After a successful heist, Curtis Hooks (Jim Brown) is betrayed by his two
partners. With revenge on his mind, Curtis kills them both but not before stashing the cash from their heist in a same place. Soon after, the police arrive, sending Curtis to jail to serve several years for his crimes. While on the inside, Curtis is under constant pressure, with everyone and their mother after him due to the fact that the crime syndicate has placed a bounty on his head. This leads to Jim Brown kicking a whole lot of ass in highly enjoyable b-movie fashion. The Slams is pretty much what you would hope for and expect with Jim Brown in full badass super-fly mode not taking shit from anyone; even though he is pretty much alone with people from all sides after him, including the police, the black gang, and the white gang. Jonathan Kaplan's The Slams is best describes a slice of badass cinema with lots of fun 70s racial exploitation goodness that features lots a great, quotable dialogue.
During the volatile climate of the Serbian-Muslim-Croatian conflict in Bosnia, many Muslim citizens remained in their hometown of Trebinje, currently occupied by the Serbian Army. One fateful day Haris, a young Muslim man who operates a small sales stand, is harassed by a group of Serbian military, led by Todor, a Captain. This harassment quickly turns violent, ending with a tragic act of heroism that sends ripples through the lives of many for years to come. Srdan Golubovic’s Circles is a film examining the impact one tragically heroic act can have on the lives of many. This is a film very much about the ripple effect of life, the cause and effect, touching on guilt, forgiveness, vengeance, anger, and hope that comes with life. Circles is one of the best narrative features of the year, with a sprawling ensemble of 5 main protagonists that never feels the least bit unfocused. This is a film that makes the viewer earn everything with subtle detail and examination of the cause and effect that makes up life. The film has many layers, slowly peeling them away to reveal how each of these characters are connected and why this tragic event has impacted their life on both a grand and intimate scale. While some ensemble films suffer from issues with perspective, this is a film that seamlessly shifts from the various perspectives of its protagonists understanding and capturing how they are all part of this machine called life. Srdan Golubovic’s Circles is an emotionally affecting ensemble drama about cause and effect, capturing how a single act can influence the lives of many.
Jordan Belfort moves to New York City intent on making a name for himself in the stock market. Wet behind the ears, Belfort begins to have success as a stock broker only to lose his job due to the aftermath of Black Monday. Needing a new job Jordan Belfort starts from the ground up in penny stocks, soon becoming one of the most powerful men on Wall Street. Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is a tour de force of style and energy which rings home a powerful message of the world of materialism we inhabit. This is a film that runs 3 hours in length but it feels like 90 minutes long with the amount of energy and style it exudes. I've seen some people call The Wolf of Wall Street style over substance but I completely disagree, with Scorsese's film putting the viewer right into this mile-a-minute, drug-infused lifestyle that Jordan Belfort inhabits. Scorsese's film is not a celebration nor damnation of capitalism but simply a portrait of our societies desire to be something more, with money being necessary to achieve that. Scorsese spends sometime showing the monstrosities but also the good that can come from money and I think anyone who views this film as one-sided is bringing their own feelings into the mix. I'm not sure Scorsese has made a more fun film but keep in mind that The Wolf of Wall Street can be a very dark and savage experience. In a way it's a great drug film, that provides a schizophrenic look into a man addicted to mind-altering drugs. Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street is a film about the thin-line between the American dream and corporate greed with an unbelievable amount of energy and style that makes this one of the most entertaining films of the year.
James, a young twenty-something, spends his days and nights with his small-town druggie friends getting high on various chemical concoctions. Living a completely directionless lifestyle, James has nothing going on until he meets Sara, a sweet, innocent young woman who doesn't partake in his lifestyle. Sara indirectly shows James that there is more to life than getting high, but while James wants to abandon this dangerous lifestyle, Sara wants to further explore the psychedelic effects of narcotic experimentation. Sarah convinces James to introduce her to the local legend of Toad Road, a mysterious area in the deep forest that features the Seven Gates of Hell. Jason Banker's Toad Road is a unique piece of film-making that is part minimalistic study of rural life, part brooding horror film. The film's strength lies in its observational attributes, being a very detailed study of drug-addicts. Many of these scenes feel more like a documentary than a narrative, capturing the entire process of drug use including the before, during and after effect of drugs on these users. The film's other half, a Blair Witch-style horror film, is not nearly as interesting and I found that the film suffered greatly when venturing down this road. That doesn't mean the film is empty after Sarah and James venture onto Toad Road, showing how James' drug-filled stupors destroy his focus, lacking any clarity on Sarah's disappearance. This causes James to begin to question his own innocence, with one of Toad Road's best attributes being when it focuses on James' fractured psyche. Toad Road is an interesting low-budget experiment but I wish it would have left out more of the supernatural elements in its examination of the powerful effects drugs can have on ones' mind.
After Walt Disney's daughters beg him to make a movie based off their favorite book, P.L. Travers' Marry Poppins, Walt begins to pursue the author, not knowing it would take 20 years to make. John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks chronicles Walt Disney's quest to obtain the rights to Mary Poppins, a difficult proposition, given P.L. Travers uncompromising attitude due to being scared of the Hollywood machine's butchering of her beloved story. John Lee Hancock's Saving Mr. Banks is a charming, albeit safe film capturing the difficult process of adaption. Saving Mr. Banks has its moments of sappiness but overall the film does a good job at avoiding overly sentimental trappings in delivering a surprisingly effective film. Emma Thompson is easily the star of this film, delivering a surprisingly complex performance that is both incredibly entertaining and somewhat tragic. My biggest critique of the film would simply be that it's a little too safe, somewhat hinting about Walt Disney's darker side but never quite going far enough to make it worth commenting on in the first place. In the end, Saving Mr. Banks is the perfect holiday movie, being a light, entertaining feel good movie that goes down easy but could have been better with a little more bite.
Set in 1970s Texas, David Lowery's Aint Them Bodies Saints is the story of outlaw Bob Muldoon who escapes from Prison and sets out across Texas to reunite with his wife and daughter who he has never met. Ain't Them Bodies Saints best attribute is its cinematography, with nearly every frame drenched in sunlight that effectively gives the film this poetic look and feel. Lowery does a lot of nice things from a visual standpoint but unfortunately the visual poetry doesn't translate to narrative poetry as much as the filmmakers had hoped. David Lowery also proves to have an excellent eye for casting, with Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Ben Foster, and Keith Carradine all being exceptionally well cast with Foster especially giving a note-worthy performance. Ain't Them Bodies Saints is a film that simply put, tries too hard to get its point across. The film sets its sights on delivering a poetic story about love, fate, and consequences but much of what the film is trying to say never quite materializes. It's a dense exploration so I guess it deserved a little slack, but I found many of the films more poetic moments coming from cliched Malick-isms of voice over and wide shots. Maybe I am being a bit harsh, as there are some great lyrical moments of dialogue and resonance, but for every one of those moments there is another moment that teeters on pretension. Fate is a major theme as well and the film certainly gets this across but I guess my bigger problem is how ponderous the film is getting there, bringing lots to the table but never going below the surface to explore these ideas. Even with its faults Ain't Them Bodies Saints establishes David Lowery as a filmmaker to watch though I hope his next effort is a little more streamlined in getting across what it wants to say.
The Reynolds family, consisting of Keith, Megan and their daughter Lauren, live a happy existence in upstate New York. Keith works as a school teacher but frequently regrets his decision to give up too early on his dreams of being a musician. When Sophia, a British exchange student, arrives to stay with the Reynolds, their family dynamics become shattered with all of the family's hidden issues bubbling to the surface. Drake Doremus' Breathe In is a complex and riveting Lolita-esque story that is aided greatly by its two lead performances. In what could have easily been a cliche-ridden marital affair type story Drake Doremus's slow-burn approach works magnificently, slowly revealing details and truths about Keith and Sophia which make these characters hard to judge. Keith is definitely not a character that is in the right, but Breathe In never fully judges its subjects like so many similar films, instead attempting to understand why a man would commit such an act against his family. Keith has fallen into complacency in his life, dreaming of being a full-time musician. He subconsciously blames Megan for his inability to achieve this, with the arrival of Sophia pushing his angst to the forefront. Sophia on the other hand is extremely talented but lacks the passion for music, only wishing to make her own decisions about her life. Sophia reminds Keith of his youth, with their connection being fueled by his ability to feel creative and alive again. For Sophia, Keith reminds her of her uncle, a man who was very important to her. These two characters are full realized, with Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones giving great performances. Drake Doremus' Breathe In is a fascination examination of forbidden love that explores the idea of being free to do what you want and what that truly means and entails.
Leaving San Diego for New York, Ron Burgundy is living the high life with his wife Veronica Corningstone and son Walter. Everything changes when Ron's boss decides to promote Veronica to lead anchor and fire Ron, sending him spiraling out of control. Washed up and working part time at Sea World, Ron gets his shot at redemption when an executive producer from the Global News Network offers Ron a job. Rounding up his team of Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana, and Champ Kind, this legendary news team heads to GNN intent on taking the 24 hour news station by storm. Adam McKay's Anchorman 2 is exactly what one would expect, being outrageously schizophrenic, ludicrous and hilarious. The formula from the first film hasn't really changed, with a lots of free-wheeling humor of the absurd variety. Anchorman 2 knows what its audience wants and doesn't try to change the formula, simply going bigger and more ridiculous for the sequel. Under all the absurdity there is semblance of a scathing commentary on the news media but the film never fully embraces the commentary, too frequently going back to its formula of outlandish humor. If you are a fan of the first film I don't know how you wouldn't enjoy Anchorman 2; it's bigger, more outlandish and features a host of great cameos.
An unnamed woman heads to the countryside intent on a quiet weekend in the mountains. On their arrival, the woman's friends Hugo and Louise head into the village, leaving the woman behind in the cabin. When she awakens from her nap, the woman finds herself trapped in the wilderness by this invisible wall, which has formed around her cabin, detaching the woman from the rest of humanity. Julian Polsler's The Wall is an exploration of solitude and survival. Taking place in the beautiful Austrian mountainside, The Wall is an existential examination of humanities place in nature, with the woman's loneliness only being subdued by the animals around her. During the opening sequence where the woman and her friends drive to the cabin, Juian Polsler brilliantly juxtaposes the silence of nature with the music in the car, establishing the disconnect between humanity and the rest of nature. After the initial hardships of living a primitive lifestyle subside, the Woman feels a great sense of tranquility, feeling free of modern societies stress-filled climate which gives this woman a true sense of self. There are lots of interesting discussion points throughout The Wall but the reminder that humanity is just another part of nature is particularly fascinating. Humanity's tendency to get lost in the noise of modern life, frequently forgetting the simplicity of our existence. Polsler argues that we have a major superiority complex over the rest of nature even though we have no right to feel this way. With lush landscapes and phenomenal lighting, The Wall is a gorgeous looking film with an interesting commentary on humanity and how our superior intelligence is truly a burden, hurting our ability to go with the flow of life and be truly calm in our ignorance like most animals.
Wadjda is a free-spirited young girl who doesn't quite fit into the strict culture which Saudia Arabia provides. Living in the suburb of Riyadh, Wadjda is determined to raise enough money purchase a bicycle even in a society that deems this type of behavior to be against a woman's virtue. Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda is an eye opening expose into a woman's "place" in Saudi Arabian society. Woman are viewed essentially as an accessory for men, with everything they do stemming from their desire to appease men. There is a utter lack of independence in this society and Wadjda tackles this issue with grace. Waad Mohammed gives a great performance as Wadjda, adding a good amount of spunk/attitude to her performance that really makes the character very likeable, especially in a strict traditional culture like this one. She could be classified as rebellious but it isn’t just Wadjda who gets in trouble by this oppressive culture. We see how this culture essentially opposes young people’s ability to learn and grow. The relationship between Wadjda and the boy with the bike is important, illustrating how this younger generation hasn’t yet fully been “brainwashed” into this culture of feminism oppression. They treat each other more like equals, with the boy letting Wadjda ride his bike, something that would be forbidden in this culture. Females have no independence at all, just a mystique of one that is perfectly illustrated when Wajdja wins a contest only to learn that the prize money has already been designated somewhere with Wadjda having no real say. Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda is an important film which tackles the oppression females face in Saudia Arabian culture with power and grace
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