Quick Review : Force Majeure (2014)

Rotten Tomato Score – 93%
IMDB Score – 7.5

Directed By – Ruben Östlund
Starring – Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Vincent Wettergren, and Clara Wettergren

A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.

What would you do in a situation where your life could be in immediate danger? It’s the classic fight or flight scenario that really can’t be answered until the time has come. Tomas and his family found the answer to that question after their vacation lunch is interrupted by a controlled avalanche, or so it seems controlled. What follows is a unique, entertaining, cringe worthy film that deals with the aftermath of such an event. I didn’t expect it to be so funny.

I like to think that I would be the kind of man that stares danger in the face and puts up a fight. Fact is, I have no idea if that’s true or not. I’ve been in some situations where I was able to handle myself. I was in a car accident, helped rescue a hurt ATV rider calling for help in the woods, and two friends pass out on me, one from heat stroke and one from exhaustion. All these however were instances where I wasn’t involved or wasn’t involved minimally. The car accident was a low speed rear ending. My life has never truly been in danger. The lives of my friends and family have never been in danger. I’m waiting for the day that I’m walking down the street with somebody I care about and get approached by a man with a knife. Would I run? Would I shield my loved one? I’d like to think the latter, but can I be sure? The reaction is pure instinct and that’s where this film stores all of it’s interest. It provokes these thoughts in the viewing while simultaneously conjuring thoughts about the characters in the film. It was very entertaining.

The film should have been included in this years Oscar ceremony, but what are you going to do? There were so many scenes where family members and friends are trying to get a hold on what happened and how they feel about it. Those instances show the true person behind all the presentation we show other people. It was fun getting to see how this is handled, by both the people affected by the decision, and the person who made it.

Did I mention Tormund Giantsbane is in this? His beard is still amazing. Don’t know what I mean? That’s too bad, I’m not telling.

The film is also shot very well with many standing shots of the Alps with the action happening around the frame, like a moving picture. There was so much white filling every space that it really made you appreciate the darkness and the shadows, much like how we explore the parts of ourselves that aren’t bright and in your face.

It’s a great film.


Film Review : Museum Hours (2013)

IMDB Score – 7.0
Rotten Tomato Score – 94%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Jem Cohen
Starring – Mary Margaret O’Hara and Bobby Sommer

When a Vienna museum guard befriends an enigmatic visitor, the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum becomes a mysterious crossroads which sparks explorations of their lives, the city, and the ways artworks reflect and shape the world.

With such recent film I’ve seen being action packed adventures featuring monkeys riding horses with AK47s, infinite stones and gun wielding raccoons, and train revolutions, films like Museum Hours are able to center you back into a place of calm observance. This film from director Jem Cohen went pretty much unnoticed last year as it traveled the film festival circuit. A film about two people meeting in a museum and talking about life and art isn’t going to draw great crowds. A lot of feedback from the film was that it was boring and tedious. Critically is was revered for its humane look at what it means to connect with people and yourself through art. I can agree with that. I can also agree that this is not a film for everybody. It’s an acquired taste.

The film centers around the relationship Johann and Anne. Johann, played by Bobby Sommer, is a very kind guard at a nice art museum in Austria. On one of his shifts he meets Anne, a woman from Montreal who is in town to be with her cousin who is very ill. Mary Margaret O’Hara, who plays Anne, gives a very layered and subtle performance as she seems to blend perfectly together with Sommer. The two remind me a lot of an older Jesse and Celine from the “Before” trilogy. They have such chemistry with each other and slide between pleasant conversations as if it were happening naturally. Anne particularly has an immense amount of depth to her. She hasn’t seen her cousin, who is in what seems to be a coma, for years but she seems saddened by what has happened to her. She sets the stage for the theme of the film, which is an examination of our own lives as if we are examining the intricacies of fine art. Through her friendship with Johann, Anne is able to start to figure out her life. Johann is our narrator. He describes his early life and the life he has picked out for himself now as a museum guard. He explains how he observes the patrons to the museum almost as if they are part of the galleries he helps maintain. When he’s not watching people he is admiring the art and listening to the words of the tour guides doing their jobs right next to him.

The film is more of an essay than a full narrative. There are plot devices that move the story forward but what we really have here is a look inside what makes people human and the stages our lives go through. The relationship these two had seemed very real to me and I had trouble imagining that the conversations they were having were scripted in any way. It’s a neat little film that will teach you about people but in a nice way will teach you a hell of a lot about art. There are a few segments in the film that are just people talking about paintings. The museum has many pieces spanning many subjects and time periods. Each room is like a little aspect on what it’s like being human. It was a nice little film.


Film Review : Maelstrom (2000)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 80%

Directed By – Denis Villeneuve
Staring – Marie-Josée Croze, Stephanie Morgenstern, Klimbo, and Jean-Nicolas Verreault

After plunging her car into a river, a woman encounters a man who helps her come to terms with her life.

So…after seeing “Enemy” last week I decided that I needed to explore the back catalog of French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who is quickly becoming one of my favorite up and coming directors. As I wrote last week, “Incendies” is one of my favorite films ever and “Prisoners” and “Enemy” entertained the shit out of me. I’ve heard interesting things from “Maelstrom” and interestingly enough, it so happened to be near the front of my Netflix queue so I push it to the top and here we are. Honestly, I wasn’t floored with the film like I was floored with his other work but I have my reasons for both sides of the argument. I will also note that this review will be brief as I do not enjoy giving out too many details of the plot, which in the case for the film was all over the fucking place. This wasn’t a bad thing by the way.

So that description above the previous paragraph? Yeah, you can go ahead and forget that. The story is really about the life of Bibi, the daughter of a famous French fashion designer that is going through a bit of a life crisis. The film opens up with her getting an abortion and the fun times just start pouring out after that. Poor Bibi. She just couldn’t catch a break, mostly because she’s kind of an idiot but she’s our protagonist so we’ll give her some slack. Bibi goes on to make a few bad decisions and by the middle of the film, has a great deal of guilt racked up on her shoulders. Did I mention we have a talking fish as our narrator? I didn’t? Silly me. Not only is he a talking fish, but he is many talking fish who are getting cut up as the story progresses. The film had a thing with fish. Water, the color blue, fisherman, TALKING FUCKING FISH…you can see the theme here. It was like Villeneuve watched the Three Colors Triology and a shit load of David Cronenberg and decided to write and film this movie. For good measure, he added a bunch of creepy spoken word tracks from Tom Waits, you know, you jazz it up a bit.

So it seems like I’m bashing the film. I’m not doing that. I am just in a weird mood and the sarcasm is leaking from my fingers. Truth is a ended up liking the film. Sure it had flaws. This is one of the first major features of a young director. Have you ever seen the first films of some famous directors? Some are horrid. Some are funny. Some are like this where you can see the originality oozing from the screen but the final product just isn’t as polished or coherent as you would like. I think this is either because young filmmakers have had an entire lifetime of film ideas to put into their first one that they over do it a little. Take Alfonso Cauron for instance. The man just won Best Director at The Oscars but if you go back to his first film, “Love in the Time of Hysteria”, which I reviewed on this site by the way, you’ll notice a film that is far from the quality of his more acclaimed films. It was a funny film but that’s about all. “Maelstrom” on the other hand was able to deliver some emotional scenes backed with some gorgeous camera work. The story was a bit muddy at points and seemed to skip around leaving unresolved questions but it was an experiment and an entertaining one at that.

Seriously, there’s a talking fish in this movie. He’s got a cool accent. I don’t know what his purpose was but it made me laugh.


Suggested Viewing – Three Colors Trilogy, Naked Lunch, The Sweet Hereafter, Incendies, Head – On

Film Review : The Past (2013)

IMDB Score – 8.0
Rotten Tomato Score -94%
Golden Globe Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film
Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress (Bérénice Bejo)

Directed By – Asghar Farhadi
Starring – Bérénice Bejo, Ali Mosaffa, Tahar Rahim, Pauline Burlet, Elyes Aguis, Jeanne Jestin, and Sabrina Ouazani

An Iranian man deserts his French wife and her two children to return to his homeland. Meanwhile, his wife starts up a new relationship, a reality her husband confronts upon his wife’s request for a divorce.

Right now, as I’m writing this, there is a little boy running around on the floor above me. I think he is playing baseball and I think he has hit for a cycle. Part of me wants to go up there and knock on the door which will ultimately start a fight with the parents. Part of me just wants to deal with it because I’m going to ruin the fun that kid is having. I’m ultimately choosing to let the kid have his fun. It’s a small action that could have avoided some serious stress in that kids life by seeing his parents argue with a much younger snobby asshole like myself. I mention this little tidbit of information because kids today have it rough. I’m not talking about the kids who are given X-Boxes because they asked for one of the ones whose parents pay for their college tuition that they will ultimately lose because they got drunk every day and failed out of their classes. What I’m talking about are the kid who grow up in broken homes…the kids who have to bear(this word usage seems funny but I looked it up. It’s correct) witness to their parents fighting and splitting up. Parents usually think about the kids, but they usually just think of where to store them like they’re boxes of hats that won’t fit in the closet. “The Past” explores these stresses of living in a stressful home but also explores the stress and guilt of being an adult and deciding to have/leave relationships. It ended up being a fantastic film which is now to be expected from a present day master of drama like Asghar Farhadi.

When I saw “A Separation” two years ago, I immediately ordered the blu ray. I haven’t given it a second viewing yet, but I am meaning to considering how much I loved the tension in that film. “The Past” is a lot of like “A Separation” in terms of theme. Both deal heavily with the relationship/ships of a married couple and the effect it has on the surrounding parties, usually the kids. The area in which the two differ is in the amazing portrayals of the characters by the cast. Both movies, which seem alike, couldn’t be more different when you look at the performances in each film. I’m not saying one film is better than the other but rather saying that both films have unique and unforgettable characters. It’s the driving force of the films besides the dramatic and very bleak subject matter.

First off, I didn’t even recognize Bérénice Bejo until I saw her name at the end. This might have to do with her hair being long instead of short like it was in “The Artist” but it just caught me by surprise. It also took me some time to realize that Tahar Rahim was starring in the role as it has been some time since I saw the crime masterpiece that is “A Prophet”. This just happened to give me a slight edge in being completely surprised and impressed with the acting. Bejo plays Marie, a mother of two who has recently began seeing Samir, quietly played by Rahim. Samir is still married but his wife has been in a coma for eight months. If that wasn’t scandalous enough, Marie’s “es husband” Ahmad, played by Ali Mosaffa, is in town to sign the final divorce papers and Marie has invited him to stay at their home. Doesn’t that just sound like the worst fucking episode of “General Hospital” ever? Honestly, the details of the film pushed me away for a while. It came off a little to soap opera for me but when I saw the reviews and of course who directed it, I couldn’t resist any longer. My roommate even mentioned, after reading the disc sleeve, that he hoped I enjoyed my soap opera for the next two hours. Luckily for me, the film was much more than that.

Dealing with a complex plot, the film took it’s time with letting everything play out. I’m glad they did this otherwise it would have lost many of its viewers. In doing so however, the film dragged. I’ve been a self proclaimed lover of slow burns but there were two instances in the film where I had to pause and stretch my legs. The film though, never let my attention slip. I was certainly embedded in the story that was unfolding. I cared about the characters and the choices they made. It was just a long haul. This is really the only “negative” aspect of the film and honestly it isn’t really a negative.

The film deals heavily with the theme of suffering and guilt. Everybody is going through serious shit in this film. The kids are miserable at times due to the fact that they see stress filled screaming matches and passive aggressive smoking sessions in the same hour. The oldest daughter can’t stand being at home because of teh situation, which only makes her mother angrier, making the situation worse. Ahmad comes into the picture to sign the divorce and becomes sort of middle man between the daughter and mother, mopping up what has been spilled all over the floor. Farhadi uses symbolism outstandingly in the film as there is literally at one point, a can of paint spilled all over the floor which Ahmad steps in to clean up, even though he really has no reason to considering it isn’t his house. Another scene has Ahmad fixing a sink pipe for no reason other than to fix it. I love little direction details like that. It’s the first sign of a well written film. Farhadi also implements a character that is literally never on screen (except for one brief second), which is Samir’s wife who is in a coma. In essence, she is the most important character in the film considering all of the fighting and sadness revolves around her situation. It’s a clever way to construct a story around when we never see the reason why all these fights are happening. We get to see the drama from different points of view, but never from the point of view of the subject. “The Descendants” did a similar thing which is what made the ending of that film so powerful, even though I believe “The Past” has an even better ending.

Overall the film was a heavy experience on what it is like trying to live in the present when you haven’t cleaned up your past yet. Decisions that are made carry through until they are resolved. In one point in the film Samir tells Marie that “When two people see each other after 4 years and still fight together, it shows that there is something unsolved between them.” It’s a wonderful line that beautifully describes many of the themes that are going on during the duration of the film. The ending of the film just goes to show that even if two people are the furthest away that they can be, their past can be the only thing that brings them back together. It was one of the most touching and poetic endings I’ve seen in a long time. I actually went back and watched it four times because of how beautiful it is. It was a cherry on top of an excellent film by Asghar Farhadi as he continues to sit on his throne as the master of family drama.


Film Review – City of Men (2007)

IMDB Score – 7.3
Rotten Tomato Score – 76%

Directed By – Paulo Morelli
Starring – Douglas Silva, Darlan Cunha, Jonathan Haagensen, Rodrigo dos Santos, Camila Monteiro, Naima Silva, Eduardo ‘BR’ Piranha, and Luciano Vidigal

Best buddies Acerola and Laranjinha, about to turn 18, discover things about their missing fathers’ pasts which will shatter their solid friendship, in the middle of a war between rival drug gangs from Rio’s favelas.

It’s funny. It has snowed in New Jersey more than it has snowed in the last seven or eight years but my free time to watch films has been few and far between. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m actively searching for an apartment but still, I need to sit down and get back into my usual groove of 4-5 films a week. I may get to another film tonight but for now I at least made time to sit down and watch “City of Men”.

Back when my obsession with film first getting started, I would routinely come across a certain film from Brazil on lists that also included some of the greatest films of all time. That film was “City of God”. Now while “City of Men” is not a sequel in any way, it features the same producers and overall feel of “City of God”. Watching both films only reiterated one thing to me. I can never go to Brazil. I will most likely die in a gunfight over drugs that I may or may not have been involved with. Not only is the place full of gangsters and drug lords but it just seems like an overall lack of logic and compassion. People shoot people for little to no reason and because they’re such a bad shot, a few bystanders are directly in the path of the same bullets. Not for me. It is however a fascinating place to set a movie and this is why I enjoyed both films, although “City of God” is vastly superior.

“City of Men” follows two best friends as they are sucked into a world that they are clearly aware of, since they live in the epicenter of its operations, but are not prepared to handle. The film then spirals into a wave of gang on gang violence that really didn’t shock or disturb me nearly as much as “City of God” did. I mean that film was down right brutal in many different ways while “City of Men” could almost have gotten away with being PG-13. The same beautiful yet deadly Rio, Brazil is the setting for both films but in this one you really get to see how people live every day. The streets and buildings look like slums but inside people have modest luxuries such as televisions and video game systems. This was not really the case in “City of God” as that film centered on an area of Rio that police don’t even dare go into. The Rio we see in this film is more of a subdued but still very drug lord invested area. I’ll say it again, you can count me out of that vacation. I’ll keep my snow and bullet free walls instead.

The film was a little messy in the storytelling but held it together enough to keep my attention. The main focus was really the relationship between the two main leads instead of the increasing tension between the two gangs who were trying to take control of the area. Naturally the story created some twists and turns that tested the strength of the relationship between the two boys but it didn’t come off as redundant or predictable as one may assume. Mostly this had to do with the very good direction of Paulo Morelli who, with his team of editors, gave us a finished product that was able to keep the attention on the story but still be able to entertain us with some well paced action.

Overall it was dwarfed by the now infamous “City of God” but that film is considered one of the greatest foreign films of all time. It is not really fair to compare this to that but the feeling is ultimately the same. Bad things happen in Brazil. Do not go to Brazil. Stay in your room and watch Netflix like every good boring American.