An American man goes on a vacation to flee his life, in the process finding love and cosmic terror.
Interstellar. 2014. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Wes Bentley, Jessica Chastain, Jon Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, David Gyasi, Casey Affleck, William Devane, David Oyelowo, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Leah Cairns. Paramount Pictures. Rated PG. 169 minutes. Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi
I was excited to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar for a number of different reasons. One of those being I have really enjoyed Nolan and his films since first seeing Memento, and then going on to explore the other films he would continue to make, as well as going back to his excellent feature length debut Following. Second, I’ve also always liked Matthew McConaughey. Dazed and Confused was a staple of my first years at university, and no matter how many terrible rom-coms, et cetera, he went on to do before coming into his real own as an actor I could never get enough of his sly charm. On top of all that I’m a big fan of science fiction, so Interstellar looked from the beginning of its announcement to be something worth getting excited over in the genre.
The story of the film is similar to others, in that Earth has been devastated in the future, so scientists and great minds alike have been trying to figure out ways to either sustain the planet or find somewhere new to colonize and continue on with mankind’s ultimate fate. Ex-NASA test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), along with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), end up stumbling upon a top secret facility out amongst the desolate cornrows and dust storms of the now desert-like conditions near their home. When they do, it comes to their surprise scientists have been working on finding another planet so as to get human beings away from Earth, in order to try and avoid extinction. Cooper is recruited to go into space along with several others, and tasked with finding a planet suitable for sustaining human life.
I’ve really got to say, I was pretty bored for the first hour or so. However, once the mission sort of kicks into gear things got interesting. I’m not one of these people who needs constant action, of any sort, to keep me occupied. This is not my style. I just couldn’t get into the beginning of the film, honestly. Though, I enjoyed the characters, especially Cooper and his family; the dynamic between McConaughey and Foy as father-daughter was great, plus John Lithgow is always a damn treat for me.
I like the character development in the family, particularly McConaughey – throughout the rest of the film after all the initial setup falls into place, his struggle is some of the most interesting stuff that’s going on. Nolan has stated this is very much a human film about families, in a sense, and I do not disagree with that whatsoever. Cooper goes through a great struggle, especially in the early part of Interstellar. It’s incredible, and heartbreaking, to imagine what things would have to be like for astronauts who will eventually have to deal with time shifts and other such problems – going into areas of space where one hour there equals a year or more on Earth. Of course, McConaughey does a fabulous job with the character of Cooper. He’s turned into one enormous, powerhouse of an actor.
There are a couple other notable performances I did enjoy other than McConaughey. I usually love Jessica Chastain – here, no different. She provided just enough of what I hoped the character Murph would come to be, and once again proves she has real talent – some of the moments with her came off extremely emotional, very genuine. Aside from their physical resemblance, Mackenzie Foy and Chastain worked well as the same character, younger and older versions respectively; each of them carry the same adventurous and rebel charm.
A few of the smaller roles were done well. David Gyasi did a great job as one of the astronauts along with McConaughey’s Cooper – he kept me interested every time his character was in a scene; one scene I have to mention is after two of the other astronauts return after quite a length of time away, and the way Gyasi played this just felt perfect.
I was particularly surprised, in a great way, to see both Casey Affleck (as the older version of Cooper’s son) and Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. In particular, I really enjoyed Affleck. His voice has something about it which consistently strikes me as interesting, and in this role really fit well with that – though, his role is not exactly major I really liked the scenes he appeared in, especially the videos sent from Earth to his father in space. Excellent choice to include both Affleck and Damon as minor characters because they lend a lot of their excellent talent towards filling out an already pretty damn good cast.
What truly does Interstellar justice overall is the gorgeous cinematography, courtesy of Hoyte Van Hoytema whose work includes Let the Right One In, The Fighter, and Her. This is just truly beautiful stuff. Not only is the cinematography remarkably beautiful to look at, Nolan actually had some set pieces built; for instance, the interior of the space shuttle and such locations. I think this really worked well. Granted, right from the start of any science fiction film, for the most part, you know there’ll be at least a certain degree of computer generated imagery. However, Nolan helps make things a little more real by using these built locations. I loved the spaceship itself. The inside is really wonderful. There will be plenty of comparisons to some of the most famous science fiction films of all-time, and I’m sure Nolan included a couple bits in homage to those, but with the look and feel of the film Interstellar stands on its own. It is most certainly a modern science fiction movie, in terms of views (mostly scientific) presented, and the aesthetic look/feel reinforce this fact.
Added to all this is another fantastic score by Hans Zimmer. Lots of people like to say his composing sounds similar from film to film, and they do, but that’s part of a technique I believe he readily employs; he likes to work with patterns, repetitions, similar cycles. Regardless of that, I love his work, all the time. He does a lot of great composing for Nolan’s films in recent years. This sounds so much different from those other works, and I love that it does because that aspect really sets it apart from Nolan’s other movies – especially his recent work on the Dark Knight trilogy. Zimmer is one hell of a composer. His music lifts so many moments above and beyond what they already were, and kept me so entranced at times it is wild. I really, really could not get enough of the final hour in regards to Zimmer’s score – there was this real fugue-esque sound he achieved, which not only brought the intensity to a higher level but also really made scenes feel incredibly ominous. Great music.
Overall, I’ve got to say this an amazing movie. A definite 4.5 out of 5 stars. The only thing that holds me back from giving Nolan’s film a full 5-star rating is the beginning; I really found it lagged, hard. While it did keep me interested enough to stick with things, and it did not affect my overall opinion of the film too negatively, I still believe Nolan dragged his feet a little out of the gate. Mostly, there was just a bit more talk than I feel was necessary. I love scripts with a lot of dialogue. Here, I just felt as if there was almost too much an emphasis on worrying about explaining things – as if the Nolan brothers were anticipating the usual hordes of people looking to debunk every single sentence and bit and piece of a science fiction film. In lieu of including a lot of scientific talk about space travel, et cetera, I think the film could’ve cut out at least 15-20 minutes and not been hurt in any way. Despite that, Interstellar is a truly wonderful movie full of all the things I love about science fiction. It does have its own message, but I think one of the great things is the fact the movie addresses human intervention/the advances & mistakes of humans themselves into the whole concept of interstellar travel better than I could have imagined – especially once Cooper meets Dr. Mann, and the events that follow on to the end of the film. Nolan really has great ideas; very human, very existential. Not only the way he makes films, the way he writes and thinks of/explores themes is also pretty excellent. See this movie, enjoy it. There are great performances, a very nice script full of adventure, spectacular sound design and score, plus great imagery. This is one wild science fiction epic by a continually innovative filmmaker.
Star 80. 1983. Directed & Written by Bob Fosse. Based on an article from Teresa Carpenter.
Starring Mariel Hemingway, Eric Roberts, Cliff Robertson, Carroll Baker, Roger Rees, David Clennon, and Josh Mostel.
Warner Home Video.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
★★★★I’m not particularly huge on Bob Fosse, though, I do like his films. He does have a nice perspective on things, as far as I’m concerned. Fresh filmmaker. Then when I saw Star 80 there was something about it which really spoke to me.
The story of Star 80 is a true story of former Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), who was later murdered by her husband Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). At the time, the two were separated because of marital problems such as Snider’s reluctance to let her have any independence. The film chronicles Stratten’s rise from fast food waitress to Playboy Playmate hanging in Hugh Hefner’s (Cliff Robertson) mansion, rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the day. Snider was the first one to notice how “model beautiful” Stratten was, and believed because he essentially found her it was his claim to fame. However, soon Snider would realise her fame was her own. He could not accept it. One thing leads to another, as Snider gets more and more controlling, until everything spirals out of control completely.
This was a story I’d never heard before. Whatsoever. I like to think I’ve heard a lot of pop culture stories, especially really crazy ones and those involving crime/murder, but of course, one person can’t know everything – right? I was absolutely amazed once I saw Star 80. This was not my first experience with Bob Fosse. He is a fascinating talent, there is no doubt. Great director. He has made some definitely unique choices, as far as what he directs. Interesting resume. This is not a strange film, but it’s most certainly a dark one. Deep dark. Although not a stranger to the darkness – Fosse did direct both Cabaret and the biopic of Lenny Bruce aptly titled Lenny, which are each dark in their own rights. Although, Star 80 is a much more sinister level of dark than anything else in Fosse’s excellent filmography. Still not a surprise. Even in All That Jazz, a partly biographical and ridiculously honest movie, there’s a certain level of despair. Really a man who is not afraid of darkness, at the very least. It helps here. The story itself is one of fame, murder, misogyny, and the broken search for the supposed American dream (or better yet – the American nightmare as it were).
There are two pretty nice performances in Star 80. The most incredible of them all is, most obviously in my mind, Mr. Eric god damn Roberts. I’ve always enjoyed him. Personally, I love his sister a lot, too. But I think Eric doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While he’s beginning to experience a resurgence a little now since his appearance in The Dark Knight, I still think his work is under appreciated. Star 80 pretty much all but proves my point on its own. His performance is so ridiculously creepy right from the get go. Most people might say it’s his 1980s pornstar moustache. It isn’t. Roberts’ whole demeanour, from the eyes to the look across his face, it all just makes me cringe a little. Not to mention the rambling, talking to himself, ranting. It’s a very unsettling character for Roberts to inhabit. This is how we start the film out – shots of Stratten and Snider pacing, talking to himself, bloody. Usually it doesn’t make things very interesting to begin from the end, especially giving us a more clear idea of what’s happening as opposed to something vague, but Fosse knows a lot of people (most certainly at the time the film was made) would certainly know the story anyways. So he opts to really dive into the character of Snider. While it’s a focus on Stratten overall, Fosse wants to get at the pathology of the man who ruined her life. Roberts does so much nice work in this movie. I’ll forever be a huge fan.
Mariel Hemingway does well playing Dorothy Stratten. Most people often assume the Playboy Playmates are a bunch of bimbos. Certainly that was the case back in the 1980s. I don’t doubt ideas about women who pose nude back then were worse than now – and that’s not to say things are good fro them, or any women, nowadays either. Hemingway shows Stratten as a conflicted woman, but not stupid. We see Stratten get juggled between men. As Snider rules over her life until it makes her snap, the next man she moves onto is basically managing her life just the same. She goes from one guy to another being controlled. Though, it’s not particularly strong of her to go from one relationship to the next under near similar circumstances, I still believe Hemingway shows the strength Stratten had to at least try and face Snider herself – while everyone tried to make her not confront him face to face, she wanted to give him one last bit of dignity. Unfortunately for Dorothy, this was the final thing Paul Snider needed from her, and then he used this very thing to murder her. It’s so sad this happened. I hate to say I enjoyed a film about someone’s murder, however, I do believe Hemingway gave a good performance. There’s at least something good about this aspect.Most certainly one of my favourites in Bob Fosse’s filmography. He is an interesting guy. If not a bit of a dirtbag according to his own creation, All That Jazz. Regardless, I do like the way he makes movies. Unique filmmaker. Star 80 is his version of the tragic true story of Dorothy Stratten and her collision course with the hurricane that was Paul Snider. The performances by both of the film’s stars, Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts, help all the emotions come across as they’re meant to play with the audience.
One of the downsides about this movie is the really awful performance of Cliff Robertson as Hugh Hefner. First of all, he didn’t do a really good job at doing a Hefner impersonation – you don’t have to do a caricature, but it was really one of the worst celebrity-playing-celebrity roles I’ve seen (and I’ve seen almost 4,000 films… I’d like to think I’ve learned something). Second, I don’t know Hugh personally, clearly, but I do not think this was a good representation of who the man really is because I see him as a pioneer, someone at least partly interested in women’s rights. This didn’t make him out in the greatest light really. Though, it didn’t make him appear to be a piece of shit. Either way, I did not really enjoy Robertson’s performance here.
Everything else was fairly spot on. I highly recommend any fans of true stories, as well as Fosse fans, check this out if they can find a copy. Hard to get. Worth it.
L’inconnu du lac (English title: Stranger by the Lake). 2014. Directed & Written by Alain Guiraudie.
Starring Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, and Patrick d’Assumçao. Les films du losange. Unrated. 97 minutes.
I know a lot men personally who would be uncomfortable watching a movie like Stranger by the Lake. As a straight man myself, I have no problem with queer cinema. Just as I’ve got no issues with homosexuality, transsexuality, anything of any nature similar. I’m supportive of the rights of all human beings to do what they please, so long as it affects no one else. Personal choice is personal choice. That’s also why I don’t shy away from any movies which deal with queer situations, issues, et cetera. For instance, I happen to love Brokeback Mountain while most of my straight male friends would probably make fun of me (nice guys – just not the type who are going to comfortably sit and watch two dudes kiss or make love). I don’t want to particularly see it in real life or in film, as in I don’t find that pleasurable – I don’t mind to see it on film, though, if there’s a purpose. Stranger by the Lake has its own purposes. I think it’s a really exciting movie. If you’re comfortable in your own sexuality, or I guess particularly if you’re gay, you would probably be able to admit it’s a very sexy film, as well. Absolutely a fine dramatic thriller centered around a frequent hotspot for men cruising to find quick lovers, and maybe more – sinister and otherwise.
Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake tells the story of a young man named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) who spends his summer afternoons hanging around a local swimming spot – a lake where a lot of male bathers, mainly gay men, go to swim and bask in the sun. Nearby, there is a place where promiscuous sexual encounters happen between those who frequent the lakeside attraction. Franck meets a man named Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) whose wife has recently left him. The young man is not particularly attracted to Henri, but the two form a friendly relationship, and often talk together while sitting and admiring the other men at the lake. Soon, Franck also meets the charming and handsome Michel (Christophe Paou). However, one night Franck secretly witnesses Michel commit a savage act. Yet despite what he knows Franck is intensely attracted to Michel, who he has come to discover is a killer. From here things become very strange, very sexual, and very mysterious.
I think the plot of the film is really a great driving force on its own, but what really makes the movie tick are the performances. It’s all about the chemistry between Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel. They are a pretty good duo. I’m not sure of their real life sexual orientations. Regardless if they are gay or straight, they do a good job acting passionately towards one another. While this is not a pornographic movie, and not even particularly a romantic film either, much of the story relies on the two of them acting off one another. A lot of the film’s tension is built through how we end up feeling about Michel – his interactions with Franck really fuel all the emotions conjured up in us. The two of these guys are really great together. I think Deladonchamps is my favourite. Yet Paou is fairly villainous in a seriously quiet, subdued manner.
Still, I can’t forget to mention Patrick d’Assumçao either honestly. He has a minor role. Though, I do feel there’s something important about him. Not that he comes off as unimportant. I think there’s a certain amount of a polar opposite effect in the character of Henri – while he is just this boring, nice, fragile, hurting man who could probably offer a genuine companionship for Franck, the young man is more interested in a dangerous person like Michel. If you didn’t know what you know about Michel, you would probably understand that Franck would be more intrigued by Michel. On the other hand, knowing what we know it’s that tragic irony visible in the plot that makes Henri a sympathetic character.
This was one of my favourite films of the last year, which was included in the Best Of 2014 list I did recently. It’s nearly flawless. There’s something very exciting and mysterious about the movie, how it flows together, the characters – everything just works, firing on all cylinders. I’ve never seen any of Alain Guiraudie’s other work, but certainly aim to search some out now and watch them. I love a good erotic thriller. As a straight man, I don’t need to watch something about straight people. I hope there are many, many more like me – I know there are because if not these films might not survive to see the light of day, unfortunately. I think this could have been about anybody, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, whatever – this works as a basic concept. Plus, I think these men who acted in the film really pulled it off in a fantastic fashion. There is a lot of tension here, and great chemistry from the nice, tight writing of the script. I’d watch this again any day. Looking forward to eventually picking up a copy on Blu ray. Fantastic film. Highly recommended, but probably only to my cinema lover friends. To those too uptight or not comfortable enough with their own sexuality – get over yourself! You’re missing TONS of great cinema.
Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
I’m a fan of the survival thriller sub-genre, whether it’s something strictly thriller based, or a film that’s a little more horror oriented. I’ve enjoyed films like Southern Comfort, the classic Deliverance, and even horror survival movies such as the 1981 cult classic Just Before Dawn and more recently Eden Lake. Preservation is a pretty good little movie, but fails to reach the heights of the movies I’ve previously mentioned. Christopher Denham (most of you will remember him from various projects as an actor like The Bay, Argo, a small role on The Following, and the excellent sci-fi indie Sound of My Voice) did a really great job directing his first film in 2008 – a found footage horror called Home Movie about one family’s harrowing path to madness. I really loved that movie/own it. While I do enjoy Preservation, and think there are several awesome aspects to it, I don’t enjoy it near as much as his previous effort.
This movie tells the story of Mike Neary (Aaron Staton – most recognizable as the face of the video game L.A Noire) and his wife Wit Neary (Wrenn Schmidt), along with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schreiber – the well-known Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black), who take a camping trip together out into the great outdoors. Mike and Wit are having some intimacy issues, as his job seems to be coming before their relationship – not to mention the fact that early on we see Wit is hiding a possible pregnancy from her husband. Further than that, Mike’s brother Sean has recently come home on leave from the army. Or at least that’s what he first told Sean. Once in the woods, things start to change.
After they go to sleep on their first night out, the three of them wake up: all their belongings have vanished, including Sean’s loyal dog, and each of the three have a large X marked on their forehead with marker. From there things become a gripping story of survival, as Mike, Sean, and Wit have to defend themselves against unseen assailants hiding amongst the trees of the forest.
There were a few surprising moments throughout the film. I wasn’t totally shocked or anything – the kills weren’t particularly gruesome. At least not for someone like myself who watches a ton of horror, and I do mean a ton. Too much even. I’m not totally desensitized. Some say they are, but that’s too bad for them. I still have fun and get excited and get freaked out at the movies. Preservation didn’t really have any awful kills. Though, they were done well, I must say. I liked the tension mostly. Denham did a great job at drawing out the suspense and really grinding on the tense moments. One specific scene I really enjoyed was when Mike gets trapped for a few minutes in a portable outhouse – I thought the tension was thick as hell here. Really good stuff. Being a horror hound, I would’ve enjoyed more raw kills here. This was a good movie, decent enough, but could have definitely turned things up a notch with a bit more gore. Maybe. Maybe not, as well. There was just something missing along with all the tension Denham managed to work into the movie.
One thing I did enjoy was the character of Wit. Past here, we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so please – if you don’t want to get the movie spoiled you should turn back now!
I think Wit’s whole situation, involving the initially hidden pregnancy, really played into the whole plot and helped her character stay very interesting. Personally, I found the aspect of her not being able to shoot an animal and then having to face off against real human killers a little tired. This sort of angle has been played out far too many times. What I really did enjoy about Wit was the fact she was about to become a mother. I think once we discover these are just kids hunting them down for, basically, a laugh, it really becomes something much more intense for Wit particularly. She has just discovered awhile ago that motherhood is upon her. Now, all of a sudden, these kids are reigning terror upon her life. I mean – if that’s not birth control food for thought, then what is? This angle of the plot was really interesting for me, and fresh. We’ve seen the kid killer thing, even the pregnancy plot, but combining the two worked here. Not exactly unique or wholly fresh material. Just executed nicely.
This is a pretty good little thriller with a bit of horror thrown in. I would mostly call this a thriller. Definitely a psychological aspect. There are a couple really good performances. All three of the main characters are pretty excellent. Though, Pablo Schreiber doesn’t have a huge part I really did enjoy him here. Usually he seems to be pigeonholed into playing the creepy jerk, or the weirdo, the psychopath, whatever – here, he does a great job at playing an outsider type character, but essentially a good guy. He has some acting chops, I’ve always thought that since first seeing him. Aaron Staton is pretty good here, as well. Mostly, though, it is the Wrenn Schmidt show in Preservation. She plays a complex female character who isn’t perfect, who gets the hell beat out of her, and who has to do things no expecting mother would ever want to have to do – and she comes out of it a whole different kind of lady. I loved her performance. This was definitely the shining point.
One other thing worth mentioning before I clue things up – the score is a real treat, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Really added a nice element to the entire film. I’d actually enjoy having it as a standalone soundtrack. Great work.
All in all, this is about a 3 out of 5 star film. I didn’t think it was amazing, but I’ve absolutely seen other movies in the same sub-genre that didn’t satisfy me near as much. Christopher Denham is a pretty good horror director. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his acting – Sound of My Voice is probably his best work in that sense. I do prefer Home Movie over this, although I’d absolutely, and will absolutely, watch this again. This goes recommended for people who enjoy the sub-genre. If not, you may walk away from this less than thrilled. For the fans I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t expect Denham to have reinvented the wheel on this one. Plus, it’s one of the rare modern survival thrillers where you don’t have to watch a woman get sexually assaulted, or have the implications of such things happening off screen – nowhere to be found here. Personally I don’t shy away from something just because of such things, but I do hate movies that use it as a silly exploitation move. Luckily, Denham does no such thing. Sit back, watch a bit of thrilling fun. Might not be the best of the sub-genre, though, it beats some of the lesser titles to death.
American Sniper. 2014. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, and Kyle Gallner. Warner Brothers. Rated 14A. 132 minutes.
First of all, I have a family member who served in the Canadian Armed Forces. Second, I know others who’ve gone over to Iraq, et cetera, several people I knew well growing up. So I’d like to just say I have respect for those who choose to defend their countries. The smaller people who are the ones that actually go to war aren’t those making the big decisions – you can’t fault someone for wanting to be a patriot if they’re being just as misled by their government as us civilians. All that said, I’m really against some of the modern wars over the past 30 years America has involved themselves in. That’s no fault of the men fighting on the front lines. One such man is Chris Kyle, played here fabulously by Bradley Cooper, who is the most accomplished marksman, as far as I know, in the history of the American military. The guy served as a sniper during the Iraq invasion of 2003 onward. He is no doubt a tough soldier.
However, my problem with this film is not exactly with Kyle himself. The problem I have is mostly with the entire situation of the Iraq War, and some of the decisions made by the United States government during that period. My major issue is that here we’re asked to empathize with a man who has killed women and children – one of the early scenes shows Kyle making a split-second decision to snipe a little boy, who was given an explosive device to throw by his mother, and then just afterwards also killing her. I know a lot of people will make the argument that the kid would have killed American soldiers – absolutely, he would have. On the other hand, should Iraq have been invaded? Was it invaded for the right reasons? I’m not one of those people who is out preaching that the war was started for oil, I’m just saying – a foreign government sends troops into a strange place, people are threatened, everyone there is assumed to be a villain. Are we to expect people aren’t going to say “get the fuck out” and start fighting? Maybe the woman was a part of a terrorist group. Perhaps. We’ll never know, and that’s for sure.
Bradley Cooper does a great job with this role. I don’t have any problem whatsoever with his performance. Particularly, his Southern accent was absolutely flawless, to my mind. He did excellent work playing Kyle physically and vocally, as well as in the way the man was, no doubt, highly intense. I don’t have any problem with the acting in this movie. However, aside from Kyle there aren’t many characters with much room to breathe. I know it’s centered on him, clearly, but I mean a lot of this story is supposed to be about how Kyle was affected by the war, what he did over there, et cetera. We really don’t get to see enough of anyone else, from Kyle’s wife to his brothers-in-arms, to really latch onto any other character development or anything which gives us enough of an idea about the pathology of his trajectory. There are a few typical scenes with Kyle and his wife, one in the hospital as Kyle visits an injured soldier, and other than that it’s pretty much the Cooper Show. It’s a fun show, just not enough to justify the messages Clint Eastwood was shambling at with this movie.
This brings me to my final point about American Sniper. I’ve read lots about the Iraq War, in particular a really great book called Ghost Wars, which was a great dose of history tackling everything from the invasion of Iraq back to the 1950s and 60s, and everything in between. I am by no means an expert. No more than the regular person interested in history, war history in particular, and a love of books/reading. So, what I’m saying is, I realize there are plenty of situations where seemingly normal people in foreign countries might later reveal themselves to be enemies – however, Eastwood goes way too hard headed at this angle. It seems like Eastwood decided “I’m not going to show that there are two sides to these situations” then proceeded to put scene after scene in to really nail the point home. Every Iraqi is an enemy – this is his message. Even one scene where Kyle sees a young boy about to pick up an RPG launcher, after the man holding it takes a bullet from the American Sniper himself – Kyle is talking to himself, begging the little boy not to pick the thing up – finally when the boy opts to drop it, the sniper sighs heavily in relief. Even here Eastwood is almost saying “well the kid wanted to shoot and kill some Americans… he just couldn’t lift the damn thing!” I mean, it’s a bit ridiculous at a certain point. Even the nice family who take Kyle and his team of soldiers in for a nice dinner, sat around the family table – they turn out to be, gasp, insurgents or belligerents, or whatever the U.S Army/media decide to call them these days. I just found it really preposterous. I know that even Kyle in his book apparently says some fairly tough minded things about the people in Iraq, even going so far as to admit to looting houses after people fled them in Fallujah, but Eastwood could’ve at least tried to look as if he were aiming to show two sides of a disturbingly murky part of American war history. To me, it was just nonsense. Constant reiteration of “every Iraqi is a possible terrorist.” Film version of ignorant patriotism – there is a way to be patriotic without looking foolish.
I’ll give this a 0.5 out of 5 stars only because I really enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle – regardless if I admire the man as a person or not. I know a lot of Americans probably don’t want to hear this sort of review about one of their heroes. I am in no way trying to disrespect people who serve in the military. Once again, as I said in the beginning, I do have a great respect for those who give up their lives, their safety, their comfort to defend the country they call home. Even if their government is sending them on a wild goose chase – I admire anyone willing to walk into the danger zones of a country foreign to them. But this movie is just Clint Eastwood’s Republican love song, honestly. I used to really love him, both as an actor and director (one of my all-time favourites is actually Mystic River plus a ton of his older acting performances). Nowadays I feel like Eastwood is just sinking into mediocrity. Letting his political views get in the way of good film making. This is just too much of a heavy handed political movie. I know it’s about a very political topic when it comes down to it, but above all it’s meant to be a character study of Chris Kyle. I didn’t get enough of what the film should have been. Instead, it’s a mix of a decent war movie, and a lot of ignorant perspective on the Iraqi war and the Iraqi people. Further than that, there’s no questioning of Kyle’s legacy whatsoever. I’m not saying I want this guy dragged into the mud – not at all. His family would want his memory preserved. But still, there are various accounts Kyle has talked about which are not verified. In this film you basically get a love letter to America and Kyle, without any inward reflection, though, it presents itself in a light many believe does show some sort of reflection. I don’t see it. Plus, the movie could’ve easily had a half hour or so chopped out with no difference made – too long for the purpose it attempted to serve. Many other, far superior, war movies at this length and less that impressed me more than this one. I don’t recommend this. See it only to admire Cooper’s work ethic and ability as a great actor, which I do believe. One of my least favourites from 2014. Clint Eastwood needs to reevaluate his dedication to film making, and whether or not it’s solely based on making money while telling lies. This was a bad movie. There are a lot of great war films, such as even the recent David Ayer film Fury, however, American Sniper will never ever be close to that or any other excellent movie centered on war.
Birdman. 2014. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Merritt Wever, and Edward Norton. New Regency Pictures. Rated 14A. 119 minutes.
Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who was once playing the superhero Birdman in big movies. Now, he’s doing the stage. He has adapted Raymond Carver, specifically. All this stems from when he was a young man and supposedly Carver attended one of his performances; afterwards, the famous author drunkenly scribbled a note to a young Thomson on a cocktail napkin. Unfortunately, his stage play is suffering under the weight of many things – his ego, a rough relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a new and cocky actor (Edward Norton playing a meta-version of himself), et cetera. All of these things threaten to tear him apart, so the question is – can he hold it all together?
I’ve always enjoyed Keaton. I think he is generally under appreciated. While this movie is giving him a wave of high praise to ride on, I believe there are other performances before this which have solidified him as a wonderful actor – just a few are the Tim Burton Batman films, still my favourite Batman, Night Shift, Beetlejuice, and Jackie Brown. I do love his performance here in Birdman. I definitely would put this in his top roles of all-time, no doubt. I don’t take him to be much like his character in real life, though, I’m sure some of the character is a little relatable just in terms of how his career must have went initially after the fame of Batman slowly faded. Either way, Keaton puts a lot of effort into this movie. I thought it was a really full-hearted performance. He definitely put all he is worth into this character. It shows.
The other performances are really something, too. I enjoyed Norton, as I always do. He has a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with, so I’m sure it was at least a little fun for him to fool around with this character. It’s like a meta-version of Norton himself almost.
Another person who I thought truly stood out was Emma Stone. She’s a really great young actress. Though, I’m not actually a huge fan of the movies she has done in the past, except for maybe Zombieland and her role in Superbad, I do think Stone has talent. In this film, she did a fantastic job with the character of Sam, Riggan’s daughter. There was something really vulnerable about the character, and yet also she came across as quite a strong woman. The relationship between Keaton and Stone worked real well, I thought. Both of them played great as a father-daughter duo who have seen hard times. A couple real great moments with them.
I am a big fan of Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, Amores Perros is the first non-english film I’d ever seen. I believe I was about sixteen years old. The film really moved me, so much so I had the title tattooed on my wrist. It’s a fascinating movie. Then later I saw 21 Grams, and then Babel, and Biutiful – I loved each of these. He is an interesting, unique filmmaker. I love the approach he has to subjects. This is one of the reasons Birdman is most definitely a real good film. Just the way Iñárritu shot everything here to look as if it were one long uninterrupted take is really innovative. Now, of course, you can find the meticulous little places where Iñárritu decided to hide his quick cuts, but you really do have to be paying full attention, as well as give a shit about such things. I really enjoyed this. It’s a wild way to make a movie, and it could have come off really terribly. That being said, I think Iñárritu pulls it off here in grand style.
All that aside, I don’t think Iñárritu’s film is a perfect and as amazing as the glorious reviews will have you believe. It’s ambitious, it has great performances, and a decent script. However, I do find at times the theme, or the message if you will, behind Birdman is a little too divisive. And not in a good sense, in the way of opinions. I think the message is really heavy handed. At one point, Birdman is telling Riggan how people want to “see action” and not this talk, talk, talk, philosophical stuff. It’s a great point to try and make, I just think it comes across really ham fisted. Like it’s saying if you enjoy action, you’re dumb. I’m on the side of the fence where I don’t care about Marvel – I don’t want any more superhero movies for awhile, even though I’m a huge Batman fan, in all forms of media, and have been for a long time – I just don’t want the market flooded with all this CGI-infested junk constantly. On the other hand, I also don’t want to be told that action, et cetera, is some sort of lower art form. I know there is black comedy in here, there are a lot of digs at the artists themselves, some of the material is no doubt pointed at artists in general – but still, I think this comes across as preachy to some. I love this movie. I just think some of these bits could have been toned down a little more, so as not to alienate people. Perhaps some might say “who cares about those people”, and that’s fine, but I think there was a way of achieving what Iñárritu wanted to do without being a bit snobbish. Just one man’s opinion. Or maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the point is that there is ego in all things, no matter if it’s an action-based superhero film or a stage play, or whatever – there is always an air of pretentiousness behind art, in whichever form it may come. Maybe that’s the point, I don’t know. I take it in the way I do, just as others will in their own way. I respect if others see the film in another light.
This is most definitely a 4 out of 5 star film for me. It is certainly a great movie, and I don’t doubt for a second this is on many Best Of lists from last year. Me – I didn’t love it as much as other movies. I really enjoyed it, a lot, and would watch it again. I will, absolutely. I just don’t think it’s as great as the hype will have you convinced. Definitely worth seeing. If not just for the fact Iñárritu does a fascinating job at weaving the camera in and around the locations of the film, from actor to actor, very naturally and beautifully. I’m in no way talking the film down, because if you don’t already know I have a few real unpopular opinions about some movies (I’m the kind who loves a few movies that are generally considered terrible – example: Exorcist II: The Heretic). This is merely my opinion. I still think it’s a fantastically honed piece of work. Destined to be a classic of cinema down the road, if not already with the praise it’s receiving. Keaton, especially, I really loved. Check this out – let me know what you thought about it in the comments!
Whiplash. 2014. Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, and Paul Reiser.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
★★★★★I think one of the most incredible things about Whiplash is the fact it captures the blood, sweat, and tears which go into the making of a true musician so accurately that it’s almost a little scary. In fact, with J.K Simmons’ performance this really becomes a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the beating heart of music. While most people only see the surface of musicians, Damien Chazelle opens up the doors and shows the world what it’s like behind them. Now, not all musicians go through such strenuous training – many famous rockstars would have you believe they’ve run the gamut, however, the studied musicians who have trained for years and years, who have literally bled and spent hours grinding themselves into dust just for that extra bit of practice to get ahead, they are the true masters. I’m not discounting what famous bands, et cetera, are doing (there are absolutely famous musicians who’ve gone the hard road of classical training) – I only mean that the real tough and uniquely talented individuals are those who went through the trenches.
Whiplash tells the story of a young drummer named Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) who attends a very prestigious music school. There, he comes face to face with a fearsome, well-respected professor, Terence Fletcher (J.K Simmons). The two butt heads. Andrew wishes to be one of the greats. While Fletcher initially seems to give him a positive response, soon Andrew finds himself at the mercy of a merciless maniac consumed by only one thing – perfect music. Continuously the two clash to more and more unexpected results.
One of the most obvious things that impresses most people about the film is Miles Teller. Firstly, it’s incredible to know he played the drums. I mean, if you pay attention to the film for more than ten minutes you’ll obviously realize it’s him – very hard to hide anything the way Chazelle shot the film. But it’s still mind blowing. There are some really tough scenes in here. I can imagine some of the blood, and no doubt every last drop of the sweat, were all Teller; one hundred percent of the way. This is a performance where an actor really dives in. Not only pulling off a complex emotional character, but additionally playing the music of the film. Apparently, Teller has played drums since the age of 15, and took more intense lessons to prepare for the role. It shows.
He also certainly did a great job while not on the drums. His performance reflected a lot of what I’ve personally seen in musicians over the years. Myself, I’d never strived to be anything more than a decent musician who could play for fun. I grew up with an aunt and uncle who both have their Master’s Degree in music – both of whom taught me, in one form or another, over the years. I planned piano and trumpet for a long time, fairly well I might add, but not at a truly competitive level other than music festivals throughout grade school. I mention this because I’ve come across a lot of people such as Andrew Neiman while coming up. They are determined. Some times to a fault. However, I’ve always been fascinated with their determination. Trying not to ruin anything, I think it’s the finale which really brought me around to believing Teller did a fabulous job. You really see the determination, the pain, the anguish of Andrew in these moments. The ending is really beautiful. Overall, and for the character of Andrew himself.
The other undeniable aspect of Whiplash and what makes it so good is, of course, the always fascinating J.K Simmons. In him, the character of Terence Fletcher really comes alive and jumps out of the screen. I know he played this role in the short Chazelle did before getting the funding for the feature, so that certainly was good for Simmons as an actor; being able to live with a character more than just a small period of time while filming. Either way, I’m sure he could have pulled this off. He has a great knack for playing hard ass characters, however, I think this goes beyond that – Fletcher is a cruel, relentless savage who stops at nothing to secure the best performance possible from every musician under his eye. Again, while Andrew is a very real character to me, so is the character of Fletcher. I’ve known people who could really push the envelope, as far as what is or isn’t acceptable to say to a person in regards to conductors. Even my own uncle who has been conducting, writing, teaching musicians for several decades now – this coming from both his nephew and a former student – could be an asshole. This wasn’t because being an asshole got him any further. It was always in service of the overall performance. Not only him, but other band teachers I had in grade school were also intense. I’ve seen and heard some fairly foul stuff from these guys over the years. One of them actually smacked me on the top of my head lightly with a trumpet mouthpiece – if you’ve ever held one, you know it doesn’t take much to leave a nice goose egg on the top of a teenager’s skull. All that in mind, Simmons really pulled off a spectacularly villainous role. He’s probably one of the best film villains of the last decade, and this is purely a dramatic film about music. So, I really think the praise is deserved, as much as any other great performance from 2014 – if not more. A great actor who deserves the most recognition possible.
In the end, I really think the best thing for me about Whiplash is the fact I really didn’t know where this film was headed. For a while, I sort of thought this might end up being a really cheesy music movie because of where I thought the plot might go. Luckily, was I ever wrong. Especially in the last third of the film. I really didn’t expect things to take the turns they did. Without spoiling too much, I think Chazelle made some interesting, non-typical choices. In particular, the very end played extremely well. I was expecting the film to end on a certain note, and while it did end in similar fashion to what I imagined, there was a distinct lack of ham. What I mean is, I really thought Chazelle might fall into the trap of lesser films where they go for sentimental conclusions which make me feel forced. I don’t like to feel forced to say “oh that’s nice a happy ending”. Whiplash ends on what I believe is a positive note, but doesn’t jam any sappy finale moments down your throat. It’s actually really intense. I found myself wide-eyed and wondering how things were finally going to clue up. I was impressed once Chazelle finished the film in the way he did, and walked away feeling great.
I can honestly say this is a flawless drama. It’s a 5-star movie about music. There is no doubt. While some might try and say it does no service to music because it seems to say practice can make anyone great, this is absolutely not the case. At one point in the film we see Fletcher’s only moment of weakness: a young musician he moulded, who went on to be a fabulous musician, dies in a car accident. Later in the movie, he explains a few things to Andrew. Fletcher ends up mentioning that even though he tried his best he never really “had a Charlie Parker” – right there and then, even if you know already, you realize this is not about saying practice can make anyone into one of the greats. Even this student Fletcher thought was the best he’d ever produced was not who he deemed to be “a Charlie Parker“. The point is, Fletcher pushed people to go beyond what was expected of them. He never guaranteed anybody greatness – only the opportunity to learn the tools through which greatness might then be attainable. The message isn’t wrong, but certainly will be misinterpreted. You won’t be great just because you practice yet ultimately, no one can be good without practice, and certainly not great – this is the message.
I highly recommend everyone see this film once they get the chance. It’s a great movie about music with incredible performances, lots of jazz, a bit of psychological horror in a few scenes, and always, always tons of heart. I enjoyed this every step of the way, and it defied a lot of the expected moments I anticipated to see.
Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.
The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
This is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
This method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
The absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script. In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
Nothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.
[Rec]. 2007. Directed by Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza. Screenplay by Jaume Balagueró, Luis Berdejo & Paco Plaza.
Starring Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert, Vicente Gil, Martha Carbonell, and Carlos Vicente. Sony Pictures.
Rated R. 78 minutes.
First off – I’m not one of these snobs who feels the need to distinguish between a “zombie film” and an “infection film”, okay? If you’re going to argue with me, or not take my opinion on this great movie seriously solely because of the fact I’m going to call this a zombie movie (as I will any movie that features infected people who kill other human beings), then turn away now! For I will throw out the words “zombie film” & “zombie movie” like I’m giving away candy.
Are you ready? Then let’s begin.
It’s actually sort of funny when I think about it – [Rec] is a combination of two very played out, tired sub-genres of horror: found footage and zombies. Now, I’m not saying these are the types of films I don’t enjoy. On the contrary, I love both found footage and zombies. That’s if they’re done well. Just as gangs of undead roam the apocalyptic streets of the sub-genre, hordes of zombie films crowd the market, as tons and tons of young amateur horror directors try to us their vision of such a world. There are actually a lot of really great zombie movies, however, as many of them that are good are paralleled with equal numbers which are mediocre (at best) to terrible – to unfortunate. The same goes for found footage. I really enjoy a bunch of found footage movies. By the same token, I can think of more than several handfuls that I did not enjoy. I think more and more these days, the amateur horror director now leans towards doing a found footage film above a zombie movie. Because whereas a zombie movie can be done on a low-to-non-existent budget, you can do found footage for as much or less.
These two directors show us the story of a television reporter, Ángela Vidal [Manuela Velasco], and her cameraman, Pablo [Pablo Rosso], who are filming footage of the night shift at a local fire station. When an old woman calls, apparently trapped in her apartment, the firemen respond. Terrible screams are heard from the old woman’s apartment. Afterwards, the firefighters, along with Ángela & Pablo, discover what exactly is happening. From here, the night turns into a nightmarish situation for the news crew, the firefighters, and everyone in the building, as soon they are all trapped inside the building. While the situation unfolds, Ángela makes Pablo keep filming to make sure the outside world knows what horror has begun.
One aspect which can really kill a found footage film is how the filmmakers actually present the so-called footage. For instance, in Ti West’s recent film The Sacrament he used the real life news outlet VICE to help portray the footage itself – as they often do stories that are considered “immersionism”, this fit the film well because West was able to edit things, add a very foreboding score, and other such things. In the case of [Rec], Balagueró and Plaza present their film as a television news report. Essentially it all goes awry, and then the reporter plus her cameraman are left to fend for themselves. The fact Ángela urges Pablo to keep filming so they can let the world know what is happening in the building really helps the found footage angle work. Usually, we get people arguing “turn off the camera”, and then it all devolves into arguments, screaming, characters are then divided to later be killed off, or whatever the case. In this sense, many found footage movies can really blend together into the same old garbage. However, by having Pablo keep filming at the insistence of Ángela, this really makes things feel natural. It’s not one of those roll your eyes moments where you think “how typical”. This is one of my favourite things about this movie. I think [Rec]2 also did a good job of continuing this trend, and making the presence of found footage feel much more real than other lesser films.
I think while a couple performances, particularly those of Manuela Velasco and even Pablo Rosso, were really good, much of what I most enjoyed about [Rec] was the blood and the zombies. I mean, that’s what we really come to a zombie movie looking to find. With this film, you will get your money’s worth. In particular, I just wanted to mention one of the last zombies we actually get to see in the movie. Without ruining anything in the plot, there’s this extremely terrifying zombie wandering around in the basement when Ángela and Pablo make their way down there. You’ll know which one I’m talking about because this scary lady is not only naked – she’s brandishing what looks like a ball-peen hammer. Now, I won’t go any further and say what exactly happens. I’ll just say this one bit of zombie make-up really looked spectacular. It’s very rare I actually drop my jaw and lean into the screen for a closer look at something creepy. This moment had me glued. I really love it. Plus, what happens after they come across this specific zombie is wild.
I can give this a 4.5 out of 5 stars easily. This is one of the best zombie films out there. I know there are a lot of purists who seem to think George A. Romero is the only person to ever make a real zombie film. I say that’s absolute bullshit. He is the godfather of the modern zombie sub-genre in horror. Of that, there is no doubt. But you can’t discount a whole sub-genre (or maybe you could say it’s a genre unto its own nowadays with The Walking Dead dominating television on AMC) by saying only one man can do it right. I love his films. Still, there are plenty of other great zombies out there. Some of those are in [Rec].
With the newest addition to the series out in the last few days, I wanted to revisit this modern classic. I love this one, as well as the sequel. And while I don’t particularly dig the third installment, this fourth movie almost reminds me of one of the Resident Evil games – Revelations, I believe – takes place on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Anyways – point is, I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. While it doesn’t seem to be the favourite of critics, I never usually fall in line with popular opinions. I’ll wait and see myself. If you’ve not yet seen any of these, please do yourself a favour and watch them soon. [Rec] is a fascinating found footage film, and it brings all the zombie carnage and mayhem you could have hoped for – highly recommended.
Starred Up. 2014. Dir. David Mackenzie.
Starring Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Raphael Sowole, Anthony Welsh, David Ajala, Rupert Friend, and Sam Spruell. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Not Rated. 106 minutes.
Starred Up (the slang prison term for a criminal who is transferred early from an institution for young offenders to an adult correctional facility) is the story of Eric Love (O’Connell) – a young offender starred up to the big house. An angry young man, Eric ends up in a rough prison where he quickly butts heads with the prison officials from guards to the Deputy Governor of the entire facility. To make matters even worse, Eric has been housed in the exact prison where his deadbeat father Neville Love (Mendelsohn) is currently serving, what we assume to be, a life sentence. A prison counsellor (Friend) who runs a group helping offenders with their anger issues tries to extend a helping hand to Eric. At first the young man is highly resistant. However, after some time passes, Eric realizes this may be one of the only keys to ever having a normal life again. Faced with more and more to push him towards breaking, the discovery that his father has become homosexual due to his extended stay in prison, and almost everyone around him expecting him to fail, Eric must try and overcome his own issues to break free from the rage which consumes him and maybe someday eventually walk out of prison a free man.
The majority of prison films often take on the same sort of plot. Starred Up might seem similar to certain earlier works like Bad Boys or even a bit of Scum, however, it is an excellent prison drama in its own right. One of the obviously excellent things about the movie is Jack O’Connell. His performance is a knock out. I absolutely think this will be one of the most overlooked performances of last year. I’ve seen plenty of praise for O’Connell in this film, but not enough awards will be heaped upon him. Though, awards do not matter, it’s always fun to see a young actor get recognized for really spectacular work. I think he’ll definitely benefit from this performance going forward.
One of my favourite actors in recent years has come to be Ben Mendelsohn. His performance as Neville Love is brilliant work. There are a lot of prison hard men portrayed in movies, and I think Neville is definitely near the top of the list in regards to which ones are truly tough guys. Part of this comes from the relationship between him and his son Eric. He and O’Connell play well off one another, but truly it’s the father-son relationship and how everything plays out between them which is the most exciting part of the movie. The tension between Eric and Neville after the son finds out his father has become gay in prison is truly wonderful drama. I thought the scene where Eric discovers this part of Neville’s prison identity was absolutely marvelous – really subtle and perfect acting from both parties.
Another significant aspect about Starred Up is also what it has to say overall about youth offenders, or offenders in general, who cannot be conformed to easy living in prison. Better yet, it demonstrates how willingly prison officials often are to simply snuff out a problem than truly deal with it and rehabilitate prisoners, or at the very least try to anyways. Eric Love is a very difficult, angry, violent young man. His story shows us how these types are usually dealt with violently, as opposed to being given therapy – like one counsellor (played by Rupert Friend) tries to give him. In the end, without spoiling anything, luckily Eric still has people watching over him, who care for him, and do not want to see the worst happen. I also think the fact Starred Up ended on a positive note helped the film not play into all the trappings of regular prison films. Often there are grim endings, or endings which come off too bittersweet. As the end here does come off positive, it still isn’t totally optimistic, as Eric is still in jail, as well as his father. Regardless, I think the finale played a lot less typically than other similar movies, and I enjoyed the last moments – very real, very touching.
This is absolutely a flawless prison film. In a sea of very generic prison movies, from drama to action, Starred Up is one of the great modern works of this sub-genre. The performances really helped to elevate an already enjoyable script. O’Connell and Mendelsohn together are really something. Not to mention the supporting cast were also on point. I really thought all the actors who played characters in the support group with Eric were pretty damn good. There were great and tense emotional scenes involving these characters. The script is the best part of this movie, though, because it really does more than work as a drama set in prison – as I said before, it attempts, and successfully in my mind, to tackle issues involving the rehabilitation of prisoners. One of the messages lingers on until the end – some of these guys just need a chance. Not all, maybe not many, can be legitimately rehabilitated, but some just need the chance. Eric Love got his. Luckily for him, being incarcerated with your father in the same prison can be productive for the mental health because he suffers from issues surrounding his father. This a great story about redemption, love, and male bonding. Stellar film. One of my top from 2014.
Cheap Thrills. 2014. Dir. E.L Katz.
Starring Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, and David Koechner. Pacific Northwest Pictures. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Cheap Thrills begins as Craig (Pat Healy) loses his low paying job. On top of that, he and his wife, as well as their new baby, are on the verge of being evicted from their property. After losing his job Craig heads to a bar for a few drinks. He ends up running into an old friend from high school, Vince (Ethan Embry), and the two catch up. They also come into contact with Colin (David Koechner) and his young wife Violet (Sara Paxton) who begin a friendly little game of wagers for big money. Seemingly the answer to both Craig and Vince’s problems, the two down-and-out old buddies go along with the childish little games Colin comes up with for cold, hard cash. Eventually, however, the games get darker, and more sinister. At first it begins with Craig getting knocked out by a bouncer, but soon it ends up with he and Vince breaking into houses. The evening gets crazier until the two former friends start wearing thin on one another, each of them becoming more aggressive with the other as the challenges get more intense, and they soon begin to regret what they’re willing to do just for money.
I think the two big performances here are most definitely from Ethan Embry and Pat Healy, both of whom I really enjoy in other movies. Embry plays a great character – at first you really find him fun and a bit wild, but eventually you start to see what kind of guy he really is and it is not nice. Embry really gets into it. I’ve been a fan of his since the show Brotherhood specifically, and he does very well with dark material, or at least characters who have some sort of darkness in them; great actor. Healy does a fine job, as well, playing Craig. The evolution of his character from beginning to end is wonderful. In the beginning, he is a truly meek individual, but by the end (especially the last shot which may be my favourite of the entire film) he really comes out the other side as a bad ass dude.
There are a couple really laugh out loud moments in Cheap Thrills and I think one of those is absolutely when Craig has the incident with his finger. I don’t want to ruin anything more than I already have, but this is just absolutely priceless. Between the way Vince acts, how Craig reacts to the finger incident, and Colin screaming “fuck yeah motherfucker” – it’s all just way too damn funny. I laughed my ass off during that scene.
While most of the comedy is quite dark, this is the sort of comedy I really love the most personally. There’s something really great when filmmakers can capture the hilarity behind grim situations. E.L Katz really could have done this as an outright horror movie, and believe me there are a few moments worthy of horror in here (maybe this could be called a psychological horror in some respects). Instead he keeps this a real dark comedy with dramatic elements and certainly a good dose of crime. I think the driving force behind Cheap Thrills has two significant parts: the friendship between Craig and Vince, as well as the overall competition in which they engage. Everyone can probably think of someone they might have a relationship with from high school similar to Craig and Vince – maybe not as contemptuous, but definitely someone you may not have as great of a relationship with in the present as you did in the past, and one that may cause tension. This just cranks those types of relationships up another notch. Combined with the fact these guys are desperate enough in their current life situations to go in on an increasingly dangerous and twisted game, this makes for great drama.
I think the whole game for money with Colin and Violet really works as a modern tale about greed. Although this is mainly meant as a great and thrilling dark comedy, it really does work on deeper levels. Similar to the recent film 13 Sins, Katz does a great job telling a story that relates to our modern society – a society filled to the absolute brim with people who will do anything they can, aside from work for an honest living, to make as much money as possible in as little amount of time as possible. The increasingly sick nature of the things Colin suggest for Craig and Vince to do is really unsettling. One part I really thought was a little funny but also sad, in regards to the game itself, is when they’re dared to eat a dead dog – they tie in the end and Vince asks Craig to open his mouth to prove his finished, to which his friend replies maniacally “I’m finished“, opening his mouth with an “ahh” noise to verify. It makes you chuckle while also feeling disgusted with these two guys. And it only gets worse.
This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. To be honest, while he wasn’t bad at all, I think David Koechner was a weak link for Cheap Thrills. If someone else had played this character I may have been more intrigued. He did not do bad whatsoever, I just didn’t really get into his performance specifically. I suppose he served his purpose well enough. The whole movie is just great, though, and his performance didn’t at all take away from it in any real significant sense. I cannot recommend this film enough. Ever since I first saw this I’ve been raving to others about how great of a movie experience this provides. A lot of fun. Albeit, a bit of sick fun along the way, but totally worth the ride. Two amazing central performances and a lot of gritty, dark laughs make this a must-see film. One of the best releases in 2014 my way. I hope others will enjoy it as much as myself.