RoJo Film Reviews

RoJo Film Reviews

Monday, September 8, 2014

Californication



***our first review of a TV series***

Year:  2007 - 2014 (7 Seasons)
Country:  USA
Director:  Ensemble

Mini-Synopsis:  Smooth, sexy, witty, and debaucherous writer Hank Moody struggles with his demons of addiction while attempting to win his family back.  Staying on the straight and narrow in L.A., however, is not such an easy task.

Ro: 4 - I didn't really want to watch this show to begin with, but I'm glad that we did.  Californication proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable view into the oddball L.A. lifestyle while following characters that are fun to know.  The only drawback is that every season is essentially the same basic plot:  Hank (David Duchovny) attempts to prove his worth to the only woman that's ever been able to really give him that sense of completeness, while screwing things up miserably with other attractions and comical mishaps. The vehicle works because the romance is in a constant state of fluctuation, and each season hones into some other aspect of the Hollywood lifestyle.

Joe: 4  - We have been away from reviewing films for awhile because we have really been enjoying binging on various TV series.  Ro and I have decided to start including reviews of complete TV series on our site.  So...Californication; I was not at all excited to watch this show because it didn't appeal to me.  I never really watched the X-Files, so I had no connection to David Duchovny.  We had purchased Showtime for Dexter and just happened upon this show.  We were hooked after just a few episodes.  The show is a 30 minute black-comedy that touches on some pretty heavy subject matter.  It manages to be sleazy and sweet all at the same time.  Duchovny has a commanding presence on screen and is a loveable screwup.  The strength of the show, however, lies in the chemistry between the cast members.  The scenes between Hank (Duchovny) and his daughter are excellent; season 2 has a bromance that is to die for!  The whole romantic tug of war between Hank and Karen (Natascha McElhone) can get redundant and frustrating, but the relationship between Hank and his agent, Charlie, is worth the price of admission.  If you are in the mood for a 30 min comedy that is dirty, sweet, and outrageous give this a shot.  It's definitely recommended.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lore


Year:  2012
Country:  Germany
Director:  Cate Shortland

Mini-Synopsis - Upon learning her parents were arrested, he eldest child of a Nazi Officer leads her siblings on a journey to grandmother's house at the end of WWII.

Ro: 3 Stars - I'm all for movies avoiding the whole "spoon-feeding" concept, but I also think there needs to be a decided point.  Perhaps there is a real message to Lore and it went over my head (I would love to read others interpretations), but my lasting impression is of a film that introduces a lot of interesting concepts to challenge its audience, but then fails to follow through with much or show a clear direction.  The cinematography and acting are beautiful and I suppose you could approach this as a character study and just sit back and enjoy the visuals, but with a topic that's been so explored in film, there are better options available and Lore could of had so much more impact with just a bit more communicated depth.

Joe:  2.5 Stars  -  Lore was an aesthetically beautiful film that left a ton of potential unfulfilled.  The subject matter was fascinating: what happened to the families of Nazi officers at the end of WWII?  The story focuses on Lore, the oldest in a pack of siblings whose father is arrested for war crimes.  They must travel across the war-ravaged country side to reach a safe haven at grandma's house.  The cinematography and environment are very well done.  Where this film falls short, however, is in it's narrative.  There seems to be no clear vision or direction, and the film actually reaches a level of boredom.  I found myself distracted and disconnected from the characters as the film progressed.  I don't recommend this film due to the high volume of superior foreign WWII films available.  Check out Downfall or Black Book instead.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Funny People


Year:  2009
Country:  USA
Director:  Judd Apatow

Mini-Synopsis:  Upon receiving a terminal diagnosis, a famous comedian hires an assistant to fill the lonely gap in his life.  

Ro:  3.5 Stars - Funny People is a sweet film and in line with Apatow's This is 40 in terms of being much more focused on real life than on being a knee-slapping comedy.  The film highlights the life of comedians, both aspiring and successful; and while it doesn't quite succeed in feeling completely honest, it's close enough to be able to enjoy the attempt.  With Sandler's current comedy exploits like Jack & Jill, Grown Ups, and You Don't Mess with the Zohan; it's really nice to be able to simply appreciate a more authentic performance from him and I wish he'd go in this direction more.  Spanglish and Punch-Drunk Love are both gems.  The stream of cameos are constantly entertaining (I miss you, Norm MacDonald), and it's fun to picture the "Hollywood Life."  Unlike Joe, though, I think the time could have definitely been trimmed down about a half-hour's worth and the story would have still worked.

Joe:  4.5 Stars - Funny People is a film that strikes a perfect balance between a comedy and a somber dramaAdam Sandler's character is depressed and hates himself for the duration of the film; which can drag the viewer down.  The auxiliary cast, featuring Seth Rogen, Johan Hill, Aubrey Plaza and Jason Schwartzman, is the main source of delight and comedy in this picture.  Clocking in at around 2 and a half hours, one would think this film drags.  On the contrary, the film is engaging and the pacing is perfect; Funny People feels like a 90 minute film.  Overall, this film has the tone and style of a typical Apatow picture, but I feel as if this one reaches a deeper level.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Lords of Salem


Year:  2012
Country:  USA
Director:  Rob Zombie

Mini-Synopsis:  A coven of witches take revenge on Salem.

Ro:  2.5 Stars - It's becoming harder and harder to create horror that can really thoroughly scare people; so many movies now accompany the scares with ironic humor.  Ever since The Exorcist, horror films have been continuously upping the ante.  The Lords of Salem falls short in being able to go anywhere new with "serious horror".  Very little happens that is outside of the expectations of a witch movie.  There are a few unique, trippy moments when I think Zombie's style best shines through, but there just aren't enough of them to make the watch feel worth it.

Joe:  2 Stars - I was so excited about the career of Rob Zombie as a filmmaker after experiencing House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects.  Unfortunately, Zombie has lost some of the mojo he had that made those early films great.  It's really difficult to put my finger on why his new stuff isn't very good because he still has the same visual style and gruesomeness in his productions.  There were two glaring weaknesses in this film: First, he tried way too hard to make this evil.  This would've been an evil story anyway, but the sequences in the film just didn't work.  It came across as annoying.  Secondly, the dialogue sucks.  This is why I was so disappointed in his Halloween efforts.  The dialogue in the first two films was engaging, witty, crude, offensive, and really fit the characters.  The dialogue for all of his films since then has been forced, lame, poorly delivered, and just bad.  Ro made a really good point while watching the film that Rob Zombie cannot do "normal people" dialogue well.  That makes sense since every character in the first two films is pure evil.  I don't recommend this.  It's bad.  I only gave it two stars because he has a sweet visual style and I weirdly like Sheri Moon Zombie.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Way Way Back


Year:  2013
Country:  USA
Director:  Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Mini-Synopsis:  An awkward teenager finds confidence through a mentor while working at a water park.

Ro:  4.5 Stars - After our second viewing I still found The Way Way Back as delight to watch.  This is one of those films that I have a feeling I'm going to watch quite often as you could categorize it as a comfort movie.  That's not to say that this is a guilty pleasure, because the acting and writing are both very craftily handled.  Those elements allow a very familiar story to feel fresh and original; with a zesty summer splash!  Steve Carell impressively pulls off a loathable jerk and if Hollywood decided to just start putting Sam Rockwell in everything, I'd be okay with that. Liam James deserves a nod as well, for centering the film with his awkward likeability.  I dare you to watch this movie and not smile.

Joe:  5 Stars - The Way Way Back is a pure delight to experience.  The film feels nostalgic to me even though it's set in the present.  I have a personal connection to this film because I had a very similar mentor help me through my awkward phase.  The performances are top-notch and the writing is excellent.  It is very easy to become immersed in the culture of the small summer beach town that serves as the setting for this film.  Go watch it.  What are you waiting for?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Dante 01


Year:  2008
Country:  France
Director:  Marc Caro

Mini-Synopsis:  A prison ship isolated in deep space acquires a new and mysterious inmate.

Ro:  4.5 Stars - So while I deeply enjoy this movie, I must be upfront in that there is quite a bit that can leave a viewer unsatisfied.  The best warning I can give is to be ready to construct your own ending from much ambiguity. On to the pluses, Dante 01 is a philosophical sci-fi that's visuals have aged incredibly well.  The performances work, and the story is downright weird.  The drama surrounds the newest inmate in a testing lab of psychotic prisoners.  George (after St. George the Dragon Slayer) begins saving the others through a process that I believe is intended to be actualized sin-eating.  The religious/mythological allusions, while lacking subtlety, do help create context for each character and an opportunity to dig deeper into their overall place within the film.  The various allusions also help cement Caro's intention at creating an allegorical fable; which, as I mentioned before, allows the abrupt ending to be a bit more palatable.

Joe: 4 Stars - What a weird/cool film this is.  Dante 01 is dark, mysterious, and creative.  Director Marc Caro has shown his dark style of film-making before; co-directing Delicatessen and City of Lost Children with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (my favorite foreign director).   Jeunet's later films are missing the darkness that saturates his first two efforts; Dante 01 encapsulates that darkness in vintage Caro style.  This film has the creepy, strange, and weird atmosphere of Delicatessen and CoLC without any of the quirky fun or black comedy.  I'm not even going to begin discussing the narrative of this film, but there is plenty to interpret.  Highly recommended for Jeunet/Caro fans, but be prepared for a slow and patient watch.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Tall Man

 

IMDb
Trailer

Year:  2012
Country:  USA
Director:  Pascal Laugier

Mini-Synopsis:  The legend of the "Tall Man" strikes fear into a small town where children are disappearing. 

Ro:  3 Stars - The Tall Man is one of those movies where it's hard to precisely peg down.  It definitely has the sort of fun-to-watch-when-you're-up-too-late kind of vibe.  The biggest twist is that it also really tries to challenge you to think.  I'm not phrasing that facetiously; The Tall Man begins as a ho-hum thriller and then twists into a poignant moral commentary.  If you're going to create a thought-provoking movie, then don't spend most of the film using cheap-thrill tricks.  The weight and gravity of the film might have been more significant if it had been presented earlier on or at least had the meaning been more thoroughly developed.  Despite all this, the movie does stand a bit taller than the usual direct-to-DVD fare (there was technically a brief theatrical release, but it made full use of the term limited).

Joe:  4 Stars - I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this film!  My expectations were low, and I didn't realize that Pascal Laugier was the director until 20 minutes in.  I kept telling Rosanne that I recognize the director's style, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  Finally, we paused the film and looked it up.  Laugier has directed House of Vocies (2004) and Martyrs (2008).  I really liked both films even though they were very different.  The Tall Man, Laugier's first English language film, was definitely a unique experience.  Early in the film, this felt like a worn-out cliche-ridden script.  As the narrative progresses, however, I found myself delighted to experience something a little different.  If you haven't seen a Laugier film, his cinematography is beautiful.  The acting performances were just okay, but the cast didn't distract from the film.  I recommend this as an underrated mystery/thriller.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Monk


Year:  2011
Country:  France/Spain (French Language)
Director:  Dominik Moll

Mini-Synopsis:  A holy man who grew up in the monastery faces dark temptations.

Ro: 2 Stars - I can't say that The Monk was really a great viewing experience.  The story is the type of material that almost always draws me in, but the execution is a just a bit too constructed feeling.  I had to work to focus or to care.  We're told that Ambrosio is a deeply devout and holy man, but the only demonstration we really see of this is his sermon abilities.  Perhaps I'm cynical from growing up in the bible belt, but being able to put on a good sermon does not automatically convince me of a man's devout nature.  The direction also added a very over-the-top feel that is disappointing from what I've come to expect from French cinema (by that I mean something with more the feel of Moll's superior film Lemming).  Vincent Cassel is unstoppably captivating and I really enjoyed seeing him in a role where he at least begins with a docile nature.  It's fair to say that he's one of the few silver linings.

Joe:  3.5 Stars - What an unexpected trip to nostalgia lane!  The Monk made me feel like I was a junior in high school and I was watching one of my VHS rentals from the store that had "5 movies, 5 nights, 5 dollars"!  How long has it been since I've seen a slowly paced religious drama?  Make no mistake, this wasn't a great film, but it was really enjoyable nonetheless.  I watched this because of my affinity for Vincent Cassel; my 3rd favorite actor behind Daniel Day-Lewis and Guy Pearce.  Let's get to the film...slowly paced, breathtakingly gorgeous location, creepy ambiance, well acted, cheesily directed, disappointing score, relatively bland ending.  If you like nostalgic films that remind you of the mid-90's, this is for you!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Matador


Year:  1986
Country:  Spain
Director:  Pedro Almodovar

Mini-Synopsis:  An ex-matador has a preference for the macabre.

Ro: 3.5 Stars - So you figure pretty early in to watching it that Matador is not the crowning pinnacle film for Almodovar, but yet, I never completely lost interest either.  Granted that interest was in a dark comedy, soap opera sort of a way.  The movie is primarily driven by two people who possess a particularly creepy sexual fetish and also a sweet matador trainee who gets tangled in the intrigue.  The sex scenes were enough to merit a few eyebrow raises, but did not go to the degree of David Cronenberg's Crash; which is the prime example of a fetishized film that still falls in the category of art.  Matador spent a little more time actually following the characters' plotlines and developing their backgrounds, but the execution and developments didn't all make crystal sense until Joe and I sat and talked through a few of the strange twists and motivations of the characters.  In the end, though, I'm glad we watched it to round out our viewing of Almodovar's filmography.

Joe: 2 Stars - Pedro Almodovar is a very hit-or-miss director.  His films can either be brilliant or come across as a cheesy soap opera.  Unfortunately, Matador is of the latter variety.  There were a few early scenes in the film where Antonio Banderas stole the spotlight.  After the first act, however, he is relegated to an auxiliary character; and the film suffers heavily from his absence.  Staying true to his M.O., Almodovar doesn't reveal the full scope of the story until late in the film.  There is a sense of mystery and discovery leading up to the point when the loose ends are tied.  Sadly, the knot that he used to tie those loose ends was ridiculous.  I was shaking my head at the end of this film.  I recommend this one for fans of Almodovar or die-hard fans of Banderas, but temper your expectations.

Monday, October 21, 2013

12 Years a Slave

Year:  2013
Country:   USA
Director:  Steve McQueen

Ro:  5 Stars - An element of 12 Years a Slave that I found particularly impressive is how director Steve McQueen never let the movie get in the way of the story.  Solomon Northup's true story is both consistently and honestly told.  Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an amazingly expressive performance as Northup.  While all the lives of the slaves around him have equal value, he is unique in that he started out free and educated.  It's not that his injustice is greater than the others, but that his loss is so much more present and palpable that we see him carry an even greater weight.  Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Michael Fassbender aren't two dimensional caricatures of southern slavers.  While what they do is evil, it is an accepted evil and through that they are also businessmen.  They are fully fleshed beings who've learned to compartmentalize/rationalize the evil they perpetuate so they can live the lives of "honest" men.  McQueen absolutely deserves a nomination; throughout the entire movie there would be moments where I would expect things to continue on to the next chapter, but he would pause and delve into a scene further than I thought we could go.  These were the moments that truly struck home; when you as an audience member are forced to really look at the abomination of slavery and deal with it personally.

Joe:  5 Stars - Wow, this was a difficult film to watch.  12 Years a Slave is a true story about a distinguished northern gentleman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  The film is adapted from Solomon Northup's book of the same title.  The thing that really stood out in this film to me was the authenticity.  Having spent a decade in the south, I found each aspect of this film to strike a familiar cord.  Steve McQueen is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.  He has made 3 feature length films so far, and each of them is brilliant in its own way.  I highly recommend this film, although it is very heavy and somber.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Impossible



Year:  2012
Country:  Spain
Director:  J.A. Bayona

Mini-Synonpsis:  True story of a family who survived the Southeast Asian Tsunami in 2004.

Ro:  4 Stars - So I went into The Impossible feeling stressed out by daily life circumstances, and this is the sort of film that really puts those things into perspective. The story follows a family of five whose peaceful Christmas vacation is utterly destroyed, along with hundreds of thousands of others, in the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami.  I read that they spent an entire year filming the tsunami event and the effort really shows.  The experience of the mother, Maria, played by Naomi Watts, creates the backbone of the movie - she's the one that the filmmakers really hone in on as she physically suffered the worst out of the family.  It's a neat device that's used; they skip her underwater experience during the initial hit and show her struggle only after she emerges, but then we revisit the actual underwater horror towards the end of the film.  This method works and is incredibly powerful at driving home the trauma and terror of experiencing such a thing. While some parts of the film feel a bit manipulative in trying to work your tear ducts, I had an easy time accepting the dramatic license used.  After all, a catastrophe of this scope should not be handled lightly, and Bayona takes strides to be true to that ideal.

Joe: 3.5 Stars -  The Impossible was a very captivating film from start to finish.  I thoroughly enjoyed my experience watching this film.  The story is very straight forward; a tsunami scatters a family vacationing in a foreign land and they have to defeat all odds to find one another.   The performances were excellent.  I have been a big fan of Naomi Watts ever since her stellar performance in Mulholland Drive.  Ewan McGregor is always solid, but I didn't expect such a strong performance from Tom Holland.  He owned this film as Lucas, the eldest son who has to grow up rather quickly.  The cinematography was beautiful, and the tsunami sequence was awesome.  My only qualm with the film is that I felt like the writers tried to over-dramatize everything.  It seemed as if the actual story wasn't that thrilling after the tsunami hit; so the studios had to add some drama.  I am obviously assuming all of this because I wasn't there; but there were several moments in the film that detached my sense of realism that had me so captivated.  That being said, I do recommend this film.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

I Saw the Devil

 

Year:  2010
Country:  South Korea
Director:  Jee-woon Kim

Mini-synopsis: A special agent seeks revenge on the serial killer who murdered his fiance.

Ro:  4.5 Stars - Oh how I wish there were more movies being made like this one.  When you first jump into I Saw the Devil you're presented with a very grisly slasher/horror type film, but what's so remarkable is how it maintains the scary tension while transcending beyond being just another slasher film; there's even a decent sense of humor sprinkled throughout.  One of the good guys fights back, and his plan is thrilling to watch, especially during the first viewing.  The half star is lost because, due to the quick pacing, some of the dialogue feels particularly forced.  Example:  "Hey, remember back when we joined that radical militant group?," - thanks fat evil friend, but I can accept that the killer has a killer buddy even without the lame backstory.  Some awkward dialogue aside, director Jee-woon Kim, along with the leads, Min-sik Choi and Byung-hun Lee, does an amazing job at creating a movie that grips you beginning to end.

Joe: 4 Stars - I Saw the Devil really snuck up on me by taking me on an unexpectedly awesome ride.  At first, this film felt like it was going to be a typical "torture porn" flick; as we are introduced to the serial killer while he does his thing.  However, the flow of the film stayed very engaging as the protagonist begins hunting down the man who killed his fiance.  It doesn't help our killer, of course, that the protagonist happens to be a special government agent.  A whole case of whoop-ass is opened, and we get to witness an epic showdown between a demented killer and a revenge-driven hero.  The plot seems familiar, but for some reason this film really worked and felt fresh.  The only reason I gave this 4 stars instead of 5 is because I noticed a few little plot holes that really irked me.  Other than that, this is one damn enjoyable film.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Dark Horse


Year:  2011
Country:  USA
Director:  Todd Solondz

Mini-Synopsis:  The tale of a thirty-something nobody trying to find romance and also the good in the world with his, "front-runner mentality, and dark horse qualities."

Ro: 3.5 Stars - I came out of Dark Horse appreciating it more than I expected going in.  The examination of a lumpy man-child is a sensible contemporary figure for Solondz to tackle, but I wasn't initially excited by the prospect.  Like most of his films it focuses on a sad (and often hilarious) example of human existence.  Abe isn't necessarily a bad person - he does nothing that harms others, but he's exactly the sort of person we all go out of our way to disassociate with.  Abe doesn't make the world a better place, he lacks the self-awareness that society expects of everyone, and he lives by excuses for why everything is wrong in his world.  Despite all this, he's a compelling figure to watch, and like those in his life that love him, there's a hope that Abe will overcome the disconnect that he experiences between his fantasy life and his actual life.  Dark Horse does not carry the same punch as Welcome to the Dollhouse (a similarly singular focus story).  I'd say this happened because Dawn's plight carries a deep desperation, whereas, Abe seems simply unable to grab the opportunities that could, even marginally, improve his life.

Joe: 3 Stars - I am a huge fan of Todd Solondz, so naturally, I was very excited for Dark Horse.  I feel that my expectations were a bit too high to rate this objectively, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the film.  Dark Horse displays all the aspects of a typical Solondz film: sad and pathetic characters, a very black sense of humor, minimalistic direction, patient pacing, and great execution.  We basically get to watch a romance develop between two misfits who still live at home with their parents.  As I've stated before, I don't like romance.  However, the romance in this one isn't cheesy and predictable.  It is absolutely ridiculous for sure, but also refreshing.   I recommend giving this a try if you appreciate Solondz's work. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bernie


Year:  2011
Country:  USA
Director:  Richard Linklater

Mini-Synopsis:  True story of a small-town mortician who befriends a wealthy widow.  

Ro:  4.5 Stars - Bernie is a completely worthwhile film to check out.  While Matthew McConaughey continues to creep out of his residence in rom-com oblivion, Jack Black shines in the quasi-biographical role.  Another high point for me, is the depiction of a small southern town.  It's very rare to find films, let alone a comedy, that feels just about accurate in this task.  In all the staged interviews it was easy to believe that the actors were real southerners speaking with a fondness for someone who'd genuinely won over the community through small town politics.  Bernie is a smart black comedy where the film appropriately fits the real-life character it is aiming to portray.

Joe:  4 Stars - This movie was such a pleasant surprise!  I never expected to see Jack Black carry a film the way that he carried Bernie.  The script was hilarious and well-written.  This picture felt a bit like a Coen brothers effort.  We are saturated in small town Texas culture and there are interviews throughout the film with the supporting characters; The Office style.  Matthew McConaughey is absolutely hilarious as the District Attorney!  As much as I loved the writing and the performances, Bernie was just missing something that kept me from giving it a 5 star rating.  I honestly cannot put my finger on what that something was.  It could have been the directing, although, the cinematography and pacing were great.  I would like to hear some feedback from some of our readers to see if you can put your finger on what was missing...or convince me to up my rating to 5 stars!  Either way, I'm curious to hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Polisse


Year:  2011
Country:  France
Director:  Maiwenn

Mini-synopsis:  A candid look into France's Child Protection Unit.

Ro: 3.5 Stars - Polisse focuses entirely on the people who make up the CPU and what their day to day lives are like on and off duty.  The audience goes into this world following a photographer, portrayed by Maiwenn herself.  The cases that they deal with on duty are the sorts of things most people generally try to block from thinking about because it's so heartbreaking and fundamentally wrong.  The direction spends a lot of time getting to know the officers.  We watch them chat about married life over coffee, interact with their own children, and see how they put everything else to the side when it comes time to protect a child and let him/her know that he's safe.  It's not the sort of movie anyone will ever want to watch twice, and there are many moments that could be shortened down; but overall, it's a very affecting film.

Joe: 2 Stars -  This was a somewhat difficult film to watch.  Based on actual case files, Polisse documents the day to day operations of the CPU (Child Protection Unit) in France.  This could have been much more challenging, but Maiwenn decided to document the offenses through dialog instead of reenactments.  The directing was very candid and unpolished, the acting was great, and the narrative was a bit scattered.  There was a random romance that was sprinkled into this film, which felt that it didn't quite belong.  Overall I didn't feel that the film had a clear vision or direction.  It basically felt like a documentary with some story thrown in for entertainment value.  Maybe I'm missing something, but I expected more. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Alps


Year:  2011
Country:  Greece
Director:  Giorgos Lanthimos

Mini - Synopsis:   "Alps" refers to a group of actors who stand-in for those who have recently departed.  Family members of the deceased hire Alps to help alleviate their grief.

Ro: 3 Stars - Alps contains a lot of promise that isn't fully utilized.  Going in I had no idea what to expect and the initial exposition is a challenge in finding a flow to engage with.  Lanthimos gives you bits of conversation that have a significance the viewer is not yet privy to.  As it comes together and the darkness of the Alps group is more clearly understood, though, I became enticed to see where this could lead - it just didn't travel quite as far as I felt it could have.  The story never really leaves Anne, Aggeliki Papouli, giving an impressively subtle performance, so it has hints of being a character study.  Alps is dark and unique, my frustration mostly stems from wishing the ending spiral would have been of greater magnitude for Anne.

Joe: 2 Stars - I have great respect for director Giorgos Lanthimos.  I was incredibly excited for Alps after viewing his earlier film, Dogtooth.   The style that Lanthimos uses is very minimalistic with subtle undertones of creepily abnormal.  This film had a great atmosphere, but seemed a bit unfocused.  At only 93 minutes running time, this one felt like a marathon.  We spend most of our time following our characters pretending to be deceased family members.  While this was very interesting at first, I began to find myself anxious to dig into our main characters' personalities. I never quite felt satisfied as to the motivations and purposes of our characters. Overall, Alps was a very intriguing film that left me a bit disappointed. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kill List


Year:  2011
Country:  UK
Director:  Ben Wheatley

Mini-Synopsis:  A hitman takes a new contract after a lengthy hiatus, but things are not as straight forward as they seem.

Ro: 3.5 Stars - Kill List is a hard film for me to peg down.  On the one hand it is composed of many elements that I enjoy:  a creepy tone where even mundane events feel foreboding, a direct approach to violence that is neither reveling nor delicate, and a story that isn't restricted in what direction to take next.  On the other hand, in this case at least, it's easy to lose one's bearings with some of the events that transpire.  I'm honestly still scratching my head about some things.  Did Wheatley approach this film decisively leaving subtle clues and pieces that need to be put together?  Or, is the film composed in a more ramshackle way, with pieces included merely to add ambiguity and tone in order to create the impression of creepiness?  I'm leaning towards the latter, but even if that is the purpose and goal of Kill List, it's still hard to fault it too much.  I enjoyed the watch and, while I felt adrift at times, still find myself intrigued. 

Joe: 4 Stars - Kill List is one of those films that didn't land anywhere near what my expectations were (I mean that in a good way).  I was prepared for a typical British murder-for-hire picture, and what I got was a dark and creepy spine-chiller.  Ben Wheatley did a fantastic job of building atmosphere through steady ominous music and raw, cold cinematography.  The acting in this film was superb!  Kill List feels a bit slowly paced, but this allows the progression from the opening act to the final act to subtly sneak up on you. The British accents are really thick and difficult to understand, so be warned about that.  I highly recommend this one to anybody who likes UK genre films, crime thrillers, or horror.  Enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Devil's Backbone


Year:  2001
Country:  Spain
Director:  Guillermo del Toro

Mini-Synopsis:  A twelve-year-old boy adjusts to life at his new orphanage while discovering that the place may be haunted.

Ro:  5 Star - The Devil's Backbone for me is very demonstrative of the quintessential del Toro.  It's a perfect complementary film to Pan's (even though this came first, Pan's remains the strongest example of del Toro's work thus far).  The story is told from an innocent's point-of-view who's exposed to a truly evil element during a tumultuous historical period.  The biggest difference between the two movies is the fantastical element, which in this film is more of a subtle spooky ambiance with a few gotcha moments.  The kids deliver strong performances and Eduardo Noriega is absolutely one of my favorite bad guys to watch.

Joe:  4 Star - I have always enjoyed seeing a horror film through the eyes of a child.  In The Devil's Backbone, we get to experience this ghost story from the perspective of a twelve year old boy.  The atmosphere of this film is excellent because the orphanage is a remote and self-contained compound with a unique history.  Guillermo del Toro displays an innate ability to connect his viewers to the emotions of a child.  This ability also stands out in his masterpiece Pan's Labyrinth.  I definitely recommend this film to atmospheric horror fans, ghost story fans, and fans of good foreign films.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

44 Inch Chest


Year:  2009
Country:  UK
Director:  Malcolm Venville

Mini-Synopsis:  An aging gangster calls on his friends to address a case of cuckoldry.

Ro:  4 Star - 44 Inch Chest dances between moments of dark crime drama and those of quirky black comedy.  The greatest standout element is far-and-away the cast of British acting standards (Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, and Stephan Dillane), they have a great chemistry.  Each one embodies a different sort of gangster who, as cool as they may have once been, are now mostly tired old men.  Venville, and the cast, seem to relish in exploring the individual failings that ultimately make them each human.  There are a few surprise moments where the audience has to take notice of the changing perspective; between the normal flow and stream of consciousnesses.  All and all this is a successful debut for Venville, and I'm sure we'll watch where he goes next.

Joe: 4 Star - As a huge Ray Winstone fan, I was extremely excited about this film.  44 Inch Chest is a well executed picture that proves to be funny, engaging, and dramatic.  There isn't much to the script; a group of gangsters are in a room waiting to kill a waiter for making Colin (Ray Winstone) into a cuckold.  What the script does accomplish, however, is serve as a vehicle for the immensely talented cast to shine in a fairly unstructured setting.  I very much enjoyed the straight forward and simplistic story.  In act 3, however, the films gets a little trippy in the exploration of Colin's psychological state.  This felt a little out of place for me, but it was well done.  If you appreciate British humor, black comedy, or mob films this is for you.  I highly recommend 44 Inch Chest as yet another great option for fans of Ray Winstone's work. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


Year:  2010
Country:  Canada, USA
Director:  Eli Craig

Mini-Synopsis:  A pair of hillbillies struggle to enjoy fixing up their new vacation home when a group of college students get the wrong idea.

Ro:  3.5 Stars - In keeping with the October spirit we decided to give Tucker & Dale a watch, and came out satisfied.  This movie falls into the growing genre of ironic comedy/horror, with a natural parody twist.  The two leads, Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, are both delightful in their simple earnestness.  While the writing is funny and the story enjoyable, the weakness can be found in the directing.  Eli Craig still has the feel of a fairly new director that doesn't always execute jokes to their fullest.  I'd be willing to watch his follow up films, though, all that's needed is a bit more polish.  This is such a lighthearted horror that it's a very easy watch.

Joe: 3.5 Stars - Wow, what a fun movie to watch!  Tucker & Dale VS Evil was a fresh take on a stale genre: a group of college kids go to the woods where hillbillies try to kill them.  This flick, however, tells the story from the hillbillies' perspective; which is absolutely hilarious.  The acting from the two leads was surprisingly adequate; even though, the casting for the college kids could have been better.  I had very low expectations going into this film, so that might have enhanced my viewing pleasure.  Tucker & Dale is a fun horror-comedy that doesn't quite reach the level of masterpieces such as Shaun of the Dead, Slither, and Severance.  Still, it was tons of fun, and I do recommend it.  I suspect that my rating of this film will grow with each subsequent viewing.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sauna


Year:  2008
Country:  Finland
Director:  Antti-Jussi Annila

Mini-Synopsis:  The year is 1595; two brothers travel north as representatives of Sweden's border commission following a lengthy war with Russia.  The desolate swamp in which they find themselves serves as the facilitator of atonement for sins past. 

Ro: 3 Stars - Sauna is a haunting story that is loaded with meaning, I just can't explain quite what that meaning is.  It seems to explore the idea that the most fearsome demons are the ones we lock within ourselves.  The story, acting, and direction are all rich with various levels of depth of emotion with the quest for man's atonement being the greatest driving factor.  So why only 3 stars?  Well, there's something within the subtitles that gets lost in translation.  Apparently, in 1595 the phrases, "hell yes" and "whoop-de-do" were the norm... This is what clued me in as to why I was probably struggling so much to follow the narration.  Could we watch the film with proper translations, I think I would gain a much deeper understanding. As it is, I was constantly thrown by what dialogue was intended to be communicated; and in a complex narrative, filled with metaphors, and stream-of-consciousness insights, having the precise translations becomes significant.  Even though these elements were only slightly off, my personal viewing experience felt like a struggle.

Joe:  4.5 Stars - This film is a work of art.  Steadily eerie, Sauna is a film that relies heavily on atmosphere and execution to captivate the viewer.  Set in a desolate swamp far in the north, there is a deep underlying fear that comes from being in a place that is completely uncharted.  Every aspect of this film is executed to perfection (with the exception of the subtitle translator).  The cinematography is flawless, the acting is impeccable, the score is subtly appropriate, and the narrative is remarkable.  This is a brilliant film about evil, sin, guilt, and atonement.  Sauna is not a movie that will spoon feed the viewer.  You will have to work hard to follow the metaphors, ambiguity, and motivations in this film.  However, if you can sit back and enjoy the deliberately slow pace, beautiful camera work, and effortless performances, you'll be in for a treat.  I highly recommend this film to fans of foreign cinema and horror buffs.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cannibal! The Musical


Year:  1993
Country:  USA
Director:  Trey Parker

Mini-Synopsis:  A tongue in cheek musical about a group of miners who attempt to travel from Utah to Colorado Territory.  

Ro:  5 Stars - Joe and I both hold this movie in especially high regard, and easily count it as a classic in our collection.  Cannibal! possesses that light-hearted absurdity that we value in comedy.  There are plenty of elements that could be picked apart and held against it; it's very low-budget and filled with plenty of obvious technical errors and could probably do with a good, long editing session.  Despite these failings, Parker and Stone's now iconic humor, effortless timing, and overall comfortable relationship with comedy are on full display.  The movie is loosely spoofing Oklahoma! which just adds another layer of enjoyment for viewers as well as showcases the filmmaker's early musical ambitions.  Now in their sixteenth season of South Park, just about everyone should be familiar with these guys' comedy.  If you're like us, and know that you will never get tired of this dynamic duo's creative (and generally irreverent) humor, then this is a must see.

Joe:  5 Stars - Trey Parker and Matt Stone can do no wrong.  This is one of the most delightful, fun, and memorable films I have ever seen.  With a budget of just over $100,000, the sets, props, and costumes are wonderfully horrendous.  However, you don't need money to write a great script.  The narrative and the songs in this film are just fantastic!  Whenever I watch Cannibal! The Musical, I know I'll be humming the tunes to myself for weeks.  Trey Parker is as multi-talented as it gets with his ability to write, direct, act, and even sing.  I'm not surprised that he has earned nominations for an Emmy, an Oscar, AND a Tony.  This is obviously a love it or hate it type of film.  If you approach it with an open mind and the expectation of a low-budget movie, you should have a great time!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beyond the Black Rainbow


Year:  2010
Country:  Canada
Director:  Panos Cosmatos

Mini-Synopsis:  In a throwback to early 80's science fiction, a young woman attempts to escape from a futuristic wellness complex.

Ro:  3.5 Stars - You know those acid flashback montage sequences that pop up in films from time to time?  Well, about ninety percent of Beyond the Black Rainbow was sort of like a slowed down version of that.  There's something immensely satisfying about watching a movie that so completely relives the vibe of late 70s/early 80s sci-fi horror.  Cosmatos' meticulous need to recreate said vibe, however, at times stifles the actual narrative flow and even has to drag the viewer along.  Black Rainbow is equal parts intrigue and frustration, but I do think it's a great film to watch while in the Halloween spirit with all its creepy nostalgia.

Joe:  2 Stars - Oh how I wish this film had lived up to its potential.  The tone of this film is set perfectly through the creepy David Lynch-esque score, the awesome cinematography, and the surprisingly accurate representation of 80's style.  Atmospherically, this was a 5 star picture.  Unfortunately, my compliments stop there.  The pace of this film is so terribly slow, that it makes a mere 110 minute run-time feel like a 3-hour marathon.  Rosanne kept saying throughout the first half of the movie: "I really hope this goes somewhere".  This is the way that I felt for the duration of the film!  I had to treat our TV screen like a piece of art; just sit back and enjoy the artist's eye.  Even after the film was over, I'm not 100% what the point of this story was.  I'm sure some of you sci-fi junkies out there can clue us in to what exactly happened, but I'm not embarrassed to admit: I didn't get it.  Having said all of that, I still feel obligated to recommend this film (especially to sci-fi enthusiasts).  The nostalgic atmosphere alone is worth the watch.  Just make sure you bring your patience with you before you view.

Monday, September 17, 2012

On The Ice


Year:  2011
Country:  USA
Director:  Andrew Okpeaha MacLean

Mini-synopsis:  Set in Barrow, Alaska, two close friends deal with the fallout of a fatal accident as they face critical life decisions before their transition into adulthood.

Ro:  4 Stars - Filmed entirely in Alaska, On the Ice is a good movie to have a hot cup of cocoa on hand for.  This is a unique film in its realistic portrayal of everyday life for native Alaskans; not something we come across that often.  Past that though, this is also a well-done thriller.  The story is straightforward, but thoughtfully directed and believably acted.  The only drawback I really had is that it's not exactly a thrilling thriller.  That's not necessarily a knock, though, the director chose not to use gimmicks or ploys in laying out the story.  We watched normal people reacting to an abnormal situation and were presented with the fallout of the main characters' decisions made while under duress.

Joe:  4 Stars - This was a great little diamond in the rough.  I was pleasantly surprised by the authenticity of the tone that was set by director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean.  The story here is nothing new, a pair of high school seniors accidentally kill a friend during a hunting excursion.  However, I was very captivated by the dynamic between the two lead characters, Qalli and Aivaaq.  Qalli has his stuff together, is college bound, and comes from a solid family.  Aivaaq is into drugs, has a bum for a mom, and has already knocked up his girlfriend.  This film was set at a deliberate pace, and held my interest all the way through.  The characters were a little hard for me to get into because I really hated the way they acted at the beginning of the film.  Once we get past the hunting accident, the bravado kind of disappears, and we see the kids for who they truly are.  I wouldn't go into this film expecting a thriller.  Expect to be pleasantly immersed in a different culture, and enjoy the chemistry between Qalli and Aivaaq.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pusher


Year:  1996
Country:  Denmark
Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn

Mini-synopsis:  A drug pusher grows increasingly desperate after a botched deal leaves him with a large debt to a ruthless drug lord.

Ro: 3.5 Stars - Pusher is one of those films where the story begins with a very loose, rambling feel and becomes more focused as it goes along.  My rating increased with this "focus curve," as well.  What really surprised me here is Refn's use of film dialogue and how engaging it made the story.  I feel like each film he makes pulls away from telling the story through dialogue a little more than before.  Or maybe it's the hero's that need less and less talking.  Frank in Pusher talks with the people around him, lets them know what he needs and what he'll do to get it.  When you watch the driver in Drive, though, he says next to nothing; his form of communication to the audience is simply by being a presence that automatically affects every other character and aspect within the film; the music, the tension, the emotion.  The world revolves around the driver, but Frank is the opposite, his entire struggle is to keep his head above water with events and people he cannot control.  Pusher is about Frank losing control and uncovering how powerless he is against fate.  The story left with a cliffhanger, so we'll definitely be queuing the next two soon!

Joe: 3.5 Stars - Ro and I sought this film out after we fell in love with director Nicolas Winding Refn; having seen his recent films Drive and Valhalla Rising.   Pusher is far less refined than his recent works, but Refn still manages to do an excellent job in captivating his audience.  The copy we viewed was raw, grainy, and had terrible video quality.  However, the atmosphere that was created by the cinematography was a great compliment to the script...it felt a little out of control.  I am very curious to see what happens in Pusher 2 and Pusher 3.  This film whet my appetite, and I am excited to follow the rest of this story.  I like this film quite a bit, and I definitely recommend this to our readers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans



Year:  1927
Country:  USA
Director:  F.W. Murnau

Mini-synopsis:  A married farmer faces temptation from a sexy city girl; who tries to convince him to kill his wife.

Ro:  4 Stars - Being inspired by the recent Sight & Sound poll, it seemed like a good time to watch a previously unseen classic silent film.  I truly did find it an interesting film, as well.  Sunrise is a wonderful example of German Expressionism, and the story is successfully conveyed with the use of very few titles.  Murnau created a very simple romantic concept, that the truest love can only come from a pure place between two people.  Once dark temptations are allowed into your heart they will work to turn one against the best things in his life.  It's a direct statement that is easy to connect to, even today.

Joe:  2.5 Stars - I don't really have anything bad to say about this film.  The technical aspects of this film reach the point of being excellent.  My low rating comes from my complete and utter disinterest and disdain for the romance genre.  I mean, come on!  This is the guy who directed Nosferatu!  My expectations were quite different for Sunrise than what was actually delivered.  If I had gone into this film expecting a straight romance, then perhaps my rating would be quite different.  Having said that, Murnau does deliver a few dark and creepy moments that engaged me and gave me a shiver.  The performances are on point, and I really liked George O'Brien in the lead role.  I would hesitantly recommend this film to those of you who are into the silent classics.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Liebster Award


This is our first post that isn't a movie review!  We have been nominated by M. Hufstader who blogs @ http://the-smoking-pen.blogspot.com.  Ro and I appreciate the nod, and we are following through with adhering to the rules of the award.  The rules are as follows:

1. Tell us 11 things about yourself
2. Answer 11 questions the blogger who awarded you asked
3. Pass the award to 11 people
4. Give them 11 questions
5. Tell them about the award
6. Don't award people who are recipients already

Here goes:

11 things about us (Joe AND Rosanne):

1) We have done so much binging on TV show box sets, that it's nearly impossible to patiently watch shows live from week to week.
2) Trey Parker and Matt Stone are brilliant to the point that we are seriously considering naming our first child after them.
3)We have to buy a copy of each RPG that we play (TES, Mass Effect, Dragon Age) on separate platforms because we cannot share with each other during release week.
4) Our favorite movie meal and snack is Ledo Pizza(meal) and cherries(snack).
5) Our favorite thing to do in the world is to share great films with friends and family who haven't yet seen them.  My poor sisters have to put up with us shoving movies down their throats.
6) I get ecstatic whenever I hear that either of 2 artists is working on a new project...Daniel Day Lewis or Quentin Tarantino.
7) Rosanne gets ecstatic whenever she hears that Darren Aronofsky is working on a new project.
8) We periodically sit down and rate our top 50 favorite films of all time separately.  Then, we put our lists together to average out what our shared favorite films are.  Our current shared favorite film is Sunshine, closely followed by The Departed.
9) Rosanne and I met in college at Mississippi State University, and immediately bonded over a series of David Lynch discussions.  I knew right away that this was it.
10) I have a soft spot for nostalgic films from my past that Rosanne hates, such as Clifford, Freddy Got Fingered, and Soldier.
11) Rosanne prefers lame, corny live-action versions of fairy tales to the animated Disney classics.  I still haven't figured out why.  (Rosanne is telling me right now that they aren't "lame")

Questions for us to answer:

1) 3D--yes or no?
Ro:  No 
Joe: Hellz no!  Makes my eyes hurt..and my head.

2) Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?
Ro:  Pffft...Harry Potter, Man 
Joe:  Star Wars  (I want to be a Jedi)

3) What movie would you like to see in theaters that you never got to see?
Ro:  El Topo - One of the original midnight movies!
Joe:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly  - I would love to see Leone's vast landscapes on the silver screen!

4) What's your major draw for a movie: actors, director, or script?
Ro:  Director
Joe:   Director.  Hands Down.
 
5) Who is your favorite person to watch movies with?
Ro:  Joe
Joe:  Comedies and horror: my best man.  Foreign, Indy, and Art House: Rosanne and my youngest sister.
 
6) Who are your top three favorite action heroes?
Ro: 1. Mel Gibson - before all the crazy.  2. Keanu Reeves - Why not?  3. Mark Wahlberg - Do I have to have a reason?
Joe: 1. Steven Seagal  - He literally never gets hit! 2. Sylvester Stallone - Can't understand a word he says, but he is a tough guy's tough guy!  3.  Dolph Lundgren - Okay, lots of his stuff sucks; but Rocky IV would not have been the same without him!

7) The zombie apocalypse is upon us--what movie characters do you want in your camp to keep you alive?
Ro: Shaun (Shaun of the Dead), The Woman (Inside), Toothless (How to Train Your Dragon)
Joe: The Bride (Kill Bill), The Man with No Name (Sergio Leone's trilogy), Dumbledore (Harry Potter)

8) Who is the one actor you love to hate?
Ro:  Orlando Bloom
Joe:  Orlando freaking Bloom 
 
9) ...And the actor you hate yourself for loving?
Ro: Christian Slater - He peaked in the 90's...almost.
Joe:  Milla Jovovich  - I have a soft spot for hot ladies from Eastern Europe...sorry Ro.

10) If they made a movie about your life, who would play you?
Ro:  Olivia Thirlby - Quirky, sweet, likeable.
Joe:  Chris Pratt  - Apparently he and I are dead ringers. (so says Ro and my sisters) 
 
11) If you could change one movie ending, what would it be and why?
Ro:  Chasing Amy - My ending: Ben Affleck apologizes to everyone for ruining the movie with his terrible acting!
Joe: Antibodies from Germany.  This was a five star film all the way...until the terrible ending:  many random CGI deer come out of the woods to ruin the plot of the film in a biblical reference.  I have rarely been so pissed off in my life!  In my ending...the dad shoots his son!  Would've been a top 50 film for me.  smh...

Nominees:
1. The Film Connoisseur
2. A Nightmare on Samityville Street
3. Mondo 70
4. Cool Ass Cinema
5. Alex Jowski Movie Reviews
6. The Lightning Bug's Lair
7. Cinema Gonzo
8. Divine Exploitation
9. Film Forager
10. Amateur Reviews
11. 1 Minute Film Review

Questions for our nominees to answer:
1) What's your favorite country outside of the USA to watch movies from?
2) Name a cartoon character you had a crush on in your youth.
3) If forced to choose, do you prefer a badass chick, or a smart chick in a movie?
4) Favorite exploitation film from the 70's?
5) Top 3 supporting characters of all time?
6) What was your favorite movie kill of all time?
7) You and 1 movie character are in a western up against a gang of outlaws.  Who you got?
8) Name 3 movies you are embarrassed to own?
9) Which big time actor/actress, in your opinion, has the LEAST amount of talent?
10) Describe your perfect stay-at-home movie night?
11) If you could co-direct a film with another director, who would it be and why?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Man From Nowhere


Year:  2010
Country:  South Korea
Director:  Jeong-beom Lee

Mini Synopsis - A former Special Agent dismantles an organized crime ring in order to save his only friend; the little girl who lives next door.

Ro: 3.5 Stars - The Man From Nowhere is an enjoyable thriller; it doesn't really surpass any previous works but still meets its goals successfully.  There were many moments where the intensity hit just the right notes and I found my rating on the verge of rising, but these moments were usually followed by scenes where I did the internalized head shake- just a little too melodramatic, too gratuitously badass.  I can't fault the film too much though, the actors were engaging, I really loved the score, and the fight scenes were very impressively choreographed.  Nowhere delivered one of the best fight scenes I've seen in a while, as a matter of fact.

Joe:  3.5 Stars - Not bad at all.  This film has a revenge plot that has been done time and time again.  There are elements from The Professional, Man on Fire, Taken, and just about every Mel Gibson movie ever made.  Usually I am turned off by such obvious cliches, but those South Koreans just keep making good films.  Aside from a few cheesy moments, this film is executed beautifully.  The Man From Nowhere features fine performances, great cinematography, likeable characters, and an excellent score.  The mood was set just perfectly for this dark and gloomy tale of revenge and restitution.  I read another writers review that stated "this film is like apple pie, nothing new or revolutionary, but who would turn down a fresh apple pie with really good ingredients".  I agree 100% with this statement.  Check it out if you're up for a good action/revenge flick.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

In Darkness


Year:  2011
Country:  Poland
Director:  Agnieszka Holland

Mini-Synopsis:  True story of a Polish sewage inspector who risks everything to save a dozen Jews from the Nazi threat.

Ro:  3 Stars - There are so many amazing stories of human perseverance from WWII waiting to be told, and Leopold Socha's story is a beautiful example with the potential to be a deeply moving film.   There were certain elements in In Darkness that really hit the mark, like Holland's strong utilization of light and Wieckiewicz performance of the brave Socha.  When the experience was over, though, this boiled down to an essentially forgettable film.  Everything that happened felt like well-covered territory, without any moments really making that personal connection.

Joe:  3.5 Stars - When it comes to pictures set in Europe during WW2, I am mesmerized by the authenticity and atmosphere that is captured by foreign filmmakers.  They definitely have a "home field advantage" over American directors who try to tackle similar material.  This film was very good, but there was one key component that crippled it from the start.  This story is a heavily character driven story; with a group of Jews spending 14 months in a sewer.  Agnieszka Holland didn't thoroughly introduce and build the characters at the beginning of the film; which cost this film dearly.  We don't really get to know the characters until they are already in the shit (literally).  I didn't care about anyone in this film before they faced adversity (except Socha), so it was difficult to identify with them throughout their ordeal.  The film also gets a little long in the tooth; and during the last half hour Rosanne and I were clock-watching.  Having said all of that, this is still a really good movie.  In my opinion, this could have been a contender for a 5 star rating if the characters had been built before they faced their adversity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild


Year:  2012
Country:  USA
Director: Benh Zeitlin

Mini-synopsis:  Six-year-old Hushpuppy is faced with the hardships of life in "The Bathtub", a small community outside the levy in the Delta. 

Ro:  4.5 Stars - If you haven't watched the trailer of Beasts of the Southern Wild, yet, I highly recommend doing so.  I knew this would be a winner for me the first time I watched the trailer and did in fact leave the theater completely satisfied.  Zeitlin accomplished something incredible by creating a place that seems simultaneously totally authentic and also completely mythical, by creating "The Bathtub".  The story follows Hushpuppy's personal odyssey  in discovering her place in the world and her own strength of will.  Every shot is filled with wildness and heart that will easily captivate.  I certainly found myself fully immersed with this unusual journey.

Joe:  3.5 Stars - This was a brilliant picture.  Quvenzhane Wallis delivered an enthralling performance as Hushpuppy; a tough little survivor who lives with her daddy.  Not only did Wallis excel on the screen, she also masterfully narrated this film.  Beasts of the Southern Wild was a very well written story about freedom, family, individuality, loss, and survival.  The cinematography is a bit raw and unstable, but it fits nicely with the unrefined setting of this story.  I found the characters to be deep and fascinating; while developing to a point where I felt like I knew them very well.  This is definitely a film that I will recommend to indie fans out there. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Take Shelter



Year:  2011
Country:  USA
Director:  Jeff Nichols

Mini Synopsis - A man tries to cope with visions of an impending apocalypse and the possibility that he is actually losing his mind.

Ro:  4 Stars - The best place to start for this review is the obvious, Michael Shannon is a powerhouse performer - or maybe he really is a touch crazy.  Joe and I find ourselves discussing this argument quite often and I really don't know the answer.  Either way the film is designed with a slow pacing that's entire focus is to follow Curtis' (Shannon) breakdown and personal struggle to cope with the horrifying omens that claim his dreams.  I enjoyed seeing a character that is so fully aware of his abnormal behavior and the depiction of his need to overcome that for his family.  We follow Curtis' struggle through increasingly disturbing dream sequences that show the constant fear weighing on his psyche; and that is the majority of the film, but it's fascinating to watch.  It also leads to a climactic ending that resolves the story in just a few powerful scenes.

Joe:3.5 Stars - This was actually a very enjoyable film to watch.  I loved the cast, and enjoyed the quality character development that unfolded during the course of the film.  It is hard to review this film without ruining anything for the reader.  Take Shelter's primary source of suspense comes from the ambiguity of knowing whether Curtis is crazy or not.  I surprisingly enjoyed the psychological aspect of the film; an element that caught me off guard.  Jessica Chastain's character really added a sense of logic and reason that is essential to the success of this film.  Overall, a great movie to watch on a stormy night!