Hemel is a young 20-something female who spends most of her nights frequenting local bars and clubs for some form of connection. Hemel has no comprehension of the difference between sex and love, as she goes from relationship to relationship. The only man who Hemel respects is her father, Gijs, a man who bounces from relationship to relationship in a similar fashion. Everything Hemel knows changes when her father falls in love with Sophie, a young auctioneer who works for Gijs. Sacha Polak's Hemel is an intimate portrait of a young woman whose intimacy issues stem from her father. Hemel is a character who gives little back in her relationships, treating these various men more as simply a way to pass time then any type of connection. With no real comprehension of love, Hemel's escapades are almost always simply a sexual conquest, yet the film hints at her desire for companionship. One of her relationships with a married man hints at her desire for real compassion and love, but with her father as her role model, she views this as a form of weakness. Essentially this is a well made film about a woman with daddy issues, as Gijs has spent his life with many different woman, bouncing from girl to girl with no real interest outside of satisfying himself sexually. The film doesn't demonize Gijs, as its clear he cares for his daughter, but his lifestyle gives his daughter the wrong ideas about what love and relationships are all about. In a way Hemel deconstructs the male and female psyche when it comes to relationships. Hemel never having a mother, has no real comprehension of the love and nurturing qualities which are typical of females, leaving her with this disconnected existence. The aesthetic of the film is two fold, the night scenes being very colorful and hazy, while the mornings are vivid and bright, lightened up by the sun. These are two different worlds, mirroring Hemel's existence. Hemel is an incredibly tragic character who feels betrayed by her father when he finds someone he really cares about. Her father's relationship exposes the longing which Hemel feels for a real relationship, leading her to ultimately fear she is destined to simply be a play-thing for men, nothing more.
The Grapes of Death begins with a young woman boarding a train, on her way to the french countryside to visit her boyfriend. As she gets closer to the vineyard where he works, she discovers that pesticides that have been sprayed on the vineyards have turned people into grotesque, violent zombies. Jean Rollin's Grapes of Death doesn't waste any time throwing the viewer into this horrific situation where everyone in a small rural town has become thes zombie type creatures. Rollin doesnt give the viewer much from the beginning of this film, and I really loved how early on the viewer is in the same place as our heroine --confused and freaked out about the madness which is happening around them. This unsettling mood really continues throughout the entire film, in that we don't really know the cause of the zombification until near the end of the movie. Rollin sure knows how to create an atmosphere, from his moody lighting, subtle camera movements and abudance of closeups, even using the beautiful, yet barren french countryside as an important atmospheric set piece. The Grapes of Death is a violent film and while the make-up can be a little cheesy I still found it to be pretty damn disgusting across the board, with Rollin's use of green and brown colors for bodily fluids being a highlight of the grotesque qualities. Its a slow paced flick and I did think the film dragged a bit towards the end but I really enjoyed the touch of intimacy which Rollin uses to center this story.
Maria and Henry are a happily married couple with three sons. For winter vacation, they head to Thailand to escape the cold weather and spend a few days in tropical paradise. One morning while the family relaxes in front of the pool after their Christmas festivities, a massive tsunami hits Thailand, changing their lives forever. Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible centers around the tragic tsunami of 2005, looking at one family's struggle to survive. The sequence where the Tsunami hits is really well done, with great use of sound design and visuals to capture the horrific power of a tsunami. What ensues afterwards is a two hour melodrama in which the film pulls out all the stops in an attempt to make the viewer emotionally affected, often relying on cheap manipulation tactics to get a rise outta the audience. In a way, The Impossible is the equivalent of a high-brow Saw movie, in that it assaults the viewer with horrific imagery to simply get a rise out of the viewer. This is a socially irresponsible film which only shows the suffering of the first world vacationers, never even touching on or showing how the natives were affected by this horrific event. These people are simply their to help the foreigners, as if to them this is just another day in their third world lives. Just because this film wants to show a smaller scale story of a singular family doesn't mean the film can't still at least touch on the natives. To be fair to Juan Antonio Bayona, the direction is actually quite strong, using an assortment of techniques to put the viewer into this horrific experience but the real problem lies with this cookie cutter, melodrama that the film implores. The Impossible is a film that insults its audiences intelligence, yet sadly a lot of people won't even notice.
Sal is a young writer, who lives in New York with his mother. After the death of is father, Sal is desperately in need of some form of inspiration for a story. Enter Dean Mortuary, a free spirit, who along with his wife, Marylou journey from place to place with no real purpose. As the three of them travel across the country living life on the road, Sal draws inspiration from their Journey. Walter Salles' adaptation of the classic novel, On the Road, is a mixed bag that ultimately fails to capture this true sense of Americana it seems to be going for. Early on large parts of the film feel disjointed, as if each scene and/or experience are isolated, with no real sense of thematic or narrative connection. This idea of freedom on the open road, the craving of new experiences is certainly present but more because the script constantly reminds the viewer of this instead of the film showing it. Garrett Hedlund as Dean is really the only reason to see this film. He does a great job at capturing this self destructive character and supplies the only emotional attachment of the entire film. Dean is a character that is ultimately afraid of settling down, yet his lifestyle ultimately leaves him alone, just like his father which he never knew. I have never read the novel but I can only imagine or at least hope it is more insightful and/or thematically resonant than this film, which seemed to not have much to say. I left the theater ultimately let down, wishing someone like Monte Hellman, or even Gus Van Sant had made this cinematic adaptation.
Set in the future, the year 1990 to be exact, scientists have received a distress call from an alien spaceship that has crash landed on Mars. A team of astronauts are sent on a rescue mission and when the arrive they discover a sole survivor. The green-skinned alien is brought aboard for monitoring and observation, leading to terror they never imagined. Queen of Blood is a film known more for being a precursior to Ridley Scott's Alien than its own merits. Obviously a much smaller film, Queen of Blood is a fun little b-movie that substitutes budget for ingenuity in creating a interesting and fun sci-fi/horror film. I am a sucker for these types of films featuring the retro production design in creating a futuristic world. It's kinda funny cause this film takes place in 1990, where man's exploration of the intergalactic landscapes seems to have no boundaries. The film's pretty inventive and has a lot of that low-budget charm in creating this rather epic world. From a story aspect, the most interesting part of the film has to revolve around how these astronauts deal with the alien life-form, even after it has shown itself to be a deadly risk. They realize the importance of the find for mankind, instead of just deciding to destroy it, which creates some interesting moral discussions. That being said, this isn't a deep intellectual film, but I definitely enjoyed it for what it was.
For nearly a decade, various intelligence and military operatives sacrifice their entire lives, working hard across the globe for one reason, and one reason only: To find and eliminate Osama Bin Laden. Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty centers around Maya, a young new intelligence operative whose perseverance and determination are second to none. The greatest attribute about Zero Dark Thirty is that it puts its characters first in telling this story. The film does a great job at capturing the chaotic nature of a job like this. We see not only the moral wear and tear which affects Maya, but also the tension among various CIA operatives, and the fear of being half way around the world and always having to watch your back. The film at its core is about the sacrifices one makes for the sake of their country - in Maya's case essentially giving her whole life to the cause, leaving little time for real type of friendship or companionship. It's subtle but Maya transforms right in front of our eyes from a somewhat timid individual to a hard and calculating individual who won't back down from what she believes is right. Maya is an incredibly strong female character and Bigelow subtle captures the female dynamics in a male-driven occupation. I do wish the film would have spent more time on the moral ambiguities which exist in this line of work, and while it does scratch the surface, it could have done more to explore these themes - particularly commitment to country vs. commitment to humanity. Honestly I don't understand how Zero Dark Thirty sparked all this intellectual debate about torture, as the film itself never has much to say on the topic. Zero Dark Thirty is a sprawling epic military procedural that does a great job at immersing the viewer into this world. While the film is centered around the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, how Zero Dark Thirty studies Maya is what makes it a strong film.
Let me just start off by saying that the haters of this film are just straight up wrong. "I Come With The Rain' is a challenging, layered, symbolic film that is no doubt confusing early on, but really comes together forming an exceptional experience. The film follows an ex-cop (Josh Hartnett) who is hired to find the missing son of a powerful pharmaceutical conglomerate boss. This leads him
to Hong Kong, where the path to this man's son goes through a local gangster
(Byung-hun Lee). A lot of people seem to think that the films too loaded with
themes of redemption, Christianity mythology, and corruption but I personally found that they all were interwoven together beautifully. Hartnett's character is particularly engaging as a man who is haunted by the demons of a serial killer from his past. Throughout the film he is constantly tormented by this and it's emotionally affecting and creepy. For this ex-cop finding the son of this wealthy man isn't about reward or moral code, but his redemption and salvation from his past. Anh Hung Tran presents a world that is full of suffering and evil things. Even this local gangster is shown in this state of suffering as he tries to desperately locate his girlfriend/drug-slave/whatever who was taken from him in the beginning of the film. We see the pain in this man's eyes and although he appears to be a powerful man, he can't escape the suffering which this world presents. Another key scene involves a flashback between Hartnett's cop and the serial killer, played brilliantly by Elias Koteas. I don't know if I will be able to shake the stare he gives in this film from my mind. This monologue Koteas delivers about the suffering of mankind gave me absolute chills and I believe in a way it sums up a lot of what Tran is trying to say along with the obvious symbolism revolving around the crucifixion. Sure, the film could probably have been more streamlined in it's approach but I found that the beautiful cinematography and odd pacing seemed to create this perfect sort of dream-scape for the story. This film reached me deeply on both an emotional and intellectual level and I loved it.
While watching Koyaanisqatsi I couldn't help but wonder how to write critically about a film like this and as time passed I become more and more angry that I waited this long to experience this piece of art. Koyaanisqatsi is simply that, a work of art - a visually arresting experience that captures our world in ways which one could simply not imagine. It's a film that finds beauty in the details that some of us simply glance over, in creating a rather powerful message. Directed by Godfrey Reggio and shot by Ron Fricke, Koyaanisqatsi is the great grandfather of other visual feasts Baraka and Samsara. This is really a film that I would describe as a documentary, it's rather a visual concert of images that shows the chaos and tranquility that exists throughout nature and how nature is affected by man. While there is no denying that Koyaanisqatis is a film with a "pro-environmental" agenda, I was transfixated on its ability to show how mankind is simply another aspect of nature, even at times capturing how similar we are to everything else. By juxtaposing images of nature and man, Koyaanisqatsi captures the balance of life which exists between nature and man, while coming to the conclusion that mankind has thrown off this balance. What really stood out to me about Koyaanisqatsi was Philip Glass' score. While at times haunting, Glass' score really sets the mood for Koyaanisqatsi, being an very intricate part in delivering the hypnotic experience which Koyaanisqatsi provides. Instead of just blabbering on and on about the visuals and message of Koyaanisqatsi, I'll simply share a few more images from this beautiful film.
Ellie, a 12-year-old girl, has just moved to America from Israel with her family. Ellie knows very little about America, leading her to grow extremely homesick and lonely. Things get better for Ellie when she meets Thuy, a Vietnamese refugee, who is in a few of her classes. Considering that both Ellie and Thuy come from similar situations, they grow inseparable but like any friendship/ relationship, there are bumps along the road. Ela Thier's Foreign Letters is sensitive and touching portrait of friendship that slowly unfolds between two preteen girls who both feel alienated and lonely in a country that they don't fully understand. Early on in Foreign Letters, the viewer is given a great sense of the cultural shock which exists for young Ellie, who has just moved from Israel to America. Ellie observes how many things are free, from condiment packages to pencils, even at one point being astonished that her school has its own "restaurant" where the children get their food. This type of cultural change is jarring and the film does a good job at capturing both the comedic and dramatic sides which exist. America is like a new world her and the film does a good job at capturing the wonderment of young Ellie as she tries to make sense of her situation. The friendship that unfolds between Thuy and Ellie is tender and genuine, with Thuy and Ellie gravitating towards each other because of this bond they share of very different cultural backgrounds. I really liked the character choices of the film, with Ellie and Thuy taking a long time to actually form their relationship. Ellie is a shy and lonely girl at first, and the film understands that Ellie would be very timid to initiate contact with Thuy, even though she strongly seeks companionship. While Foreign Letters is certainly a love letter to the power of friendship, in a way the film gives a great portrait of America, capturing the melting pot of cultures which exist and intertwine which makes America unique. In fact, the friendship troubles which exist between Thuy and Elie late in the film stem from their cultural differences, showing how this melting pot is always a work in progress. There is nothing profound about Foreign Letters, but it is an endearing portrait of young friendship that translates to a broader scope -culture in America.
JR, an aspiring news-anchor/actress, essentially forces her underachieving younger brother Colin to embark on a road trip in which they will pickup her belongings from her professor-turned-lover's apartment. This brother and sister don't exactly get along, and as they embark on this road-trip the two spend more time bickering at each other than actually trying to relate. Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel is a refreshing comedy/drama that essentially deconstructs the animosity and rivalry which siblings share in one of the most awkward and unsettling resolutions in recent memory. Shot in a clunky, black and white aesthetic the film beckons back to early Cassavetes in its reliance on a strong screenplay and intentionally enigmatic characters. Alex Ross Perry infuses the film with this rapid-fire dialogue that supplies tons of laughs while also showing a strong ability to comedic timing and framing. As we follow JR and Colin on their cross country journey they interact with various characters, from strangers to old friends, with it ultimately becoming apparent that neither JR or Colin tend to get along with much of anyone. We see how JR's old former high school friends put on a front, but clearly despise her when she isn't looking. JR and Colin have this sibling animosity when in actuality they are all each other really has. Many will have major problems with the ending of the film but to me it was simply an exaggerated reality, showcasing the affection that both JR and Colin have come to realize they have for each other after going on their roadtrip. Even if everyone else doesn't like them, they can confide in each other and I think this is what the ending was really getting at. Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel is certainly a unique film that delivers a unique, albeit offsetting, viewpoint of sibling rivalry while also supplying a ton of laughs.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.