In the Earth

Release: Friday, April 16, 2021

👀 Hulu

Written by: Ben Wheatley

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Joel Fry; Ellora Torchia; Reece Shearsmith; Hayley Squires; John Hollingworth; Mark Monero

Distributor: Neon

 

 

 

 

***/*****

Cabin fever never sounded so appealing after “getting back out there” in the new psychedelic experiment from avant-garde British filmmaker Ben Wheatley. His tenth film In the Earth is a thoroughly disorienting and unsettling venture through the woods, one set against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Filmed over the course of just 15 days and during a locked-down August 2020, In the Earth may be horror done on the cheap but it doesn’t particularly look or feel like it. What admissions there are chiefly surface in some character interactions that feel rushed, while later on the more abstract passages can feel indulgent to the point of being filler. Impenetrable though it may become, you have to be impressed with the fact Wheatley has wrangled together such a crazy movie amidst creatively infertile conditions.

It’s what he manages to pull off with setting and atmosphere that leaves a bruising mark and that serves as the best distraction from the film’s financial limitations and, quite frankly, the barriers to comprehension it tends to build, particularly towards the end. A stone monolith with a perfect hole in the middle watches over all. You’ll spend almost the entire movie trying to get in its good graces so that it may allow you to understand what the frikk it is. The table-setting (and plain old setting) is reminiscent of Annihilation (2018) but this time the foolish entrants aren’t loaded with pistols and rifles and thingies that explode. Nope, just backpacks and research materials. And, as with so many characters in this kind of story, plenty of arrogance.

Stripped of the basic comfort of likable protagonists — they’re not unlikable per se, but hard to get a read on — In the Earth is a trippy, gory and at times perverse horror that follows a scientist and a park ranger into a forest laced with threats, some natural and others inexplicable — a surreal and dangerous ecosystem with its own rules, its own creepy mythology and maybe even its own agenda. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) arrives at a lodge that’s been converted to a research facility on the edge of a dense forest just outside Bristol, England. He’s here to check in on a colleague and former lover, a Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires), who hasn’t been seen or heard from in months.

Upon arrival he’s whisked through a rather serious sanitization procedure and meets a few researchers hanging about the place, all of whom seem physically and mentally worn down. Martin is to make a two-day trek to her research base deep in the woods, accompanied by experienced park guide Alma (Ellora Torchia). With all his focus on rescuing Wendle, he has no time to really care about the strange painting on the wall of the lodge, a depiction of an apparent woodland creature known around these parts as Parnag Fegg. That’s nice. It’s just cool artwork though, right?

The journey starts off with a bad omen as Martin confesses with annoying nonchalance to a lack of fitness and experience roughing it. Then a midnight assault in which both campers lose all essential equipment, including shoes, forcing them to continue barefoot. (Does this style of hiking ever end well?) Eventually they cross paths with a grizzled loner (Reece Shearsmith) who after a tense standoff introduces himself as Zach and offers to help and heal. It is at this point your brain might recall that early childhood lesson: Do not drink the mushroom milk offered by strange men in the woods.

All of this, including the unholy and stomach-churning sequence that soon follows, remains predictable for a horror flick buried deep in the deciduous. Especially when you have nervous doctors back at the lodge foreshadowing the shit out of people’s tendencies to get “a bit funny” in the woods. On another level, for those better traveled in Wheatley’s exotic and weird brand of filmmaking you know the film is, sooner or later, going to walk off a cliff.

Avoiding of course the literal precipice, In the Earth frustratingly descends into an edit-fest, assaulting you with aural and visual menace in massively churned-up chunks of footage that feel pieced together from the weirdest acid trip you could possibly have. Dissonant sound overwhelms while strobing lights penetrate the eyeball like knives. Encroaching fog presents a terrifying new challenge while the stone monolith continues to breathe and sigh. The final act is something to behold, if not quite believed or even understood. Like the film overall, it becomes something to admire rather than enjoy.

Stoned out of your mind

Moral of the Story: Though appearing to be set in a time similar to our present miserable reality, this appears to me to be as much a movie about man’s relationship with nature as it is one about man and virus. Far from a crowd-pleasing good time, In the Earth is a novelty horror for the more adventurous. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Let me guide you out of the woods.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; www.movieinsider.com 

The Lighthouse

Release: Friday, October 18, 2019

→Theater

Written by: Max Eggers; Robert Eggers

Directed by: Robert Eggers

In 2016 Robert Eggers transitioned from production designer to director. Even then it was clear he was a filmmaker with uncommon confidence and intelligence, concocting a truly unsettling period piece in the supernatural horror The Witch. His experiences designing the look and feel of a variety of short films served him well in a feature-length format and he combined his obsessive attention to historical detail with a command over story and performance to produce one of the year’s most discussed and divisive films and one of my favorites.

Very loosely based on a real-life tragedy Eggers’ second feature film The Lighthouse is uncompromisingly strange but also a beautiful synthesis of technical elements, committed performance and mind-bending mystery. It is time we start having conversations about him being among the most distinct directors working today. Harkening to early sound pictures of the late ’20s and early ’30s the movie is shot in stark black-and-white and framed in a near-perfect square (1.19:1) aspect ratio and relies as much on its unique presentation style as it does some wicked narrative sleight of hand.

The story is written by the director and his brother Max. It’s a fairly simple conceit — a tale of possession and/or chronic cabin fever; of lonely men succumbing to their baser instincts before falling apart completely as much darker forces take hold. In playing with increasingly unreliable perspectives the screenplay spins out a web of unexpected complexity, a descent into psychosis that’s evoked by arguably career-best turns from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. They play adversarial lightkeepers running on dwindling supplies of alcohol and sanity when their four-week station on a remote island gets prolonged indefinitely after a bad storm hits.

Set in 1890 The Lighthouse is a period piece that slowly evolves into a fever dream that draws upon Herman Melville with pinches of H.P. Lovecraft. As such, the production is even more reliant upon visual technique and precision-tooled editing than Eggers’ previous throwback to primitive living. The camerawork becomes freakishly kaleidoscopic as time goes on. The visual language is arguably more important than the actual dialogue, which often comes across as prosaic babble delivered in foreign tongues — especially when the characters get epically liquored up.

The deeper we go the more Eggers seduces with his technical prowess, introducing more flash-cuts, more jarring juxtaposition and emphasizing the ornate, brass and wind-instrument-heavy sound design — both ominous and period-accurate — to encourage the vicarious feeling of losing your mind. That damn foghorn! Haunting hallucinations (or are they?) obscure what’s real from what’s imagined: Anatomically correct mermaids (Valeriia Karaman) and tentacled monsters derived from some depraved fantasy serve just as well as the basis of my own personal, ongoing nightmares.

While you could certainly write essays on the specific design of the movie, The Lighthouse owes no small thanks to the thunderous performances. Pattinson’s stock just keeps rising, here playing a young man with lots of buried secrets. Ephraim Winslow is a former lumberjack now learning the “wickie” trade who claims he’s attempting to make a fresh start. He’s sentenced to the most unpleasant, physically taxing duties in the daytime all while contending with some pesky seagulls who just won’t leave him be. Dafoe essays another iconic role in Thomas Wake, a cranky sailor with a penchant for cryptic messaging; an old fart who gets his jollies criticizing the young lad, barking orders and engaging in some weird behavior during his night shifts. He has, for example, an affinity for stripping naked at the top of the lighthouse, enrapt by something the light provides beyond warmth.

Though it is a rather bewildering journey, one that ends in an insanely dark place, the tension — at least, for the moments when Eggers and company might still have been sane — rides on some amusingly relatable dynamics. There’s a passage around the midway point that plays out like Animal House stuck in the 19th Century — aye, pre-plumbing, pre-electricity, pre-a-lot-of-damn-comfort. We all grit teeth at our roommates for their worst habits but because this is a Robert Eggers movie, everything is elevated to extremes.

As the weeks pass, initial tensions give way to a mutual respect for one another’s specific code of conduct. A night of drunken revelry suggests the two may have more in common than they previously thought. When an inevitable act of rage triggers a second storm, a tempest of fear, distrust and contempt to rival the whipping winds and salt-lathered waves threatening to sweep the men to the briny deep, it seems everything is conspiring against their best efforts to coexist. The actors play off each other with such ferocity, Dafoe and Pattinson seemingly intoxicated by one another’s manic energy and feeding off of unique and reportedly exhausting work conditions.

Crucial to Eggers’ brand of storytelling is setting and how he manipulates the natural to turn something entirely unnatural and yet chillingly authentic — not to mention uncomfortable, and not just for us in cushy recliner seats taking in some seriously disturbing imagery and deranged behavior. As The Lighthouse was filmed on location budgetary constraints weren’t really the issue but rather being able to endure what Mother Nature threw at the cast and crew. They not only endured, but used foul weather to further enhance the exhibition of suffering in the space of the movie. Over a month-long shoot a series of nor’easters blasted the small fishing community of Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia. For a particular scene Pattinson had to wade into the freezing sea more than 20 times as cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who also shot The Witch) battled with lenses overcome with fog. Reminiscent of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s The Revenant the actual misery bleeds into the fabric of the movie itself.

With The Lighthouse Eggers proves that his Puritanical nightmare was no flash in the pan. It also proves the then-33-year-old had room to improve. His sophomore feature is simply spectacular. How early is too early to label someone an auteur? Perhaps two films in to a directorial career is premature. It might be a good idea to hold off on that before seeing what he does with The Northman, a tale of revenge set in the 10th Century, involving Icelandic Vikings. I have to be completely honest though, I’m predisposed to loving what he does next and it’s barely in its pre-production stages. What makes me so excited is how this man clings to his vision like few filmmakers currently working. He creates experiences that are the epitome of what cinema is: getting lost while sitting in one place, stolen to somewhere else that’s both right in front of you and deep in your head.

Welp, honeymoon’s officially over

Recommendation: The movie to beat this year for me, The Lighthouse is an even greater achievement from rising talent Robert Eggers. The cumulative weirdness slowly frays the mind, morphing into something it wants to forget but won’t be able to. It was met with near-universal critical acclaim during the film festival circuit earlier this year, and deserves those plaudits. It’s an experience unlike anything you’ll have this or any other year. However I won’t hesitate to throw in the caveat that this old, creaky seafarer’s yarn is not for the mainstream crowd. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here seeking rational explanation.

Rated: R

Running Time: 109 mins.

Quoted: “Damn ye! Let Neptune strike ye dead Winslow! HAAARK!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Hacksaw Ridge

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster

Release: Friday, November 4, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Andrew Knight; Robert Schenkkan

Directed by: Mel Gibson

Unlike the hero at the heart of Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in a decade I went into battle fully protected by a weapon: my overactive imagination. Turns out, psychological preparation is kind of necessary as you enter the gauntlet of Hacksaw Ridge‘s final hour. Things become real, and in a hurry. Of course there is violence and gore characteristic of war films but this is Mel Gibson we’re talking about.

But this is also the Mel Gibson I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. In spite of the way he once again seems to enjoy flagellating audiences with punishing sequences of human cruelty Hacksaw Ridge ultimately is worth the toiling. The paradoxical sense of uplift we feel in the moments where we are also suffering the most makes his return to filmmaking a welcomed one. I was so moved by this I couldn’t help but applaud during the credits. Meanwhile everyone else quietly filtered out. Did I feel awkward? Yes. Yes I did. But it was still the right thing to do.

Desmond Doss (portrayed by Andrew Garfield in one of the most sensational performances of the year) felt a tremendous sense of moral obligation — a sense of doing what is right not just for himself but for his country — when he enlisted as a medic in World War II. Hailing from a humble community tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Doss became the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor after pulling 75 men off of Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest confrontations in the Pacific Theater. A devout Christian whose violent upbringing at the hands of his alcoholic, war-scarred father irrevocably changed him, Doss’ enlisting became the stuff of legend when he told his commanding officers the Sixth Commandment forbade him from lifting a weapon; that he could serve his country by saving lives as opposed to taking them.

Hacksaw Ridge is somewhat a tale of two halves — one is noticeably stronger than the other and unsurprisingly the drama genuinely becomes compelling in the latter half, when we dive headlong into hell with Private Doss, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and a company of men who haven’t exactly taken a shine to the Bible-thumping pacifist. Like the brave men who took to the cargo net for the Ridge, Gibson’s cameras charge into battle with a gusto that’s immediately met with some of the most grisly war action you’re likely to ever see. It’s a breathless, chaotic and disturbingly realistic account of the bloody affront to the Japanese who were slowly losing control of the island, despite heavy losses on the American side.

While the film that precedes the fight itself feels much more compressed — particularly the budding romance between Doss and the nurse he meets at the town hospital where he decides he will donate blood, the beautiful Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer) — there’s enough there to build a foundation for empathy. Perhaps this is a convenient time to forgive a film for being so contrived, but Palmer and Garfield’s chemistry feels appropriately based more upon a certain Look and Feel — both actors look of the era and their sweet romance feels unpretentious, genuine. They’re wonderful together. And while their passion for each other is palpable it’s more about the way the soldier was raised that offers the most compelling angle.

Gibson zeros in on two pivotal moments in Doss’ childhood — moments that, aside from his unwavering devotion to God, inform almost every decision he makes as an adult. One is an early scene in which Desmond and his younger brother Hal get into a play fight that turns ugly when the former smacks his brother in the head with a brick in an attempt to claim victory. Young Desmond, haunted by the fact he could have killed Hal, instead of taking a long hard look in the mirror takes a long hard look at a picture on their living room wall, a list of the Ten Commandments in a moment of silent and sincere repentance. Then, later, Doss finds himself stepping in between his father (a heartbreakingly good Hugo Weaving) and mother (Rachel Griffiths) during yet another bout of domestic violence. A pistol becomes involved. Plagued by his experiences in World War I, Tom Doss embodies the soul-crushing effects of survivor’s remorse. Desmond seems to take more after his mother, who is a strong and positive influence, despite her suffering at the hands of an unstable husband.

There’s an argument to be made against Gibson injecting blood and violence into almost every possible scene — did we need to see the needle pierce the skin? Ditto the leg injury sustained by the local mechanic, did we really need that? Words like gratuitous, self-indulgent and perverse frequently have popped up, but I’d wager this grim foreshadowing is actually not only creatively inspired but it helps prepare the viewer mentally as we leave behind the quaint Virginian town and journey out onto a smoky battlefield. Those spurts of violence are perpetuated as Doss’ idealism is met with hostility by his fellow soldiers and his commanding officers at boot camp. Watching him getting harassed unmerciful isn’t exactly pleasant.

In fact much of Hacksaw Ridge is far from comfortable viewing. As it should be. Gibson brings the horrors of war, and particularly this violent confrontation to life in a stunningly authentic and emotionally robust portrait. His first film in 10 years reminds us what made him a compelling filmmaker: his passionate touch, his ability to channel emotion through the lens, his eye for the beautiful as well as the barbaric. Amidst the loss of life there grows a flower. Doss’ heroic actions deserve to be celebrated and it would be something of a disservice not to show us precisely what kind of odds he was up against. What a powerful story.

luke-bracey-and-andrew-garfield-in-hacksaw-ridge

Recommendation: As both a tribute to a real war hero and a bloody depiction of war, Hacksaw Ridge manifests as one of the most punishing but ultimately rewarding film experiences of the year. The emotional and visual components match up favorably with Steven Spielberg’s seminal war film Saving Private Ryan, though I personally stop short of saying it tops that epic. I just have to recommend you bear down and watch this one. It’s an important film and a remarkable true story of courage and remaining true to one’s self.

Rated: R

Running Time: 131 mins.

Quoted: “Lord, help me get one more. One more.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Baskin

'Baskin' movie poster

Release: Friday, March 25, 2016 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Can Evrenol; Ogulcan Eren Akay; Cem Ozuduru; Ercin Sadikoglu

Directed by: Can Evrenol


This review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. It’s another underground foreign film that I have heard few, but interesting, things about and I’d like to thank James for the opportunity to talk about it.


Eye-gougings. Keyholes in foreheads. Buckets of frogs and portals to Hell. Welcome to the mad, blood-soaked world of Baskin, the debut feature from Can Evrenol, one of only eight Turkish films ever to receive distribution in North America. If you want the truth, there’s no good way to prepare yourself for the craziness that awaits once you decide to enter, and given its incredibly nasty conclusion, perhaps only the most ardent of gore hounds will emerge unscathed from the visceral stylings of this extended version of Evrenol’s 2013 short film of the same name.

Baskin (Turkish for “police raid”) centers around a squad called upon for back-up at a remote location where they encounter a scene so shocking it puts even the most heinous of FBI and DEA crime scenes to shame, a blood-splattered dungeon inhabited by the film’s big bad, a satanic cult leader referred to as Father Baba (Mehmet Cerrahoglu, whose rare skin condition mostly affords the character his creepiness). This nameless pit is an infinitely grim place where torture and misery run rampant and to which the majority of the production budget was clearly funneled. Unfortunately it’s also one of the only bright spots in a film constantly drowning in its own mess.

Thematically, it’s tough to get a sense of what Evrenol is trying to convey here. (Satanic cults are hazardous to your health; try to stay away from them, mmmmmkay?) Overt religious imagery does not on its own constitute thematic depth or innovation. Granted, not every horror flick has an obligation to deliver the goods in symbolic fashion, but if they have any interest in staying competitive, they must then rely much more heavily upon the novelty of the story being told, not to mention whatever evil lurks in the shadows. In the case of Baskin, the story’s not quite solid enough to justify the work we have to put in to make sense of what’s going on. As for the villain? More on that later.

One of the cops in this group is the young Arda (Gorkem Kasal), who to this day struggles to overcome haunting memories from his childhood. He possesses some kind of telepathic ability that’s never properly explained, giving Evrenol free range to implement extremely interruptive flashbacks that kill the momentum being built in the present. If it’s Arda’s perspective from which we’re meant to derive any meaning here, it’s not established enough to make any impact. If we’re meant to be watching this all play out from the otherwise omniscient camera angles, those aren’t employed effectively enough either. In short, we’re left with a confused point of view that doesn’t improve even when we descend into what appear to be the bowels of the Underworld.

If there’s one thing Baskin excels at it’s shock value. The violence is so great so as to threaten comedy, but fortunately it stays on just the right side of exploitative. Torture never descends into parody, though it’s so nasty you’re desperate to force out a fake chuckle or two. At the heart of the evil is Cerrahoglu’s hooded Father figure, a vile creature who explains to his captives that Hell isn’t necessarily some place you go to. It’s “something you carry with you” at all times. Father Baba is an unequivocal nightmare, one of the more original-looking and genuinely terrifying villains in recent memory. James Wan may conjure up some good scares in his haunted houses but he could learn a thing or two about creating truly nasty baddies.

Indeed, if there’s any real takeaway from the chaos that becomes Baskin‘s slide into total depravity it’s that first-time actor Cerrahoglu has a promising future, should he decide to pursue acting further. He makes for a truly unsettling presence in a film that struggles to create much in the way of suspense and intrigue. There are some interesting ideas at play, including telepathy, but none of it is capitalized on with a story that prefers ambiguity over logic and coherence.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.24.36 PM

Recommendation: Baskin is somewhat of an extreme film, though comparisons to contemporary boundary-pushers like Gaspar Noé and Tom Six might be in themselves extreme. Can Evrenol’s film certainly can be looked at as a depressing, nihilistic work and its denouement gives viewers the same sense of hopelessness that John Carpenter’s The Thing gave audiences decades ago. Though this is neither body horror nor the kind of dread-inducing cauldron that Carpenter’s picture has been cemented in history as, nor is it quite as gross as Human Centipede, Baskin sits somewhere in the middle — a purgatory of nastiness that is likely going to struggle to find a fanbase. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 97 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

new-tbt-logo

In trying to keep with a theme for this month’s batch of TBT’s, I have failed. 😦 I kind of put myself in a bad spot by opening the month (and the year) with Arnie’s disastrous adventure involving Armageddon in End of Days, a film I didn’t really feel comfortable with “associating” with any others as it’s just so poorly made. Unless I wanted a month of movies that fell well below their potentials I would have to go with some randoms for January. With that in mind, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and explore 

Today’s food for thought: Saving Private Ryan.

saving-private-ryan

Storming Normandy since: July 24, 1998

[DVD]

Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus is one of those films you can recall precisely where you were when you first watched it. For me, that was crammed into a small bedroom in Columbus, Ohio on a road trip me and a high school friend took in the fall of 2003. He had suggested watching it since he had never seen it, and up until that point I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic over putting myself through something I had heard was so grisly violent. Finally, on the last night of being in town, we slipped the disc into the DVD player.

I’m not sure how many I’m talking to here when I say that if you are anything like I was, reluctant, you have good reason to be if you have yet to experience Saving Private Ryan, particularly the opening half hour. More akin to a form of psychological boot camp designed to test viewers’ resolve than just another confronting scene of blood and gore, the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy beach cements the film as essential viewing. The reality of war has never manifested as a nightmare so uniquely absurd, what with bodies being engulfed in walls of fire only to emerge as liquefied flesh.

Grenades rendering the very unlucky without a face.

That boy crying out for his mama.

Good thing film can’t tap into our sense of smell and taste; although there comes a point where the blood becomes so much its coppery taste is palpable. It’s also ironic: while wartime violence is something no one should ever witness, this harrowing sequence is history no one can afford to ignore.

After I had made it through this part and the room had righted itself again — I sometimes get the feeling the room is turning sideways whenever I get very uncomfortable in my seat — I felt uplifted, as though I had just achieved something. At the same time I felt callousness as I had this sense that whatever would pass by my eyes next would not be as severe as . . . well, that. There would be continued loss of life and likely there’d be other confronting passages — goodbye, Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) — but I knew even then that Spielberg had crafted something unique once Tom Hanks and his band of brothers gained the hill and bunkers and managed to regroup.

Saving Private Ryan is a title that explains itself but for the sake of coloring the picture: Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is unaware that his three other brothers have all been killed in battle over the last week, and it is now up to Hanks’ Captain Miller and his company (which is comprised of several names that would later become major players in the entertainment biz, including Vin Diesel) to track him down and ensure his safe return to the States. There’s a tension that somewhat dissipates once we’re off the beach, a transition some have misconstrued as the film losing its strength. That may be true, but only insofar as the opening scenes possess a power that no film can really maintain. Spielberg wasn’t setting out to be masochistic in his choices, nor did he have intentions of frustrating those expecting the bloodletting to continue for two full hours uninterrupted. In his orchestration of the D-Day landing, yes we suffer. And audiences suffer a lot in this sweeping chronicle, but not for nothing.

After the bunkers the narrative distinctly shifts gears, for we move behind enemy lines with Miller et al as they forge ahead through wastelands created by aerial bombings and the crushing weight of Nazi tanks and troops. We escape pervasive, shocking violence but move into a realm that’s arguably more disturbing; the aftermath of war upon civilization. The mission proper gets underway and we move through towns that now bare more of a resemblance to the surface of the moon than anything on Earth, searching for a needle in a gigantic, blood-soaked haystack. Spielberg scatters all kinds of present danger across a steadily sprawling map. From hair-raising sniper shoot-outs to savage hand-to-hand combat in abandoned homes the brutality of war manifests itself in far more personal ways.

The violence doesn’t go away because you . . . excuse me, I . . . wanted it to. Because you want the room to stop spinning like crazy. Because you feel ill. All of these things are symptoms of a person who either watches films too seriously (probably true) or effects of a director whose vision refuses to be compromised. The notion that something has been banned in several countries based on realistic depictions of wartime violence and not because it features a lot of graphic sex scenes necessarily places the film on a short list of extremely disturbing films that are remarkably without great controversy. Rightfully so. Steven Spielberg’s film, though difficult to watch and of the variety that’s good to watch once and be done with, is a cinematic landmark, and quite possibly the standard to which all war films are going to forever be held. Even the ones that have preceded it.

Not that any of this was my immediate impression having randomly thrown this on on a crappy tube-TV in Ohio. It would take me years to comprehend the depravity of its violence, and for me to appreciate how hard it is for a filmmaker to recreate such atrocities with such an unflinching eye, an urgency to tell it like it is.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don't. I hope I am not alone.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don’t. I hope I am not alone.

5-0Recommendation: Far from comfortable, Saving Private Ryan is compulsory viewing. An extraordinary achievement in practical special effects and committed storytelling. A powerful vision of the sheer scale and desperation of the D-Day invasion (thanks goes to Mr. Alan Turing for his helping Britain decipher the German Enigma code so they’d know where to invade and when). An altogether unforgettable experience. For all these reasons and quite a few more, you should commit yourself to this film if you have not already. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 169 mins.

TBTrivia: In the German-dubbed version of the movie, one of the actors, himself a German veteran of the Normandy invasion, couldn’t deal with the emotional realism of the film and dropped out and had to be replaced.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviezmag.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Purge: Anarchy

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014

[Theater]

The Purge: Anarchy offers you yet another chance to let it all out with a second blood-splattering of twisted social commentary.

Instead of running around blindly inside a house defending ourselves from masked invaders as we had done only last summer with the Sandins, now we band together with several nondescript characters in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. It’s the year 2023 and the sixth annual purge is set to commence. Get your shotguns ready, kiddies.

There was so much lost in the transfer of The Purge from script to screen. This grisly thriller was so ineffective in selling its audiences that a sequel became necessary as if to say, “Oh yeah! Wait. Here’s what we meant.” Though the acting isn’t much of an improvement, getting out of the house has proven to be the healthiest thing for this possible franchise-in-the-making.

One of the great missteps made by DeMonaco and company last year was stunting the growth of some of the admittedly intriguing concepts, about how one man’s choice to kill a fellow human being would invariably differ from the man standing to his left or his right. Or about how class struggles between the very wealthy and the destitute could make the choice to murder a much easier, and possibly even an economical one. What The Purge boiled down to was a luke-warm home invasion procedure, where audiences were relegated to surviving jump scares and a few squirts of blood as forms of entertainment.

The Purge: Anarchy actually stumbles just as much as its predecessor, almost as if it were stabbed in the gut, but the novelty of this evening and the concept manifest themselves in more convincing ways this time around. There’s more to focus on here. More by which to become distracted from the cheesy dialogue and over-acting. Rather than running into dead ends and hallway doors every ten minutes, DeMonaco’s new script presents more characters, more creative kills and more ethical dilemmas to mix up the tension, the violence and the surprises in a much more engaging way that The Purge simply wasn’t able to. Instead of centering around an average family that failed to really gain our sympathy, even as they were being invaded on this horrible night, we now become drawn into a cauldron of desperation and panic via three different walks of life.

We are firstly introduced to a mother-daughter dynamic between a woman who works in a diner, Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her daughter, Cali (Zoe Soul). Eva’s working hard to earn a raise so she’ll be able to afford her father’s medicine, medicine that’s apparently not having much of an impact on whatever his ailment is. The second perspective comes in the form of a young couple fallen on hard times and actually considering separating soon — Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez portray Shane and Liz who are driving to a safe place before the commencement of the purge before they predictably break down in an unsafe part of town. Then, of course, we get the requisite battle-hardened man, a man who knows what real loss feels like. Frank Grillo seems somewhat suited for the job and is Anarchy‘s most interesting character by a long shot.

He’s relatively boring still. And a bad cliché at that. This is to suggest the rest of the ensemble are completely stock characters, and they are. There’s not a single trait among the four others that rings the bell of originality, and oftentimes many of them are completely frustrating. Cali’s infatuation with Sergeant is most vividly irritating, though the dynamic between them is not as bad, ironically, as the one between her and her on-screen mother.

But we’re not here to scrutinize every last performance. To do so in Anarchy would render this review a rant, for at least The Purge had Ethan Hawke. It wasted Ethan Hawke, but it did have him in it. Maybe it ought to be considered a consolation prize being dubbed a waste in these films. Hawke was underused and underwritten in 2013 whereas Grillo has to contend with a thoroughly expressionless and stiff character whose ultimate trajectory is one of complete predictability.

Fortunately, the bloodletting and the overarching narrative that is Anarchy isn’t quite as much. Each group of characters journey through this night in different stages of shock and each have different reactions, which allows for easier access into this world as compared to a snooty family being protected by a modern fortress. Far be it from me to tell the director how to shoot his own work, but this approach to his curious ethical dilemma here is far more interesting and says much more about the human condition than whatever it was that he came up with a year ago.

If you want to remember all the good the purge does, may I recommend you see this film rather than what came before it.

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“O fuck’s sake, this again?”

2-5Recommendation: Though still engorged with its share of narrative flaws, character woes, and thematic tenuity, The Purge: Anarchy is, at the end of the day, a mark of maturity. There are expansions in almost every direction and the most rewarding one is the physical: the setting helps to actually crank up the tension, whereas the home setting in the previous did everything it could to water down what could have been an additionally chilling indictment of a culture increasingly infatuated with violence as a means of self-expression. And I honestly would give the rare recommendation of seeing the second film before the first.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “People like us don’t survive tonight!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Saw (2004)

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Returning to my self-imposed hell by revisiting effective horror films from back in the day, we move onward through October rather painfully. (And of course this month would have FIVE Thursdays in it.) Still, at least today is a film that A) I’m far more familiar with than the previous entry and B) I actually really enjoy, although I don’t go back to it at all anymore. Not even in October. Nope. No siree. However, getting to review today’s film brings back some good memories from freshman year when my good friend Patrick and I, all crammed into those tiny little dorm rooms on campus with nothing but bottles of Captain Morgan and a flimsy DVD player, watched it over and over again. I guess we hadn’t really discovered it much before then. At least I hadn’t seen it until right around that time. Still, it’s a rare “horror” film — okay, more like a torture-porn — that I loved watching time and time again. The twist never got old. Not to me and Patrick. Nope. No siree.

Today’s food for thought: Saw

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 3.52.30 PMRelease: October 29, 2004

[DVD]

Nothing shouts ‘horror film’ more than shitty lighting, even worse acting. . . and an obvious lack of funding. Faced with all of these realities and more, then-amateur filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell knew that their first stab at horror wouldn’t quite be the typical film festival entry; they also had no idea how much of a sleeper hit they had tucked underneath their armpits at the time, either. Brutal, dark and grotesquely thought-provoking, the pair’s 2004 slasher-slash-psychological thriller rose to cult-status in a hurry after its nationwide debut in theaters, later spawning a run of sequels that’s close to being unprecedented in film history (please keep it up, Fast & Furious!).

I could just as easily create a post about the entire series of Saw films here; but. . . meh. As much as I was swept off my twisted feet with the original, the immediate sequels (2 and 3 are the only ones I’ve seen) I didn’t much care for, and any subsequent releases became so painfully obvious as a marketing gimmick (annual releases around Halloween for seven years straight) that I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence.

The very mention of anything Saw– or Darren Lynn Bousman-related in the years after I witnessed the “first trilogy” conclude pretty much made me ill. The once-brilliant, granted perverted, conceit that was crafted by the Aussies had indeed succumbed to being one of its own tortured, wayward victims, soon to be corpses. A final gasp of breath offered up a 3-D gimmick in 2010. Who wants to see people getting hacked up three different ways to Sunday in such a format — is it more convincing if body parts are actually flying outward at you?

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But seriously, how can anyone enjoy such violent stories? What’s the point?

If you were into horror, 2004 was an exciting time to be accustomed to seeing blood, gore and suffering on the big screen. The arrival of the Jigsaw killer and his ‘games’ marked a new era in filmmaking; granted, the subculture that grew out of this production might be even more cause for concern. It’s a disconcerting thought to have: knowing there are crazed fans for all types of forms of entertainment and the genres within. I wonder what that implies about the die-hards of things of this nature. . . shudder

Nonetheless, this particular film is brilliant, if not rough around the edges, and might be the most polarizing film made in the last decade. Why does one like Saw? Simple. The justification behind the violence. The victims picked in this film supposedly deserve the places to which they are exiled. I suppose depending on your worldview, the number of people “who deserve” any of this will widely vary — either that or your tolerance for humanity’s capacity for erring will completely inhibit your enjoyment of it at all, which would be understandable as well. The whole point of the misery is for the betterment of those suffering; those who are in these traps are meant to survive them and learn from them.

That concept’s a tough sell for a good number of viewers, but clearly Wan, Whannell and company are not concerned about that. And neither are followers of the Saw legacy. Ha! The legacy. What a joke. At least, I’m not concerned about the criticism myself. I can really side with both parties on this movie in all honesty.

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 What’s the deal with the Jigsaw Killer? He’s just a sick man, that’s all. . .

Again, polarizing. I bought into the set-up here, though. The fundamental principles of what this guy was doing in the very beginning (this film is maybe the best example of why sequels to horror films never should be approved) made sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a psycho, though. Please don’t mistake me.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is an enigmatic figure, who, after discovering he has a terminal form of cancer, goes about creating vicious traps to put people he deems “unworthy of the life they are given” into, in an attempt to save them from themselves. One can sit and argue all day whether or not the guy has any right to put people through such trials or to even judge their lives, but then that’s all part of the thread of morality spinning itself through the gory story.

By now, Jigsaw’s one of the more memorable characters ever created in horror and the acting on the part of Tobin Bell is what largely makes the complex character such a satisfying watch. Plus, the way he is introduced into the story is quite possibly one of the most inventive and hair-raising turns ever created in the genre. It’s simply amazing the first time you experience it and seems to remain riveting on each return visit.

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The traps. . .? Can someone explain this to me, this stuff is just messed up. 

This element of these films is probably the most controversial of them all. First of all, it takes something of a warped mind to conceive of such devices from a writing standpoint — so a round of therapy might still be in order for Whannell and Wan at this juncture. But I digress. The traps are the tests for each character, meant to symbolize or reveal that person’s greatest weakness or flaw.

The most classic example revolves around a woman named Amanda, who is kidnapped by Jigsaw and, upon awakening, finds a metal bear-trap-like device on her head. She must remove it in something like a minute or so, or the trap will permanently snap open. In each of the traps (at least, in the original few films that I’ve seen anyway) a television set and a recording of this creepy-as-f**k clown on a tricycle accompanies the victim, which explains to them exactly their predicament and what they need to do in order to escape. The combination of the psychological element associated with the delivery of this information and how they potentially are going to die, along with the sickening originality of their plight has tempted many a horror director to try and incorporate similar extremes into their own repertoire (The Collector/The Collection; The Human Centipede). There may have been some success, but I haven’t much been interested to investigate beyond this one.

All the same, the traps invariably became more complex as the franchise’s budget became more lavish as time went on. As such, it became increasingly difficult to believe that Jigsaw was the man behind all these fancy killings; how does he exactly construct half of these things if his motif has been to build devices out of only items he has in his warehouse?

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4-0Recommendation: Well this most definitely has its devotees and it has its strong opponents. There will be very little to convince either to switch sides; it’s not like playing Red Rover here. Even still, if you haven’t yet exposed yourself to this, and are able to handle gratuitous violence and bloodshed, Saw is worth a watch for the compelling psychological element that lurks in the background. It’s a strong debut effort for the Australians, besides.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Blackfish

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Release: Saturday, January 19, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Somehow, that scene towards the end of Free Willy, where the captive orca soars through the air over Jesse and over the rocky causeway in a single symbolic act of escaping to freedom — yeah, that doesn’t seem so moving anymore having sat through a documentary about the inhumane treatment of dozens more trapped in captivity. Free Willy did have Michael Jackson in its soundtrack, though. That movie definitely had that going for it. . .

However, I’m not here to make comparisons between this film and that one. Such is not the intention of Blackfish, either, a rather unsettling documentary on the subject of orcas (a.k.a. “killer whales”) and how they are treated and how they behave in unnatural, oppressive environments — places that we, the general public, have come to call “theme parks.” In particular, one aquatically-oriented park, SeaWorld, is under investigation here as former trainers come out of the woodwork to explain (more like confess) their time with the company. They detail several disturbing company policies and procedures, often becoming emotional during the interviews; they go on the record with details surrounding the death of one of SeaWorld’s most experienced orca trainers -–Dawn Brancheau — and the surprising lack of an impact that her passing made upon the money-hungry powerhouse.

Interestingly enough, aside from the multitude of trainers not a single SeaWorld employee chose to be interviewed for the film. Are they to blame, though?

This documentary is quite damning: time and again it showcases the company glossing over completely inescapable facts. We see archived footage of real trainers falling victim to attacks from the very orcas they are training. The consistency with which corporate execs attempt to paper over each incident of an orca’s abnormal aggression being taken out on their employees (read: trainers) is simply stunning. Most of the time, as the documentary adequately reveals, these incidents (one of which did indeed result in a death) are explained away as trainer error, and that no incident has ever happened due to the whale being an aggressive mammal. Especially because they’re closely-monitored when cooped up in a concrete pool. Yeah, right.

Even more fascinatingly, Blackfish demonstrates the behavioral changes many (if not all) orcas presented in this story display as they get plucked out of the open oceans and dropped into what are essentially fish tanks in which they will perform stunts and tricks for the rest of their lives. Think of it like a freshman mixer, except everyone there is pretty damn hostile, and whose egos are much too big to share a room with others.

Never before did I, personally, view these exhibitions as much more than kitschy, relatively harmless avenues to seek family entertainment, but the film unveils a much more grisly, troubling reality lurking under the surface. I won’t venture to say that it reveals the true nature of humankind as such, but it certainly reveals the true nature of the business mentality. It’s alarming at best, and this is where the film really becomes brilliant.

One of the ways in which it’s so effective and engaging is the psychology behind the documenting of facts itself. There’s a certain level of trepidation you are likely to experience throughout: and that is, whether you should feel guilty about what humans have done (and continue to do) with these majestic mammals, or if you should feel terrible for those trainers who risked (and sometimes sacrificed) their lives to working with them in these kinds of environments. The complex truth behind it all is that you probably should feel both.

We get swept up in the story of Tilikum, SeaWorld’s largest orca whale — at 12, 000 pounds, he’s described as twice as large as the next largest mammal SeaWorld currently has to offer in their Orlando park, and his story is the most tragic note struck upon in the film. This particular orca has killed three trainers, two of which were SeaWorld employees, and the third an employee of Sealand of the Pacific (consider it to be a ghetto version of SeaWorld, with even more deplorable conditions for the whales) since being separated from his mother and natural habitat and thrust into the corporate trading game of what are now deemed valuable investments for a variety of parks to consider obtaining. These beasts may be exhilarating to see in real life, up-close. . . and behind railings — but the real question is, at what cost are those ticket purchases to go see Shamu. . . or Tilikum, truly worth? Human lives? The psychological torment of our fellow mammals? Shouldn’t it be more captivating (for the lack of a better word. . .) to see them roaming in their natural habitat, spontaneously existing?

This remarkable film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, addresses all of these concerns, plus a myriad of others. It’s well worth everyone’s time to see Blackfish, troubling as it may be.

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4-5Recommendation: Speaking from a point of view from someone who’s not an animal rights activist (though I am in no way against them), this film you must absolutely see. Rent, download (I’ll even turn a blind eye to illegal downloads if that’s the way you’re going to be able to access this) — you have to get your hands on this film. It is not only well-crafted, but the subject matter is potent, both emotionally and spiritually. You’ll fall in love with a few non-human characters you may not have known much about otherwise. That’s about the bare minimum of the experience you’re going to get when sitting down to watch this one.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 80 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com