Saturday, April 19, 2014

TRIBECA FEST: Peepers & Scratch


I decided to skip "About Alex" today in favour of more online screenings (don't worry, I'll get into the real screenings tomorrow). Instead of a full-length feature however, I took a peek at two of the shorts. Here are my brief tweet reviews of "Peepers" and "Scratch":



Friday, April 18, 2014

TRIBECA FEST: Ice Poison


My Tribeca Film Festival started bright and early today with an online screening of "Ice Poison". Due to my limited free time available for this trip, these free screenings (part of the festival's online competition) proved to be very convenient. Here's what I thought of this Burmese drama:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TRIBECA FEST: Preview

It's time! The 2014 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival kicked off last night and I'll be joining in on the fun starting tomorrow (Friday, April 18th). It looks like it will an exciting week ahead! For my personal schedule I've lined up a number of world premieres, in addition to various films that played other festivals (the ones with trailers below). Also, many of these are from debut directors, so maybe we'll be witnessing the arrival of new talent. Here's what I'll be watching:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: The Letter


This week's pick for Hit me with your best shot is the classic film noir "The Letter". Directed by William Wyler and starring the great Bette Davis, it bears many of the traits of the genre - devious woman, murder and crime-solving. It thus makes for compelling viewing, albeit slightly facile and a tad overdramatic in parts. The main draw however, is the star quality of Bette Davis, who gives good face as the femme fatale. For the purposes of this best shot challenge though, I decided to highlight another actress who also does strong work in the film.

Click below for my favourite shot...

Monday, April 14, 2014

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Take My Eyes


This week's top film is a Spanish film of significant social relevance - "Take My Eyes". Directed by Icíar Bollaín, it tells the story of a wife/mother who suffers through domestic abuse. As she nears her breaking point, the film takes us through her harrowing ordeal. Will she rise up and liberate herself?
The film opens with a seemingly critical scene. Our lead character Pilar (Laia Marull) has had enough. Distraught and trembling with fear, she packs up her stuff (young son included) and runs away in the middle of the night. She soon lands on the doorstep of her sister, finding sanctuary at last. It's the ending we all want for such women but of course, life isn't so simple.
Indeed, this lack of idealism is the most fascinating aspect of "Take My Eyes". Unlike the more triumphant stories of female empowerment in the similarly-themed "Provoked" and "Enough", this film shows the harsh, complex (and often cyclical) nature of abusive relationships. This strikingly even-handed script shows rare insight, as we learn about both sides of the struggle between this man and woman.
In order to create empathy for the devil, the script smartly ensures that we get an equally thorough portrait of the husband Antonio (Luis Tosar). Pilar's departure frustrates him, driving him to anger management therapy and persistent grovelling for her forgiveness. As he fights to win her back, his hidden insecurities emerge - mainly his failings as a husband and provider.
Most importantly though, the film helps us to understand why Pilar would tolerate his aggression in the first place. Despite the violence and psychological torment, the truth is that Antonio is a passionate lover. This realization forms the basis of the film's title. The phrase "take my eyes" is taken straight from a sex scene when Pilar goes back to her husband. In a feat of intense seduction, Pilar declares that every piece of her is now his possession, including of course, her eyes. Everything you need to know about how this relationship - and the film itself - works, can be summed up in these scenes. Palpably erotic, the raw intensity is a great credit to the phenomenal acting by Marull and Tosar, as well as Bollain's direction. It so perfectly captures the level of selflessness that marriage requires. It's why I believe that the literal translation of the Spanish title "Te doy mis ojos" would be more apt. To translate directly, it means "I give you my eyes". This phrasing gives Pilar the true agency that she displays in the film. After years of willingly giving herself over to a man, she now has to reclaim her sense of self. By opening with that scene of self-liberation, only to bring her back into the mud with Antonio, we are therefore more able to invest in the complex nature of her decisions. Will Pilar 2.0 include Antonio in her life? The answer is neither obvious nor easy to explain.
Everything leads to the film's powerful conclusion, leaving Pilar at a crossroads after finally coming in to her own. The final scene therefore leaves us with food for thought, posing the question - Who is the weak one? Pilar or Antonio? After viewing the events of this film, the final answer may surprise you. It's evident that vulnerability and weakness manifests itself in many forms. Tyler Perry's several man-hating films may give you the Cliffs Notes version of this, but "Take My Eyes" is the real deal.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

COMING SOON: Tribeca Film Festival

Next week marks the opening of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and yours truly will be attending for the first time. I'll be making a quick visit to the festival (on April 20-21) while on Easter vacation in the tri-state area. My personal schedule should be finalized sometime next week, so look out for that announcement. In the meantime, check out the video below for a glance of some of the star-studded films that will be premiering:

Monday, April 7, 2014

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Hellboy


In lieu of the "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (it hasn't released here yet), I decided to catch up with another popular comic book movie this week - "Hellboy". Released in 2004, this fantasy/action film showcases many of the directorial skills that we've come to associate with Guillermo del Toro. Two years before his magnum opus ("Pan's Labyrinth"), he served up this thrilling, visually impressive interpretation of a superhero.

The film begins in 1944, with the Nazis conducting a secret experiment to strengthen their defense. They've developed a portal that will summon monsters to aid them in the war. The initiative is lead by a Russian mystic named Grigori Rasputin, who believes that this will make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the plan is thwarted by a team sent by the Allied Forces, leaving Rasputin consumed by the destroyed portal. In the wake of the destruction, a harmless baby demon is left behind. He is adopted by the Allies and given the name Hellboy.

Fast forward 60 years and Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) is now a fully grown adult, hidden away in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. He lives a peaceful existence under the watchful eye of his adopted father Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and other guardians. Danger awaits however, as Rasputin is resurrected and intends to finish what he started. With his band of fearsome creatures, he unleashes havoc.

As the titular hero, Hellboy's task is a bit complicated. Much like Superman, he is tasked to defend planet earth against enemies that are more akin to his own kind. Of course, as a hulking red demon, he's treated as an outsider among the humans, with every public sighting resulting in a storm of news headlines. In many ways, he's much like the "freaks" we call the X-Men. As a result, he has to derive mainly internal motivation to play the savior. Tie this all together with some of the dark, brooding atmosphere made popular by The Dark Knight trilogy and you get a compilation of practically all the signature comic book elements.

My reason for making these comparisons is twofold. Primarily, it's reflective of del Toro's vision for this film. Being a fanboy himself, he fully embraces the comic book origins of this story. Even as the atmosphere is dark and moody in a Nolanesque way, the main character is much more light-hearted. The tortured soul is now the new normal, but on this occasion del Toro gave us a throwback comic book style, emphasizing the playfulness. With striking visuals, grotesque creature design and a snarky, amusing performance by Ron Pearlman, del Toro thus blends the macabre and the zany like only he can.

On the other hand though, it would be dishonest to ignore the shortcomings of the script. For a film with such imaginative visuals, its typical plot is rather disappointing. It's bound to feel very familiar. Essentially, it's the misunderstood hero fighting against the forces of evil, with some romance thrown in for good measure.

In spite of its flaws however, del Toro compensates with genuinely thrilling action scenes and eye-popping visuals. So even when you start to feel wary of the writing, you're still invested in the "Bang! Pow! Boom!". It's a formula that has worked for him numerous times (I'm looking at you "Pacific Rim"), so props to him. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'll certainly be coming back for more.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT: Can't Stop The Music


In honour of April Fools' Day, Nathaniel chose a perfectly silly film for Hit me with your best shot this week - 'Can't Stop the Music'. This story about the formation of The Village People holds the inauspicious title of being the first winner of the Golden Raspberry for Worst Picture. It doesn't come as much of a surprise after watching it, as it really is hilariously awful (emphasis on hilarious). There are so many things wrong with this film but it's also a lot of fun, very much in the spirit of The Village People. Indeed, the plot has a lot of visually amusing things going on, but there was no doubting which scene would contain my best shot. It comes from the moment that I was personally anticipating the most - the performance of "Y.M.C.A.".

Click below for my favourite shot...

Monday, March 31, 2014

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: King Of Devil's Island


This week's top pick is a Norwegian drama called "King of Devil's Island". Set in the early 20th century, it tells the story of a rebellion in a boys prison called Bastøy. Ruled with an iron fist by its stern leader Bestyreren (Stellan Skarsgard), it's a brooding film that threatens to get under your skin.
The story begins with an allegory about a harpooned whale. According to the narrator, the whale had been hit by three harpoons but took a whole day to die. Spoken in a solemn manner, it quickly sets the tone of the film to come. As we meet our main characters and learn about their situation, this theme of dogged perseverance becomes immediately apparent.
Essentially, this is a story of young men being pushed to the limit. Our main protagonists are the brash, hot-tempered Erling (Benjamin Helstad) and the more reserved Olav (Trond Nilssen), who is on his way out after years of good behaviour. On first glance they seem like polar opposites, but they strike up an alliance that becomes the driving force behind the events of the film. When a fellow prisoner fatally succumbs to the pressures and injustices of the system, it spurs them to fight back and topple the regime.
Of course, one may think they know how this all plays out from there and in some ways you'd be right. Due to its nature as a "true story", the outcome isn't intended to be too much of a surprise. However, the fantastic storytelling in the interim is what makes this compelling film stand out from the rest.
As we've come to expect, serious dramas such as this are supposed to exhibit a director's flair. It's noticeable then, that director Marius Holst never truly asserts himself into this film. Due to the popular auteur theory, this could be seen as a slight, but in this scenario the lack of the director's stamp proves beneficial. This is decidedly a screenwriter's showcase and it's all the better for it. It's obvious that everything about the filmmaking is in service of the story it's trying to tell. The acting, cinematography and sound are therefore delivered without any overt "flair". Of course, it may mean that nothing is seared into memory, but this also makes it refreshingly unconventional.
Indeed, we've all seen "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Great Escape" etc. The prison break narrative is nothing to new. Most of those films build up to a cathartic payoff, but this one focuses more on the everyday experience of constant suffering. The thesis here suggests that the seemingly banal acts of cruelty can add up and multiply until you reach a breaking point. For these boys it's the frigid environment, the strenous labour and the overall lack of humanity(they're stripped of their names and referred to by a letter-number combination).
In one scene, Bestyreren advises one of the Housefathers to refrain from excessive cruelty, due to the Christian principles upon which Bastøy was founded. It succinctly sums up the main point of the film. As these masters failed to realize, the chronic discomfort can be more oppressive than acute pain. The fallout is inevitable then, depicted in an organic, suspenseful way that will keep you glued to the screen. The plot is so engaging that even the cynics can forgive its brief moments of blatant sentimentality.
Make no mistake, "King of Devil's Island" is a harrowing drama, but it's one that draws you in to its wintry, gloomy world. Its filmmaking style may feel conventional, but the script never rests on its laurels. It's obvious that the screenwriters are carrying most of the weight, working hard to sustain the intrigue. In my opinion, it paid off. This is a film that deserves your attention.

Friday, March 28, 2014

#FF Nymphomaniac, Director profiles and more...


Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" duology is a hot topic right now within the blogosphere. While the reaction seems mostly positive, I was a bit more lukewarm. I'm not alone however, as other bloggers have stated their own issues with the films. Find out what Andy and James had to say below, in addition to some other interesting reads from the past week:

Andy found the film unpleasant, but was impressed with Stacy Martin's performance.

James was unsatisfied with Volume II, feeling that the first film was better.

Alex recently profiled one of the most talented, uncompromising filmmakers - Alejandro González Iñárritu.

John also wrote a director spotlight, focusing on Darren Aronofsky.

Shala is getting ready to attend the Tribeca Film Festival and compiled a list of 10 must-see films from the lineup.

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