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True Story (2015/I)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
How sublimely curious that a writer known for telling lies penned the memoir on which "True Story" is based., 16 April 2015

The opening scene is quite the attention-grabber. Artistic and yet incredibly morbid, the initial seconds presage a picture that is centered on a grisly murder, yet far more focused on the analyzation of characters than the weighing of motives or the questing for clues. It's a fitting, contrasting start, especially as the movie unfolds at a purposeful, unhurried pace, while compelling details and dawdling cinematography oust the need for typical flashes of violence or frequent, unsettling imagery.

Asthmatic New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) thinks he's headed for a Pulitzer with his tenth cover story for the prestigious paper. Instead, however, his piece about slavery and abuse on a West African cocoa plantation brings about some confusion over the identities of his interviewees (in fact, a composite of multiple accounts). The fallout includes the loss of Finkel's job and an editor's correction in the following issue, which marks the certain death of his journalism career. No one will hire him, as his credibility is shot.

When Finkel moves back to Montana, where his wife Jill (Felicity Jones) resides, he's contacted by local writer Pat (Ethan Suplee), who wants to hear his take on the recent event – but not the one concerning Finkel's dismissal. Instead, Michael learns that a man by the name of Christian Michael Longo (James Franco) was just arrested in Mexico, having eluded police after allegedly murdering his wife and three children – and that, while in the wind, he used Michael Finkel's identity as an alias. In a supreme touch of irony, Finkel is stripped of his own name while a suspect on the lam adopts it out of admiration. Arranging for a meeting with the prisoner, Finkel comes face to face with one of the FBI's most wanted - and is granted exclusive access to the Oregon man's tale of normalcy, tragedy, and murder.

How sublimely curious that a writer known for telling lies penned the memoir on which "True Story" is based ("True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa"), shedding light on a killer with plenty of lies of his own. And here, in the form of a movie – a medium renowned for its ability to embellish the truth – audiences are shown a cinematic premise nearly too outrageous to believe. With its title, the film doesn't even begin with the now-cliché line, "Based on a true story."

With its obvious hints at "The Silence of the Lambs," including nail-biting interviews and teeth-chattering stares in a heavily-guarded, asylum-like facility, and a brief suggestion of "Spoorloos" (or "The Vanishing") from the potential for experimental devilry and psychological torment, "True Story" brandishes an inspiring series of back-and-forth battles of wits and wills. It scrutinizes the morality of bringing attention to those with ghastly stories that, debatably, shouldn't be publicized; the wrong turns in life that might have influenced heinous acts (the successes and the failures); and the strategies behind betraying guilt and innocence. Just as much as it digs into the mind of a killer, it inspects the processes of the interrogator - here, a man simultaneously benefitting from the publicity and being manipulated by his detained subject.

Mind games, poetic symbolism, moving observations, and humorous notes compose an utterly mesmerizing script. There's always something deeper and undeniably haunting lingering just beneath the surface of the words, particularly as the courtroom drama components unearth twisted, unwholesome facets of humanity. Franco and Hill further amplify this with their stunning performances, each playing roles extremely against type.

James Franco in particular, as the cornered fox with an uncanny calmness in the face of overwhelming evidence, musters some substantial moments of reflection and mental maneuvering. The casting is unexpected and decidedly entertaining in its unusualness; Felicity Jones even gets a rather powerful speech in her short supporting turn. In the end, though routinely presented as something of a mystery (despite the facts of the case being openly available) - with the camera glancing across hand movements, clothing, facial hair, and other subtleties of impressions and appearances - "True Story" exhibits an exhilarating build to a thought-provoking parting shot that questions the need for finding an audience and the ideals sacrificed to attain one, all while a movie theater audience validates the very notion.

Ex Machina (2015)
8 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
In this futuristic vision of artificial intelligence, it's not Ava's brain that seems so advanced – it's her body., 9 April 2015

Alex Garland's "Ex Machina" is certainly thought-provoking – but the ideas invoked aren't all intellectual. Captivating, albeit already heavily examined in cinema, concepts such as the creation of artificial intelligence and the subsequent ability to differentiate it from genuine humanity surface often - yet they frequently devolve into more tired science-fiction tropes of technology run amok or man vs. machine. What does it mean to be human? "Ex Machina" may provide some insight, but audiences will likely miss it for the more overt displays of programmer mind games, manipulative androids, and, of course, graphic female nudity.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime for Bluebook search engine coder Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson): meet with reclusive founder and CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) for a one-week, top-secret assignment at his secluded mountain estate. Once there, Caleb discovers the sprawling palatial domicile is more research facility than retreat and that his mission is one of historic proportions. Tasked with performing a Turing test (the assessment of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligence equivalent to a human) on Ava (Alicia Vikander), a highly advanced humanoid A.I., Caleb is both stunned and intrigued by the robot's physical beauty and its mastery over human interaction. But as mysterious power outages begin plaguing the compound and Ava imparts ominous warnings about Nathan's intentions, Caleb begins to question his own humanity and the motives of his cryptic host.

"Lay off the textbook approach." The most infuriating thing about "Ex Machina" is that, despite containing glimpses of positively absorbing moral quandaries concerning artificial intelligence, it's only masquerading as a brainy picture. At its heart, it's merely a sex robot movie. Instead of delving into the endlessly challenging arena of crafting and then containing a convincing human mind – in the form of a computer – and tackling the morality of governance that constitutes imprisonment or the termination of life, the film just wants to examine what a sex robot might do to escape mistreatment. In many ways, "Ex Machina" resembles "Splice" (or even "Species" before that), in that immense technological or biological breakthroughs are trumped by when, where, and at what point sexual interactions can take place. Is the 18-25 male target audience so important even for a non-mainstream, art house movie that intellectual examinations (identity, mortality, freedom) must give way to titillation and perversion?

The premise alternates between engaging and nonsensical. At the start, the mystery, the eeriness, and the thrills of investigating an island not too far removed from Dr. Moreau's or the property of Jurassic Park (or Bluebeard's estate) create a sensationally cinematic atmosphere. Late night activities and a highly restrictive security system allow the extreme isolation, the ulterior purpose behind the experiment, and the certain deceptions to thrive in a realm of otherworldly weirdness. But as incentives and intentions are revealed, the film becomes more and more incoherent and riddled with glaring plot holes.

Perhaps the most out-of-place design is that of Ava herself. In this futuristic vision of artificial intelligence, it's not Ava's brain that seems so advanced – it's her body. For a machine to imitate human communication is one thing; for Nathan to build a robotic humanoid form that perfectly replicates human coordination, all motor skills, and skin/muscle movement is utterly unbelievable. 2013's "Her" doesn't seem so outrageous when compared to the physiology of Ava's impossibly lifelike motions and cyborg construction. Even if she never spoke a word of dialogue (like her counterpart Kyoko, played by Sonoya Mizuno) she'd be completely credible as a real woman. And, of course, with the explicit nudity and implementation of sexuality, "Ex Machina" deviates sharply into a pleasure android notion (like Gigolo Joe or Gigolo Jane from "A.I. Artificial Intelligence") that can't be shaken, even when compelling existentialistic aspects reappear at the climax.

1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Although the sustained level of utter nonsense and gravity-defying stunts quickly become dull, the fantastical action scenes are never really the problem., 2 April 2015

At some point during the series of "The Fast and the Furious" films, gravity, physics, and mortality stopped being acknowledged. In this seventh tale of wild vehicular escapism, these concepts are completely nonexistent; but the tragedy is not the death of realism, as the franchise rarely abided by such limitations. The true shame is that, despite zero constraints on the magnitude of potential action sequences (surely the budget can accommodate just about anything), few of the extravagant set pieces actually contain anything conceptually new. More cars, more scantily clad women, and more explosions will probably equal more box office dollars, but it's terrifying to think that that an increase in bullets, babes, and bombs is all that interests the target audience – and that an intensification of those factors negates the need for even moderate creativity.

When vengeful madman Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) attempts to murder Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), his sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), and his best friend Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), the former street racer will stop at nothing to eliminate the threat to his family. But catching the elusive assassin proves difficult without the aid of advanced weaponry and technology, prompting Dominic to accept an offer from shadowy secret agent "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell). In exchange for retrieving the "God's Eye," a highly adaptive tracking program, Dominic will be allowed to use the device to pinpoint Shaw's exact location. Gathering together his regular crew, including hacker Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), wild card Roman (Tyrese Gibson), and his amnesic wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the embattled driver embarks on a succession of perilous, globe-spanning missions that will test the limits of his entire team.

Or, debatably, they won't test any measurable limits. To justify a seventh feature, something new has to be brought to the table. Unfortunately, "Furious Seven" (not to be confused in any way with a project of the caliber to rip off "Seven Samurai" or its Western counterpart "The Magnificent Seven") can't present any sequences that haven't been seen before in this very series. It also borrows heavily from "Ocean's Eleven," "Mission: Impossible," and the adventures of James Bond (and, embarrassingly, "Sex and the City 2," with its attention to fashion, lavish parties, excessive wealth, romance, and Abu Dhabi), but this isn't the first time these properties have been tapped for inspiration. Feeling more and more like "The Expendables," "The A-Team," or "G.I. Joe," the filmmakers have apparently completely exhausted themselves of all ingenuity – and the down-to-earth yet high-stakes premise of Los Angeles street races.

"I can't believe we pulled that off." Although the sustained level of utter nonsense and gravity-defying stunts quickly become dull, the fantastical action scenes are never really the problem. Instead, it's the overbearing sense of imperviousness to injury or death, the total emotional detachment from the characters, and the tragically bland dependence on nameless governmental agencies (providing unlimited funds and tech and weapons and rides) to propel the story that drag the project down. The repetitiveness in action choreography and heist plots is boring, but the dialogue is simply excruciating, topping even the disregard for originality. Every delivery is an idiom, a turn of phrase, or a tough-guy taunt. There's no human communication – merely Schwarzenegger-like showdown retorts.

Nevertheless, amusement can be found in the overdone stupidity of it all. Laughable moments abound, made more hysterical by the lengths the creators go to outdo the property destruction, explosions, and shootouts from previous episodes. While it starts off resembling a music video by Michael Bay (with hyperactive camera-work, jarring cuts, and semi-nude, jiggling female bodies) before turning into a sappy cast reunion, the use of Jason Statham, Tony Jaa, and Ronda Rousey as villains helps boost the intrigue. Sadly, the film is packed with far too many characters to give any of them adequate screen time or proper character development. And, ludicrously, Mia insists that Brian return to his family after this final mission, even though she's accommodated one last return to the world of crime and danger for several previous films in a row. In the end, "Furious Seven" is little more than porn for car enthusiasts.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A modernized take on "When Harry Met Sally.", 30 March 2015

After losing their virginity to each other in college, Elaine "Lainey" Dalton (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) part ways. More than twelve years pass before the two meet again by chance outside a sex addiction clinic - and eventually embark on a real first date. But Lainey, still obsessed with pursuing an affair with an old flame, Dr. Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott), and Jake, admittedly a serial womanizer, agree to maintain a completely platonic relationship - complete with a safe word should their conversations or behaviors become too sexual. As Jake and Lainey quickly become great friends, continuing to confide tales of romantic triumphs and misadventures with each other, they slowly begin to realize that the mutual attraction building between them can no longer be ignored.

The opening scenes and the initial premise are largely unbelievable as they paint portraits of college flings and their lasting effects on adulthood. The following, slow-motion run through the rain to chase down an angered girl with smeared makeup as punk music plays in the background doesn't improve the scenario, though it does eventually change course and offer up a couple of diverting laughs. The rest of the project tries its best to avoid the romantic comedy tropes it initially depended on while also imparting a bit of dramatic heart.

That's another problem, however, as "Sleeping with Other People" doesn't quite know what it wants to be. The tone is consistently humorous, with Jason Sudeikis' nonstop jokes mustering genuine laughs, yet severer moments keep cropping up. Frequently, it's as if two separate movies are unfolding simultaneously. Even some of the more original gags (such as a crash course in female masturbation) are alternated with the darker concepts of real psychological disorders and graphic sex. The beginning details of sex addiction treatment and coping methods soon give way to the truths of waiting for Mr. Right and yearning over the one that got away. "You're not an addict – you're just a whore."

In its attempts to be both serious and goofy, the film struggles. But, fortunately, Brie and Sudeikis are talented actors, capable of not only delivering clever bits of dialogue (intermittently written with perceptive verve by Leslye Headland) but also crafting characters worthy of attention and sympathy. No matter how formulaic it is to see the two lead personas - hopelessly right for one another - continue down disjoining courses, it's routinely amusing to see them veering back to their inevitable conclusion. It's a strange balance, with the comedy and drama working best when not intermingling, like a modernized take on "When Harry Met Sally" as the inherent degeneration of platonic relationships are revealed and the risks of experimenting with love become more disconcerting.

In the end, "Sleeping with Other People" proves to have just enough surprising sequences of individuality that it can't be relegated to the raunchy teen comedy realm of projects like "Just Friends," "No Strings Attached," "Friends with Benefits," and "40 Days and 40 Nights." The screenplay is wired with frank sexual conversations and slightly higher-brow references (like the early days of Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" show), generating arrestingly fast-paced repartee like a dirtier Woody Allen (again, from the early days). Resultantly, much of the denotative remarks will likely be lost amongst the target audience (including mentions of "The West Wing," "Misery," the IBM ThinkPad, Anne Sullivan, Blues Traveler, Pinkerton from "Madame Butterfly," Malcolm Gladwell, Bobby Fischer, and the opening scene from "Beverly Hills Cop").

Cam Girlz (2015)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
It's commendably beyond (quite graphically) the uninspired standard of talking heads., 27 March 2015

It begins with a woman in a sexualized mime getup, acting out a striptease to a webcam, as if to show a double-layered piece of erotica – one for provoking a question of symbolization and one for simple visual stimulation. In many ways, the documentary as a whole serves a correspondingly dual purpose. By showing clips of nudity, the film represents pornographic input; by supplementing this footage with voice-over narration and commentary by the instigants, it becomes an examination of the mentality and motivation behind the acts themselves.

Here, "camming" is basically performing any intimate deed live on the internet, while potentially thousands of subscribers watch the routines. Nudity is almost always a factor – though the girlfriend/companionship-only angle supposedly makes up a percentage of the girls' incomes. The clientele is mostly too shy to type a response on their computers, although more adventurous users type requests and transmissions and interact as if they're involved in a substantive relationship. The women on film insist that they're real, normal, intelligent, empowered, and certainly not exploited. They're rendering services, creating a fantasy, and getting paid. At the very least, they're more than comfortable with their bodies.

Apparently, no one is getting hurt. But, of course, that's the most controversial aspect: is someone involved being abused or exploited? Or is this all genuinely harmless? As long as they're doing it by their own design and desire, what's the problem? Surely, those that partook in "Cam Girlz" did so of their own volition (not everyone in the industry is a product of emotional and sexual abuse), but decidedly more nefarious entities and victims certainly populate the world of monetized sex streams – though that is not covered (or of concern) in the scope of this documentary.

"The most important thing is to be online." Intriguingly, the element of marketing is addressed, with the many subjects considering their initiatives entirely entrepreneurial. The entertainment value, a knowledge of the audience, and an understanding of the product are crucial components of the business. Most of the girls wish to fill a niche to avoid dullness; apparently, boring sex scenarios are of less value. Most revelatory are the cammers' appreciation for being their own bosses and finding financial success that surpasses that of more customary jobs. $75,000 a month for the top performing models is nothing to scoff at; obviously, sex sells. And there is also a surprisingly expansive array of performers, running the gamut of body types and ages and even the wildness of the programs. One in particular involves elaborate costumes and creepy ventriloquist puppet interactions.

Most of the footage is snippets of the shows, which, when devoid of narration, are mere sexual images (pole-dancing, masturbation, showering, fondling) for the sake of sexual images. This will, undoubtedly, prevent "Cam Girlz" from being a film that can reach a wide audience. Furthermore, the plodding pacing, with its focus on visuals over a more philosophical debate on the topic, diminishes the potential for a truly inspirational analyzation. Few breakthroughs or eye-opening viewpoints are scrutinized, succumbing instead to generally trivial blurbs of individual ideals on achievement and emancipation from the entry-level employment rat race.

Eventually, the alternating shots of naked women curiously gives way to a few male users, who admit that watching cam girls builds confidence, substitutes for communications at the typical bar or strip club, and helps them explore their sexuality. One man misguidedly believes he's accruing genuine, intimate connections. That is, sadly, the major fallacy. For the girl, it's an act, a chiefly invented personality; they're paid to be enthusiastic about their erotic endeavors. In a real life situation, they'd certainly behave differently. The degree of anonymity (as evidenced by suggestive screen names), as long as it exists, is the only protection – and also the catalyst for more dangerous follow-ups. Yet this predicament is only touched upon by a single model, with just a couple of sentences.

"You have to have a lot of self confidence." Obviously, online sex shows are still a taboo topic. The girls here attribute this to a lack of communication and education about sex in general. Promiscuity is shunned and intercourse is demonized; open-mindedness is a difficult concept to propagate, especially when old-fashioned traditions and religion still immoderately dictate the forms of acceptable professions. It's an amusing subject, but executed with a distinct lifelessness, a lack of technical and editing verve, a tonal flatness, and a failure to movingly illustrate the various personas that frequent the picture. It's commendably beyond (quite graphically) the uninspired standard of talking heads, but it's nevertheless wanting for depth and potency, regardless of the compelling nature of the issue.

The shenanigans should be happening to Harold and Kumar instead of middle-aged businessmen., 26 March 2015

Businessman Petr Kraus (Pavel Batek) journeys back to the Czech Republic from China to retrieve an under-the-table shipment of clothing. But when he examines the merchandise, he realizes the yellow Adadas shirts are defective (manufactured with an incredibly tiny hole for the head). His contact at the shipping yard only gives him a week to remove the product and Kraus envisions his own shady boss blaming him for the whole ordeal. Indeed, the impatient textile contractor (Jirí Lábus) isn't likely to ignore a $3 million, unfulfilled order.

Fortunately, Petr has never been interested in leading a normal life – with a proper job, a mortgage, a wife, and kids – and so doesn't seem all that consternated by his potentially deadly dilemma. Instead, he preoccupies himself with a series of blind dates he's been orchestrating via the internet. Despite having an easy time picking up women and sleeping around, he can't see the most appropriate companion right in front of him: therapist Tereza "Teri" (Vica Kerekes), who is desperately in love (in the most awkwardly obvious way). Meanwhile, best friend and construction worker Pavel (Filip Blazek) - who always knows what to do in every situation - becomes a useful ally in solving problems, just as Petr is scheduled to meet the irritated boss in Ostrava in two days.

In an attempt to be quirky, the film uses annoying techniques of narrative curve balls, like jumping about in the timeline, creating fictional asides to visualize possible futures, and even fast-forwarding through conversations. The stylization eventually dissipates, but it's replaced by comic relief incidents that possess absolutely no humor. A gay man wielding a miniature chainsaw, a kleptomaniac uncle, the numerous dates secreting the existence of crazy boyfriends, a heavy metal concert in Vsemokrousy, and a last minute wedding to upend each provide opportunities for fun – but the execution is so poor that all the laughs are lost. Even the genuinely funny idea of trying to knock a man unconscious (it looks simple in the movies) is somehow devoid of amusement.

Just as the shenanigans should be happening to Harold and Kumar instead of middle-aged businessmen, a smattering of greatly discordant narrations continually chimes in. Petr omnisciently comments on existential philosophies during bland moments, interpreting happiness and purpose and expressing little knowledge (certainly, few poignant observations or opinions) about anything. The film tries to be a romantic comedy, but operates with the mindset of a crime thriller (perhaps inspired by Guy Ritchie's superbly balanced pictures). As a result, it doesn't know what tone to set or which direction to travel; the action scenes don't fit, the romance is stale, and the mirth is nonexistent. It's apparent that writer/director Rudolf Havlik has seen lots of American movies but couldn't figure out how to duplicate (or mimic) any of them with cinematic competency.

In a particularly odd cinematic gimmick, the mother is never shown., 26 March 2015

A couple on motorcycles races along a vertiginous road, stopping at the top of a cliff to make out and fondle one another (allowing for a gratuitous flash of breasts). When a cell phone lodged in the rocks begins to ring, they're shocked to discover that it was thrown from a vehicle - flipped over across the way and still containing an injured man inside. An ambulance is called, the man's condition is deemed stable, and his sister is called to the hospital to see him.

From here, the story reverts back to the events leading up to the wreck: Maxim (Artyom Alekseev) journeys to his mother's house in the country (on the outskirts of Marseilles). He hasn't seen her, Ludmila, in a year and only plans on visiting for three days. Though he hikes, strikes up a tennis match, swims, and goes for drives, he's plagued by problems with his girlfriend back home and his mum's inquisitiveness over visits to his father, Paul. When Ludmila has a stroke and is whisked away to intensive care, Maxim must brace himself for a potentially difficult recovery.

The film starts with mundane chores (like mowing the lawn) and routines (like eating breakfast or playing with Dadu the dog) before moving into even duller activities. Maxim reminisces about his Russian mother's gatherings and parties, chats with her about befriending Annie the milkmaid, and catches up (via flashbacks) with sister Marie-Louise (Adele Exarchopoulos), who visits from Paris (where she studies and recently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy by former boyfriend Henri). As little more than observations on workaday events, the pacing is slow - designed to create plenty of time for audiences to familiarize themselves with Maxim's general mindset and the relationship with his mother (and sister). But it instead creates lulls in the plot that can't be resuscitated even with sudden tragedies. Shots of gardens, roads, skylines, the ocean, public places, and various other environments fill so much screen time; it's as if the story desperately needed filler minutes of scenery to pad the script's inadequate, pithy length.

In a particularly odd cinematic gimmick, the mother is never shown; she's in numerous scenes, but remains always out of sight of the camera. In wider shots, it's particularly strange that she's not visible – she doesn't even cast a shadow. If it weren't for characters referencing her presence and speaking to her as she sits slightly offscreen, viewers might wonder if she's intended to be a memory or hallucination – or some sort of allegory. But even this one filmic eccentricity isn't enough to spice up a plodding examination of remorse, assigning blame, channeling tempers, forgiveness, and extensive periods of mourning (eventually supplemented by booze). The characters merely move through the moments, generating no sympathy or depth or even personalities deserving of a feature project. And since the narrative initiated at the ending – in a hopelessly clichéd storytelling structure – the sustained tepidness of the plot is even more excruciatingly predictable.

In a particularly odd cinematic gimmick, the mother is never shown., 26 March 2015

A couple on motorcycles races along a vertiginous road, stopping at the top of a cliff to make out and fondle one another (allowing for a gratuitous flash of breasts). When a cell phone lodged in the rocks begins to ring, they're shocked to discover that it was thrown from a vehicle - flipped over across the way and still containing an injured man inside. An ambulance is called, the man's condition is deemed stable, and his sister is called to the hospital to see him.

From here, the story reverts back to the events leading up to the wreck: Maxim (Artyom Alekseev) journeys to his mother's house in the country (on the outskirts of Marseilles). He hasn't seen her, Ludmila, in a year and only plans on visiting for three days. Though he hikes, strikes up a tennis match, swims, and goes for drives, he's plagued by problems with his girlfriend back home and his mum's inquisitiveness over visits to his father, Paul. When Ludmila has a stroke and is whisked away to intensive care, Maxim must brace himself for a potentially difficult recovery.

The film starts with mundane chores (like mowing the lawn) and routines (like eating breakfast or playing with Dadu the dog) before moving into even duller activities. Maxim reminisces about his Russian mother's gatherings and parties, chats with her about befriending Annie the milkmaid, and catches up (via flashbacks) with sister Marie-Louise (Adele Exarchopoulos), who visits from Paris (where she studies and recently dealt with an unplanned pregnancy by former boyfriend Henri). As little more than observations on workaday events, the pacing is slow - designed to create plenty of time for audiences to familiarize themselves with Maxim's general mindset and the relationship with his mother (and sister). But it instead creates lulls in the plot that can't be resuscitated even with sudden tragedies. Shots of gardens, roads, skylines, the ocean, public places, and various other environments fill so much screen time; it's as if the story desperately needed filler minutes of scenery to pad the script's inadequate, pithy length.

In a particularly odd cinematic gimmick, the mother is never shown; she's in numerous scenes, but remains always out of sight of the camera. In wider shots, it's particularly strange that she's not visible – she doesn't even cast a shadow. If it weren't for characters referencing her presence and speaking to her as she sits slightly offscreen, viewers might wonder if she's intended to be a memory or hallucination – or some sort of allegory. But even this one filmic eccentricity isn't enough to spice up a plodding examination of remorse, assigning blame, channeling tempers, forgiveness, and extensive periods of mourning (eventually supplemented by booze). The characters merely move through the moments, generating no sympathy or depth or even personalities deserving of a feature project. And since the narrative initiated at the ending – in a hopelessly clichéd storytelling structure – the sustained tepidness of the plot is even more excruciatingly predictable.

In Silence (2014)
"When things turn bad, we'll just fly away.", 26 March 2015

There's something stylish and quaint about black and white footage, here designed to be representational of archival materials and newsreels that play out to a theater audience. Grain and artifacts frequent the more realistic, completely silent clips, though the authenticity all but disappears for the story proper, manufactured with little more than dated clothing and a slight sepia tint. The high contrast, crystal clear imagery simply doesn't match the unrestored splices - though the distinction is obviously purposeful in presenting fictional reenactments.

In an unexpectedly strange maneuver, a dance sequence manifests from nowhere, with several young men competing for the attention of a woman aboard a train. Their toe-tapping techniques then suddenly give way to titles on screen, detailing Jewish musicians. The first one up is Karol Elbert (Ján Ctvrtník), born in Trnava and a student of the Academy of Music and Drama in Bratislava – introduced with another dancing number accompanying his speedy piano keying. Subsequent artists similarly receive their own brief segments of performances, which they narrate offscreen, as if reflecting on these visualized moments in their lives.

Famous pianist Edith Kraus (Judit Bárdos), graduate of the Academy of Music in Berlin, recounts her soloist achievements with the Karlovy Vary Orchestra at the age of eleven. Dr. Arthur Chitz (Ján Gallovic) from Prague is a historian of music and a pianist, composer, and conductor. He was also musical director of the drama company in Dresden. And from Poland, Alica Flachova is a gifted ballet student. The assemblage of characters is almost a documentary, with real people portrayed by actors in biographical skits. Great care is taken to contrast idyllic asides in the country, where freedom and creativity can flourish and where beauty surrounds everything – before the darker moments of history take hold.

"When things turn bad, we'll just fly away." Seemingly overnight (in May of 1939), under the Ordinance of the Slovak Government, countless Slovaks are now only Jews, restricted from being members of the Music Chamber, from working anywhere, from visiting playgrounds, pools, theaters, or parks, and from using any means of public transportation. Disbelief of the concentration camp rumors, of the escalating violence, and of the persecution lasting for too much longer are affronted by dreary, colorless scenes of the Hlinka guards organizing raids, the stripping away of Jewish identities, and the herding of victims into tight quarters. The standard World War II horrors depicted certainly clash with the serene and energetic opening introductions.

Continuous music plays in the background over uncomfortable recreations of the Holocaust and in the foreground by the central subjects as they conduct, practice, or give concerts just prior to being hauled away. If the point is to highlight the salvation qualities of art, "In Silence" fails to demonstrate any such elements more impactful than Karol's yearning to reunite with his wife, Eliska (Kristína Svarinská). Reveries are shattered by dire realities and hope is numbed by aggravating silence as two separated lovers await closure – but the music slowly dwindles away. Arthur's muse Gertrud (Dana Kosicka) and Edith longing for her dog Pluto present additional survivors searching for their lost partners, though neither is given enough screen time to justify taking it away from the more poignant story lines. It's evident that "In Silence" didn't really know what it wanted to be (the editing is equally undecided), splitting its efforts between being an account of the Holocaust's destruction of Slovak's great artists (of which too many are featured to do any one tragedy properly) and a dramatized document of those artists' experiences during the '40s.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A pseudo-documentary adventure about angst and wandering and a lack of inspiration., 26 March 2015

In the countries of the West, those born between the end of the '60s and the early '80s belong to what is commonly known as Generation X. In some regions, they have been renamed "expendables." This is the (true) story of three of them. Or so suggests the opening titles of "WAX: We Are the X," a pseudo-documentary adventure about angst and wandering and a lack of inspiration.

Aaron Mulder (Rutger Hauer, whose recognizable face certainly doesn't help the film's nonfiction angle) from Holland, now working in Italy, is a former civil rights lawyer looking for investigative reporters. He manages to orchestrate a meeting with one particular journalist (Andrea Sartoretti), who he hopes will look deeper into the accidental deaths of three young filmmakers who died under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Mulder can only provide, in the form of a flash drive, a diary of their last week alive, as evidence that more needs to be done in the investigation.

The contents of the USB device begin with egotistical, older producer Saverio (Andrea Renzi) arranging a location-scouting meeting with his production manager, 35 year-old Livio Nesi (Davide Paganini), as they begin work shooting an ad – for which they'll be paid half-a-million euros. They're joined by Dario Cervi (Jacopo Maria Bicocchi), a 33 year-old novice Italian director and former storyboarder who is documenting the entire experience via personal camera and microphone equipment, and, later, by Joelle Bernard (Gwendolyn Gourvenec), a 32 year-old French casting director with an attractiveness befitting internet pornography (or so Livio insists). Working for the company Liberty Film, the crew must coordinate with the French Riviera Film Commission before acquiring a place to stay in Menton. Afterwards, they arrange to fly in a helicopter for specific shots of the city, attend the Lemon Festival, see a circus performance, and smoke marijuana – before finally planning to rejoin Saverio at the Fairmont Hotel at the end of the weekend.

"I can't do the whole video blog in hand-held. People would vomit!" Despite including this line of dialogue, the movie is nevertheless entirely a found-footage production. Assembled solely from hand-held cameras, interviews, cell phone recordings, security cam snippets (one hotel room camera is aimed directly at the bed, which is utter nonsense), and first-person clips, the movie is not only dizzying in its technique, it's also terribly unoriginal. It's a cinematic narrative that has been done to death and it only becomes more unwieldy as every new found-footage movie is released.

There's also never an explanation for why Cervi wishes to create a behind-the-scenes video blog for a mere car commercial (other than it's his first time), with so much equipment (he even has a waterproof smartphone placed inside a full kitchen sink – as if that angle would be necessary for a blog) and in a feature-length, unreasonably detailed manner (many sequences resemble high quality music videos). A good portion of his documentation appears to be just an excuse to spy on Joelle. Even more confusing is Joelle's agreement to record her own solitary talks for inclusion in Cervi's piece and to offer up old family films for segues.

Titles, dates, and times also flash on screen (creating something of a countdown to "X Hour"), dividing the finished product into chapters of sorts. And inside those segments are a lot of filler materials, most prominently in the form of teen-minded small talk - with Dario and Livio competing over the attention of the alluring female newcomer. They also reveal the major theme of the project, which is exasperation over the schooling process and the limitations on success, as the ruling powers suppress creative youths and resist integration. This leaves hopeful graduates to realize only uncertainty in their jobs and a feeling of coercion into unacceptable employment conditions. Italy apparently cultivates inferiority complexes with its lack of social cohesion.

The film is ultimately a rumination on self-worth and the strive to impart valuable contributions to mankind - though it occasionally digresses into a generic romantic comedy or an erotic threesome home video (like "The Dreamers") or a strange rip of "Punk'd." But none of these elements bring about an entertaining film. And the cameos by Jean-Marc Barr and Lily Bloom as themselves are just pointless.


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