Bobby, Sue, and BJ are three teens living in a small cotton-town in Southern Texas. While Bobby and Sue have gotten into college, BJ seems complacent with living out his days in this dead-end town. When BJ steals money from the wrong man, they all get sucked into the underbelly of organized crime, which threatens to shatter their friendship and take their lives. Simon Hawkins and Zeke Hawkins’ Bad Turn Worse is a well-paced crime thriller that is most memorable due to its main antagonist. A solid entry in the southern crime genre, Bad Turn Worse focuses on the dead-end, no way out storyline of two teenagers in Sue and Bobby, who can’t seem to escape. This is the type of film that continues to escalate, sinking its two main characters deeper into the hole at every opportunity. The end result is a gripping film that is darkly comedic, a lot of which being due to Giff, an incredibly memorable antagonist. Giff is the man who BJ stole from, and he is one of the most diabolically fun villains to come around in cinema for a while. Mark Pellegrino plays this role with a great unhinged performance that is both vile and highly entertaining. Nearly every time Giff is on screen I found myself expecting literally anything to happen, as this is man who doesn’t play by the rules of morality. To make the film even tenser is the love triangle that forms between BJ, Sue, and Bobby. The film never makes it clear whether Sue and Bobby were actually in a relationship or if BJ is simply possessive, but as the film escalates and the stakes of life or death rise, it becomes even harder to decipher the outcome of this tale. Bad Turn Worse is a film that’s ending can’t quite live up to everything before it, but nevertheless, it is a thrilling, simple movie with enough uncertainty to keep it compelling.
Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a unique vampire story that takes place in the Iranian town of Bad City, a place that reeks of death and despair. This is where a young, female vampire lives, walking the streets at night as she preys on mostly bad men. While most films that use black and white photography do it for trivial reasons, the black and white used in this film is critical, elevating the atmosphere of the film while simultaneously evoking the loneliness of the vampire, lurking in the shadows, a quiet observer. A Girl Walks explores gender roles in an oppressive society, using this vampire as a allegorical figure, a strong female who seizes power in a male dominant world. While the ambition is certainly there, the films intentions do feel unfocused at times, caught in between this love story type tale of loneliness which unfolds and it's more thematic intentions. Neither aspect truly stands out because of this but the film does have masterful sequences throughout. My favorite aspect of the film revolves around a prostitute that the vampire slowly befriends, a lonely woman whose at the mercy of masculine characters. She embodies the many ideas of the film better than any other character, being opressed, lonely and seeking a way out. Stylistically impressive and shot in crisp black and white photography, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night presents a unique new voice in Ana Lily Amirpour that is certainly worth watching.
Santiago and Eugenio are inseperable, being both best friends and longtime business partners of an electronics store. One day Eugenio disappears without a trace. Santiago notices his absence but doesn't worry until Eugenio's wife, Laura, shows up, explaining that Eugenio is gone and isn't coming back. Beginning a journey to find Eugenio, Santiago and Laura quickly find they have more in common than they previous thought. Daniel Burman's The Mystery of Happiness is a lighthearted comedy about happiness, dreams, and love. From a comedy perspective, The Mystery of Happiness is pretty funny, playing off the homosexual aspect of Santiago and Eugenio's relationship, with Santiago treating him more like his significant other than Eugenio's own wife. The pill-popping, housewife Laura is one of the better characters of the film, and how she and Santiago play off each other is what makes The Mystery of Happiness somewhat endearing. Consisting of a very light tone, The Mystery of Happiness explores some poignant topics, but unfortunately it is never as affecting or profound as it could be. There are some fascinating undercurrents of sadness throughout this film, with how Santiago comes to learn he wasn't as important to Eugenio as he believed, but the film's light tone never seems too interested in exploring it. I found Santiago's obsession with his job, and how it blinds him from finding happiness, to be one of the stronger aspects of the film, but once again it isn't explored as much as I'd like. The Mystery of Happiness does slowly transform into a surprisingly poignant statement on Happiness but it still feels slight, due to the film's overall tone.
Lock Charmer (2014) - Natalia Smimoff
Natalia Smimoff's Lock Charmer takes place in Buenos Aires during a time where a strange, smelly smoke engulfs the city. Sebastian, a 30-something locksmith, learns that his recent girlfriend, Monica, is pregnant and their is a chance he may be the father. Sebastian is not interested in any type of responsibility or committment, and Monica's news completely shatters his world. While dealing with the idea that he could possibly be the father, and hoping for an abortion, Sebastian begins to discover a strange power, having the ability to see visions of people's lives and feelings when he fixes their locks. Lock Charmer is a film that snuck up on me, being at first what could only be described as a light-hearted, magical type of film that uses this form of magic based neo-realism to tell a heartfelt tale. What starts off slight quickly becomes something more, a poignant examination of maturity and the fear of responsibility. Sebastian is a man whose fearful of any type of commitment or responsiblity and the film slowly and subtely exposes this weakness. One of the better sequences of the film is when Sebastian goes to visit his father, a man who himself had little interest in raising a child. Sebastian is a man headied down the same path as his father, which leads to loneliness out of this fear of growing up. For a film that feels so light-hearted, the ending of Lock Charmer is a devastating tonial shift, with a poignant moment of sadness that ultimately inflicts the necessary change. Lock Charmer is a film that hides behind its light-hearted tone for awhile, slowly revealing its true intentions with a finale that is emotionally resonant and completely earned.
James Marsh's The Theory of Everything is a biographical film about renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, whose theories on time and space have made him one of the greatest minds in recent memory. The film begins at Cambridge, where Hawking studies towards his PHD. One night while out with his friends he meets Jane Wilde, a fellow Cambridge student, and the two begin to fall in love. Active, healthy and full of life, Hawking's world is shattered when he is diagnosed with ALS at the tender age of 21. Emotionally broken at first, Hawking's finds strength from Jane, who marries him, pledging to fight tirelessly beside him while he works on his groundbreaking scientific work. The Theory of Everything is a solid bio pic and poignant relationship drama that just so happens to be about one of the most brilliant living men. Perseverance and the need for continued hope is probably the key theme of the film, as The Theory of Everything evokes a sense of power in its viewers, encouraging them to never stop fighting. Theory of Everything does an excellent job at capturing the pain of this terrible disease, showing how it slowly disintegrates the body of this brilliant man. This is an incredibly taxing disease, and the film's greatest strength is in its ability to capture the strain it causes on Stephen and Jane's relationship, testing their love and commitment. You can't write a review of this film without mentioning Redmayne's incredible performance as Stephen Hawking. It's a truly remarkable performance that is demanding both emotionally and physically, with Redmayne transforming himself into the famed astrophysicist. The direction ain't too shabby as well, being subtle but impeccable, bringing a stylish artistic touch that is present but never intrusive. Using various film stocks and filters, Marsh effectively gives the bio pic a sense of atmosphere, effectively capturing the emotions of the main characters. The Theory of Everything isn't a groundbreaking film but it certainly is one of the better bio pics produced by Hollywood in awhile.
Phoenix (1947) - Keisuke Kinoshita
While certainly best known for Twenty Four Eyes, Keisuke Kinoshita's Phoenix is another effective melodrama telling a story spanning two distinct time-periods, before and after the war. The story of Sayoko, a war widow, living with her husband's family. While most of them are left worrying about Sayoko's mood, Sayoko is surprisingly upbeat, unwilling to live a miserable existence. Much of Phoenix takes place in the past, chronicling Sayoko's early romance with her soon-to-be husband, capturing the trials and tribulations of their romance - most notably her husband's father disapproving of their marriage. Phoneix is a touching, even if slight, drama that beautifully captures the power of optimism and love. Sayoko is an extremely resilient character who suffers more than most, losing her father at a young age and having to raise her sick brother all by herself. Even after the love her life dies in the war she is able to find happiness in the love of those still around her, rising like a phoenix from these emotionally destructive experiences. If there is one thing this film captures is the need for perserverence, with Sayoko going through troublesome experiences that never derail her spirit. The best example of this would have to be her relationship with her husband's stubborn father, a man who Sayoko is eventually able to break. Phoenix isn't incredibly profound but it's a poetic evocation of love, capturing the timelessness it possess and the ability to find happiness in even our memories of love.
Foxcatcher (2014) - Bennett Miller
Mark Schultz, an Olympic Gold Medal-Winning wrestler of the 1984 games, finds himself in a life of poverty, struggling to maintain his training regime while living in the shadow of his brother Dave, a more celebrated wrestler. When Mark is summoned by eccentric millionaire John du Pont to join his newly formed Foxcatcher wrestling team, Mark jumps at the opportunity, flying to Pennsylvania where he will live on John's estate while he trains for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Able to step out of the shadow of his brother, Mark begins to form a close-knit relationship with John but soon enough John's desperation to gain the respect of his mother, sends their relationship down a dark, self-destructive spiral. Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is an engrossing character study of two deeply flawed men, each of which is struggling with their own personal demons centered around respect and accolades. Foxcatcher is one of the best character studies in recent memory, being a beautifully realized psychological drama about the obsession of greatness. The film plays like a power struggle between Pupil and Mentor, Father and Son, with John Du Pont intent on using Mark as a way to prove his worth to his ailing mother. Using Mark's vulnerability, living in the shadow of his big brother, John pushes Mark down a self-destructive path, doing whatever is necessary in order to win. Foxcatcher is a layered examination of power and the obsession with greatness, being a subtle commentary on the principles of America as it pertains to "being #1". Foxcatcher questions the moral implications of this endeavor, using Mark and John's story to capture the destructive power of such blind obsession. All the performances in FoxCatcher are top notch, especially Steve Carrell, who is masterful as the deeply troubled John Du Pont, a man who has become obsessed with appeasing his mother by living up to the American decree of being the best. Bennett Miller's direction is extremely effective, and I would venture to argue it's his finest achievement to-date, displaying an acute eye for detail and imagery that exudes the emotion of his characters. One of my favorite examples of this being when John Du Pont frees the horses after his mother's death. This is seemingly simple sequence where Du Pont is shot in a silhouette but the scene is visually impressive for the emotional impact it exudes, showing how Du Pont is in a sense free, seizing the power and control after his mother's death. Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is a film that many would call depressing but it's an extremely well-crafted psychological drama about two men obsessed with greatness, attempting desperately to step out of the shadow of their more acclaimed family members and live up to America's decree of being the best.
Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness opens with Maud Shainberg, a film director, waking up in bed to a violent stroke. A massive stroke has left half of Maud's body paralyzed, with a long road to recovery ahead. Strong-willed, Maude's attention stays on her next film, having already secured part of the financing. One night while watching television she comes across Vilko, a ex-con man, who Maud quickly becomes infatuated with, belieing he would be the perfect lead in her film. The two meet, with Maud and Vilko quicking forming a relationship built on control and power. Inspired by Catherine Breillat's own personal experiences, Abuse of Weakness is a harrowing examination of control, power, and fragility. Isabelle Huppert is spellbinding as Maud, a tough woman whose always been in control. This stroke begins to pick apart this toughness, exposing a fragility that Vilko is able to exploit. Neither Vilko nor Maude are the victim or oppressor, both being control freak type characters who are attempting to use one and other for their own personal gains. While Vilko's intentions of conning Maude are much more obvious, Maude isn't purely innocent either, wanting to use this man she views somewhat as a animal to revitalize her career. Without question Maud is the far more sympathetic character, a woman who slowly starts to be confronted by her own fragility, feeling her body is failing her. Her insecurity and frailty are what allows her to be conned by Vilko, feeling unwanted and helpless after her stroke. Abuse of Weakness doesn't pretend to have all the answers but it does ask interesting questions, exploring the power struggle of any relationship, capturing how one's inner-weakness can leave them helpless.
A Hard Day (2014) - Seong-hoon Kim
On the way home from his mother's funeral, detective Gun-su gets into a car accident, striking a man dead in the middle of the street. Intent on covering up his crime, Gun-su transports the body to his mother's funeral home, stashing the corpse inside her coffin. Escaping detection, Gun-su belives he has gotten away with the crime, but when the incident shows up in the police database, Gun-su finds his own partner being named the lead investigator. Making things worse, Gun-su begins to receive unanimous phone calls from a witness, who threatens to share Gun-su's dark secret with his superiors. Seong-hoon Kim's A Hard Day is a fast-paced crime thriller about a dirty cop going through extreme lengths to save his own skin. Moving a mile-a-minute, A Hard Day keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, delivering an impressive tension-filled experience that certainly takes to heart Murphy's Law in that if something bad can happen it will happen for Gun-Su. The viewer is rarely given a second to breath, with one thing after another getting in the way of Gun-su's attempted cover-up. A Hard Day is certainly a cynical film, embracing its dirty characters while creating a world where nearly every police character is corrupt in one way or another. When the witness is finally revealed, a dirty cop who is in ties with the Yakuza, Seong-hoon gleefully showcases a bad cop vs. bad cop dynamic, with Gun-su being the lesser of two evils in a sea of corruption. Fast paced, well-directed, and fun, A Hard Day delivers a fast-paced thriller full of dark comedy that is sure to make you smile.
Marshall Curry's Point and Shoot is an engrossing look at the journey of Matthew VanDyke, a timid 27-year old man who leaves the comfortable confines of his home in Baltimore, setting off on a journey through the Middle East that he describes as this "crash course in manhood". With only his motorcycle, Matthew embarks on a 35,000 mile journey through Northern Africa and the Middle East, striking an unexpected friendship with a Libyan man who Matt describes as one of the most geniunely caring people he has ever met. When war breaks out in Libya between the rebels and their fierce dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Matthew decides to fight side-by-side with his new friends for their own freedom. Marshall Curry's Point and Shoot is a piercing look into one man's journey of self-discovery, providing a close personal look at Matthew VanDyke's transformation. Extremely well-layered, Point and Shoot raises a lot of distinct questions about humanity in its examination of Matthew's journey. This is a film that becomes quite uncomfortable, examining the ideals of masculinity while simulatenously somewhat questioning Matthew's true motives for joining the revolution in Libya. While certainly a poignant portrait of the revolution in Libya, Point and Shoot is truly special because of its ability to capture this almost inherent selfishness that exists in humanity, offering subtle glimpses of narcissism in Matt, as well as many of the soldiers and rebels he comes across. This is a fascinating examination of all individuals desire to be the center of attention, with Point and Shoot capturing this primal obession with image, the desire to present oneself in the best possible light. In Matthew and many of these men's case, that would be a tough, masculine man. Point and Shoot displays how the desire to be perceived masculine and tough is not a society problem but a primal desire, questioning the very fabric of what it means to "be a man".
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