Against all odds, Father Gore gives you 50(+) of his favourite films this decade had to offer.
Bear v. one tough woman in the wilderness. Who'll emerge victorious?
Don't go into this one expecting horror. At best this is psychological horror, although there's still not enough to really categorise it as such.
Adam Green hunts down real monsters in this horror mockumentary, which takes a turn for the worse when one man's assumed fictional obsessions turn out to scarily true.
Son of Saul. 2015. Directed by László Nemes. Screenplay by Nemes & Clara Royer.
Starring Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Todd Charmont, Sándor Zsótér, Uwe Lauer, Christian Harting, Amitai Kedar, & Kamil Dobrowolski. Laokoon Filmgroup/Hungarian National Film Fund.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Stories of the Holocaust and WWII are a dime a dozen. Some of them are exploitative, such as Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. Then there’s the exploitation films using the Nazis and their crimes in an exciting, dare I say fun way, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Also can’t forget classic Holocaust-centered films Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful. My personal favourite is The Night Porter, which examines leftover emotions and disturbing feelings from the last few years of the Second World War.
But along comes Son of Saul. It takes a close, personal perspective and drags us alongside, witnessing the dark horrors of the concentration camps. This is one film that uses both subtlety and graphic depictions of its subject to wow the viewer. Director László Nemes brings us inside the world of the Sonderkommandos – prisoners in the German death camps made to work, often burning the corpses of their people after extermination, and other such macabre duties. Having read lots about WWII, specifically what happened in the camps, to see a film bring these events to life is emotional, gripping, and thoroughly savage. However, savage with importance. Without exploiting the experiences of those imprisoned under Nazi rule, Son of Saul manages to craft itself into a powerful drama that tows us through a road of horror to get to its conclusion.
During the fall of 1944, Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian Jew, is imprisoned in a German Nazi concentration camp – the infamous Auschwitz. He works as a Sonderkommando; his task is burning the dead Jews exterminated in the gas chambers. Except one day he finds the body of a boy who was meant to go for an autopsy, and takes him for his son after discovering him still breathing. He convinces the prison doctor not to do it, then decides to try burying his supposed son, also hoping to find a rabbi so they can perform a proper Jewish burial. Meanwhile, Abraham (Levente Molnár) hopes to get a rebellion going against the SS guards. Another fellow, Biedermann (Urs Rechn), proposes they photograph all the horrors of the camps and smuggle the pictures out.
But the body of the boy keeps calling for Saul’s attention, and to make up for his own past Saul continues on his mission to give the boy the burial he deserves instead of relegating him to the mass graves and the body burnings. At the same time, Saul has to make sure he can manage to survive until the terror is over.
Immediately, one thing that’s incredibly noticeable is the almost first-person perspective we get through Saul. Over his shoulder, the camera allows us to hover around Saul’s head, to gain a look into his world, his emotions. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély – whose excellent work can also be seen in 2011’s Miss Bala and his latest in the recent James White – immerses us into the experience of Saul, always keep us on his periphery, only ever briefly allowing small moments outside of his headspace. And so, for a highly personal, almost private story, the cinematography engages us in Saul’s emotional point of view, rarely ever relenting. This helps us feel as if we’re sitting in the midst of the camps. And though anyone outside of the Jewish people who experienced all those atrocities will never ever be able to fully comprehend the mindset, the resonance of this film’s visual style is capable of drawing out those tough, tender, raw emotions.
Furthermore, everything is very dark, almost completely lit by natural light. So the shadows and the sunset and the darkened corners of rooms, hallways, the concrete chambers of Auschwitz, they’re all rich and beautifully captured. Everything looks honest and real. Coupled with that, the fact there’s no score throughout and the images are punctuated by the sounds of voices, the noise of work and machinery, the breathing of Saul and those around him, it adds something perfectly human to the drama and the horror swirling about the camp. Some say without a score films can feel empty. I agree, only on certain accounts. Son of Saul works with no score because there’s no preying on the emotions here. The film speaks solely to the personal human drama, it doesn’t try to play with your feelings and accentuate emotional moments with strings or piano music, or whatever. Rather, the filmmakers continue to immerse us in the world of Saul because without score we’re forced to stick to the images, to the movement of our central character and his actions. Everything becomes like life, playing out right in front of our eyes as naturally as can be while simultaneously looking rich and vibrant.
The juxtaposition of all the different things the Jewish prisoners went through is stunning. For instance, while there’s no shortage of dead corpses, piles of them at times, some of the most disturbing bits are actually less explicit. In one scene, Saul is in a doctor’s office, but finds himself interrupted by a bunch of SS guards. One of them starts to mock Saul, then breaks into a big routine on Jewish song and dance. What’s most disturbing, apart from everyone enjoying Saul being humiliated, is how the ring leader of the mocking grabs Saul, pushing him around the room, shaking him, treating him like some might treat an animal. So even with all the little graphic moments included throughout, a few of the more chilling scenes come from these subtle, quieter moments where we’re able to see how childish the heart of racism is – paralleled with all the brutality that becomes part of it, too. Similarly, the whole idea that Saul sees some beauty left in life, wanting to bury the boy and get a rabbi for him is parallel against the fact he’s ignoring a chance at escape, he’s risking his life further than he has to in order to both honour a child in death, as well as make up for his own past faults. The whole film is filled with great juxtapositions such as these, part of why there are many lingering emotions after the credits roll.
A flawless 5-star experience. At times you’ll want to look away, but don’t. We can never turn our face from atrocity, no matter how brutal and tough to watch. This is not a film that relishes in torture or delights in any of the horror through which it frames the plot. No, Son of Saul shows us the Holocaust in all its grimness, never allowing for an overly emotional experience. It’s more of a trying one. But rightfully so. No film about such an event should ever be easy to sit through. At the same time, Nemes uses his beautiful approach to filmmaking for a purpose, and draws us through a terrifying time in 20th century history. He allows us to experience the world of Saul, to feel and see and hear its morbidity. Most of all, Son of Saul shows us a character and story not often put on film, which takes us deeper, further into the Jewish experience of the Holocaust. More so it brings up questions of morality, humanity, daring to explore some of the scariest darkness among human kind while pushing forward a semi-redemptive theme underneath all the terror. A truly fascinating, impressive bit of cinema.
The Demolisher. 2015. Directed & Written by Gabriel Carrer.
Starring Ry Barrett, Tianna Nori, Jessica Vano, Duncan McLellan, Gerrit Sepers, Bruce Turner, Duane Frey, Andrew Bussey, Owen Fawcett, Rich Piatkowski, & Reese Eveneshen. Latefox Pictures.
Not Rated. 85 minutes.
Sometimes the hype of a film precedes it with way too much intensity. The Demolisher is absolutely one of those types. One of the posters is loaded down with so many quotes there’s barely enough room for the poster itself; already utilizing a minimalist style having the main character stand in a meaningful pose by himself, as if representing everything about the film. Yet these quotes, and from reputable sources (mostly), confuse me. After watching this I couldn’t figure out exactly how any of these reviewers managed to come up with those words to describe it. Granted, there are aspects here of which I’m a fan. The atmosphere and overall tone, including the score and some of the cinematography, makes for an audio-visual treat you don’t usually get out of small indie films, except for the excellent ones floating around out there. So director-writer Gabriel Carrer milks some of what he can out of The Demolisher. Only, after viewing it a couple times just to make sure I felt solid on my verdict, I can’t help feeling there are missed opportunities for storytelling inside this loaded story, as if the plot never truly kick starts itself and gets going proper. Instead we’re left with 85 minutes loaded down with intense, booming music in the score from Glen Nicholls, and some good cinematography out of Martin Buzora – too often marred by the use of slow motion at times – rather than a supposedly John Carpenter-esque, low budget Michael Mann flick, as the poster touts. The influences are there, no doubt. But the quality is far from that hallowed territory.
A cable/internet repairman named Bruce (Ry Barrett) takes care of his disabled wife Samantha (Tianna Nori), a former police officer whose injuries came as a result of a gang-related shooting. Slowly, Bruce devolves into his own world where he takes to the streets at night, donning riot gear and a vicious appetite for violence. More and more the nights bleed into his daytime life. He becomes a vigilante of sorts. Except soon enough, his mental health falls apart. And in the daytime, his violence comes out. After killing a man during a house-call repair, Bruce begins to truly go mad.
When he focuses his disturbing, violent psyche on a young girl named Marie (Jessica Vano), his world crumbles into a frenzy of chaotic madness.
I’m just not sure, above all else, what Carrer is trying to say or do with this movie. What I enjoy is that we get an indie film action flick, as there are several great chase and fight sequences. Added to that is the level of brutality and outright horror inflicted by Bruce, a.k.a the titular Demolisher. So what I do get is that Carrer perhaps wanted to do some action-styled sequences on a lower budget, and they turn out insanely awesome at times; when the slow motion doesn’t rear its head too often.
But aside from action, what’s the point of it all? The Demolisher sets itself up as an emotionally charged character study focused on Bruce and his descent towards madness. However, along the way his journey becomes unclear. At first I imagined there was something to his vigilantism. Or is that merely a gateway into this action-oriented horror? Still not sure. If it’s simply a way to make Bruce into this hulking, always stalking killer like a Death Wish Bronson crossed with Carpenter’s Michael Myers, then it works. Sort of, not always. If there’s something more profound to the journey of Bruce, I’ve yet to figure that out. Not saying the elements are all there to make this anything profound, but it feels like there’s something more this film wants to do or wants to be. Somehow, Carrer loses it along the way and The Demolisher transforms into a lazy bit of horror trying to masquerade as partly arthouse. Never is a mark hit either way. And the finale downright makes no sense to me, so at every corner I’m at a loss for compliments.
All style over substance here. Except, even when the filmmakers are trying for style, there are moments this does not work well for them. As I said, the slow motion bits were a tad too prevalent, and they did nothing to enhance things. Other than give us some more time to watch the scenery and the nice-looking cinematography. Outside of that, this technique only makes things look boring, as if we’re watching any other wannabe action-thriller; over and over, the action is slowed down, to the point these brief bits are painful to watch.
I do love some of the filter work, such as a quick couple shots of Bruce in his riot gear, bathed in a reddish wave of light. Definitely Mann-inspired. But these few types of scenes are limited, and they don’t add anything overly special to anything. With the amazing, nerve-wracking score from Nicholls pulsing constantly, it’s a shame the visuals never amount to much in the end. There could’ve been so much more accomplished with the film’s aesthetics. Unfortunately, it’s all for nought.
This movie gets a 1&1/2-star rating. I can’t give it any more without hating myself. Obviously the visuals and the audio make things exciting to hear, and to look at. But none of that is enough to lift this film out of the muck and mire. At first, you expect The Demolisher will rock you with an amazing style. It does nothing except lull you into hoping at some point the plot will break out and do big things. Never happens. Don’t walk into this relying on any of the outrageous quotes put on the poster. In fact, I chose to track down a totally different one to use on this review because I will not let those totally unrealistic expectations poison you. See it, judge for yourself. But this one’s a real rough watch. And not in an awesome horror-like fashion; just rough and forgettable.
Condemned. 2015. Directed & Written by Eli Morgan Gesner.
Starring Johnny Messner, Michel Gill, Jon Abrahams, Ronen Rubinstein, Lydia Hearst, Dylan Penn, Michael Drayer, Jordan Gelber, Genevieve Hudson-Price, Anthony Chisholm, Kea Ho, Michael DeMello, Perry Yung, & Tuffy Questell. Caliber Media Company.
Not Rated. 83 minutes.
Director-writer Eli Morgan Gesner is obviously a lover of New York City, setting Condemned in the Big Apple, as well as previously directing the documentary Concrete Jungle and serving as a consultant on 12 episodes of How to Make It in America. So I’m not sure if he’s trying to make a statement at all with this one, or if it’s simply easiest to set his grossout, low budget horror in a city he knows best. Either way, I can’t say this is spectacular. Its cheap style shows in many places, as do its influences. What Condemned lacks in style and overall execution it makes up for in a few good laughs, plus a heft dose of weirdness.
There are gore horrors, then there are grossout horror films. This falls into the latter category. There are certain parts of the grossness which really work well for its horror, then other scenes are simply too nasty for no good reason and it turns even me off. Don’t get me wrong – I love a nice gory horror flick. However, there’s a limit to how badly things are done that I will reach. This movie surpasses my limit, simply because it doesn’t do enough with all its other elements to justify such nastiness. For instance, movies like Dead Alive and Cabin Fever are blood-filled, gory movies I enjoy; the first because Peter Jackson brings an incredible pace to the film and pumps gallons upon gallons of blood onto the viewer, the second due to Eli Roth’s campy sense of humour and ability to turn our stomachs with body horror imagery. But Gesner’s film never amounts to anything near either of those, ultimately falling short in pacing. Although, a couple of the characters and the actors by whom they are played lend enough interest that I sat through this and chuckled a few times. I also chose, after the first little while, not to get a snack.
After Maya (Dylan Penn) gets fed up with her parents and their constant fights, she moves in with her boyfriend Dante (Ronen Rubinstein). Only thing is Dante lives in a building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where everyone is squatting. The place is ‘run’ by an older man named Shynola (Anthony Chisholm) and is filled with the strangest kinds of people. Included among the residents are junkies Vince (Jon Abrahams) and Tess (Lydia Hearst), a massive drugged up Jew called Big Foot (Jordan Gelber), Cookie (Perry Yung), Gault (Johnny Messner) and his human toilet Murphy (Michael DeMello), among others.
But soon they’ll all be living in worse squalor than ever. A virus spreads throughout the apartment building, made up of all the disgusting waste and garbage from the rotten mess of all its tenants, and one after another people are infected. They become angry, dangerous killers, which eventually turns the building into stories of madness.
As the city outside lives on, the people inside are dying to get out.
Certainly, if anything, you can enjoy some hideous practical effects. Many of the warts and boils on the people as they become infected are spot on gross. Probably most of the budget went towards making the near neon vomit, the puss-filled sacks, and so on. There is a decent look and feel to the movie, it attains a gritty, grim atmosphere with a dark visual style. But mostly, Gesner aims to disgust. Alongside those brutal effects, from hanging eyeballs to torn up guts to leaking yellow-cream pus, the sound effects themselves are enough to make you sick. Part of all that makes the grossness effective. In other movies that just go for gore, gore and more gore, often times it’s all visual; just throw a load of blood in the frame. At least Condemned opts to work with the sound design by using it appropriately in tandem with the bloody mess created onscreen.
Some of my favourite gore: 1) Tess takes a knife in the forehead/eye which is awesome enough, but then she goes on a manic rant about New York; 2) a hand gets ripped off and it looks good, even better Dante apologies frantically for having torn it away from the owner’s body; 3) someone’s stomach is disemboweled, then the guts get pulled on like a rope; and 4) a perfectly executed chopped off head reminiscent of some of the best in horror. Also, the makeup itself is best on Gault on Murphy, the gay muscle couple, once they start to find themselves infected; almost reminded me of a Rammstein video, in a great way.
I’m not a fan of horror-comedies per say. Though, I am indeed a fan of horror films which go for darkly comedic stories, dialogue, et cetera. There are a couple scenes where I actually laughed out. Most of the movie is straight up grim and savagely gross, but some moments are really funny. Such as the aforementioned Tess rant re: New York, the “NAZIS!” scream from Big Foot, even the two musclebound gay guys are funny (until they’re ultra frightening). This screenplay is nowhere near amazing. It is competent enough to provide some black comedy. Unfortunately, Gesner never provides us with enough to justify the plot, he only gives us what’s needed; nothing more. A grossout gore flick doesn’t really need to have a ton going on, but there’s simply no way to put this above any other films of its kind, there’s just nothing elevating it beyond mediocrity.
There are definitely a couple decent performances. Overall, the cast isn’t great; some of the characters were highly underused, some were made out to be more important than others then found death quickly. If I gave this any higher than a 2&1/2-star rating it would bother me. There’s nothing here, even the makeup effects, which takes it above and beyond that level. Whereas there are a few effects here worth seeing (see: head chop), the majority of Condemned is easily forgotten. If anything, see this to be a completist if you’re like me. Another gory, nasty little flick to tick off the list of films floating around out there. Other than that, throw on something else with more to offer.
Some Kind of Hate. 2015. Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. Screenplay by Brian DeLeeuw & Mortimer.
Starring Grace Phipps, Spencer Breslin, Andrew Bryniarski, Sierra McCormick, Lexi Atkins, Brando Eaton, Ronen Rubinstein, Maestro Harrell, Noah Segan, Michael Polish, Justin Prentice, & Jasper Polish. Caliber Media Company/Revek Entertainment.
Not Rated. 82 minutes.
Low budget indies can go many ways, from weird and wild, to impressive, to downright pieces of trash. I’ve seen a bunch of reviews saying Some Kind of Hate falls into the last of those categories, not many giving it any praise. And while there are some places where the movie could use a huge tweak, namely some of the acting and parts of the screenplay, this is a decent indie horror. It is at times gory, serving up more than a fair share of blood, and others it comes off as a tense, brutal horror with teeth.
Part of the movie, a large part, plays on the collective knowledge, and for some experience, of bullying. It’s not hard to fall into enjoying this if you’ve been a victim yourself, or even if you’re someone who bullied others in high school then changed years later for the better. The story of Lincoln, our main protagonist, is a tough one at times. Just watching him be pushed to the brink, even those first few minutes of the film is harrowing. But on top of everything else there’s a supernatural aspect to Some Kind of Hate. While director Adam Egypt Mortimer and his writing partner (on this picture) Brian DeLeeuw could take a typical revenge-type route with this story, they instead opt to turn it into an entirely different picture. The savagery ultimately makes things intense, but Ronen Rubinstein does a fantastic job in the central role, and the plot keeps everything pretty damn interesting.
Lincoln Taggert (Ronen Rubinstein) has been bullied for years, by the people at school who call him a faggot, push him around, and even at home where his father (Andrew Bryniarski) drinks and yells at him for no reason. One day, Lincoln finally steps up and protects himself. Except for the fact he stabs his bully in the face with a fork.
This brings Lincoln to a camp for… wayward teens, such as himself. There he meets a few people, such as Isaac (Spencer Breslin), some of whom seem overly interested in his past. Problem is that the abuse Lincoln suffered only starts all over again when a teen at the camp named Willie (Maestro Harrell) bullies him. It’s as if nothing will ever change for Lincoln. This time, though, there’s someone watching, someone who cares and understands exactly what he’s going through. A girl named Moira (Sierra McCormick) was driven to kill herself there years ago. And after Lincoln summons her still angry spirit to help avenge him, she unleashes hell upon the camp and anyone who falls into her path.
Even though the budget of the film is small, I love the look. Not simply the choices in direction and cinematography in general, but also how they use anamorphic lenses which gives it a throwback feel. Most of all this aesthetic makes everything seem natural – the daytime sunny scenes feel very light, very beautiful, whereas the darker moments look even more grim. The camera work at times is a little unsteady, yet it works. Because during most scenes there’s a steady and framed flow. Then once Lincoln gets agitated and thrown into a situation where he either must fight or run, the handheld camera comes into play, throwing us off balance and unnerving our senses. This isn’t a film that relies totally on a shaky cam aesthetic, it employs the technique where appropriate. When used correctly, it’s a solid way to express the raging emotions of teenagers, specifically Lincoln in his world of near constant abuse and ridicule.
Added to the look, Some Kind of Hate has a great soundtrack filled with hard metal. More than that, I love the sound design and the score. There’s this ambient, haunting sound floating through certain scenes, which again amplifies into a heavier distorted noise when the stress on Lincoln gets heavier. These are excellent moves that, along with acting, help emphasize how Lincoln loses control. Composer Robert Allaire (I know him from his additional music credits on American Horror Story) does an impressive bit of work, and his score combines with the sound design to create a general air of uneasiness at so many different points. With such good sound design, score, and cinematography, Some Kind of Hate does better things than so many other indie flicks of its type.
Ronen Rubinstein and Sierra McCormick are both excellent here. Can’t say the others are all as good, but these two make up for any shortcomings the film has in the end. Rubinstein is dark and brooding, he truly captures the emotion of a person who’s been beaten down hard by the people around him, even his own family. As the time goes on, he comes out of his shell slightly, goaded by a girl who seems to understand him. There’s a totally different quality to the Lincoln character, which is great because revenge-styled films are usually starkly contrasted; here, Lincoln becomes different, but not completely. He sort of glides in his transition, eventually becoming someone a little different than he was in the beginning. Rubinstein can be loud and boisterous when needed, in those angst-y scenes, then there’s the quiet, subdued nature of Lincoln he brings out in other moments. With McCormick playing the Moira character, their chemistry is unbelievable. And the contrast between Lincoln and Moira is huge, as it turns out. At least once the plot progresses and we come further towards the end. McCormick is filled with anger, she expresses it perfectly without always having to resort to a yell or a scream, though, she certainly does give us those now and then. But it’s her emotive abilities, the way she conveys things with her eyes that give her performance more intensity. She’s able to be both coy and smug, as well as vengeful and nasty. A proper combination of talented actors in McCormick and Rubinstein. I guess Grace Phipps isn’t bad, either. Nothing compared to those two.
Without hesitation, Some Kind of Hate gets 3&1/2 stars. There are plenty of other similarly styled horrors out there, lower budget indie flicks, which try hard and never hit the mark. Meanwhile, this film has a nice little plot, a couple solid lead actors, and then lots of nasty blood and gore. Even with the gory bits, I’ve seen much more vicious films in that regard. But this one brings it to an acceptable level, one we’d expect with a spirit coming back after her terrible suicide to take vengeance for another fellow victim of bullying. Every element here does well to create an atmospheric horror. There are times I wish the script were tighter, and others I hoped for better acting (nice to see Noah Segan in there even if in a small role; he is a treat, always!). Overall, I’ve seen much worse. It’s refreshing to see revenge switched up now and then from the cliche plotlines we expect. The supernatural stuff adds a twist that I found plenty enjoyable as a lover of horror. Check it out and give it a chance. Don’t listen to all the negatives, judge for yourself.
Room. 2015. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, William H. Macy, Randal Edwards, & Justin Mader. A24/Element Pictures/No Trace Camping/TG4 Films.
Rated PG. 118 minutes.
I’ve not yet seen director Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 film Frank, but awhile back I had the chance to see his earlier film What Richard Did and found it incredibly thought provoking, as well as intense and visceral. Abrahamson certainly has a knack for tackling darkness, and from the looks of Frank he also traffics in weirdness, too. Which is great because his latest directorial effort, a screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, is equal parts odd, heartwarming, and boasts a heap of darkness (though not in a horror-ish sense). With a true story serving as the jumping-off point for Donoghue, her story tackles the life affirming relationship between a mother and her son, despite all odds. And yet, as I’ve said, the dark aspects of the plot are constantly worming in and out of the story as it goes. I’ve never read the novel, but I hear great things. If it’s even half as good as the film (luckily the author adapted the screenplay herself; usually a plus), the book is bound to make me run the gamut of my emotions. With a sparse yet engaging style, Abrahamson takes us through this whirlwind story, finding aid in an incredible pairing of Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay. If you’ve heard lots of hype about the film there is a reason for it. The hype is very real and every last bit is well deserved.
Loosely inspired by the real life case of Josef Fritzl, Room tells the story of Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who live together in a small ten-by-ten room; a shed, essentially. Inside, they live out life one day at a time. They have the basics: a place to use the bathroom, to cook, to wash dishes, a place to sleep, too. That’s about all, though. Their keeper, a man they simply call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) – the one who kidnapped Ma and brought her to Room – comes down from time to time to sexually abuse Ma, as Jack hides in the closet. Occasionally, when needed, Nick brings supplies like food and other things to the family of two. It is a bare, horrible existence. Jack doesn’t know anything of the outside world, except what he sees on television.
After he turns five-years-old, Jack begins to learn about the world outside Room. But he doesn’t exactly like what he hears, as it breaks down his preconceived notions of what the world is, being the four walls around him. As Ma tries her best to help Jack understand, she also formulates a plan. She wants her boy to help trick Old Nick.
Thus begins the hopeful escape of Ma and Jack. And it’s only the beginning.
One impressively tragic moment early on is when Jack tells his mother “next week when I‘m 6” she’d better get real candles. She has to correct him that he means next year. Right then and there we understand how blatantly obvious the damage done to him is, as in he’s unable to determine between a week, a month, a year. Because in Room, time is nothing, it is a measure of something the child can’t begin to comprehend. Outside, time goes by, but in there they’re stuck living the same day, over and over. Only minor changes happen. I love that within such a short frame of time we’re already able to understand the isolation.
Later, when Ma has to explain to her boy about the outside world it is intense and sad. It hurts to see Jack unable to get “what the world is.” He thinks it’s all a part of an awful process called growing up. He doesn’t get that the world is out there, they’ve simply been shut off from it by the hideous man known only as Old Nick.
My heart officially broke, yet opened wide, as Jack finds himself for the first time in the outside world beyond Room. Laying in the pan of a pickup truck, he looks directly into the sky and watches as the vast blue ocean above him passes by. It is one of the most emotionally intense scenes I’ve watched in awhile. At once, you’ll be so happy and simultaneously you’ll feel everything shatter. Honestly, it’s rare a drama gets to me so thoroughly and deeply. The way Abrahamson shoots this sequence is so powerful; it plays with your emotions, though, not in a way which tricks you. It is a pure and raw scene filled with beauty of the deepest kind.
The writing is incredible. I’m sure the novel is a powerhouse, because Donoghue adapts it well for the screen. One part I enjoyed so much is the narration by Jack, especially after they make it out of Room and into the world. He talks about being “in the world for 37 hours“, as if he was never actually in the world locked in that shed, which of course he really wasn’t, I suppose. But the way Tremblay talks, his way of expression, the inflection of his voice, it is so crazy to imagine he’s a child. It’s as if a grown man is inside him acting. And Donoghue’s words shine through him. The way she explains things via the Jack character is exposition, but it doesn’t feel that way. We really get life from his perspective, as it would likely be if a kid was hidden away for his entire first six years then suddenly released into the outdoors. Even the way we literally see shots from Jack’s perspective, it holds the excitement and wonder of a little kid, something we all can remember looking back on the early years. So combine Donoghue and her writing with Abrahamson’s directing style, and everything converges into such a perfect mix. The screenplay’s basic and honest storytelling is complimented by the way Abrahamson pushes things forward with an equally honest, compelling view into the life of all these people affected by tragedy. It is not an easy story to tell, in any sense, yet these two artists, along with a great team, make Room into one of the best movies of 2015.
A flawless 5-star film. Perhaps it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea. Maybe others may expect more outright darkness, but that’s just not this movie. Room tackles a difficult story, one loosely based in real events. It tackles the difficulty with grace, subtlety. The main actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, knock their characters out of the park; their chemistry is unreal at every moment, in every last scene, and you’d swear they lived together for a year before filming. All cylinders pump from the moment Room begins, to the minute the credits roll. Not often am I visibly affected by a drama, though, every now and then one comes along that captivates me, takes me to another place emotionally, mentally. Room is one of those very films. It won’t be soon that I forget it, either. Neither will you, I suspect.
Macbeth. 2015. Directed by Justin Kurzel. Screenplay by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie & Todd Louiso; based on the original play by William Shakespeare.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Lochlann Harris, Lynn Kennedy, Seylan Baxter, Brian Nickels, Hilton McRae, James Harkness, Ross Anderson, David Thewlis, Sean Harris and Elizabeth Debicki.
See-Saw Films/DMC Film/ACE/Film 4/Creative Scotland/Studio Canal.
Rated 14A. 113 minutes.
You either love Shakespeare, or you haven’t got any time for him. That’s just the way it goes. I’ve never met anyone who says “Oh yeah I read a bit now and then”. You read Shakespeare plenty or don’t give a shit. Honestly. He’s one of those acquired tastes. I’ve always enjoyed his work because of the death, the mystery, intrigue, all the murder and deceit and disguises. Shakespeare wrote such wild and exotic stuff, it’s just hard to crack through some of his dialogue if you don’t study it. And that’s why I think you either love him or hate him. Bottom line.
Justin Kurzel came on with an amazing debut, Snowtown, which is based on the real serial killings of Australian murderer John Bunting. That was one macabre yet compelling films. It almost dulled the violence and atrocity to a point where, by the end, you’ve nearly become bored by it. Yet somehow the story, the people involved and those caught up in Bunting’s whirlwind of murderous impulse, it all keeps you interested. So here in Macbeth, there’s a certain aspect of the titular character which parallels that whirlwind feeling. Not in the same way. But the play is of course called Macbeth. We can’t forget about Lady Macbeth, whose power is almost without rival, as well. It’s the attention paid to the characters themselves, which Kurzel did so well in Snowtown, that makes this Shakespearean adaptation thrilling and worthy of respect. The look and feel of the entire film is amazing, the acting even better. But best of all is the resonance Shakespeare’s words still have today, on film, and how Kurzel manages to give us a wonderful take on the source material with a simultaneously beautiful and grimly captured vision of that fearsome Scottish play, so they say in the theatre.
Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), Thane of Glamis, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches, which tells him one day he will become the King of Scotland. Succumbing to his deadly ambition, his own manifest destiny, and driven to action by his equally power hungry wife Lady MacBeth (Marion Cotillard), he murders the current King, Duncan (David Thewlis).
However, after the deed is done Macbeth becomes wracked with paranoia, guilt, fear. He slowly starts to unravel, right from the beginning. Likewise, Lady Macbeth finds herself similarly plagued as her husband. Their murderous, power mad impulses don’t stop there. Later on, she takes to sleepwalking, a living effect of her and her husband’s crimes. Their lives become that of a King and Queen, but their climb to the throne is marred with blood and stained with betrayal.
The atmosphere of the film all around is incredibly well crafted. Immediately the battle scenes take you into a world torn by war. Those sequences are wrapped in fog, slow motion moments which wrap you up inside them before moving to a different, exciting shot. Another aspect of this film I loved: the editing. Specifically I thought the way they did the coronation scene was perfect. Macbeth switches back and forth between observing the people chanting for him and the night where he stabbed King Duncan to a bloody death in his bed; on top of that, Fassbender looks almost sickly already with paranoid guilt, which makes things all the more powerful. There are a ton of instances where editing provides us with that kind of impact. Editor Chris Dickens has done a few solid movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, but I would say this is absolutely his best work to date.
Then there’s the combination of an epic score from composer Jed Kurzel, whose best work is found in Snowtown and Dead Europe, along with gorgeously captured cinematography by Adam Arkapaw who has done impressive things on True Detective, Top of the Lake, Lore, Snowtown and Animal Kingdom. I love how the cinematography captures both the exteriors so vividly and in a sort of morbid light, then all the interiors are in the depths of the darkness, only lit up rarely. Films always impress me when they seek a shadowy look and tone while also keeping that quality throughout, not just in the literally shadowy scenes. It isn’t easy, but Arkapaw has a talent for that quality.
These two elements together, beautifully composed shots with a grim tone and a score that goes from an ominous lull to a crashing roar, fuse into what becomes a shadowy nightmare of paranoia, guilty thoughts, and plenty of brutality. These are masters at work. Jed Kurzel’s music haunts us in certain scenes; always lurking, sometimes crashing down on our heads and ripping us from our moorings. The visuals Arkapaw help Justin Kurzel direct us through a heavy, brooding adaptation of Shakespeare.
Macbeth: “I am in blood, stepped in so far.”
I read a review recently that said Michael Fassbender was boring as Macbeth. Serious? The frailty, the fragile nature of the character which he brought forward is stunning. In similar fashion, Marion Cotillard also conveys the madness of Lady Macbeth so well. They’re each fitted for the role. I don’t see how Fassbender was boring, nor can I see anybody complaining about Cotillard. For his part, Macbeth comes across as violent, ruthless and full of mixed emotions, but he is essentially a puppet. Not saying Lady Macbeth is the root of all the problems, she didn’t literally make him kill Duncan. But Macbeth is not the strongest one. Lady Macbeth is. She has all the ambition, it simply has to flow through Macbeth himself. They’re both fragile, but Fassbender brings out the weakness of Macbeth strong and evident, which allows us to see the power of Lady Macbeth, relegated to the title of his wife. She is the one in charge, because she has to be. Macbeth is almost a statement on these war weary souls who live only to fight, to become King, to rule with power; they’re all fuelled by their ambition, but through a stronger outlet. Often, it is their significant other. For Macbeth, it is the Lady Macbeth who fuels his quest to power. They both do themselves in, she only started things out with their private talks. She feels the guilt just as much. If not more. Fassbender and Cotillard bring to live to well-worn stage characters, transforming them into dreadful, amazing film characters.
For me, a flawless adaptation of Shakespeare. It doesn’t have to have everything the original had because this is version of that Scottish play. But this 5-star film has Justin Kurzel directing the hell out every last frame, giving us a view into the paranoia and guilt of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with intensity, savagery at times. The entire film is a haunted portrait of madness. Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are both engaging, as well as powerful in their own respect. And there’s also Paddy Considine of whom I’m a big fan, he brought his talent to the table here in an unsettling way.
Old scenes are given brand new life in this retelling of William Shakespeare’s (arguably) most famous work. The atmosphere and mood of the entire piece is so thick, so rich you could cut it through with a knife. Absolutely a Shakespearean adaptation worth seeing. Can’t wait to snatch this up on Blu ray.
The Hateful Eight. 2015. Directed & Written by Quentin Tarantino.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell, and Gene Jones. The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 187 minutes.
For me, when I first got interested in film Quentin Tarantino was sort of the guy whose movies everyone talked about. Pulp Fiction was out a couple years before I saw it, then I went back to watch Reservoir Dogs, which blew me away almost even more. Later on I came to love Jackie Brown most of all his work. But Tarantino continually pumps out solid movies, his writing is consistently interesting and full of his charisma. And you can give me all the “Tarantino steals” nonsense you want, ain’t gonna change my mind, gals and goons! Heard it all before. To me, Quentin is the ultimate film lover. Someone I understand. As a fellow cinephile, I see him as a master of the homage and a connoisseur of the world of movies.
The Hateful Eight sees him a little ways down the road from the world of Django Unchained, directing a film filled with exciting Western charm and boasting an interesting ensemble cast with standout performances by Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Samuel L. Jackson. I’ve seen plenty of other reviews with their nitpicks, their bore with Tarantino’s style. Not me. I loved it. Let me tell you why.
As a white man, I can’t tell you how it feels for black men and women to watch this or Django Unchained. The word ‘nigger’ only gets used about half as much in this film as it does in Django, but god damn if it isn’t a lot. Now, at the same time, this is set in an era just after the end of the American Civil War; a bloody, heated time in U.S. history. Naturally, there were many, many people out there dropping that word on black people ALL THE TIME. I’m not saying it has to be like that on film, but isn’t a huge part of the story about Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and his feelings about being black in a hellish white world? Come to think of it, isn’t a blizzard such a great metaphor for the type of white trouble at which Marquis finds himself the center? So naturally in an honest, brutal film tackling some racist issues, we’re going to hear the word. Again, I can’t possibly understand how it is for black people when they watch this.
My feeling is this – without spoiling anything for those who’ve yet to see it, The Hateful Eight wraps mystery around a main plot, while we also end up with Major Marquis getting trapped at Minnie’s Haberdashery with guys like Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), an avowed racist who served in his father’s small but hateful troops, and also the older much more sternly racist former Confederate General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers (Bruce Dern). So a good portion of what happens has to do with Warren and his confrontation with these racists in such close quarters. In fact, we find out Warren and Sanders fought at a battle in Baton Rouge, so it’s almost more intimate with them stuck in a cabin during a raging blizzard than they ever got on the battlefield. I understand it can’t be easy for anyone black to hear the word ‘nigger’.
Although, here’s to hoping bits of Major Marquis and his story help to patch those wounds. He is a great character, a strong, intelligent black man in a vicious time. Jackson plays him to perfection, which is no surprise. A role clearly written with him in mind, but in the best way possible. Lots of typical Samuel L., and at the same time there are extremely subtle moments where his small gestures and pensive attitude make things interesting, as well as tense. Great character, great performance.
Speaking of performances, both Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh complete an excellent triple threat of actors at the forefront of The Hateful Eight. Leigh is one of the few women in the movie, but is in the middle of every last portion. Her character is wild, outspoken, she is a woman in a man’s world. Not only is she feisty, she’s tough as hell. Daisy Domergue, Leigh’s character, takes a beating from start to finish, in so many ways. Brutal at times to see a woman receive such violence; then again, Daisy happens to be a murderer. Either way, Leigh was the perfect fit for this role. A mixture of genuine crazy, humour, and plenty of strength.
Perhaps my favourite in the film, even above the amazing performances of Jackson and Leigh, is Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth. Everything from his miraculously beautiful facial hair, fitting in with the period piece, to the delivery of his lines, his screen presence. He fills the frame, even when he’s only taking up a third of it. Russell’s a solid actor who brings his talents to The Hateful Eight, in a role that could’ve easily been played by others. Though, no one else would have brought what Russell did. The Hangman is a fun character, he’s a laugh at times, but don’t fuck with him. Russell and Leigh have incredible chemistry, plus he and Jackson do, too.
As an ensemble you’d be hard pressed to find many films rivaling the performance in this one. Tarantino usually brings together an interesting collective on each of his productions. This may be favourite, honestly. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir who was lots of fun. Above anyone else, I have to say Walton Goggins knocks the character of Mannix out the park. I’ve loved him since The Shield. Here, he takes his career to another level. Difficult character to tackle, but when he and Samuel L. Jackson share the screen at various points it is true gold. Great casting, even better performance from Goggins whose abilities are on display over and over here.
The look of the film is magnificent. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has done a TON of amazing work, from Oliver Stone’s Salvador and Platoon, as well as Natural Born Killers and the criminally under appreciated Nixon, the fascinatingly weird U Turn to work with Scorsese on Casino and Bringing Out the Dead and later The Aviator, Shutter Island and Hugo. He’s worked with Tarantino already on Kill Bill and Django Unchained.
Richardson brings his brilliant eye to The Hateful Eight making the Wyoming winter come to us in vivid white, the stark mountains sitting among it all, capturing the characters and the stagecoach at the start with such a raw beauty. Then after Tarantino’s tight screenplay moves into the cabin of Minnie’s Haberdashery, the way Richardson brings to life the spirit of the Western all while staying within those four walls, rarely stepping back outside at all, it’s genuine cinematic magic. Love the way everything looks and feels.
Add to that Ennio Morricone’s score, and things become classic. There is plenty of that good old Western feel we expect to come from Morricone, then there are bits and pieces of other scores he’s done – for instance, parts from Exorcist II are dropped in, as well as unused score Morricone did for John Carpenter’s The Thing (which Tarantino admittedly modeled this film after). Even further, Morricone gives us these foreboding pieces that rock us, right from the beginning as the stagecoach toughs through the Wyoming wilderness, a half snow covered Jesus on the cross at the fore of the shot, right in our faces. Plenty of great moments where Morricone’s music lifts Tarantino to that otherworldly place many classic Westerns now exist.
A 5-star film. At three hours and seven minutes, The Hateful Eight was fun from beginning to end. There were parts I expected, which were still great, and others I did not expect, even greater. Quentin Tarantino brings to life a universe he similarly existed in with his last film, only this time a little past the Civil War and the end of slavery. Though, as we see and know already slavery was almost only the beginning of America’s race issues and thoroughly awful problems. With a bunch of stellar performances, the characters of Tarantino come alive in their own ways, each with their particular quirks and personalities. Further than that, the way this story ends up is surprising, and extremely enjoyable. With all the talk of race in the U.S. today, especially with a rash of terrible killings by the police in America this past year or more, The Hateful Eight may or may not have things to say; you’ll have to ask a smarter, more qualified person than myself, an African American man or woman who knows what it’s like to be black in America, as Major Marquis does.
Nevertheless, I loved this movie. I’ll see it again, maybe in theatre. Definitely snatching this up on Blu ray when it’s released, adding to my complete collection of Tarantino directed and written films. See it on the big screen – the visuals and the sound are out of this world.
The Revenant. 2015. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith & Alejandro González Iñárritu; based in part on the novel by Michael Punke.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Joshua Burge, Christopher Rosamond, Robert Moloney, Lukas Haas, and Brendan Fletcher. New Regency Pictures/Anonymous Content/Appian Way/RatPac Entertainment/Soho VFX.
Rated 14a. 156 minutes.
Alejandro González Iñárritu is a director I’ve admired for a while. Around 13 years ago I remember seeing Amores perros on television; I went on to get the name of the film tattooed on my wrist, after it became a favourite of mine. Pretty much every one of his films since have been magical, in some way, shape or form. Whether it be the story itself or just the way Iñárritu serves it up for us, the movies he makes are unique and exceptionally made overall. This one is no different.
And while I definitely believe The Revenant is one of the best films of the past 15 years, I wasn’t totally pleased with the story. Lots of fun, no doubt. It’s the distortion of what’s known about Hugh Glass, the focus of the story; I know films get dramatized, and I love parts of what this screenplay added onto Glass at times, yet there could’ve been plenty intensity without all that. Nevertheless, with Iñárritu alongside composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, the immensely talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, plus a host of others including Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, The Revenant has the goods and also gives us an interesting, intensely raw modern Western.
During a trapping expedition in 1823, Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson) leads a party of men through the wilderness of America. In the party are John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), as well as Hugh’s son, a native boy named Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), among others. After an encounter with the Arikara, a Native American tribe, the hunting party ends up on the run.
The worst comes when Hugh is mauled savagely by a bear before luckily killing it. Afterwards, Fitzgerald suggests putting Hugh out of his misery, though, others are much more willing to try and help. What little they can, anyways. When a young Mountain Man Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and Hawk stay behind along with Fitzgerald, Captain Henry instructs that if and when Glass succumbs to his wounds, he’s offered a proper burial.
Only Fitzgerald ends up doing the unthinkable, killing Hawk in an argument, then convinces Bridger with a lie to leave Glass to die, half-buried in a grave.
But Hugh survives. As Fitzgerald and Bridger move back towards an American settlement, Glass tries to hang on. Hoping to cross their paths again.
Between the scenery and Emmanuel Lubezki’s wonderful eye, as well as Iñárritu and his vision, the look of The Revenant lingers with me. All the shooting with natural light truly is gorgeous. And it isn’t just how nice things look either. The forest, the people, everything feels raw and untouched. Nasty even, at times. It makes everything look better in that the stripped down cinematography helps the realism. There are so many amazing sequences, one after another. Possibly my favourite are a couple of the dream-like moments in the screenplay where Glass sees very wild images. I like that there are these surreal pieces thrown in now and then. The whole film has plenty of typical but awesome Western imagery, on top of that Iñárritu shows us these vivid, strange scenes where Glass is almost outside of himself, outside of the world. A bunch of action sequences in the movie are completely worth the salt, including the opening moments depicting a run-in with a Native American tribe which drives Glass, Henry and the others out into the wilderness, down the river. The movie starts off with a big bang. But it’s not like a typical action movie, the cinematography and the entire production just pulls you into that world, the space of these characters so immediately.
Everyone onscreen throughout The Revenant does a fantastic job, even the small roles played by the likes of two actors I love such as Brendan Fletcher and Kristoffer Joner. Then we’ve got Will Poulter depicting Jim Bridger at age nineteen before he went on to become the fabled Mountain Man (though his actual involvement in Glass’ desertion is debated historically); Poulter pulls his weight, that’s for certain.
But the showcase comes from Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. The way Hardy oozes menace even without saying much is a testament to his acting ability. Apparently he drew from Tom Berenger in Platoon, which I can absolutely see. There’s a great cinematic villain here that will stand the test of time in the Western genre.
DiCaprio gives what is arguably his best performance. No hype. He gives the expected grueling performance at certain times. Then at others there’s a perfect silence about his disposition. We could get bored watching him. Instead, he says what more often than not Glass actually can’t, with his face and eyes instead of tons of exposition. Most of all, the determination is visible at every moment, his inextinguishable courage always present. The vulnerability of Glass’ character, alone in the wild, is also something Leo gets across because of the youthfulness in him, but even more so due to the fact of his nuance as an actor. I’ve always enjoyed the range DiCaprio has displayed over the course of his interesting career. Here, The Revenant gives him a chance to show a ton of that, from start to finish.
Even with the historical liberties taken story-wise, Iñárritu’s film is a 4 star production. Top to the bottom, all aspects of The Revenant fire on every available cylinder. DiCaprio and Hardy put on an absolute clinic, as far as acting goes. Then you’ve got Gleeson and Poulter in supporting roles that add plenty to the whole show. But the technical side of things, the filming (and even the CGI on the bear which was incredible), the work that went into every aspect from the amazing score to the locations and everything in between, it’s all so admirable. Sure, there are lots of homages to other movies, scenes that felt very similar to other older Westerns and so on. Yet there’s too much here to find enjoyable, too many well designed and filmed sequences to say The Revenant is anything but excellent. If anything, I wish they’d have stuck closest to the true story because that alone makes for a great story. For all his realism, Iñárritu doesn’t seem to worry about the discrepancies between the real events and this semi-Hollywooded version.
Nevertheless, see this in theatre, don’t wait until it’s out on VOD or Blu ray. This first and foremost needs to be watched on a massive screen. Take it in. A great movie.