From Filmmakers

PRESERVATION is All About Female Survival

Preservation. 2015. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, and Pablo Schreiber. The Orchard. Not Rated. 90 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★
Preservation-2014-movie-poster
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 BayArgo, 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.
PRESERVATIONAREADENHAMFEATThere 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!
preservationfeatI 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.
Preserve_KM_102313_677All 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.

Advertisements

AMERICAN SNIPER: Making a Murderer

American Sniper. 2014. Directed by Clint Eastwood.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, and Kyle Gallner. Warner Brothers. Rated 14A. 132 minutes.
Action/Biography/Drama

1/2
american-sniper-poster-620x919
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.
AMERICAN SNIPERBradley 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.
AMERICAN SNIPERThis 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.
american-sniperI’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.

The Deconstructed Life of BIRDMAN

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.
Comedy/Drama

★★★★

2562232_bigBirdman 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?

Birdman1I’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 BatmanNight ShiftBeetlejuice, 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.
BirdmanThe 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.
Birdman_teaserI 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.
still-of-michael-keaton-in-birdman-2014-large-pictureThis 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!

Lost Masculinity & Grim Relationships in FOXCATCHER

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

★★★★★
foxcatcher-poster
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.
Foxcatcher still 2 (2014)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.
Foxcatcher still 1 (2014)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.
still-of-steve-carell,-mark-ruffalo-and-channing-tatum-in-foxcatcher-(2014)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.
foxcatcherAnother 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.
foxcatcher-(2014)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.

WHIPLASH: Two Jazz-Hands Up

Whiplash. 2014. Directed & Written by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons, and Paul Reiser.
Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Drama/Music

★★★★★WHIP_INTL_1Sht_Lk2_LYRDI 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.
Whiplash-4091.cr2One 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.
whiplash3The 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.
Whiplash-5547.cr2I 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’s Religious Parable

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.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

tore_tanzt_ver3_xlg

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.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis 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).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis 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.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe 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.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing 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.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The 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] Follows Everyday Life into a Zombie Epidemic

[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.
Horror/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★1/2

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.
REC1-620x330Are 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.

recThen there is [Rec].

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.

xtuuSOne 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.
1860277-rec_2007_2
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.
Rec-still-2I 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].
rec04With 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.