Tag Archives: experimental

Hardcore Henry – Review

16 Apr

There are many people out there who stick their noses way up in the air because quite clearly they are too good for action movies. Often times, however, I may agree with them, no matter how forgiving I like to think I am towards certain cinematic circumstances. Recently, action movies seem to have gotten an extra dosage of adrenaline and a couple needed brain cells to fuel the imagination. Last year we got Mad Max: Fury Road, which redefined what it meant to make a movie in the action genre. Now, in 2016, we have another knockout in the form of Hardcore Henry. Did you ever want to watch Crank through the eyes of protagonist Chev Chelios? Well, this is the closest thing you’ll get to that, but even more surprisingly, you might just find yourself marveling at some of the raw imagination that went into this modern action masterpiece.

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After waking up in a highly advanced laboratory with no memory, Henry is pieced back together after some sort of unexplained accident. The surgeon operating on him is his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), who tells Henry he has a lot of his life to remember. Before any of the can happen, the laboratory is raided by criminal mastermind Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) and his men who kidnap Henry’s wife and try to kidnap him as well. After barely escaping their grasp, Henry soon meets a mysterious man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who seems to have as many personalities as he does lives. With the help of Jimmy, Henry begins a violent and vengeful mission to save his wife from Akan, and also uncover the truth about Akan’s company and his own complicated past.

Let’s get right into it. The main draw to see this movie is to experience a highly frenetic action movie in the first person perspective. This technique has been explored to some degree before by Gaspar Noé in his film Enter the Void, but it’s not utilized to such a degree as it is in Hardcore Henry. I was really nervous at first that this movie was going to be absolutely nauseating, but I was pleasently surprised that minor dizziness was the only side effect. It’s such a neat idea to make an action movie this off the walls insane be shown in this perspective,and I thought back to the game Mirror’s Edge quite a bit as I was watching it. This film really succeeds at bringing the viewer into the wild and weird world of Hardcore Henry.

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While the name Henry may be in the title and we see all of the action through Henry’s eyes, the most memorable person in this movie is Sharlto Copley who once again proves that he’s one of the most underrated actors working in film. Without spoiling anything about his character, Copley gets to show off a huge variety of personalities in the short run time of the movie. He really steals the show here. I’d also like to mention Danila Kozlovsky as the villain Akan. I don’t know who this guy is but he really seems to be loving playing the role of the over the top antagonist. He’s a memorable villain and works perfectly for this movie.

I think the main reason someone should watch an action movie is to be completely taken back and entertained by the action that is happening. Now, an action movie with a great story is an added bonus, but sometimes an archetypical revenge tale is all I need. Hardcore Henry falls into the revenge tale story arc pretty well, but there are a lot of unique things about the story that make it surprisingly more imaginative than I thought it was going to be. In fact, it made me curious about the other aspects of the world that these characters lived in. I wanted to know more about the technology and the military and all that stuff and wouldn’t be against seeing more from this director and the world he’s created.

Hardcore Henry is a wonderful blend of frenetic violence, mayhem, stunt work, and imagination. While the story isn’t the strongest you’ll ever see, it has a lot of eccentric elements that make it memorable, and Sharlto Copley and Danila Kozlovsky are more than entertaining enough to keep my attention. The action and perspective are still the main reasons to see this movie, and I refuse to call it gimmicky. Hardcore Henry is an experimental action film that deserves all of the attention it receives. I highly recommend any action junkie to get to theater for Hardcore Henry ASAP.

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Dogville (2003) & Manderlay (2005) – review

17 Oct

I can’t stay away from the works of Lars von Trier, the self-proclaimed “greatest film maker in the world” and the “Mad Genius of Denmark.” I could continue with all of the nicknames this eccentric guy has garnered over the years, but I’d like to instead look at two of his films that are supposed to be the first two in a trilogy. The trilogy is called USA: The Land of Opportunity and the two films are Dogville and Manderlay. Now, I knew nothing about these movies, other than they were made by Trier, but what I got out of them were two piece of experimental film that I haven’t quite seen the likes of before.

First, let’s tackle Dogville.

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Somewhere neatly tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, near an abandoned silver mine, is the small town of Dogville. Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany) is the moralist and philosopher of the town who does his best to teach the people of Dogville the proper way to live. Late one night, Tom hears gunshots and finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious woman who has just so happened to stumble onto the hidden little village. It turns out that Grace is on the run from the mob for some unknown reason, and a logical place for her to hide is this is hidden town. It takes a while for the townspeople to agree to let her stay in Dogville, and the only condition that she can is that she does labor for all of the people living there. This works well for a while, but soon the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace to the point of abuse. What they don’t realize is the dangerous secret the Grace is holding behind her unassuming demeanor.

Let me set the scene for you. I put in my DVD of Dogville, grabbed some food, and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a pretty run of the mill movie watching experience. Let me just reiterate that I had no idea what this movie was going to be like. When I saw what the movie actually was, I thought that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire three hour run time. Basically, the entire thing takes place on a stage with very little set design or props. It’s as minimalist as you could possibly get. As the film progressed, I realized that this is really the only way to tell this story, since Dogville isn’t about the the town itself, but more so the residents. Because of the minimal set, we can see into their houses for some of the most private moments and really learn what their characters are all about. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is one of the most brilliant films that Lars von Trier has ever made.

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Dogville isn’t just about visual flair, though. There’s also a really tricky story filled with memorable acting to back it up. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany really steal the show as their characters. Supporting actors like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, and James Caan also do great, and let me just say that John Hurt should narrate everything. Sorry Morgan Freeman. As far as the story goes, it’s subtle and effective. It plays out like an interesting character study of the evils that can broil in small towns like this, and the whole thing kind of plays out like some strange experiment in human psychology and morality.

The only thing I really have to add is that Dogville is a fantastic movie watching experience and may be my favorite of all of Lars von Trier’s works.

The sequel, Manderlay, continues Grace’s story not long after the events of Dogville. Even though it’s made in a similar style, my reactions to the film were far from that of its predecessor.

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Now on the road with her father (Willem DaFoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the rest of the travelers happen upon an Alabama plantation called Manderlay. What shocks Grace is that this plantation is filled with slaves, even though at this point slavery has been abolished for 70 years. As soon as Grace arrives at the plantation, Mam (Lauren Bacall), the head of the plantation dies and Grace, angered by the idea that there are still slaves, writes a new contract for the people there. The white people living on the plantation become responsible for the hard labor, while the black slaves are allowed to live a more free life. Grace begins to see improvement, but there are many secrets of Manderlay that she doesn’t know.

While Dogville was a subtle film with a strange story that somehow made perfect sense, Manderlay practically bashes you over the head with it’s preachy morality tale. Even though the set remains similar to the first film with its minimalist style, that is just about the only similarity. Bryce Dallas Howard is nowhere near as affective as Nicole Kidman, in fact she just comes off as ignorant and annoying for pretty much the whole movie. The most interesting characters are the former slaves of Manderlay, with some of the most important of those characters played by Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé, but sadly their talents are underutilized and Howard’s played up too strong.

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To me, it sort of seemed that Trier didn’t care about Manderlay as much as he did Dogville. While some people may find this idea very upsetting, some of the main themes of these movies are very anti-American. That’s fine with me as long as I don’t feel like I’m getting preached to by someone who thinks they are far superior than us commoners. That’s what watching Manderlay felt like. It’s true that it is still a visually beautiful movie, but that’s all I can really say about it.

While Manderlay is a pretty rotten movie in my opinion, Dogville is a genuinely fantastic piece of experimental drama. The style of these movies take a little bit to get used to, but once you do Dogville is definitely worth your time, if not just to experience a different style of film making. Manderlay, however, can be left well enough alone.

Black Moon – Review

5 Nov

Experimental film is a really weird area of cinema that has its really hard core, die hard followers and plenty of critics and skeptics who really can’t get into it at all. I, personally, think that experimental film making can be really cool when done by the right artist and done correctly. Of course it helps if these experimental films dabble with surrealism, but that’s just my own personal taste. One name that doesn’t really come up in  conversation about this kind of film making is French writer/director Louis Malle. Malle is best known for films like My Dinner with Andre and Lacombe Lucien, along with his many documentaries. In 1975, however, Louis Malle made a film called Black Moon, a surreal trip with hints of Lewis Carroll that isolated many critics and audiences, even still today.

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In a post-apocalyptic world, men and women are engaged in a brutal war against each other. Lily (Cathryn Harrison) is a teenage girl who is fleeing the countryside to get away from the war soon finds herself at a mansion in the middle of nowhere after she was chased by the opposing soldiers. As she begins exploring the house she meets a strange old lady (Therese Giehse) lying in a bed, who’s only friend is a rat and who keeps contact with the outside world through a ham radio. She also meets a brother (Joe Dallesandro) and sister (Alexandra Stewart) who looks very much alike and may actually be the same person. Finally, she meets many talking animals and plants, including a unicorn, but all of this doesn’t matter once the war begins getting closer and closer to the mansion.

This is one of the strangest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and I went into Black Moon not knowing anything about it. As far as this film goes, I think this was a really entertaining film for being an experimental movie. There was enough weird things going on in it to keep me interested and the whole backdrop of a war between men and women was an interesting thing to see, especially with both sides being equally menacing. Being made in the mid-1970s, Malle wanted to make a sort of statement on the new wave of feminism going on, but the way he does it is smart. Both sides of the war are equally brutal and unforgiving towards each other, with scenes of violence being committed by both genders.

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Being a movie with very little dialogue, the sound design is very impressive and perfectly makes up for how little actual talking there is. It’s really amusing whenever an animal talks, and can be kind of weird when flowers and grass cry out in pain when they are being stepped on. Even the bugs can be heard, their tiny mandibles scratching on the rocks that they scurry across. Along with the awesome audio is some really impressive cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who often collaborated with Ingmar Bergman. The film has a very muted look to it, emphasizing the time of year and the mysterious war alike. His cinematography really succeeded at putting me in the movie, and worked very well with the sound design to be very immersive, if not just as strange as everything else.

Now, even though the cinematography, sound, and strangeness is all very appealing and made for an entertaining movie, Black Moon can become pretty tiresome after a little while and may require more than one sitting to finish. This is a pretty average length movie, but there really isn’t any story and a lot of just running around around the house seeing weird things. That’s why most surrealist and experimental films that people talk about, like the overly obsessed Un Chien Andalou and La Jetée, are short films. The film makers got their points across in a short amount of time so our brains didn’t feel like mush at the end of the movies. Black Moon goes on and on, and a break is recommended to more easily get through the film.

Black Moon is one of those movies where you need to be careful because it is far from a traditional film. It’s Louis Malle’s trip down Carroll’s rabbit hole where the result is a surreal metaphor for gender relations and sexual discovery. Very 1970s if you ask me. I enjoy films like this because they challenge me to look deeper into the odd events and figure them out, even though this one is a bit more explicit than most. If you enjoy the work of Buñuel, Dali, or other surrealists, you ought to check out Black Moon.

The Qatsi Trilogy – Review

5 May

Ok, this is gonna be a weird group of movies to review. The Qatsi Trilogy are not your everyday documentary films that show life with either a voice of God narration or interviews throughout. Godfrey Reggio, the director of all three films, simply documents and puts the beautiful images that he captures to the music of master composer, Philip Glass. Without a single word of dialogue, these three films will make you think about the world and your existence like you may have never thought of it before, and will definitely open your eyes to different aspects and places while completely changing your view on the familiar.

Let’s start in 1983 with the first film of the trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi.

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Koyaanisqatsi translates to “life out of balance.”  What this film shows first is beautiful and monolithic images of nature. The transition is quick as these stone monoliths start being destroyed with the culprit being mankind, and the reason being so that we can construct our own manmade structures. Life of humanity is shown in fast motion photography with symbolism and allegories that can be seen in the editing and the photography itself. Finally, the film ends with a warning against our obsession and reliance on technology that won’t soon be forgotten.

This is one of, if not the most, beautiful and hypnotic films that I have ever seen. The fast motion photography is the most obvious way of showing the speed at which our lives move. We are a civilization that almost seems to never sleep or even slow down. In one particular scene in a train station, we almost seem like insects moving around our mound of dirt. Another scene shows highways with red lights flying through them, which reminded me almost of blood cells traveling through veins and arteries with the city being the hear that keeps it all moving. Images like this really stick out and make the viewer think about what they are seeing, and that’s what makes Koyaanisqatsi so excellent.

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I feel like this is more than a film, it’s a cinematic experience that will leave your brain in constant thought and bewilderment. You’ll ponder your existence and the effect that your existence has on the world around you. You may even be torn on the true meaning of the movie, whether it’s a good or bad one. That’s part of the brilliance of this movie, the ambiguity mixed with the power of the visuals and fantastic music. This is definitely one to check out and be amazed.

In 1988 the sequel was released, Powaqqatsi.

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As the poster shows, Powaqqatsi translates to “life in transformation.” This film is about life in multiple third world and developing countries, and how they are growing and constantly evolving. There is also a theme that can be noticed about the west’s cultures effects on these more eastern civilizations. The film starts out slowly with tribal rituals, and small villages in their own everyday lives. A train is a transition to urban development which is quicker than what was shown before, but still nowhere near as fast as the photography in Koyaanisqatsi.

The reason why it is so slow is to show the contrast of more modernized society. The lives these individuals live seem to be more focused and, in our view, slowed down. The photography is still beautiful and the music by Philip Glass is still great. This is definitely not as great a movie as its predecessor, however. Nowhere near. I understand the need for the slow motion, but it didn’t keep me too interested for the entire run of the movie. It also seemed very haphazardly edited. Koyaanisqatsi almost had a narrative that was hidden in the fluidity of the movie. Powaqqatsi seemed more like a film that was thrown together. It made it much less interesting than it could have been.

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Powaqqatsi was still an engaging and beautiful movie with powerful music to match. It still makes you think about your life, but this time with the knowledge of how other people live. It’s jarring and strangely inspirational. The only thing that could have improved this movie is better pacing, a shorter run time, and a more strategically constructed narrative. This isn’t a necessary film to watch, but I can understand why it was made.

Finally, in 2002, Godfrey Reggio released the final film of his trilogy: Naqoyqatsi.

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Naqoyqatsi translates to “life as war.” This is the black sheep out of the three films with a lot of its footage coming from archival videos and television. The themes that are tackled range from the follies and plasticity of celebrity life to the tragic apex of technology and life: war. Phillip Glass’ music still plays a big part in this film, but the footage itself is much more digitized with a lot of special effects to really stress the notion of technology.

I’m really torn over this one. Part of me wants to like this one more than Powaqqatsi, but the other part of me tells me that  that’s impossible. It certainly kept my attention more and the themes constructed more of a narrative, but the work that went into both of its predecessors completely seems to outdo the work put into this film. The effects were really cool, but soon got to be a bit overdone to the point that it was distracting. Glass’ music is also completely unmemorable. I can hum some parts from the other two films, but can’t seem to remember any of the music from this one.

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My main problems with Naqoyqatsi are that it seems overblown with cool effects and it is altogether just not as powerful. It certainly doesn’t match the beauty of Koyaanisqatsi and PowaqqatsiIt still does have a powerful message that can be connected to the messages of Koyaanisqatsi, so in that way, it’s a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, but is the weakest in my opinion.

The Qatsi Trilogy is an incredible cinematic experience that is very difficult to explain, and is something that really must be seen. While I do have some gripes with the second and third entries, they still provide a powerful trip into different parts of the world and different parts of our minds. They are a perfect combination of music and images and experimental and documentary. I can’t recommend these movies to everyone, because it’s certainly not going to appeal to a national audience. For the people who find themselves interested in these ideas, check them out if you haven’t already.

The Holy Mountain – Review

13 Jun

After seeing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo, I knew that my next review would have to be The Holy Mountain. These two films can be considered cousins, as in they are both alike but also very different. Take the Zen and religion from El Topo and add a deeper layer of spirituality, condemnation of society, and, in my opinion, an infinitely more complicated storyline. This would make The Holy Mountain.

A Man (Horacio Salinas) wakes up after an unknown amount of time with flies covering his face. He soon meets up with a armless, legless man whom he soon befriends. After witnessing a hook drop out of a tower with gold in exchange for food, he climbs on and rides it back up. While in the tower he meets the Alchemist (Alejandro Jodorowsky). The Alchemist gathers seven other people who represent the planets and, also, his silent assistant and promises them immortality if they climb the holy mountain on Lotus Island and defeat the gods who are stationed there. Only after much spiritual training will they be able to undertake this task and achieve eternal life.

This film was an absolute marvel and made me think about who i am as a person. This pondering was done on a strange level that I never really explored before. I thought about what made up my being and what I truly believe in. The scary part was that I’m not 100% sure I know who I truly am. This and a message of reality vs fiction were huge messages amongst many in The Holy Mountain. Jodorowsky implores the viewer to go out and explore the world, and in so doing find yourself.

Those with a weak stomach may want to stay away from this film because the shock value has been turned up since El Topo. There are scenes in this movie that would make Takashi Miike cringe. I know I did. These scenes aren’t in the movie to simply shock an offend, though. If you see something that is trying to get your attention in this film, take note, because that means Jodorowsky is trying to say something important.

It’s fair to say that many people may be offended by the use of religious imagery. This is, indeed, a very controversial film and was called the “scandal of the Cannes Film Festival.”  Instead of condemning the use of these religious symbols, icons, and practices, open your mind a little more than usual and try to see past them. In other words, try to understand what their uses truly mean both in real life and in The Holy Mountain. What is Jodorowsky  trying to do with them? Getting offended by this movie would take away from the experience of it all, and even though it is a huge statement by Jodorowsky, it is just a movie and one man’s opinion. Get over it.

But, what did I think of the movie? It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and may never see again. Films aren’t made like this anymore, and that’s very unfortunate. Besides a few Indie gems and the occasional foreign film, audiences around the world are catered to just so the studio can make money. The Holy Mountain has messages on religion, war, big business, sex and its fetishes, spirituality, life, and death. Think about the blockbusters coming out this summer. Will they have even half of those messages, or just rehashed ones thrown in to give the movie some “depth?”

Bottom line, The Holy Mountain may be one of the finest films that I have ever seen. I truly loved everything about it, and I will love it more every time I watch it since it demands multiple viewings to be fully understood. Take a glimpse through the looking glass, ride the snake, or tune in, whichever one you want to use. Find this movie somewhere and watch it. Chances are, it will give you new insight on the world and yourself.