After a home invasion leaves John in coma, he awakens nine months later to discover that both his wife and daughter were murdered in cold blood. Suffering from memory loss, John's only lasting memory revolves around Luc Deveraux, the man responsible. Hellbent on revenge, John sets out to track this man down and avenge the deaths of the ones he loved. John Hyam's Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a fast-paced, brutal action film that is surprisingly artistic in it's approach. The film begins with an opening sequence showcasing the home invasion in which we are transported entirely into John's point-of-view the night of the attacks. It's a hint of things to come, being that the sequence is well executed and shot entirely in John's POV in a way that would make Brian De Palma blush. Day of Reckoning is a surprisingly moody and atmospheric piece of filmmaking that does a great job at creating atmosphere, specifically revolving around John's memories and how he is haunted by the murder of his wife and child. This film also brings a nice nihilistic quality to the story, showing how insignificant we are as individuals in the eyes of our governing body. As the story unfolds we learn that Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott are building an army of Universal Soldiers, intent on bringing a new world order in which they are no longer slaves to their masters. The biggest problem with Day of Reckoning is that in its somewhat ambitious approach to a tired concept, the film at times becomes a little muddled, particularly around John's story arch. That being said, I'm not sure this really matters cause these movies are watched for the action, which Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning delivers in spades. This is without question one of the best action films of the year, with action that is blunt, violent and contained to the screen, with none of that inter-cutting bullshit which is far too common in Hollywood these days. The fights in particular are well choreographed and there are plenty of them to go around, making for an extremely fun action flick. Universal Soldier: The Day of Reckoning is a great "b-movie" in which the director attempts to merge arthouse sensibilities with action flick tropes and while the film does suffer when it tries too hard, it's absolutely worthy of any action junkies time.
Sacha Gervasi's Hitchcock chronicles the life of one of the most influential filmmakers of all time in Alfred Hitchcock as he attempts to get his latest film, Psycho, off the ground while facing much opposition. To call Hitchcock a biopic isn't' really accurate as the film centers around this one project and even more so focusing on the relationship Alfred shared with his wife, Alma. Hitchcock was very much a unique man, as most brilliant artists are and Alma is presented as his rock, always keeping him strong and together. While the film does a solid job at showing the strain which the creative process has not only on Hitchcock himself but his wife, the direction of the film is rather pedestrian and uninteresting, relying heavily on Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren's performances to carry the film. One of my biggest problems with the film was the relationship Alma shared with Whitfield Cook, a writer who is looking for guidance from Alma, and possibly other more intimate things as well. The film uses this as a device to amp up the drama and tension in Hitchcock's minds but it's so poorly done that at times it felt completely manufactured and unnatural - simply there to add dramatic effect. This side plot as well as Hitchcock's propensity to fall for his leading ladies is presented in too abrupt a fashion to feel genuine, often with informational dialogue as opposed to simply showing the viewer these tendencies. At it's core, Hitchcock is really a love story between Alma and Alfred, showing the difficulty which can exist when living and loving a brilliant artist who sees the world entirely different than almost everyone. There are certain sequences where we get to see into the head-space of Hitchcock, attempting to capture his creative process and paranoia, which I did find to be the best aspect of the film. Hitchcock is a film of modest ambitions in which lead performances somewhat distract from the mundane direction and storytelling.
The story of legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal, who sailed 5,000 miles across the Pacific ocean on a balsa wood raft in 1947. After being told by countless individuals that his theories are preposterous, Thor set out to prove that it could be done - attempting to prove his theory that South Americans' settled in Polynesia over 1500 years ago. Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg's Kon-Tiki is an epic adventure that is both thrilling, intense and comedic. The one thing that is apparent in Kon-Tiki is just how much respect the filmmakers have for nature and the ocean in particular. The film does a great job at establishing the vast, overbearing power of the ocean at times even creating a sense of tension, where one finds themselves simply wondering what the ocean will throw at these men next. The cinematography aids in this, with a very cinematic approach consisting of sweeping shots and wide angle lenses to put the viewer in these mens shoes as much as possible. Kon-Tiki plays like a science fiction film, really transporting the viewer to another world, showcasing both the beauty and the terror which the ocean brings. Thor is a man who is obsessed with proving his theory to the point in which everything else in his life, including his family, falls by the wayside. We see the strain which Thor's adventurous ways put on his wife, showing how he was simply a man born to explore. Thor's determination and faith in his theories are what keeps his crew sane when they begin to question their journey, He is a very interesting character, whose thirst for knowledge and adventure make him somewhat of a loner and while the film does touch on this fact, I wish the film would have explored this concept a tad more. Kon-Tiki is a great adventure film that balances the adventure aspects and character aspects of the story, ultimately leading to an engaging and intelligent experience.
Marisa, a 20-year old girl, is a woman filled with absolute hatred. She blames foreigners, jews, and pretty much any authority figure for the "decline" of her country. She spends her days provoking fights, drinking, and partying with her Neo-Nazi gang. When Marisa's hatred leads to her running two Afghan refugees off the road with her car, her underlying empathy which has long been buried under her tough exterior begins to come to the surface. David Wnendt's Combat Girls is a film about blind hatred, and the consequences of repercussions which exist when one lives their life in such a fashion. What sets Combat Girls above most other Neo-nazi films is just how well-developed Marisa is as a character. The only person which Marisa looks up too is her dying grandfather and the film subtlety suggests that he is really the one responsible for her going down this path of hatred. We are never told this in a blunt way, but the way her grandfather speaks of his regrets coupled with Marisa's mothers scorn towards both her daughter and her father's actions supplies enough evidence that Marisa didn't grow up in a normal household. The change in Marisa is also handled with supreme care, with multiple factors such as the afhgan boy and her dying grandfather, both playing a factor in her realization. There is no one moment which defines her change, rather a succession of events which slowly eat away at her blind hatred. The other important aspect of the story centers around the character of Svenja, a 14-year-old girl, who has just joined the gang is a perfect complimentary piece to the story. Young and naive, Svenja blindly buys into this regime of hatred, heading down the same path as Marisa. The two characters provide a great parallel to this story, capturing the circular motion of hate. David Wnendt's Combat Girls is a touching and authentic look into hatred which primarily succeeds because of its realism and poetic
Hubert, an angst-filled 17 year old boy, lives alone with his mother who he
despises immensely. He spends most of his time annoyed by all of her various ticks, from her poor manners at the dinner table, to her decor choices. Through all of this, Hubert is a confused soul, whose love-hate relationship is so sporadic that it causes him all sorts of issues as he deals with adolescene. Xavier Dolan's debut feature, I Killed My Mother, is a unique story about the love-hate relationship which is shared between a mother and son. Hubert is a character that is hard to like early on, as we see his volatile nature around his mother, but as the film progresses we begin to see that there is more to their tumultous relationship then meets the eye. The script is well written and features dialogue that is very realistic for a young boy and his mother who are at ends with each other. Hubert is a well defined character and we see how his relationships outside of his mother shape his angst. For example, his father who neglects him, or how his boyfriend's mother is extremely easy going, giving Hubert a false believe that all mother-son relationships are so easy going. While this is Dolan's debut, it certaintly isn't lacking in style, with very unique transitions from fast inter-cutting still photography which sets the atmosphere of certain scenes, to black and white sequences where Hubert reflects, speaking into the camera about his relationship with his mother. It's interesting how Hubert and his mother's home features this red hue, as if Xavier Dolan is showing the viewer visually, the volatile energy in their relationship. While this is certaintly Hubert's story the film isn't entirely from his point of view. We are given a few great sequences which showcase the mother's feelings and emotions, particularly after she learns by complete coincidence that her son is a homosexual. My biggest complaint about the film is that at times it does seem to go a little bit overboard, reacing melodrama in an attempt to showcase this volatile situation. That being said, I Killed My Mother is not a perfect film, as it also feels a little uneven at times, but there is no denying that Xavier Dolan is a unique filmmaker with a ton of talent.
In Montreal, an elementary school teacher commits suicide abruptly, leaving her class without a teacher. After learning of the tragedy in the newspaper, Bachir Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, applies to be the substitute teacher. With the school in a pinch to find a replacement, Bachir is hired to teach the students quickly discovering that he is in the center of crisis, while also dealing with his own personal tragedy. Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar is a film about grief and tragedy, shown through the eyes of young minds. The opening sequence of the film is haunting, photographed in a way that captures the teacher's suicide entirely from the point of view of Alice and Simon, the two children who happen to stumble upon their teacher's hanging body. With a character drama like this people often don't talk about atmosphere, but Monsieur Lazhar really does a great job a creating the atmosphere of the school -establishing the structured place of learning where children are molded. This is a place of sanctuary that has been violated by this suicide, and the film captures this beautifully. At it's heart Monsieur Lazhar makes a statement about how grief and suffering are things that must be discussed, not merely tucked away in a corner. Bachir Lazhar understands that only through discussion and open-mindedness can these young children truly be healed of their sadness. As Bachir attempts to help these children the only way he knows how, the film touches on this complex bond which is shared between teachers and students, which is truly unique. The fact that Bachir Lazar is a man dealing with his own pain and sadness makes the film's message stronger, as the children's story and his own personal troubles run parallel to one and other. Monsieur Lazhar is a gentle film that is still capable of being emotionally impactful because of its naturalistic approach.
Giorgos Lanthimos' Dogtooth is a constant reminder for me of what Art Cinema
should and can be. This film is complex, bizarre, and disturbing to watch. The
film centers around a husband and wife whom keep their three children completely isolated from the outside world. The father is the only member who ever leaves the "safety of their home". Their children are incredibly naive, and spend there days watching homemade movies or learning new vocabulary words like "Zombie" which in this families world means: A small yellow flower. As the film progresses, these children begin to slowly and subtly resist some of the parents techniques. We notice that this overprotection and sheltering is inadvertently causing the three children to perform quite sadistic games, which because of their lack "street smarts" appear to them to be totally harmless. The direction is very surgical, each frame was clearly thought out and really does a good job of relaying the alienation and smothering which the parental figures are causing. The film is very similar to Haneke's The Seventh Continent in this way, and really a lot of ways, which is high compliment. As borderline disturbing as this film is, its actually quite comical in the absurdist way to boot. One scene in particular being when the father tells his kids about the dangerous "cat" creature that lurks outside the confines of their home. He teaches the children about the dangers and even teaches them how to bark like a dog. The film's theme seems to be about over-protection and one's nature to lash out about such stringent authority/guidelines. Though the message is definitely true literally between parents and children, I imagine the director's statement might be more about his countries governmental practices. This is not a film that the average viewer will understand, with most likely finding it slow, boring, and just weird. Its a shame, because this is a very well done piece, and if you believe cinema is more than just entertainment, then see this film.
Pi, a young man, lives with his family in India where they run a zoo full of exotic creatures. Due to fear of losing their zoo because of regime change in India, Pi and his family decide to move to Canada where his father believes they can live a better life. On their way to Canada, their ship runs head first into a massive storm, leaving Pi as the only survivor. Cast away and lost at sea, Pi is hurtled into an epic journey of survival in which the resilience of the human spirit is all he can depend on. The first thing that jumps out about Ang Lee's Life of Pi are the impressive visuals. This is certainty a cinematic experience which features beautifully imagery and while it's a little too shiny and superficial for my taste, their is no denying the power of the images. The actual shipwreck sequence is extremely well done, being both chaotically terrifying, yet beautifully rendered like most of the film. The visuals go beyond mere image, using some nice transitions and layering effects which really create this fairytale type pacing to the story. The film is a story that touches on some profound ideals such as divine intervention, triumph of the human spirit, and really life in general which makes it all the more impressive that the film never falls too deeply into false sentimentality. I have not read the book, but for me this film is about societies desire to only believe things they can comprehend, yet just because it lacks explanation does not mean it didn't happen. Early on we are shown that Pi as a young boy is fascinated and interested in all types of religion, entranced by the idea of faith and a higher power and while the Life of Pi doesn't support any of those ideals, it suggests that there are some things in this world that us human beings will never fully comprehend. Much like life, The Life of Pi is a film that doesn't provide answers, instead letting the viewer make their own conclusions.
Taking place during the final few months of Lincoln's life, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a detailed look into a nation divided by war and the winds of change which would lead to the abolition of slavery, giving every man the same equal rights. Lincoln is a film that is very reliant on dialogue between characters to tell its story and luckily for the viewer, Tony Kushner's script is one of the films strongest attributes. The talent of this film is extraordinary, with a deep and rich cast of actors, some of which have mere seconds of screen time, yet still leave their footprint on the film. As expected, Daniel Day Lewis' performance is fantastic bringing nuance and confidence to the character of Lincoln. Through his performance we see how the pressures of his presidency, in such a tumultuous time in our country, have affected his physical appearance. This is a film about the moral complexities of the time period, showing the strain which pulls at Lincoln from all angles from ending slavery to stopping the war. For the most part this one of Spielberg's best directed films because his penchant for emotionally manipulative decisions is at a minimum. Together with Janusz Kaminski, the film is beautifully rendered, with unique visual storytelling elements that we don't often see in Spielberg films. Lincoln does a great job at creating this sense of importance in history with the visuals even using the Sun at one point to illustrate this. Throughout a few scenes the Sun beams down, encompassing the characters as almost this watchful eye, gazing on the importance of this time in America's history. Lincoln is a good film with great performances, cinematography and writing, which all together elevate the film over a lot of Spielberg's previous work in the dramatic genre.
Erik, a young immigrant documentary director lives in New York City. While it is never clearly defined, Erik appears to be a sex addict, routinely venturing online to find men interested in one night encounters. During one of his sexual encounters he meets Paul, with their mutual attraction eventually leading them into a relationship. Ira Sachs' Keep The Lights On is a striking portrait of a self-destructive relationship which spans the course of nearly a decade. While the film touches on issues which are specific to homosexuals, this is not really a film about homosexuality, but a story about all troubled relationships that are destined for failure from the beginning. Keep The Lights On is an emotionally effective piece of filmmaking because both the characters of Erik and Paul are so well defined. Neither of these characters are portrayed as the bad guy, each having their own faults and strengths as human beings. Erik is a character whose inability to seek emotional support leads him to emotional and even physically-destructive behavior. Erik sees Paul's inability to defeat his crack addiction as a reflection on him as a lover. The story unfolds naturally over this near decade, really doing a great job at capturing just how hard it is to let go of someone you care about, even if it's for the best. Thure Lindhardt gives one of the best performances of the year as Erik, with a brave, sensitive performance that is at times emotionally devastating to witness. For me, Keep The Lights On is a film that really questions the general idea of Love, making an argument that just because two people are in love doesn't mean they should be together. This is showcased by how their respective demons lead these men to an emotionally destructive relationship, with their love for each other preventing them from letting go and finding the help they each need. Keep The Lights On is raw, emotionally poignant filmmaking which touches on issues rarely raised in relationship dramas.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.