Tom Selznick was viewed as one of, if not the most talented pianist of his generation, but a terrible case of stage fright kept stopped him from ever reaching her perceived heights. After a disastrous performance, Tom disappears completely from the public spotlight only to reemerge for a special, long-awaited concert in Chicago. With the love and support of his famous actress wife, Tom agrees to perform in front of a packed, but when he sits down to play he discovers a message written on the music sheets: "Play one wrong note and you die". Eugenio Mira's Grand Piano is a thrilling b-movie that manages to be fun and engaging regardless of its somewhat preposterous premise. Almost the entire film takes place in this giant concert hall with Tom conversing with the Sniper intent on killing him if he misses a single note. While some films could slowly become grating with this gimmicky approach, Grand Piano's cat-and-mouse game manages to keep a lot of its energy due to the film's direction. Eugenio Mira directs this film with a lot of style, using dutch angles, slick camera movements, juxtaposition and split-screens to create a immersive experience that puts the viewer directly into the psyche of our protagonist in a way that would make the likes of Hickcock or De Palma blush. The script itself is tight and fast-paced but unfortunately Grand Piano comes a little off the rails, rushing to a very unsatisfying explanation of the antagonist's intent that's simply uninteresting and generic, which in turn short-changes the viewer on everything Statad achieved early on.
At his first big gig in front of an actual crowd, Corky, a mangy musician, finds himself heckled off stage in a decrepid, low-rent club that was willing to hire him. Down on his luck, Corky struggles with failure but that all changes when he finds Fats, a dummy. Along with Fats, Corky's ventriliquest act flourishes, becoming successful and financially sound. His agent, Ben Green, even gets a TV contract but Corky turns it down, unwilling to take a medical exam on "principle". Fleeing back to his home town, which has almost completely been wiped off the map by poverty, Corky seeks out his high school crush Peggy, but the more time they spend together it becomes apparenty that Corky isn't exactly mentally stable. After the recent death of Richard Attenborough I decided to finaly see Magic, a film I had long neglected. Magic is a highly impressive early film from Attenborough that is a very well-crafted suspense / thriller / horror film with an incredibly central performance by Anthony Hopkins. Magic is a film that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin, watching Anthony Hopkins brilliantly play a man who is completely crumbling from the inside out. It's an effective creeper but what makes it so impressive is just how much empathy it creates for its characters. Corky is a man who is controlled by the fabricated personality of Fats he created, making him a truly sympathetic character by the end of the film. Attenborough layers this brilliant deteriorating performance with a heavy dose of atmosphere, using great use of juxtaposition and editing to create an immersive experience. This is a film that truly cares about its protagonist/antagonist, making the audience understand his past and present and therefore feel empathy. With Magic, Attenborough has created a film that works on nearly every level, showing an impressive eye for direction which makes me think he should be brought up more in that regard.
Sam Merrick isn't among the most popular kids at school. When he is bullied and beaten up by George, Sam's older brother Rocky and his friends Clyde and Marty devise a plan to get back at the bully for his actions. They invite George to a fake birthday party for Sam on the river, intent on embarrassing him by making him walk home naked after a game of truth-or-dare. Unfortunately, the plan backfires in the worst way possible, forcing them all to deal with the consequences. Jacob Aaron Estes' Mean Creek is an impressive first feature that is a unique twist on coming of age stories, telling a story of impressive moral complexity while touching on social complexities of youth. From a narrative perspective, Mean Creek is a tight, suspenseful thriller with engaging and multidimensional characters that makes it hard to dislike. Thematically, the film subtlety touches on bullying, arguing that is isn't a simple problem but a complex cycle, stemming from both environmental and primal urges of the bully to take power from someone else. The film could have gone further in this examination but it instead moves on to the loss of innocence and moral complexities revolving around death, guilt, and forgiveness. Mean Creek shows us a group of young people who abruptly find their innocence completely shattered after a tragedy, capturing the confrontation each of them is forced to make with their own morality.
Lily and Gerry are best friends, living in New York for one last summer before heading to college. On the eve of adulthood, the two form a pact to lose their virginity before leaving at the end of summer. The problem is they both end up developing a crush on David, a handsome artist. While Gerry pursues David, Lily begins to see him behind her back, testing a lifelong friendship in the process. Naomi Foner's Very Good Girls is painstakingly simplistic film about a complex subject which lacks complete subtlety in approach. Very Good Girls is a film that attempts to capture a young woman's perspective right of passage, virginity, but the way it tackles this ideal is very simplistic. Throughout the entire film it seemed that both Lily and Gerry were characters defined more by the supporting characters around them then themselves, not feeling nearly as genuine as they needed to be for this type of film. While this is a major problem, it's worth noting that Dakota Fanning & Elizabeth Olsen give strong performances, making these characters sympathetic and interesting no matter the short-comings of the screenplay. On the otherhand, Boyd Holbrook is an incredibly poor actor, who makes the whole love triangle incredibly hard to care about. The story-line itself is a hodgepodge of every dramatic beat one could think of in this type of film, lacking nearly all originality. In the end, the biggest problem with Naomi Foner's Very Good Girls is how bland and generic it is, never taking the necessary risks to make it stand out from the other films of this variety. If you want to see a truly impressive film about a similar thematic subject that presents a genuine and effective portrait of adolescence watch Eliza Hittman's It Felt Like Love.
Nicholas McCarthy's At The Devil's Door begins with a young teenage runaway who is led to a small mobile home in the desert by her boyfriend. Desperate for money, she agrees to a sinister occult game with a few hundred dollars cash as her reward. Flash-forward several years where we are introduced to Leigh, a young but ambitious real estate agent, who has just agreed to help sell a home with a seemingly checkered past. Unbeknownst to Leigh, the home is entangled in a supernatural force which pulls not only Leigh but her sister Vera into its sinister web. If there is one thing apparent about Nicholas McCarthy as a filmmaker it is his knack for creating atmospheric horror films. McCarthy is a filmmaker that realizes good horror has little to do with violence on screen or blood and guts, opting instead for impressive visual storytelling that creates ominous tension. The characters are well-defined and three-dimensional, especially for the genre, but McCarthy seems to get a little too wrapped up in creating mystery in his narrative, which at times slows down the fantastic amount of tension he creates with ease. One thing I do appreciate about this approach is how McCarthy routinely plays with his audiences narrative perceptions, making his characters almost disposable in an effort to cloud the audience as to who is really the main character of the film. At The Devil's Door is another example of why Nicholas McCarthy is one of the most promising horror directors in recent memory, but I wish his films could be a little more stripped down and straight-forward in approach.
Ethan and Sophie have been married for awhile now but they've lost nearly all passion in their relationship. On the brink separation, the couple takes the advice of their therapist, escaping to a beautiful vacation home for a weekend getaway in an attempt to save their marriage. What begins as a romantic retreat quickly turns into a surreal sci-fi journey into the unknown which forces both Ethan and Sophie to re-evaluate their relationship. Charlie McDowell's The One I Love is a wholly unique romantic dramedy that uses science fiction ideas to its advantage, delivering a keenly observant relationship drama. For those who don't want the film spoiled, stop reading now, because The One I Love is a film very hard to discuss without giving things away. The One I Love uses this sort of faux-alternate reality approach to display the intricacies of a relationship, capturing the lack of trust, insecurities, and selfishness that usually lead to failed relationships. Both Ethan and Sophie engage with alternate versions of their significant others, versions that tell them exactly what they want to hear, with the film unfolding with even more twists at the end that effectively capture relationship dynamics in a unique and fascinating way. The One I Love is an impressive mind-bender that works on multiple levels, being a fun scifi thriller and nuanced relationship drama.
Ramon Zurcher's The Strange Little Cat is a perplexing first feature that is bound to only be appreciated by academics of cinema. The film chronicles the lives of one family, as siblings Karen and Simon visit their parents and their little sister, Clara. Over the course of a day, the various family members deal with casual domestic problems like a broken appliance and a button that needs to be sewn. The Strange Little Cat is a film in which not much happens on the surface but I'd be lying if I didn't say I appreciated its quiet examination of domestic family life that effectively makes this world feel wondrous and complex. Using very impressive use of mis-en-scene, The Strange Little Cat unfolds odd yet complex compositions that capture details of everyday life in an impressive way. I must admit, I found the dialogue completely lacking in emotion and while I'm sure that's part of the design, it's very abrasive to the viewer, making me struggle to stay focused from start to finish even when considering its 70 minute running time. Ramon Zurcher's The Strange Little Cat is an exceptional film on an academic level and while it's an impressive study in visual filmmaking, its lack of emotional impact or resonance, outside of the mother character, left me far too detached to sing its praises completely.
Marie, a 40-something actress, lives in a beautiful home perched above the beach in Malibu. She is beginning to come face-to-face with harsh realities of the film industry, finding it a lot harder to find acting opportunities. As Marie struggles to cope with her new life and career crisis, she is visited by her young, aspiring-actress niece who stays for the weekend. Like many of Swanberg's films, All The Light in The Sky is a very quiet endeavor that at times feels almost inconsequential, but unlike many of his films, it slowly achieves its small, but powerful intentions in a way that feels very organic and genuinely affecting. Jane Adams gives a great performance as Marie, a role that feels developed in a way that is part character, part actress, as we see the insecurities and fears of a woman entering her mid-life in Hollywood. Swanberg is able to capture Marie's uncertainty and fragility, as she feels her life slowly slipping away due in large part to her age, feeling ugly and unwanted in a town only interested in youth. Marie is a character who encompasses a very specific type of character, a Hollywood actress living in Los Angeles, with All the Light in the Sky capturing the ugly age bias and superficiality of Hollywood but many of Marie's internal struggles are very relate-able to nearly anyone who feels their life passing by to fast. This creates an experience that is almost cosmic, capturing how insignificant and brief our time is in this universe, an incredibly impressive feat. Perhaps what is most impressive about All the Light in the Sky is how much Swanberg is able to step out of his typical comfort zone, moving away from the onset of adulthood and looking at the dead opposite - the loss of adulthood through aging.
Michael is a father of two children and is in a depressive state since the death of his wife several years ago. He and his children live in a small town of Cobb in Ireland. Attempting to adjust and keep on living, Michael volunteers for the towns annual literary festival where he meets Lena, a writer whose books deal with the supernatural, but in a very natural, realistic way. As Michael and Lena begin to become closer, Michael begins to see things that he cannot explain, surmising that supernatural means are the only explanation. The Eclipse is not a horror film by any means, but a character-driven film which focuses on Michael's path to exorcise his own demons and move on with his life. The film plays almost like a romance but when the scary moments come, they are very effective. The cinematography is fantastic really creating this eery since of depression even in such a beautiful location in Ireland. During many scenes, the characters are back-lite to the point in which they are basically silhouettes, lots of wide open space is present throughout as well, which combine to visually show Michael's emotional segregation from the outside world. Anyone who goes into this movie expecting a horror film will be severely disappointed, but its a great film regardless.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.