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The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Review

18 Nov

There are certain film makers working right now where it’s pretty much guaranteed that anything they release will be a completely original piece of work. One of these film makers is the one and only Yorgos Lanthimos. My first experience with Lanthimos was with his surreal family drama/coming of age story called Dogtooth. Just last year I had the pleasure of seeing his dystopian romance titled The Lobster, which made me laugh as much as it made me think. Continuing this string of totally oddball films is his latest, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which almost slipped under my radar. I watched a trailer for it the day before seeing it, but still didn’t really have a sense what it was about. I’m glad I went in that blind because what I saw was one of the most disorienting movies I’ve seen in a long time and I’m thrilled I didn’t miss it.

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a surgeon that has used his skills to help create a great life for himself. He’s celebrated in the community and has a really nice house with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and his two kids, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). He’s also taken a teenage boy who is in his daughter’s class, Martin (Barry Keoghan), under his wing since he’s had a hard time coping after his father died during heart surgery. The odd part is that Steven was the surgeon and he’s may or may not be hiding something from Martin concerning that day. When Steven’s children begin to get mysteriously ill and just keep getting worse after many different doctors can’t diagnose what’s wrong with them, it becomes clear that Martin may have something to do with it, and his ultimatum to make it all stop will change the Murphys’ lives forever.

The first thing I absolutely need to touch on is how this movie is written and how it is performed. From the very first line of dialogue, I knew something was weird. Everyone spoke so literally and used such a dull, matter of fact way of delivering these lines. It was very hard to get used to because pretty much no one talks like that. It made for some very cold characters that felt like they were miles away from the reality we are all living in. There’s one scene where Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell both have a break down in their kitchen, and that was really the only time any true honesty or emotion was being conveyed. To many people, this will be a major deal breaker. This isn’t a straightforward narrative with straightforward characters. These characters almost feel programmed to say what should be said in a certain situation instead of saying what they feel. It’s almost sociopathic, but that’s just what this movie needs.

Not only is the acting very cold, but the cinematography seems almost non existent. This film is shot in hues of gray and blue with other, brighter colors coming in rarely. The locations are almost bare of any kinds of decorations, besides what is necessary for the characters to use to live, and this just mirrors their lack of any kind of moral or personal connection to the world they live in. They merely exist, and up until this point, existed free of consequences. The striking score of the film completely clashes with the bare cinematography and set design and succeeded wonderfully at sending shivers down my spine, even if the image was nothing all that off putting. The entire movie is made to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the camerawork is disorienting in the best possible way. It flows behind characters, often times going out of focus or losing them in the frame some other way. Zooms end with people on the far side of the screen instead of firmly in the center. It will also often times linger too long on somebody or something, just to add a new layer of creepy that otherwise may have slipped beneath the surface.

Finally, I can’t praise the originality of Yorgos Lanthimos and The Killing of a Sacred Deer enough. We have a film made by an artist that is totally unafraid of controversy and backlash. This movie doesn’t pull any punches and will leave you confused and wanting more. There are things that happen in the world of this movie that would surely be explained in any summer blockbuster, but Lanthimos isn’t interested in answering questions. He’s interested in telling a story that defies all logic, but demands you pay attention to the straightforward way he tells it. This isn’t an easy film and it can’t really be compared to any other film, other than maybe something else Lanthimos has done. He has a style all his own and I can’t wait to dive down this rabbit hole again.

I absolutely loved this movie. I loved this movie more than I thought I would and it’s been sneaking around in the back of my mind since I saw it. It’s hilarious, disturbing, awkward, cold, and ultimately original. When I see a piece of work done by a film maker who isn’t afraid to break any and all rules, I feel a sort of respect that’s rare. The Killing of a Sacred Deer isn’t for everyone, and it is admittedly hard to get into at first, but once you find its rhythm, I dare you not to remain hooked.

Final Grade: A

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The Lobster – Review

21 Jun

Let’s go back to September of 2014 when I reviewed one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth. I remember feeling like I just saw a genuine work of art and also one of the most frustrating movies ever. That frustration came from the film’s desire to make the movie make the audience think for themselves’ and interpret the story in a way that would make them feel fulfilled. Now, here we are in 2016 and Lanthimos has brought us another puzzle of a movie with The Lobster. This is a two hour long movie with a thin plot and an overabundance of symbolism and themes and motifs that would keep anyone busy for a good long while. What’s also important is the use of pure and unfiltered imagination that comes along with it.

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In the not too distant future, more stock is put into relationships than ever before. In fact, it’s illegal not to be paired with someone and the punishment is absolutely absurd. This is the situation David (Colin Farrell) faces when his wife leaves him and he is forced to go to the Hotel. This is a place where all of the single people go where they have 45 days to find a partner, and if they fail to do so, they will be turned into an animal of their own choosing and be released into the Forest. As time passes for David, he finds his situation to be hopeless and escapes into the Forest where he meets the Loners, a group of single people hunted by the people at the Hotel. One of these Loners is a short sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) that immediately is taken with David, and the two begin an affair that is forbidden amongst the Loners and that can be met with another punishment most severe.

First and foremost, I have to bring the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos to attention. Between what I witnessed in Dogtooth and now The Lobster, it’s clear to me that this guy has a lot going on inside his head and isn’t afraid to put his outlandish thoughts into action. This film at times felt like I was reading some odd, classic science fiction story written by someone who admired Kafka with an overwhelming passion. This is a really strange movie, but Lanthimos also made the future he created somewhat believable. At first everything seemed completely absurd, but as the rules of this world were iterated and reiterated, I started to give myself up to these guidelines and went along with everything that was being said. Considering the absurdist nature of The Lobster, it’s impressive that I got on board with things so quickly.

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It’s almost an impossible task to put this movie into any sort of genre, and part of that is because there are so many components to consider. The whole idea of changing people into animals using some kind of medical procedure is textbook science fiction. What’s interesting is that they decided to leave how it happens out of the story and instead just leave it a mystery. The important thing is that it happens, not how it happens. There’s also a pretty touching, if not slightly twisted, love story at the center of the movie. Just because the movie is completely outlandish doesn’t mean that there isn’t strong, touching moments of romance. What The Lobster really is for me, though, is a darkly funny satire. It takes modern society’s need for acceptance and love and looks at the worst qualities of it. The Hotel is like Tinder from hell. I also got a huge kick out of the hollow way people talked to each other, almost like they were reading from a script of socially acceptable things to say. That just adds to the sharp satire.

I do have to point out that while The Lobster is extremely creative and full of pitch black humor, it can sometimes feel like a chore to watch. I felt the same way with Dogtooth, so it must be the deliberate slow pace that Lanthimos uses in his movies. I won’t say that I was ever bored watching this movie, but it did tire me out. The plot moves at a snail’s pace over the two hour running time, which made it feel even longer than it actually was. The first half of the movie is significantly more entertaining than the second half, but the second half introduces a lot of new themes and ways of looking at the situation. While I wasn’t having as much fun in the second hour, there was a lot of new things to think about which kept everything interesting.

The Lobster is certainly one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and after anticipating it for so long I had very high expectations for it. It certainly did not disappoint in any department. It was funny, kind of sad, intelligent, and also full of imagination and originality. That being said, this movie is certainly not for everyone and if someone told me that they hated it, I would understand. It’s definitely something different, but it asks a lot of good questions and succeeds at immersing the viewer into a dystopian world of absurdity.

Dead Man Down – Review

19 Mar

There’s a lot of unique ways to take a story that’s been told a dozen times before and tweak it to make it something resembling an original idea. Danish film director Niels Arden Oplev is no stranger to tackling stories that are painfully unusual since his biggest claim to fame is helming the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. This brings us to his first primarily American release, Dead Man Down from 2013. This is a pretty interesting movie since you can see a lot of European techniques being used to tell a story set in the gritty streets of New York, but there’s also a lot dragging the movie down like poor pacing and a handful of unnecessary scenes.

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Victor (Colin Farrell) is a small time criminal working for a mob boss named Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Through his time working with Hoyt, he has earned a strong reputation for trust and respect and has also befriended an associate, Darcy (Dominic Cooper). Victor soon comes into contact with his disfigured neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who takes him out to dinner one night only to show that she has evidence that Victor murdered a man in his apartment. She won’t go to the police with this if he agrees to kill the man who drunkenly hit her car and disfigured her. As Victor works with and forms a relationship with Beatrice, his true obsessive intentions with Alphonse become all too clear, which puts Beatrice and himself in the line of fire from all directions.

This is one of those hard review to write, because I really don’t have too much to say about Dead Man Down. Niels Anders Oplev and screenwriter J.H. Wyman have created a gangster/crime drama that sails the seas of mediocrity. Alright, that may be a little harsh because there are some really fantastic parts of this movie. Some of the scenes are executed in such an intense and sometimes over the top way that it sucked me right into the action. I guess that’s one really good thing I can say about this movie. The action was phenomenal. There’s one great scene where a guy is thrown out a window and is hanged by a rope around his neck while dangling in front of a gym window. There’s another great scene that’s pretty much a siege on a well fortified mansion. Those are the real stand out scenes. Everything else is kinda filler.

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While the action scenes are wonderfully constructed and memorable in their own rights, they don’t quite sync up with the rest of the movie all that well. Other than a couple of the larger action set pieces, the rest of the film is set up as a very realistic and down to earth crime drama. Then, when violence suddenly erupts, all of a sudden the world turns into a comic book where one man can take on an entire army of men. Look, I love over the top movies as much as the next guy and I can appreciate that I am only watching a movie, but Dead Man Down doesn’t really play by its own set of rules which makes it seem like it was made by a couple different people.

There’s not really much else to talk about in terms of story so it’s over to the performances we go. Everyone in this movie is pretty serviceable. Colin Farrell and Terrence Howard do their jobs just fine but it’s nothing really worth talking too much about. The only people who seem to be completely involved with their roles are Noomi Rapace and Dominic Cooper. While Rapace’s character has some major flaws in terms of how she’s written, her performance almost makes up for all of that. Cooper also just seems like he’s having the time of his life playing his part, which in turn gives his character more life than it could’ve had.

Dead Man Down was a pretty fun movie to watch, but once it’s over t left me feeling like I didn’t really watch anything of consequence. It certainly isn’t an awful movie, but it’s not one that I’m going to remember either, despite some really excellent action scenes sprinkled throughout it. This was kind of a hard review to write because I don’t have a whole lot to say on Dead Man Down other than it’s a mediocre gangster flick that sailed under the radar when it was released and will continue to do so.

Seven Psychopaths – Review

23 Nov

In 2008, writer and director Martin McDonagh graced the world with one of the most original and hilarious dark comedies ever to be produced, In Bruges. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for its writing, and rightly so. The question was: Could McDonagh’s next movie support itself under the weight of In Bruges? The answer to that question came in 2012 with Seven Psychopaths. I’m not going to say that this movie surpasses or comes to close to the material that he struck gold with before, but it is a worthy and still darkly hilarious piece of work that’s jam packed with gallows humor, in jokes, and violence. How could I not like this movie?

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Marty Farnanan (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter and full time alcoholic who can’t seem to get any inspiration for his newest screenplay titled Seven Psychopaths. His best friend Billy Bickle (Sam Rockwell), who runs dog-napping operation, thinks he can help by placing an ad in the newspaper, asking “psychopaths” to contact Marty and tell him their stories. Meanwhile, Billy and his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) end up biting off more than they can chew when they dognap a Shih Tzu that belongs to the notoriously violent criminal, Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), who begins gunning down anyone who gets in the way of him retrieving his precious puppy. Marty, Billy, and Hans have to team up to protect themselves from Charlie’s rampage, while possibly getting some inspiration for Marty’s screenplay.

At its core, Seven Psychopaths succeeds at taking the cliches of the action/crime genre, and totally flipping the conventions on their heads while at the same time honoring them as timely traditions. The line that really hammers this home is when Billy points out that an area they are driving by is the “perfect place for the final shootout.” It’s no surprise that this area comes back again at a pivotal point of the film. Now, calling this film “meta” wouldn’t be completely accurate, but it kinda sorta is. Billy is just such a fascinating character because he’s the only person in the movie that seems to be in on the joke, almost as if he’s aware that he’s just a player in someone else’s movie and he wants to follow the proper steps to the proper climactic scene. It’s a brilliant way to write a character, and may be one of the best characterizations I’ve seen in a long time.

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So as hilarious as this movie is, there is still a big problem that I have with it that makes it come up short in terms of achieving the success that In Bruges did. Now, it’s pretty awesome that Tom Waits has a part in this movie. He is a legend in the music world after all and has a really hardcore following. Believe me, I know some people that can’t stop talking about him. That being said, he doesn’t need to be in this movie. It really doesn’t make sense that he is. The scene that he’s in, as smartly written as it is, is pointless and ridiculously long. His character is really of no importance to the story, so why spend so much time on him? Was it just to have him in the movie. This isn’t the only time the movie goes off an a ridiculous tangent, but it is the most overdone and pointless ones in the movie. If this scene was cut altogether, the movie probably would have felt a lot smoother than it did.

But still, this movie is a refreshing breath of noxious fumes. There’s no doubt that Seven Psychopaths is a comedy, but I’d be damned if i didn’t say this movie didn’t try to offend, and I write that with a smile on my face. The language is as cut throat as the violence is, but the way the violence and language is presented fills me with glee. It’s excessive in that way that only the most potent dark comedies are, made by people that really understand the point of gallows humor. This isn’t a tame movie in the least, and it even gets pretty dramatic at times, but the comedy is consistent in a way that the movie’s narrative is not, so at least we have loads of laughs to get us through the unnecessary scenes.

Seven Psychopaths is a riot in every sense of the word. It’s violent, kinetic, hilarious, and oddly sentimental. It’s one of those movies that pays its respects to other movies, while remaining original in just about every aspect. Think of it as a really clever inside joke that doesn’t get old. While the humor may be a bit dark for some people’s standards, it is still a well acted, well written, and well produced film. It doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness as Martin McDonagh’s first film, but it makes me excited for whatever work he releases in the future.

Horrible Bosses – Review

21 Aug

Everyone has to work. It’s a sad fact of life, but it’s something that every adult has to face on a  daily basis. Some jobs are better than others, but most jobs have that one boss, manager, or supervisor that really gets under your skin. In that way, Horrible Bosses is one of the most relatable comedies out there. With an all star cast and an excellent premise, you’d think that you really couldn’t go wrong… and you’d be right.

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Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Day) are three friends who all have something in common. They each have good jobs that are made into a living hell by their bosses. David Harkin (Kevin Spacey) mentally abuses Nick to no end, Julia (Jennifer Aniston) sexually harasses the recently engaged Dale, and Bobby (Colin Farrell) is running Kurt’s place of employment into the dirt. Their drunken solution: to kill each other’s bosses. Knowing they can’t do this alone, the recruit “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx) to be their murder consultant, and soon enough a plan involving triple homicide is underway.

I first saw this a year ago and thought it was a riot, and I was worried that it would lose some of its luster during a second viewing, but I was mistaken. It takes a lot for a comedy to impress me. I’m sick of seeing formulaic rehashes involving the same jokes, characters, and situations. Make no mistake, Horrible Bosses is not the most original comedy to ever be made, but the premise is so great and the chemistry between all of the characters is what really gives this movie the kick that it needs.

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I can’t talk about Horrible Bosses and not rave about the cast. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day are all funny on their own, but their chemistry and banter is, to me, what really makes the movie. You can tell that these actors enjoy working with each other and this makes their friendships believable. Kevin Spacey takes his role very seriously, and is great to watch, while Aniston and Farrell are almost unrecognizable as the other two hellish bosses. When I say this is perfect casting, this is perfect casting.

Now, the story really teeters on the line of dark comedy, but never really reaches it. As it is, I enjoy the comedy and laughed consistently throughout the movie, but it would have been interesting to see a darker story play out and question your laughter at times. This is murder we’re talking about after all. That being said, the movie does take some crazy turns that I like, but I wish it went a little farther than it did instead of playing it safe. One deleted scene that I saw featured a very graphic scene that was still really funny and I wish that it made it into the movie.

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In short, Horrible Bosses is one of the funnier movies that has been released in the past five years. In a time where comedies have become so formulaic and have touched on a lot of the same themes, it was refreshing to see one that strayed off the beaten path and relished in its originality and absurdity. Not all of this movie is fresh, but that really doesn’t kill the entire movie. I laughed all the way through thanks to the chemistry of the actors, the really great dialogue, and just the insanity of it all. I just wish that it took the idea a little further.

Phone Booth – Review

29 May

How can a movie that predominantly takes place inside of a single phone booth possibly be interesting? Well, that is what I’m going to explain today with Joel Schumacher’s film, Phone Booth. This film is a success due to its fine direction, expert editing, and perfect pacing, packed to the brim with suspense and intensity.

Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is not a good person. He is a publicist, who isn’t particularly very good, but still enjoys the multiple lies and trickery needed in order to get ahead. While using a public phone booth to call a possible girlfriend-on-the-side (Katie Holmes), Stu is called by a mysterious man (Kiefer Sutherland), who just so happens to have a highly powerful sniper rifle aimed right at Stu, and will fire on him if he doesn’t obey his every word. Soon, the police arrive and Stu finds himself in a stand-off with the caller and the police.

There are many factors that would have caused Phone Booth to not work as a film. The biggest and most challenging factor is making a film that takes place mainly in a phone booth interesting. To do this, the pacing had to be perfect, and it really is. Not once during the length of this movie did I find myself getting bored. Of course, this is far from being a long film, only clocking in at a little over 80 minutes. This is just the right amount of time to properly introduce the characters, build suspense, and release all of the built suspense in a minute of insanity.

When I think of really good actors, Colin Farrell isn’t one that comes to mind, but after seeing Phone Booth I know that he has the talent to be great. Unfortunately, this isn’t really implemented save for a couple of films like In Bruges. Katie Holmes and Radha Mitchell do alright as Shepard’s love interests. Forest Whitaker gives a very emotional performance as a police chief with an obvious battered past. Kiefer Sutherland is the perfect choice to play the Caller, and he does so with menace and sounds genuinely like a sociopath.

The writer of the film, Larry Cohen, actually pitched the idea of a film centering around a single phone booth to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s, and Hitchcock thought it was a great idea but neither of them knew how to keep the character trapped in the booth. Cohen came up with the idea for a sniper in the 90s, but more to the point, this film definitely feels like it is a modern day Hitchcock film. The real intensity comes from the suspense and the performances, which is what Hitchcock was all about. Michael Bay was set to direct at one point, and the first question he asked was, “How do we get him out of the phone booth?” Getting Stu out of the booth would have ruined the whole point of the film.

Phone Booth had the potential to be a terribly boring movie, but Schumacher and his crew did a great job at crafting a meticulously good story filled with suspense and questions of morality. Do the sniper’s actions justify the means? Of course not, but the audience of this movie definitely have discussion points after this movie. I can easily recommend Phone Booth to anyone looking for a suspense fully wicked good time.