Looper (2012) - Rian Johnson
Set in the near future, time travel has been invented though it has been made illegal, only being used on the black market by criminal organizations. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they send the target back 30 years, where a "Looper" is waiting to exterminate the target. Joe, one of the best loopers, is becoming filthy rich, living the good life until one day the mob decides to "close his loop" sending Joe's future self back to him for assassination. Rian Johnson's Looper is the rare type of Hollywood film that is original, and while not nearly as smart as some may think, it delivers on a creative and interesting take on the time-travel genre. The setting of Looper is not a bright and shiny future but rather a dirty world, and the film does a great job a establishing this future dystopia, showing how the world around Joe's rich lifestyle is crumbling. Looper is exciting and always interesting, using a highly stylistic visual design to create this unique experience. After the world is set up, the film gets particularly interesting once Joe's future self escapes his potential assassination by his present self. You got that? My favorite aspect of the film is how these two individuals, who happen to be the same man just 30 years apart, interact. The younger Joe and older Joe are similar yet very different and Looper makes sure to give both of them their fair share of understanding. The film never tries to demonize either Joseph Gorden-Levitt's present day Joe or more importantly the future Joe, played by Bruce Willis, a man who is simply trying to save the woman he loves. I found both men to be compelling characters, which is a real testament to Rian Johnson's screenplay, making the question of who the viewer should be routing for even more vague (which is a good thing). Yes, Looper does have elements that are extremely similar to 'The Fury' and while I did find the ending to be a little predictable, Looper's overall originality and technical prowess elevate it above most things coming out of Hollywood. Not as good as Rian Johnson's Brick, duh, but a clear step in the right direction after his incredibly disappointing The Brothers Bloom.
Pitch Perfect (2012) - Jason Moore
Beca is intent on moving to Los Angeles where she can pursue her dream of making music. The only problem being her father's wishes that she goes to college. When Beca arrives at college she finds that she doesn't fit into any particularly cliques, yet she ends up joining an A cappella group in an attempt to prove to her father she is trying to be social. Jason Moore's Pitch Perfect is the newest teen-focused comedy to follow in the footsteps of films like Bring it On, Easy A and Mean Girls in delivering a charming, funny and cute experience. Pitch Perfect works so well because it is self-aware about the overall silliness of the concept: An A Capella championship, using Beca's fish out of water character well to aid in the viewers ability to relate to the absurdity. The film has some rather unique comedic ideas and hysterical moments, primarily aided by Rebel Wilson's hilarious turn as "Fat Amy". As a matter of fact, all the characters are unique and interesting and the dynamic in which the various girls of the A Capella group share is what ultimately makes the film so much fun. The film does have a few slightly annoying story problems, like how the head of the A Capella' group acts like a dictator, making for a dramatic situation that is simply a stale concept and takes far too long to run is course. Overall, Pitch Perfect's breezy comedic style overshadows the weaker aspects of the film, making it a fun, light experience.
Citadel (2012) - Ciaran Foy
Tommy lives in a old decaying apartment complex with his pregnant wife. One fateful day, his wife is attacked by a group of young hooded thugs, and in her death, Tommy is left to raise his new born daughter alone. Due to this traumatic event, Tommy now suffers from an extreme case of agoraphobia, hiding out in his new flat where he is constantly fearful of imaginary threats. When the same hooded gang begins to appear around his flat, Tommy fears they are intent on capturing his daughter though he soon discovers that the supernatural may be involved. Ciaran Foy's Citadel is an incredibly tense, atmospheric piece of horror filmmaking that grabs a hold of the viewer and never lets go. The film does a great job at putting the viewer into the main character's psychological landscape, as he fears everything around him. Time is spent with Tommy, as we witness the struggles and tribulations it takes for him merely leave his home, making him a character that one can't help but route for. We are not given much, like our protagonist, about these hooded thugs which really adds to horror element, creating an atmospheric and tension-filled experience. The combination of Tommy's agoraphobia and these hooded creatures blend together perfectly, even walking that thin line where the viewer begins to question whether these hood creatures are real or merely a figment of our protagonist's imagination. Foy understands how to create an atmosphere, between some great use of sound and camera work to an absolutely perfect setting that is cold and desolate, perfectly complimenting the loneliness and desperation in Tommy's soul. I'd rather not go into much detail about the plot, as it's better that way, but Citadel's deeper thematic intentions are about fear itself, and how one must not let fear consume. Tommy is a character whose life has fallen apart because of his condition and the film is really about one not letting fear dictate living. Citadel is a fantastic debut effort by Ciaran Foy who is someone to definitely watch.
Piranha DD (2012) - John Gulager
After the massacre on Lake Victoria, the pre-historic blood-thirsty piranha have found there way into one of the most popular attractions in a near by town, The Big Wet Water Park. Piranha DD is pretty much exactly what you would expect in a stupid, sleazy b-movie. The film doesn't really bring anything new to the table but it does provide sold entertainment value if you like this sort of thing. Piranha DD is violent but it never all that creative in the execution and staging of the violence, providing only one truly fun sequence involving Sex and Piranhas. The sleaziness of it all is entertaining at times, like how Chet, the scumbag owner, has turned a part of his water park into a strip club. The problem is that Piranha DD tries a little hard at times making certain parts just feel too forced for the sake of being over the top. The story takes far too long to get to the good part, feeling the need to take almost two thirds of the film setting up and explaining a rudimentary plot. The main protagonist, Maddy, is the step-daughter of Chet, who clearly doesn't share his vision of how the water park should be run. She is part of a silly love triangle between her best friend and her ex-boyfriend that is just a waste of time. David Hasselhoff is easily the best part of the film and really provides the only sequences where I can I had fun. Piranha DD is very similar to its predecessor in that it's a film that never lives up to its potential.
Trouble In Mind is one of those offbeat american movies that reminds me of how great American Films can be when not directly influenced by corporate greed with the sole priority to make money. This is a very weird, interesting flick about RAIN CITY, a fictional city, which follows an ex-cop (Kris Kristofferson) just released from prison, and a young couple from the country who comes to the city to make money (Keith Carradine & Lori Singer), among a few other various characters. Rain City is really it's own character in the film. It's a moody, wet place that really affects the various characters of the film. It's an odd 80's meets 50's atmosphere with Noir-type dialogue that is endlessly quotable. The film is almost an enigma, as it has tons of moments that are never explained but rather just meant to exist in this fictional, nightmarish future where every character is a complete loner just trying to get by. Keith Carradine's character Coop is particularly interesting in that we watch him go through a complete transformation from a flannel wearing, city hating country folk to a hair done up, suit wearing, city gangster-type. Troub;e In Mind is an endlessly fascinating experience which I imagine gets better with multiple viewings because of it's caped mysticism. Pairing this one with Blade Runner, would make an interesting Double Feature for sure.
Alps (2011) - Giorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimo's follow-up to Dogtooth, Alps, is another darkly comedic vision that focuses on a small group of individuals who form an organization they call Alps. The group is formed in an attempt to help individuals get over the death of loved ones by simply impersonating the deceased. Yorgo Lanthimo's Alps is a rich, layered film about death, grief, and human relationships which make up our lives. The film feels slightly more disjointed than Dogtooh because of it's wider scope of characters and story structure, but it's still full of the off-kilter, absurdest humor which only Lanthimos could provide. Alps is about the human connections which individuals share, as we see the members of Alps who perform this service, get just as much out of it from an emotional level as those who are dealing with the loss of a family member or friend. The viewer sees how these impersonations help in subtle ways, like for example the parents who lost their daughter become intimate again, showing affection towards one and other. Make no mistake though, this is really the story of the nurse who helps these parents by impersonating their daughter. She is really the main character of the film, a woman whose initially tough exterior begins to be stripped away as she impersonates, revealing an incredibly lonely soul. Lanthimo's is relatively subtle in his approach but what he has really created is a tragic portrait of a young woman whose involvement in this organization is merely a way for herself to feel loved. When this connection which the nurse has been experiencing by impersonating is taken from her, she suffers greatly, struggling to find any real connection or solace in the world around her. Yorgos Lanthimo's Alps may take a little bit of deciphering by the average viewer, but once the connection is made, it is an emotionally resonant and fascinating endeavor which really shows the fragility of life, both physically and emotionally.
Klown (2010) - Mikkel Norgaard
After learning that his girlfriend is pregnant, Frank is eager to prove that he would be a good father despite his girlfriends reservations. In a last ditch effort to prove his potential as a father, Frank "kidnaps" the 12-year old nephew, taking him along on a adult-oriented weekend canoe trip with sex-crazed Casper, a close friend of Franks. Casper's sole purpose for the trip is sex, referring to their trip as the "Tour de Pussy", while Frank is desperate to prove he can be a good parent making for an extremely bad combination which leads to some hilarious results. Mikkel Norgaard's Klown is a very funny film that takes a lot of pride in deliberately pushing things as far away from good taste as possible. The film is full of lots of potty humor but that doesn't mean it isn't extremely clever and intricate in it's design. Some of the comedic elements, like Casper's man flirting, are threads lasting throughout the entire film, ultimately paying off in spades when the joke is finalized in hilarious ways Besides the humor and boundary pushing the thing that really helps Klown stand out from other films of the gross-out sex comedy genre is it's heart. Frank is such a clueless character and the relationship which he forms with Bo, his nephew, is surprisingly touching and endearing at times. The film has a nice undercurrent about what it means to be a good father and it's quite impressive how well it pulls that aspect off given the over-abundance of boundary pushing humor. Klown is not the most ingenious or hysterical comedy to come out in years as some have claimed, but the combination of laughs and heart do make the film worth your time.
Hysteria (2011) - Tanya Wexler
Based on true events, Hysteria is the story of Mortimer, a young doctor whose ambition and dedication to new medical practices ultimately alienate him, leaving him jobless. Mortimer looks incessantly for a job, eventually becoming the understudy of doctor who specializes in Hysteria. While there Mortimer struggles with his profession due too consistent hand cramps, leading him to the accidental invention of first vibrator, which was made for the sake of medical science. Tanya Wexler's Hysteria is really a romantic comedy with grander ambitions. It's a film more so about the liberation of women, not just sexually, but as free-thinking individuals who are equal to their male counterparts. Charlotte Darlrymple, a women not afraid to speak her mind, is the ultimate target of Mortimer's affection and essentially the person who represents this needed social change and/or liberation of woman. The main problem with Hysteria is it's reliance on a unique and interesting story. I say this because everything else about this film is bland from the script to the visual design. At times the script features some terribly pointed dialogue which feels out of place, simply there for the sole purpose of driving the characters and theme forward in an intrusive way. Given the subject matter, I was really hoping for a fun, unique farce of sorts but instead the film just plays everything too safe. It's not nearly fun or profound enough to be interesting and at times the film seems more concerned with laughing at the old-time methods and practices of medicine instead of actually investing in the world and relying on Mortimer, our main protagonist, to drive the story of medical and social change. Hysteria is a film that sadly relies far too much on it's interesting premise, becoming forgettable because of it's inability to take the necessary risks.
Francois, a young auteur filmmaker is inspired to create his new film, a cautionary tale about drug abuse, but is having trouble finding anyone who is willing to fund his efforts. The death of his wife, who succumbed to a drug overdose, is clearly a motivating factor for Francois. Out of desperation, Francois approaches a sketchy financier, Chas, who agrees to finance Francois' film as long as Francois agrees to help smuggle heroin into France. Philippe Garrel's Wild Innocence is a multi-layered film which tackles interesting themes of Fiction vs. Reality, and how artistic drive can be both a blessing and a curse. Francois hires Lucie, a young rather inexperienced actress, as the lead character and we see her pushed to the edge by this complicated role and tough director, struggling between reality and fiction, even beginning to become a drug addict herself. This of course works towards the biggest theme of the film, as Francois channels his inner turmoil of his wife's death into the film, becoming increasingly more and more obsessed and emotionally consumed with capturing the essence of what his wife went through. Wild Innocence is not an easy film, as many will find it scatter-brained or just slow, but the psychological nuances are present and while I don't think it is one of Garrel's best films, it is an interesting commentary on the auteurist personality.
V/H/S - Various
A group of petty criminals are hired by an unknown person to retrieve a rare vhs tape from a rundown house in the middle of nowhere. When they arrive at the home, they discover a strange lifeless man sitting in front of a large stack of tapes. As they go through them one by one, they experience horrifying things, with each seemingly stranger than the last. V/H/S is the latest anthology horror film where a group of talented young filmmakers come together to film various segments. Given the basic plot structure, the film does a good job at creating a film that feels like one experience, though the quality of each piece varies greatly. Most of the segments are what you would expect, with typical found footage cliches and situations which aim more to scare the viewer through jump scares then actually being terrifying. Two of the segments did stand out, relying much on primal fear and bluntness that make a horror film truly frightening as opposed to just being scared for a few split seconds, i.e. jump scares. All and all, V/H/S is a rather forgettable, but if you like these types of horror anthologies, it has enough to probably make it worth your time.
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