Posts Tagged ‘Film Reviews’

Girls-Against-Boys-2012-Movie-PosterPerhaps it’s tempting to lean on exploitative visuals to tell certain stories or explore particular ideas. For instance, I Spit On Your Grave is now a three film “franchise”, featuring the Meir Zarchi original (1978) and two modern retellings / reimaginings. These films are known for pushing the boundaries of cinematic acceptability over the edge into blatant exploitation. The film-makers justify the exploitative imagery by pointing to the themes of the films: how else could / should the story of a woman’s violation and need for vengeance be told except explicitly? And shouldn’t the cinematic portrayal of the woman’s violation be just as explicit and vile as her cinematic acts of vengeance? Isn’t cathartic cinema valuable? And how dare the audience shy away from merely seeing such a violation when so many women actually experience similar atrocities?

Yeah, I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I’ve seen all three I Spit On Your Grave films, and I walked away from each one feeling that justice and awareness and communication weighed far less than amplified shock value in the filmmaker’s process. I could be wrong, but these films felt more pornographic – in their treatment of both violation and vengeance – than honestly cathartic.

Girls Against Boys, despite its dramatic title and provocative poster, does not rely on exploitation to explore similar issues of violation and vengeance. It’s more akin to films like Teeth and American Mary, working more in visual subtlety, relying more on the strength of the narrative and the precision of good performances, which is a far-cry from simply being “tasteful” in dealing with a delicate situation.

Girls Against Boys tells the story of Shae (Danielle Panabaker) who befriends Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) shortly after a nasty break-up and immediately before falling victim to a new possible love interest. Shae reaches out to family and friends for support, but no one proves available except Lu. And if hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, Lu gladly saddles up alongside Shae as fury personified. The girls quickly become a Thelma and Louise pair hell-bent on vengeance, but inevitably the vengeance reaches farther than anticipated.

On the surface (and by mere appearance), Girls Against Boys looks like a simple bad-girl-with-a-gun B-grade sleeper, but there’s some real heart to the telling of Shae’s story. Kudos to writer / director Austin Chick for rising above the possible trenches of genre trappings and avoiding simple exploitation maneuvers. He’s created, instead, a unique character study of a young woman caught a painfully dichotomous mindset. Not to mention, I never imagined the nonchalant enjoyment of Captain Crunch could be so creepy. Girls Against Boys gets a solid 3.5 geisha blades out of 5. Here’s proof again that the viewer’s imagination and sympathies are far more vicious than any camera’s eye.

The-Call-2013-movie-posterHands,

They put Halle Berry on the poster, but The Call is totally Abigail Breslin’s movie. Little girl’s hardcore! She performed two thirds of the film in the trunk of a car and the last third strapped to a table. Even with all these confines, she made Halle Berry look like a mannequin. I guess without the pressure of being under Billy Bob, Halle Berry ain’t got much to offer. Put the Oscar winner in a trunk, yo!

Also, those first two-thirds are nail-biting awesome-sauce. I got suckered in against my will when I walked in on Abigail Breslin beating the tail-light off the car from inside the trunk. Little girl is bad ace! But it all dissolves to a ridiculously forced female superhero scenario when Halle Berry decides X-Men’s Storm ain’t enough action figure fodder for one career.

Overall, The Call gets 2.5 fully clothed Morris Chestnuts out of 5. You can skip this entirely, unless your spouse brings it home from the RedBox.

– kiki

1. GRAVITY – we walked into the theater thinking this was a movie about people stuck in space. we were wrong. my wife sobbed most of the film. we went with two friends and we all huddled in the lobby afterwards and declared viewing this film one of the more powerful cinematic experiences we’d ever had. IMAX 3D didn’t hurt. if sandra bullock does not win an oscar for this, i will puke on my own shoes.
2. MUD – loved this for obvious arkansan reasons. local boy. local scenery. the character of neckbone. the return of matthew mcdoucheanay. this film is perfect. PER-FECT. nichols could only improve on this film by putting it twice on one dvd.
3. FRANCES HA – this was the last film we saw on our netflix, and it was a gorgeous punctuation on a slippery chute of slothfulness. God, i loved this movie. and for multiple reasons. but the main two: one, i can’t get enough of greta gerwig. when i saw her in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL i thought, “oh crap, i might have a new favorite.” and she owned FRANCES HA in incredible, old-school hollywood great actress ways. two, i think noah baumbach – minus his last two films – is the shit. he’s so dedgum pretentious that i can’t help but feel drastically endeared to him. i think my pretentiousness is drawn to his pretentiousness. we would coffee well together. so good. i can’t wait to see it again.
4. 12 YEARS A SLAVE – it lives up to the hype. steve mcqueen is a beast. i’ll watch anything he makes, even as soul-pulverizing as it may be. i’ve seen his other films, but this is the first one i felt comfortable recommending. there are several scenes here that make you want to recoil, record, and applaud eveything on the screen simultaneously. masterpiece.
5. THE CONJURING – yes! this blew my mind! and it’s not just a solidly amazing horror film: it’s a solidly amazing film. everything falls into place here creating a new genre classic that easily transcends the genre. with that being said, THE CONJURING did freak my shit out. i was all over my theater chair, gripping the arm rest, covering my eyes, even squealing a little bit. i love a film that makes me want a cigarette and a nap afterwards.
6. THE WAY WAY BACK – my all-time favorite cinematic genre is the coming-of-age story. and this one is near the top of my list. there’s not a lot of coming-of-age stories where the kid and the parent grow up together. but it happens here. also, i’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs for both toni collette and allison janney. they do no wrong in my book.
7. FRUITVALE STATION – the fact that this no-name filmmaker could make a feature length film, in which the entire audience already knows the ending, completely enthralling from beginning to end is a huge feat of storytelling and artistic confidence. yes, michael b. jordan killed it here. but ryan coogler’s filmmaking is what immortalized oscar grant’s story and created a prophetically day-numbering experience for audiences.
8. THIS IS THE END – it’s no secret that i dearly love seth rogen and bathe in his laughters. he’s my number one hollywood dude crush. and now that i’ve watched the first three seasons of EAST-BOUND AND DOWN, danny mcbride is a close second. with that being said, i walked into this movie with some raging nepotism. still, THIS IS THE END is honestly one of the top ten films of the year. super funny. super dorky. super dirty. and super more theologically sound than any of that LEFT BEHIND bull-shonkish. this is the apocalypse done right: with earth ending before michael cera becomes the next hugh hefner.
9. AMERICAN HUSTLE – best thing christian bale has done since AMERICAN PSYCHO. best thing amy adams has done. period. and best reality show housewife performance in a major picture by that glorious hot mess, jennifer lawrence. this movie was fucking delightful.
10. THE GREAT GATSBY – skip everything in the movie before and after gatsby. nick carroway is not that interesting and neither is baz luhrmann’s ego. but all the stuff with gatsby is golden. and the lana del rey montage of daisy and gatsby swimming and golfing and throwing shirts is reason enough for me to own the DVD. there’s plenty of crap in this picture, but luckily it’s all sandwiched on the outer edges for easy avoidance. but the stuff here that works worked better than the entirety of most films i saw this year.
WORST FILMS OF 2013: i saw a bunch of stinkers this year. but three films had me running to the ticket counter begging for a refund.
1. TRANCE – God bless danny boyle, but not even a fully cherubic rosario dawson could make this film one bit titillating.
2. SPRING BREAKERS – pointless and overly glorifying of the gluttony it hoped to demonize. and, no, i’m not getting old. this movie just sucked.
3. ELYSIUM – shamefully obvious and paper-thin. THE PURGE preached the superior “anti-1% sermon” this year.

Non-horror hounds often asked what is the “scariest” horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s a fair question, seeing as how most horror directors do intend to scare their audiences, but the question limits the possibilities of truly good and interesting horror. Although I rarely take the time to explore this issue with inquisitors, instead naming a few horror films that freaked my stuff out (Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, High Tension, the original Night of the Living Dead), my list of favorite horror films would include several titles that wouldn’t be considered “scary”. Often, the best horror does not seek to frighten as much as it seeks to recognize and respond to the grotesque – those unpleasant and unsavory forces in nature and society and spirit most folks prefer to avoid.

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American Mary is such a film. Nothing about American Mary is “scary” per se, but it is twisted and disturbingly sensual. However, far more important than any of these descriptive effects, American Mary is expertly told and masterfully acted, making it the rare horror film that places more emphasis on storytelling than overused genre tenets.

Broke and bored with med school, Mary (Katherine Isabelle, from Ginger Snaps) follows a Craigslist type ad in search of quick cash, a decision that directly rabbit holes Mary into the body modification subculture. The symbiotic relationship between Mary and her clients is almost too perfect – Mary needs money while certain extremely rich women want questionable cosmetic procedures. The women from the body mod community trust Mary because she’s young and attractive, feeling like she might understand their desire to surgically lock their beauty against the strains of time. Mary admittedly does not understand her clients’ impulses until her beauty inspires the source of her pain. At which point, Mary not only exceeds as a celebrity within the community, she also finds vengeful pleasure in practicing her new surgical interests.

I should mention at this point that American Mary‘s directors are sisters, the “Twisted Twins”, Jen and Sylvian Soska. Usually, a director’s gender would hold little to no relevance regarding their film, but, in this case, I found the storyteller’s voice as captivating as the story itself. In no way could anyone suggest that these female filmmakers shied away from the inevitable gore and brutality of Mary’s story, or even from the sensuality of certain characters. Still, I was fascinated by the directors’ visual restraint in a few key scenes, particularly in an early violent scene pitching a male instructor against Mary, favoring instead the emotional impact of Mary’s own personal and internal modifications. The Soska sisters, who make an appearance as twin clients seeking a bizarre form of physical connection, reveal in their direction a keen eye for exploring a character’s inward shifts and motivations. For instance, after her attack and her departure from med school, Mary’s physical beauty and sexuality becomes most evident in her more monstrous moments. The Soska sisters seem to suggest through Mary that misogynist acts have the potential to restructure the core trajectory of a woman’s life as well as her self-image.

Of course I enjoy a horror film with good scares, but what I love most in films – from any genre – are well-told stories with good characters played by strong actors. With this criteria, I give American Mary 3.5 Betty Boop facials out of 5. The Soska sisters are still young, and the film, not surprisingly, feels a bit sophomoric at times. Regardless, at its heart, American Mary is as pure and honest as a grotesque film be.

A few scattered thoughts in response to seeing The Bling Ring:

– I like the way Sofia Coppola uses her films to follow interesting young women in extreme circumstances: a group of desperately overly -sheltered sisters in The Virgin Suicides; a lonely American bride in Japan hoping for connection in Lost In Translation; a young princess thrust into unending wealth and worship in Marie Antoinette; a daughter grappling for her famed obsessed father in Somewhere. And now, in The Bling Ring, Coppola focuses on celebrity and fashion kowtowing young women so driven by immediacy they steal artifacts of the life they desire rather than build a life of their own. As a girl raised in an extreme life herself – making her film debut as the christened baby in The Godfather – Coppola’s films debunk the notion that money and fame, even love, complete a person. Sadly, all of Coppola’s films end with deferred hopes and sick hearts. Sure, her characters progress from trusting the empty thing/person they hoped would satisfy, but they never find their satisfaction. For once, I’d like to see Coppola’s heroine succeed, simply that I might know what solace – the lost source of gaping ache – looks like to Sofia Coppola.

– Emma Watson will be one of our next great Hollywood actresses. She kills in The Bling Ring and in This Is The End. She can play it straight and comedically. Mark my words: Watson will be a legend.

– Nancy Jo Sales’ Vanity Fair article that got this whole thing started, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”, is worth the read. Perhaps we expect films to feel more foreign than journalism, such that the article feels far more embellished than the film. You’d like to think, and it would be easy to believe, Sofia Coppola made-up some of those ridiculous lines Emma Watson’s character says – “God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.” – but then you read them printed in VF with journalistic integrity. You just can’t make-up shit that golden with a straight face!

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– I hate comparing films, but it’s hard not to think of Spring Breakers while watching The Bling Ring as both films feature dissatisfied young people seeking solace, even identity, in new (false) realities. And it’s hard not to notice the amazing amount of talent and heart that Sofia Coppola shines over Spring Breakers’ writer and director, Harmony Korine. Coppola’s film uses the common dialogues of news media and social media to invite audiences into the narrative, reminding viewers they share the same world and communication patterns with these characters. By creating a basic commonality, Coppola more easily leads her audience to rethink their own wayward exaltation of self and celebrity. Coppola’s film also explores the shared emotional and spiritual emptiness of its characters, even its audience, as potential paths to both identity crisis and identity theft. It’s difficult to walk out of Coppola’s film certain of your own innocence once you recognize your own lusts excited by the colors and sensations on the screen. Korine’s film, on the other hand, drops viewers into a world stripped straight from Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Everything is so overly sexed, overly drugged, overly hyped, overly violent, that – much like A Clockwork Orange or Trainspotting – the sins explored on the screen feel far too grotesque to resonate with the average viewer. Also, when Korine fails to demonize the very debauchery that ruins his characters, one is left unsure whether to embrace such excess as a romantic plea of anarchy or to flee it as a great evil. Such unawareness – or perhaps blatant disregard – for the viewer keeps Korine’s audience on the outside of a story spiraling out of control. Offering no footing in his story, Korine reduced Spring Breakers to pornography when it could have been so much more.

The Bling Ring is not a perfect film. For one, it’s slow, even by Sofia Coppola standards. And I could have used less coke-snorting parties and more consequence, but that’s because I’m an old fart and I believe far more in karma than Emma Watson’s karma-preaching character. Still, The Bling Ring features a perfect soundtrack, solid performances, naughty expose under-the-covers imagery of Paris Hilton’s inner sanctums, and an overall beat-boppy affectation that sticks to the ribs long after leaving the theater.

The Bling Ring gets 4 Louboutin heel clicks from the courtroom out of 5.