In the near future Earth has become a wasteland due to drought and famine. Scarcity in food has led to a diminishing population, with the majority of survivors tasked with farming as a way to survive. Facing extinction, scientists discover a rip in the space-time continuum, which in theory could help humanity find a new home. Led by Cooper, a skilled pilot who has no choice but to leave his family behind, a group of explorers set out towards the wormhole in an effort to find a planet that could sustain human life. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is another grandoise film from the director that manages to be highly inteligent and incredibly dumb almost simultaneously. Interstellar starts strong, offering a poignant portrait of a man in Cooper who must leave his family behind for the sake of humanity. Cooper is a explorer at heart, and the way the film captures his frustrations of living as a farmer, slowly dying, is one of the stronger human aspects of the film. The first two hours of Interstellar offer a beautifully realized, grandoise space oddyssey, but unfortuntely the final act of the movie is like Nolan's impression of an M. Night Shyamalan film. Its a weird thing to say for a nearly three hour film but Interstellar could/should have been longer, with a last act that feels incredibly rushed, silly, and borderline insulting to the viewer. Some are comparing Nolan's Interstellar to Kubrick's 2001 due to the ambition and scope but this is a terrible comparison. While touching on somewhat similar themes, Interstellar is draped in melodrama and the need for endless exposition, killing all sense of ambiguity that made Kubrick's film so powerful. Maybe its just me but I never felt nearly as emotionally attached to the story as I should have been, finding Cooper's daughter to be an over-the-top version of an angry daughter who won't forgive her dad for leaving her. This is a major emotional aspect of the film which makes little sense to me, considering she grows up to be a scientist herself, someone who you would believe should come to realize the significance and sacrifice of her father's decision to leave earth in an effort to save humanity. That being said, this is without question a film that should be seen on the big screen, offering a sense of wonder that few films due these days. There are some very powerful moments in the film, most notably when Cooper's character watches his children grow up via messages, but the grander ideas of the film feel lazy, almost like a rehash of Inception, replacing the dreamworld with the space-time continuum. Nolan's Interstellar is a film that I have a hard time not respecting due to its ambitious story but unfortunately its emotion and storytelling are just subpar. I'm really hoping this is the film that sends Nolan back to smaller stories, but who knows.
Taking place in Indiana, 1817, A.J. Edwards' The Better Angels tells the story of young Abraham Lincoln's formative years. The United States is only 40 years old, still feeling the effects of the war of independence, and young Abraham Lincoln lives in a remote log cabin with his stern father and loving mother. Produced by Terrence Malick, A.J. Edwards' The Better Angels is a beautifully composed film that certainly has the look and feel Malick's recent work, but unfortunately it lacks the poetic nuance and lyrical storytelling attributes which make Malick one-of-a-kind. Exploring Abraham Lincoln's upbringing, The Better Angels attempts to capture the tragedy and hardships that shaped the future president, pointing to his mother's untimely death and father's stern but fair upbringing as major factors. A.J. Edwards is a filmmaker that seems far more interested in delivering a beautiful aesthetic than creating an effective portrait, with scene after scene that feels very insignificant, almost as if Edwards wasn't sure what he wanted to say. If not for the films ham-fisted narration, I'm not sure The Better Angels would even make sense, being more a series of scenes than a cohesive story for much of its running time. The film does have its moments, offering a few strong scenes of poignancy centered around Lincoln's relationship with his father, the emotional strength of the film. This is the strongest aspect of the film, the father-son dynamic, but once again Edwards only offers glimpses, never a full examination. While the cinematography is impressivve the editing is confounding, using a series of jump cuts throughout the film that are incredibly jarring and quite frankly don't fit the film at all. A.J. Edwards' The Better Angels is a film I wanted to like but it feels like a forgery of a great piece of art, being a film that perhaps works best as a screensaver with its beautiful imagery but not much else.
After a serious accident in which her husband was killed, a mother is left alone with her two rambunctious twin boys. Having extensive reconstructive surgery, the woman has just returned home to her two young boys, with her face still entirely wrapped in bandages as she recovers from the surgery. Stressed and heartbroken, the mother's behavior is somewhat erratic, which in turn leads her two young sons to believe she isn't actually their mother, but an imposter attempting to steal her family away. Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala's Goodnight Mommy is a simple story that quickly takes a sinister turn. Macabre and deeply twisted, Goodnight Mommy follows a power struggle that unfolds between mother and sons, with each vying to regain control of their shattered family unit. Goodnight Mommy is a film that strives for more than the macabre, attempting to paint a portrait of grief and trauma, but unfortunately it struggles with its more astute dramatic observations. This is a film that works best as an unsettling experience, delivering a few truly unforgettable scenes that are almost guaranteed to make you squirm in your seat. In fact, there is still a lot to like about Goodnight Mommy, with the film doing a great job at manipulating perceptions. Early on in the film the point-of-view is clearly from the perspective of the two twin boys, with Goodnight Mommy doing a convincing job at making the viewer believe what the two children believe - this is not their mother. Later on there is a massive point-of-view shift, with the mother becoming a much more sympathetic character - a woman whose strange, almost violent actions towards her children are nothing more than the work of an overwhelmed widow who is struggling to move on from the trauma of losing her husband. Visually impressive, Goodnight Mommy's heavy use of symmetrical framing is a brilliant decision, effectively foreshadowing the conclusion of the film in a subtle way. While Goodnight Mommy's exploration of grief and trauma is rather vapid and rushed, the film is unquestionable well-made, delivering an unsettling experience that is a lot of fun.
Tight Spot opens to a group of detectives escorting a witness to trial. The cops reassure the witness that he is safe, but given the suspenseful atmosphere which the photography and score provide, we know this just isn't the case. As they ascend the stairwell, the witness is gunned down, confirming our suspicions. Phil Karlson's Tight Spot is a noir, suspense film that follows a former model (Ginger Rogers) who is brought out of prison to testify against what we are told is the one of the biggest crime bosses the country has seen. She is put into protective custody in a nice hotel with a policeman named Vince (Brian Keith) as her primary protection. Most of the film takes place in this single location as the DA (Edward G Robinson) and Vince try to convince her to testify. This film really succeeds because of a fantastic script which slowly unravels plot points, with the character development smoothly unfolding in an organic way that never feels out of place. Ginger and Vince begin to fall for one and other, which is really what drives the story, upping the ante, so to speak, when it comes to the audiences feelings towards these characters. The dialogue is rather witty and there are some really great scenes between the street tough Ginger, and Vince. There is some action but for the most part Karlson relies on the suspense and tension between the three central characters to keep us interested, and for the most part it does. While Tight Spot may not be one of Karlson's most heralded works, it's a great example of simple, effective storytelling that manages to hold tension and suspense throughout its running time.
Cynthia is an amateur butterfly collector who lives in a beautiful Victorian home in the dense forest. When Evelyn, her newly hired housekeeper arrives, the two women share instant passion, with their relationship being defined by clearly defined roles: Cynthia is the dominate force in the relationship, while Evelyn is the submissive one. As their intimacy and time together deepens, the two women's relationship begins to warp, with each woman's roles not being nearly as defined as once thought. Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy is a hypnotic, psychosexual cat-and-mouse game about the roles we play in relationships and how they aren't as nearly as defined as we believe them to be. It's a brilliant move by Strickland to cast two woman in this film, stripping away the potential for any form of gender-bias by the audience as they experience these two woman's stories. The Duke Of Burgundy perfectly captures the ebb & flow of relationships and love, showing how in flux these roles can truly be in a constantly changing landscape of emotion and companionship. Exploring the relationship between power, love, and happiness, The Duke Of Burgundy subverts the viewers expectations by the end of the film, calling into question the idea of who is truly the dominate one in the relationship. There is something to be said about emotional vs. physical power with The Duke of Burgundy in how this unfolds, with Cynthia's character being dominant on the surface but much more fragile than Evelyn emotionally. Much like his last film, Berberian Sound System, Peter Strickland uses tight compositions to create a claustrophobic type of experience, throwing the audience deep into the world of this cat-and-mouse game. With elements remenscient of Bergman's Persona and Early DePalma, Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy is an intoxicating journey into the power struggle of Cynthia and Evelyn's relationship.
Takashi Miike's latest film, Over Your Dead Body, follows a theater production of a play based off the classic ghost story "Yotsuya Kaidan'. The main protagonist is played by Miyuki, a Star actress, who pulls some strings to have her significant other, Kosuke, cast as one of the other leading roles. When a nasty love triangle begins to form between Miyuki, Kosuke, and another young actress, who plays Kosuke's love interest in the play, life and art begin to blur, taking a bloody and supernatural turn. Takashi Miike's Over Our Dead Body is a puzzling, yet intoxicating story that sees the lines between reality and fantasy blur as it proceeds towards Miike's typical violent conclustion. Over Your Dead Body is a gorgeous film, featuring stunning set design that together with Miike's visual prowess create an atmoshperic experience that may be Miike's most beautiful film to date. While the film does take a while to get going, being surprisingly dull at the beginning, Over Your Dead Body makes up for it late, delivering a subversive journey into a fractured actresses' psyche, who feels abandoned by her lover. Towards the end of the film the line between life and art for these characters is completely shattered, with Miyuki confronting Kosuke about his transgressions. Of course being a Miike film, Over Your Dead Body takes on a ultra-violent, supernatural element towards the end that doesn't really make a lot of sense, but it is a lot of fun anyways. In a way, Over Your Dead Body feels like Miike's homage to the classic japanese horror films, dealing with a supernatural element while still delivering Miike's brand of violence one has come to expect.
Amy, a San Francisco artist, is deeply haunted by past trauma inflicted on her by the men in her life. On the edge of a massive emotional breakdown, Amy becomes engrossed in the world of her art, creating a male alter-ego for herself - a dominate and powerful being, as a coping mechanism. When Amy meets Kenny, a seemingly nice, open guy, she begins to let her guard down, opening up to him in ways she thought would never happen again. Jason Banker's Felt is an engrossing piece of filmmaking that uses the real-life experiences of co-writer and actress Amy Everson to create a poignant portrait of rape culture that captures the emotionally devastating effect it has on those effected. Felt is a genuine portrait of an individual who has lost all faith in humanity, living a life of cynicism and doubt that affords her very few moments of happiness. She is a sharp character who distances herself from everyday life, falling deeper into her art as a coping mechanism. What Jason Banker has created with Felt is a powerful tale of feminism, with Amy eventually taking back control of her life through her alter ego. In a male-dominated society Amy views the Penis as a symbol of strength, creating this strange alter-ego that comes with its own phallic representation of the male form. If I had one critique of the film it would be the film's one-sided viewpoint on gender, with basically every male character in the film being a shady human being. While I would have liked some type of silver-lining centered around the possibility of a genuinely good male character, Felt works because it is a singular vision of Amy's point-of-view, displaying a woman who has lost all faith in men as she attempts to live in a male-dominated world. I won't spoil the finale but Felt delivers an absolutely devastating conclusion, putting a definitive stamp on this emotional tale of a woman trying to seize back control of her life.
Mia Hansen-Love's fourth feature film, Eden, is her most grandiose effort yet, telling a story that spans over twenty years. Eden is centered around Paul and his friends, young men who have become entranced by Garage Music, wanting to become DJs of the French rave scene in the early 1990s. As garage music, and raves, become increasingly popular, they see their dreams beginning to come into reality, only to come crashing down to earth when changing times and the demands of every day life catch up to their party-infused lifestyle. Eden is a film that is epic in scale, but surprisingly intimate, using Mia Hansen-Love's signature low-key tone to encapture a character maturing in front of our eyes. Paul is a character who is very slow in that regard, resisting responsibility and the notion that he has to find a more steady income. Given that the film is about a 20-year odyssey about electronic music, this is probably Hansen-Love's most stylistic film, which at times en-captures the rush of light, color, and impusliveness associated with rave culture. Paul is a character who struggles with drug problems throughout the film, and in the hands of lesser director this aspect could have threatened to derail the film's larger ambitions. For Hansen-Love, this is just another aspect of Paul's inability to deal with responsibility, another obstacle he must overcome to mature into an adult. My favorite aspect of Eden would be Paul's inability to truly grasp the meaning of love, as he struggles to keep meaningful relationships with woman, who want more from a character who struggles to express his feelings. Vibrant and alive, Eden didn't affect me as much on an emotional level as I had hoped, but it is hard to deny the film's ability to capture youth and maturation through Paul's odyssey.
Life in Buenaventura, Columbia is extremely dangerous for young men, with the cocaine drug trade and paramilitaries constantly vying for supremacy. Getting out is close to impossible, unless you get your hands dirty in the process. For estranged brothers Jacobo and Delia, smuggling drugs up the coast and into Panama offers a quick payday, but as they embark on their journey, it becomes apparent that danger lurks around every corner. Jose Kubota Wladyka's Manos Sucias is a raw portrait of the drug trade's brutal system of power in Colombia. Manos Sucias works so well because of the relationship of the two brothers, with Delia, the younger brother, still intoxicated by the glamor of "thug life" and a quick payday. On the other hand is the older brother Jacobo, a man who has seen the destructive power of this environment, desperate to escape this life. Gritty and intense, Manos Sucias slowly and methodically unveils these two characters, brothers whose relationship was fractured by the harsh environment around them. The dichotomy of these two brothers is poignant, with the hardened Jacobo wanting his young brother to not venture down the wrong path. I particularly loved the ending of Manos Sucias, subtlely exposing how young Delia may still be entranced by the monetary opportunities of this brutal world. Intense, raw, and emotionally resonant, Manos Sucias offers a unrelenting portrait into the drug trade.
Quentin Dupieux's lastest film, Reality, is another bizarre tale of absurdity. The film is centered around a cameraman who's desperately trying to direct his first film. After meeting with a studio executive, the cameraman is told his film will be made under one condition: the screams in his film are so good that they win an Oscar. Reality is perhaps Dupieux's most ambitious film, an absurd odyssey that uses dream logic to piece together a few converging narratives. This film doesn't care at all about keeping reality and fiction seperate, constantly blurring the lines between the perceived real world and the various film projects. While a unique and fun experience at timesl, Reality struggles to have much purpose beneath the absurdity and udder randomness. The film certainly makes fun of Hollywood, with the studio exec's vapid, uncreative presence being a highlight, but Quentin Dupeux seems to focused on absurdity to make any poignant satirical moments. While Reality is not the absurd satire of Hollywood I hoped, it shows a few brief flashes of brilliance, being without question Dupieux's biggest mind bender yet.
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