The Silver Daggers are a gang of young hoods who control the inner-city high school, selling drugs and prostitution to the student body while fighting anyone who tries to get in their way. The group has a ladies contingent, The Dagger Debs, who are tough cookies in their own right but are not exactly treated as equals by their male counterparts. When a new girl, Maggie, joins the group and instantly bonds with the leader of the Dagger Debs, Lace, the leader of the Silver Daggers becomes immediately interested in Maggie sexually, as a replacement for Lace. Through jealously and deceit, Lace begins to grow suspecting of Maggie, which threatens to hurt the group's unity, while also being in the midst of a turf between their rival gang, who poses as a community action team. Jack Hill's Switchblade Sisters is an incredibly fun female-gang exploitation flick, which wears its b-level acting and low-level production value on its sleeve like a badge of honor. Jack Hill's direction is assured and never apologetic in its colorful characters, situations and overall cheese. While Switchblade Sisters is definitely categorized as low-budget exploitation, the film has some surprising social relevancy in its portrayal of urban deterioration and gang relations and ultimately is really a film about the empowerment of woman. Almost every male character in this film is masochistic and abusive towards woman, with the primary female leads in Switchblade Sisters being strong feminine characters who ultimately take charge and take shit from no one. Switchblade Sisters is not high-art, far from it, but what it provides in entertainment value, from its great 70's soundtrack to exaggerated characters, supplements a nice little social commentary with run results.
In Paris during the late 19th Century, Madame Louise, the wife of a high ranking military officer goes through her lavish collection of items, looking for something to sell in an effort to cover her debts from the past. She decides to sell the diamond earrings which her husband gave her on their wedding night, being that their relationship is simply built around materialism, not love. Claiming to have lost the ring, her husband quickly learns of her deceit and rebuys the earrings, giving them to his mistress, Lola, who is leaving for Constantinople. The earrings lead to more and more fate induced misunderstandings until they find their way back to Louise, via Donatia, an Italian diplomat, leading to them both sharing in mutual love. Max Ophuls' The Earrings of Madame De.. is complex, elegant film about the fate of life and the underlying conceits and feelings which all too often are kept to oneself. Through a major chunk of the film we see these characters, particularly Louise, as aristocratic type characters whose superficial nature keeps them from having any type of real relationships or bouts with honesty. We see how a woman becomes so desperate to get the earrings back, not because of their raw material value, but the incredible value of remembrance, knowing how Donatia gave her the earrings. This is precisely why the love story which unfolds between Louise and Donatia is quite heartfelt, seeing how much Louise has changed as a character. The husband is also a character that transforms in front of our eyes, but not so much in a good way, but rather in a negative light, showing his ill-conceived response of desperation when he discovers that his wife loves someone else. Max Ophul's observant direction is as always fantastic, using elegant camera movements and subtle compositions which really point out important details of the story, while never departing too far from the characters themselves. Honestly, I can see why this film is considered Max Ophuls' masterpiece, but for me it took a little too long to become emotionally gripping compared to some of his other great works.
Knock On Any Door is a film about circumstance and how a criminal's demeanor and way of life could very well be as much a bi-product of their environment as it is their own nature. Humphrey Bogart stars as Andrew Morton, a lawyer, who himself came from the slums of skid-row. He takes a case to defend Nick Romano, a young kid from the slums who is up for the murder of a police officer. The film chronicles this trial, while routinely going to the flashback to fill us in on the whole picture. While I can definitely agree that this is a lesser Nicholas Ray film, I still found it to be quite powerful and a great commentary on society. I guess when talking about one of the best filmmakers of all time, a lesser work is still more accomplished than most. We are shown a powerful portrait of a young man, born in the slums, whose bad-luck and poor decisions lead to this slow degradation of his morals. We see the good side of Nick and he tries to make an honest living at times, but ultimately fails to the weight of the world around him. I think the strongest aspect of this film is how it deals with the character of Nick Romano. It's a balanced dissection of the character and it never becomes heavy handed towards either argument (him being a bad person vs. him being a victim of environment). The story is solid but I did have some issues with the script in that their are stretches of dialogue which do come off as very leading and on-the-nose. In general, Knock on Any Door is a mediocre screenplay which is elevated by Nicholas Ray's directing talent.
By now everyone knows what to expect from the paranormal activity franchise. A family unit begins to notice strange things going on in their house, leading to the eventual deaths of everyone involved. Paranormal Activity 4 is pretty much exactly what you would expect from the series with a barrage of jump scares and other similar tactics which take advantage of an audience who routinely is asked to stare at an empty room, looking for something out of place. The biggest change in Paranormal Activity 4 is that the main focus is on the young daughter, not the parents of the household, like the other films. This film is told almost entirely from the point-of-view of the daughter which does have a few advantages, most notably the mood being more playful than the other films in the series. I am not ashamed to admit that I actually found Paranormal Activity 3 to be quite fun because of its ability to up the stakes, but this latest installment ultimately fails because of its inability to do so. We are shown what ultimately amounts to a low level of actual "activity" and some of the gags are just dumb and uninspired. The series in general is really running out of ways to piece these various movies together, and the reasoning is getting weaker and weaker. Like I've said, Paranormal Activity 4 is pretty much what one would expect but its inability to provide anything really new or interesting, ultimately dooms it to being probably the worst in the series. Well maybe not as bad as the second one, which was pretty much snooze-inducing.
Set during the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70s, Argo tells the unbelievable true story of a group of Americans who are trapped in hostile territory after the U.S. Embassy is seized by militants. The group finds refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador, but knowing that it is only a matter of time before they are found and likely murdered, the CIA plans an incredibly risky plan, led by Ton Mendez, to go into Tehran and get these men and woman home. Ben Affleck's Argo is a fast-paced, taut story \that is so incredibly, it had to be true. The film has a great aesthetic, using various types if film stocks to replicate the time period, really capturing the look and feel of the 70s. Argo's greatest attribute is its ability to capture the time period and differing opinions and conflicts between nations while still focusing on the heart: The people who are caught in between. Argo isn't all tension, with the Hollywood bits of the story providing a tremendous amount of comedic relief, led by Alan Arkin, who is tremendous as the Producer of this fake movie. Affleck's direction is once again strong, my favorite decision being his use of posters of the Shah. These posters are a simple self portrait, but Affleck uses his gaze to establish more tension, giving the feeling that these six people are always being watched. My only real complaint with Argo is that some of the smaller bits seem to be exaggerated or simply added to create even more tension, and they just feel fabricated and unnecessary. This is a minor complaint as it is expected for any Hollywood production which is based on true events and Argo is certainty a must see film.
Becky has just been proposed to by her boyfriend, Dale, a man who many feel is simply out of her league. With the wedding in New York City, her friends from high school all come into town, reunited and ready to party at the Bachelorette party, with some much more mature than others. Becky insists on keeping the bachelorette party tame, but her friends are determined to have a good time with or without her and end up accidentally destroying Becky's wedding dress. With only a few hours to fix the dress, the three friends, Gena, Katie, and Regan wander the streets of New York attempting to fix this horrendous problem they have found themselves in. Leslye Headland's Bachelorette is a crude, nasty little comedy that has more in common with 'The Hangover' then 'Bridesmaids because of its disregard for good taste and desire to show that woman can be just as raunchy and ridiculous as men. The film has clearly defined characters in Regan, Katie and Gena, all of which fit into a certain archetype: the bimbo, the cynic and the overachiever bitch. While some may find this to be a bad thing, each of these characters really work well together, providing a lot of fun bits of comedy. The film flounders a bit at times, going into some sentimental moments regarding ex-boyfriends and personal issues that I just didn't find necessary, but when it focuses on the comedy it's a lot of fun. While all the actresses do a good job with there respective performances, Kirsten Dunst is really the standout, playing this controlling, over-achieving bitchy type character to perfection. Bachelorette is a raunchy, nasty film that doesn't rest on its laurels, really going all out to offend, surprise and provide a comedic experience for the audience.
Mark is a 38 year-old man who suffers from Pollio, leaving his muscles incredibly weak and in need of an iron lung in order to survive. Mark has sexual urges like any other person and with the aid of his therapist and priest, mark sets out to experience sexual pleasure and lose his virginity. Based on a true story, Ben Lewin's The Sessions is heartfelt portrait of an incredible strong-willed man in Mark. John Hawkes plays Mark to perfection, really capturing the incredible character of Mark, a man who maintains an upbeat personality and a sense of humor, even when facing the horrible conditions which Pollio brings. Given the subject matter, the film takes a rather light-hearted approach, using tons of humor and a generally light tone to tell Mark's story. While there is no denying the tenderness of the film, The Sessions is rather limited to its story and relies heavily on John Hawkes' great performance. Being one of, if not the only film to touch on sexuality within the disabled community, the film has a nice theme about the relationship between relgion and sex, yet it never spends the time to explore it, opting instead for a more traditional narrative approach. My biggest problem with The Sessions is that at times some of the characters decisions, particularly Helen Hunt's character Cheryl, his sex therapist, don't feel organic, as if they are made to simply drive the story forward. The semi-relationship that unfolds between Cheryl and Mark isn't as subtle as it could have been and quite frankly comes off as unnecessary. The Sessions is rather conventional in structure as well as cinematography and direction but there is no denying the feel good nature of the story. In the end The Sessions is a film that lives and dies with its lead performance but luckily for the director, John Hawkes is a incredible talent.
Pauline is an outcast who spends almost all her time fantasizing about physical manipulation, surgery and sex. Her overbearing mother recognizes that her daughter is odd and insists she see a church therapist for counseling. Being forced against her will, Pauline only falls deeper and deeper into her visceral, fantasy world in which she concocts a plan to impress her mother and save her sister, who has cystic fibrosis. Richard Bates Jr's Excision is a warped little horror film that is nice and demented but ultimately lacks focus in delivering its themes. Excision is a very stylized film, with the actors giving very theatrical-over the top performances that I would say work about as much as they don't. Richard Bates Jr definitely wanted to make Excision a horror comedy of sorts and there are some funny moments but I wish the film would have focused more on delivering a potentially powerful theme. Pauline is a girl who deep down is lonely, whose obsession with surgery possibly stems from her sister dealing with cystic fibrosis. She and her mother fight constantly and this over-nurturing mentality from her mother is what ends up pushing Pauline deeper into this demented decision at the end of the film. The problem is the film just seems too focused on attempting this odd comedic, off-beat tone that it really misses the mark at delivering something resonant. By far the best parts of the film are when we are in Pauline's POV, seeing her warped fantasies and dreams are well shot, artistically expressive and interesting but sadly, don't happen enough. Excision is a decent effort that is at least pretty original but lacks the focus and thematic intentions to be something truly special.
When the father of a man killed by Bryan Mills seeks revenge, he targets not only Bryan himself, but his daughter and ex-wife, hunting them down on a family vacation in Istanbul. Although this time, Bryan himself is Taken, leading him to enlist the help of Kim to help him escape and hunt down the men responsible ensuring they will never be bothered again. Olivier Megaton's Taken 2 is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a sequel to the original - it's a lazy effort, that simply goes through the motions relying heavily on the appeal of the first film. The film begins with a painful amount of ex positional dialogue, keeping the viewer up to date with the Mills family, while giving us a heavy dose of sentimentality that just comes off as laughable. This effort and making the film emotionally important only slows down the pacing of the film, taking away the stripped down, lean structure of the first film which made it so much fun. The action scenes in Taken 2 are extremely chaotic and poorly edited, with camera work that definitely gives the viewer a sense of the chaotic nature while sacrificing any type of coherence which ultimately left me very frustrated. This film just lacks the balls of the first film and isn't nearly as gritty or brutal this time around. What I loved about the first film is that Neeson's character was a runaway freight train who would destroy anything in his way and Taken 2 just doesn't have that same type of feeling or desperation to its structure. Taken 2 isn't as horrible as I am making it out to be but it offers nothing new or terribly interesting, making it a film that is forgettable, unlike the original.
Leao, an immigrant worker living in Portugal, has a terrible accident while working his job in construction, ultimately leaving him in a coma. Mariana is the nurse assigned to take care of Leao, who herself is very dissatisfied with her life, leading her to agree to return with Leo to his home town, a small village in Cape Verde. When Mariana arrives in this foreign environment, everything is alien to her from everyday life to the medical practices, with Mariana slowly discovering the hopelessness which engulfs this town. Pedro Costa's House of Lava is a esoteric drama that deals with themes of immigration and cultural differences in telling the story of Mariana. Much of the film is spent follow Mariana as she meets different people in Cape Verde, each seemingly more hopeless than the last. One of the characters even confesses to Mariana, saying "Not even the dead stay here", showing the misery and despair that has engulfed this town. There is a sense of depression and hopelessness that surrounds this town with Costa using a great combination of minimalism and surrealism. A few times throughout the film Costa inter-cuts shots of festering volcanoes, suggesting that this town of Cape Verde and its population are on the verge of being wiped out or potentially exploding into some form of revolution. The pacing of the film will leave less patient viewers checking their watches but Costa has created a story about a small town that simply wreaks of hopelessness and despair, showing this through the character of Mariana, a woman who realizes how well she actually has it. Pedro Costa has such a unique ability to peer into the souls of his subjects, making the viewer truly appreciate and feel for their struggle on a level that is deeply resonate and organic. This doesn't just come from the story either, but just from the humanistic characters he is is able to capture with his incredibly poetic visual style. At times I did find that some of the characters relationships and connections among one and other were a little hard to follow but ultimately it's not a big deal because of the larger thematic elements as well as Mariana's character's eye opening experience.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.