Lightning strikes multiple times in The Act of Killing, making every… MoreLightning strikes multiple times in The Act of Killing, making every moment seem far too ridiculous or unsettling to be true. Unsettling is the key word here, as the film will keep you in that state for a full two hours (or more if you watch the extended cut). Both versions are wholly too long, as its point comes across far before the film is done trying to make it. Besides for that considerable flaw, I have not seen a more haunting documentary yet in my life, and I kind of hope I never have to.
Though in my opinion it stops just short of being completely brilliant… MoreThough in my opinion it stops just short of being completely brilliant -- partly because of problems outlined within the movie itself -- Stories We Tell nonetheless succeeds by embracing its own unique and earnest nature.
In Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (his first film since 2010's underrated… MoreIn Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha (his first film since 2010's underrated Greenberg) actress Greta Gerwig out-Dunhams Lena Dunham as both a writer and actress in a story about the life and 'problems' of twenty-something females living in New York City in the modern day. Frances Ha succeeds at conveying the same feelings, emotions, and dynamics in HBO's Girls, on a level Dunham can't possible reach at this point in her young and very oversold career, because Greta has Baumbach on her side, a master storyteller who is able to take all of the authentic quirks of semi-privileged but struggling girls like Frances and actually form something whole and coherent out of them.
The film is flawed (like all of Baumbach's movies), as meandering narrative tangents threaten to topple the plot at any moment. But after seeing Baumbach's film, the difference between Frances Ha and Girls (and why the former is much more successful and satisfying than the latter) is immediately apparent: Frances Ha is a complete story that is broken up and fragmented by those narrative tangents, whereas Girls is nothing more than a string of tangents that fail to build up into something articulate. Frances Ha uses intelligence and clarity to portray a lifestyle that often seems to lack both.
I usually like Noah Baumbach's dialogue so much that I'm able to… MoreI usually like Noah Baumbach's dialogue so much that I'm able to overlook his films' meandering pace and unlikeable characters. I could not forgive this one, however, both because the dialogue isn't as consistently sharp and because the overall structure is unmercifully dull. Though Jack Black's show-stealing performance reaffirms Baumbach's ability to maximize the humor he can get out of his misanthropes, the same is not true for the anti-hero played by Nicole Kidman. She plays her role efficiently, but gives absolutely no humanity to the part as Black does, and as Jeff Daniels and Ben Stiller have in the writer/director's other, better films.
Leviathan is technically a feature-length documentary, though it is… MoreLeviathan is technically a feature-length documentary, though it is unlike any documentary out there. The film, which reveals itself to be about a fishing vessel over time, lets the image and sound speak for itself without any explanation from a narrator or interviewees. There is no non-diegetic soundtrack, no main characters, and no discernable plot or subject. As such, Leviathan challenges audiences by forcing them to put together the pieces, bit by bit: where are we, and why are we there? It throws audiences into a world of images and sounds that slowly shift from something dark and mysterious to something still dark, yet more familiar.
Audiences are immediately disoriented as the film opens at a strange angle (where it is hard to know what is up or down) in complete blackness, a body of water somewhere in frame. The closest things to "characters" during this extended opening segment of the film are chains, which are seen being pulled into and out of a body of water. In extreme close-ups, which are repeated throughout the film for the same effect, audiences get to know the texture of the chains intimately. Given that there is nothing else to make sense out of, each familiar object becomes a godsend, something to cling on to in order to assure that this is in fact our world. If the chains are the actors, than the orchestral score is made up of rushing wind, the crashing waves, and distant birds (a visual motif of freedom throughout the film). Only once it becomes clear that we are indeed at sea and on some sort of vessel, the camera operator moves to his next position, clearly having a job to do. Yet in the black of night, the machinery of this ship looks futuristic or extraterrestrial. When the people communicate, the voices are distorted to sound equally alien, and they are hard to hear over the sound of pipes and pistons. Audiences soon learn that all they can do is give in to the strange, esoteric imagery and hope that something comes of it all.
After this jarring opening, the camera movement changes with almost every cut. One moment it is floating in a murky pool on the steel floor, bumping uncomfortably into dead fish, the next it is flying high above the ship on some sort of crane. In one of the most cacophonous scenes, the camera is pulled through the water below. Due to the high speed, the sound of the water morphs into a clicking, growling sound that could easily be mistaken for some sort of otherworldly beast. And the only visual companion to these grotesque, yet natural noises are the patterns of the dark, apathetic waters. High-angles, low-angles, close-ups, and long shots - the film tries to show this boat from every possible view, the familiar and the foreign, the dark and the light. Yet, it ends up being the more familiar images that are the most haunting.
In the middle section, with no warning, the film suddenly becomes a blood-drenched holocaust film, the victims being fish, the perpetrators being blue-collar fishermen. From terrifying angles that put viewers right alongside the fish, they see their aquatic brethren ripped apart mercilessly and chaotically by seemingly gigantic humans. The most disturbing image in the entire film is that of manta rays having their two pelvic fins hacked off and then the middle section being thrown on the ground by the camera, still alive, its human-like mouth still moving. Yet while these fish get cut to shreds, when it comes to the editing, the cuts are few; when a new cut occurs, one can expect to spend a good amount of time in that newly introduced environment. The slow pace and lack of editing allows views to explore every detail and texture in a given image.
By the end of the film, the layers have been peeled back, so what could have been mistaken for an alien ship at the start concludes as a shockingly clear vision of a fishing boat. While it would be easy to assume from the more shocking images that this film is a condemnation of the fishing industry, it should be noted that there are also scenes of immense beauty and wonder, and even a moment or two of humor when we finally focus on the workers themselves. From the manic camerawork, to the minimal editing, to the complete lack of narration, the film clearly has a more complex goal than simply to get viewers to stop eating fish. The filmmakers are making a statement about how something as big as a boat or as small as a fish can be perceived differently just by looking at it close enough, or from a different angle.
This film takes a very different and more understated route than the… MoreThis film takes a very different and more understated route than the other Somalian pirate hijacking movie from this year, "Captain Phillips". Yet, despite the fact that "A Hijacking" often replaces the visceral action and suspense taking place on the boat with the stakes from the perspective of the company's CEO in a board room, it somehow winds up just as intense, if not more so. This success comes from the expertly told story, which emphasizes psychological stakes just as much as physical ones. A truly edge-of-your seat experience in the most unexpected of ways.
Light and brief, "Philomena" is a well-structured and meticulously… MoreLight and brief, "Philomena" is a well-structured and meticulously crafted true-story drama. Helped along by two great lead performances, the film's emotional power creeps up on you from what at first seems overly simplistic.
A good, old-fashioned true story with some heavy-handed moments,… MoreA good, old-fashioned true story with some heavy-handed moments, "Dallas Buyers Club" benefits from simply having a really compelling and powerful tale to tell. It has its heavy-handed moments, but its immensely elevated by McConaughey and Leto.