Edition #2 takes a look at more side-by-sides from in & outside of the horror genre, as well as movies from Scorsese, Aronofsky, & Carpenter.
Queen of Earth. 2015. Directed & Written by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, and Kate Lyn Sheil. Washington Square Films.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Opening with such a tightly framed shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine, Alex Ross Perry completely submerges us immediately into her world. Not to mention she’s in an absolute state of disarray and her temper is flaring, her makeup smeared and running. There are plenty of tight close-ups on Catherine moving on through the film, but it’s this almost shocking, jarring opener of her face, in our face, vulnerable and weeping, angry, emotional, which sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, I love how Perry has the title card come up in a hot pink colouring, as it sort of gives things an interesting little twist – as if everything’s fine on top, the pink like the makeup, yet underneath things are wrecked. A nice start to an oddly beautiful film.
From there, Queen of Earth descends into a spiral of broken friendship, jealousy, treacherous relationships, and a general atmosphere of dread and madness. For a movie that isn’t horror, it’s awfully scary. A lot of filmgoers seem to see this is as partly a comedy, though, for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. There’s nothing funny to me here. Not even in the darkly comic sense, which is the type of comedy I personally love most. Mostly this is full of terrifying reality, perched upon two vastly different but equally impressive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Above all else Perry crafted an excellent and classic style thriller out of a mess of emotions and psychological torment.
A big problem I have is that I see so many people online bashing this movie because, supposedly, nothing happens. First of all, it troubles me how many of these same people also admitted they’d pirated it. So right away, I honestly have no regard for that opinion; you stole it, didn’t enjoy it, well fuck off. Honestly, if you can’t shell out a couple bucks to watch a movie online as opposed to going to theatre, which yes is damn expensive these days, well why should I care what your opinion is? It’s the same as if you start to heed the opinions of people who don’t actually pay to go to art galleries but rather they look at Polaroids of the artwork and then critique it. Regardless of what you thought about this film, a lot of people worked on it, just as you work at your job, and then people go ahead and pirate that hard work, giving nothing back, what does that say? It’s sad, whatever it says.
Secondly, I have to say that it’s fine if you don’t dig this type of film – the quiet, slow burning style that’s more focused on dialogue and character than action, whether big or small. Queen of Earth is more like a play, as we’re focused mainly on two characters – a couple others sort of in the wings in smaller supporting roles – and the bulk of the plot takes place in a single claustrophobic type of location. That’s part of what I love, as those who say “nothing happens” are SO WRONG. You really think nothing at all happens? Maybe you didn’t listen to all the fascinating dialogue between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, or did you miss all the palpable tension going on during scenes with Moss and Patrick Fugit? I don’t know. Might do well with seeing the film again. Because for me, a ton happens in this movie and the plot pops right out of the frame, grips ahold of your neck, and refuses to let go until the very last shot. A movie doesn’t have to have a ton of action – by action, I don’t solely mean car crashes and explosions, I mean action as in big sequences – and I think Alex Ross Perry knows that, more than well. I’ve not actually seen any of his other films, but now I’m determined to go back and watch them. They’re surely not all like this, as there’s a genuine air of old school psychological thriller throughout Queen of Earth, but it’s obvious in this one film alone he knows how to focus in on character, as well as relationships between characters, and how to draw out the tension in normal, everyday type situations; so much of that happens here from beginning to end.
I’ll get to Elisabeth Moss and her performance as Catherine afterwards. I’d like to talk about Virginia to begin; the character wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston. While clearly, painfully obvious that Catherine has some deep issues, it seems to me certain filmgoers are ignoring altogether how damaged Virginia is in her own right. Starting out early on, within the first 15 minutes, there’s a flashback scene between Virginia and Catherine, the latter with her saccharinely sweet boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) around – they talk about codependency, needing the other person in a relationship and what would happen if there was a breakup, et cetera. This is very telling. What we come to see is that not only does Catherine seem to be highly codependent
One way we can see the already glaringly obvious parallel in the situations of Catherine and Virginia is the boyfriends. Though the Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit characters are vastly different, the obviousness lies in the women themselves. They’re like a figurative tennis match, each of them batting the ball with equal force, mirroring the charge of the other. For instance, at the beginning we see James (Audley) calling Virginia ‘Ginny’, which she continually says is what close friends call her and advises him not to; not long after, James again calls her Ginny, she once more chastises him for it. A year later, once the situations have been reversed, Rich (Fugit) does the exact same thing to Catherine that James did – he calls her ‘Kay’, over and over despite the fact she tells him not to. What’s most interesting is that it’s not something initiated by either of the women, it’s something springing organically from these people, as if Catherine and Virginia are somehow willing it out of the universe.
Or is it? I also wonder if Virginia provoked Rich into taunting Catherine with the ‘Kay’ nickname in retaliation for how she perceived her friend to have treated her that year before. Because something strikes me as highly childish about Virginia. Each of these women are somewhat spoiled in terms of money – both of them have/had parents you’d most likely classify as rich – and so I think they’ve got their individual tendencies. But what’s telling in terms of why I think Virginia is especially childish is a scene where she and her boyfriend Rich (Fugit) are laughing in their room – when Catherine comes up quietly towards the door, Virginia won’t look at her and Rich goes to the door, without a word, closing it in Catherine’s face. Virginia and Rich giggle behind the door like two children, as Catherine stands for a moment outside, hurt, confused, then walks away. I thought this moment spoke VOLUMES in regards to Virginia particularly.
Because essentially, we’re seeing a back and forth duel between these two, supposedly, best friends who wound one another like a violently psychological and emotionally unstable game of tag. Instead of standing together, they fall harder and harder apart as the scant 90 minute runtime of Queen of Earth rolls on. This relationship is what sets up so much of the incredible tension within. Bottom line it comes down to the fact these two women are more interested in boosting their own egos than helping each other, neither wanting to be the bigger person and instead tearing their friend apart even worse at the seams.
Not only is the perpetually depressed and anxious character of Catherine written well by Perry, the way in which Elisabeth Moss inhabits the character is out of this world. I’m not a fan of Mad Men. However, after I saw Moss in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I became really impressed with her abilities as an actor. She has this very quiet and subtle presence about her, yet there are scenes where she has the ability to take hold of everything near, hauling the scenes down around her and just scorching the earth; I mean this, if it’s not clear, in a hugely positive way. I’ll say it: my top favourite performance of 2015. There is no doubt about it. Starting at the first frame, closed in tight on her weepy, angry face, I was utterly taken with Moss and her portrayal of Catherine. There’s a feeling going into this film you might be expecting something big, loud, brash, yet she surprises by keeping things low-key. Still, there is always a gripping sense of tone when she’s onscreen, whether she is being emotionally intense or quiet and withdrawn. I do love Waterston in this movie. There’s simply an undeniably awesome quality to Moss and her performance, throughout every last scene; not once did I find myself watching her and wanting more, or feeling there ought to be less, rather I continually felt impressed with everything she did.
The score from Keegan DeWitt lays just beneath the surface, like a thin layer of skin beneath the outer edges. At times the pieces are genuinely unsettling, others it’s like a swell is happening and at any moment things might burst, shattering the world in Queen of Earth to pieces. Most of all, the music fits so well in every scene of the film. For me, it’s DeWitt who adds so much of the uneasiness and terrible feeling inherent in the atmosphere of the film, he gives the screenplay and Perry’s direction a dream-like and also nightmarish quality. It’s amazing, really. Even in one scene as Virginia is out running, faded into a scene of Catherine generally not taking care of herself (eating crackers/chips and drinking pop in the morning), there’s a haunting piece with a flute riff on top of some electronic style sounds which sucks you into a weird state and kind of sticks to your skin a while. Great, great score. I think my favourite bits are the extremely foreboding pieces – you’ll know which ones – full of the horns and low woodwinds, then undercut with these deep and growling electronic rumbles.
Music and cinematography can go together hand in hand as lovers if the work is done correctly. Queen of Earth has that with DeWitt’s compositions pairing together with the camerawork of Sean Price Williams. One thing I love in terms of Williams’ cinematography here is how the close-ups really pull the viewer directly into this world. In particular, there’s a great scene with Catherine and Virginia where they’re recounting past relationships, bad ones, and there’s this great profile-like set of shots of the two talking, listening; reminds me very much of an Ingmar Bergman film at times, honestly. These perfect shots, peppered everywhere throughout the film, make the emotional and psychological weight of the screenplay resonate long and wide. Without such gorgeous looking visuals, I don’t think the film would have near as much depth, so I’m glad the look of the movie fits so well with the screenplay and its themes.
One of the 5 star films of 2015 and one of my favourites. It’s hard to talk about Queen of Earth without giving away the ending, even though some will still bark “nothing happens”. To them I say, go watch something else. Lots happens, it’s just not full of big sequences where a ton of characters are jumping about, each spewing expository dialogue to further the story. Instead, Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is a deeply unnerving and raw snapshot of the nervous breakdown of one woman, as well as the breakdown of a long relationship between two old friends, accompanied by an astounding score composed by Keegan DeWitt and the lush visuals of Sean Price Williams.
If you’re not into slowly paced pieces of film with all its focus centred on character and emotionality, then I suggest to not even bother. Really. Because if not, you’re only going to find yourself bored. However, if you can handle a slower pace for 90 minutes, and you’re able to sit through the brutish reality of two friends falling to pieces, one far worse than the other, then this is for you! It can get tough to watch at times if you let the plot and story sink into you, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This film brought me back to some of Bergman’s work, even one of my favourite movies of all time Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and yet it’s a completely separate and unique masterpiece all on its own.
The ending has stuck with me. Even the entire final half hour is UNBELIEVABLE and at times intensely creepy, as well; that whole party sequence calls back to Polanski in a way which left me jaw dropped for a second or two. The last two shots, switching between an astounded Virginia and a scarily ecstatic, laughing Catherine, they’ve still not washed off me. I watched Queen of Earth, after picking it up through iTunes, twice in the matter of about 12 hours. Each time I was floored beyond belief and those final moments will not find their way out of my head.
We Are Still Here. 2015. Directed by Ted Geoghegan. Written by Ted Geoghegan & based on a concept by Richard Griffin. Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Lisa Marie, and Larry Fessenden. Dark Sky Films. Unrated. 84 minutes. Horror.
3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of horror, big fan of Barbara Crampton, so naturally I was excited when I heard We Are Still Here would be an old school haunted house style outing with her as a main character. And while it isn’t the best thing I’ve ever seen, it’s a head above most modern horror. Not to mention there are excellent moments of horror and also fun, interesting characters, which help remind us of the 1980s without trying too hard for nostalgia.
Paul (Andrew Sensenig) and Anne (Barbara Crampton) are moving into the countryside of New England to an old house where they plan on starting over. The move is brought on by the death of their teenage son. Unfortunately, once they arrive at the house things begin to get strange. An old couple seem to have more than just genuine interest in them, and the house makes Anne feel as if there are spirits living there, as if she can feel their son within the walls. As the house’s history literally haunts the new tenants, Paul and Anne must figure out how to stop it, or at the least – how to make it out alive.
In general, I thought this was a fairly solid horror effort. The directing is sharp. Ted Geoghegan has done a fine job crafting the film into something partly fresh, partly old, but one that is certainly full of atmosphere and packs a nice little jab in some of the creepier moments.
Immediately I’ll start with the two small pieces of We Are Still Here I did not particularly enjoy.
First, there’s a death that I found beyond tired and played out – I won’t describe it fully, but it comes once the house starts taking victims. A character gets out of the house, into a car, and seemingly away from the evil… only to be surprised down the road, as a ghost is hiding in the backseat. My initial problem is that once the character got out, I thought “okay this is going to go a different way than most other films that use this type of scene”. It went exactly how I expected. That’s fine sometimes, my problem with this is that it sort of tosses the movie’s own ghost logic out the window – if the ghosts can leave the house, why do they need to wait until someone moves in to wake up every 30 years and take souls? This made me wonder.
Second, I didn’t like how the ghosts looked. They were kind of generic, the look wasn’t too terrifying or anything. Maybe that’s the way they needed to look because of the story, I get that. There are just certain films, which aren’t necessarily bad, where the ghosts or monsters [or whatever they are] don’t look scary like they ought to, but again – this look was mostly in part due to how the people died that eventually show up as ghosts, so I can’t exactly fault the effects. I just didn’t find them super effective in the end.
Now, on to what I did enjoy. The performances were fantastic. You can pretty much bet your ass Barbara Crampton will give a good performance if she’s given a good script. I thought Crampton did a spectacular job ranging between the normal grief we feel and then all those supernatural feelings some get when confronted with death. I thought Crampton and Andrew Sensenig had great chemistry. Sensenig played an excellent character; little bits of his old-fashionedness came out with his remarks about women drivers and all those foolish yet harmless jabs. This really set up the idea that the husband was a much more skeptical type of person, very old-fashioned and set in his ways, which contrasted with Crampton. Then of course there’s the wonderful pairing of Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden as the New Age couple May and Jacob Lewis. They each did well, but Fessenden is always a treat. I love him as a director and even more as an actor – he always has a fun little part to play whether it’s in his own movies, someone else’s, or even on the FX comedy Louie. Marie and Fessenden were perfect as the binary opposite of Crampton and Sensenig. And once the story gets crazier, Fessenden really has a few good scenes to chew apart. Overall, if the acting were bad this film would not have succeeded. However, these four really were great, and the supporting characters were also played nicely.
The best part of We Are Still Here, for me, is the atmosphere and general feel Geoghegan conjures up with a lot of well-crafted cinematography, editing, and tone. Even the final shot of the film, as one character stands in a doorway looking to the basement, reminds me of an older movie. The atmosphere definitely has that retro-feel, but as opposed to other movies which try hard to get that across I think Geoghegan’s is a much more natural feel. The house itself has a lot to do with that, it’s a great little place in the country and there’s an ever-present nostalgia in it; reminds me of a cabin in the rural part of Newfoundland where I’m from, a lot of those places almost feel like houses out of time, stuck in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first built. So I think some of the throwback feel Geoghegan wrings out of the film comes organically.
Another of my favourite parts is how the film centers on an older couple. There are a couple younger characters in the film, but this is almost entirely about the characters of Anne and Paul, and what they were going through after their son’s death. So many modern horrors, even the ones trying to pose as retro, are entirely based on characters who are millenials – I’m one myself, born just after the end of the so-called Generation X – and that is honestly tiring. Young people aren’t the only ones who love horror; plenty of horror fans out there grew up in the ’70s/’80s when horror really had some balls, innovation, and a hell of a lot of ideas. So, I think Geoghegan’s film is great on that level because we get to see a story, while typical, yet instead of a bunch of young people in their late teens/early twenties being killed for 84 minutes we’ve got more of a mature look at something so familiar. It doesn’t offer much new, but does give a different perspective on the haunted house for a generation getting so used to drivel like Paranormal Activity.
This is definitely a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It was refreshing to watch. Like I said, it isn’t necessarily a brand new take on the haunted house sub-genre of horror. However – I really enjoyed it. The couple small beefs I had with the movie aren’t enough to ruin the whole experience. Crampton and Sensenig did a solid job together, and Fessenden really livened things up during the middle part of the film. Geoghegan has a knack for creating atmosphere and setting a specific tone, so I hope to see something new from him sooner than later. We Are Still Here is, for all its faults, one of the better haunted house films to come along in the last decade. I can confidently say that, even with the problems I had. Check it out on VOD, or if it’s in theatre anywhere near you get out and take the chance. I don’t think you’ll regret spending the time to watch it, and you might find a creep or two just for you lurking in there somewhere.
It Follows. 2015. Directed & Written by David Robert Mitchell.
Starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Kelly Height, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary. Northern Lights Films. 14A. 100 minutes. Horror/Mystery.
There’s been a massive amount of praise roll in for David Robert Mitchell’s new horror It Follows, and it seems equal portions of people trying to say it isn’t what the hype is preaching. My take? Mitchell doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he does a damn fine job at making it spin smooth, intense, and a little better than the rest.
For the uninitiated, those who’ve yet to get a chance to see this film, It Follows starts with Jay Height (Maika Monroe who many know from Adam Wingard’s incredible action throwback, The Guest) who is a regular young woman – she goes to classes, hangs with her friends, and is seeing a seemingly nice guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). One night, Jay and Hugh are at the movies when he starts acting strangely, talking about a girl in a yellow dress who doesn’t look to be present when Jay searches for her. They leave, date over. The next time they go out, Jay sleeps with Hugh in the back of his car. Afterwards, Hugh suddenly throws a rag over her mouth and the next thing Jay knows she is waking up, strapped in to a wheelchair. Hugh explains he has ‘passed it on to her’ and that it will follow her, try to kill her – if it does, the thing will only circle back to him, so he warns her of some ground rules he has discovered. From there, things spiral out of control for Jay, and her friends are along for the ride. Everyone believes Jay was sexually assaulted, but the truth is far, far worse.
When I first heard of the basic premise I was almost reminded of the great graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns, which deals with a group of kids who encounter a very dangerous, strange disease being passed around through sex. Of course, the comic goes into a very different direction, but it sort of seemed like there was a creepy, similar vibe to both stories. It Follows is much more of a ghost story, obviously. One of the things I enjoyed most was the fact only Jay, or whoever is afflicted plus the person who has passed it on to them, can see ‘it’. There’s a great scene where Mitchell puts it to use when the group of friends are all hanging out at the beach, trying to help Jay as best they can with what they believe is just nutty behaviour after the supposed assault by Hugh. They all sit around casually, and Jay has her back to a trail coming out of the woods. Slowly a figure appears and we can tell with each passing second this is ‘it’ and not some random person. Very effective.
Leading out of that, I love how Mitchell really played around with this idea, of how the afflicted are the only ones who can see ‘it’. There are certain scenes you can notice a person in the background, their step slightly skewed and walk not quite right, they move at a snail’s pace, and you’re left to wonder – is that ‘it’? The ending also plays off pieces of this, but I don’t want to ruin anything on that end.
Even further, Mitchell also pokes fun at this concept, and directly at his own movie, which provides great tongue-in-cheek moments. There’s one exceptional part I laughed at hard when they track Hugh down again, discovering his name is not even Hugh but Jeff – he’s in the middle of explaining the whole concept of ‘it’ when a girl walks up on them, and frightened he yells out asking if anyone else sees her, to which they all reply ‘yes’. It’s always fun to see a solid horror film, or any film for that matter, poke fun at its own concepts and logic.When it comes to the horror aspect of the film, a lot of people who don’t find it scary, that’s fine. I thought it was very creepy. One of the first moments when Jay realizes someone, or something, is following her is downright terrifying. The actors playing ‘it’ do a phenomenal job, even though they don’t even speak. I just find the whole concept of the slow-moving ghost, zombie, whatever, a real creepshow – it’s been said time and time again, but it really is a great metaphor for death and how eventually, somehow, somewhere, some way, death is going to come for us all. Tired old cliche? Maybe. Works, though. The look of the film, the atmosphere, and the score combined all make for a great flick. Beautiful cinematography, which I love to see from horror films; it isn’t glossed over like an Anchor Bay remake, it looks gritty and raw and real but captured wonderfully. Disasterpiece does the score and it reminds me definitely of something a couple decades old yet still with a fresh, electronic sound. These qualities make It Follows one of the better looking and sounding horrors out there in recent years. There’s only one point of the film I didn’t like – when they’re at the beach. It isn’t because the scenes are bad, or the writing, or acting – all great. What I didn’t like were a couple of the ‘it’ appearances. For the first bunch of times we see ‘it’, the make-up and look is super unsettling. Then at the beach, there are a couple of the ‘it’ moments where the look is like a bad rip-off of Asian Horror, with the hollow eyes and the black around the sockets.
It felt as if, for some reason, Mitchell wanted to expand on ‘it’, but instead of keeping with a similar style he tried something different. By no means does it take away from the film overall. It did make those moments less frightening. In particular, there’s a tall version of ‘it’ who shows up, and had they kept with the practical looking make-up of the earlier appearances it would’ve been mind-blowing scary for me. That’s the only real nitpick I have. Some people have problems with the “monster logic” of the film. I don’t see much trouble there. I also don’t want to go into explaining why I think there’s not much to pick away at because it will ruin things, so if you do have opinions on their logic – comment, let’s have a discussion! Even when I love a film I can always admit if someone has a good point that counters my own. All in, I give It Follows a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. If Mitchell kept the same look throughout for ‘it’, in all forms, I would’ve said this is a full knockout. But once again, this doesn’t ruin anything. It’s still a really solid film. I’m a horror fanatic and often I like a few movies along the way others think are trash. I just can’t see this being one of them. Sure, people won’t like everything the same way, but in a state of film like we are in today, with all the terrible horror films being pumped out, all the subpar found footage [I love the sub-genre yet there are only a sparse few actually worth seeing], it’s great to see someone trying to do things a little differently. People have also whined about how the movie seems to try so hard to be retro? I don’t get that. Sure, the soundtrack has a retro sound to it, harkening back to the 1980s and genre classics like Maniac, I just don’t think there’s anything else in the movie people can say has that feel. It’s very modern, I’d almost say it has an urban gothic feel with all the rundown neighbourhoods and buildings and the lives of the young people in it. See it for yourself, be the judge. One thing’s for sure – Maika Monroe is building a great name for herself, which I hope continues as she did a great job with this film. Solid acting, writing, and for those who don’t pretend to be jaded [I’ve seen almost 4,000 films, the majority of which are horror – I’m not desensitized, so stop trying to be tough about movies and just be creeped out!] you’ll get a couple fun scares plus lots of creepy weirdness.
An American man goes on a vacation to flee his life, in the process finding love and cosmic terror.
An enduring piece of cinematic terror: Steven Spielberg's JAWS.
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.
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.
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!
Foxcatcher. 2014. Dir. Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice. Mongrel Media. Rated PG (Canada). 129 minutes. Biography/Drama/Sports
I’d been anticipating this film for a long while. Ever since I’d heard of Foxcatcher, there was something about it which struck me. Now, I’ve only seen Bennett Miller’s Capote, which I loved. I have yet to see Moneyball. Either way, this was something I was looking forward to because I love Mark Ruffalo, as well as Channing Tatum. Even more I was excited to see what Steve Carell would do – and after seeing the first images of him ages ago, I had a feeling this would be something special. In my mind, I was absolutely right. Miller does a great job, along with the spectacular performances rounding out the cast of the film.
Foxcatcher is based on the the story of John du Pont (Steve Carrell), member of one of the richest families in America, and the relationship he had with Olympic Medal winning brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo respectively). Both men would come to be a part of Team Foxcatcher, led by the multimillionaire du Pont. Over time, it is increasingly clear du Pont is not a man in his right mind. While he at first appears to be just an eccentric, harmless man with too much money looking to finance a sports team, wrestling in particular, it is more and more obvious he will do anything to make sure his only legacy would not be tied up in that of his mother’s and horses. John and Mark become very close over their time together, almost like brothers themselves. When Dave refuses to be shut out of his brother’s life, du Pont becomes jealous of their bond, and the results are extremely unexpected by all involved.
I think the style of Miller’s film really fits the overall subject matter. While I’m sure things were dramatized, as they always are with true stories because that’s how things go, the story of Mark and Dave Schultz’s relationship with John du Pont is a dark one anyways. The sort of grey, grim feel to a lot of the film is a really effective technique by Miller. Not that it’s revolutionary, I just think had he opted for a more bright look this would not have achieved the same effect as it does here with the grey and dull tones. The whole landscape of du Pont’s estate is shot to look almost foreboding and it’s like there is a constant fog at times just sitting over the grounds. Good choice between Bennett Miller and cinematographer Greig Fraser for the overall look. This works very well in conjunction with the editing, as well as the flow of the film. I love how things build up slowly. Once you get to the finale, things have really settled in, you feel comfortable, and even when you know it’s coming things really crash down on you – in the most perfect of ways.
Naturally, I was most interested in the acting above all else. First off – Steve Carell is really great here. Not only does he sort of resemble the actual person he is playing, I think he made John du Pont out to be a very sympathetic character at first. Then along the line, I’m not sure exactly where, Carell really gets into the darkness of du Pont. Of course, starting out I knew the story of the film, as do most who either like to research films based on true stories or get constantly bombarded with information in the digital age, as we all do, so really the fact that du Pont gets a bit creepy and all that didn’t really surprise me. However, the way Carell plays him is really wonderful. It’s a subtle performance. While the make-up is what a lot of people focus on, that big schnoz, it’s not the make-up which defines the performance. Carell does such a great job with all the mannerisms of this character. He really fell into playing du Pont, and I think this shouldn’t go unrecognized. It isn’t all hype. Carell gives an absolutely phenomenal performance. As someone who isn’t particularly his biggest fan, except for his breakout in The 40 Year Old Virgin, I really think this guy gave a pitch perfect effort in achieving the strange quality of this eerie real life man.
Channing Tatum was incredible. I couldn’t get over his performance. I’m actually a fan of his, but here he just goes beyond what I’d ever expected out of him as an actor. Physically, he embodies the role of a wrestler. Further than that, Tatum really gets into the skin of Mark Schultz. I know Schultz has problems with the film, as we’ve probably all seen in entertainment news over the past couple weeks. Regardless, I really felt for this guy. The way Tatum portrayed him was just so full of energy at times, and then others he dove deep into this dark despair. It’s a natural feeling performance from him. There’s one scene in particular that blew me away – Schultz has lost a wrestling match, and is particularly upset at himself, so he smashes a mirror with his head. I am not sure at all if this was real or if it was fake, but either way it comes off really wild, and highly intense. This is just part of what makes his performance an awesome one.
Another fabulous effort here is from Mark Ruffalo. His portrayal of Dave Schultz is also another great one. I usually enjoy Ruffalo, anyways. He is a solid performer. Particularly, I loved what he did in Zodiac; my favourite film with him in it. Here, he does a really great job especially when it comes to the relationship between him and Tatum. While their characters are brothers, they also have an even closer relationship – wrestling, being so physically close with someone, you develop almost a short-hand way of talking together. I thought the way in which Ruffalo and Tatum worked together, their chemistry, made things all the much better. Ruffalo even looked to have physically beefed up a bit. I have no doubt he and Tatum really trained a nice bit together because their relationship on-screen works so well. Awesome work.
I know some people have complained the film doesn’t really give us enough about ‘why’ du Pont essentially did what he did, but I don’t think it’s unclear whatsoever. The man was driven towards something foul. Not to excuse what he did, it is unspeakably horrible, however, I don’t think it’s as mystifying as people make it out to be. The film really shows John du Pont to be a man who craves companionship – not necessarily in a loving sense between two romantically involved people, but maybe in the way of male bonding. You can see in one scene, after Mark has brought him home a medal, he just wants to physically be a part of the gang – he wants to wrestle the guys he sponsors, hauling a couple of them to the ground in a grapple as they celebrate the recent win. It’s a bit of a weird scene, and I can understand how some might take it as something overtly homosexual, maybe as subtext – regardless, it isn’t mean as something like that. I don’t believe du Pont was attracted to the men on his team, or Mark, or Dave. None of that. I think du Pont was so smothered by the influence of his overbearing mother that he was reaching out, straining, just to find some kind of friendship, a close bond, with another man. In the end, this is what drives John to do what he did, and why he eventually came to resent Dave Schultz – because Dave and Mark had when John and Mark would never truly have. It’s twisted. Yet I believe this is his true pathology.
This is absolutely a 5-star film. A lot of times anticipation will kill a film for me, but when I was able to see Foxcatcher none of that happened. I got into the story so deeply. The whole movie really got to me, and moved me quite a bit. Each of the three central performances worked incredibly well towards complimenting the finished film. I think the casting was spot on. These three guys were the reason this film essentially works. Coupled with the fact Bennett Miller has a lot of nice sensibilities as a director, these elements really make this one of the greater films from the past year. A fascinating, disturbing, intricate look at the lives of three men who came together tragically. Definitely worth seeing. I really hope Steve Carell gets his due here because this is not overhyped, he really is wonderful, as is everything else about this fantastic biographical drama. Enjoy.
Enemy. 2014. Dir. Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. E1 Films. Rated R. 90 minutes. Mystery/Thriller
★★★★ (Blu ray release)
I won’t waste any time really describing the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which is in part based on the novel The Double by José Saramago. You can easily get the quick description from any site like IMDB, or somewhere else of that nature. What I want to talk about is my take on what actually happens in the film. So, with that being said, if you’ve not yet seen this you’ll probably want to avoid the remainder of my review.
Early on, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at some college, gives lectures pertaining to totalitarian regimes. I think this leads into one of the larger themes of the film. While some think the movie is an analogy of how it is to live under a totalitarian regime, maybe unknowingly. However, I think this is ultimately about the totalitarian in all of us. What I mean is that I believe Adam Bell and Anthony Claire – his double – are truly one person. I think this movie speaks to how we are often dictators of ourselves.
In this sense, Adam is both himself, a history professor, and Anthony, or Daniel Saint Claire the background actor in lesser known films.
One of the instances I think that points to this is when Adam meets with his mother (the consistently interesting and lovely Isabella Rossellini) – he tells her about this possible double, which she of course pretty much laughs off. Afterwards, though, she tells him: “I think you should quit that fantasy being a third-rate movie actor“. The statement throws Adam off. It’s worth mentioning that just before this his mother serves blueberries for dessert. Adam tells her he doesn’t like blueberries, but she reassures him “of course” he does, and they’re good for him – this directly relates to when we see Anthony earlier before his meeting with Adam, when he arrives home looking for blueberries and his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) forgot to get the ones he wanted. I believe this is one tell-tale sign Villeneuve is exploring the duality of one person.
There are most certainly instances in Enemy that cannot truly be reconciled into one neat little package for explanation. On the other hand, I do believe there’s one overall theme that protrudes from the film – the struggle of certain men to overcome their desire and draw towards infidelity. I am almost certain the spider imagery here is also closely paralleled with the idea of women. For instance, the very end – and once again, TURN BACK if you have not see this film to the end!
At the close of the film, Anthony has died in a car accident along with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) after a switch between the two identical men goes awry. After this, Adam is seem continuing on, seemingly, happily with a pregnant Helen. He receives an envelope in the mail containing a smaller black envelope; inside, a key. This is harkens back to an awkward encounter Adam has in the elevator with a man, thinking he is Anthony, talking about some place they went together, rambling about new keys, and so on. All of this plays to the beginning where Anthony is seen at the weird sex club with the women and the spider – all that. Adam then says he may have to go out later that night, but receives no response from Helen. When he goes into the room to find her, Adam only finds a massive black spider huddling up, as if scared, in the room instead. He doesn’t really look scared so much, as he almost seems to have expected to see it there sooner or later.
I believe this is a huge key. Right there, Adam comes face to face once more with the infidelity inside him – the feelings Anthony represented. Adam had no desire to have sex with Helen in the beginning. It was only due to Anthony’s aggressive behaviour Adam ever agreed to switch places for the night; Anthony was the one who wanted to get away from his pregnant wife and be a single man again for a night, even if it meant pretending to be Adam. Once Anthony’s crazy behaviour goes over the top, it leads to him and Mary being killed in the car crash – this is Adam effectively killing off the side of him which strives to cheat on his wife. In reality, Adam and Helen are together, and the parts of the film involving Anthony and Mary are almost like the struggle involving his feelings of infidelity going on in his mind. You can see a real change start to happen particularly once Adam lays down in bed with Helen for the first time – I think this scene unlocks a lot of things.
These ideas also tie into the moments where we see the ominous spider stalking through the Toronto skyscrapers. Furthermore, the woman in the beginning about to crush the spider with her heel is sort of a representation of a woman being the answer to Adam’s search – the woman is literally going to crush the spider, the infidelity, underneath her boot. At the end of the film, Adam sees the giant spider in that room and we can see how he may have thought the thoughts of infidelity were killed off with Anthony – however, they were simply relegated to a room in his mind – because it’s clear the city itself is a sort of lifelike, realized world representative of Adam’s overall mind. Even some of the cover art points to this fact. I think, for me, this is one of the best explanations of the film. It works for my viewing. Maybe not for that of others.
This is by far one of the best films I’ve seen in the past decade or so. I love a movie which not only has what can be taken as a definitive meaning behind all the imagery, but also likes to play with the imagery in a way that can shock us, or push us to interpret, reinterpret, and so on. Villeneuve does a great job of weaving a fantastic tale here. He certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m not saying my opinion on the meaning of this film is a definitive answer at all – there are many other great views on what Enemy truly means, and I think some of those are excellent, as well as very viable options as to a concrete theory. I happen to think mine, which is shared by plenty of others before me, is just one of the most interesting ways to look at the film. It’s a great one, and on the top of my 2014 releases – this didn’t make it out until last year here, even though it was screened plenty in the latter half of 2013. So please, check it out.
The Blu ray is also fantastic – there are a few special features you can dig into, including interviews with all involved. Wonderful picture and sound. Highly recommend this release. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best Canadian filmmakers ever to grace us with his presence. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.
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.