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



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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




Documentary Review : Let The Fire Burn (2013)

IMSB Score – 7.4
Rotten Tomato Score – 97%

Directed By – John Osder

A documentary that looks back to May 13, 1985 – the day Philadelphia police exploded the home occupied by the radical group MOVE, and the resulting fire that killed five children and six adults, while destroying sixty-one homes in its wake.

First off, I’m back everybody. I decided not to write a post about it but I recently moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey over the last week. Between my regular person job, packing, and various other social activities, I just haven’t been able to sit down for an extended amount of time and watch a film. Luckily, I am now pretty much all settled in my new apartment where I’ll be spending some good time trying not to run out of money. I have a plan for that. I will hole up in my place and spend my evenings watching various things until I save up enough money to actually go outside and have fun. There should be some posts coming your way now.

My initiation back into writing mode could not have been a better one. Having redirected my Netflix account to my new address, “Let the Fire Burn” made its way to my mailbox just in time for a lazy Sunday. Ever since I read about the film I wanted to see it due to my infatuation with new things. I had never heard about the events that happened on May 13th, 1985 and this surprised me. I usually know, at least in gist, about events such as these. I’m familiar with Waco, Texas, Jonestown, Oklahoma City, all those various events that captured the nation by storm and turned us into zombies glued to the television. The fact that I have never even heard about the fires that destroyed 61 homes or even heard mention of the MOVE organization strikes me strange. I was instantly interested form the go and what I ended up witnessing was a haunting, fantastically edited debut film from directer John Osder. Let’s get the details of what happened out of the way.

The MOVE organization is a cult. There is no doubt about this Interviews with members try to paint a different story in that they are only abiding by our constitutional right to freedom of religion but when you have punishment for sneaking in forbidden items, you have the making of a cult. MOVE members do not engage in anything related to technology besides a few items that could potentially aid in their movement. They have a telephone yet not running lights or entertainment such as televisions or radios. They live basically off the land with an abundance of food such as watermelon, mangoes, onions, and anything that can be grown in the ground. For protein they eat raw meat from chicken to beef to fish. They are forbidden from eating cooked meat and punishment for doing so can be as extreme as beatings. This is where the cult forms. All of these rules and ways of life stems down from founder and leader John Africa. Members, who all done the last name of Africa, look at their founder as a Jesus Christ figure, even comparing him to Christ for his ideals and even his carpentry. The carpentry part is important as we’ll find out later.

I wanted to set up the details of the organization because of how unique it was. This is not an organization that bass their headquarters in some remote location in the Midwest. This is in the heart of West Philadelphia. It’s like if an African American/Amish community raided the streets of “Do the Right Thing”. Kids are playing on the street while members are schooling young children in their compound in the next yard. It’s a very surreal sight that I just didn’t realize could happen in such an urban city. What everything ended up culminating to was basically a militarized compound smack dab on a street with regular Philly people trying to go about their lives. It’s the escalation of the cult that was so fascinating to me. Small confrontations with police grew into gigantic standoffs with deadly repercussions. It was a wild ride punctuated by some talented editing involving home movies, interviews with members, video footage of committee depositions after the events, and live footage from news outlets. All of this culminated into a riveting story, and ultimately a tragic one.

What the film ended up doing for me, without giving away details, was change my support from the police, back to the cult, back to the police, and so on and so on. What ended up happening on May 13th was a culmination of ignorance from the cult cherry topped with complete negligence from the Philadelphia police department. In simpler terms, it was a shit show of major proportions. The way the film attacks this story however is one of immense dedication to being as unbiased as possible and letting the viewer decide for their selves. I personally was riveted during the entire film. I was on the edge of my seat in disbelief until the credits began to roll and if any of you reading this have had no prior knowledge to this event like I did then it is safe to say that you will as well. It was one of the best documentaries I’ve seen that chronicled an event such as this. It was as I was watching it with an unbiased opinion as it was happening but in realty the whole thing went unnoticed over twenty years ago. It’s a superb film and I’m glad to be back everybody.

4.5/5

Suggested Viewing – Bus 174, The Central Park Five, West Memphis Three, Burma VJ





Film Review : Haunter (2013)

IMDB Score – 5.8
Rotten Tomato Score – 52%
Netflix Watch Instant

Directed By – Vincenzo Natali
Starring – Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, Peter DaCunha, Peter Outerbridge, Michelle Nolden, and Eleanor Zichy

The ghost of a teenager who died years ago reaches out to the land of the living in order to save someone from suffering her same fate.

There’s about two feet of snow on the ground right now and more is to follow. What does this mean? Beer and Netflix. “Haunter” hasn’t actually finished yet but I am totally finished with the film. I always finish movies whether I like them or not, and I’m still half paying attention, but I’m not missing much. I’ve seen all I needed to see. I remember when this hit on demand and being curious due to the fact that I have liked Vincenzo Natalis work in the past. “Cube” is one of those movies that I can watch at any time because of how much I appreciated the ambition and creativity. With a bigger budget, that film could have been amazing. Yet, it falls into the guilty pleasures section of my DVD collection. This wasn’t by lack of trying of course. The film just didn’t have the money to accomplish everything it wanted to. Natali was also responsible for one of 2009’s most interesting films, “Splice”, which was flawed and disturbing but goddamn was it entertaining. The fact that Stephen McHattie is in this film was the clincher that I’d check it out someday and BEHOLD…Netflix added it to its library today just in time for my snow storm. Now let’s try to figure out why this film sucks…

This film is too complex for it’s own good. What started out as a simple ghost mystery soon turned into a weave of confusion and plot twists that drained any life out of the original idea. This is the problem with trying to be too smart. People think that all the ideas have been done before so they’re going to have to compensate for this by throwing in twist after twist after twist. You know what this does? This takes the viewer out of the story completely, or at least it takes me out. Sometimes, the most simple of stories is what generates the most genuine reaction. Ti West is a good example. His two films “House of the Devil” and “The Gatekeepers” were slow burns that only featured one twist. They upped the suspense by keeping it grounded. Both are among my favorite horror films of the last decade. They didn’t try to blow the viewers mind but rather played to the strengths of ghost stories. They capitalized on the fears of being in a house/building that is creepy and let the imagination do the work. “Haunter force fed me discoveries. It didn’t let me figure out what was happening or give me time to try to guess what was going on. Every five minutes the path in which we were travelling to was pointed out and thus took all suspense away from the film. I don’t understand how people don’t understand this and keep making films that refuse the viewer the right to use their imagination. This is the key to horror films.

The acting was also pretty bad. Abigail Breslin can be a good actress. Obviously she was great in “Little Miss Sunshine” but we haven’t seen that kind of performance from her since. I haven’t seen “August: Osage County” yet but perhaps the stellar cast aound her brought something out because she was flat out awful in this. I don’t expect great acting in horror films but it’s the one thing that could make a bad film somewhat watchable. Look was “The Conjuring” did recently. The story was something that has been done twenty times a year but the acting, and the direction of course, was top notch, hence giving a pleasant experience. This wasn’t pleasant. This was stupid. Stephen McHattie, who is one of my favorite supporting actors, tried his best but the corniness of his character just didn’t work with his creepy way of delivering lines.

I was disappointed by how much I hated the film. I know that I haven’t loved any of Vincenzo Natalis films but I expected something enjoyable at least. Yet another horror/ghost story suffers the fate of being unoriginal and poorly executed. One day somebody is going to figure it out. Until then I’ll just have to keep waiting for Ti West to release his masterpiece and out horror films back in the spotlight.

1/5




Film Review : RoboCop (2014)

IMDB Score – 6.7
Rotten Tomato Score – 48%

Directed By – José Padilha
Starring – Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and Samuel L. Jackson

In 2028 Detroit, when Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) – a loving husband, father and good cop – is critically injured in the line of duty, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp sees their chance for a part-man, part-robot police officer.

I’m going to start off this review a little differently. The following quote was pulled from the trivia section of IMDB for this film…

During production of the film, director José Padilha phoned friend and fellow Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles to confide in him his frustration in the lack of creative control he was allowed by the studio for the project. Padilha estimated that for every ten ideas he brought to the project, the studio refused nine, and went on to the describe the making of the film as “The worst experience of [his] life”. When word of this conversation became public, in an effort to appease the studio Padilha released counter statements expressing satisfaction with the film.

The reason I quote this is because I’m about to rip this film a new asshole. It was a piece of garbage and anybody involved in making it should be ashamed. It’s not that I just didn’t like it. It was so poorly constructed, acted, edited, and written that it seemed like the entire production team made this on the weekends when they were occupied with something else. The fact that they put this remake in the hands of a first time screenwriter shows how much effort they were willing to put into this. José Padilha is a director I admire. His Elite Squad films and documentary Bus 174 are fantastic gritty stories that up the realism and don’t hold anything back. I feel bad for the man who came to Hollywood hoping to hit a mainstream audience and he’s going to look like a fool now because of inept studio interference getting in the way of his creativity. What a waste of talent. Shame on those studios. This is why I give José Padilha a pass on this one. He should keep making excellent Brazilian films where he has complete control. There are going to be a lot of people who will seek out his films. He doesn’t need Hollywood bullshit.

That being said, the movie was atrocious. I don’t even know where to start. I guess the first order of business is the one thing we knew would hold the film back, the PG-13 rating. I know that direct adaptions are kinda lame. The original “RoboCop” was violent as hell and why the story was still a basic Frankenstein re-imagining, it was fun as hell. This remake wasn’t fun. This remake wasn’t even a little bit fun. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t think any of the effects were cool. I didn’t find a single thing enjoyable except for the wonderful Gary Oldman who tried his best to make anything in this film work. I think that may be a biased statement, but he didn’t do anything wrong with this role. Another slight positive was just the notion that it’s nice to see Michael Keatons face on the big screen again. He wasn’t very impressive but it was still great to see. The rest of the cast were horrid. Abbie Cornish shouldn’t act. Her attempts at being an anxiety filled house wife were laughable. Joel Kinnaman should stick to television. He just doesn’t have the face, voice, or presence to command a film. He’s a supporting actor at best. It was nice seeing Michael K. Williams in a role that isn’t Omar from “The Wire” but the lines his character was given were so corny that it was like a ten year old in the back room of a studio came up with them while playing cops and robbers with his imaginary friend Steve. The whole cast besides Oldman failed on a major level.

I couldn’t stand the writing. They spent almost two thirds of the film setting up the development of RoboCop only to realize that they haven’t developed any conflict yet and just shoved a villain in at the last second. Again, it is a remake so I’m not spoiling anything but if you’ve never seen the original film you would be very confused as to why Michael Keaton all of a sudden became a villain. It was that sudden. The film also revealed all these different plot twists with corrupt cops and completely forgot about closing that part of the story. A major character is revealed to be an asshole and then the scene ends and we hear nothing of it, or see that character again for the entire rest of the film. You could land a space shuttle through these holes. It was laughable.

Oh, I nearly forgot about Samuel L. Jackson. His character was one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen in a film. He acted like a segmented narrator throughout the film giving comments on what we just saw while doing so in a fashion that was abrasive and obnoxious. They also just HAD to throw in him saying “motherf*cker”. They had to do it. It was entirely distracting and stupid.

The action was also just poorly done. There was no sense of danger or intensity. It was bland, quick cutting PG-13 video game slop. I actually almost fell asleep during the big set piece at the end. That’s how boring it was.

Don’t waste you time seeing this film. It’s a mistake that should never have happened and was sabotaged from the beginning. If you want to see good work from José Padilha then check out his previous films. This is something he will be forgetting and I will be too.

0.5/5