Todd Hayes' feature film debut is a challenging, fascinating and sometimes haunting film that centers around themes of sex, violence, and depravity in relationship to the social norms. The film is split into three intercut stories: "Hero", "Horror" and "Homo". Each of these three unique stories are all done in a very different ways. Hero is told in a faux documentary style about a young boy who kills his father, and then as his mother explains "drifts away to heaven". "Horror" is entirely in black in white and uses a lot of very aggresive camera angles to tell the story of a scientist who discovers a way to create the human sex drive in serum form. Lastly, Homo is a prison drama, which consists of a very dimly lit color scheme about the sexual relationship that develops between two male prisoners. Homo aesthetically reminded me a lot of some of Kenneth Anger's work, which I can only imagine was Haynes intention. The films are all very different but share this overarching theme mentioned above. There are some scenes that really impressed me, like how Haynes visually layers the Adultery scene which takes place in 'Hero', or the spitting scene in 'Homo' which really reminded me of Anger's 'Fireworks'. Watching this film, it was very clear that Haynes was a young filmmaker that had a lot to say and could do so very artfully. Not surprised this won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, although a film like this would have no chance of winning Sundance in this day in age. A fascinating first time feature by Todd Hayes.
Best-selling pop-horror novelist Roger Cobb is suffering from massive writers block which in part can be attributed to his recent separation from his wife, as well as the disappearance of their young son. In an attempt to clear his head and escape his personal demons, Roger decides to move into his deceased aunt's large home where he can write his Vietnam War memoir in peace. Soon after moving in, Roger discovers an evil presence in the home. Steve Miner's House is a horror film in the mold of films like Fright Night or Return of the Living Dead, in that it walks the genre line between horror and comedy. I couldn't in good conscious say House is quite in the same league as the two aforementioned titles but it does bring a really unique blend of goofiness and parody to the horror genre. Most of the film revolves around Roger battling these marauding monsters who are literally coming out of the walls, while trying to conceal his predicament from the neighbors in his suburban environment - which provides the bulk of the humor elements. The film's monster effects are quite outdated, essentially made up of people dressed up in rubber monster outfits but I personally prefer that to most of the CGI-crapfests of today. The fact of the matter is House is a very imaginative film and one cannot deny the inventiveness of the monsters and set pieces. The film even has a fun cerebral element, in that almost all of the horrors which Roger faces are directly related to his internal struggles, which is a fun, even surprisingly smart approach even if the link isn't as tight as it could/should have been. Sure, the quasi-comedic tone takes away from the films ability to actually frighten the viewer but House is quite a bit of cheesy fun regardless of that fact.
On a long empty road, an old man, Toto,and his son, Ninetto, walk through the desolate countryside. On their journey, they come across a "left-wing intellectual" talking Crow. The crow speaks to them in a very philosophical tone, encouraging them to put others above themselves, even at one point changing them into monks so they can convert the birds of the world to Christianity. Pier Paolo Pasoloni's The Hawks and the Sparrows is a comedic surreal allegory about idealism in the world as we know it. Much of the film chronicles the misadventures of Toto and Ninetto as they go from place to place attempting to help out and spread the word. Eventually the men begin to grow more and more tired of the birds philosophical ways. With the two of them becoming quite hungry during their misadventures they decide to eat the bird, since they now feel prepared to face whatever life brings them. For a film that is quite engulfed with philosophical thought, The Hawks and the Sparrows is quite an entertaining experience. The film has a very playful tone and relies frequently on blatant symbolism to provide many laughs with tons of various sight-gags. I don't believe that Pasolini is being critical of religion, god, or Marxism but is rather making a statement about idealism - showing how reality and the ideal often don't coexist in the harsh reality of everyday life. Pasoloni's The Hawks and the Sparrows is a unique experience and while it isn't nearly on the same level as some of my favorite Pasoloni films, it definitely highlights Pasolini's unique vision of the world.
Rino Hanssen is a 30-something virgin who lives alone in an apartment which his dad co-pays. Rino is a very lonely person, whose only friend is is a hateful loser himself, Filip. Rino spends nearly every waking second thinking about sex, yet he is absolutely horrified of any real type of communication with woman. All of this slowly changes when Rino's dad decides to rent one of the rooms in Rino's apartment to Malin, a young, free-spirited woman whose Rino's bitter opposite. Arild Frohlich's Fatso is a very funny sex comedy that succeeds at being both entertaining and also surprisingly touching. Lots of time is spent in the head of Rino and the film does a great job at capturing the awkwardness and insecurity of the character. Everything Rino does early on in the film, from his inability to even have a conversation with a female, to how awkward he is in any social situation, feels incredibly genuine. Fatso's visual style is worth mentioning, with a very bright color palette that uses precise framing and compositions to create comedy which works surprisingly well in this comedic-driven setting. In fact some of the visual style bares similarities to Wes Anderson's films in the stage and set designs as well. Rino's best attribute is both the understanding and admiration which it has for it's lead protagonist as well as the relationship which unfolds between Rino and Malin. They are complete opposites, yet they grow closer to one and other because each provides something which the other lacked. Watching the relationship unfold, I was surprised at just how tender and well executed it was. Make no mistake, Rino is a raunchy sex-comedy that delivers on lots of outrageous moments, but what elevates the film is its ability to touch the heart.
Two parents and a young child make up the Boyle family, who happily live in New York City. After the father gets offered a research job which he can't refuse, the family temporary moves down to a small town outside of Boston where the father can pick up on the research left behind by the last researcher, who hung himself. On their arrival in town, Bob, the young child, begins to see a strange young girl, who seems to be warning him about the inhabitants, with the family soon discovering for themselves the terror which awaits in their new home, the house by the cemetery. Lucio Fulci's The House By The Cemetery is an atmospheric horror romp that features a haunted house, a mad scientist, a flesh-eating zombie creature, among other things. Fulci's penchant for excessive gore is in full effect, with blood flowing throughout and one sequence featuring an insane bat attack that is hilariously over-the-top in the gore department. It's almost as if Fulci is seduced by the beauty of gore and violence, even slowing down the frame rate in a few sequences to capture the blood as it escapes from the body in Gorey detail. Of course gore isn't the only staple of Fulci, as he creates an amazing ominous atmosphere using lots of disjunction in his editing that really helps add to the chaos and disorder of the frights. Juxaposition is also used to a similar affect, with some nice slow camera moments, point-of-view and slow-motion that all together create a very creepy atmosphere. I can't recall if this is common in Fulci's direction but his use of close-ups in The House By The Cemetery is abundant, really focusing the camera on the fear and panic plastered all over the faces of the actors whenever he can get. While some may find The House By The Cemetery a little cheesy, it's impossible to deny Fulci's ability to create atmosphere and mood, in delivering a fun, disgusting, and somewhat campy horror film.
Cloud Atlas is a sprawling epic film about how the actions of individual lives impact one and other across the past, present and future. Let it be known that I haven't read the book but personally I view the two as completely different mediums so no comparison should ever be made. Co-directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Twyker, the film has elements of pretty much ever genre from romance to action. The film uses the same actors in every storyline, relying on tons of make-up effects that quite frankly at times reached the point of self-parody. The biggest problem with Cloud Atlas is its poor pacing and slow start, where literally for the first hour or so, you feel completely lost and confused as to why the film is jumping back and forth across the timelines. There is of course expositional dialogue that makes that point clear, but I just didn't see it in the actual story until approximately an hour in. I definitely found the futuristic segment to be the most interesting, engaging and resonant. I guess Cloud Atlas just jumped around too much leaving large parts of the film rather unengaging. Of course there are patches that grab the viewer but they just come few and far between considering the 170 minute running time. Take it as you will, but for me the best aspect of Cloud Atlas was the comedic parts, which really worked beautifully more so than not. In the end I can respect Cloud Atlas for the massive undertaking and ambition but ultimately the film collapses under its own narrative weight, even if by the end they make strides to clean it up.
Rosetta, a young teenager, lives in a tiny, dilapidated trailer home with no real amnesties such as running water, to speak of. She lives with her mother, an incredibly irresponsible alcoholic, who spends more time with the bottle than with her daughter. Rosetta life is tough, as she longs for a more stable life where she can be a productive member of society, but even something that sounds so simple, remains beyond her grasp. Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's Rosetta is a stark portrait of a young woman who is simply just trying to get by. Filmed in the Dardenne aesthetic, the film is incredibly grounded, with realism that hits the viewer hard, showing the details of Rosetta struggle from her unorthodox fishing expeditions to how she works around not having running water. Much of the film is spent with Rosetta, as she looks for a job and a way to get out of her current situation. The opening scene in which Rosetta is laid off from her job because she was a temp employee is a beautiful way to set up the story, illustrating how Rosetta is not lazy or complacent but rather that she is just a product of her environment and the overall harshness of life. The Dardennes really understand the character of Rosetta, a young girl who essentially is the parental figure towards her alcoholic mother. Rosetta looks at her mom and sees herself, fearing that she will become just like her mother. I won't go into spoliers but this lack of sympathy and/or tenderness in Rosetta's life is what leads her to make a poor decision involving someone who actually cares for her. There is a scene later in the film where Riquet, a lonely waffle chef who Rosetta befriends, invites her over for dinner. Even when Riquet is incredibly cordial and nice Rosetta simply doesn't know how to respond, retreating to her tough exterior shell. She doesn't even recognize the idea of someone caring about her and it's an incredibly tragic sequence in the film. While Rossetta is quite stark about the realities of poverty and livelihood, the Dardennes don't wallow in the muck but rather end the film in such a beautiful, hopeful light that is subtle but incredibly emotionally resonant.
John Llewellyn Moxey's Horror Hotel is without question one of the best early horror films that I have seen. Horror Hotels greatest attribute is its ability to create a suffocating atmosphere and simply relying on affective scare tactics which are elevated because of the atmosphere. Horror Hotel about a college student whose interest in witchcraft takes her to Whitewood, a small town in Massachusetts. On her arrival in the town it's apparent that something is amidst, horror ensues. I can't really talk enough about the beautifully layered atmosphere which is created in this film. Think of it as a old film version of Silent Hill in which the entire town is covered in this dense fog with black shadows draping over everything. The film uses this darkness to evoke mood and create tension while relying on the simple art of placing it's cold, creepy characters in the right place at the right time. One of my favorite scenes involves the young college girl walking through the main area of town, with townspeople draped in black silhouttes throughout the background, effectively creating this moody, dreary atmosphere. The placement of these stoic type townspeople is a huge part of the film's effectiveness. Hotel Hell also uses aggressive camera movements, at times, to add emphasis to the horror of certain situations but it's never overdone, picking the right times more often than not. I found it interesting that the structure of the film has a lot of similarities to Hitchcock's Psycho, though I guess these comparisons could be construed as superfluous. Horror Hotel is certainly worth any horror fans time, regardless of ones preconcieved notions towards older horror films.
The Ambassador is a highly engaging, fascinating piece of investigative journalism in which Mads Brugger, the director and former journalist, blows the top off the global scheme of political corruption and exploitation going on in one of the most dangerous places on the planet, the Central African Republic. It's a unique film, in which Mads Brugger transforms himself into a European Bureacrat, going to the black-market to pick up the diplomatic credentials necessary to immerse himself in this world. Brugger uses an abundance of hidden cameras to film his experiences, as he encounters bribery and blood diamond smuggling among other monstrosities as he systemically makes his way into this corrupt world. Once thing that took me off guard about Mads Brugger's The Ambassador is just how much dark humor exists, with Brugger routinely entertaining with his wit. Considering the circumstances, it's amazing how the film remains rather playful and light-hearted, considering the rather insane and infuriating subject matter. It's a film that will no doubt enrage some viewers, as it exposes all the post-colonial corruption of Africa but I have to give credit to Mads Brugger for simply having the courage to create this type of pseudo-documentary, especially considering the type of people who he was involved with on a daily basis. The Ambassador is one of the most insane exposes in investigative journalism I have ever seen, being certainly worth your time based on the fascinating subject matter alone.
Miyako, a housewife, becomes intimately involved with Kitano, her interior decorator. What at first was nothing more than a simple flirtation quickly becomes a love affair in which the two have late night rendezvous at hotels. Miyako lets Kitano fill out his desires by taking nude photographs of her which he holds onto as a keepsake. When the negatives fall into the hands of Ginpei, a teacher who has been observing the couple for sometime, Miyako must track him down out of fear of her husband learning of her love affair. Yoshishige Yoshida's Woman of the Lake is a complex, visually stunning film that analyses the female psyche as well as her place in society. Typical of Yoshida's films, Woman of the Lake is amazingly ahead of its time visually, using exquisite black and white cinematography to create an expressionistic visual poetry that has something to say in every composition. The atmosphere which Yoshida creates around Miyako is astounding, capturing the paranoia and loneliness this woman feels, fearful that she may be caught by her husband. A perfect example comes from a scene early in the film when Miyako is walking back to her husbands house after being with Kitano. Yoshida uses a combination of handheld tracking shots, tight compositions and this bright, intrusive spotlight behind her which perfectly captures Miyako's inner turmoil and paranoia. I would be lying if I said I understood everything in which Yoshida was trying to say in this film, but to me it's a story about woman's rights, with the photographs signifying the battle woman much engage in to simply fight for their own body and mind against the oppressive male-dominated culture. While this is nice and all, I do think the film is more complex than this. Every man in this story is sexually infatuated with Miyako, except her husband. She is an object of sexual desire and yet she finds herself very alone. Much of the film is shot with very wide lenses and desolate landscapes to capture this isolation which Miyako feels. Yoshida seems to point to this separation between carnal desires and companionship by showing Miyako in this light. Woman of the Lake is incredible intricate and full of ideas and although I may not have grasped everything Yoshida was trying to say, this film's complexity and beauty once again reaffirms why I believe Yoshishige Yoshida is the greatest filmmaker of all time.
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