco Rosi's Fire At The Sea is a poignant and profound portrait of Lampedusa, a small island located 150 miles south of Sicily. In the heart of the Mediterranean, Lampedusa has become ground zero of the European migrant crisis, witnessing hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees flooding their waters in hopes of making a better life in Europe. Portraying the culture, history, and day-to-day life of Lampedusa, Fire At The Sea offers an intricate examination of the islanders of this town, juxtaposing their lives with those of the migrants who struggle and risk life and death to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Perceptive and idaedal in its well-rounded portrait, Fire At The Sea is not a political film in the slightest, but a humanistic study of a region that is forever changed. Observing doctors, Italian coast guard, various migrants, and Samuele, a 12-year-old Islander boy, Rosi has created a truly breathtaking examination of humankind and the every changing landscape known as life. Stunningly photographed and poetically crafted, Rosi's film meshes beauty with misery, routinely juxtaposing the beautiful island setting with the human tragedy of the migrants, even documenting soul crushing radio transmissions between the Italian coast guard and the migrants at sea, pleading to be saved. Fire at The Sea's intimacy and vision are some of its strongest aspects, a film that at times becomes a meditative tone poem about the importance of empathy and the shared human experience. The sea serves as a intermediary, a reminder of our shared humanity, being a provider to both the islanders, who use it as their primary source of food, and the migrants, who view it as their potential savior from the torment of the African and Middle Eastern countries in which they flee. The environment itself is one which both Islanders and Migrants now inhabit, with the Islanders' main perspective being their adjustment to these changes. One of the people profiled is a doctor of the town, a man who struggles with sorrow and pain he now sees on a much more routine basis. The environment of this Island has become one of pain for the doctor who tries his best to help those he can, struggling emotionally with the trauma of seeing so much death. Samuele, the 12 year old Islander, is the central character of this documentary, a boy who spends most of the time exploring his environment in which he inhabits, learning about his home with his father and friends. He provides an important purpose for Rosi's film, being a symbol of the youthful exuberance, with his sense of wonder essentially creating a wall of ignorance as to the changing environment. This exuberance is an important reminder of our shared humanity, with the boy's overall demeanor not yet fractured by the harsh realities which can exist in the world around us. The images of this documentary will stay with you long after the end credits roll, as Gianfranco Rosi has created a powerful portrait of the European migrant crisis, with Fire At the Sea being a film that offers little answers outside of capturing the humanistic struggle and the overall importance of empathy towards our fellow man.
A brooding, dread-filled parable about the rise of fascism in the 20th Century, Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader takes place soon after the events of World War I, telling the story of a young American boy living in France during 1918, displaced due to his father's work with the US government on the Treaty of Versailles. A story of tension and intrigue, The Childhood of A Leader meticulously details how a young boy can transform into an ego-fueled authoritarian, detailing how his disparaging environment, one in which he is neglected and borderline oppressed by his authoritarian father, would mold his beliefs and shape the man he would become. Meticulously crafted, The Childhood of A Leader is dreadfully expressionistic, featuring cinematography and sound design that perfectly encapsulate this feeling of foreboding evil. Wandering cinematography details the dark hallways and shadowy crevices of the boy's environment, while an ominous score serves as an aggressive mood setter, with The Childhood of A Leader delivering an effective mood piece that evokes this sense of emerging evil, doing so in a way which could easily draw comparisons to a film like The Omen. Loosely inspired by the early childhood experiences of other dictators of the 20th Century, Childhood of A Leader sparingly infuses the fable with archive footage from the first World War and other events of the time period, wisely injecting the film with a sense of authenticity that makes this portrait of emerging evil all the more resonant. Without going into too many narrative details, The Childhood of A Leader exhibits how a young boy can slowly form a penetrating, insurmountable ego, slowly detailing a series of events that could shape such a worldview as fascism. Early on the boy's behavior, which includes throwing rocks at bystanders, is routinely dismissed by those around him, with both his own parents and the local priest simply viewing his behavior as a way of lashing out due to his new surroundings. This of course may be the case, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that the boy is in an environment of seclusiona and privilege, with his authoritarian father setting the tone through his oppressive treatment towards his mother and the various servants of the household. His father's treatment of his mother and the ego-driven decisions he makes completely dictates the families' life, which in turn simply serves as a lesson or blueprint, so to speak, for the highly intelligent young boy. What the boy witnesses shapes his psyche, with The Childhood of A Leader exhibiting how the mind can begins to think it knows what is best for everyone and everything, forcing upon others "the proper way to do things" Extremely well crafted and featuring a brooding, ominous atmosphere, Brady Corbet's The Childhood of A Leader is an enjoyable examination of how ones environment shapes their worldview, being an intriguing fable about the rise of Fascism in the 20th century.
Alanis Obomsawin’s Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance is an in-depth account of the day-to-day events that unfolded in the summer of 1990, when a takeover of a planned golf course by the Mohawk Tribe, as an act of resistance to the government’s actions, led to a wide scale standoff between the Mohawk people and the Canadian government. Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance is a tale of escalation, documenting how the conflict over this small piece of land become an armed standoff between the Mohawk people and the Canadian army, one where painful negotiations between these two factions made international news and threatened to tear the country apart. A stunning document of the Mohawk people, Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance contextualizes the contemporary act of resistance with the sordid past of the Mohawk people, one in which they have found themselves repeatedly displaced over-and-over again by the imperialistic forces of government, including both the French and English. The struggle to retain control of their land and their political destiny is nothing new for the Mohawk tribe, and this knowledge only makes the current situation during the summer of 1990 even more compelling, with Alanis Obomasawin providing an incredibly detailed documentary about the growing hostility between the Mohawkian people, the anti-Indian feelings felt by the community of Oka, and the oppressive state which uses the police and military to suppress the Mohawk community for the sake of the majority. Alanis Obomasawin’s Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance provides a humanist look at this conflict, providing in-depth examination of many of the resistors, people who simply wish to hold onto their heritage, land, and way of life. Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this film is how it captures the inhumanity that can exist in democracy, where the majority dictates the actions of the state. The tyranny of the perceived majority is felt throughout Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance, with the Mohawk people simply wishing to have their culture and way of life intact, a minority group who continues to be more and more suppressed by the government through the act of military action and intimidation. Simply observant yet incredibly detailed, Obomasawin’s film is shot and edited in a borderline chaotic way, providing a host of perspectives about this conflict, capturing the chaotic nature of this situation in a very powerful yet nuanced way. An incredibly intricate examination of the events of Summer of 1990, Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance is a powerful and humanistic portrait of resistance, the power of the people, and a daunting reminder of the corrosive and oppressive nature which the state can have over the individual and smaller factions that make up the land in which they govern.
A unique vision, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution is a beautifully photographed piece of filmmaking full of mystery and intrigue, a film that is hard to classify and up to interpretation, one that promises to leave the viewer in a state of contemplation, and possibly confusion, at its conclusion. Evolution is centered around Nicolas, a young boy living in a seaside town on a remote, unidentified island made up of volcanic rock and black sands. A strange place that seems to be only inhabited by adult women and young boys, Nicolas begins to question his existence and surroundings after discovering the body of young boy in the ocean one day, a discovery that is quickly written off by his mother, who shows very little concern. From the opening frame of Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Evolution one comes to realize they are in for a visual treat, with the film delivering a stunning, opaque world, one that feels primal, yet supernatural, inviting the viewer into the mysterious, enigmatic world which Nicholas inhabits. The craft of Evolution is hard to deny, as Lucile Hadzihalilovic creates a transfixing atmosphere around a borderline frustratingly opaque narrative, one which keeps the viewer relatively engaged due to the sheer craft of its visual design. Not didactic in the slightest, Hadzihalilovic forces the viewer into an uncomfortable and mysterious world, sending the viewer in a constant state of observation as they try to put the pieces together, hoping to unlock the mystery. With that in mind, Evolution is a film that at times can be enigmatic to a fault, a film that struggles narratively to hold its own amongst its visual artistry, becoming a bit of a slog at times due to its repetitious narrative. The visuals evoke more emotion than the film’s characterizations or narrative structure, with one of my favorite designs being the Ocean itself, a powerful mysterious force that evokes a primal setting, one in which the crashing waves provide an ambiance as we are introduced to this strange peculiar place. The problem is Evolution never really goes anywhere from there, with the filmmakers relying too much on atmosphere and subversive imagery, with Evolution’s refusal to explain itself beginning to become more of a curse than blessing, unwilling to reveal its thematic intentions. The whole film feels very stoic, an intentional decision sure, but the film becomes more and more frustrating due to its detachment, which at times supersedes the opening intrigue that made the film so compelling. Enigmatic storytelling is near and dear to my heart but these films tend to have more cohesive when it comes to thematic weight and intention, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I grew frustrated at Evolution at times due to not going much further past its nature vs. man conflict. Evolution plays like an arthouse science fiction film that reverses the roles of humanity and nature, a strong thematic ideal that never feels fully developed though I’d be lying if I didn’t find myself routinely intrigued by what the filmmakers were trying to say. Lacking much of an emotional core, Lucile Hadzihalilovic Evolution is a beautifully realized, opaque science fiction thriller that is full of intrigue but lacks much of a thematic payoff, offering a humanity vs. nature commentary that never fully develops past its subversive horror qualities.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.