Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Nocturnal Animals: A Review

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"Do you ever feel like your life has turned into something you never intended?"

HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. FUCK

So, my most anticipated film of the year so far has expectedly turned out to be one of my most favorite so far. And I urge you all to see it.

After the failure of 'The Girl on the Train' earlier this year, which many had branded as this year's 'Gone Girl', Tom Ford's sophomore film 'Nocturnal Animals' was given said titles even before it had been released. Does it live up to those expectations? In short, no. But, it doesn't really try to, or at least, not on purpose...

The story revolves around Susan (played with great conviction by Amy Adams), an art gallery owner living an idyllic, but ultimately empty life of high society with her husband Hutton, an almost non-existent Armie Hammer. One day Susan receives a manuscript from her first husband Edward, an magnetic Jake Gyllenhaal. The story in question is dedicated to her, and tells a tale of loss and revenge in Texas, Susan believes this story is meant to be a threat to herself and her family from Edward, whom she separated from under quite painful terms. As Susan contuse to read deeper into Edward's book, her mental state descends into a paranoia fueled down-spiral, forcing her to rethink certain life choices.

To quote critic Mark Kermode, this film truly is designed within an inch of its life. The costumes, makeup, art direction, cinematography, and editing are all purposeful and important, and bring to mind other filmmakers whos works function like well oiled machines, like Stanley Kubrick or David Fincher. This also factors into the films style, or in this case styles. It is a film of two halves, the reality of Susan, with its cold and clinical urban mansions, galleries, and offices, resembling works like 'The Shining' or 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo', and the dramatization of Edward's novel, set in the sun burnt valleys and decrepit hovels of West Texas backwaters, like 'No Country For Old Men' or 'There Will Be Blood'. I also need to mention Abel Korzeniowski's delicate yet emotionally arresting score, which at times resembles Bernard Hermann's works under Alfred Hitchcock.

The cast in this work is also superb. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal give possibly their best performances to date, especially Gyllenhaal as both Edward, and the protagonist of Edward's novel, Tony. Michael Shannon is intimidating, darkly funny, and oddly sympathetic is a rouge sheriff who helps Tony in his vengeance, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson is absolutely haunting as the redneck gang leader who causes Tony so much grief. Special mention also needs to go to Isla Fisher and Laura Linneys cameo appearances, both of whom are fantastic.

So without question, writer-director Tom Ford's newest one is quite a beast to be reckoned with. It's as beautiful as it is brutal, and as well crafted as it is intentionally flawed, and should be seen by anyone who enjoys a spell-binding work to contemplate, which I'm sure people will be doing for years to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Witch (2015) review

Heavily advertised as one of the scariest films in years, Robert Eggers' The Witch is certainly something. Since this is a horror film, we must ask the most important question: is it scary? Yes... Only not in the traditional sense. While the film has very obvious supernatural overtones, they aren't the focus of the fear, that instead comes from what the supernatural does to the characters and what they in turn do to each other.

 The story revolves around a large English family living in New England I'm the 1630s. They get banished from their town and are forced to work the land on a small farm on the edge of a mysterious forest. Things begin to go down hill when their new-born goes missing seeming out of nowhere. What follows is a story of religion, family, and insanity in a time period when these things were almost mutual, which is also a part of the story.

 One of the films best features is it's cinematography. The frame is presented in 1.66:1, which both extenuates the horizontal nature of the landscape and forest, but also gives the feeling of claustrophobia, as if there's something always closing in on the characters, be it their faith or the tension which surrounds them. The frame itself is spectacular, with composition which bring to mind classical paintings of the ear, like Stanley Kubrick's work on Barry Lyndon. My only problem is the color palette, which while thematically and visually appropriate, featuring desaturated and pastel earth tones, it doesn't feel unique due to the abundance of films in the past decade that have adopted this style, even if it is needed or not. The art direction and costume design are all stellar, with excellent period details that make them feel as though they jumped right out of the era. Another thing worth mentioning is the score, which much like Johnny Greenwood's work on There Will Be Blood, is seeping with sinister atmosphere due to its unusual instrumentation and melodies, sometimes not even sounding like actual music as much as it sounds like the emotion of a moment was given sound. 

As for acting, there is much to discuss. Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin is a revelation, her innocent face and large eyes bringing to mind Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves. She manages to both innocent and authoritative, while cruel and subtly seductive, yet manages to exude the charm of a young girl who fears God's wrath. Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are both excellent as parents who slowly descend into madness, and special mention goes to Harvey Scrimshaw as the second eldest Caleb, who gives the film one of its most chilling moments... 

My only true complaint is the general premise reminded me heavily of Lars Von Trier's 2009 film Antichrist, which is a film a very much enjoyed. 

So finally, if you enjoy seeing a leveling crafted portrait of time and place, with fantastic visuals, acting, production values, and music, see this film! Just don't plan on sleeping that night, I don't think I will either.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Predicting the 2016 Silver Reels...

Yes I'm aware how superficial and self-centered predicting MY OWN awards seems, shush. But I wanna get a feel for awards season this year so I'm slapping together a quick list of films I've seen and liked from this year, and films that are not yet out but I think I'll like, so with that, let us begin!

BEST PICTURE:

The Birth of a Nation
La La Land
Nocturnal Animals*
10 Colverfield Lane
Live By Night

BEST DIRECTOR:

Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation*
Martin Scorsese, Silence
Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Ang Lee, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

BEST ACTOR:

Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Brad Pitt, Allied
Tom Hardy, Legend*
Danzel Washington, Fences
Oliver Masucci, Er Ist Weider Da

BEST ACTRESS:

Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals*
Rosamund Pike, A United Kingdom
Viola Davis, Fences
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Marrion Cotillard, Allied

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jack O'Connell, Money Monster
Aaron Taylor-Johnston, Nocturnal Animals
Daniel Radcliff, Swiss Army Man
Stephen Lang, Don't Breath*
John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Zeo Saldana, Live By Night
Lea Seydoux, It's Only the End of the World*
Marion Cotillard, Assassin's Creed
Emily Browning, Legend
Madison Wolfe, The Conjuring 2

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Hail, Caesar*
Swiss Army Mann
The Witch
10 Cloverfield Lane
La La Land

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Er Ist Weider Da
Live By Night*
The Girl On the Train
High-Rise

BEST ART DIRECTION

Café Society
The Birth of a Nation
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Assassin's Creed*
High-Rise

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Neon Demon*
Allied
Nocturnal Animals
Fitoor
La La Land

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Assassin's Creed*
Café Society
Allied
Nocturnal Animals
The Birth of a Nation

BEST FILM EDITING

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Deadpool
Passengers*
Arrival
Sully

BEST SOUND EDITING/MIXING

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story*
Arrival
Sully
Deep Water Horizon
Passengers

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

Silence
Legend
10 Cloverfield Lane*
La La Land
The BFG

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

N/A

BEST MAKEUP

The Neon Demon
Suicide Squad*
Silence

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Allied
Deep Water Horizon
Passengers
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story*





Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Xavier Dolan's Mommy: A Review

(apologies in advance for how messy this review is, but it's very late and I'm very tired but I just had to get my thoughts out there.)

I have something of an unfortunate habit of having rather unrealistic expectations of films that receive praise from everywhere. As my consumption of cinema ever increases as though it's some form of mental meal, as do my opinions of expectations of their respective creators. So, near the end of 2014 and into 2015, I became aware of a new filmmaker as I myself was new to the film blogging community, that filmmakers name is Xavier Dolan. He had been active for the past 5 years or so already with acclaimed films with subjects ranging from bigoted families, impossible love triangles, a trans-gender epic, and a Hitchcock inspired thriller about abusive relationships. So when his 5th feature "Mommy" began making the rounds, needless to say, I was intrigued.

I took over a year to see it since a proper home video of the film doesn't seem to be the easiest thing to find. As mentioned above, my expectations were extremely high since I spent most of that year letting the rave reviews it had gotten soak in. Upon seeing it, was it the best film I had ever seen? No. (Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" still holds that title) but that's fine. It doesn't have to be, and after seeing it twice more, it still isn't, but it doesn't have to be, I'm only one person in an enormous sea of people, what do I matter?

The film does, however, have some of the best uses of cinema as a dramatic art form I can say I've ever seen.

The story revolves about Diana "Die" DuPres, a middle aged widow living in near poverty. She is forced to take care of her teenage son Steve, who has recently been expelled from a care facility for special needs youths after causing it massive damage and injuring a student. Diana cares deeply for Steve, who goes into almost psychotic fits of rage when put under great emotional distress. Diane has trouble coping, until her neighbor Kyla becomes involved in both her and Steve's lives. Kyla is a former teacher now on medical leave for unexplained reasons, and also suffers from an apparently nervous stutter. She becomes an outlet for both Diane and Steve, for Diane as a friend and confidant, and for Steve as a teacher. The three form an off sort of family unit, Kyla seeming neglecting the daughter and husband she already has.

Eventually, Die receives papers stating she's being sued by the parents of the injured student. After seeking out a lawyer, who is driven away by Steve who beeves he's interested in his mother for sex,Diane attempts to have Steve commuted again, taking him to the hospital under the guise of taking him and Kyla on a road-trip. Diane immediately regrets the decision, but by then, the damage is done. Things fall even farther when Kyla reveals she and her family are moving to Toronto, leaving Die completely alone. The story ends with Steve attempting to make an escape from the hospital he was incarcerated at, the screen cutting to black before we see what happens as Lana Del Ray plays over.

The layers of complexity involved in the characters conveyed from their looks and actions rather then through straight dialogue is astounding. Firstly there's Diane's behavior which is at times almost as immature as Steve's. Her style of wardrobe and makeup are both far to young for a woman of her age. Mix that with her odd quarks like dotting I's with hearts and the pride she displays when hearing Steve curse out the guards on the radio at the beginning, and you have quite the leading lady. Kyla is also a bit of a mystery, we;re never told why she stutters or is on leave, but I have to wonder. She doesn't community with her own family well at all, to the point they're almost a complete non-entity in her life, and the scene in which she ferociously threatens Steve made me think, did she attack a student and that's why she's on leave? Either way, she becomes a sort of secondary mother figure Steve as well as a mentor.

Another thing this film both exemplifies and rewrites is the craft of film-making itself. Not is the editing, particularly the use of slow motion and depth of field superb, but so is (for me) the real star of this show, the cinematography. The film is shot in the virtually unheard of aspect ratio of 1:1, which gives off a feeling of intense claustrophobia as well as telling of the character's emotional states. There is also some extremely clever trickery involved in the use of this style of shooting that must be seen to be believed, and for that, I give you easily the film's best scene:


And so there you have it ladies and gentlemen. One of 2014's finest films and pieces of art in general is a masterwork from one of the medium's newest and so far finest artists. It truly is an experience that must be seen to be believed, and I hope that you'll all be able to see it very soon!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Analysis Of “Who Am I This Time?” by Kurt Vonnegut

Following the incredibly pathetic community theater production of Cyrano De Bergerac, the main director of said group retires, passing the reigns on to her right hand. He gets the group’s most talented actor, Charlie for the lead in “A Streetcar Named Desire”, the camera appearing to be shaking and hand held, possibly meant to represent a confused mental state or frame of mind. However, there’s no actress for the role of Kim. After meeting the socially awkward Helena at the store, he decides to invite her to audition, what fallows will change both her and Henry’s lives for good.
            Among certain details to be found rather interesting is how Helena can be seen waiting for her turn to audition wearing warm, earthy colored clothes but is sat completely alone, while everyone else is happily bantering and chatting, but dressed in cooler, more subdued colors. Helena’s audition starts rocky, her acting robotic and mechanical, showing she has difficulty empathizing with other human emotion, either real or fabricated, like the pages of a script. She’s also uncomfortable with great amounts of physical contact, when we see a point of view shot from her perspective showing the librarian’s face so close to both her, and us. But when Charlie arrives and undresses for his audition, which makes use of the “zoom in-pull out” dolly shot famously put to use in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. When their intense duel audition is over, both need to take time to decompress, the passion of the page having bled into reality for the pair.
            Overnight, Charlie has undergone a very literal transformation in the role of Stanley, his acting and devotion to character reminding us of actors such as Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis. Helena has fallen very much head-over-heels for him as well, that is, with Charlie as Stanly, rather than Charlie as Charlie. Poor, broken, hollow Charlie, found on a doorstep and unable to develop a proper familial connection with anyone, only able to express how he feels through the words pf others, rather than his own. This information comes too light when after rehearsal one night, Helena invites him on a “picnic” with a view of a “vista”, in reality only a theater backdrop. Once again, replacing the actual thing with a man-made imitation of said thing.
            After the show ends, Henry goes back to being the awkward man-child of before, and Helena realizes this while still so passionately in love with him. She is shattered, and isolates herself again, but now wares cold colors. Helena soon, however, makes the connection we have already made, and begins talking to Henry via the great romantic texts of antiquity. The story ends with her being proposed to through the words of Oscar Wild’s “The Importance of being Earnest”, so now, she’s married a man pretending to be someone else, with the help of a story about man romancing a woman while pretending to be someone else, how very Meta.  

            Another thing that should be mentioned is this films use of mise en scène. While only a low budget TV movie, it has quite an interesting use of camera work, movement, and composition. This is worth mentioning seeing as how many TV productions made during the early 80s had a very static and uninteresting style (ironically) reminiscent of stage and theatre productions, which this film just so happens to be about.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Carol (2015) Review

Where to start? Carol, directed by the wonderful LGBT filmmaker Todd Haynes and based on the 1952 novel "The Price of Salt" by thriller./crime author Patriciaa Haighsmith, was one of last year's most acclaimed films, and with good reason. It tells the story of Tarez (Rooney Mara), a young and naive shop girl who meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), a socialite with quite the scandalous secret. I'll admit, when I first saw the film, I was more then slightly disappointed... my only other exposure to Haighsmith's work was Anthonly Mighnella's 1999 adaptation of her book "The Talented Mr. Ripley". That film will easily go down as one of my top 10 films of all time! And my only exposure to Hanes' work was his 2002 masterpiece "Far From Heaven", another work that'll most likely end up on my list. While FFH was extremly devoted to the style of 50's melodrama, going so far as to crcreate the camera movment, composition, and color schemes present in such films of the time, Carol has a far more "realistic" style designed to resemble 50's street photography. The colors are soft pastels which are given a lovely texture by the use of 16 MM film stock. Another thing I noticed was that many of the images in the film were heavily layered frames-within-frames, similar to Wong Kar-Wei's In the Mood For Love. As far as acting is convened, Rooney Mara's Tarez is technically the protagonist of the film, as she apparently was in the original novel. While I'm not overly familiar with Mara (No, I haven't seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), I can say she gives a fantastically realistic and lovely performance as a girl stepping into a worl she is not familiar with, and how she adapts back to her old life upon laving in. Indeed, a similar performance and character i was reminded of while watching was Saoirse Ronan in last year's Brooklyn. The crown jewel in the acting crown of this film however is Cate Blanchett as Carol Aired. When we first meet Carol, she's extremely calm, cool, and collected, and draws in Tarez like a spider into it's web. She reminded me much of Greta Garbo and the way she perused her men way back when. But as things begin to fall apart, the tables turn, with Carol becoming the delicate and scared one while Tarez becomes the stronger of the two (to me, anyways). Rounding out the performances is Kyle Chandler as Carol's stubborn ex-husband Harge. He's a man who you could say is the antagonist of the story, but given the circumstances of the time, he's a man who only wants what's best for his daughter, as does Carol as well, so he has a good character arc, you both feel for him, and hate him at once! Good show! All in all, this is a fantastic, romantic, and unique film, you have to see it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Best Cinematography of The Exorcist


Hello pretty people! And by people I mean Drew, Josh, Matt, and whoever else happens to see this, I'd like to introduce a new series called "Best Cinematography of..." Where I display what I feel are the best shots from some of my favorite films. For the inaugural post, we have 1973's The Exorcist, with its beautifully cold and desaturated color palette, chilling use of light, and even more chilling and at times iconic composition, lensed by the great Owen Roizmen and Douglas Slocombe. Enjoy!