In what is essentially a conclusive condemnation of the tragic West… MoreIn what is essentially a conclusive condemnation of the tragic West Memphis Three case, West of Memphis does a brilliant job of exposing the injustice of the Arkansas authorities, the ineptness of the judicial system up until the end, and yet the hopefully undertone of perseverance that ultimately, in some way, carried the day. Though it treads on similar ground as the laudable Paradise Lost series, West of Memphis is a superb overview of the case, and a captivating account of the latest developments. Populated with celebrities and talking heads, the film never feels self-congratulatory or aggrandizing, yet presents the information in a cool headed, yet passionate manner. What results is something truly compelling, emotionally jarring, and lasting in its impact.
Director Amy Berg quickly proceeds through the trial quickly, and spends the majority of the film on the later appeals and newly surfaced DNA evidence.
What we get is a truly expansive and fair view of the case, with the tragedy of the three wrongly convicted men always serving as the undertone. The interviews here are incredible, reaching most of the key players involved, giving us their stories in a coherent narrative that weaves together the developments so as to paint a picture so apparently obvious, we are only befuddled by the necessity of it. It's a penetrating look at the ignoring/manufacturing of evidence, and the astoundingly shallow case against the men. Here we see not only new DNA evidence, and new witnesses come forward, we see people who, by the grace of God, finally felt compelled to come forward and recant their testimony, erroneous testimony fueled by delusion and police pressure. The film does not stop there, however, it follows through past the Alford Plea, and gives us a sobering reality--victory can come in forms that we aren't accustomed to, and sometimes validation can only come from within.
A must see. 5/5 Stars
Heartfelt, compelling, authentic, and visceral in its emotions, Short… MoreHeartfelt, compelling, authentic, and visceral in its emotions, Short Term 12 is an amazingly impacting film. The story follows Grace, a young 20 something woman who works as a supervisor at a home for at-risk teens, along with her boyfriend. It is through Grace that we see the tragedy of the youth's lives, the anger, depression, confusion, and yet the hope that still abounds. It's a film of sadness, but also of love.
Too many films along similar lines have resorted to clichés or forced storylines to tell their story. This is not true of Short Term 12, which has an emotional intensity that is rare, and does this without melodrama. The characters in this film are treated with respect, not idealized or pitied, rather they are shown as what they are, we see the different coping mechanisms employed, while also understanding the underlining issues at hand. The family dynamics, and the dynamics amongst the youth feel real and organic to the story. The script is both finely written and poignant, delivering us a snap shot in a world that is hard to really face, but one that rings true.
The film is populated with fantastic performance, headlined by Brie Larson, in a role that should certainly serve as a launching point for her career. The direction, the pacing, the script, all are pitch perfect in a film that unfolds within itself without the use of gimmicks or plot devices. It's a methodical burn without being slow, subtle without holding back.
A must see.
Devil's Knot is a dramatization of the infamous West Memphis 3 case,… MoreDevil's Knot is a dramatization of the infamous West Memphis 3 case, in which three children were brutally assaulted and killed in a small Arkansas town.
Through documentaries such as the brilliant Paradise Lost, many doubts have been raised regarding the guilt of the convicted teens, since released as the result of a rare Alford Plea. That their convictions were extremely dubious is obvious, and the outrage over the 'investigation' of the case certainly seems just. The task for the film, however, was to take this heartbreaking and infuriating story, and translate that in to something dramatically compelling. What results is a bit of a mixed bag, something more akin to an abbreviated retelling, and not necessarily a self contained film.
The story itself is inherently compelling, and enthralling with its mystery and bizarre outcomes. This automatically gives Devil's Knot an advantage. To its disadvantage, however, the material had already been covered in numerous award-winning documentaries. For the film, I was hoping for a more dramatic piece, whereas with Devil's Knot we are introduced to the players, some of the emotions, and the mystery, yet nothing really new is offered. Despite some good actors and decent performances, it occasionally has the feel of a TV movie, in that the scenes are compressed and fast acting, that characterizations take a back seat to a "by the numbers" approach to filmmaking. An example of a film that treads on familiar territory yet enlivens it would be Zodiac, a film that's true to the spirit of the case while also making a compelling argument for its existent as a film.
Overall, the story itself is one that needs to be told. It's done competently in Devil's Knot, to be sure, making it worth a watch, though a piece that should take a back seat to what came before it.
Family violence, brother against brother, crime, redemption, futility,… MoreFamily violence, brother against brother, crime, redemption, futility, and escape--Blood Ties is a film that treads familiar ground, yet with another sensibility to it. A remake of a French film, and directed by the French Guillaume Canet, Family Ties evokes 70s America and cinema, while also channeling foreign influences of narrative, with an encompassing, wide-angle story. It's a sort of Heat meets We Own the Night, meets the numerous other cop/brother movies, yet with its own unique perspective.
To say that Blood Ties has some clichés is an understatement. It hits on a number of familiar beats, the evasive father, the troubled brother, the disillusioned "right-path" son, and ubiquitous temptation. Yet Blood Ties never revels in these, and doesn't rely on them to tell the story. The brothers, for example, are not simply mirror images of each other with different paths, but are juxtaposed to create a rather interesting view of masculinity. We see the tough, confident, and yet seemingly callous Chris (Clive Owen), with the sensitive, affable, and yet strong willed Frank (Billy Crudup). It's here that the film gets interesting, as it never forces a grand change of personality for either character, yet explores their dynamics in a very real, authentic way. Frank, for example, can never be described as weak or cowardly, his reluctance toward violence comes from strength, from determination, and from perseverance. So, too, does Chris's hard exterior, which is simply an outgrowth of his upbringing, but one that, channeled the right way, can show a deep amount of love and compassion.
Clive Owen's performance is certainly the most standout, but there's also some good supporting work, especially from the female cast. Here, too, the film departs from form. Instead of showing vulnerability and neediness, the women characters in Blood Ties are, though certainly flawed, strong willed and motivated of their own volition. In this way, the film gives strong characterizations to its entire cast, which helps in its rather expansive view. This view sets out to take on the entire family, showing the stark dichotomy of the family on the surface, yet the resounding similarities beneath the surface. This ambition, however, does get the film in to trouble. There's almost too much to tackle. The film tries to utilize childhood flashbacks, which are clunky, and never quite earns all of the notes that it tries to hit. The father issues, for example, are never explored, nor why Chris would take the path he did. There's an animosity beneath the surface that is never fully unearthed. This ambition also results in a number of tonal shifts, with the film trying to balance too much. The most stark problem I had with the film was the last act, in which the film gave in to melodrama than the more mature sensibilities it showed previously.
An overall often impressive, yet flawed piece.
Enigmatic, confounding, eerie, and relentlessly haunting, Enemy is a… MoreEnigmatic, confounding, eerie, and relentlessly haunting, Enemy is a truly unique film. The premise finds a young college professor, Adam, seemingly disinterested and dispassionate about many things around him, suddenly confronted with having an actual doppelganger (Anthony). With this startling reality in hand, Anthony sets out to discover the truth, only to be enveloped in an ever-widening mystery.
What makes Enemy effective is not so much what it's saying, but rather how it says it. The film is rendered with very saturated colors, a muted world, hinting perhaps at an over-arching prism from above. It's populated with strong, intense, and ever-emotional performances, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing both the title roles in an exceptional manner. His Adam is a man of profound humanity, well meaning but also narrowly absorbed, with Gyllenhaal conveying an immense amount of emotion in every scene. The pacing, the world building, and even the script, all of it culminates in a very enveloping, though certainly mystifying experience.
To be sure, Enemy has a rather oblique sensibility to it. The spider motif, the much-talked about ending, and the inexplicable events on screen--all can make for a frustrating narrative. The film is composed so cohesively, however, that one is never completely disengaged. It does get too nebulous with its themes, which seems to straddle, if not cross, the line between thought-provoking and simply weird for the sake of weird--underscored by its ending.
Overall, it's too far a unique a film to pass up.
A uniquely compelling experience, Joe is a film that takes chances,… MoreA uniquely compelling experience, Joe is a film that takes chances, emboldens its characters, and places the emphasis on its lyrical sensibility and gritty realism. It's a film that validates the much-maligned Nicolas Cage, and introduces us to a string of other talented actors.
Set in a sort of backward town, the story revolves around an ex-con, Joe (Nicolas Cage), who suddenly finds himself in a deep friendship with a disadvantaged youth, Tye Sheridan. As a supervisor on an illegal tree-killing operation (clearing the way for the lumber industry), Joe meets the precocious, eager boy after successfully pleading for a job with Joe. As the film unfolds, we see more of Tye's tragic home life, as well as the inner demons of Joe. This sets the stage for a great character study, as well as a very successfully executed atmospheric piece. The film's strong writing and resistance toward clichés or easy answers speak to the maturity level of its production, headlined by the talented director David Gordon Green (Shotgun Stories). The film doesn't pander to the audience nor flinch away from the desperation prevalent in these characters lives, rather it does its speaking through its characterizations.
By far, the most unique aspect of Joe are the performances. Director Green made the bold decision to cast both professional, up and coming, and non-professional actors. What this creates is a tapestry of realism, we are enveloped with the naturalistic performances, the vivid explosions of emotion, the raw torment of the characters, and the general heft of the film. What was most impressive was the portrayal by Gary Poulter, a real-life homeless substance abuser who gives the strongest performance of the film.
If Joe has flaws, it because the film's so wildly unpredictable at times, that it gives the impression of being unfocused. The tone can be a bit jarring, and we're never really sure where it's going. In the end, however, this ends up being more of an assist than a detriment to the film.
One of the more infamous romantic comedies for its time, and a… MoreOne of the more infamous romantic comedies for its time, and a launching point for John Cusack, Say Anything is, in many respects, a quintessential Generation X and yet a film that only sporadically departs from a traditional framework, relying more on its style than any sort of profound theme.
In the film, we see Diane Court, a lauded high-school valedictorian with an extremely involved father, on the verge of departing to England for college, meeting the affable, aimless, and yet relentlessly charming Lloyd Dobler, graduating with her as well. This sets a familiar premise, with an unlikely pair that soon finds itself with an inexplicable connection. A fall-out soon occurs, followed by an earnest reconciliation. The arc of the story is cliché, with no real unpredictable moments. If Say Anything does anything unique, it's in the execution, with a fantastic performance from John Cusack, and also in its characterization of the relationship between Father and daughter, a refreshingly positive take.
That the film has garnered recognition is certainly most attributed to the performance by Cusack, and the (cliché), yet effective romantic beats in the film ,making for some truly memorable scenes. There's some issues to be had, however, Ione Skye's performance was never particularly compelling, and her character never all that believable, too neat and one-dimensional. The beginning is also a bit clunky, with the film starting to find its stride about mid-way through. Overall, it's a film of charm and a breezy sort of air about itself, but one that too often reinforces the romantic clichés of the time, with its lasting messages failing to totally resonate on an organic level.
2016: Obama's America is, like its director and star Dinesh D'Souza,… More2016: Obama's America is, like its director and star Dinesh D'Souza, is a documentary of some interest and intelligence, yet one prone to simplicity and a lack of penetrating depth. Listening to D'Souza's media rounds, one cannot help but be impressed. He is intelligent, well-spoken, and controlled in his delivery. This lead me to check out his 2016 documentary, which has many aspects of merit, but never fully lives up to its promise.
D'Souza's thesis is that Obama's unique upbringing and family history has greatly shaped his world view. Specifically, D'Souza examines his father's socialist and anti-colonialist views, his college associates, and those individuals he has some sort of relationship with that, D'Souza contends, shaped Obama's worldview. This worldview analyses everything from an anti-colonialist view, one that de-emphasizes America's view, and looks to equalize the rest of the world at the sake of our nation's interest, and with a socialist economic bent.
While there's certainly a story to be had here, I'm not convinced D'Souza found it. One should look at all of his policies in context, which is more of the same, and an even greater bent toward militarism, centralism, and blending corporate and government power. If anything, the evolution seems to be that of an intelligence product/operation, with the "anti-colonial" and leftist rhetoric being more of a cover. D'Souza seems to pick and choose his facts, pointing to, as an example, returning a bust of Churchill as a rebuff to the UK, and backing Argentina in the Faulken islands, while ignoring the reversal on numerous military promises, such as Gitmo, and a foreign policy which is very much still interventionist. This speaks to another fault of D'Souza, he correctly exalts America's exceptionalism and our roots in liberty, yet equates that with a seemingly pro-interventionist bent, something very much opposed by our founding fathers.
On a technical level, 2016 is a mixed bag. The cinematography is good, yet the pacing is flawed. Too much time is spent on speculation with just D'Souza, too many filmed phone conversations. The narration is not especially compelling. What is effective, however, are the interviews with the little known family members, done in an un-opposing way, which lends to D'Souza's cool demeanor. What emerges is a certainly different aspect to the Obama story than many realize, yet one that perhaps doesn't fit all the pieces together. It's never boring, and manages to be informative and thought-provoking enough to warrant a watch.
Inexplicable money, an accidental shooting, ruthless nefarious ne'er… MoreInexplicable money, an accidental shooting, ruthless nefarious ne'er do wells looking to regain their ill-gotten gains and a love story to boot, A Single Shot is a sort of backwoods noir piece. Centered on a hunter, John Moon, fresh off a separation from his wife, the film explores the unfolding series of events following an accidental shooting, caused by him.
As any good noir film, A Single Shot has an appropriately atmospheric tone, combined with methodic pacing, eerie characters, and an impending sense of dread. Overall, director David Rosenthal's direction was able to capture the right mood, and rendered generally effective world-building of a hillbilly town. This is the best part of the film, which combines this effective world building with excellent cinematography.
The problems come down to the script. It's never quite as clever as it thinks it is, seeming to out-think itself in the last act. How Sam Rockwell's character is blackmailed never seems quite believable, something more apt for a horror film, and the machinations of those that oppose him are too thinly sketched. So, too, are the characters. The cast itself is quite capable, headlined by a strong showing form Sam Rockwell, yet we never fully understand the dynamics between them. Opportunities are had for some rich character studies and fully distinctive takes on the narrative, Cohen brothers style, yet these are never really developed in A Single Shot, which relies too much on the style of menace than the actual narrative building of it. This leaves otherwise promising performances, William H. Macy's to be left rather adrift.
Overall, it's certainly an enjoyable film with a lot of impressive elements, yet never fully meets its potential with its delivery.
Highly effective, melodramatic, often manipulative, and lasting, The… MoreHighly effective, melodramatic, often manipulative, and lasting, The Fault in our Stars is an undeniably powerful teenage tearjerker for all ages. Focused on the budding love of two cancer ridden teens, meeting in a support group, the film is both a study of their relationship and a call of celebration for life, as well as an exploration of the journey of death.
To say that The Fault in Our Stars defies formula wouldn't be accurate, it hits on all of the expected emotional beats, predictable in its climax, and familiar in its resolution. But it's also true to say that while it does follow formula, it also enlivens it with great dialogue, charming characters, and a scripting adaptation that excels at both enveloping us in the story, and is yet not afraid to drastically shift to sudden tragedy, embodying the road many terminally-diagnosed patients face. What was particularly impressive were the rich family dynamics at play, we see a family that struggles with the inevitable, yet tries not to wallow in its own tragedy.
In order for such a film to really succeed, the most important element is, of course, the chemistry and relationship of the two leads. This is what works most effectively within the film's framework, featuring a really terrific performance from Shailene Woodley, matched well with Ansel Elgort. The two bring a lot of vibrancy to their roles, and greatly enrich the material. The low-points feel heartbreaking, the highpoints are enthralling. The relationship, at times, does feel a bit fantastical, and the film certainly does require some leaps of logic. The author subplot, the convenient appearance of certain characters at just the right time, the 'conveniently' timed tragedies, it never loses its movie feel. Yet, in the end, the story itself is so earnestly told and impressive in its execution, the one can't help but be compelled.