Hurricane

hurricane-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 (Vimeo)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Christiano Dias

Directed by: Christiano Dias


This short film review is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A tip of the hat to James, who runs the show over there.


Hurricane is the brand new film from Christiano Dias, an experienced short film director who has managed to fit 20 writer-director credits under his belt in the span of a decade. His latest puts a humorous spin on anti-Communist sentiments running rampant in 1950s America.

It tells a darkly comic tale of a couple, Oslo (Corey Page) and Eva Alduars (Lisa Roumain), experiencing some strange happenings during the course of dinner. A tense argument over the meal soon focuses on the radio they have playing in the background, which crackles in and out before eventually going silent. It reminds Oslo of a similar incident that apparently happened at a neighbor’s house, in which a man had discovered a wiretapping device inside his radio. Supposedly that same man had disappeared from the area not long after that. Oslo suspects the Commies got him.

Moments later, a knock at the door. A boy introduces himself as Benjamin Shaw (David Jay), and appears to be selling newspaper subscriptions. But something just doesn’t add up. Oslo begins to think the timing of these events is no coincidence. Meanwhile, a storm closes in on the house outside. Dias challenges us to consider all of the possibilities here, including what seems most unlikely.

What’s most apparent with Hurricane are the production values. Crisp colors and retro shapes and objects transport you back into the Cold War era, a physical sense of time and place conjured from wisely chosen props and set decor, not least of which is that pesky radio — virtually a character unto itself. Thick curtains drawn across large windows occupy considerable space within the frame, a not-so-subtle nod to the Red Scare.

It’s not just visual cues that tip us off, either. There’s a lot of strong eye-acting going on here, whether it’s an accusatory stare from over the top of Oslo’s glasses or the intense look of irritation, borderline anger, in Eva’s. Watch as the look turns from one of disgust to concern as she watches the man steadily come undone. The period details even is evident in the tones of voices used, the cadence with which the characters speak. Paying attention to these little nuances is more important than to the acting itself, which can be pretty shaky.

Those details add up to a unique and at times disconcerting experience that plays with notions of how paranoia and mistrust can lead us to make poor decisions and act irrationally. The set-up is simple but effective, making for a short film that I really kind of have to recommend.

Recommendation: An interesting take on the atmosphere of paranoia, fear and mistrust in the years leading up to and certainly including the Cold War. Juggles comedy with dramatic beats pretty effectively, even if the acting is at times a bit shaky. On the whole, though, these are 14 minutes very well spent. I enjoyed the strangeness of it all and this makes me really want to check out more of Dias’ work. An easy recommendation to make. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 14 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . .]

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Photo credits: http://www.screencritix.com; http://www.vimeo.com

Hell-Bent

'Hell-Bent' movie poster

Release: Monday, May 23, 2016 (YouTube)

[YouTube]

Written by: Shayne Kamat; Lorenzo Cabello

Directed by: Foster Vernon


The following piece is my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. Thank you James for giving me the chance to talk about this new film student production.


Hell-Bent is clearly the product of film student passion and represents something of an experimental comedy, one that unfortunately becomes too silly for its own good and struggles to justify the half-hour runtime.

The premise is nothing if not inventive. It involves a writer named Michael (Justin Andrew Davis) working at a fictional magazine called Brimstone and who is struggling to find confidence in himself. When the editor makes available an assistant editor position Michael finds himself in a cutthroat competition with his fellow writers, namely the overconfident and unnecessarily bitchy Beth (Ashley Kelly) to get a pay raise. Goodness knows it’d make paying the rent easier for Michael.

He does a little poking around for any local stories of interest and quickly finds one. Turns out, the older lady who works with them has a pretty interesting private life. When he goes over to her house one day he discovers a pentagram drawn on her basement floor. Agatha (Leslie Lynn Meeker) casually explains this is where she summons up a demon whenever she needs some company. She demonstrates, speaking gibberish until actor Steven Trolinger, painted head-to-toe in red paint, pops up out of nowhere. He’s Ricky, and he’s evil. We know this because he has a really foul mouth and likes being a nuisance.

At first Michael is terrified but soon realizes he has the perfect idea for his next article. He’ll write about the “good in evil” that he’s found, and will go into detail about how one of Brimstone Magazine’s own has made a pact to be homies with the Darkness. Meanwhile, Beth is on an office tear and making fun of everyone else’s attempts to come up with their best story. It’s a matter of time before she publicly decries Michael’s story as garbage, too.

That she’s supremely confident the promotion is already hers leaves one wondering whether the overacting is an indictment of people in the industry or that it’s showing certain people just seem like they were born to go to hell (also see: Timothy J. Cox as the douche-mitten of an editor Mr. Bowers). The script may not exactly be subtle but it’s still not really clear which it is. Oh well, let’s just agree that everyone at work seems to suck; that Michael’s only real friends seem to be a woman who is friends with some of Satan’s crew and that the paint splattered on Ricky is pretty sloppy. (We can see it’s in his hair.)

Hell-Bent is written, edited and lensed by Fairleigh Dickinson University film student Shayne Kamat. Direction is provided by newcomer Foster Vernon. The whole enterprise has a loose comedic dynamic to it that helps us overlook the amateurish execution of plot and some cringe-inducing acting. It’s the kind of fun you have to take lightly and not think twice about, because the second thought will invariably draw attention to the limitations that a virtually nonexistent budget, one largely generated by the filmmakers’ IndieGogo fundraising campaign, ensures.

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Recommendation: Hell-Bent is a strange experiment designed to parody genre features centered around the occult but it’s not very successful. It’s a short film that doesn’t have much of an identity but given the lack of experience both in front of and behind the camera, I can forgive it a little easier. Motivational and inspiring enough for students who are figuring out just what it is they want to with their careers but not much else.  

Rated: NR

Running Time: 26 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . . ]

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

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

In a Time For Sleep

'In a Time for Sleep'

Release: Tuesday, May 10, 2016

[Vimeo]

Written by: Tofiq Rzayev; Mehmet Fatih Güven

Directed by: Tofiq Rzayev


This marks yet another collaboration I’ve had as part of the writing staff over at Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. A shout-out to James for passing the word on to me about this short film.


In a Time for Sleep uses a simple but wholly unexpected act of violence as an allegory for the frustration felt by women of Turkey — and many other nations besides — who remain quagmired in oppressive laws and archaic customs that to this day refuse to embrace western concepts such as gender equality.

Freedom, be it from abusive relationships — which is how one might literally interpret the result of the quarrel that opens the film — or from oppressive regimes, is a key theme, as is rebirth and spiritual enlightenment, the latter at least in terms of a person discovering inner strength they never knew they had; if they’re to be measured purely by their ability to endure. Admittedly, these themes aren’t exactly subtle; then again, there isn’t much room within the confines of 15 minutes for nuance.

An intense argument at what is meant to be an anniversary dinner sets Leyla (Goknur Danishik) on an entirely new path when she discovers her boyfriend Arda (Mehmet Fatih Güven) has been involved with another woman (Elif Barut) for nearly two years. The woman, who remains nameless, bursts in the front door at a miraculous moment (again, no points deducted due to the aforementioned time constraints) only to stumble into the aftermath. To writer-director Tofiq Rzayev’s credit, events hereafter don’t exactly play out as one might expect.

While the journey itself is never quite the head trip its otherwise beautiful shots of the natural environment, of sunsets and flocks of birds taking on geometric shapes suggest it’s trying to be, In a Time for Sleep has something important to say and there’s no denying it expresses its frustration clearly.

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Recommendation: Capably acted — nothing special, but nothing particularly dubious either — and beautifully shot, In a Time for Sleep passes quickly but not without significance. It’s metaphorical representation of the continued suppression of women’s rights across the globe can’t be ignored, and that’s a credit to virtually all major aspects of this production. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 15 mins.

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

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

World of Tomorrow

World of Tomorrow movie poster

Release: March 31, 2015 (Vimeo)

[Netflix]

Written by: Don Hertzfeldt

Directed by: Don Hertzfeldt


In memory of my mother.


Profundity runs rampant in Don Hertzfeldt’s latest short film, World of Tomorrow. While a departure from his painstakingly hand-drawn catalog, the science behind the science fiction is remarkable in ways that only Hertzfeldt can be remarkable. That is to say, the decision to go digital doesn’t mean he’s abandoning what has made him a unique talent.

World of Tomorrow, as has been the case for many of his works, particularly his penultimate musing on life and death, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, is dense and complex, and quite possibly his most ambitious effort yet, transporting viewers to a screwy little world where technology has afforded humans the ability to preserve their memories in digital reincarnations of themselves in the pretty-distant future, but on the condition they have the financial wherewithal to do so. (Discount time travel seems as dodgy as it sounds.)

Hertzfeldt once again employs a simple narrative vehicle to move across a complex terrain filled with conceptual and visual grandeur. The story features a young girl named Emily who is shown this new digital environment via another version of herself projected some 200 years into the future. The “older” Emily explains the complexities of advanced human technology while the “younger” Emily (or Emily Prime) babbles on about the typical stuff a young child finds fascinating. The relationship almost feels parental.

World of Tomorrow is a gorgeously rendered short, one that incorporates many of Hertzfeldt’s signature designs: wobbly lines, eclectic color schemes, stick figure characters — each contributing to a greater, vastly complex whole. A number of heavy themes are touched upon such as reincarnation, socioeconomic status, the fragility of life and the inevitability and permanence of death — and it’s all captured within a 17-minute running time.

It’s a production that necessitates multiple viewings, if not for the sheer amount of heavy-hitting themes then for its ability to transport the viewer far away from the comfort of their living room and into an entirely new dimension.

World of Tomorrow

Recommendation: Suitably melancholic yet strangely uplifting. World of Tomorrow finds Hertzfeldt once again sculpting a profoundly emotional story out of simple drawings and bizarre visuals. An absolute must-see for anyone who has enjoyed his previous work, and for those who find themselves intrigued by the idea of time travel and whether or not it’s worth the risk(s). 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 17 mins.

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

Photo credits: http://www.thefilmexperience.net; http://www.bettycam.tumblr.com 

A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

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.theguardian.com 

30-for-30: The Day the Series Stopped

Release: Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Netflix]

Directed by: Ryan Fleck

October 17, 1989. Game 3 of the World Series, the Battle of the Bay. It was the Oakland Athletics squaring off against the decidedly more white collar-catering San Francisco Giants. The A’s were up 2-0 in a series they would go on to sweep. On this day in this October the scoreboard was so trivial it may as well have not even existed. Before Game 3 got underway the Bay Area was struck by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake, crippling much of the surrounding area and posing a major safety risk to everyone crammed in to Candlestick Park.

Ryan Fleck, an Oakland native and director of major Hollywood productions such as Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Mississippi Grind, jumps behind the camera to helm a 30 for 30 feature that shines a light on the aftermath of the disaster, a sobering reminder of the significance of sports drama relative to real life occurrences. Fleck’s approach manifests as a collage of footage from the chaotic moments during and after to create an atmosphere of confusion and apprehension, immersing viewers in the very turmoil in which the camera crew and its happenstance subjects found themselves.

The Day the Series Stopped, while lacking the emotional epicenter that has made other episodes in this series truly memorable, offers some unique perspectives from that day. For starters, the event stands as one of the few live broadcasts interrupted by a major natural disaster. Up in the press box we hear (and see) a young Al Michaels, who was calling the game along with former catcher-turned sportscaster Tim McCarver, react to the ‘quake while somehow managing to maintain his professionalism despite the uncertainty now introduced.

Elsewhere, stagehand Benjy Young, who was responsible for maintaining certain parts of the stadium, including the towering stadium light fixtures, happened to be caught in one of the worst places imaginable as the ground turned to mush. He was up on the towers as the ‘quake hit, holding on for dear life as, and these are his words, “the whole thing just jumps forward. I looked down the poles, massive steel columns, just like spaghetti.”

In spite of a few poor judgment calls — the use of a highly distracting, melodramatic soundtrack, and an all-too-brief runtime being the main culprits — Fleck carefully navigates his story through the chaos as he turns cameras to the surrounding Bay Area, where estimated damages were projected north of $5 billion. In total 67 lives were lost and over 3,000 were left injured as fires raged and massive chunks of concrete and rubble were upheaved and distorted. Both sides of the Bay Bridge resembled a child’s toy set mangled in the aftermath of a temper tantrum. Much of the footage, including the havoc that was wreaked upon the Bay Bridge itself, is surreal.

This documentary supports the theory that even the most intense rivalries are trivial when it comes to life or death situations. Both communities came together in this difficult time as they helped one another search for missing family, friends and relatives and lent a hand to rescue efforts. Much of this information is disseminated through interviews with former players from both teams, some of whom are visibly uncomfortable talking about this particular game.

When it was time to play ball ten days later, the atmosphere had changed dramatically. It was less about statistics and records as it was about the simple pleasures of being able to resume play. Life would never be the same again, of course, but it was starting to resemble something close to normal. Even if this Series marked the first sweep of any team in the World Series in more than a decade, the biggest victory was witnessing the two communities overcoming their differences under these remarkable circumstances.

The Day the Series Stopped is a great example of 30 for 30‘s appeal to general interest audiences. Some familiarity with baseball couldn’t hurt, though intimate knowledge of the sport isn’t a requisite for appreciating the magnitude (sorry) of these events. Coming from someone who doesn’t watch baseball, I wish this one could have been given a lengthier run time. I can only imagine what kind of things Fleck couldn’t or didn’t even know to include here.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Recommendation: Offers some interesting perspectives on this chaotic day but unfortunately not enough to make it a truly compelling documentary. Good enough to satiate general fans of sports, and anyone with a knowledge of this rivalry are sure to find this slightly more captivating. Worth a look if you can spare 51 minutes out of your day.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 51 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

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

Photo credits: Google images 

Decades Blogathon – The Taking of Luke McVane (1915)

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Here we go! Welcome to the second entry in the Decades Blogathon, being hosted by myself and Mark from Three Rows Back! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the fifth year of the decade. Mark and I will run a different entry each day (the first can be found on TRB and will be re-blogged here later). It is my great pleasure to feature the first review on DSB, a look at our earliest entry — a 1915 short called The Taking of Luke McVane, coming courtesy of Fritzi Kramer at Movies Silently. Please be sure to check out this place out, you won’t find a more comprehensive site on all things pre-talking pictures! 


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William S. Hart is a wanted man. He’s wanted by the law and he is especially wanted by Mercedes (Enid Markey), a local beauty with a giant crush on our antihero. This early Hart short zips along at a fierce pace until its bloody conclusion.

Some people believe that with very few exceptions, the western film was a genre for kiddies and B actors until mid-century “adult” westerns from Hollywood and the stylish, violent spaghetti westerns of the sixties and seventies.

Of course, the western genre had been used to tell mature and deep stories long before mid-century but many viewers are surprised to learn just how old the western antihero really is. Half a century before Sergio Leone shot a single foot of western footage, William S. Hart was leaving a trail of bodies and destruction across the Wild West.

A lot of early films featured painted sets and stage-inspired artificiality but 1910s audiences were demanding more and more authenticity. When Hart jumped into the movie game in 1914, he already had decades of stage experience under his belt and childhood memories of the west that would inspire the rugged, dusty authenticity of his films.

Just shy of fifty when he became a movie star, Hart was every inch the Victorian and the darkness of the previous century’s entertainment clung to him and infused his motion pictures with a grimness and ruthlessness that often comes as a shocker to modern viewers. Ironically, this very modern darkness made Hart’s films seem unfashionable to Jazz Age audiences, who preferred their cowboys to be affable stuntmen or bold pioneers rather than steely killers.

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In 1914, though, Hart’s assertive characters and authentic settings—not to mention his twin pistols and his one-handed cigarette roll—took movie theaters by storm. No one could get enough of the Good Bad Man and the badder the better. The prime years for Hart were between 1916 and 1920. In 1915, he was still tinkering with his formula and seeing how much wickedness he could get away with on the screen. (Quite a lot, as it turned out.) While critics were soon sniffing at Hart’s stylized brutality, the general public was entranced.

The story of The Taking of Luke McVane opens in a sandy saloon. Luke McVane (William S. Hart, who also directed) is passing through (or, since this is a western, “passin’ through”) and has stopped for a drink and a game of cards. He is spotted by Mercedes (Enid Markey), the “belle of the Chuckawalla Valley,” which is a compliment if I have ever heard one.

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Oh, before we go further, let’s talk a bit about Miss Markey. She may look familiar to you and if you enjoy 1960s TV, you probably have seen her. She is best known as Barney Fife’s landlady in the Up in Barney’s Room episode of the Andy Griffith Show, filmed nearly fifty years after The Taking of Luke McVane. Markey’s other claim to immortality is her title as Tarzan’s very first on-screen Jane. She played the role opposite Elmo Lincoln’s jungle hero in Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

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But back to the movie!

Luke helps Mercedes out when one of her admirers gets a little grabby and Mercedes returns the favor by signaling Luke that his card partner is cheating. Luke shoots the skunk dead (as one does) and escapes just ahead of a lynch mob.

While the mob struggles to get organized, Sheriff Stark (Clifford Smith, Hart’s assistant director) rides off in pursuit of the fugitive. Mercedes see the chaos as a chance to help Luke once again. She takes two horses and, riding one and leading the other, she gallops all over the desert, creating a false trail. Mercedes’ plan works and the posse is hopelessly turned around.

The sheriff’s horse is fresher and he will soon overtake Luke and so our antihero sets up an ambush and shoots the sheriff. (And, no, he does not shoot the deputy.) When Luke approaches the body, he sees that the sheriff is not dead but gravely wounded. Now it’s one thing to gun a fellow down but leaving a wounded man to die under the desert sun is more than Luke can stomach.

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Will Luke save the sheriff? Will Mercedes get her man? Will the mob get their hanging? These are the questions that drive the final act of The Taking of Luke McVane.

One thing I really liked about this film is that the heroine takes an active role in the proceedings. Silent films have an undeserved reputation for containing damsels and the old myth about train tracks still gets trotted out. In fact, silent heroines were a feisty lot and quite often rescued their lovers/families/friends, as is the case here. That being said, Hart’s leading ladies did tend to be on the passive side and so it is fun to see Mercedes make monkeys out of the posse.

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It has sometimes been said that William S. Hart only had one plot and he used it again and again. While this is an enormous oversimplification, most of his best films did share certain story elements. Hart would play a psychotic killer who gets turned to the side of right either by religion, love of a good woman or some crisis of conscience. Then he would set out for revenge against the villains of the piece. His body count would be just as high or higher than it was before his conversion, mind you, he was just more particular about who he killed.

The Taking of Luke McVane can be seen more as an exercise or a dry run rather than a true Hart film. It has a lot of ingredients that Hart would incorporate into his later films but the seams show in a few places. The climax in particular seems tacked on and only included because no one knew how to end the thing. Contrast this to the apocalyptic fury of Hell’s Hinges (1916) in which Hart takes vengeance for a murdered minister and a vandalized church by burning an entire town to ashes.

(Spoilers in this paragraph) What The Taking of Luke McVane does have on its side is a heaping helping of dramatic irony. Luke nurses the sheriff back to health, is promised a fair trial and agrees to surrender himself. He carries a rose given to him by Mercedes and it is clear she is the reason why he is returning. However, both Luke and the sheriff are killed by Apaches en route to town. If Mercedes had not led the posse away, the sheriff and Luke may have survived. If Luke had refused to return to town, he and the sheriff may have survived. The love story of the picture dooms its lead. (I should note that Hart very rarely died on-screen.)

William S. Hart’s films are not always the easiest for modern audiences to appreciate. True, they have darkness and a high body count but remember that I said that Hart was every inch the Victorian? Well, the other side of the coin is that he also tended to be sincere, sentimental and he included strong doses of old-time religion in his pictures. The resulting films are simultaneously ahead of their time and behind it. This curious combination takes some getting used to but it’s worth the effort.

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The Taking of Luke McVane is intriguing because of the foundation it lays down. You can see the Hart persona becoming clearer and clearer in his 1914 and 1915 films and this short added a few more ingredients to the recipe. Is it Hart’s best? No. Most fans choose either Hell’s Hinges, The Toll Gate or Tumbleweeds for that title. Is it worth seeing? It certainly is. You get to see the invention of a screen legend.


Note: The versions of this film found on YouTube and other online sources are played at the wrong speed; they are far too slow. I recommend seeing this film on the disc released by Grapevine.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Release: Friday, May 23, 2014

[Theater]

If Bryan Singer’s latest addition to the X-Men chronicle is any indication of the summer of movies that awaits us, by the shortness of Peter Dinklage we are in for a good one!

In fact the cinematic event that Singer has recently finished polishing off is one so grandiose it might very well make the controversy that arose prior to its worldwide debut a day simply of the past. With any luck, the quality of this much-anticipated material will be enough to satisfy most blockbuster moviegoers’ palate in the coming weeks.

The last time we hung out with any mutants, it was starting to become a one-sided affair, and Logan, a.k.a. ‘the Wolverine’ seemed to be receiving more than his fair share of the spotlight. Even though at this point it’s been all but pre-determined by the studio that Hugh Jackman’s gorgeously CGI-ed biceps is what we need the most, we are inclined to agree. His understanding of the character, and his command of it has been a thrill to watch; his pain consistently strikes at the heart of the struggle of the X-Men. And despite getting to spend that much more time with his charismatic manimal in The Wolverine and X-Men Origins — it’s not really his fault his character seems to be the most compelling of those who possess the magical DNA — these considerably lackadaisical entries contributed greatly to the sense that the series itself was a dying breed. Even despite Jackman and a wealth of material still yet to be tapped.

It’s fine, though. A few steps may have been taken backward but it’s with great relief to announce that what this summer has in store for fans is something that takes leaps and bounds beyond anything that has come before it. Simultaneously a compelling merger of the mutants in their younger and older forms, and an action-packed adventure/fantasy in its own right, X-Men: Days of Future Past is thrillingly paced, hilarious and keenly self-aware; intelligent on a level the series has been clawing at but failing to breach thus far. To be fair, few films with stakes this high can afford to be all these things at once without sacrificing something.

Given the final product on display here, it’s unclear what Singer or screenwriter Simon Kinberg have had to sacrifice. We join up with the few surviving mutants who are now hunkering down in the side of a mountain as the world around them continues to deteriorate. A government-sanctioned program has spawned a third race of beings on the planet: sentient robots built with the sole purpose of targeting those with mutated gene pools. These are the creation of the sinister Dr. Bolivar Trask (Dinklage) and they are horrifyingly efficient at what they do.

The crisis has reached a point where reconciliation is all but impossible for either party, and it’s even begun to sap Professor X (Patrick Stewart)’s optimism for a future of any kind. Fortunately he’s still got one more trick up his sleeve, and that is in Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page)’s ability to project present consciousnesses of fellow mutants back in time into beings that existed back then. One snag: the critical time period we must go back to is 1973 — fifty years removed from the present, and this eliminates all mutants but Wolverine, as they won’t be able to physically or psychologically survive such a sojourn.

Wolverine’s task is to track down certain mutants in 1973. Yes, this will indeed involve the unenviable challenge of intervening during a period where a young and besotted Charles (James McAvoy) is having a bit of a spat with the similarly naive Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magneto (Michael Fassbender). He must organize everyone in an effort to prevent a renegade Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) from her inevitable date with destiny, as the blue-skinned beauty has taken it upon herself to even the score with Bolivar, whom she seeks for his inexorable experimentation on her mutant friends.

There’s no room for error on her part, and ditto that for Wolverine, only with exponentially less room. Not only is he battling the conditions of the time period he’s reinserted himself into, he’s having to convince those around him that there’s a bigger picture they all must pay attention to; and this isn’t even to mention that his journeying into the past has a perpetual impact on his physical and mental tenacity. This is assuming nothing goes wrong on the other end, as well.

Days of Future Past stockpiles the thrills as its labyrinthian plot unfolds piecewise. Its similarly expansive cast is on fine form and at this point in the game its more than a little difficult to separate actor from character. Familiarity typically breeds contempt, but here it breeds a hell of a lot of fun. Comparisons to The Matrix and Marvel’s The Avengers aren’t unreasonable — the teleportation of Wolverine seems to mimic the connection between realities found in the former, whereas both scope and visual grandeur make the comparison to the latter all but inevitable.

Comparisons run amok with Bryan Singer’s new X-Men installment, but it’s as well a thoroughly well-made product on its own merits. It looks sleek and best of all, it doesn’t feel even one second over 90 minutes. The film is actually over two hours in length, and even has time to factor in an exquisitely rendered and considerably extensive slow-motion sequence, without ever feeling like it’s wasting ours. Now that is effective storytelling.

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4-0Recommendation: Was it worth the wait? You bet your mutant ass it was. Days of Future Past may stack up to be one of the most heavily anticipated films of the year, and the final product is well-equipped to handle the challenge of living up to lofty expectations — expectations made so by frequent and repeated failure to get things right before. It deftly handles a dense amount of material by seamlessly connecting stories together, with a focus on the shadow games played by Mystique and Wolverine. Enthralling to newcomers and rooted firmly in the ethos of the comic, 2014 may well have brought us the definitive X-Men movie.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 131 mins.

Quoted: “Maybe you should have fought harder for them.”

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

TBT: Matilda (1996)

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Throwback Thursday is here once again, offering up only the most nostalgic trips back in time as possible. This week is certainly no different. We go back to a time and place where children were best seen and not heard from; where it was alright for their parents to be downright nasty to them (even despite one of them being almost shorter than their six-year-old); a time when learning was a privilege and not a right. (That actually doesn’t make any sense, I just needed another sentence in there to make this paragraph longer.) But what does make sense is that this TBT is what I would consider as yet another classic film, and not just because it’s a great book adaptation, either. 

Today’s food for thought: Matilda

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Release: August 2, 1996

[VHS]

Beware, the Trunchbull.

Danny DeVito’s fourth feature film as a director is uncompromising in its refusal to be just another lighthearted children’s movie. This was no young adult adaptation nor even a dark comedy, but rather a film based upon the children’s book of the same name in which a brave young girl learns to use her gifted imagination to overcome the oppression that’s perpetually hurled at her.

The deception is what powers this particular movie; the maturity of the thematic elements is still to this day almost shocking. Unlike other big-screen conversions like Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and The B.F.G., Matilda (and to a lesser degree Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) was an adaptation that truly took advantage of the dark, drab atmospheres that Dahl so famously immersed his young readers in. This was due in part to the live-action screenplay and the fact that a man of DeVito’s stature helmed the project.

Matilda (Mara Wilson) was a special girl whose home life was an absolute nightmare. This child epitomized the concept of having an active imagination. In fact, she had telekinetic powers that would prove to be both problematic and liberating. At home with her disgusting parents (DeVito and Rhea Perlman), Matilda often found herself bullied because of her inclination to read. When she’s forced into attending school at Crunchem Hall — a place that with the passage of time seems to only resemble more of a prison barrack than an educational institution — Matilda found friends in a few students and in particular, the kind-hearted Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz). However, she also discovered her great enemy in the terrible Miss Agatha Trunchbull (an intimidating performance from Pam Ferris that has left me scarred to this very day). The Trunch enjoyed terrorizing students, and was quite effective in keeping the Hall under her thumb. That is until she came across the strange but brilliant Matilda Wormwood.

Dahl’s imagination apparently knew no bounds. He invented The Chokey for chrissake. And those who have watched this film/read the book understand what that horrible contraption was all about. The punishment for disobedience in this particular setting was severe, and here came this young girl willing to defy the odds just for the sake of seeking justice. Justice, in Dahl’s eyes here, being the right to be treated fairly, like any other normal kid at the time would be treated.

But Matilda found herself a target of the evil Trunchbull and victimized by her awful parents at every turn — until one day, enough was enough. One of the beautiful things about this decidedly bleak affair was getting to see the confidence building up in this little girl and seeing where she could most effectively apply her telekinetic energy. There’s no doubt that if there was one thing DeVito got right about his adaptation, it was this uncanny ability of Matilda to outwit her adult opponents. The cat-and-mouse chase through Trunch’s house one afternoon serves as a highlight.

But that’s not all DeVito nailed with his film. As a director, he managed to effect the tone almost perfectly. The book was no light read, just as the film doesn’t pretend to beautify the world. The performances he extracts from his cast are effective in the extreme, particularly those of Ferris and Wilson. DeVito turns in fine work as Matilda’s sketchy car dealer Harry, and Davidtz is wonderful as the shining light, the sole person to truly care for Matilda.

The film is set in appropriately depressing environs, with the Hall and the Wormwood home coloring in the black-and-white impressions we gained from Dahl’s writing, not to mention a handful of other story elements as well.

At the end of the day, Matilda is a wonderful movie that offers up charm and danger in equal doses, and its thematic elements still bear significance nearly twenty years on. As a child this can often be abrasive viewing, but watching this now is more likely to cause chuckles at the sheer overwrought nastiness in characters like the Trunchbull and Harry Wormwood. Therein lies the genius in the Roald Dahl school of thought.

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4-0Recommendation: Matilda is a remarkably mature read for six-to-ten-year-olds (it might be argued its just as good of a read now as it was then) and the film doesn’t abandon the notion. It’s not the nicest Dahl adaptation you’ll find, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a classic. It has its flaws, but those who grew up loving Roald Dahl should have already seen Matilda so many times on VHS that the tape no longer plays properly in the cassette.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “They’re all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one.”

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

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