Saturday, October 31, 2015

Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak is unlike most other films you'll see this autumn. It's a film that has an atmosphere unlike what you normally see at the cineplex. (Then again, this is something from the mind of del Toro, so it's not too much of a shock.)

At first glance, Crimson Peak appears to have the decorum of Jane Eyre (fitting considering one of the stars) and the ambiance of Hammer Films-produced titles. But as the film unfolds, it's clear there's so much more to it.

Indeed, many elements of Crimson Peak pay homage to numerous films of a similar nature. (Rebecca and The Shining come to mind.) del Toro makes various references to horror films from throughout the years. (Come on, the main character's surname is Cushing.) Many other films of this nature resort to blatant spoofs of famous works; Crimson Peak, however, prefers the subtle approach.

And it's not just the homages that make Crimson Peak work wonders. The production design gives the viewer a glimpse into del Toro's imagination. (The decrepit walls of Allerdale Hall would make Edgar Allan Poe proud.) The combination of Dan Laustsen's cinematography and Fernando Velázquez's score turn the film into a dreamy nightmare. And the performances from Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and especially Jessica Chastain would make the likes of Charlotte Brontë and Daphne du Maurier very happy.

Crimson Peak is a very effective film. It has the right amount of scares, nothing overdone. Its many details result in something that's not only a tribute to Gothic romance but also a gorgeous piece of cinema. So many beautiful details....

My Rating: *****

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Repulsion

[For those curious, this is a regular feature over at The Film Experience. Previous entries can be found here.]

Repulsion is one of those films that's easily required viewing when Halloween rolls around. (Perhaps that's why Nathaniel picked it for the HMWYBS season finale.) It was responsible for making Roman Polanski an in-demand name throughout the film industry. Indeed, certain elements of this film (as well as Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown) appear harsher in light of later events in Polanski's life (the murder of his wife Sharon Tate, and the aftermath of his rape trial) but does it hinder the quality of the film? Not particularly.

Back to the film itself. There's Gilbert Taylor claustrophobic cinematography, Chico Hamilton's frenzied score, and of course Catherine Deneuve's high-strung performance. None of the stringy hair and smeared makeup nonsense we normally see nowadays when it comes to fictional women going insane. As proven by the first and final shots, it's all about the eyes. (Seriously, filmmakers. Take a page from Polanski and Deneuve.)

The best shot of Repulsion

Some context is required for this particular shot. In this moment, Carol is listening to her sister having sex with her lover...loudly. (How the hell Polanski managed to get away with that twice in the same movie back in the mid-sixties is anyone's guess.) For a brief flickering moment, Carol is intently listening to what's happening in the other room. And though many scenes throughout Repulsion depict her as having a crippling fear of both men and intimacy, Carol may also have a faint curiosity in regards with both matters.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Son of Saul

The Holocaust has been the focus of various pieces of fiction over the years. Indeed, by this point, it's gotten to levels of over-glorification. (The deaths of innocent people shouldn't be reduced to something for dramatic purposes.) However, there can be exceptions if it focuses on said innocent people effectively.

Such is the case for Láslzó Nemes' Son of Saul. Many would reserve making a film of this nature later on in their careers. Not for Nemes. With this being his first feature-length work, Nemes shows a harrowing glimpse into one of history's biggest atrocities.

Much like what Vittorio De Sica did with Bicycle Thieves, Nemes doesn't have a professional actor in the lead role. In Nemes' case, he has poet Géza Röhrig starring in his film. Does this fact affect the quality of the film? Of course not. After all, no one was complaining about it when De Sica did it. (Well, aside from perhaps David O. Selznick.)

Here's another interesting detail of Son of Saul. Many of the shots are tight close-ups of Röhrig. Very seldom does the camera focus on any of the horrors within the concentration camp. The most that the viewer gets is a glimpse of the terrified prisoners or the sounds of their blood-curdling screams. Was this Nemes' idea or that of cinematographer Mátyás Erdély? Regardless of whose decision it was, it makes the film more gripping to watch.

Son of Saul is a deeply promising debut from Nemes. This is a film that doesn't pull any punches, the kind of film that we only get once in a blue moon. It easily joins the ranks of Requiem for a Dream, Leaving Las Vegas and United 93. (Once you see Son of Saul, you'll understand why those films specifically.)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 25, 2015

I Saw the Light

There's always a cost to fame. For every fortunate person who manages to make themselves a household name, most of them will give in to the many vices that come with fame. Drugs, one-night stands, non-stop partying...fame is a tempting mistress and for some, a deadly one as well.

Marc Abraham's I Saw the Light chronicles the short-lived fame of country music singer Hank Williams. During his six-year rise, Williams recorded forty-one records and became a regular feature at the Grand Old Opry. But his personal life featured the likes of a shaky marriage, infidelity, heavy drinking and popping pills.

Starring as Williams is Tom Hiddleston, who has certainly been on the rise over the last few years. Donning a Southern accent, Hiddleston shows that there's more to his abilities than just the god of mischief. However, the weak nature of the Abraham's script does restrict him considerably. (Though if you're interested in seeing Hiddleston deliver a good performance, he makes up for the script's faults.)

Indeed, every now and again, we get biopics on a variety of prominent famous names. But very rarely do they excel to a high level of greatness. More often than not they rely on the strength of the actor's abilities (and resemblance to the biopic's subject) more than the quality of the script. Sadly, I Saw the Light is one such biopic.

I Saw the Light tries its best to be among the ranks of Walk the Line (a musical biopic with an even balance of the subject's professional and private lives) but ends up in territory similar to The Theory of Everything (a biopic more reliant on the actors' performances than the script's strength). Had there just been a little more effort in the script, it'd probably be good. Alas, it's nothing more than fairly decent. (At least Hiddleston managed to somewhat salvage it.)

My Rating: ****

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Silent Cinema Blogathon

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting yet another blogathon (her third this year alone) where the theme is (as the title clearly states) silent films. Admittedly, it's a major blind spot for me but I have seen a few of them. I didn't want to focus on the few Charlie Chaplin films I've seen (nor the lone Buster Keaton). So what did I finally opt for?

(1929, dir. G.W. Pabst)
(Spoilers ahead!)

Friday, October 23, 2015


Whenever coming of age is dealt with in fiction, more often than not it involves losing one's virginity. Is that the image we want to project onto impressionable minds? That you're not your own person until you go to bed with someone? Obviously, that's bullshit and thankfully other writers have taken note of that as well.

Novels like The Bell Jar and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and films like Almost Famous and Boyhood show coming of age without the need of sex. (Well, some of those feature sex but it's not the main point of the story.) One of the more recent titles to focus on the matter is Brooklyn. Focusing on a girl from Ireland moving to New York City, it's an enchanting story chronicling an awakening in the early 1950s.

Colm Toibin's novel is a simple piece of literature but Toibin writes poetically. He's not interested in villains or any wrongdoings towards his lead character of Eilis Lacey. He only wants to show Eilis as simply a young woman discovering a world she never before knew. (He also showed that the 1950s weren't exactly the idyllic past everyone else depicts it as.)

John Crowley (and writer Nick Hornby) take Toibin's novel and make it into something beautiful. Gorgeously shot by Yves Belanger, superbly cast (especially Saoirse Ronan as Eilis), a beautiful score by Michael Brook...Crowley makes Toibin's novel into something for himself and the end result makes one feel better about the world.

Which of the two is better? Both Toibin's novel and Crowley's film are endearingly charming, it would be almost a crime to pick one over the other. So it appears there's only one logical answer to this.

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

45 Years

Throughout the years, fiction has frequently depicted holy matrimony. Often times it's depicted as wedded bliss while other times it's shown as a match made in hell. But more recently, the cracks within a so-called flawless marriage have been in the spotlight.

Such is the case with Andrew Haigh's 45 Years. Revolving around the week of a married couple, Haigh depicts how even a marriage as long-lasting as Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff's (Tom Courtenay) can be far from perfect. (After all, perfection's overrated anyway.)

Much like Haigh's previous film Weekend, 45 Years depicts the quiet lives of two people that are altered by recent events. And while Weekend focuses on the budding relationship between the two men, that marital bond between Kate and Geoff is beginning to crumble. And the end results for both films are just heartwrenching.

Now onto the performances. Rampling and Courtenay, both veterans of the British screen, provide phenomenal work. Rampling (who is clearly the star of the film) gives a silent take on her character but that does not make her performance or the film any less devastating. (Many times the camera just lingers on her.) Courtenay in turn also gives a quiet turn which makes his words to Kate all the more effective.

45 Years is a quiet yet completely devastating film. Thanks to the work from Rampling, Courtenay and Haigh, it's one of those glimpses that is all-consuming and will not let go of the viewer. And that last shot of Rampling is absolutely haunting. (Also, anyone who says there are no great roles for actors over 65 clearly isn't looking hard enough.)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 18, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Martian

In space, no one can hear you scream. Over the last several years, fiction has taken a particular interest to the science fiction genre. More specifically, the horror sub-genre. We've been treated to the likes of 28 Days Later, Under the Skin and various episodes of Doctor Who. But science fiction and horror always feature a common feature: the willpower to survive.

And of course many titles within the science fiction genre run around the survival theme. Gravity, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey...these are a few of the more prominent titles in this regard. One of the more recent titles to join these is The Martian, and it has a different tone in comparison to some of the other ones. How so? It has a sense of humor to it (albeit a dark one).

Andy Weir's novel is filled with gallows humor, which to be honest is frequently omitted from other fiction of this nature. The novel features a nice balance between that and scientific facts. (Even if you're not well-versed when it comes to science, you can still enjoy the book.) Also, it's nice to see something not take itself too seriously. ("In your face, Neil Armstrong.")

While Ridley Scott's adaptation omits a few scenes (and Drew Goddard's script features less of the novel's dark humor), it's still as entertaining as what Weir initially wrote. And the climax is decidedly way more suspenseful in action. (One can only go so far with the written word.)

So which is better: Weir's novel or Scott's film? Both are quick to grab the audience. Weir's novel has a decidedly more sardonic tone while Scott goes back to his Alien roots for his film to amp up suspense. So it looks like there's only one solution to this problem. (To be honest, it's not much of a problem to begin with.)

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Bridge of Spies

For decades, Steven Spielberg has been a very prominent name in Hollywood. Ever since his big break with Jaws forty years ago, he has dabbled in various genres from war to historical drama to adventure. And while he has had a few misfires throughout his career, Spielberg has always been consistent in entertaining his mass audiences.

So how has he fared with his latest film Bridge of Spies? It's certainly clear that he's back since his last film Lincoln three years ago (which finally earned one of his actors an Oscar). But how does it compare to the likes of Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan?

Indeed, Bridge of Spies is dark for a Spielberg film but bear in mind it was co-written by the Coen brothers. (If you pay close attention, you can tell which bits were written specifically by them.) But then again, this is a film set during the Cold War. You can't exactly be lighthearted about this particular time in history. (Well, you could try but not many people would like it.)

And the many aspects of Bridge of Spies are worth mentioning. The performances from Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, the cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, the score from Thomas Newman, the set design by Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich...all of these things Bridge of Spies resonate on the screen.

Bridge of Spies is another success for Spielberg without a doubt. All of its fine details are like a well-tuned machine, each part functional on its own but does wonders when combined. Suffice to say that Bridge of Spies is a film you need to see, preferably on a big screen to appreciate those details.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Over the last thirty years or so, Canadian filmmakers have made themselves known in Hollywood. David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Sarah Polley...these are just a few names that hail from there. There have been other directors making names for themselves in recent years (Xavier Dolan, Jean-Marc Vallee), and the list keeps growing.

Another name on that list is Denis Villeneuve. Recently he has garnered acclaim for films like Prisoners and Enemy. So how does his latest film Sicario fare (and compare)? Well, like his last two films, Villeneuve paints a portrait of humanity's dark side and this one is decidedly way more violent.

There's something amusing in that the director of Sicario and its two best stars hail from outside the United States. Emily Blunt has certainly made a name for herself in the last few years and with her work in Sicario, it won't be much longer until she's more in demand. Benicio del Toro, already a well-established name (he has an Oscar, after all), spends many of the scenes he's in not drawing attention to first. Then all eyes are on him. (Could Oscar nomination #3 be around the corner?)

And from a visual standpoint, Sicario is pretty stunning as well. In a way reminiscent of Michael Slovis' work on Breaking Bad, Roger Deakins captures the mood of the film with the use of shadows and vivid colors. (How Deakins still hasn't won an Oscar is anyone's guess.) The bright colors provide a sort of dissonance  to the overall tone of the film. (Not that it's a bad thing.)

Sicario is a very well done and intense film, thanks primarily to the work from Blunt, del Toro, Villeneuve and Deakins. That said, however, Sicario isn't 100% solid. It lingers too much on corruption in the system during a majority of scenes. Apart from that, it's proof that Villeneuve will be working for a long time.

My Rating: ****1/2

Pawn Sacrifice

It's established early on in Edward Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is not of sound mind. The work from the sound department amplifies Fischer's mental state. Innocuous noises become louder. A non-existent hum over the phone makes its presence known. What went through the chess prodigy's head?

It's not just from an auditory standpoint where Pawn Sacrifice excels. The set design of the film is full of fine detail that would make the production designer of Mad Men green with envy. Whether it be the clothes the characters wear or props within the various sets, it looks like a product of the era it's set in without being kitschy.

And all of it is captured by the observant eye of Bradford Young. As proven by his work in Selma and A Most Violent Year, Young focuses on more than just who's in the scene; he focuses on their tics. A shift of the eye, the wringing of hands...Young lingers on these flawed people.

Through Steven Knight's script, there are consistently solid performances throughout Pawn Sacrifice. Most of the attention is on Maguire and his portrayal of Fischer, and it's hard to dispute why that is. (One thing's for certain: he has come a long way since his Spider-Man days.) And alongside Maguire are strong supporting performances from Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg and Lily Rabe.

Pawn Sacrifice is very solid throughout though there's something about the film that stops it from being great. Perhaps it has something to do with Zwick's involvement. Yes, he directed The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond but Zwick has his flaws as a director. Still, he does provide a few good moments in Pawn Sacrifice.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Over the past year or so, the United States legal system has come under scrutiny. (Mainly because of the failure to indict the police officers who coldly murdered unarmed black people despite damning evidence against them.) But it's worth mentioning that the system has always been broken. For as long as the legal system has been in existence, corruption, cover-ups and backstabbing have been there too.

And many titles in the crime genre focus on the subject of corruption within the system. Done poorly, it could be nothing more than a half-baked attempt at drama. Done properly, however, it can be a chilling portrait of the crooked system we're supposed to trust.

Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by former Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill chronicles (as the title implies) one of the biggest scandals in FBI history. The scandal in question involved protecting an informant who was guilty of various crimes including racketeering, drug trafficking and murder. The informant's name? James "Whitey" Bulger, one of the most infamous names in criminal history.

Scott Cooper takes the facts Lehr and O'Neill present, and runs with them. Cooper's film shows more of a glimpse into Bulger's private, almost as if he's trying to make the South Boston gangster appear more human. (It works but that doesn't excuse Bulger's actions in the slightest.) And while Johnny Depp and Joel Edgerton will earn most of the acclaim (it's deserved), special mention also goes out to Julianne Nicholson and Peter Sarsgaard.

Which is better? On the one hand, the book by Lehr and O'Neill chronicles in detail about Bulger's criminal actions from the start of his rise in Boston to until he went on the run in late 1994. On the other hand, Cooper's film is easily the most complete of his three films. Decisions, decisions...

What's worth checking out?: Both.