After the purchase of a small antique wooden box from a yard sale, Clyde notices that his daughter Em is beginning to act strange. At first merely writing his daughters behavior off as simply acting out because of his impending divorce, Clyde begins to realize that something else is amidst when Em begins to exhibit increasingly malevolent behavior. Ole Bornedal's The Possession, is the latest possession flick which consists of a young girl being taking over by a dislocated spirit intent on taking over her body. The film doesn't bring anything particularly new to the genre, but it delivers more than it doesn't in creating a fun, freaky experience. The Possession doesn't simply rely on jump scares like so many horror films these days, using instead some nice cinematography to create this nice tension and foreboding experience, ultimately delivering a pretty nice atmosphere. The film uses lots of slow pans, tracking shots and oscillating compositions, as well as some nice expressionistic lighting to create this atmosphere which is probably the strongest aspect of the film. While the possession does have some nice moments, the pg-13 rating really inhibited the film from getting really intense, which hurt the affect of it all for me. Produced by Sam Raimi, The Possession definitely keeps Raimi's knack for horror dealing with orifices, especially the mouth, giving the viewer some primal frightening imagery. The Possession isn't anything special, but it is definitely one of the better films to come out on the subject in awhile.
Freddie, a Naval Veteran, has just returned home from World War II. While back in the states Freddie is incredibly unsettled, suffering from nervous disorder tendencies and having trouble finding direction in his life. That is until he meets Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a group he founded known as 'The Cause'. Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is a challenging, masterfully executed film exploring a desperate man's attempt to find something he can confide and believe in. Much ado has been made about Anderson's film being about Scientology but this is ultimately unimportant as the film argues that religious groups by nature are an attack on the free will of man. Our main protagonist, Freddie, played to perfection by Joaquin Phoenix, is a man who has been broken by the life around him. He is incredibly unpredictable, yet his fragility is what makes him ultimately susceptible to this religion. Freddie is put through "processing" a form of enlightenment, so says Lancaster, though it seems more like a form of psychological torture in which Freddie is broken down mentally. The relationship which forms between Lancaster and Freddie is a fascinating one, as one begins to realize that although Freddie seems like Lancaster's personal pet, he needs Freddie just as much as the other way around. One cannot write a review about 'The Master' without praising the performance of Phoenix, who completely embodies this character with unique mannerisms, movements and body language which show no trace of the actor. Freddie is a tragic figure and in a way 'The Master' is a tragic love story about a man losing the one thing which matters most to him. The biggest surprise for me was just how funny the film is, though Anderson never let's it go too far, striking a great balance between the comedic and dramatic elements of the film. Without boring you with the details, I can say that 'The Master' is technically brilliant from the symmetric compositions which are used to show the structure and order of Lancaster's world, to the halo-type lighting and sound design which all work together quite brilliantly. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a film that challenges the ideas of faith and religion, and whether you agree or not, there is no doubt that he has once again proven why many, including myself, believe he is the greatest American filmmaker working today.
While Bertrand is researching his next film, he accidentally locks himself in a coffin, where he is forced to spend the entire night. After the insufferable night passes and Bertrand is freed, he begins to reassess his life. Through this reflection, Bertrand decided to visit a remote, mysterious hideaway where a group of individuals strive for true unfiltered spiritual, mental, and physical pleasure, waging a war against the ways of the modern world. Bertrand Bonnello's On War is a bizarre and pervasive film which confronts the viewer with this strange world, questioning how we should live our lives. It's a personal film no doubt, with the lead actor sharing the same name and profession as the director, with an absurdest approach which is quite similar to Dogtooth, though not nearly as comedic. A complicated film, I would be lying if I said I understood everything Bertrand Bonnello was trying to say. It's a film about purging oneself, with the film asserting the notion that one must truly absolve themselves from society to experience the joy and ecstasy in a truly authentic way. Bonnello seems to suggest that this is not easy, as even the leader of this cult Uma, struggles to truly find what she is looking for. In the end, I believe this is a film about truly finding oneself, and being at peace, not allowing oneself to be swayed or affected by the influences of society. On War is a challenging piece of filmmaking which probably won't sit well with the more passive viewers, but it is no doubt a film that will lead to many discussions.
Pamela, a mature for her age 11-year-old, is fed up with the "fish bowl" life which she sees all around her. Desperate to not end up like another "fish" trapped in the bowl, she has decided to end her life on her 12th birthday. Using an old camcorder to chronicle the hypocrisy she sees in adults, Pamela begins to discover that there is more to life than she originally thought, due mostly to a budding unlikely friendship between Renee, the building concierge, and herself. Mona Achache's The Hedgehog is a light, unique coming of age story that centers around the transformation of a pessimistic young woman who finds solace in the most unlikely of sources. It is not a particularly profound film, touching on some interesting themes of destiny versus will, but the film never goes too deep into the matter. While Paloma is the main protagonist structurally, Renee provides much of the emotional baggage of the film, whose transformation I found much more touching. Being the building concierge, Renee is looked down upon by her residents, leaving her feeling alone and useless. A lesson in not judging a book by its cover, Renee is a smart woman who just seems to be stuck, that is until Kakuro, a wealthy Japanese man moves in. The two live lonely lives, leading to a budding romance which is extremely touching, with character feelings, situations and emotions all feeling very genuine. Ultimately, I wish the film would have been more profound in its examination of life and death, but instead The Hedgehog opts for a light-hearted sweet film about hope in life.
Manuel works as a ranch hand on the Brazilian Sertao in the 1940s. With another drought threatening the livelihood of Manuel and his wife, Rosa, he is beyond fed up with his current situation. In an act of rage after his boss tries to cheat him out of the little earnings he has, Manuel murders his boss and flees with Rosa. On the run, Manuel and Rosa form allegiances with various religious and political extremist groups as the two simply look for a place where they can start again. Glauber Rocha's Black God, White Devil is a stunning vision of hopelessness, capturing the human struggle in both concrete and abstract ways. The film features some fantastic black and white cinema, that is atmospheric and at times incredibly poignant in its ability to illicit and emotional response from the viewer. Geraldo Del Ray, who plays Manuel, is perfectly cast in this film, from both a physical and performance standpoint. From his sun-beaten skin, to his disheveled presence, the viewer is sympathetic of this passive man who desperately seeking someone or something he can believe, in a society which has given him little to nothing. We see the crimes and/or morally corrupt acts which one commits simply for the sake of religion or cultural acceptance in Black God, White Devil, with Glauber Rocha suggesting that man must have the courage and commitment to determine his own values and decisions instead of being corrupted by this mob-mentality or group think. Black God, White Devil isn't a particularly great drama by traditional standards, opting much more for a cinematic experience which both shocks, tantalizes and affects the viewer with its abstract approach.
Mikhail Kalatozov is a filmmaker that is responsible for possibly my favorite film of all time in The Cranes Are Flying, so whenever I watch one of his films, I hope it somehow matches that masterpiece. While, 'The Letter Never Sent' isn't quite on that level, it is a beautiful, tragic film. This is Kalatozov's ode to the pioneers of Russia, whose sacrifices on both a physical and mental level, helped Russia's progression as a country. The thing I have always loved about Kalatozov is how expressive his visuals are. From the very beginning, when our pioneers are dropped into the wilderness, a beautiful helicopter shot, which shoes these men disappear into the vast Siberian landscape, setting the mood. Hell, there are so many examples in this film of where the camerawork or editing relays the characters emotions and feelings. I was very impressed with how Kalatozov manages the four pioneers, each of which, i found myself emotionally invested in for difference reasons. It's another one of those films which is both visually stunning, technically brilliant, and emotionally devastating. It's definitely the best of Kalatovzov's films I have seen, outside of The Cranes Are Flying of course.
While watching An American in Paris I came to the conclusion about two-thirds of the way through that I really didn't care at all about the primary relationship of Jerry (Gene Kelly) and Lise (Leslie Caron) or the love triangle that unfolds. The thing that interested me the most about this film was the commentary on the lifestyle of a struggling artist. Though I wish the film even focused more-so on these attributes I did find it to have several great insights into this type of lifestyle as a painter. My favorite of these moments being when Jerry explains the difference between being a painter vs. a musician or performer, or a visually extravagant dream sequence in which Adam (Oscar Levant) performs in front of thousands of people. Despite the fact that I didn't have much connection to the plot, this film still has a lot of things that I really loved. It's an absolutely gorgeous film, that has some lighting and imagery that just put a smile on my face. The dance choreography isnt anything particularly special, but these lavish sets make some of the music/dance numbers something special to behold. My two favorite sequences have to be the aforementioned dream sequence and the final sequence, although running far too long, is really breath-taking particularly in its use of the 2D hand-painted backgrounds imitating Paris, also representing a connection between Jerry as a painter himself, and the audience.
The Vicious Kind is an examination of a broken family coming together for Thanksgiving which ultimately stands above and beyond most indie family dysfunctional dramas because of it's piercing portrait of a man whose cynicism and hatred have peaked to the point where his emotional state is chaos. This film is without a doubt Caleb's story. It's not your typical role for Adam Scott, as this fractured soul Caleb, but he really gives a brilliant performance that anyone who is a fan of him should see without question. We learn slowly that Caleb's absolute hatred towards woman stems from mistrust after his past relationships left him emotional damaged. This is something that is very apparent from the outset of the film, and as we progress through the story we learn and experience new elements which help give more insight into the character. His timidness around woman also creates a true fearfulness of feeling connection, as if he fears getting emotionally ravaged yet again. As his attraction grows towards his brother's sister, he becomes very aggressive and almost spiteful towards her for making him have such feelings. It's a really fitting decision for a man whose sanity appears to be dangling from a ledge at this point. The film just feels really honest about the dysfunctional family dynamics which are on display and the script has a great balance of the drudgery and comic moments. I could see some people having minor issues with some of the plot points, but it didn't bother me at all, ultimately, cause of how much I liked Caleb's character.
Right after he is released from prison career criminal, John Muller, rounds up his old crew to plan a robbery. The plan is to hold up a gambling joint, which happens to be run by a vindictive gambler, Rocky Stansyck. When the Robbery doesn't go to plan, John quickly finds himself alone and on the run, looking for a place to hide. John stumbles into a lucky break, assuming the identity of a psychiatrist who looks almost identical. With his new identity it looks like smooth sailing but escaping from his past turns out more difficult than John had thought. Steve Sekely's The Scar is a gritty, atmospheric flick which uses it's not-so-nice main character to great effect. John Mueller is a great, intriguing character whose a very different lead than most films of the period. Mueller is a highly intelligent career criminal who just happens to have a completely different point of view towards the world around him. He is a man who choose a life of crime, never wanting to live through the daily grind of life. The film really explores this with nice anecdotes throughout Mueller's various encounters, from his first boss who he quarrels with to his love interest, Emily. The Cinematography is dark and atmospheric, with some great compositions which really utilize the entire depth of frame. These compositions in addition to some nice close-ups add this sorta gritty, claustrophobic feel to the film, which mirrors our main characters increasing fear and paranoia. In the end, The Scar is well-paced film told from the criminals point of view that uses a strong central character and some great cinematography to tell a tale of fate and/or ones inability to change it, as John Mueller's seemingly perfect plan ends up blowing up in his face.
Newlyweds Molly and Tim have just settled down in the long-abandoned family home of Molly's deceased parents. Happy and in love, things are looking up for the couple, until strange reminders of Molly's nightmarish childhood begin to resurface. There is a spiritual force in the house, and with Molly alone for long stretches due to her husband's truck driver profession, she begins to fall deeper and deeper into depravity. Eduarado Sanchez's Lovely Molly is a rather forgettable horror film that is light on actually scares. Sanchez, whose last film was The Blair Witch Project, shows that he has no idea how to built an atmosphere, often relying on generic and/or cheap tricks to try and scare the viewer - often going with a jerking camera or off-screen noises. The only somewhat bright spot of the film is Grethchen Lodge's performance as Molly, a character who teeters on the edge of psychosis. The films ideas are reductive and histrionic, never giving the viewer much reason to care about the characters or the underlying dark past. The story lacks cohesiveness and pretty much all basic common sense or logic, with the execution of this evil force coming off more laughable than actually scary.
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