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Finding a unique film that stands apart from all the rest is no small task, and these are just some of the best ones I've seen in my time as a film fanatic; as well as some that just need to be seen to believe! Hope you enjoy!
The Invitation (2015)
I Invite You to Pass on You're Invitation
I have not written a review on here in quite sometime, but after watching this film I felt the need to voice out a bit on some thoughts I've had regarding it. First and foremost, I am a huge fan of how horror films are being more legitimized in the last few years and look forward to the merging of more art meaningful stories in creepy and freak out narratives. So this is in no way written with a bias against this genre of cinema, however, when I feel a film is being granted as much praise as this one is and it isn't, in my opinion, quite deserving of it... it's time for some criticism.
The Invitation centers around a group of friends who have long since gone their own ways, some due to a tragedy; others just life happenings, meeting up for a reunion of sorts at the house of our main Will and former wife Eden. Will brings his girlfriend Kira with him to the gathering where said friends act all kinds of polite, while try to reconnect and avoid addressing the elephant in the room. Will senses something very off about his ex-wife's new man David and that elephant begins to rear its head more and more as the film paves a path towards it's climactic ending.
Without giving too much away at this time, The Invitation is worth it for about the last minute, if that is too much spoiler for you than I apologize, but it almost feels like it is inviting you to a challenge of sorts; a "how much of a slow burn can you tolerate" challenge. With that being said, slow burn films can be amazing, especially in the horror genre. Other horror films like The Witch, or artistic films like Upstream Color, even Primer are perfect examples of low key slow burn films that deliver on their concepts and stories. But The Invitation just keep dragging you along for a ride that you know is going to go south at some point, just at what point? This is so much so that eventually you start thinking to yourself that whatever place it arrives at cannot possibly satisfy enough due to how long it takes to get there.
**Potential spoilers** Further harm is done when the emotional pull of the film, mostly regarding a tragic event in the former married life of Will and Eden, is seemingly overshadowed and rendered practically moot by the films third act. To some I guess it all can serve as a way to bottom line the films theme of failure to cope with loss, but everything that ultimately happens at this party will be a far worse loss, with far worse memories gained for everyone involved. No one wouldn't require a massive amount of therapy afterwards.
**Actual spoilers** Also, David, again, that new boyfriend dude of Eden, has never met any of these friends of hers beforehand. He is sided with his own group of friends that also don't know anyone prior to their meeting. Choosing their roles to be that of the outsiders makes their involvement in the films big scene take everything to such a clichéd old-school horror level that it bails completely on it's own potential. What do I mean by this? How about it would've been so much more gut-retching and gushing with emotion if this was friends against friends with layered characters and multiple arcs. Histories and agendas that have something to gain and lose from it all? It really blows a chance at something revolutionary in horror cinema in favor of a more accessible and clichéd final act all for the sake of sticking to a much more grounded and less complicated set of themes. **end spoilers**
In closing, if you are okay with being dragged for a long ride that pays off at the very very very very end, then by all means watch this movie. It's not horrible, it just doesn't strike me as a film that deserves a lot of the praise it is being given. You have better artsy horror film choices out there in It Follows, The Conjuring, Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Babadook, The Witch, even You're Next. Basically any other well reviewed horror movie of the last few years was serve as a better dish.
Masterful, but not a Masterpiece
I was on board with this movie from the moment I had began watching it, which is why it is so much more disheartening to me that I can't give this film higher than an 8. Once upon a time I believe that all good movies needed to be over 2 hrs long, now I feel quite the opposite.
While a film like Tess could never be done justice in under that amount of time, plenty of films these days benefit story wise from being significantly shorter than films of the past, some even hovering around 75 mins now rather than 90 or 110, however, my problem with Tess is not how long it is, as much as how necessary it's three hour length is. That's why I find it such a benefit that films are shorter these days, they are shorter because they don't need to be any longer, and if you cut out the whole last half an hour of Tess, although an incomplete experience at that, you might walk away feeling a little less cheated and depressed.
My reasoning for feeling this way stems from how Tess goes from being a character that has endured a lot and managed to live with her pride in the face of countless attempts to break her as a person, only to ultimately see her actually be broken as a person, wed a man she doesn't love to stave off ruin for her family, and in turn murder that man, which leads to her being hanged. This is frustrating enough as it is since it feels too dramatic for an otherwise mostly somber two hours previous, but then we have the man she does truly love, Angel, who walks away from their previous marriage once he finds out she is far from pure, only to have him come back into her life ever so expectedly to then not only then fail to make up for his shortcomings, but see her off to her death.
I get that it's faithful to the source material, and that it is probably meant to be more realistic and less formulaic, but at the end of the day you watch a film to be entertained, not preached to, unless something profound can be preached. What Tess said back in 1979 may have been profound as a film, and if it was, but if it, it was perhaps a few time periods too late and otherwise praised and rewarded for all the other things it did right, as I just cannot see many being okay with the last act.
I found this film to be amazing in every way a good film can be up until the last half an hour and perhaps even the last 45 minutes where it really just feels like a real let down, a bummer, and not in an enlightening or worthwhile way. If you go into this movie expecting a tragedy, then perhaps you will not share in my experience, but if you're looking for a masterful work of Victorian era fiction, you're best sticking to more light-hearted fair, like Room with a View, or even Far From the Madding Crowd (dare I say light-ish, or lighter at least).
Men, Women & Children (2014)
The Digital Era Has Been Critiqued Indeed
This is another one of those indie styled films that has been mysteriously ill-received by critics and movie-goers alike. I for one cannot understand why. It's basically a film about several related and unrelated relationships, and I guess in some ways its preachy narrative; which asks people to look at our reliance on technology, as well as how we as humans struggle to relate and forge relationships with others at any phase in life, may seem to confrontational to some. If that is the case it is unfortunate because the ensemble structure of this film and everything it looks to tackle are very contemporary norms, or at least popular ideas of social norms that need a little bit more spotlighting in film.
One can criticize the films slow pacing, long length, somewhat lacking characters that fail to wholly engage, and even ridicule the product placement. However, if everything was just that perfect, interesting, and willing to sacrifice authenticity in order for this film required to work, then it's whole point would be lost in mere moments. It needs it's characters to feel real, and it's world to feel real. This film tries to be unbiased in the good vs. evils of technology argument, and both fails and succeeds as much as reasonably possible.
Jennifer Garner's character for one seems to despise technology and it's inherent dangers, while embracing it as a mechanism to fuel that hate and be an overprotective mother. Adam Sandler's character and his wife both use computers as a source to find pleasure outside their marriage. Judy Greer's character seeks to live out a life of fame vicariously through her daughter but ends up destroying her chances through the very means she meant to use to propel her. Others see the benefit to forming physical relationships through social networking while some less fortunate become alienated by it.
All that leads to Jason Reitman's film simply asks us viewers to watch this movie and it's message to see if anything resonates; if perhaps we know any people like this in real life, and if technology has truly not helped or hindered anyone on Earth in someway, just as much like the world that existed before the digital era. If it's a film that's easy to criticize, to me, that just means its done it's job.
I recommend this movie to anyone whose looking for a more realistic take on relationships from multiple perspective and just a look at life today in general, albeit a skewed one at times.
Digging for Fire (2015)
Though a Dimly lit fire, A Enduring one for Sure.
While Digging for Fire is not the finest Swanberg film, for anyone who knows what they are looking to get out of his movies they will not be disappointed here. Digging for Fire is less about a man's journey to unearth a potential crime from the past buried under a clients home, but more about self exploration during a brief time apart from his marriage to his wife; whom makes up the other scenes in the film.
Digging for Fire avoids being sympathetic towards either main character and rather provides a basis for us to just watch instead of judge. All involved are indeed flawed, but very human. The brief moments we share with them don't plan on leading to anything Earth shattering, but rather provide two sides to a coin flipping back and forth. If you don't care much for films lacking in plot development; rather just moving from moment to moment guiding with each scene instead of using traditional story progression, than Digging for Fire will not be for you.
Anyone else should be more than pleased by this well acted and nuanced mumbercore hit, and again, while it isn't quite Drinking Buddies, or Happy Christmas, it's still a film more than worth the watch! Also, the soundtrack, while minimal is a pretty good listen as well!
6 Years (2015)
A Modest Yet Effective Heart-String Tugger
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship for an extended period of time knows all too well just how difficult love can be with every up and down being hopelessly unavoidable. 6 Years aims to take an intimate and very indie approach to a lovers quarrel involving their most pivotal and challenging period.
From what I've gathered, the film has generated a rather lacking reception and has polarized critics; not resonating much at all with viewers either. To me, this feels like it's either due to the film missing its mark with it's intended audience, or the possibility that it's portrayal is almost too earnest and flawed to be seen for what it actually is...a short, heart-wrenching, and honest contemporary love story.
The film makes sure to drive it's emphasize on intimacy home, opting to use mostly close up shots outside of those that set up a scene. Where it falters most is in it's intended dramatic moments. Any time it breaks its melancholy and slow pacing we feel like the film is looking to destroy itself almost as much as it's couple. These moments come off as extreme in comparison to the rest of the film, and usually more abrupt; lessening the focus. Perhaps this is to convey just how quick and fleeting many moments that compromise a relationship can be, but it just makes the pacing feel very darting.
Even with these hiccups though, 6 Years would've been a benchmark film had it come out, well, closer to 6 years ago. It's unfortunate since now perhaps it feels to many like that token hipster film with the cool soundtrack, saturated pop infused look, and focus on indie culture standards. If that's the case, it's an old, easy, and honestly quite poor stance to take, as this film is easily watchable and recommendable if you take it for what it is and not expect to see the greatest movie of all time. 6 Years is an emotionally awesome indie train wreck.
Tackles the Heart, but Lacks the Soul.
Foxcatcher seems to ride that fine line between a sports film with masculine themes and an artistically filmed movie looking to put a unique spin on the world of professional and Olympic wrestling. Being drawn towards films that like to try and mesh together two worlds that seem on opposite ends of the spectrum, I expected Foxcatcher to be a stark portrayal of the life of Mark Schultz, however, upon watching it things became clear that the movie was about John Du Pont, Mark, and his brother Dave Schultz, which was unexpected, but not the problem.
As tragic as the story is, the problem is in how things unfold. Granted that working with a true story puts some limits on artistic license, little is done to really heighten the tension in the film to a boiling point. Even when things seem at their most tense, a lack of atmosphere and soundtrack always keeps things too bleak and saturated for the sake of realism to make it any bit interesting or fun to watch. Foxcatcher feels like more of an education of the story of the Schultz brothers more than a film to entertain.
Which leads me to my next problem with the film. If it is a film to educate, it does very little in terms of explaining the sport of wrestling to help understand the matches we witness and elevate the intensity. Two types of movie goers I would expect are most likely to watch this movie, and they would be wrestlers and/or fans of professional wrestling, or movie buffs. But given the dedication to their art and life long practice of sports, I don't see many serious wrestlers taking to watching serious films spotlighting cinematography, dialog, saturation, aesthetics; the look of the film, the sound editing, and attention to detail that otherwise does this film justice.
Having friends that wrestle, I know that they haven't even seen the movie, nor do they seem to care to. So it seems that little was done to make sure that Foxcatcher hit its target audience. The lack of attention it got during the Academy Awards outside of a few nominations could be further evidence that while well received, it just isn't all that interesting. Its long, well shot, but slow paced, and not in a good way. The film just doesn't resonate as well as it's other contemporaries do.
If you're a fan of both wrestling and artistically filmed movies, or a fan of true stories, then by all means, this movie will perhaps be for you. For everyone else, I cannot recommend Foxcatcher for any reason other than that of curiosity.
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. At the same time it could be taking a jab at directors who think their ideas are so original that no one else could possibly come up with the same thing, only to find out that it's been done already.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.