Sunday, November 23, 2014

Heartbeats

The relationships we have through our lives are never like the perfect ones we see in the movies. There are differences, jealousies and insecurities, all of which can boil into something messy. (Reality can be a cruel mistress sometimes.)

Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats is one such film to highlight the complicated bonds we form in our lives. Revolving around two friends (Dolan, Monica Chokri) as they vie for the affections of the same man (Niels Schneider), the film depicts how easily personal connections can fray.

Much like Dolan's previous film I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats isn't interested in having you take sides with any of the characters. It's just interested in telling a story. (More films should adhere to this tactic.)

Also like I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats has various shots that make the film essentially the epitome of an art film. But unlike I Killed My Mother, the shots in Heartbeats tend to overwhelm the story. Still, at least with context they make complete sense. (Unlike those in similar art/foreign films.)

Though not as good as his previous film, Dolan does try his best with Heartbeats. He also continues to prove that for a young talent like himself, Dolan knows how to tell a story. Certainly a director to keep an eye on in the years to come.

My Rating: ****

Beyond the Lights

You know how with most female-led films, the plot almost always revolves around the leading lady finding the man of her dreams. (It should be pointed out that these films are often directed/written by people who follow too many Hollywood cliches.) Thankfully, there have been exceptions. (If there weren't any, there wouldn't be anything good to watch.)

There have been a number of male-directed films with strong female leads. (An Unmarried Woman and Opening Night come to mind.) But rarely do you see this applied to films directed by women. If anything, you could count those films on one hand. Long story short, there needs to be more women-directed films with strong female leads.

Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights is one of the new entries featuring a strong female lead. (And a very good one too.) Indeed, the film has a romantic storyline but there's more to the film than that. It's also a story of a woman trying to survive through life.

The film's two leads are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (previously seen in the excellent Belle) and Nate Parker. Both actors are relatively new to audiences, but hopefully they'll get more recognition thanks to this. They're both fantastic here.

A few small flaws aside, Beyond the Lights is great. Thanks to the work from Mbatha-Raw and Parker, the film proves that this is the kind of film we should be getting more often. Just something to keep in mind, you know?

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Double

Richard Ayoade's first film Submarine was a clear homage to the works of Wes Anderson, complete with quirky characters and bright colors against neutral backgrounds. So what about his second film The Double? Two words: Alfred Hitchcock.

Bases on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the film follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) as he goes basically unnoticed by the world around him. Then he discovers his double James Simon and his life starts to spiral out of control.

From a visual standpoint, The Double is stunning. The film is primarily set at night and Erik Wilson's cinematography makes the most of it. The editing by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton adds a certain dark humor to the film. (It's also very reminiscent of Dickens' work for Edgar Wright.) Very rarely do the technical aspects of a film work as well as they do here.

And Eisenberg's work simply must be mentioned. Some of Simon's early scenes are very reminiscent of Buster Keaton. (Fitting since Ayoade had Eisenberg watch some of Keaton's films in preparation for his role.) James, meanwhile, is very reminiscent of Eisenberg's work in The Social Network. It's definitely a performance worth seeing.

The Double has a few minor flaws but overall it's a damn good film. Ayoade proves with this film that he's a director to keep a close eye on. He knows how to tell a story.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to Sarajevo

War is hell. We live in a world where we've practically gotten accustomed to the bloodshed between countries. Has there ever been a time in history where war hadn't broke out between at leas two countries?

Even amid all of the chaos, there are acts of humanity among those trying to survive. (Schindler's List provides one of the more famous examples.) Many of such stories were from the World War II era but there have been some from the last twenty or so years.

Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo is one such film to focus on such a story. Based on British journalist Michael Nicholson's experiences during the Bosnian War, the film depicts human behavior even in the most hellish situations. (Even when it's survival of the fittest, human endeavor can prevail.)

Being only familiar with Winterbottom's comedies (24 Hour Party People, The Trip), it was a bit of a shock to see a film of his with such brutal realism. (This was film on location shortly after the peace agreement was signed.) Winterbottom isn't interested in cheap emotions. He wants to tell a story.

It falters in some scenes but Welcome to Sarajevo stays solid in others. Thanks to Frank Cottrell Boyce's script and the work from Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei, the film depicts a glimmer of hope amid pure hell.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Frank

Every year, we get an absolute menagerie of films. It's a blessing for those who like a wide variety of choices whenever they head to the movie theater. But as is the case with every passing year, there are those films that tend to slip beneath notice.

Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. It's easy to see how it got overlooked upon its release. (Being an indie released in the middle of the summer is one such reason.) But that doesn't mean it should have been ignored.

Usually British-produced films have a certain charm to them, and that is also the case with Frank. In a similar vein to the work of Wes Anderson, the film's charm coincides with its quirks. It's not usually a winning situation to some but it should also be pointed out that the humor of Frank is much darker than the humor in Anderson's films.

Sure, the premise and characters sound like the makings of a very silly film. But behind every happy story, there's tragedy. The film starts off on a whimsical note but it becomes clear as it wears on that there's much more to the characters than they're letting on.

Frank isn't anything groundbreaking but it's an entertaining watch. Thanks mainly to the work from Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender, the films shows how certain people interact and how it can lead to not-so-ideal situations. (Ah, life.)

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Obvious Child

We've seen this cliche time and time again: girl next door gets pregnant after one-night stand, ponders over whether or not to get an abortion, ultimately decides to have baby. To be honest, it's such bullshit thinking a woman will always choose having a child, even if they can't afford raising it. (And don't even think about adoption coming into the picture either.) Like, what the fuck happened to pro-choice?

Thank God for Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child. For once, we don't have the weepy melodramatic nonsense you normally see in any movie or TV show involving an unplanned pregnancy. (Especially considering this is, you know, a comedy.)

What's also worth mentioning is that Obvious Child doesn't make the unplanned pregnancy the main plot of the film. If anything, the subject is merely a mild conversation starter. Sounds callous, perhaps, but this isn't just a film about abortion. It's also a film about the various connections we make in our lives.

That is actually something most comedies (and occasionally films themselves) tend to skimp on. We've gotten so accustomed to seeing strictly romantic relationships that we've forgotten about how nice just normal friendships are in both fiction and real life. It should be more common.

Obvious Child is one of those films that we should get more often. It doesn't stoop to the lows most comedies fall to. It's smart, funny and above all else, it's clever. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure that you do.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Enemy

Prisoners, the last film by Denis Villeneuve, was certainly bleak and dark in its own right. (It is a film revolving around child abductions after all.) But Enemy, the newest work from Villeneuve, is both of those things as well as creepy as hell.

Starring in Enemy is Jake Gyllenhaal, who worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners. Here, Gyllenhaal does the occasionally difficult part in any actor's career: a dual role. In the wrong hands, it would be a disaster. In Gyllenhaal's, it's one hell of a performance.

The two roles Gyllenhaal takes on couldn't be any more different from each other. The first role is Adam Bell, a meek college professor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Zodiac, Adam slowly becomes obsessed with something happening within his life. It's really a transfixing performance.

The other role is Anthony Claire, a small-time actor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Nightcrawler, Anthony seems like a normal person. That is, until his true colors come to light. Again, it's a really transfixing performance.

Enemy is good though not without its problems. For starters, Gyllenhaal's the only actor to get well-rounded characters. It would've been nice to see what Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon could have done with their roles had they'd been more developed. But alas, this is what we have.

My Rating: ****