JAMES KENT’S TESTAMENT OF YOUTH — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

Make no mistake: Alicia Vikander is the real deal and she’s here to stay. 2015 was the year of Vikander POWER, with her brilliant work in Ex-Machina, her much lauded performance in The Danish Girl (which I’ve yet to see), her playfully sexy romp in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and her quietly forceful turn in the staid and solid British WWI drama Testament of Youth. This is material that’s been done to death, and while there’s nothing revolutionary about the material or approach, there’s a comfortable squareness to the production, all of which is anchored by Vikander’s excellent portrayal of a woman caught at multiple crossroads at various points in her life. Capably directed by James Kent and efficiently written by Juliette Towhidi, the film was based on the memoir by Vera Brittain, and details her struggles both with herself and the social environment that she found herself a part of.

2

A strong willed and fiercely independent woman in the face of almost certain lifelong domestication, she wasn’t interested in getting married and becoming arm candy for a rich suitor; she had her own dreams and aspirations, despite her father’s insistence that she find a suitable husband before anything else. She gets accepted to Somerville College, an offshoot of Oxford, ends up reluctantly falling in love, and then WWI explodes on the scene, changing her life forever, with her joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse serving near the front lines of battle, caring for both British and German soldiers wounded in London and France. Again, this material is tried and true, the production goes through the expected paces, and the entire piece finishes on a downbeat note that is appropriately sad and tragic. Taron Egerton (so terrific in last year’s Kingsman), Emily Watson, Haley Atwell, Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, Kit Harrington, and Colin Morgan all provide solid supporting turns. Rob Hardy’s studious and cleanly composed widescreen cinematography is a major highlight, while the musical score from Max Richter hits the expected notes of poignancy. This film never received any sort of wide or even semi-wide theatrical release in the United States. Saoirse Ronan was once attached to Vikander’s role, for which she received a Best Actress nomination from the British Independent Film Awards.

1

Advertisements

Jack’s Back – A Review by Josh Hains

Jack1

Jack’s Back has the displeasure of sounding like a derivative, gore infested horror slasher movie thanks to its poster and plot summary. What else could one expect from a movie about a serial killer on the loose in modern day Los Angeles, replicating the gruesome Jack The Ripper murders precisely 100 years later?

The surprise of Jack’s Back is that it’s far from the slasher we might expect it to be, and is more in line with a moody mystery thriller, perhaps something Hitchcock would have crafted. Here is a movie that isn’t concerned with the gory details of the aforementioned copycat murders, but rather atmosphere, suspense, and a couple clever twists you genuinely won’t see coming. I can’t discuss any more of the film’s plot without spoiling something, and of course I don’t want to do that, but I will say that James Spader plays twin brothers, one a medical student, the other a small time felon, and that one of them is a prime suspect for the murders.

Taking into consideration that Jack’s Back was director Rowdy Herrington’s first feature film, it is easy to understand why it’s a flawed piece of work, but that’s not to say that the movie is terrible, it’s just in need of improvement. It’s as contrived as it sounds, but it’s nice to see those contrivances work in a way that actually tricks you into thinking you’ve got it all figured out, given how straight forward the plot is, until one final twist makes you think “You sure fooled me”. It doesn’t pull  the rug out from underneath you, but it sure tries real hard.

I am glad that in today’s world James Spader is having some semblance of a career resurgence these last couple years. I’ve always felt it a shame that such a gifted actor was seemingly thrown to the curb after David Cronenberg’s controversial Crash (no, not the Oscar winning one), which seemed to repulse the average movie goer and film critic. Here in Jack’s Back, Spader was given the opportunity to play the lead for the first time, and not a pawn in a formulaic slasher flick, but a thoughtful pair of twins with some dimensionality to them. I really enjoyed the subtlety with which he treated the actions of the twins, a fine example being a moment when the medical student twin takes an injured old woman’s mind off the pain she’s feeling with just a few simple questions and a humorous punchline.

It’s a pleasure seeing Spader in dual roles, which at the time and still today are quite the rarity. This isn’t like recent films Enemy and The Double, where the leads actors play two different subconscious versions of the same entity, but a very rare occasion where both characters feel like completely different individuals altogether, who just happen to be identical twins. Jack’s Back might not be a great movie, and I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for a first time director and a first time leading man at the time it’s quite the unique treat. Give it a look, it just might surprise you.

TODD HAYNES’ CAROL — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

carol

Carol is another immaculately crafted piece of cinema from filmmaker Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Safe, Velvet Goldmine), featuring two splendid performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, with an attention to aesthetic detail that will make lovers of costumes and production design and cinematography drool with delight. Shot in gauzy, smoky 16 mm film by the tremendous cameraman Ed Lachman, Carol feels like the fossilized remains of people’s tragically pained lives from over 60 years ago, with the sensitive screenplay by Phyllis Nagy hitting all of the appropriate notes of melancholy love and unstoppable yet forbidden passion. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, the film tracks the love affair between a married woman (Blanchett) and her younger flame (Mara), the film paints a sad and incredibly serious account of two people who can’t resist temptation, even if they know that it’ll be nearly impossible to have exactly what it is that they want. Kyle Chandler, yet again, impresses in a small but pivotal role as Blanchett’s scorned and dismayed husband, and Sarah Paulson, as usual, steals all of the chances afforded to her by the intelligent, quietly powerful screenplay. It’s possible that Blanchett and Mara may be a bit mismatched for each other in this film; while I was thoroughly engaged all throughout, I was kept at a curiously slight remove on an emotional level. It might have been due to the overwhelming sense of craft that Haynes was displaying, or because of how the film kept a very level head about itself, never giving into cheap histrionics or sensationalistic speechifying.

This is a slow-burn drama, lingering long in the memory, a film made with tremendous care in all departments, and tackling subject matter that isn’t necessarily entertaining so much as it is enlightening. Mara was absolutely sensational, doing tons of emoting with her exceedingly expressive face (those eyes are extra intense…), and punctuating each line of dialogue with pointed eloquence. It’s no surprise that she took top honors at the Cannes Film Festival for this restrained, deeply internal performance. Blanchett, one of our most dramatic of actresses, sunk her teeth into a role that she seemed destined to inhabit, and while I’ve liked some of her other performances a bit more, there’s no denying her extreme skill as an performer; she totally owned this role with all her might. And it’s remarkable to note how she can effortlessly swing back and forth between the stage and screen, never losing sight of the specific ways that both mediums can create and emotional stir. The appropriate but repetitious musical score hangs in the air like a harbinger of emotional doom, giving off a tentative vibe in some scenes, and swooning with romanticism in some key spots. Carol feels like a thematic companion piece to Haynes’ excellent 2002 film Far From Heaven, which his homage to Douglas Sirk melodramas and featured an anguished performance from Dennis Quaid as a man struggling with his closeted homosexuality. Haynes is a socially conscious filmmaker interested in the human condition with each of his projects, and I could only hope to see more work from him in the near future, as it seems way too long in between projects for this unique cinematic voice.

Apocalypse Now – An Appreciation by Josh Hains

When I think about Apocalypse Now and the countless viewings I’ve undertaken over the years since I first watched it some ten or eleven years ago, two things always spring to the forefront of my mind like a bullet to the head: the horror, and the helicopter ride, and for good reason too.

I think the vision of Vietnam that director Francis Ford Coppola created is the epitome of hell, the stuff nightmares are born from. It’s as cold brutal, and unforgiving as anything I could ever fathom; a long bleak trip down the blackest tunnel into the fiery pits of man-made hell. Between the Doors, Wagner, and a Coppola score pounding against my eardrums like napalm strikes igniting the Vietnamese countryside, and the unforgettable, terrifying onslaught of violent imagery erupting across the screen, my mind often seems to shift into another dimension of itself, into a realm of utter despair and bleakness. The overwhelming power of Apocalypse Now comes from the way in which the film causes that shift in one’s mindset that takes you from a happy place, and throws you face first into the chaos of war. It’s a dehumanizing, soul killing experience, and yet also one of the most deeply fascinating I’ve ever encountered.

The horror I am referring to also encapsulates a disturbing monologue Kurtz gives to Willard late in the film, detailing the dismemberment of polio stricken children by the Viet Cong after Kurtz and his soldiers vaccinated them. “Then I realized they were stronger than we. They have the strength, the strength to do that. If I had 10 divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgement.” His madness seems to spring from this soul changing event, the discovery that this war cannot be won by those weaker in their hearts than the people they’re trying to overcome. Only hearts of darkness will win Vietnam. large_apocalypse_now_blu-ray_7x

There’s also that line, “The horror. The horror.” It’s spoken with shallow breaths, whispered for only Willard to hear as it floats from the dying mouth of Kurtz and deep into our minds, residing prominently in our memories days after watching the film. It’s the first line I associate the film with every time I think about Apocalypse Now, without failure.

And then there’s the helicopter sequence, where Col. Kilgore’s choppers play Wagner’s Ride Of The Valkyries over the loudspeakers as they dive into enemy territory and wipe out everyone in the area, for the sole purpose of capturing a beach that offers great waves for the surfing enthusiast. I don’t know if such tactics were ever employed or not in Vietnam, and something tells me they likely weren’t, but in this film, in that moment, it’s nothing short of sheer brilliance. In a film that has one great sequence after another for its entirety, a rare feat in a sea of films that struggle for even just one great scene, the Ride Of The Valkyries sequence in its entirety is perhaps the most memorable scene in the entire film. Who could ever forget “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” anyways? large_apocalypse_now_blu-ray_3x

After a gut wrenching viewing of Apocalypse Now, I can’t help but think about the film, every last grueling second of it. It might be the most dehumanizing, horrific, grotesque, and stressful war film ever concocted to date, but it’s also the most memorable and unforgettable. There are plenty of war films that are nearly as depressive and brutal, more patriotic and perhaps indulgently so, and more triumphant and proud than Apocalypse Now, but flag waving manufactured heroism doesn’t always make a great war film. Apocalypse Now is the great American war film, that coveted “M” word, because we’re talking about it all these years later as enthusiastically as if it came out just yesterday, and that’s no easy feat. Persistence goes a long way.

Poster - Apocalypse Now_01

 

 

DEREK KIMBALL’S NEPTUNE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

A narratively complex, visually arresting coming of age story set in 1989 off the coast of Maine, director Derek Kimball’s Neptune is a fascinating indie offering that will delight just as many as it confounds, leading to passionate praise in some circles, if not outright rejection in others. This is a film that’s interested in having the audience feel something, and because it’s less concerned with traditional plot points and story structure, the dreamy tone might be considered to slow for less attentive viewers. Centering on the peculiar life lessons of a 14 year old girl as she develops a fixation on a local boy who has gone missing, but more a study of a mind in flux and a body and spirit in transition, Kimball and his co-writers Matthew Brown, Matthew Konkel, and Douglas Milliken add layer upon layer to their emotionally gripping story in an almost fevered effort to stack the deck. Results are extremely rewarding if a bit emotionally oblique, resulting in a movie with commercial prospects that seem relatively small, unless a passionate and adventurous distributor were to work some further festival exposure and VOD magic. With the right partnership, this film would receive the attention and viewings that it deserves.

2.jpg

First time actress Jane Ackermann is Hannah Newcombe, a teen living with her strict guardian who happens to be a Reverend (Tony Reilly, commanding). She’s attending an all-girls school when something tragic happens in her small town which takes her down a road of unexpected self-discovery. A local boy goes missing, prompting her to deeply question everyone and everything around her, with the film possessing an experiential quality that becomes instantly engrossing. She abandons her religious upbringing, which of course spurs on resentment from the Reverend, and she develops a unique relationship with the missing boy’s father, Bill McDonough in a subtle yet emotionally frazzled performance, taking a job working on his fishing boat, helping him with the lobster traps. What Kimball and his co-writers were going for with this somber and introspective tale is to hold accountable a society and its seeming randomness as a way into the psyche of a young woman as she herself takes on a certain level of outward and inward change. Ackermann is up to the task in more ways than one, fleshing out here character in nonverbal ways which help to anchor her quiet performance with a level of severity, and projecting a young Sarah Polley quality that was noticeable in any number of scenes and instances.

3

Kimball infuses his unpredictable debut with a creepy sense of atmosphere all throughout, while displaying a firm grasp of the material and essentially crafting exactly the sort of film that it seems he set out to make. Refreshingly uninterested in traditional narrative, his surrealist strokes come across as studied, adding a further component to the evocative mix of ingredients. Whether or not that will satisfy certain audience members remains to be seen, because while Neptune does contain what many would consider to be expected payoff, the journey to get to those moments is one filled with a sense of unplanned discovery and an interest in mood more than concrete plot developments. The tech package may be low in budget but it’s high on smarts and confidence, with dual cinematographers Jayson Lobozzo and Dean Merrill making huge, deeply moody impressions (the underwater photography is especially memorable), while Kimball’s astute editing creates a steady sense of unease. Sound design produces the intended chills in all the right spots. Neptune recently screened as part of the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival.

neptune poster

True Romance – A Review by Josh Hains

Roger Ebert hailed True Romance as a silly teenage boy’s fantasy come to life, fun and energetic, but absurd. I was a silly teenage boy the first time I saw the Director’s Cut of True Romance on DVD, and like some of my friends at the time, I loved it. I still feel like a silly teenager on the inside sometimes, and that part of me still loves watching this action packed piece of Hollywood entertainment. It might be silly, but that never bothered me before anyways.

True Romance requires a suspension of disbelief, to get your mind past the idea that in a single night, a young comic book store employee named Clarence with a love for Elvis and Sonny Chiba Kung-fu flicks, and the bombshell first time prostitute Alabama hired by Clarence’s boss to give Clarence a good time on his birthday, would ever fall so deeply, madly in love, that they marry the next morning after he kills her pimp, and then set out on a soon to be violent honeymoon with a bag full of cocaine that belongs to the mobsters hot on their tail. Although, this is a Quentin Tarantino screenplay, so most of this sounds like a slow drive to grandma’s house in Tarantino Land. 

Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as Clarence and Alabama, respectively, the seemingly ideal cinematic couple. Sure, they’re both a little bit cuckoo when you look at the direction the narrative takes, you must be a bit wacko to get married within hours of meeting, but the natural chemistry between the two actors generates a palpable sensation of honest love oozing from Clarence and Alabama. You really feel the passion between them when they kiss and flirt with each other.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a director’s wet dream of character actors, including Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken, Michael Rappaport, Tom Sizemore, Christopher Penn, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, and Dennis Hopper as the least crazy, perhaps even 100% normal character in the entire film. They all appear in one facet or another over the course of this ensemble piece, each adding their own unique stamp to the late Tony Scott’s coolest pure action movie. It’s a real pleasure seeing such a remarkable cast at the top of their game.

As strong as the two leads are, they just aren’t as good as my two favourite performances in True Romance, from Gary Oldman, and James Gandolfini. Oldman is almost obnoxiously over the top and nearly unrecognizable as Drexl Spivey, Alabama’s eccentric dead-eyed, scarred, dreadlocked pimp. In such a brief amount of screen time, he creates one of cinema’s most memorable movie villains, a nasty, vile, unpredictable psychopath.

The same can be said for Gandolfini as Coccotti’s underboss Virgil, a shotgun toting psycho in his own right, and the ultimate nightmare for the naive Alabama. He doesn’t get to say much, but what comes out of his mouth carries immeasurable contempt and cruelty, later witnessed physically manifested in his violent abuse of the strong willed Alabama. I genuinely felt afraid for her throughout their graphic struggle, despite my assumption she would eventually overcome Virgil in brutal fashion anyways. Gandolfini was always just that damn good.

Much has been made about the most popular sequence in the film, largely referred to as “the Sicilian scene”, a long conversation between Walken’s Don Vincent Coccotti, whose drugs Clarence and Alabama currently have in their possession, and Hopper’s Clifford, a former cop and Clarence’s estranged father. The popularity of the scene derives in part from the verbal duel between Coccotti and Clifford, which leads to one of the funniest moments in any film Tarantino had his hands on, invoking a big ole belly laugh for those open to the crude and otherwise offensive humour of the scene. It’s my favourite dialogue driven scene in the film, always captivating me with Tarantino’s linguistic flair, and the sharp delivery of the now classic lines by Walken and Hopper. Every single time I watch True Romance and Hopper says “You’re part eggplant.” to which Walken retorts, “You’re a cantaloupe.”, I laugh out loud, and hard.

And then of course, there’s the action. Fast, furious, brutal, and unflinching, the slew of volatile outbursts of stylish, balletic violence are both dazzling and brutal in the same breath, a hypnotic flurry of blood and death. As a teenager, I was completely blown away by just how violent and intense the imagery was. Even today I sometimes find myself picking my jaw off the floor after the infamous bloody final shootout, which you have to see to believe. Tony Scott directed the hell out of those action pieces, and it’s a joy to see their influence running rampant in today’s films.

When you analyze True Romance, the harder and deeper you look, the more likely you might be to find cracks in the foundation; it’s not the flawless masterpiece some might hope for. But if you take True Romance for what it is, a piece of entertainment, and you choose to view it on a superficial level only, you probably won’t find any cracks at all. Not every film has to be perfect to be great entertainment.

“You’re so cool. You’re so cool.”

CIRO GUERRA’S EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

Take elements of Aguirre, Wrath of God, add a dash of Malick, a hint of Jodorowsky, and a pinch of Gaspar Noe at the finish, and you’ve got a rough approximation of what to expect from the wild new black and white psychological horror film Embrace of the Serpent. Playing almost like a thematic cousin to Ben Wheatley’s descent into madness A Field in England, this bold and challenging new film from Columbian writer/director Ciro Guerra announces an exciting new voice in independent cinema, as he’s cooked up a film that feels indebted to previous masters and their magnum opuses, but a work that feels adventurously alive as well as completely unpredictable. If you’ve seen the trailer, you might think you know what you’re in for, but one of the best aspects to this mind-freak-fest was that while it unfolded, it constantly subverted my expectations. The narrative contains two parallel stories, taking place between the years 1909 and 1940, and is fused together by the appearance of an Amazonian shaman named Karamakate, who happens to be the sole survivor of his tribe. The film details the journeys and experiences of two scientists, a German named Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet, the enigmatic star of the amazing film Borgman), and an American named Richard Schultes (Brionne Davis), both of whom were looking for the sacred, ultra-rare and potentially life altering Yakruna plant.

2.jpg

The script was loosely inspired by the two men’s diaries which detailed their work in the jungle. I loved this film, but I can totally understand why it might frustrate and alienate some viewers. This is one of those hearts of darkness exploration films, where men are guided by sometimes insane and stupid methods of thought, in an effort to seek some form of enlightenment not thought to be attained any other way. The themes of religious paranoia, the destruction of indigenous cultures, and the exotic setting of the jungle when juxtaposed by the high-contrast monochromatic cinematography by David Gallego all add a further layer to the surreal aesthetic package; lingering shots of the jungle and an emphasis on nature certainly point to the works of Malick, and it’s fascinating to continually observe that artist’s influence over so many young, upcoming filmmakers. The fully immersive sound design and at times mournfully soulful score by Nascuy Linares imbues the film with a sense of unique vitality. Embrace of the Serpent has, rather shockingly, been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars (I simply cannot believe this fact…), while it won the Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Filmed on location in the Amazonia region of Columbia and spoken in a variety of languages including Portuguese, Latin, Amazonian, German, and Spanish, the film is continually unnerving, and by its cosmic finish, more than a little trippy.

3

 

Advertisements

We like to podcast them softly, from a distance.

Advertisements