Film Review : Blue Ruin (2014)

IMDB Score – 7.1
Rotten Tomato Score – 96%

Directed By – Jeremy Saulnier
Starring – Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, and David W. Thompson

A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

Revenge stories. You thought that they couldn’t do anther one that is both unique and engaging but along comes “Blue Ruin” to prove that it isn’t true. It’s been a pretty great year for film so far and while I didn’t get a chance to see this is a theater, I’m still glad I was able to watch it on DVD. There are some films from three years ago that still haven’t managed a DVD release and thankfully this wasn’t one of them.

The film stars Macon Blair, who is almost a split image of Nathan Lane, as Dwight, a homeless man living out of his car on the shores of Delaware. It’s pretty much inferred off the bat that Dwight is troubled by something as he makes no attempt at panhandling or other form of making money. He doesn’t like people and he likes to keep it that way. A friendly police officer brings Dwight in to inform him that a certain person is getting out of jail and the story slowly begins to unfold from there. I say slowly mostly because I mean just that. Jeremy Saulnier took great care with his breakthrough film, telling the story in a slow burning and delicately paced fashion. We aren’t getting spoon fed details and I had to rewind the film twice to make sure I caught turns in the plot. The film has minimal dialogue as our protagonist Dwight is very soft spoken and a lot of the film takes place with only him.

Saulnier, who started his career as a cinematographer, composes some pretty beautiful shots in a barren Virginian landscape. They way he approached the violence reminded me of another filmmaker, Ben Wheatly, in which what we get isn’t stylized, but rather highly realistic. There were some real shockingly violent moments in this film that just hit harder due to the realism.

Saulnier is a promising filmmaker that should be due some serious budget for his next film. That is the way Hollywood is going now. You have Josh Trank, Gareth Edwards, James Gunn, and Rian Johnson all at the helm of big franchises. It’s only a matter of time before a talent such as Saulnier gets his due and if it is anything like Blue Ruin, I’m going to like it.

4/5

Suggested Viewing – Kill List, Ain’t Them Body Saints, Death Sentence



Film Review : We Are What We Are (2013)

IMDB Score – 5.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%
Netflix

Directed By – Jim Mickle
Starring – Bill Sage, Ambyr Childers, Julie Garner, Jack Gore, Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell, and Michael Parks

The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family.

This is how you do a horror film everybody.

Unlike the storm in the film, Hollywood has been in a serious Horror drought for at least a decade. Sure, American films like “The Conjuring” and even “Cabin in the Woods” have been successes, but with only a film or two a year coming out from the states in the mainstream horror fans have to reach deep to find the films they crave. Luckily for us, Jim Mickle is the next big thing. I’ve read that his film “Stakeland”, which I’ll be watching tonight probably, is vastly superior than the film I just watch and if that is true then it may end up on my favorite horror films list because I loved We are What We are. Mickle has a film out currently in “Cold in July” which I’m going to try to catch before it leaves theaters. Either way, horror has a new stalwart and his name is Jim Mickle.

This film is very tough to describe without giving away too many key plot points so this review may be a bit short. That being said, this movie is on Netflix so you have no excuse not to watch it. Please do. The story revolves around a family of religious practices that are far from your average family. Think Ned Flanders meets Misery. The father, played masterfully by Bill Sage, is a very stoic and serious man who seems to have his daughters scared shitless. Besides Sage, Childers and Garner are fantastic as the two daughters who are stuck trying to figure out what is right and what is good for the family. Michael Parks rounds it out as the town doctor who starts getting wind of what is going on.

The story, which is flawless in most parts with a few instances of slack, is one of the more unique and compelling stories I’ve seen in horror. The film is actually a remake, but the same screenwriter from the original Spanish film reprises his work here. Couple the story with Mickle’s amazing knack for the camera and you have a slow burn film that glows with intensity at just the right moments. The scares are earned. The shock is true. These are the most important elements for horror in my eyes. The whole point is to be scared no? I have a friend who delivered mail for years. After a while he got so used to dogs jumping on the door when he would walk up and scaring the shit out of him that he lost the ability to be frightened. For me, this is most of horror films. I’ve seen the same tactics used over and over again that the whole reason I’m watching the film in the first place is lost. This film does’t do that. It challenges you to pay attention and then when you’re deep in the feel of the movie, Mickle hits you with the scares. It’s a detailed and methodically timed film. It also packs one of the best endings to a film I’ve seen in a long time. I was slack jawed by the end of it.

Do yourself a favor and watch this film. It’s a diamond in a ruff sea of garbage that is the horror genre.

4.5/5

Suggested Viewing – Red State, The Loved Ones, Stoker




Film Review : Big Bad Wolves (2013)

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IMDB Score – 6.9
Rotten Tomato Score – 78%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Starring – Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad, and Guy Adler

A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.

First off let me say that even though I love his films, Quentin Tarantino is starting to piss me off. He’s a pretentious douchebag who happens to make some of the best films of the past thirty years. I’ll give him credit for that. I hope he continues making films for a long, long time. I do however wish that he stop talking, like forever. His claim that this was the best film of last year is just ludicrous and seems like he’s just trying to sniff his own butthole due to the fact that the entire film was a dragged out version of the scene from “Reservoir Dogs” when Micheal Madsen cuts that cops ear off. That isn’t to say I didn’t like the film because I enjoyed it, but it was nothing new whatsoever and for Mr. Tarantino to claim that this film was the best from last year just strikes me wrong. It just screams “Hey! I make movies like this! I didn’t make a movie this year so THIS is the best of the whole year.” Give me a break.

Now, apologies to the cast and crew of this film because even though it seems like I just took a huge dump on your film, I did find some enjoyment in the film. Besides a little set up, the entirety of the film pretty much takes place in the basement of a secluded cabin in which a father who just lost his daughter to a brutal rapist/murderer thinks he has found the killer. He thinks he has found the killer because the cop who is with him thinks it was him even though there is no evidence to suggest he’s right. There really isn’t much more meat to this film besides being a good old fashioned torture movie. Films like this come along a lot because it’s an easy script to write and you can get creative in the ways to torture people. This film didn’t get that creative. Hell, it wasn’t even that bloody. There were a few cringe worthy scenes but for the most part I was left wanting something a little more original. I was at least hoping for a shocker of an ending but instead I got an unearned twist that was suppose to hit hard but since the script decided to invest nothing in the characters themselves, I didn’t give a shit. The only thing I actually enjoyed about this film was the cast and the dialogue, which is what ultimately saved the film for me.

Tzahi Grad is a menace. He’s a huge presence with a deep frightening voice that was perfect in this role. His line of “Maniacs are afraid of other maniacs” couldn’t have rang more true. The guy was a pleasure to watch every single time he was on screen. His terrifying presence was helped greatly by some fantastic dialogue written for the characters. The writers decided to take a black comedy approach by taking a very serious script about torture, rape, and murder and gad the characters in this film be as polite as possible. In one instance, a character apologizes to the alleged serial killer for not offering him a piece of cake. This is before he is planning on burning him with a torch. I loved it. I thought it was hilarious. I wish the movie lived up to how funny it ended up being.

So while Mr. Tarantino was completely wrong about this film in my opinion, it was still a decent watch and is now streaming on Netflix. If you’re into horror movies and would like to see a black comedy dressed up as a horror film, then I’d suggest checking it out.

3/5

Suggested Viewing – The Loved Ones, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Saw the Devil




Film Review : Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

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IMDB Score – 7.6
Rotten Tomato Score – 85%

Directed By – Jim Jarmusch
Starring – Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt

A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance – which has already endured several centuries – is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister.

This is not a vampire film. This is a Jim Jarmusch film. These are the words spoken by one of the theater employees at the Landmark Sunshine. He was absolutely correct. It took me a couple weeks to finally get to see this, not because of a distaste of Jarmusch films, but rather a reluctance to see anything vampire related. Once again, I was wrong. The film ended up being about vampires, but only in the way that the two characters just so happened to be vampires. The rest of the film was a slow burning lesson in how to make and immersing hang out film. I loved it.

The film centers around the aptly named Adam and Eve, two vampires who have lived on the earth longer than most countries have around. The adhere to typical vampire myth/lore in which they can’t go out during the day, they are immortal, and they need blood to survive. The problem they face is getting the blood. This is not the same world that they used to live in. There is facebook, youtube, cameras, and police forces that can and will catch them in the act if they used their old way. They have to find their blood in more creative ways and this usually involves a lot of money, money acquired through means I’m not aware of. This seems like a very urgent conflict that would drive the film but it was really only a secondary plot line. The film ended up being a two how Jim Jarmusch dance of style, music, conversation, and light. It’s a complete atmosphere film that relies heavily on the soundtrack to help the painted scenery come alive. The film take place solely at night so every single shot is backed by dark and faded light sources. It perfectly fit the setting of an abandoned and desolate Detroit. I can’t explain enough how much I loved the aesthetic of this film. Jarmusch has always been a talent behind the camera but this may be his finest work yet.

The music, as I said, plays a huge role. Adam is an other worldly musician who has collected priceless items over the years of advancing his craft. He does so however by way of remaining completely recluse in his house so that nobody will catch on to the fact that he’s been alive so long. Anton Yelchin plays Adam’s close friend Ian and person whom he pays to fetch these instruments and whatever else he desires. He doesn’t know who Adam is but admires his genius. Tom Hiddleston was the first of two absolutely perfect casting choices for the leads. He may come off a bit like a hipsters dream of “fuck the system” cynicism but he also is wise beyond any human counterpart and just leaks the kind of coolness only a depressed vampire can give. Usually I frown upon seeing these kind of characters but the way Hiddleston portrayed Adam hooked me in line and sinker just like Adam did with Ian. Tilda Swinton plays Eve, the wife of Adam who travels from her home in Tangier to see her lover. I don’t quite remember why they were apart. They may not have explained it. It may just be the fact that they were lovers for thousands of years and needed some time apart, just like human relationships. Swinton may just be the perfect female vampire. She has that accent to go along with the white face and long hair. I was just amazed by her performance as the older and wiser vampire that understands what her man is going through. John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska also play vampires although their roles are less prominent. Both played their roles beautifully even though I couldn’t stand Wasikowska’s character of Eva, the little sister to Eve.

I’m trying not to go into too many plot details but honestly, there aren’t many details to talk about. It’s a total slow burn that is both captivating in terms of writing and mesmerizing in terms of aesthetics. It’s a film that may be boring to some but for people who love Jim Jarmusch’s films, it’s a pleasure film all the way. I can’t recommend it enough and while I’m not giving it a perfect rating, mostly due to my dislike of one of the characters, it’s probably Jarmusch’s best film to date and probably my favorite film of the year so far. Try to see it in theaters if you can.

4.5/5

Related – Anything Jim Jarmusch…anything




Film Review : Still Life (2006)

IMDB Score – 7.3

Directed By – Zhangke Jia
Starring – Tao Zhao, Zhou Lan, Sanming Han, Lizhen Ma, and Hongwei Wang

Citizens return to a flooded town to salvage what they can and say good-bye to things they lost.

It’s funny how my Netflix queues tend to come together at weird points. Two films directed by Zhangke Jia managed to find their way into future viewing by me and I didn’t even plan the damn thing. “Still Life” came in the mail yesterday and I have “A Touch of Sin” lined up for my next viewing in my Instant Queue. I’ve never seen any of his films before and did not plan this is the slightest. Weird.

Anyway, obviously I sat down to watch Still Life” first, as the mail service is longer and more expensive. Gotta get those discs out of here quick so that my monthly bill is worth it. The film ended up being a pretty interesting watch, albeit very slow, which is not a negative. The film centers around two people who never meet during the duration of the film, as they try to seek out their spouses whom they haven’t seen for years. The story told in the film is a loose one. Neither story arch comes into full focus and only briefly concludes by the end of the film. However, this is a unique film. Zhangke Jia managed to tell and show a lot more than what was most likely written down in the script. The film takes place in the area near the Three Gorges Dam that is to be demolished before eventually being flooded by the dam. Some parts have already been flooded and the rest is being taken care of as the Dam project begins to progress. We are literally seeing people having to move out of areas where they spent the majority of their lives, and they can’t take everything. They have to choose. What is important? What is to stay behind. It is this theme where the emotion comes from in the form of our two protagonists quests to find their spouses. When they find them, will they try to salvage what is left? Will they let them go to nature? Powerful stuff.

The film is gorgeous by the way. In an almost Michael Haneke style, Zhangke Jia let the camera sit a lot and just take in the silence and body language of what was being shown. There were many shots of characters standing before a lush and open landscape that was both beautiful and frightening due to its humongous scale. Images of boats traveling through huge gorges painted most of the scenes and still camera shots of town inhabitants smoking who knows what as they take a break from their labor fill in the cracks. I love this kind of film making. By leaving the camera still on a subject, and letting the scene play out, I get a more realistic feel and can enter the world easier. It also lets the powerful moments register with more weight when you’re not having a rising maelstrom of lights and music to scream to the viewer that what they are witnessing is important. Don’t pander to me film. Let me do the work occasionally.

“Still Life” is a very unique but ultimately rewarding film with subtle imagery galore and packed with symbolism. It may not be a re watchable film, but the photography and heavy message of letting go gave me a unique experience and a good reintroduction to Chinese cinema. I’ll be watching Zhangke Jia’s most recent film “A Touch of Sin” next.

4/5

Suggested Viewing – Still Walking, Poetry, Certified Copy, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives