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A Satire Within a Satire
--There Will Be Spoilers--
I've already seen a number of reviews and comments popping up that seem to not fully grip the hugely satirical natural of this film and seem to dock it points based on standards it just can't be held up to. Quentin Dupeiux, who has dictated other strange and surreal dark comedies such as Rubber and Wrong, knows his films are unique, and he knows what he's doing and he proves no differently with this film.
The whole thing is one giant Hollywood satire. Anyone looking for coherency in the film is missing everything it's trying to poke fun at. For example it has countless plot twists that don't feel necessary, and this is where it takes a dig at the mainstream's need to have some sort of twist happen in every film to hold an audiences attention; this is contrasted by the ex-documentary director in the film desiring to hold shots of "boring scenes" for way longer than necessary. The film also takes a jab at Inception, at one point having us as viewers watch a movie of people watching a movie in a theater watching a girl watching a movie on TV.
The future director of a film being pitched throughout the movie at one point walks into a theater, where his idea about a film where TV's destroy the minds of viewers is already being played in a local cineplex, and treated as if the audience is impossibly watching a movie that hasn't even come out yet. This in my opinion is poking fun at the current industry standard of repeating the same ideas over and over again to audiences willing to ingest the same tired story. The whole picture is absurdly left mostly unresolved, and intentionally so, in order to convey a sense of everything we see either being a dream, or that we as viewers have been made stupid and confused by our own TV's beaming waves at our brain, much like the ones in the movie "Waves" within this film.
It's all a big joke, any attempt to take it seriously will leave most frustrated and disappointed.
It's a Quentin Dupeiux film, you've been warned.
Not Quite Snatch, but Not too Bad.
Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels may have been the film to cemented Guy Richie's spot as a cinematic and iconic force to be reckoned with, but after having watched both this movie and Snatch, it's hard to argue in favor of the former being a superior film. Everything this film lacks, Snatch made up for and expanded upon. Now this isn't to say that Lock, Stock isn't a great film, it's quite enjoyable. However, its slightly harder to follow even though it's plot is less complicated and convoluted than Snatch.
The cast is weaker, but the focus on their characters is better. Where the movie failed to grab me as a viewer is how each character could be considered slightly less memorable than those in Snatch as well as the dialog. Snatch sees it's cast embody far more personality as well as polishing the gritty world a bit more; making it an easier and superior watch. I can usually argue against polish in a film if everything else is in check, but as I stated before Lock, Stock feel like the less fully realized film. It doesn't have that punch that Snatch has either.
If you're looking for a great film to watch and haven't seen either, then I recommend watching this one first followed by Snatch, or if you've already seen Snatch then watch this one, but only if you're a fan of Guy Ruchie films or crime comedies more than anything. It's really a film that perhaps could have been best experienced back in the days when it first came around. But given that was the 90s and other similarly themed films such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, etc, where around this one could be considered a weaker entry for some.
Last Night (2010)
Mellow, Moody, but not Masterful
**May Contain Spoilers**
Last Night is one of those films that's bound to make enemies of many and friends of few. From a critical perspective it can be considered too nuanced and subtle in it's storytelling approach, lacking much bulk in both story-telling style and character development. But this film doesn't seem to care about pleasing critics, rather, it's most enjoyable when it's thought of as asking us as viewers to recall a time which we have embodied at least one of the films four characters. The husband who wants to cheat for one night, the girl who wants the man she knows she can't have, the wife who wants the man she knows she truly belongs with, and the guy who hopelessly loves the girl that got away.
For the most part it's easy to be at least one of these four people, and this chance to relate is perhaps the movies strongest asset aside from a great performance from Keira Knightly, who rarely disappoints, and some beautiful NYC locations. If you go into Last Night expecting it to be 'that movie' everyone overlooked, you'll be let down. But if you treat it as one of those late night quick watches, or a movie to relax with when sick or simply not feeling like doing much, it's an easy and mellow watch.
Lost River (2014)
Sorry Haters, This Ones Better Than You Think!
**May contain spoilers**
Going into Lost River I'd already known about its commercial failure, and upon watching the trailer for it Nicholas Winding Refn's influence could be seen in almost every segment. However, unlike some I dare say that this is actually a very good movie. It's an art film, so if the word "art" coupled with "film" could scare you away then this movie will do just that. There is little difference in terms of the degree of graphic content featured in this movie then there would be in films like "Drive" or "Only God Forgives" that Refn would employ in his films, and Gosling emulates it perfectly in this film.
That's not to say that it can't be off-putting at times, and if the more trance like droning pace of contemporary films such as "Upstream Color" and "Beyond the Black Rainbow" aren't your thing, Lost River will do little to chance that. Call me bias, but these types of minimal dialog and high atmosphere films are amazing to me, almost like fever dreams or journeys to other grounded yet fantasy like worlds. The characters are a bit surreal and lacking in any true development, but that lends to the fantastical nature of the events being portrayed; a twisted romanticizing of a gritty and hopeless world.
I think if any criticism can be thrown at Gosling its that his vision for this first effort doesn't seem like much of an attempt to put his own true stamp on it; merely borrowing influence from others and giving his own take on them or showcasing their inspiration, which again, I am fine with since I think this film turned out great. It's not confusing, it's not congested, quite straight forward and gets resolved by the end making it easier to appreciate the art-house style it plays up to without needing to over think anything.
Maybe the film comes off as pretentious or overdoing it to some, but honestly that's art for ya! I'd rather a film like Lost River exist any day over the Paul Blarts of the world. When compared against the great art-films throughout history, it may not hold a torch now, but this film is much less deserving of the ridicule it has received rather than praise. It'll quietly float away down a stream into nothing only to be found years later and hailed as a cult classic.
One can only hope.
Perhaps the Best Psychological Thriller ever, but can it be explained?
I'll admit that I was a little lost and left scratching my head after this film and did some research into what the meaning behind the film was and came up with some very interesting results. Mainly a lot of different takes exist, but what I found most interesting upon analyzing the film myself, was that all these views are not only right in their own regard, but could also each be smaller pieces to a much bigger and very involved puzzle. So before I actually review this film, albeit briefly, below is an analysis mixing these beliefs and findings with my own take upon re-watching key moments of the film armed with this new knowledge.
For one thing, Adam is a history teacher whose focus in the film is on Totalitarian societies. Interestingly enough the film itself is heavily themed in Totalitarianism as Adam is ignorant to the fact that he belongs to the very type of repressive and controlling society that he teaches to his classes. This is supported by the heavy atmosphere in the film depicting a claustrophobic, borderline colorless, and hazy city that appears to be confined within its own space. Adam's double Anthony exists to shock Adam out of his individualism, and Anthony's existence further strips Adam of his identity within this rouse of a free world. Also highlighted in the film is the presence of spiders everywhere, which suggest that they are the ones that run society.
This is where the film travels into surreal territory as the ending suggests that Adam has become the victim of a body snatcher, and that the spiders enforce this illusion of control within society by taking on the identities of humans rather than eradicating them. This also hints at Adam being a cinema buff, which his character leads us against believing at first. If you choose to interpret the film from this point as one big dream that Adam is having, then Anthony would be his mental manifestation of this obsession with Cinema; seeing as Anthony is an actor, as well as indulges in a more pleasure-centric life style. When Adam enters the rental store, we see an "Attack of the 50 ft. Woman" poster in the background, adding further weight to the possibility of the body snatchers being drempt up, and also further supported by a brief surreal segment showing a giant spider roaming the city; very "War of the Worlds" like. Also, even further supporting the film being a dream Adams is having can be finalized by the title of the film's special feature within the DVD: "Lucid Dreams".
But the body snatchers angle from what I've figured out is actually an elaborate red herring, a part of Adam's subconscious that works its way into his dream along with his history lessons in attempt to distract him from making sense of the guilt and regret he feels for cheating on his pregnant wife and killing his other girlfriend in a car accident. This is supported by Anthony's wife seeming to know who Adam is near the end using suggestive dialog, and never really dismissing or rejecting his character. She even takes jabs at Anthony knowing why there is a double of himself saying "I think you know..."; further suggesting they are one in the same. Both Adam and Anthony also share a scar in the same spot, which could have been caused by the car accident and also indicating that Adam had survived the car accident.
These realities of Adam's life work together in his dream through the creation of Anthony, his mental manifestations of his wife and his deceased girlfriend to further push him towards what his dream is actually trying to make him aware of. The fantasy world of the spiders and having an actual double is used to throw us as viewers off as well as showcase Adam's inability to deal with his trauma. Like most dream worlds tend to do; things feel fragmented, consisting of recycled thoughts, dreary, disconnected imagery that confusing rather than directly explaining to ones self what's going on, much like the film itself chooses not to do.
In the after Adam officially assumes Anthony's life, Adam's wife reveals herself to be a massive spider. She is afraid of Adam due to his cinematic mind making it seem like he has figured out that the spiders are body snatchers, when in fact it's hinting to us viewers that everything is a dream and that Adam will continue to escape and assume the mentality of Anthony rather than deal his mistakes. Anthony dying in the car crash can be seen as Adam's attempt to rid himself mentally of Anthony and his wrong doing, but the film's ending suggests he will only continue to fail at ridding himself of his repressed guilt through escapism.
WITH ALL OF THAT MASSIVE ANALYSIS BEING SAID this movie is perhaps one of the best films I've watched in recent memory. It's such a risk to make a movie that is so layered and so fragmented, yet makes perfect sense one you manage to piece everything together. Part of the great lure to such a psychological thriller is not truly knowing what's going on. Everything from the lighting, to the use of overly dramatic and eerie music, to the placement of the camera, dialog, actors; everything whether planned or not allows for this film to prompt an interpretation of the events and their relevance within the world of Enemy. Few films can demand so much from it's viewers and give us such a playground of information to formulate an opinion on. Perhaps the greatest beauty is how it all seems so possible, none of it too far fetched. That's the mark of a truly well done film. When you know it's fragmented and confusing, but not due to being poorly constructed or made by amateurs. Cheers to you Enemy, job well done!
Maps to the Stars (2014)
The Stars Shine Bright, but the Story Doesn't
After watching Videodrome and ExiStenZ I knew I was going to go into Maps to the Stars being a bit unprepared. This movie has light years more in common with Cronenberg's later works which I have yet to finish watching, and continues his trend of more psychological and socially radical films rather than visually striking ones.
Given the subject matter in this film some may find it fairly inaccessible, but for long time Cronenberg fans, or even frequent movie watchers, this isn't the most difficult watch and at times will leave you wondering when things will pick up or really challenge us as viewers. The pacing isn't so much an issue, but rather trying to figure out exactly what Maps to the Stars is trying to be when it jumps from scene to scene.
Sometimes it feels like a plain ol' satire; the frequently used term attempting to describe this film to a broader audience, but it feels more like a creepy thriller or a Hollywood horror story. Other times it feels like a TV drama with it's off-kilter portrayal of a dysfunctional family; housing some radical ideas and perceptions of their world which slowly unravels before them.
Honestly, these days most entertainment goes off the rails willingly or trends relentlessly into twisted territory in attempt to keep its audience interested, so with this kind of film you can't just go by the numbers or expect such a bare bones plot to take you far unless you do something particularly special with it. That's where Maps to the Stars falls flat. While everyone involved does a great job and the film is worth watching, it feels very been-there-done-that in almost every cinematic regard.
Those less seasoned in cinema will no doubt find it difficult to stomach at times, but most others won't. It pains me to say that when it comes to Cronenberg this is one of his least hypnotizing films.
The Two Faces of January (2014)
A Subtle and Tranquil Thriller
On the surface The Two Faces of January appears to be one of those films starring has-beens and a couple nobodys that features beautiful locations and a tired plot, however, I beg to make a case against such an assumption for this movie. Everyone who stars in this film are in top form, and while the film itself doesn't sport too many real gripping threats, it is a perfect example of what it means to romanticize locations in a period piece, and offer actors a chance to moonlight with less conflict and more focus on mood, art, and event transitions.
This film is pretty much all about Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Issac. All three are given (for the most part) an equal shot at being convincing characters, and rather than pin each one against each other, explores the complexities of relationships under dire, foreign, and stressful conditions. The film lacks some real bite at times since it's focus seems too favor setting up locations and mood over the events themselves, but I find this to be a waste of a complaint since the beautiful scenery, outfits, and even the sparse dialogue made the film a pleasant break away from so many other contemporary thrillers and big budget movies; even some indie films can learn from its minimal and grand scale mixing approach.
In the end, if you watch The Two Faces of January expecting to be blown away, then you may be disappointing, but if you have a thing for romanticized locations, period pieces, slower paced thrillers, and in general an appreciation for films that go against the grain, then this film should not disappoint in any way.
Frank is a testament to everything that both good and bad about music and it's experimental nature. On the one hand its a movie about learning through life and death how music can bring about amazing memories and life experiences. On the other hand it's movie about utter insanity and the cost of ones own well-being just to make a record and spend time with some truly whacked out people.
As someone who has played an instrument in the past, and had friends in bands, and even had my own solo project, it's insulting to a degree to see a movie play up how true creativity and amazing music comes from places deep within or from people who have some sort of mental illness/overwhelming life problems.
To be fair to the movie however, perhaps making it about the opposite wouldn't have made it as interesting or dramatic, but some people just have a gift for music and don't need to be disturbed to send a great message; and while the film tries to forward our understand of Fassbender's character actually being limited by his own inherent mental illness rather than gifted by it, the band on a whole still comes off as pretentious and difficult, and Frank is about the only truly likable character in the film.
I know the film is not trying to be insulting, but given the limited amount of music based movies out there, it would be nice to see one that doesn't use insanity, drugs, or bad life experiences as the reasons most great music has been written.
Aside from those complains, what the movie does get right is in its unfolding of said dramas. It's so crazy that it's entertaining enough just to see if everyone is actually going to make it out of the movie in one piece.
Frank is not the easiest movie to speak of, given it's perhaps best watched to truly understand, and while I feel this review is more of a generalization of how easy it is to both love and hate it, perhaps that's it's genius.
If you don't finish watching this movie and have some mixed feelings about it, then I don't think it's done it's job. Frank is so deep in both it's simplicity and complexity that its somehow equally easy and hard to recommend, and that should give you every reason to watch it; music fan or not.
American Hustle (2013)
Feel Hustled? I Do Just a Little Bit.
American Hustle is one of those movies that will be appreciated for it's directing and it's actors. It's thought of as a movie for movie fans, but as a movie fan, or a 'film fanatic' I actually found this to be David O.Russel's weakest movie to date.
The Fighter was an amazing movie, and The Silver Linings Playbook was great, but American Hustle just barely scraps by as very good. This movie feels like it should belong to Bale, however, Jennifer Lawrence character is primed to steal the spotlight whenever she can, and she does.
Problem with this is that her character is a chaotic nascence. While her acting is great, her character doesn't seem as much fun as it seems a hassle to portray given her poisonous nature.
Further can disappointment be added to how Amy Adams feels underused, even at her best. Her character is central to just about every other major actors in this film, yet the degree of sympathy we should feel for someone caught so in the middle of everything is under-minded by the difficulty of figuring out whether or not she's truly a good or bad person.
Bradley Cooper also feels sold short, with more focus on his looks and his character's determination than any actual development. The movies plot feels more confusing at times than it should be and I attribute this to the film being longer than it needs to be; something that befalls one too many Oscar hopeful films.
American Hustle did not win best picture because it didn't stand a chance, but because it was not the best. While the movie is worth the watch, and a very good film at the least, there are better choices out there for a serious drama.
Woody Wants His Money, and You'll Want Yours Back too!
At one point in the movie Woody's son played by Will Forte comments to an office worker saying that his father just believes everything people tell him; this of course is in reference to the bogus letter stating he has won a million dollars that Woody wants to travel to Lincoln,Nebraska to claim. Well as my first major point of concern: if Woody believes everything everyone tells him, then why are the members of his family, and seemingly everyone else around him the only people he won't listen to? From the start this film is frustrating. The constant location changes vary from the open road, to bars, then back to a house somewhere in the middle of nowhere, to a bar again, and then the open road some more, and again to some boring houses.
The script itself ins't really that deep or interesting either, granted that probably isn't the point, but while attempting to showcase a more 'realistic' portrayal of life in the middle of the country where they doesn't seem much to do, it's rather insulting when you think about it; and heck, I live on the east coast. Somehow it just seems very wrong that a movie about a drunk who drags his sons and wife through the ringer for most of their lives, including these latest debacles, garners a best best picture nod and has people singing the praises of Bruce Dern. Honestly, he has perhaps the fewest lines on screen, is not all that interesting, and causes all the families problems therein.
It may sound like I'm just bad mouthing this film, but this frustration has more to do with the politics of cinema more than the actual movie itself. If just left alone to discover perhaps I wouldn't have such a beef with how great it supposedly is for a modest motion picture, but given the vast praise it received from critics and academy members before I saw it, upon viewing, this movie is a let down. It's not the worse by any stretch but it's hard to recommend, since it's filled with boring locations, a bare bones script, unlikable characters, and a grim portrayal of life that teeters a little closer to cynicism than actual reality. Considering these are the things that most critics bash bigger films for employing, they seemed to have no problems loving all over this dud for the same exact things.