Tag Archives: psychological drama

Moonlight – Review

4 Jan

One of the most talked about movies of this year is Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. It has taken me way too long to see this movie, but I’ve finally made my way to the theater to go see it, and I was completely blown away. I had such high hopes for this movie because the praise from both audiences and critics has been unanimous. Having the high hopes that I did can sometimes be dangerous because it’s rare that a movie so perfectly matches your expectations. I’m happy to say that Moonlight, with its solid performances, story, and cinematography, stands with some of the best movies of this year.

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The story of Moonlight is broken up into three separate acts. In the first act, we meet a young Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a shy boy who is constantly being chased and bullied by his classmates. He can’t even find help at home since his mom’s (Naomie Harris) problems with drug addiction and prostitution often forces him out of the house and back on the street. His only solace is in a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who let him stay over and give some of his first life lessons. In the second act, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is in high school and is still being harassed. He knows something is different about him and finds a new kind of comfort in a classmate named Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). This comfort is soon destroyed and Chiron, himself, becomes pushed too far. In the final act, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now going by Black, is an adult drug dealer living in Georgia. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) one night in Florida and the two meet up in the restaurant that Kevin works in. This meet up once again rekindles something in Chiron which forces him to come closer to his insecurities and his true self than he may ever have before.

Right from the very first shot of Moonlight I was hooked. The film opens with a fantastic long take that circles a group of characters having a mundane conversation that’s made interesting by this stylistic choice. The whole movie is a visual and auditory masterpiece that uses these techniques to help tell the story instead of completely washing the story out with style. Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton find very unique places to put the camera or move the camera to get an image that is evocative and sometimes unexpected. This is easily one of the best looking movies of the entire year. The sound also helps better the story and sometimes isolate you into the mind of Chiron. There are moments when people are yelling and screaming but there’s this strange silence that fills the screen that is far more dramatic than anything that’s being said. There’s a few instances where the sound becomes more of a staccato which creates the tension necessary for a scene. This combination of sight and sound really gives this movie a special artistic touch, and I couldn’t imagine the story being told by someone else.

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Like I said, the style of this movie doesn’t overshadow the story, and that’s mainly because the story is so well told and so beautifully realized. Without giving anything away, the story of this movie takes a very real and relevant situation someone can be going through and puts this situation in a really harsh and unforgiving environment where only a few people around you really understand and care about you and what you’re going through. This can often times be a tough movie to sit through because it can be very unforgiving with what happens to some of the characters. By the end, however, I felt like the characters have all changed, matured, and learned. The only way this movie could be told is in the three part structure that it’s set up as. If the film only focused on one of these time periods, then Chiron’s character wouldn’t learn and change like he does in the finished product. This is a very real and down to earth film that doesn’t pull any punches but still leaves the audience feeling satisfied.

Like so many great movies, none of this would have the impact that it does if the performances weren’t as strong as everything else. This is also one of the best acted films of the year, right along with Manchester by the Sea. Mahershala Ali gives his best performance in Moonlight, and I really want to see more of this actor in feature films and not just television. The real stand outs for me, however, are all three actors that play Chiron. Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders who play the adult and teenage Chiron, respectively, share very similar quirks and characterizations that really makes the audience feel like they’re watching the same person at different ages. Of course the different angsts and motivations of their ages come out as well. I especially want to talk about Alex Hibbert who plays the young Chiron. It’s rare that an actor of his age can make me believe so easily that I’m seeing a real person and not just a character onscreen, and he pulls it off with ease. It’s a great performance. The rest of the supporting cast featuring Naomie Harris, Janelle Monét, and André Holland are all perfectly casted and performed as well.

There’s been a lot of great and memorable movies to come out in 2016, and Moonlight is up there with the best of them. This is a very dramatic movie that never falls into the pit of melodrama while also exploring themes that may seem familiar, but never actually makes itself a cliché. It’s written and performed in such a way that feels very down to earth and organic. It’s also filmed in such a way that is very artistic and stylistic without ever going overboard. I highly recommend this movie for so many different reasons.

Final Grade: A+

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The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Review

16 Aug

The golden age of Hollywood is a very unique time for American film. This was a time when actors were a commodity for a studio and the idea was more important than a director’s vision. While this is true for most films of this time, there were exceptions to that rule. With that said, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of the biggest exceptions, and took major risks for that time period. When I think of character arcs that grow and eventually take a turn for the worst, while also showing the viewer what’s wrong with society, I think of the movies of the 1970s by auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. The fact that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was released in 1948 and featured this level of dark development and cynical humor made this film something that would live on forever with lovers of the medium.

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After failing to find any real kind of income in the Mexican oil-town of Tampico, Mexico, two drifters named Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt) are close to giving up their efforts. Luck starts to shine one them, however, when Dobbs wins a small lottery and the two meet a prospector named Howard (Walter Huston), who tells them of the abundance of gold hidden deep in the Sierra Madre mountains. The three men soon set out on their adventure to dig up the gold and make their fortune. Trouble waits for them along the way, including a gang of ruthless bandits, but that’s just where their troubles begin. The trio soon begin to get very suspicious of each other and how much they can all trust each other. It soon boils down to a game of last man standing to determine who will get the gold and the fortune that goes along with it.

Like I said before, this is a pretty dark and cynical movie that certainly didn’t pander to audiences of the time period. Anyone who looks at the posters or trailer for this movie when it was first released could swear that The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was a straight up adventure story. Well, they’d be surprised to find out that it most certainly wasn’t. Jack Warner was very excited about this movie and gave writer and director John Huston complete control over his film, but Warner was also very concerned with how to market the movie once it was finished. This movie is more of a character study of Dobbs more than it is anything else, and at times, the film got pretty cerebral which was unexpected. A lot of the success of this movie, along with John Huston’s superb direction, can be associated with Humphrey Bogart’s thrilling performance.

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Now, I’m going to say something that may sound pretty outrageous, but I’m not really that huge a fan of Humphrey Bogart. His acting in most things is pretty standard and I find him to be a little overrated. He pretty much plays the same range of character in any movie I’ve seen him in. Of course, the theme of this movie’s history can be titled “exceptions to the rule” and this is another one. Bogart is simply outstanding in his performance as Dobbs, a character who goes from one trouble to another and by the time the movie’s over, it’s all finally caught up and has become too much for him to handle. At first, Bogart plays the role pretty subtly, but as the story progresses, he lashes out more and more and becomes almost unrecognizable by the end. This is one of the finest character changes in this history of film, and it’s all thanks to Bogart’s ever changing demeanor and this rare time that he literally seemed to become somebody else entirely.

While The Treasure of the Sierra Madre isn’t an adventure movie per se, it does have it’s fair share of adventure. There’s plenty of shoot outs and tense interactions that give this movie some real excitement. It’s interesting to note that at the time this movie was being shot, it was relatively new for Hollywood film makers to shoot a film on location, especially when the location is as brutal as it was for this film. Some of these scenes were shot on back lots and in the studio, but a lot of the film was actually shot in the deserts of Arizona and Mexico. This made for a really grueling shoot filled with loaded tempers, but it all paid off in the end. Shooting this movie on location gives it a sense of realism that adds to the darker, more realistic tones of the movie as a whole. I couldn’t have seen it working as well as it did if it were all shot in studio.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a movie far ahead of its time that shares similar themes and characterizations that would become more known with movies of the 1970s. There’s plenty of adventure and entertainment stuffed in the story, but the most fun I had watching this movie was seeing an average character fall way too deep into his own head and become paranoid beyond repair. This film works best as a character study, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have thrills along the way. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre has certainly earned the right to be called a classic and named one of the best American films of all time.

Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

Bug – Review

26 Apr

I seem to be in a William Friedkin kind of mood recently having just reviewed his movie The Hunted and now coming back to review his 2006 film Bug. I actually remember when this movie first came out and how intrigued I was by the whole idea, but unfortunately it was 10 years ago and 10 years ago I would never be able to get into a theater to see it. I’m actually glad I waited so long, because now I’m a lot more familiar with the works of William Friedkin and his screenwriting collaborator, Tracy Letts. Bug is actually based off of Letts’ stage play, as was a later Friedkin film Killer Joe, which is now one of my top favorite movies. Like Killer JoeBug tells a nightmarish story of the south with very troubled human characters engaging in some very strange behavior.

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Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a waitress living in a shady motel on the side of a seemingly desert road. She’s in such a secluded location so as to stay hidden from her abusive husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is getting released from prison any day now. On a night like any other, Agnes meets a drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon), a quiet but caring man who only seems to care about Agnes’ best interests. As their relationship begins to build, Jerry returns and starts to harass Agnes, but Agnes is far too busy with learning about Peter and Peter’s strange beliefs that the government implanted millions of bugs into his skin and blood, and that they are now beginning to escape and make themselves known.

This is a very, very strange movie and definitely not what I expected it was going to be. It’s easy to see how this is a stage play since most of the action occurs in Agnes’ motel. Sometimes the characters go outside or are in a bar, but that’s really only for a couple scenes out of the movie. I love when stories happen in closed in spaces. It creates the feeling of claustrophobia and injects the fear of not escaping the horrors that will surface. What really threw me off is the pacing of Bug. I don’t want to say that it’s bad, it’s just weird. The first 45 minutes play as a straightforward drama with a lingering sense of unease. Then after these 45 minutes, the movie shoots forward into insanity. It jumps through time so strangely, that you can’t really know how much time has passed, which was jarring while watching the movie but after thinking about it, it was a clever way to tell the story.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that Bug features the best performances of both Ashley Judd’s and Michael Shannon’s careers. I always looked at Ashley Judd as an overall unimpressive actress, but after seeing her in this movie my attitude’s changed. I think with the write screenplay and direction, she can really deliver a powerhouse performances. Now, Michael Shannon’s history with Bug goes pretty deep. For years, Shannon has played the role of Peter off Broadway in both London and America. This role is so ingrained in his mind he seems to literally transform into Peter. It’s an amazing performance and I just assume that this movie was too weird to get any Oscar attention for both actors.

Over the years, Bug has torn critics and audiences into a couple different and completely polarizing categories. On one side are the people that absolutely hated the movie claiming that it doesn’t make any logical sense and that it’s the stupidest thing in the world. On the other side are all of the people who look down on the plebeians claiming that the movie is stupid and just rubbing it in that they “just don’t get it.” I honestly can completely understand how someone can both love and hate this movie. It’s really bizarre and often doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but that’s sort of the point. The movie is designed to make the audience feel more distanced, confused, and paranoid as the story progresses which forces Bug to go through some jarring changes. I, personally, respect the hell out of this movie.

William Friedkin and Tracy Letts are two artists that just seem to be made for each other. I felt that way after I saw Killer Joe and I feel it once again after watching Bug. This is one of the most disorienting and jarring movies I’ve ever seen, and at first it made the movie kind of hard to watch and a little questionable, but after letting it all sink in I can understand why the movie had to be made like it is. It isn’t as powerful as Killer Joe, but Bug is a powerhouse of a movie in terms of directing, acting, and writing.

 

Fear and Desire – Review

14 Apr

Anyone who knows me knows that I practically worship Stanley Kubrick. He had, and still has after his death, one of the most powerful and unique voices in film. Like all great directors, even he had to start somewhere. After making some short documentaries and being a photographer for Look, Kubrick decided it was time for him to tackle a feature film. This first feature film is an anti-war movie called Fear and Desire. This is by far Kubrick’s weakest film, and that’s completely understandable. The best reasons to really watch this movie are to see techniques that Kubrick would later perfect and also to admire the effort put into making a movie so independently.

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During an unspecified war between unspecified countries four soldiers are stranded 6 miles behind enemy lines. Their commanding officer, Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), decides their best bet would be to build a raft and wait until nightfall to ride it downriver to safety. After a while, a local woman (Virginia Leith) stumbles upon them building their raft and must be held captive so she doesn’t alert enemy soldiers. As the day goes on, the youngest soldier, Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky) begins having a breakdown and slowly goes insane. Things get even more complicated when it is discovered that an enemy general is lodged in a cabin right near the river and, as soldiers, it is their duty to eliminate the threat. All of these factors stacked up make it seem like these four soldiers may never get out of there alive.

Before I even start, that has to be one of the most inaccurate theatrical posters I’ve ever seen. That’s not with this about, so I digress. It’s almost hard to call Fear and Desire a feature film because it’s only an hour long, and being just an hour long it doesn’t really have much of a story. There’s a couple different things that happen to the soldiers and their main goal is to escape enemy territory. It’s completely fine if a movie is light on story so that it can explore certain themes and development, but there’s never much time to do that. The most interesting character is Pvt. Sidney since he has some real tragic development, which in turn supports Kubrick’s stance on what the evils of war can do to a normal person.

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For all the shortcomings this movie has, it’s very interesting to watch and see certain things that Kubrick would later utilize in his other movies. First of all, the overall anti-war message and its effects on people can clearly be seen in his later war films Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket. The violence in this movie is also pretty unflinching. Of course it isn’t as graphic as later movies, but there’s nothing glamorized about it. Wanna people are shot, they don’t really fall like they’re in a movie from the 1950s. They hit the ground hard and without any kind of dramatic flair. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but that’s what I feel. There’s also strange close ups and angles that seem to distort reality, which is a trick that Kubrick was known for using at length in films like 2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. Stuff like this make Fear and Desire fun to watch.

As the years went on, Kubrick came to hate this movie and it wasn’t until the last few years that it was made readily public. He described it as a kids drawing that you hang on the refrigerator, and I think that’s a pretty harsh sentiment. He made it his mission to destroy the copies that exist or lock them away, which was the case for a very long time. This movie didn’t do very well at the box office when it was released which meant that Kubrick had to take on the job of making a short documentary called The Seafarers for the Seafarer’s International Union, which is also now available on the Kino release of Fear and Desire.

Fear and Desire is most definitely Kubrick’s first film, and I don’t mean that because it’s a historically accurate statement. I’m saying it because it has all of the makings of a Stanley Kubrick movie, but it just hasn’t all been fully realized yet. This is an interesting movie in the sense that it’s the beginning of an amazing career. The movie itself is pretty lackluster and not too memorable, but there are some pretty intense scenes that don’t seem like they belong in the early 1950s. Any Kubrick fan sort of has to watch this movie, but if you’re looking for a war movie that will really hold your attention, stick with Paths of Glory or Full Metal Jacket.

Casualties of War – Review

21 Feb

Some of my favorite war movies are these grand, sweeping spectacles with dazzling set pieces and all star ensemble casts added in just to make the entire experience feel even bigger. My prime example would be Saving Private Ryan, but films like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers also fits the mold very. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Casualties of War, which is an example of a much smaller and personal conflict that occurred during the Vietnam War. This certainly doesn’t make for a less harrowing movie, especially under the direction of Brian De Palma, but the fact that this story actually happened makes it all the more intense.

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Max Erikkson (Michael J. Fox) is a fresh Vietnam recruit who is actually ready to serve his country overseas. He is put in a small squad of close knit soldiers led by the beloved and respected Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn). After his closest friend is killed in an ambush and with his tour coming to an end, Meserve starts losing his grip on the entire situation and decides that his squad is going to go to a nearby village on their next mission and kidnap a girl (Thuy Thu Le) to use as their slave along the way. The only person in the squad who sees how crazy and wrong this is is Eriksson, but the desires of the squad completely overtake any sense of right and wrong leaving Eriksson to get threatened and harassed at every turn. When the time to bring justice finally arrives, things only become more complicated when Eriksson’s superiors blindly turn away from the facts.

So Casualties of War may not be the grandest or most expensive war movie ever made, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable. In fact, I’ll probably remember this one for a lot of different reasons. This film shows a war of conscience, individuality, and camaraderie occurring during the much larger Vietnam War. There are a lot of small things that make this movie work so well, and only one hinderance that I can think of. The entire film is pulled taut with suspense and a dreading sense that anything can happen since no one is looking in the jungles. This made for a pretty wild ride for most of the movie, and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t enough time spent on the ending of the film. That’s a pretty small complaint in comparison to all of the positives.

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Brian De Palma is a film maker every film buff knows and hopefully has a good understanding on how he makes his films. At first it seemed like a strange idea having De Palma directing a war film, but he really is a guy that can delve into any genre and after seeing this movie I know why he was the right choice. Other than way he directs his actors and gets the most out of their performances, he also has a very distinct signature style that brought a lot to Casualties of War. De Palma is known for enhancing the drama in his movie with split diopter shots, and it may be used the most effectively here. These shots allow a close up of someone’s face while different atrocities and acts of violence occur behind and around them, still clearly in view while the character may be facing away. It’s expertly used in this film.

Of course, none of this would work if the stars of this movie weren’t perfectly cast. I was mainly intrigued by this movie because I was curious to see how Michael J. Fox would play in a war film. I gotta, say I’m surprised with how much I believed his character. Opposite him is Sean Penn, as the film’s main antagonist. The way the movie’s set up, we like him just as much as Fox’s character does in the beginning, but as the story progresses, we start to evolve emotionally with Fox and start hating Penn’s character more and more. A young Sean Penn gives the best performance of the movie and works great with the much more innocent Michael J. Fox.

Casualties of War is a great but minor war film. It’s interesting to see a war movie deal with more individual crises, instead of looking at a particular battle or even the entire war as a backdrop. This is a very intense movie. It has an intense script, intense performances, and intense direction. Fans of war movies should definitely check it out for a pretty unique experience.

Screwed – Review

11 Jun

Sometimes I watch a movie and I think, “How am I ever going to write a review for this?” Unfortunately, here I am today with that very same problem. Teruo Ishii is not a director with no credits, in fact his filmography is rather large and he is getting his material from a popular comic book artist, Yoshiharu Tsuge. What could go wrong here? It’s a movie that prides itself on being weird and exists solely to knock your socks off. Unfortunately, this movie is a failure on most levels.

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For two years, cartoonist Tsube (Tadanobu Asano) and Kuniko (Miki Fujitani) have lived together, and for those two years, Tsube has had very little work which results in very little money. After finding out that Kumiko had a one night stand and may now be pregnant, his self esteem reaches an all time low and he leaves her to travel around the countryside and hopefully find himself. While he travels, he meets a strange amount of people with obsessive or suppressed sexual urges, which makes him explore a side of himself that he never knew. When he gets an unexpected and life threatening injury, however, the world turns into a different sort of place where no one is willing to help him.

This is probably going to be a short review because I really don’t have much to say. Screwed feels so broken and dull that it hardly even qualifies as a movie you watch. It’s more like a movie you sleep through. Like, what was this movie trying to be? It’s this weird combination of an honest exploration of a depressed man’s mind, but then it’s also this acid trip down a hellish rabbit hole. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do either one well enough for me to be remotely interested in either.

Screwed didn’t work for me at all. The only time it got remotely cool was the last twenty minutes, and those parts all felt forced, like the film makers had to do something weird for its audience to respect it in some way. I know I say this a lot, but for a movie like this, it would have worked better as a short film around 45 or 50 minutes in length. It goes on for way too long and offers nothing of substance.

Bottom line: It’s stupid and ugly so don’t watch it.

I apologize for the quality of this review, but I really didn’t have much material to work with. There’s nothing online about this movie to clarify certain things or add decoration, so this is the best I can do for everyone. Until next time!