Sophie Sartain's Mimi and Dona is a deeply personal documentary about mental illness, telling the story of her 92-year-old mother, Mimi, who continues to take care of her aunt, Dona, a 64-year-old woman who suffers from an intellectual disability. Given the fact that it's highly unlikely that Mimi will outlive her daughter, she faces the distinct problem of trying to find a new home for her Dona, someone who needs constant care. Heartfelt, poignant, and surprisingly humorous at times, Mimi and Dona takes a in-depth look at mental illness, the emotional dependency it creates, and the strain it can put on the family unit. The film captures the challenges many aging caregivers have, when their own offspring suffer from mental illness, detailing the effects it has not only on those suffering from mental disease, but the ripple effect it creates on generations to come. Sartain's film is straightforward but devastating at times, as the filmmaker juxtaposes Mimi and Dona's struggles with that of her own personal family life, one which has just seen her own son be diagnosed with autism while filming the documentary. The film knows there are no easy answers to such tragic stakes as mental illness, understanding that documenting Mimi and Dona's story in an intimate way is more than enough. The film spotlights the dependency that can be created, not only among the individual suffering from mental illness but the caregiver as well, who becomes accustomed to caring for, and sometimes enabling, the individual who needs more help than mere family can provide. I particularly found the honesty of the documentary refreshing as well, as Mimi and Dona as a film also speaks to the fear associated with the hereditary nature of such illnesses, as well as the alienation it can create in the family from those who merely can't deal with the burden of such tragedy. While the filmmaking itself is straight-forward and for the most part uninteresting, Sophie Sartain's Mimi and Dona is compelling in spite of its artistic shortcomings, being a tender, personal examination of the effect mental illness has on the family unit.
Matteo Garrone's English-language debut, Tale of Tales, is a lavish fantasy film that tells three interweaving stories, all of which are centered around royalty. Without question this is the biggest budget Matteo Garrone has had to play with and the film doesn't disappoint on that level, being a beautifully realized film thats production design, art direction, and cinematography work in unison to make this fantastical world which these characters inhabit truly come to life. The film wholly captures the magic of fantasy storytelling, transporting the viewer to a world unlike their own, but I'd be lying if I didn't wish the film had a little more to say. Unlike most of Garrone's previous work, Tale of Tales primary function is to entertain with its beautiful sets and fantastical stories, each of which is engaging, interesting, but not nearly as intellectual as I would have expected, given the filmmaker's earlier work. While the film's moral isn't clearly defined, Tale of Tales seems to have something to say about the corruptive powers of decadence, as all three stories find perversion slowly consuming aspects of these privileged individuals. The first story is the most obvious in that regard, which finds a queen openly sacrificing her husband's life for the sake of having an offspring, showing absolutely no empathy for her fallen lover after he sacrifices his life so her wishes can be granted. The Queens selfishness doesn't end with the birth of her son either, as she shows a desire to have him all to herself, unwilling to let her son be friends with his half-brother. Another story finds a King offering his daughters hand to a monster, due to his own personal arrogance, a story that also speaks to the corruptive power of decadence and privilege, but my favorite example of this comes in the form of the third story, the tale of two sisters. Without going into many details, this tale was the most resonant for me, one of tragedy and desire, which also gives Garrone an ability to tell a perverse tale of vanity and youthful desire. Featuring three wholly original stories that capture the magic of fairy tales, Garrone injects this film with his own perverse style, and while Tale of Tales' thematic intentions aren't as interesting, defined or profound as I was hoping for, there is no denying the fact that Garrone has created an original fairy tale of extravagant beauty.
If you thought Mulholland Drive was nonsensical or struggle with opaque cinema in general, Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room is not a film for you. Maddin's films are often very challenging experiences, mostly uninterested in any form of narrative storytelling, with The Forbidden Room being no exception. The Forbidden Room's plot, and I use the term loosely, centers around a submarine crew who find themselves trapped deep under water for months, with their cargo becoming increasingly unstable by the day. The crew is terrified by the predicament they find themselves in, and Maddin's film uses this set-up to provide a fever dream of these character's darkest fears, through five interlocking tales. Someone much smarter than me will probably find a deeper meaning to Guy Maddin's latest visual opus, but for me, it really doesn't matter, as once again Maddin has created a film that is cinema in its purest form. A film of blistering emotion, The Forbidden Room has comedy, tragedy, action, lots of absurdity, and love, all of which combine to make the film feel like a love letter to cinema and all it is capable of achieving. While Guy Maddin's films always have comedic and absurdest elements, it has always rubbed me the wrong way that many refer to his film as parody, as there is far too much passion and love for the language and grammar of silent film cinema to be considered anything but a beautiful ode to cinema as a visual medium. While The Forbidden Room is dense, confusing, and unquestionably difficult to follow from a narrative perspective, it hardly matters, as Guy Maddin has created a visual feast, a celebration of the art-form of cinema, most-notably pre-code and the silent era. That being said, The Forbidden Room can and should be appreciated as more than just a visual feast, as the film does offer moments of powerful emotional resonance, buried in its complex, opaque stories. Visually one of the most impressive and fascinating films of the year, The Forbidden Room is guaranteed to be pretty much like nothing you've ever seen before, unless you've seen his other films, delivering another singular vision from Guy Maddin that is campy for sure at times, but also impressively assured in its execution.
Paolo Sorrentino's Youth tells the story of two longtime friends in Fred, an acclaimed musical composer/conducter, and Mick, a renowned film director. Vacationing together in the Swiss Alps, the two old friends reminisce about their past and their children's troubles, most notably Fred's daughter, who has just had her husband, who happens to be Mick's son, walk out on her after having an affair with a young pop star. While Mick works feverously trying to finish his latest screenplay, imagining it will be his last important film, Fred shows absolutely no intentions of resuming his musical career, much to the chagrin of Queen Elizabeth II, who wants Fred to perform for Prince Philip's birthday. Paolo Sorrentino's Youth is a beautifully-photographed evocation on aging, friendship, love, loss, wisdom, and pain, being a film that is more interested in capturing the emotions that make up life than any truly cohesive narrative. While Youth's meditation on age is certainly a major aspect of the film, with the way Sorrentino effectively uses his beautiful visuals to juxtapose youth and maturity, I'd argue it is so much more, as Youth is a film that is pulsating with life itself. Through its various characters, some young and some old, Youth exhibits the emotion of life, with each character suffering with their own unique struggles of identity that are manifested by their perceived shortcomings in life. The film can be very beguiling at times and quite messy as well, falling into pretension, but fortunately Youth still captures a lot of universal truths about humanity, both young and old, revealing the pain, joy, and sense of yearning that can haunt all of us. Mick and Fred are two characters full of regrets and reservations about their past, attempting to accept that their story is coming to an end, but I'd argue the archs of both Fred's daughter and Jimmy Tree, a young actor, are just as compelling in their own right. Visually speaking, Youth has got to be, without question, one of the most stunning films of the year. Youth's visuals are engrossing, inventive, and offer a meditative quality throughout, and while the rest of the may struggle at times to live up to its eye-popping beauty, Youth still offers an impressionistic experience which touches on the human condition.
During a manned mission to Mars, Mark Watney, a NASA Astronaut, is presumed dead after a massive sandstorm descends upon the crew. Escaping the storm, Mark's crew assumes he was killed in the chaos, but he survives. Stranded on Mars, alone, and having to fend for himself, Mark must rely on his ingenuity and experience as a astronaut and botanist to not only survive but figure out a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Ridley Scott's The Martian is a well-executed, perfectly adequate sci-fi survival film that relies heavily on the charismatic lead performance of Matt Damon to remain engaging and entertaining from start to finish. One of the main things that stand out about The Martian is just how thoroughly entertaining and comedic the film is, with Matt Damon delivering a charming lead performance that demands not only empathy from the viewer but also delivers a host of laughs. While this approach keeps the film very entertaining and never too dark, I'd argue it does at times become a detriment to the film, as the psychological impact of a man being alone for years becomes a missed opportunity. The toll isolation has on the human psyche is more talked about than shown throughout the film, and while the stakes are still certainly felt, I couldn't help but want to see a little more of the psychological toll on Mark Watney. That being said, Damon's performance still manages to be the glue that holds this film together, capturing how a desperate man can still find the humor in a terrible situation, delivering a performance that feels genuine and impressively charismatic given the subject matter. The Martian is a testament to simply not screwing up a simple, effective story of survival and hope, with Ridley Scott delivering a fascinating film that never wavers its optimism in humanities ability to fight for survival. In fact, I'd argue that Optimism is a major component of the film itself, as one could argue that Mark's ability to survive is unquestionably due to his unwavering hope. Being a Ridley Scott film, The Martian looks great, with beautiful set design, innovative science-fiction based production design, impressive special effects, and an uncanny eye for capturing the awe-factor of outer space. Featuring an impressive central performance from Matt Damon, Ridley Scott's The Martian is one of the filmmakers best films in years, being a simple, yet effective story of survival and the need for optimism no matter the circumstances.
Set in the near future, Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster tells the story of a society where single individuals are viewed as outcasts, taken to 'The Hotel', where a restrictive regime obliges them to find a new mate in forty-five days. If the occupant is unable to find a partner in the allotted time, they are killed and reincarnated as an animal of one's own choosing; if they do manage to find a partner among the others, the new couple is given a month to try and live together before being let go and sent to live among the better part of society, in The City. Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is another startling, singular vision from the iconoclast filmmaker, a biting satire of our couple-fixated society where love has become distorted out of fear of loneliness and the desire to assimilate into societies broad definition of love and companionship. The Lobster is a darkly comedic film, and early on, while at The Hotel, the film captures the rate race of intimacy and companionship, exhibiting the awkwardness and fear-driven lies we make, not only to potential companions, but to ourselves, in order to not feel alone. Through absurdest means, Lanthimos captures how individuals sell themselves short in order to feel some semblance of companionship, capturing the competitive nature of courtship, as well as the individuals deteriorating individuality out of fear of loneliness. What makes The Lobster so compelling is it isn't merely against the idea of companionship or love, instead showing how the obsession of being alone subverts and distorts the individuals true understanding of love, one that comes more out of desperation or fear more so than devotion, commitment and sacrifice. Our main protagonist David, a man who struggles to find someone while at the Hotel, begins to form a close relationship with 'the Short-sighted woman', one that unfolds naturally never being out of fear or desperation. This relationship in the film is why I'd that Lanthimos film isn't merely about our societies couple-obsessed fixation but more so about how us as individuals need to forge our own path, not letting society dictate our own definition of love or companionship, with the film's final scene displaying David falling victim once again to the construct of societies interpretation of love, even though it's clear he loves this woman very much. From a technical standpoint, The Lobster is beautifully rendered film, with Lanthimos' thoroughly thought out compositions evoking a sense of rigid stability and forced structure, cinematography that expresses the film's intentions in a visual way. While the film's opaque storytelling, dark humor, and absurdest moments are sure to bother a lot of viewers, The Lobster is another impressive film from the Greek filmmaker who offers up a singular vision of love and companionship in modern society.
Matthew Porterfield’s Take What You Can Carry is a simplistic character study with profound truths. Running only 30 minutes in length, not much happens on the surface of Take What You Can Carry’s story, though under the surface the film is a meditative examination of creativity, personal space, loss, and communication. The film follows Lilly, a North American living abroad, who has grown accustomed to her own personal intimacy. Lilly values her privacy, something which fuels her own creativity of her performance art, showing very little interaction with those around her. Lilly struggles with connection with the outside world, unable to articulate her feelings related to the loss of one of her parents. Her art is her release from the tension and sadness that she feels deep in herself, and perhaps one of Take What You Can Carry’s greatest attributes is how it captures the importance of creativity in providing solace and comfort. Take What You Can Carry’s overall experience is cold and sedated, with Porterfield capturing a character in Lilly who couldn’t be more alone, no matter how many people inhabit the same space as her. For me, the film is really about the struggle between personal fulfillment and social interaction, as Lilly as a character struggles to express herself to others, relying heavily on her own performance art as a way to express herself. The film captures the importance of communication and articulating ones own thoughts and feelings, something which the character of Lilly struggles with. Cold, opaque, and fascinating, Matthew Porterfield’s Take What You Can Carry is a fascinating character study of a woman who struggles to express herself to others, relying on her creativity to fuel her emotional release.
S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is a genre-bending Western with horror sensibilities, being one of the more unique films of the year. The story is centered around the small town of Bright Hope, who are forced into action, after a group of cannibals kidnap a few of the towns citizens. Led by Sheriff Franklin Hunt, an unlikely team of gunslingers head out into the barren landscape to hunt down the savages responsible, though they soon discover their enemy is even more ruthless than they could have ever imagined. The wild west is merely the setting for this genre mashup, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't go out of its way to create a believable, geniune old-west experience. Using cinematography and production design that authentically captures the look and feel of the wild west, at least as we've seen it in cinema, Bone Tomahawk captures the look and feel of the Western, an old-fashioned venner that is pleasant and immersive. The filmmakers affinity for the Western genre is felt in every frame, showing an appreciation for a simplier time where basic moral codes and community were a fundamental part of life and survival. A romanticism of Western civilization before the industrial age is perhaps the best way to describe this film, as Bone Tomahawk captures how a group of ragtag civilians, many of which couldn't be more different, work together in an effort to save one of their own. Bone Tomahawk's meandering qualities and unique genre blend probably will never appeal to the mainstream viewer's sensibilities for a more action-packed storyline, but S. Craig Zhaler's film features alluring characters, from the good-natured, no-nonsense sheriff played by Kurt Russell, to the morally-suspect, vain Brooder played brilliantly by Matthew Fox, each offering something unique to the story, having distinctive personalities and character traits that make the film engaging even with its meandering style. Much of the film takes place with this group attempting to track down these cannibal savages, and I'd argue Bone Tomahawk's most interesting aspect is the aura of community and sacrifice the film subtlety creates. These characters shouldn't get along, and don't really get along on a more superficial level, but they are binded by their sense of community, each understanding their petty differences mean very little in the larger sense of survival that can always be a struggle in the dangerous, wild west. When the violence does come, Bone Tomahawk is sure to please gorehounds, being very much in the vein of horror cinema, with a liberal use of bloodshed that is sure shock and awe in a few bone-chilling segments. Juxtaposing the simplicity, class, and moral sensibilities of the Western genre with the intensity and mood of a horror film, Bone Tomahawk is a solid first feature from S. Craig Zahler that should serve as a solid calling card for the filmmakers' talents.
Taking place thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, J.J. Abrams Star Wars: The Force Awakens finds a new threat in the galaxy with the First Order, led by their ruthless sith-lord, Kylo Ren. Intent on seeking out and destroying the last remaining Jedi, Luke Skywalker, the First Order rampages through the Galaxy in search of a droid which they believe can help locate Skywalker. Meanwhile, The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, is desperate to locate Luke Skywalker, before Kylo Ren is able too, as Luke is believed to be the only one capable of bringing peace and justice to the galaxy, yet again. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a film that starts strong, taking much needed time to establish its new characters, giving them space from the nostalgia-fueled characters of the prior films, as they are written well enough to stand on their own terms. The Force Awakens is essentially The New Hope remixed, playing it way too safe with its storytelling, having an uncanny resemblance to the overall story-arch of Episode One. The first two acts of The Force Awakens is strong filmmaking, featuring interesting characters on a quest, but unfortunately the film derails in the third act, suffering from the same issues as so many contemporary blockbusters, seduced by the desire for extensive over-the-top stakes that go against the simpler character-driven story before it. The film's narrative worked well as this chase to find Luke Skywalker between The Resistance and The New Order, but the final act of films desire to inject larger stakes, aka another death star, simply create a convoluted, dense mess. I'd argue that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a great example of a film that lets its plot dictate its characters in the end, with the story and characters squeezed into this extravagant, convoluted third-act, which quite frankly feels out of place with the rest of the film. If there is one aspect of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that stood out it was the character of Kylo Ren, a sithlord in training thats temperamental nature is borderline meta in execution. He is a character obsessed with living up to the legacy of Darth Vader, a namby-pamby who wears a mask not because he has too, but because it looks cool -being kinda like how I imagine most fanboys! Anyway, the film looks good, with JJ Abrams using whip-pans and push-ins to create kinetic cinematography that definitely makes for some exciting sequences, but unfortunately the film still suffers an overall lack of nuance and subtlety in its storytelling, falling apart in a third act that feels convoluted, tacked on, and completely unnecessary.
Told entirely with stop-motion photography, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson's Anomalisa is a tender and affectionate film about Michael Stone, an author specializing in customer service. Michale is a man who finds it nearly impossible to interact with anybody on a deeper level, living a life of mental solitude regardless of having a loving wife and child. While on a business trip to Cincinnati, Michael meets Lisa, a self-deprecating fan of his work, which slowly begins to offer glimmers of hope for Michael, a man who struggles with his negative view of life. Anomalisa is tender but it certainly isn't uplifting, being a very humanistic portrait of loneliness, depression, and longing. The film is nuanced, with very little being outright stated by the filmmakers, but it appears that Michael is a man suffering from some form of mental illness - depression at the very least. The opening few minutes of the film establish Michael Stone's demeanor perfectly, with all of his interactions being cold and stilted. He isn't rude by any means, just uninterested in engaging in human interaction, with one of Anomalisa's best attributes being how it depicts the social barriers which can be raised, unintentionally or not, by loneliness and depression. The relationship that unfolds between Michael and Lisa is delicate and assured, with the two of them spending a night together in the hotel room, as Michael finds solace in her imperfections. The next morning things don't go quite as well, as Michael's emotional instability begins to show itself with Lisa, lashing out at her imperfections and small habits that annoy him. Michael is a characer whose emotional distress has brought him much pain and loneliness, with Kaufman's film capturing the circular effect of such things, a downward spiral that is impossible to stop with the conscious mind. Kaufman's film attempts to remove intellect from the equation, arguing that our emotions are what truly define us as human-beings, with Michael unable to conquer his own darker attributes. Featuring one of the most interesting sex scenes of any film this year, being equal parts tender and awkward, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson's Anomalisa is an engaging romantic story about two imperfect people, exploring the banality that makes up everyday life and the emotional and or mental distress that can get in the way of happiness.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.