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1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
2. Pulp Fiction (1994)
3. Sin City (2005)
4. The General (1927)
5. Raiders of the Lost Arc (1981)
6. The Great Dictator (1940)
7. Casablanca (1942)
8. City Lights (1931)
9. Star Wars IV-VI (1970's)
10. Schindler's List (1993)
11. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
12. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
13. V for Vendetta (2005)
14. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
15. Patton (1970)
16. The Sting (1973)
17. Se7en (1995)
18. Memento (2000)
19. The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
20. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
21. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
22. The Matrix (1999)
23. Search for the Holy Grail (1975)
24. The Lion King (1994)
25. The Incredibles (2004)
26. Die Hard (1988)
27. Toy Story (1995)
28. American Beauty (1999)
29. Aladdin (1992)
30. Back to the Future (1985)
31. The Princess Bride (1987)
32. The Iron Giant (1999)
33. The Dark Knight (2008)
34. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2000's)
35. The Gold Rush (1925)
36. Jaws (1975)
37. Gladiator (2000)
38. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
39. City of God (2002)
40. The Professional (1994)
41. The Guns of Navarone (1961)
42. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
43. High Noon (1952)
44. Modern Times (1936)
45. Aliens (1987)
46. Intolerance (1916)
47. The Godfather (1972)
48. The Untouchables (1987)
49. The Last Crusade (1989)
50. Minority Report (2002)
51. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
52. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
53. Finding Nemo (2003)
54. Jurassic Park (1993)
55. The Fugitive (1993)
56. Collateral (2004)
57. Batman Begins (2005)
58. The Prestige (2006)
59. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
60. Clerks (1994)
61. The Grand Illusion (1937)
62. Lord of War (2005)
63. American History X (1998)
64. The Life of Brian (1979)
65. Stand By Me (1986)
66. Road to Perdition (2002)
67. WALL-E (2008)
68. Children of Men (2006)
69. The Pink Panther (1963)
70. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
71. The 400 Blows (1959)
72. Superbad (2007)
73. Blood Diamond (2006)
74. American Gangster (2007)
75. Goldfinger (1964)
76. Apocalypto (2006)
77. The Truman Show (1998)
78. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
79. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
80. King Kong (2005)
81. Braveheart (1995)
82. Hot Fuzz (2007)
83. Equilibrium (2002)
84. Apocalypse Now (1979)
85. Alien (1979)
86. Unforgiven (1992)
87. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
88. Ratatouille (2007)
89. Dark City (1998)
90. Rashomon (1950)
91. The Seventh Seal (1957)
92. The Pianist (2002)
93. The Bicycle Thief (1948)
94. Kill Bill Volumes I and II (2000's)
95. Taxi Driver (1976)
96. The 6th Sense (1999)
97. Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
98. In Bruges (2008)
99. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
100. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
It pains me not to give just dues to some older examples of these sequences (Rope, Touch of Evil, The Player, to name a very few), but if I were to mention them all I would surely lose your attention upon clip 87. Thusly, let's run down 10 of the best modern tracking shots, in no particular order.
What will deviate from the oh-so-familiar formula is that “Cabin” will offer a skewering of the now-clichéd fright flick convention, all while hopefully providing the thrills that made this setting so popular for so long. Although offering a distinctive introspection of the genre, this duo is far from the first to toy with the framework. To celebrate a hopefully entertaining parody, here are 10 of the most unique visions of “the cabin in the woods” trope.
Thought Provoking and Profound A Near Masterpiece
So abundant and seamlessly integrated into the narrative of Spike Jonze's Her is the exploration of love, and everything associated with that indescribable, crippling feeling, that immediately as the credits role it's clear a repeat viewing is essential. So rare is it that a filmmaker has asked so many of the right questions about the nature of relationships and answered just enough of them in just the right ways. And so soul inflating is it to have a film, so outlandish and odd in basic premise, to organically connect with elements of life that we've all worked through in one way or another. The very fact that Jonze still finds the time to effortlessly combine science fiction elements and biting, often hilarious social satire is a testament to the brilliance of this tale and immediately stands not only a love story for our time but one that will only become more resonant as time passes.
Her examines love at levels that are simultaneously, and fundamentally, beyond us as human beings and as intimate and natural as we've ourselves experienced. The film doesn't attempt to sell it as merely an illusion a made-up fairytale for the deluded nor does it spin it into something artificially fluffy and over romanticized. What is at play is as far from the emotions explored in most rom-coms as can be.
The way Jonze is able to explore these aspects comes from a multitude of directions, from having our central character of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) struggling through the all too familiar grind of heartbreak, to his very vocation and on to his friendship with a woman down the hall (Amy Adams). But the way Her really goes beyond the average constraints of a film tackling this subject is with its futuristic setting which blends the technological revolution and everything (good and bad) that journeys along with "progress."
In the process of finalizing a divorce, Theodore purchases a new, highly advanced operating system which has the capacity to learn and evolve as it experiences the wonders of the world. Samantha, as she names herself and voiced by Scarlett Johansson, is what springs forth from the software and he immediately becomes smitten not only because of her gentle, inquisitive nature but because they legitimately seem understand one another. From this launching point, and as we see their bond deepen, we are forced to ask ourselves if this love is real or some sort of sick delusion being perpetuated by a heartbroken individual and a piece of gadgetry just doing what it was programmed to do.
Yet the questions flood far beyond that as we then contemplate how to truly determine what "real" love is and if it has to be between two breathing humans to be true. I could quite literally expand on this very query for another 1000 words but instead I implore you to simply view the film and see for yourself what mindset emerges. On the flip side, Samantha, in all her advancement, struggles with having no physical body finds a divide that cannot be filled growing between them. Also intelligently explored is precisely how an AI such as this may ultimately evolve given the circumstances. As much as this all works as it plays out on screen, so much of this has uncomfortably authentic parallels to real relationships it achieves a whole new level of truthfulness.
Then of course there is the whole exploration of society's descent into self imposed isolation, seeking out either artificial or easy emotional connections over the real thing. Her fascinatingly poses the question that this is both a deeply unsettling phenomenon but also a weirdly natural progression. In this futuristic world, flush with odd, vibrant fashion sense (and what appears to be the return of the moustache) the prevalence of technology, be it a sassy holographic video game or what is 24/7 connectivity is not overtly painted as mankind's demise, and while that could turn out to be the case, Jonze doesn't wish to look at it as merely black or white.
The performances of what are essentially three main leads are all tremendous, with Phoenix anchoring the film as our flesh and blood protagonist. Married with Jonze's script, we meet with a gentle, sensitive, often introverted man, who within minutes feels like a real flesh and blood person and one we can sympathize with on this odyssey. There is both a naïveté and aura of frustration to this character and despite acting opposite nobody for a great deal of the film, he sells every second.
Much of why this on screen relationship works so well is due to Johansson's transcendent voice, as with every word she makes us feel as if Samantha is standing before her eyes. Between this and her brilliant turn in Don Jon, this leading lady has unequivocally shown she is more than just a pretty face. Finally, in a memorable and crucial supporting role Adams as Theodore's long-time friend is the foil to his digital connection and is a character through which some of the film's most important revelations, and further questions, flow.
I fear that some may find Her to be too odd, and by looking to the fluorescent colours, focussing on the weirdness or simply psyching themselves out because of the very premise, they will miss what the film is really saying. I know that despite holding my attention throughout I still missed some of what this film was trying to get across. Despite the boldness and high concept at play, Jonze has no pretensions about what he is exploring and as such has crafted one of the most complex and unforgettable love stories ever put to film.
Lone Survivor (2013)
A Harrowing and Taut Experience
Whether talking about a cinematic experience or hearing details of the real thing, the gallantry and heroism of our men and women at arms can never be overstated, be it in service to the defenseless, protecting the nation or for reasons with which everyone may not agree. Though ironically just that overstated at a number of junctures, Peter Berg's Lone Survivor is nevertheless an often breathless and riveting tale of a small band of brother's desire to survive, and how a greater objective can become a moot point at a moments notice.
Lone Survivor once again makes the case that focusing on a smaller portion of a greater conflict is the proper way to go when attempting to make the events of a war film hit close to home. While sweeping, melodramatic conflict driven dramas have their place (and there are some great ones) there is little substitute to spending an intense two hours with a few select individuals as you follow them through a life or death ordeal. When the film's very title overtly hints that there will certainly be more death than life on screen, the experience becomes that much more uncomfortable and traumatic as we watch in unfold, unable to do anything but act as helpless spectator.
The biggest compliment that I can pay to Lone Survivor is that it uses the already established nature of its outcome to its advantage rather than allow it to become a constraint that would dampen the impact. Despite the fact that only Mark Wahlberg's Marcus Luttrell escapes from the mountainous Kunar province of Afghanistan after the botched Red Wings assassination mission, equal time is spent with his three fellow Navy SEALs, never using them merely as canon fodder as our indestructible hero defeats the odds. The film treats them as humans, with loved ones, fears and souls and in doing so, as they are overcome by their ordeal, the losses hit closer to the heart.
The simple fact we are aware of the outcome means the very journey organically notches up the suspense and all encompassing sense of dread. The stench of death is oppressive and in caring for these individuals and knowing and witnessing their fate it evokes a sort of anger reminiscent of the unfairness present in real conflict. Good, honest men may die, and it may be the furthest thing from fair or just, but that's simply the ugly nature of the beast, and Lone Survivor mirrors that frustration through its execution alone.
The four principle cast members are all extremely solid, utilizing their shared screen time to great effect be it alone or with the group. Wahlberg, perpetually the everyman, anchors the picture and brings both the physicality and necessary weakness as the film evolves from firefight to survival situation. Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch have just the right look and overall level of public exposure to recede into their doomed characters, as they too sell their respective journeys towards the end. By far the most surprising member in terms of performance was that of Taylor Kitsch (reteaming with Berg after the dreadful Battleship) who in addition to acting believably as the squad leader employs a delicate blend of grace, heroism and humanity to a role that could have been anything but. This performance proves this young man has a future far beyond doomed blockbusters.
The film's biggest folly comes when it paints these soldiers as nearly indestructible machines of war. Amidst what is some of the best shot and choreographed fighting in recent memory we get so many noble, eyes to the sky, slump to the knees, death scenes it both seeks to undermine the credibility of the situation and the otherwise brutal and realistic injuries these men endure. It's at those points that Lone Survivor makes itself clear it's no Saving Private Ryan. In films of that echelon when someone is on the receiving end of a bullet, in that moment at least, it is anything but heroic and patriotic. It's a person, alone in a pool of blood, gasping on a last few futile breaths, and its all the more searing because of it.
All that being said, Lone Survivor puts us and its protagonists through the ringer and while presenting them as the supposed elite, never releases its grasp on the situation at hand in favour of pro American pandering. It's as intense and grisly as an experience you're likely to witness this year and though it stops short of greatness, its strides are mighty enough to take us places we don't want to be, and that we can't leave behind.
Year of the Living Dead (2013)
Fun, Nostalgic and Informative
It's not often that one can trace back the origins of an entire genre to one body of work, let alone have that seminal entity still directly influence all its successors in one way or another. We can from time to time point out overt homages to a keystone effort or see themes and imagery blatantly stolen, but in the case of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, we've simply seen a genre organically (and sometimes brilliantly) evolve within the confines of the trendsetter's mould.
Efficiently and entertainingly, Birth of the Living Dead takes us back to the late 1960's where times were tough, social divides were widening and where one nearly novice auteur dared to craft a horror film unlike anything audiences had seen before, and arguably, haven't seen since.
In viewing the first entry in Romero's "Dead" series decades after its first release, not analyzing what it must have meant at the time is an easy feat. For most watching it now, they'll be struck by how well it holds up, rather than that it featured stark parallels to the climate at that time, both intentionally and otherwise. Race wars at home raged, and so too did the Vietnam War overseas the symbolism of unstoppable, remorseless monsters laying siege to one's home rung far too true in some cases. Birth of the Living Dead strips away these layers and provides us with a capsule of time when a movie became more than just a movie.
The film also intriguingly touches on the casting of African American lead Duane Jones, an addition to the crew that was purely based on skill, and who was not accompanied by changes to the script to address his ethnicity. This resulted in (at the time) a black man serving as the leader of a group of white folk who did not engage in slurs or anything of the like and instead played things out as it would between those of the same race, or if those prejudices did not exist at all. It was man versus the undead and man versus man at the same time, but not because of racism.
All of this insight would of course be for nought if Mr. Romero himself were not to wryly chime in on his experiences, thoughts on the actors, the filmmaking process and everything around and in between. At age 73 he's still as chipper and sarcastic as ever, and frankly is just a blast to watch on screen. Furthermore, his commentary of things he would have changed today and things he wished could have been accomplished then, help to flesh out a man who has spent his life in the industry.
If there was one major complaint I would have against Birth of the Living Dead it would be its slim runtime. While digestible in the best of ways, it could have dug a little deeper into the mythos of the film and the actual filmmaking process. It's a shame that many of the cast and crew have passed on since filming as their lack of insight into how the process went for them softens the bite of the documentary a tad, but of course I can't lay blame on something that cannot be altered, and as it stands it still paints a very vivid picture.
While slight in areas, I would certainly label Birth of the Living Dead as essential viewing for fans of zombie films, Night of the Living Dead or of the man behind the magic. It's overall an immensely enjoyable watch that should leave most fans, save the die-hard, with something new to mull over about one of the greatest horror films of all time. If at the very least it makes you want to partake in another viewing of the iconic flick, then that's good enough in my book.
Zombie Hunter (2013)
Plenty of Camp Just Not Much Fun
One of the biggest divides that seems to exist between concept and approach in filmmaking is that of the B-movie a lark simply meant to amplify camp, kitsch and fun to delirious levels. But what seems to be more often the case is the arrival of flicks which approach the genre superficially, revelling in lazy dialogue, dull slaughter and gore and boring characters rather than applying a grindhouse feel to well though out material. While there are some attempts to spoof the well worn tropes of this type of endeavour, too often does Zombie Hunter cheat the audience, revel in its laziness and fail even to live up to the gimmicky promises plastered on the DVD case.
Let me get the bluffs out of the way first, because these are not so much spoilers as they are an accurate description of events. In quick succession: Danny Trejo appears in little more than a cameo, the souped up muscle car exits the picture early on and the "clown with a chainsaw" represents little more than a blip. And in case you have no idea what this movie is about and why the heck I would bring this up, yes those were major selling points present in the advertising. What remain are inane and groan-worthy dialogue and timing and delivery that rival pre- school plays and repetition at all levels.
I hate to be too harsh on Zombie Hunter because when it's all said and done it's a rather innocent endeavour, never vying for much, featuring thesps who in some cases are experiencing their debut roles and, despite its many pitfalls, is never insulting. It's all just rather wrongheaded and draining. The weird highlight for me was in lead Martin "Hunter" Copping who's growling, monotonous delivery seemed to craft a character that was just as nonchalant concerning the apocalypse then about the junk in which he was starring. Don't get me wrong, it's all very bad and very one note but his attitude made the viewing more tolerable.
The rest of the cast is made of folks truly no offense as I'm sure I would join their ranks if I attempted to act who have little hope of securing steady jobs in Hollywood. The dialogue may be horrid but they make no effort to bring it to life. Even a hammy, hackneyed script can be given a weird sense of charm with the right performer delivering the lines. It's immensely clear across all fronts they are waiting on prompts and very likely gazing at cue cards. Their infuriating actions and their interactions displayed amongst one another do very little to right any wrongs.
But as I iterated early on, there are clear and surprisingly successful attempts to spoof the style of film in which Zombie Hunter eventually revels. Hunter has some amusing early scenes with the undead as does the prologue (which explains the outbreak) have some charm in its own way. Coupled later on with zoom-in shots of a girl's butt, substituted for her, you know, face when running away from a threat, or a puke-off that spoofs the "grizzly discover" cliché, there are scenes that show promise. But collectively their relative occupation of the running time leaves much to be desired.
In the end, Zombie Hunter is only something that could be recommend with the disclaimer it be played in the background while you and your friends shoot the *bleep* and sip some beers. The thorough distain for creativity and decision to wallow in camp rather than embrace or satirize it means this B-movie simply doesn't even get a similar grade to rival its intended stamp.
Curse of Chucky (2013)
A Shockingly Efficient Franchise Revival
Often pushed to a second tier among other iconic horror franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street, the murderous misadventures of Charles Lee "Chucky" Ray have been just as persistent and influential as those other game changing series. But Chucky, so too like Jason, Freddy and Michael, these characters have had their fare share of missteps in terms of quality, and in many cases saw their franchises descend into unintentional self parody.
The Child's Play saga has seen a similar trajectory, with the 1988 original still standing as a horror classic, it's immediate predecessor coming off as passable but more or less a carbon copy and the third as a junky, bland mess. After a seven year hiatus, the surprisingly satirical Bride of Chucky arrived along with a perfect Jennifer Tilly as Chucky's partner in slaughter. Things again took a turn for the worse in Seed of Chucky which aimed to amp up the camp of Bride but it came off as a grating and, ironically, childish.
Almost 25 years on we now get Curse of Chucky, a direct to home video instalment a rather unceremonious release which certainly did not instil confidence in this horror fan. Well, you can consider my mouth shut as this is not only a strong, well crafted fright flick, it's easily among the franchise's best entries. Curse of Chucky takes the more gruesome elements that worked so well early on, some of the parodic flare of Bride and then even goes on to subvert horror norms and cliché. This is a film that knows firmly where it stands and the expectations of its audience and uses those preconceived notions to surprise in a number of ways.
The biggest and most pleasant realization I made from the onset is how well crafted Curse of Chucky is, from the art direction that brings life to your typical isolated home (at which our bloody events can transpire) the composition of shots which expertly use every angle in the book to bring complexity to the carnage and its generally polished look. It certainly doesn't bare any resemblance to most home video fare that looks as if it were shot in somebody's basement. But the accomplished aesthetics only serve as the launching point for some clever prods at the genre, some fun kills and a thorough grasp on its own franchise roots.
One of the things Curse of Chucky is finally able to figure out is how to present an adult protagonist that would believably be in peril when facing off with a pint sized doll. Our heroine comes in the form of Fiona Dourif, daughter of Chucky's voice, the iconic Brad Dourif (whose cackling laugh still brings a weird smile to my face after all these years). Daughter Dourif's Nica you see is confined to a wheelchair, putting her quite literally on even ground when the climax rolls around. There is a young girl about, who serves as the vessel through which Chucky's evil rumblings are heard, but this is more about Nica, and it all works rather well. In the end, it really comes as no surprise that this entry is penned and directed by Don Mancini who has written every entry in the Child's Play franchise. Even though he is so close to the series and its central character, he has clearly taken the time to step back and re-approach his baby in new ways. It's not something you see too often from someone who has been involved with something for so long.
Then we get the funny, subversive elements to the story which plays against our expectations, such as the role of a promiscuous nanny, who gets the knife and when and fake-out scares and potential deaths. Constructed in the way it is, Curse of Chucky should easily please fans of the franchise but also win over general fans of horror who are tired of seeing cookie cutter productions. There are certainly conventional elements at play, but it's all pulled off with a great deal of flare.
As for Dourif's Chucky, he's as vulgar, funny and creepy as ever, and even when delivering more simplistic lines reminds us why the character has persisted. There will certainly be some who will overlook the more clever elements of Curse of Chucky and hone in on what remains ordinary, but for me it was time well spent and easily introduces a new spark to the franchise and shows there is life yet in everyone's favourite killer doll.
Blue Caprice (2013)
A Portrait of a Doomed Bond and Disillusionment Gone Awry
Those who demand easy answers in movies and clear cut motives from its characters will likely find Blue Caprice an unfulfilling and distant character study, one which centers on the Beltway Sniper attacks that left Washington paralyzed for three weeks in 2002. The brilliance of director Alexandre Moors feature debut, in addition to quietly powerful performances from its two main leads, is that it offers no definite answers as to why this massacre transpired. True to life, speculation as to motive ranges from plans to divert attention from the planned murder of one of the assailant's ex wife, revenge against the U.S. government, terrorist ties and general anarchy. Discovering what ultimately drives these monsters is unimportant in the context of this film, but rather it's the troubling and empty journey these men take down the path of evil that is so compelling.
Taking on the notorious gunmen John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond and both deliver nuanced and disturbing performances but with varying approaches. We witness a differing speed at which these two finally become the savages which made global headlines these are individuals with which we both see deeply into but at the same time know nothing about. The way these actors and director are able to make enigmas out of its antagonists without resorting to painting them as faceless monsters is an extraordinary feat.
Channelling Idris Elba in the best ways, Washington does Oscar level work as a broken man whose anger and disillusionment manifests in the worst possible way. Between his work on Grey's Anatomy and supporting work in some higher profile fare, he has never really been given the chance to stretch his dramatic legs and he shows how capable he can be when given the spotlight. He plays off young Tequan Richmond with aplomb, with the promising North Carolina native truly coming into his character in the final act after long sequences of shyness and inwardly directed sadness. Among the most disquieting scenes comes when John teaches Lee how to drive, an act between father and son that is considered to be one of the most important bonding experiences of growing up. In knowing what is to come, it takes on a whole new (and ultimately very disturbing) meaning.
Aside from inherently being a taut and troubling scenario the way the tension and narrative drive is brought to the forefront is also noteworthy especially when the outcome is so widely known. When we first meet with Malvo (and to a lesser extent Muhammad) we see them as damaged but salvageable individuals those given an unfair stab at life but who could display redemptive qualities if given the chance. As we see Malvo fall further and further under the manipulative spell of his surrogate father, and who in turn finds fuel in his adoptive son, it's hard to watch not simply because of their actions but where we know this is all headed. In wanting so much for these lost souls to find an honest meaning in life and see them both missing and avoiding them, the dread and tension ratchets up organically and with an impact you won't soon shake.
Moors also makes the sound decision never to distort or falsely heighten the actual acts of the shootings. Seeing a man in the throws of death in a pool of blood at the base of a gas pump is powerful enough without seeing these two perpetrate every single act. So to does the choice to not magnify the scope of the crimes with fictionalized getaways or close calls in their titular vehicle. The barrel of a gun sticking out of a trunk and an off screen shot does more than enough in the ugly world we're introduced to in Blue Caprice. There are certainly moments of graphic violence interspersed throughout but they're handled in a brief and ugly manner that serves to showcase the emptiness of it all.
Based on the subject matter and the recent horrific gun based acts that have rocked America as of late, Blue Caprice will no doubt bring up the hot button topic of gun control, with some likely looking at the film as a call for help and others as pro liberal pandering meant to take a past tragedy and use it as propaganda. In both instances they would be not only wrong but missing the point of this drama, or rather the pointlessness of these men's actions. Could this act have been avoided with tighter gun laws? Likely. But Blue Caprice has no such pretensions and simply paints a disturbing portrait of men on the edge of reality.
Both as a showcase for the skill of the filmmakers and actors and an examination of the flourishing emotional void this duo carries with them every day, Blue Caprice succeeds and does so in manner that will leave you exhausted and troubled. In having so much to hate on screen there is so much to love about this confident inaugural feature, one which worrisomely shows that the loss of one's humanity can begin with a single act.
A Single Shot (2013)
Equal Parts Satisfying and Devastating.
David M. Rosenthal's A Single Shot joins the ranks of some superior 2013 thrillers, the uniting factor being their complete grasp of a sense of place and time and their ability to unconditionally exploit their setting for the benefit of the story and characters. Mud, The Frozen Ground, Scenic Route and now this poetic backwoods chiller all place a compelling central character in a potentially life threatening ordeal and surrounds them with superior supporting players and executes their motives and actions with fluidity and respect. This year has so far seen a resurgence in this type of yarn a stripped down, character based story that extracts its involving tenseness through simple actions, not bombast and explosions.
For A Single Shot, Matthew F. Jones adapts his own novel which can often be the kiss of death for any film in such a situation and though I have not personally read his book, it's clear he's handled his material with grace and dignity. The dialogue is natural and not overstuffed and most importantly doesn't play out like a work of literary fiction but a thoroughly cinematic effort.
Also an interesting choice is when some of these characters deliver their lines; the employ of a deep southern drawl (often accompanied by drunken slurring) can render certain words incomprehensible. While this certainly adds a layer of realism to the proceedings it does take the risk of making the effort as whole indecipherable and confusing. How A Single Shot avoids this pitfall is with its grasp on these scenes and the sequences that precede and follow them. We are at least somewhat aware of their motivations and how they fit into place so the fact we miss a word here and their holds little bearing on the greater arcs at play.
Of these threads, at the center is always Sam Rockwell's John Moon, a poacher living off the land while trying desperately to get enough of his life together to reconcile with his estranged wife and their young son. It's on a typical hunt on an equally typical day that his fortunes both plummet and inflate with, yes, a single shot. Set in motion is a series of poor choices and collisions with dangerous, scheming men who have no love lost for whoever is responsible for their reversal of fortunes.
Lost in a hillbilly beard, mangy hair and backwater drawl Rockwell delivers what is absolutely one of his best performances and considering his already auspicious resume, it isn't a claim I lay lightly. This is a living, breathing individual, not an A-lister traipsing around in facial hair and one whose choices or lack thereof have dire consequences. This is an inherently flawed and broken man, but one we want to see rise above the hell he has created for himself.
The remainder of the thesps who round out the cast also never miss a beat and all serve to elevate Rockwell who in turn bolsters them. On the side of the wicked we get two outstanding turns by the mostly overlooked Jason Isaacs and up and comer Joe Anderson. They play two former cell mates who are out to find the man responsible for the theft of their drug money and whether alone or together they emanate an innate aura of malice.
Anderson (who some may have seen on the unfortunately short lived found footage television series The River) shares and early scene with Rockwell after he makes an ill advised venture to his ex's home only to find him making friendly with the babysitter. The tense scenes that follow don't have anything surface level that would indicate bad things to come, but the subversive interplay between them is worth the price of admission alone.
Jason Isaacs on the other hand has been delivering deliciously evil villains over the course of his career, the most exposed of which would certainly be his perfectly realized interpretation of slimy Harry Potter antagonist Luscious Malfoy. Though often cast in roles such as that, here he crafts a different vein of monster, lost in a mane of hair and a weathered face. He isn't on screen for long as it turns out but he makes us remember ever scene and his service to the absolutely gripping climax is as invaluable as they come. The final sequences' stakes, the pacing and the performances culminate into some of the most white knuckle filmmaking of the year.
Inhabiting the grey area in terms of scrupulous morals (in addition to John Moon of course) is Jeffrey Wright as a perpetually drunk old friend of Moon's, William H. Macy as a "simple small town lawyer." Then we are treated to great female leads in the form of Kelly Reilly (who is proving to be a name to watch after the fantastic turn in last year's Flight) and Ophelia Lovibond as the daughter of a family friend. I found Wright in particular to be dynamite, certainly adhering to the aforementioned slurring hillbilly style of line delivery. His fate may be a tad predictable and overblown but everything preceding it reminds us why he still has a career.
If A Single Shot stumbles anywhere it would be in its final scenes which are so on the nose it could be considered out of focus. There is nothing subtle about its imagery and metaphors but with such immensely strong work from everyone in front of and behind the camera, it's easy to forgive, though tough to overlook entirely. Embraced by the bleak mountain terrain, perforated my instances of brutal violence and anchored unequivocally by Rockwell, A Single Shot is well worth a look if for nothing than the fact it serves its story and characters with a rare level of reverence and takes them on a journey that is equal parts satisfying and devastating.
Scenic Route (2013)
Will Provide A Different Experience For Each and Every Viewer
Entombed by a nightmarish quality, Scenic Route finds two old friends stranded in Death Valley after their vehicle succumbs to the surroundings (and a misguided ploy by one of the duo). The strengths of this thriller, which embraces both psychological and more straightforward approaches to the genre, comes from many facets. Be it the potent performances from Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, strong writing from scribe Kyle Killen and a well realized vision of the setting and situation, Scenic Route offers no clear answers but what it does better than most is provide multiple outcomes that are equally compelling across the board. Even what I suppose could be considered the less probable conclusions explore themes even more complex that those of the "reasonable" variety.
Scenic Route is penned by scribe Kyle Killen who gave us the prematurely cancelled television series Awake and the hugely underrated The Beaver with Mel Gibson in 2011. Though wildly different films, this effort caries a very similar feel an off kilter, dreamlike vibe that services the ending to great effect. He is certainly no stranger to twisting narratives, a strength when coupled with his poignant, natural script culminates in a film that is both close to home and as far from day to day reality as one could fathom.
Some of the chief themes explored include those to do with the expectations and reality of the "American dream," how people change over time but also how at others they are unable, or unwilling to. Killen delves into the jealous underpinnings of a lost friendship and also how people react either to things actually going well in your life or failing to live up to what we dreamed as kids. Fogler's Carter poignantly states that if everyone followed the path of what we drew in elementary school as our future we would live in a world full of pro athletes and astronauts and that we need someone to clean the toilets. It's a rather harsh reality but so is the life or death situation these two face.
Unravelling as a two man show, Scenic Route certainly asks a lot of its leads and in the cases of both Duhamel and Fogler they deliver. Known mostly for playing the slovenly best friend or goofy sidekick to a more straight laced lead, Fogler owns his character who while still a screw- up (at least in the eyes of most) and a bit of a man child is played completely straight. He is as well developed as Duhamel's corporate "stooge" and individual not nearly as unhappy as he expresses. They share highs and lows and banter and fight with an honesty missing from most dramas. Some of what these characters have to say may hit closer to home than you would like to hear. Perhaps most importantly, despite not always being on the best of terms, these are not bad people and we certainly root for them to make it out OK.
Where Scenic Route stumbles from time to time is in the execution of the scuffles and arguments between these two friends as the situation escalates. Their eventual reconciliations certainly ring true given the stage that has been set but the rather volcanic nature of these feuds can be a tad over the top. Who am I to say how I would react if I was dealt the same hand but given the other interactions they ring more false. Additionally, how their missed opportunities for rescue are handled in a rather derivative manner and serve to be more infuriating in how they unravel, more than a soul crushing defeat just another bump on the road to death. It's unfortunate given how well everything else works.
This brings us to the ending. Always being a positively thinking person, I have a fairly clear comprehension of my version of Scenic Route but more so than usual I actual found it to be more interesting and complex than the flip side. This again stems from ideas surrounding being able to except good things in your life and not always question the little things or that if something exceptional befalls you it must come with a catch. Whatever way someone ultimately view Scenic Route it's difficult to imagine them not leaving with at least something to mull over.
Those who require a clear cut wrap-up will find Scenic Route maddening but those who like their brain to keep firing after the end credits will find what this film has to offer quite compelling. How you view the conclusion will rely entirely on your outlook on life. Optimists, pessimists and everyone in between will have their own view on what transpired and because of it change how they perceive the preceding acts. Different symbolism and foreshadowing will make itself seen depending on what side you land upon and I'm sure repeat viewings will uncover even more subversive dynamics and themes.
The Battery (2012)
A Singular Zombie Movie Experience
As those enticed by the sport of baseball will know well, a "battery" is the two person team of the pitcher and catcher, also known as batterymen or batterymates and so to is the source of the relationship between Ben and Mickey, two wandering souls in a world consumed by the zombie apocalypse. But the title of this immensely intriguing low budget project shares a duel meaning as Mickey's collection of batteries he keeps in his travel pack holds the power of denial, allowing his Discman and a bundle of CD's to shut out the world. All his companion keeps a checklist of the number of undead he offs with his bat or revolver. This is but one of the intriguing dynamics present in The Battery, a very deliberately paced but ultimately very satisfying approach to the genre.
In all honesty calling The Battery a zombie film at all would be a misnomer as this time around the stumbling monsters are relegated to bloody window dressing with the film instead focussing on the relationship (and unlikely bond) these two very different people share. Ben is brash, aggressive, unnecessarily assertive and very frank, whereas Mickey is a meek romantic, the type who upon hearing a woman's voice over a walkie talkie immediately dreams of the potential for some sort of a far fetched relationship. Despite appearances, these two need one another Ben relying on Mickey to keep him sane and Mickey on his caveman like partner to protect him and ultimately keep him in the moment.
I know for a fact however that there will be people who despise The Battery, and not because of the genre to which it belongs. This is a very slowly paced film and also one that fills a good portion of its running time with no dialogue scenes of the two traversing the sun soaked New England countryside. Other extended sequences simply fixate on Mickey listening to his music, often playing entire songs without anything else but a static shot of the actor's face. "Maddening" (and certainly "boring") will be used by some but for me, despite some similar issues, The Battery had a transfixing quality and a strong, emotionally satisfying payoff.
The pitfalls of any micro budget ($6,000) flick remain, from having to skimp on makeup effects (which is still quite respectable actually) gore, the best props, ability to shoot scenes multiple times, etc all remain and with first time director-writer-star Jeremy Gardner at the helm, hiccups were to be expected. He and co-star Adam Cronheim's acting chops dip from time to time though they do better than most considering the circumstances. What I enjoyed most about Gardner's script was its blunt depiction of the way two twenty-something dudes would talk, swinging between simply silence and to-the-point sarcastic banter. This is a shoot the **** writing style and it works more often than not.
As the finale rolls around we find our leads trapped in their car, without keys and a horde of the undead surrounding them and rocking the vehicle without fatigue. It starts out very comedically but slowly loses that quality and becomes quite maddening, a feeling or protagonists certainly share. The very final (unbroken) shot was reportedly 17 minutes long originally but was then cut to 11. It's a fantastic and effective ploy but one I think would have been even more searing if it hadn't been preceded by so many other long takes. The third act as a whole is melancholy in its construction but also rousing and triumphant in a way and also offers a neat spin on the oft seen refuge camp, a la The Governor's Woodbury in The Walking Dead.
In fact in spite of its budget The Battery employs a number of interesting approaches to the genre (if not every completely fleshed out) such as how to baptize the uninitiated into the art of zombie killing, how one might satisfy their "needs" in the situation and simply how two guys might actually react to the situation and where they (or at least one of them) might feel safe to sleep at night. Blended with the indie soundtrack (one that never goes into quirky hipster territory) strong editing and its unwavering approach and style, The Battery is a singularly unique take on the zombie phenomenon and one that is nothing close to something I would recommend to everyone.
I Give It a Year (2013)
A Great Prod at Rom-Com Cliché (and Funny in its Own Right)
With so many modern romantic comedies reaching the point of unintentional self parody, we have (thankfully) seen a niche segment emerge that aims to subvert the conventions that have plagued this once frothy and enjoyable genre. Fare like (500) Days of Summer, Celeste and Jesse Forever and Friends with Kids have seen the sins of the father and have come up with ways to please mainstream audiences but without insulting their intelligence. I Give It a Year joins these rare ranks and delivers a sometimes gut busting, always frank and enjoyably clever look at the trails and tribulations of marriage.
There are certainly times when this British-American hybrid goes too far with its crude dialogue or goofy awkward rants but writer-director Dan Mazer still clearly knows what is funny, and his time writing for Da Ali G Show has served him well in his directorial debut. Certainly the heart and soul of I Give It a Year comes with the well matched talents of its two main leads Rose Byrne and Rafe Spall as a newlywed couple who tied the knot after just seven months together. We often cut back to a session with a brash marriage counsellor who probably does more harm than good and also with Natasha and Josh's interactions with a former flame (Anna Farris) and a business connection (Simon Baker) who may play a larger role as things unwind. Either playing off one another or interacting with the supporting cast these two bring the laughs and a believable depiction of a union in distress.
As can often be the case with a peak into the lives of others, especially into one not on the best of terms, awkwardness follows and so is the case with this film. Like being present as a third wheel while a couple have a spat, some scenes in I Give It a Year ring uncomfortably true. Thankfully what this film avoids is painting either Nat or Josh as the reason for the troubles never opting to paint the wife as merely the shrill, bitchy ninny or the husband as a slovenly tool. Each have their faults, each have their positive attributes and each have the chance to be at the receiving end of an unnecessarily cruel insult or judgement. So while not likable insofar as we're viewing them in tough times, we are able to rationalize with these people and view them as real humans, not just as the brunt of jokes or mere players in a game of marital politics.
The laughs in Mazer's film come from multiple facets, may it be the interplay between characters, situational humour such as a trip to a lingerie shop, or its (often vulgar) wit. The funniest scene (and of the best of the year) involves a visit from the in-laws and a digital picture screen and needless to say the way that Spall plays the situation is absolutely perfect and had be reduced to a cackling idiot. If one buys into the often sarcastic and overly clever dialogue will come down to the viewer, but for the most part it won me over, in large due to how the cast deliver the lines and react in turn.
I Give It a Year also concludes in a perfect way and one that stays true to the same awkward, sardonic tone the rest of the film adopts. To say it slaps in the face every film that wraps up with someone literally running to the airport last minute to proclaim their eternal love would be an understatement. A closer approximation would be that it puts those offerings in a sleeper hold and squeezes out every ounce of maddening cliché. It's satisfying, funny and refreshingly direct. This act is preceded by what is also one of the best "reunion" speeches I've ever heard. I won't spoil anything as to how it unfurls but it too is cooling in its candidness.
While unfortunately not quite parody and maybe never quite as clever as it intends, I Give It a Year is still rife with mirth and deftly understands elements of marriage, relationships and most importantly the irritating formula of the rom-com. Earning its R-rating and showing unequivocally that Byrne, Spall, Farris and Baker are the things of leading men and women, this often uncomfortable but ultimately earnest feature is fun from beginning to end something, as this film reminds us, is nothing at all like marriage.