Quick Hits : Cheap Thrills (2014) & The Illusionist (2010)

Directed By – E.L. Katz
Starring – Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, and Sara Paxton

Everybody has those conversations with their buddies over a couple beers. “What would you do for X amount of money?” I’m sure that 99% of the things that get brought up would never actually get done. I’m 100% sure that some of the things that happen in this film would never be done, unless your buddies are a bunch of desperate people willing to degrade themselves for a little cash. My moral standards are pretty strong but knowing what it’s like not to have money makes me wonder…what would I do for $25,000? The film centers around Craig and Vince. Craig is an unemployed father and husband who needs almost five grand in a week or else he loses his apartment. Vince is an old friend who basically only exists as an asshole who hasn’t made anything of his life. They run into each other at a bar and end up making friends with a couple who can’t seem to stop spending money. The party heads back to the couples house where unveil their plan to challenge Vince and Craig to dares or tasks in exchange for money. It snowballs from there.

The film boasts a great cast with Pat Healy and David Koechner stealing the show. Ethan Embry, who reminded me he’s still a person, does a serviceable job and Sara Paxton kind of just breezes through this one but her character wasn’t really called upon to do much. The film gets a little gross, a little bloody, and features a pretty nice ending. It’s not something that will knock your socks off. Being the first feature of the director there are pacing issues. The lead up to the “game” takes way too long unfold and there were some character arcs that didn’t seem to go anywhere. It was however a pretty decent way to make your first feature film. I’d recommend it for horror fans.

3/5

Directed By – Sylvain Chomet
Starring – Jean-Claude Donda and Eilidh Rankin

No, this is not the one with Edward Norton. This is the film that was nominated by the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. The director happened to make one of my favorite animated films ever “The Triplets of Bellville”. The story follows a magician trying to make money hits the road to Scotland where he meets a young woman who follows him on his journey. I honestly didn’t get sucked into the story on this one. The animation and beautiful score are what made the film enjoyable to me. The various illusions and magic tricks that the magician does were pretty mesmerizing. The night scenes in streetlight backed streets of Scotland were gorgeously done. The score was engaging and just fit the scenery so well. Chomet and his animation team really know how to use colors and music together to create an immerse film. Like “Bellville”, the film doesn’t have much dialogue so the animation has to pick up the slack. It does. It certainly does.

The story just didn’t do it for me. The magical settings painted in the beginning of the film just sort of floated away by the films end. It got really sad and depressing. I understood the theme of the film but that kind of mood switch threw me for a bit of a loop. I wanted to stay in the happy place. Besides that it’s an excellent animated film and proof that Sylvain Chomet and his team are one of the top animation teams in the business. It isn’t just Pixar.

3.5/5

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.

3/5

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.

4.5/5




Film Review : Laurence Anyways (2013)

IMDB Score – 7.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 81%

Directed By – Xavier Dolan
Starring – Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clément, Nathalie Baye, Monia Chokri, Magalie Lépine Blondeau, and Emmanuel Schwartz

A drama that charts ten years in the relationship of a male-to-female transsexual’s relationship with her lover.

I’m almost at the end of my attempt to see as many films from 2013 as I can before 2014 really gets into gear. I crossed another film off my list when I sat down to watch “Laurence Anyways”, the new film from the young french director, Xavier Dolan. I say he’s young because the kid is only a couple months older than me, which is bitter sweet because he made a gorgeous film and I’m sitting at home on my computer writing about it. Don’t worry, this won’t turn into a self loathing post, but it is to be noted that I believe I am a huge failure.

Laurence Anyways is a film about rediscovering the true self and also trying to keep the ones you love close as you go through the process. It’s a gorgeous film. This is really the highlight of the film for me. Colorful slow motion scenes litter the film giving the long run time (nearly three hours) life as we are taken through the ten year relationship between Laurence and Frederique, or Fred for short. Laurence has just decided after two years with Fred, that he was supposed to be born a woman and that he is going to start living the way he naturally feels. Disturbed at first, Fred learns to deal with this transformation, but for how long? I usually don’t go for films of this nature, not because of any ideal issues or bigotry, but rather just an avoidance from the drama that usually accompanies such films. This film however kept my attention the entire time. There were issues but also some very enjoyable features.

I mentioned the visuals already. Each shot was perfectly constructed and meticulously framed. You ideally pause the movie at any time and find a shot worthy of a poster. Dolan is young and incredibly talented. I’m really looking forward to what he does next. The acting was also fantastic with Suzanne Clément really shining in every moment. She was explosive in some scenes while staying subtle and tragic in others. Poupaud had a quieter performance but completely sold that fact that his character was trying to change his body and life. The only thing that I didn’t like about the film was the disjointed narrative towards the end of the film. The first half of the film takes place during the beginning of their relationship with the second half trying to cover nearly eight years. It seemed rushed and forced and didn’t have the same natural flow as the first half of the film did. It ended up ruining what could have been a very very good film. I expect Dolan to learn from this and he is also a very talented writer. Hopefully he learns how to progress the narrative of his characters better because I was very interested in what had happened in the nooks and crannies of those eight years.

Overall the film was very enjoyable. I’m a sucker for the french language so watching this for nearly hours didn’t phase me at all. It’s one of the prettiest films of the year with real moments of passion and emotion delivered by fantastic acting, mainly from Suzanne Clément. It was well worth the watch.

3.5/5





Film Review : Farewell My Concubine (1993)

IMDB Score: 7.8
RT Score : 88%

Oscar Nominee for Best Cinematography
Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film
Palme d’Or Winner at Cannes Film Festival

A very strange and long movie about two stage brothers as they ascend the steps to stardom in the Chinese opera circuit and encounter love and government opposition along the way. The film is gorgeously shot and acted but I just couldn’t get into the story as much as I thought I should given its credentials. I think I just find that part of Asian culture too strange for my tastes. It’s a very well made film though full of backstabbing, political conflict, subtle homosexuality, and a very fitting yet tragic ending. If you can sit through the three hours and like these sort of dramas, I’d say go for it.

3/5