Archive | May, 2016

Sheitan – Review

7 May

Some of my favorite horror movies come out of France. For example, there’s the more modern horror flick High Tension, but also a more classic example like Eyes Without a Face. That’s what brings us to the French horror/dark comedy Sheitan. I was first interested in this movie when I saw that Vincent Cassel was playing the psychotic villain, a role that I have yet to see him play to this degree. Developed by an underground group of French videographers, Sheitan is a movie that is made exactly how the developers wanted it to be made and without any major interference from studios. The end result is something disturbing, hilarious, and unique.

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While at a Parisian night club Bart (Olivier Barthelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), and Thaï (Nico Le Phat Tan) meet two girls, Eve (Roxane Mesquida) and Yasmine (Leïla Bekhti). After Bart gets kicked out of the club, Eve invites everyone back to her family’s mansion in the country where they can continue the party for as long as they want to. Upon their arrival, the group meets Joseph (Vincent Cassel), the groundskeeper that tends to the house for Eve’s family. As the day goes on, Joseph introduces the group to the people of the village who are all some sort of demented, but things get even weirder that night when they all go home for dinner and it becomes clear that Joseph has something sinister in mind for all of them.

This is one hell of a bizarre movie, and for that reason I give it a lot of credit. It’s a great blend of horror and comedy while still sustaining an ominous atmosphere throughout its entire run time. The story is told in a very weird way, which I will return to later, but I was compelled to stay with this movie until the end. Sheitan slowly but surely leads you on and drops a few clues here and there as to what Joseph has up his sleeve for the unsuspecting group of friends. That being said, this movie also works as a mystery of sorts because the whole time I was trying to figure out what the hell was actually going on. When I finally figured it out, it was so rewarding because I got to see my theory play out in front of me.

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Like I said, one of the main reasons I wanted to watch this movie was to see Vincent Cassel act like a lunatic, and he sure delivers a memorable performance. In fact, I might say it’s one of my favorite horror performances. There are times where I no longer saw Cassel, but was sure that the character of Joseph had completely taken over. The constant smile that is smeared across his face is made even more eerie by the face crooked teeth Cassel wore for filming. Much like the entirety of Sheitan, Cassel is both horrifying and hilarious. I also have to give credit to the rest of the cast for adding an extra layer of character. Each person felt different and important to the story.

Now, the way the story is told felt very odd. It seemed like for a very long time, nothing was really happening. In fact, the movie only starts getting really intense during the third act. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good because it made me feel like I was being led along this dark, winding path to some conclusion that I couldn’t even imagine. On the other hand, I started to feel just a little bored towards the middle of the movie. I’m still pleased that the film makers decided to take their time telling the story. Even though there were some boring moments, they never bogged the movie down and I feel like they still helped create a feeling of suspense that made me have to know what happened next.

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Without knowing anything about it before watching it, I can say that Sheitan is a wonderfully underrated movie. It doesn’t even seem to have garnered a cult following, even though it definitely deserves one. It not only works as a grotesque piece of horror, but also a dark comedy full of complete lunacy. The art design and cinematography was even impressive. To all the horror fans out there who are looking for something off the beaten path, Sheitan may be just what you’re looking for.

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The Client – Review

5 May

Even if you’ve never read one of his books, chances are you still know the name John Grisham. Many of his stories have been turned into feature films, with my favorite being the 1996 courtroom drama, A Time to Kill. While that’s my own personal opinion, there are a lot of people who say that the best adaptation of a Grisham novel is the 1994 film, The Client. I remember watching this movie on t.v. when I was really young, and something about it really struck a cord in my brain making me remember it to this day. It’s finally time I revisited it and see if it’s held up after all these years.

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Mark Sway (Brad Renfro) and his little brother Ricky (David Speck) live a simple life in a trailer park by the woods. After sneaking in there to have cigarettes behind their mother’s (Mary-Louise Parker) back, the two boys witness the suicide by a mafia lawyer named Jerome “Romey” Clifford (Walter Olkewicz), but not before spilling the beans about his murderous client, Barry “The Blade” Muldanno (Anthony LaPaglia). This information makes the fame hungry federal attorney Roy Foltrigg (Tommy Lee Jones) anxious to get his hands on what the kid knows and lock Muldanno up for life, even if it means putting Sway in the sights of numerous mafia hitmen. This prompts him to get a lawyer of his own, the inexperienced Reggie Love (Susan Sarandon), who treats Sway’s case with a special kind of attention and won’t stop until he is protected from both Foltrigg and Muldanno.

This movie really has a recipe for success. Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon are enough of an acting force to push any story forward, but it also helps having a Grisham story and Joel Schumacher backing them up. Before anyone says anything, I realize Schumacher is responsible for Batman and Robin, but he’s also responsible for some great films like Phonebooth and Falling Down. This is a very well constructed and acted movie from everyone involved. Sarandon was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but Tommy Lee Jones also has a lot of great scenes that showcases how smarmy his character really is. This is also the debut of Brad Renfro who stands up very well to his acting superiors, which makes it more unfortunate his career was cut short when he died at the age of 28.

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With all of these talents mixing together, I’m quite surprised that The Client isn’t as exciting or thrilling as it should have been. I went into this wanting to see a lot more of the legal procedures and the mafia getting involved, but there’s only one court room scene and the mafia villains are completely laughable. For someone nick named “The Blade,” I was surprised to see how much of a cartoon character he was. It got to the point where it was hard to be threatened by these Looney Toon mafiosos. One of the reasons I love A Time to Kill so much is because there are great courtroom scenes. The one in The Client works fine, but there just isn’t enough there to make it really exciting. The film instead seems to want to focus on the relationship between Reggie Love and Mark Sway.

Since the attention is put on Brad Renfro’s and Susan Sarandon’s character, it’s important that they succeed in making their relationship interesting. At times, I feel like that’s the real crux of the movie. Sarandon’s character wants to have a connection with her estranged kids and Brad Renfro’s character wants to have a parent that can actually protect him. That’s where these two characters meet and find a special bond that makes their relationship interesting. There are times where this theme of needing some sort of connection is beat over the head, but it still works well enough and adds an extra layer to the movie.

I had a bit of a hard time writing this review because I don’t really have a whole lot to say about The Client. The opening scene is one of the most intense and memorable intros to a movie I’ve ever seen, but from there it gets a little less than thrilling. What holds the movie up is the unique characters and an especially unique murder mystery that a child has now gotten mixed up in. If more attention was spent to actually making an exciting court drama with a touch of gangsters that weren’t cartoons, The Client would have certainly been a better movie. As it is, it’s a hard movie to talk about because it really is just ok.

Elvis & Nixon – Review

3 May

Of all the historic photographs held in the National Archives, you might be surprised that the most requested picture of all time is of Elvis Presley shaking Richard Nixon’s hand in the Oval Office. The King of Rock n Roll and one of the most notorious presidents in American history sure make quite the duo. What’s even stranger is that there are no records to give the reason why these two American icons met in the first place. That brings us to Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon, a pretty absurd comedy that offers a pretty hilarious fictionalized account and possibly reason behind the whole meeting. What I really love about this movie is that it knows what it is, and it also gives leaves some time between the absurdity to offer some interesting themes surrounding celebrity and a person’s real identity.

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In 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) still has his status as one of the biggest superstars in the world, even though his impact on the entertainment industry has declined since his earlier days. Meanwhile, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) has held the presidential office for a little over a year and has his sights set on re-election. After seeing the troubles plaguing the youth of the nation, Elvis decides that he hasn’t been doing enough to make the next generations of Americans safe and prosperous. This line of thinking leads to his decision that it’s time for him to be given a federal badge and be appointed a “federal agent at large.” Armed with his golden pistols and trusty entourage (Jerry Schilling and Johnny Knoxville), Presley makes his way to Washington D.C. for what he believes will be a monumental meeting with the president of the United States.

I’ve explained this movie to some people who haven’t heard of it, and the looks on their faces as I’m talking makes me feel like I have three heads. Elvis & Nixon is, without a doubt, completely absurd. That being said, however, a lot of the events surrounding these two cultural icons are even more absurd than most of the things in this movie. There’s a part of me that believes their secret meeting might have gone a little something like it does in the movie because we all live in such a crazy world anyway. This is where I give a lot of credit to the screenwriters (one of whom happens to be the Dread Pirate Roberts, himself, Cary Elwes). The story that they’ve constructed is very silly, but there is a lot of really snappy dialogue and an understated, yet very present, grounding in reality.

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When Elvis & Nixon takes a break from the over the top scenarios and barrage of witty banter, there is time to look at the characters for who they truly are. That, I believe, is the real point to this movie. What we have are two people that couldn’t have been different from each other, and having never met one another have their own judgmental opinions of the other. It’s interesting to see the interaction when they finally do meet and the real people behind what the media has created for them is revealed. There’s one excellent scene in the movie where Elvis says when regular people walk into a room they are recognized for who they are, but when he walks into a room he is only recognized by the preconceived notions and memories that his fame created. This idea of separating a celebrity from their works to see them as a person is a pretty timeless theme and it’s handled surprisingly intelligently in this film.

Besides the premise, the two main actors were the big reason why I was excited about this movie and they did not disappoint. Michael Shannon may not look a lot like Elvis, but he seems to have mastered all of the movements and swagger of the King, and even sounds a lot like him at times. The best part of Shannon’s performance is that he never makes it over the top. He brings a subtlety to the performance that feels real, and it reminds me why he is one of my favorite actors. Speaking of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey is hilarious as Richard Nixon. He has all the same subtlety as Shannon, and never turns Nixon into a caricature. I was concerned that Spacey would just come across as Frank Underwood from House of Cards, but he really does step away from that president and become Nixon.

What’s great about Elvis & Nixon is that it never tries to come across as more than it is. What this film is is a sometimes over the top satire of a time period, celebrity, and even politics, but done so in the most unpretentious of ways. There’s some real humanity amongst all of the jokes and absurdity, and the actors play their roles with real skill. Elvis & Nixon won’t go down as a classic or even a movie that’s going to be really remembered and discussed, but that’s ok. This is still a really good and fun movie that is well worth anyone’s time.