Blue Ruin

Film #346

Title: Blue Ruin (2013)

Starring: Macon BlairDevin Ratray and  Amy Hargreaves 

Dir:  Jeremy Saulnier

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): A mysterious outsider’s quiet life is turned upside down when he returns to his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance. Proving himself an amateur assassin, he winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

My Mini Review:

This film is proof that crowd-funding has become a viable way to get the cash you need to get your film made. Financed through Kickstarter, this film went on to debut at Cannes in 2013. Only being the second feature from Saulnier, (who not only directed, but also wrote and shot the film himself), he manages to rope the audience in early and drag them along for the ride. Well-written and engaging, this little thriller keeps it very simple, with just a handful of characters and little dialogue it managed to hold my attention until the end as the tension was just taut enough to blend with the quietness of the film.

Cinematically, it was well shot. Many moments of tension are solely focused on the eyes of the protagonist, in which Blair is quite adept at communicating through his facial and eye expressions. The acting was great all around, the direction was strong, and I thought it was well edited to make (as I said) the tension fuse effortlessly with the quietness of the film. The music used also fit very well. Overall a great little surprise of the film. If you’re into thrillers, be sure to check this out.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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Gone Girl

Film # 345

Title: Gone Girl (2014)

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry

Dir: David Fincher

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.

My Mini Review:

Based on the novel of the same name penned by Gillian Flynn (who also adapted it for the screen), all of the elements fall neatly into place and everything flows well. I’ve never been a big fan of voice-overs, but they work well in this film. There is a lot going on and many different trains of thought that can potentially derail a feature – but because it was placed in Fincher’s capable hands, everything is brought to screen very well. After the first line in the film, I knew it was going to be a crazy ride.

Cinematically, all elements come together perfectly. The tone of the film, the desaturated colors, the music (by the talented Trent Reznor), the narrative structure all are stunning. The acting is excellent, with Pike and Affleck turning in stellar performances. I would love to see this story further expended, possibly into a TV series of some sort – as I believe the characters are very strong. The direction was flawless and it was very well shot. If you like darker themes and intense subject matter, don’t miss this one!

Overall Rating: 5/5

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Child of God

Film # 344

Title: Child of God (2014)

Starring: Scott Haze, Tim Blake Nelson, Jim Parrack and James Franco

Dir: James Franco

Basic Synopsis (from IMDB): A dispossessed, violent man’s life is a disastrous attempt to exist outside the social order. Successively deprived of parents and homes and with few other ties, Ballard descends to the level of a cave dweller as he falls deeper into crime and degradation.

My Mini Review: 

Based in the novel of the same name written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men, The Road). This is very dark film and certainly not for everyone, but I would recommend it to cinephiles based on the incredible, visceral performance by Haze. He is Lester Ballard. As despicable and vile as his behavior is, there is buried within him a human quality. He just wants what all humans desire  - to be accepted and loved.

The film sticks very closely to the book, with only 2 scenes expanded from the original text. It is most definitely one of the most faithful adaptations I’ve ever seen. The direction is fairly solid, the use of long takes and natural action is apparent, making everything on-screen seem genuine. All of the camera work is handheld, which can be disorienting at times but it, in a way, adds to the aesthetic of the film. The music used is subtle yet appropriate. Overall, like I said , a very dark film with very strong subject matter, but it’s well done. 

Overall Rating: 5/5

 

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In The Name Of

Film # 343

Title: In The Name Of (W imie…) (2013)

Starring: Andrzej ChyraMateusz Kosciukiewicz, and Lukasz Simlat

Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Basic Synopsis: Running toward God but away from his sexuality, Adam became a priest at age 21. Now the head of a rural parish, he’s still tormented by desire.

My Mini Review:

I haven’t seen many Polish films, but all that I have seen have been very dense and somewhat disturbing. This film is no exception. The story is plausible, offers a challenging theme and explores the dilemma from all sides (from the kids, the priest himself and the church).  This is the kind of film that is disturbing but made in such a way, it sheds new light on the age-old debate of the sanctity of celibacy without being preachy. Its use of limited dialogue instead focuses on the characters and the nuances of their relationships.

Cinematically, I thought the cinematography was done well. The direction was solid and exploratory. The music used throughout worked well. The acting was overall pretty good, with some performances stronger than others (with Chyra turning in a great performance in the role of the priest). If you can handle the strong, controversial subject matter I think it’s a well made film.

Overall Rating: 3/5

 

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Film #342

Title: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Ethan Phillips, John Goodman, and Justin Timberlake

Dir: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

My Mini Review:

Being a folk music fan, I really enjoyed this film. I liked the timeline of the film and how it showcased only a week in his life and the struggles therein. Though Llewyn Davis is a fictional character, the story was inspired by a number of folk musicians at the time (primarily Dave Van Ronk). I loved the connection and ostensible parallel between Llewyn and the cat; whereas he is the cat, in all of his wanderings.

Cinematically, I thought it was well shot. I liked the structure of the film, and the (non)direction of the narrative, and how it meandered effortlessly. This film was produced, directed, written, and edited by the Coen brothers, so they  most definitely have left their stamp on it. That being said, the characters are solid, and the story is well written. I liked the music, and thought all of the actors turned in superb performances.  A great film, and an even greater one if you’re a fan of folk music.

Overall Rating: 5/5

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With a Friend Like Harry

Film #341

Title: With a Friend Like Harry (Harry, un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien) (2000)

Starring:  Laurent Lucas, Sergi López, Mathilde Seigner and Sophie Guillemin

Dir: Dominik Moll

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): Harry knew Michel in high school; they meet again by accident, Harry inserts himself in Michel’s life… and things take a sinister turn.

My Mini Review: 

This film was a nice surprise, and kept me engaged throughout. The characters were strong, and the story was interesting (with an ostensible Faustian influence, reminiscent of Fight Club). Shot in the beautiful French countryside, set in a cottage off the beaten path, it’s a great set up for the story and works very well. 

Cinematically, I liked the camera work (the opening shot reminded me of The Shining). I thought it was well directed, and I loved the music used and thought it fit extremely well. I thought the acting was ok, it seemed a tad overdone at times by López, but it helped in a way to add an additional layer of eeriness to the character. Overall, an interesting film that held my attention to the end. 

Overall Rating: 4/5

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The Guilt Trip

Film #340

Title: The Guilt Trip (2012)

Starring: Barbra Streisand, and Seth Rogen

Dir: Anne Fletcher

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

My Mini Review:

Despite being quite predictable in most places, the story was cute and well presented. The characters were well enough developed to care about them and the situations are quite relatable. Written by Dan Fogelman (Cars, Tangled, and Crazy, Stupid, Love), I had higher hopes for the story, but it was entertaining.

Cinematically, the camerawork was ok, as was the direction and editing. The acting was fun with Streisand owning the overbearing mother role (though it seemed a bit overdone at times) and Rogen filled out the comedic weak spots. Overall, a typical comedy with a few funny moments, and while quite predictable, it was still a cute story. 

Overall Rating: 3/5

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Cutie and the Boxer

Film #339

Title: Cutie and the Boxer (2013)

Starring: Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara, and Alex Shinohara

Dir: Zachary Heinzerling

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband’s assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.

My Mini Review:

This is by far one of the most accurate documentaries I’ve ever seen, in the sense of documenting what is happening and letting the people involved tell the story as opposed to using an influential narrative to slant the story. Reminiscent (style-wise) of the work of the Maysles brothers, this film paints (pun intended) an accurate portrait of the Shinohara family and the struggles they’ve overcome and the obstacles they continue to face.

Heinzerling not only directed, but also produced and even shot the film himself. I thought he did a great job of capturing their everyday life and how it precariously balances on the cusp of poverty. I liked most of the art featured, and enviously gawked at the studio space they had available. Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this film doesn’t disappoint.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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Head-On

Film #338

Title: Head-On (Gegen die Wand) (2004)

Starring: Birol Ünel, Sibel Kekilli, and Güven Kiraç

Dir: Fatih Akin

Basic Synopsis: Cahit and Sibel are immigrant Germans who live and work in the port town of Hamburg. In a bid to help Sibel break free of her family (which strictly adheres to Turkish customs, religious and otherwise), the couple decides to marry. But straitlaced families are just part of the problem; Cahit and Sibel must also counterbalance ancestral roots with their new life in a western democracy.

My Mini Review:

This film has a very real, visceral quality to it. At its core, it’s a story about love; what it does to us, what it makes us believe, and more importantly, what it makes us do (and not do). The characters are strong and give a great sense of vitality and urgency to the story.

The cinematography is kept very simple, as most of the film is shot with only available/natural light. I liked the inclusion of the traditional turkish music, and the break up of the ‘acts’ with the band that played. There is a lot of rough stuff in this film, yet I thought it was very well directed and edited. I thought the acting was great, with both Ünel and Kekilli turning in great performances.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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Scenic Route

Film #337

Title: Scenic Route (2013)

Starring: Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler

Dir: Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz

Basic Synopsis (from IMDb): Tensions rise between lifelong friends Mitchell and Carter after their truck breaks down on an isolated desert road as they start to attack each other’s life decisions with unwavering brutality.

My Mini Review: 

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It is an interesting mix of thriller and character study. I found it to be engaging despite the fact that the characters are not particularly interesting. The setting and circumstances provided enough oomph for the story to progress effectively. 

Cinematically, the camera work was ok, each shot enriched with lovely desert landscapes. This is the feature directorial debut of the Goetz brothers, and only the second feature for writer Kyle Killen (also the man behind the short lived TV series Awake). Despite the lack of major experience, this film was very well done. The acting was good, with an excellent performance by Duhamel (in a role very much unlike his previous work). Overall, a simple film that held my attention to the end. 

Overall Rating: 4/5

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