Category Film Review

Hold Your Breath – A Film Review of ‘Voice Over’

Voice Over - Film Poster

Admittedly, there have been moments in my life when I have lead a causal game of “Would You Rather” in a politically incorrect and permissive environment. My invented questions lump implausible on top absurd and usually force the person on the other end to choose some type of excruciating embarrassment as their out. I have come to terms with the possibility that there may be others out there who probably play as dirty as me. What I never would have assumed is that this concept could be translated on film into a story so powerful and moving. Martin Rosete (Director) and Luiso Berdejo (Screenplay) uses a type of “Would You Rather” approach in their award winning short film, Voice Over.

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(Re)Build Your Dreams – A Film Review of Detropia

Detropia poster

Years ago, I read an article about a handful of artists and entrepreneurs, who had re-appropriated industrial squat space and neglected mansions into studios and art galleries. The ‘who’ and ‘when’ bit of the article escaped me soon after reading, but I never forgot the “where”. Detroit, and its deserted imagery, has been on my mind ever since.

Forgotten by industry, the abandoned metropolis, formerly known as the “Paris of the West” for its grand urban landscape and Art Deco design, now suffers from deplorable neglect. Once the fastest growing city in the world, today, Detroit holds on to 40, 000 abandoned houses, of which some can be purchased for less than $6, 000.  It is home to architectural gems such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist Lafayette Park, and the neoclassical Michigan Central Train Station, yet it is not uncommon to have only one house inhabited within a three block radius. Teetering on bankruptcy, last year the city was forced to shut off half its street lights in order to save a buck.

Michigan Central


Although almost impossible to believe, this is the reality of an American city. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Detropia, Detroit’s symphonic distress call to the rest of the world, will shock you with its statistics and haunting imagery of what once was.

Chronicling the pre-depression era rise and the post-nineteen eighties demise of the Motor City, the sad tale Detropia tells is affective, with a sensibility not commonly associated with vacant lots and forsaken automotive plants. The crux of Detropia lies with its narrators and the interviewed citizens of Detroit who in the face of a population consolidation refuse to leave their city’s dying side.

Not all is lost, though. There is a light at the end of Detropia’s dark tunnel, and it belongs to art. The shocking fact that one family every twenty minutes moves out of Detroit is counteracted by the calibre of a population moving in. Visionaries, artists, and young professionals seeking to rebuild such as organizations like Ponyride and Loveland Technologies will lead Detroit to its Hollywood ending. Where there is crisis, there is opportunity, and where there is hope, there is determination.

The Elegant Touch of Food Affection – A Film Review of ‘A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrand’

A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt

There are two types of people in this world – those who can control themselves around food and those who cannot. I happen to be one of the joyful gluttons who cannot. In an ideal world, my voracious eating habits would be seen as gourmand or sensualist. In reality, if there is one last morsel of bread left in the basket I will make it my steadfast mission to toast it, dip in chocolate sauce, melt 12 year-old cheddar into its spongy core, or encapsulate it in sweet strawberry jam. It will be eaten, and it can get ugly, but I’m prepared to defend my passions. After all, if nothing else, food is emotional.

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To Pabst, Cazals and Apathy – A Film Review of ‘The Comedy’

The Comedy Poster

Be forewarned, the descriptor title of Rick Alverson’s ‘The Comedy’ is largely a misnomer. The film may boast a comedian as its front man and there is a chance that if you like black comedy (and I mean the blackest, soot covered, darkest kind) some type of uncontrollable laughter may ensue. Released in 2012 on the indie label Jagjaguwar, the point of ‘The Comedy’ isn’t to make you laugh. The point is to make you feel uncomfortable, to question motivation and to allow some room for the uninhibited to breathe. Alverson’s success in this regard, whether you like it or not, lies in the hands of comedian Tim Heidecker, the face of ‘The Comedy’ who incites anger or awe from his performance.

Known mainly for his off-beat show ‘Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job’, Heidecker’s comedy is eccentric and off-beat, yet compellingly addictive with the intention of making you squirm. Here, in his dramatic role as Swanson, an aimless overgrown Williamsburg hipster, Heidecker lives to provoke and push behavioural limits, expectations and social norms.

Playing what is essentially a wealthy hobo who lives off the family buck, Swanson is accountable to no one, and lives his life in direction-less escape with friends (James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and Eric  Warehein from the Tim and Eric show). As he patiently waits for his father to die, leaving him a hefty inheritance, Swanson, cares about nothing in the process. He embodies the final gestures of someone who has reached the ultimate limit of apathy, the cultural phenomenon that is sweeping the twenty/thirty something generation.  A jerk, in the lightest of terms, his only appeal and intrigue can be found when Alverson beautifully captures his rare his moments of introspection pointing to a deep sadness, but one that will not be examined here.

The sarcastic wit of the loosely improvised dialogue is truly brilliant, and Alverson nails the ethereal and easy lifestyle of what hipster dreams are made of; but any film that guarantees to hurt this many feelings should be watched with a fair bit of caution, perhaps under a blanket or at least while bearing the thickest of skins.

‘The Comedy’ is available to rent on itunes.

There and Back Again – A Review of ‘The Hobbit’

The Hobbit

After almost too many years of waiting, the audience finally gets what it wants. The nerd/geek fantasy first came to life to the tune of billions of dollars of revenue and endless DVD sets, each claiming to be more essential, more complete, more fulfilling than the last. 9 years after snagging 11 Oscars at the 74th Academy Awards for its grand finale, The Lord of the Rings receives the beginning of the prequel that started it all: The Hobbit, elongated and trifurcated for our viewing pleasure.

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So Close, Yet So Very Inexplicably Far – A Film Review of ‘The Bothersome Man’

The Bothersome Man

Maybe it’s the imminent decent of cold weather on the east coast or the controversial holiday stir that is rising out of a soon to be gender neutral Sweden, but Scandinavia seems to be everywhere I look lately, and I love it. Known mainly for films that explore the bleak side of existence with two very famous exports, Lars Von Trier and Ingmar Bergman figuring at the top of the region’s stark and melodramatic brand, the cinema of this region is not to be ignored.

One of the best films out of Norway in the last coupe of years is Jens Lien’s The Bothersome Man. It is a quiet subtle film, which focuses on the non-verbal and the implied in its exploration of a disturbed parallel reality. If you have ever worked a painful office job and longed for the day that you would be able to break free from the suspended ceiling tiles and monotonous rhythm of the photocopy machine, you will understand The Bothersome Man.

Set in dystopian Iceland, a world that looks unchanged from the land we know today, Andreas (Trond Fausa) is transported (literally) into his new mediocre middle class life. Provided an office job, an apartment, a wife and friends from an unknown source, the new life of Andreas denotes perfection on the surface, yet why does he still feel empty? Realizing that he is the emotional outsider of his cold surroundings, Andreas notices that human indulgences, from the taste of food to the feeling of love, are absent in his new world. Additionally, he begins to witness strange occurrences that all point towards the inability of his fellow coworkers to be able to feel (physically and emotionally).

As Andreas becomes aware that he is also moving towards apathy and desensitization, his only answer is to inflict as much pain as possible on himself in order to escape the dystopian world through suicide. But even that is met with failure. Until he discovers what he thinks is utopia, a gateway to another world on the other side of a concrete wall in the basement of a random apartment building. Andreas is determined to get to the other side.

There are a plethora of amazing Scandinavian films for lovers of early cinema and devotees to contemporary culture. The Bothersome Man is one, five other noteworthy films available on iTunes and Netflix are Wild Strawberries, The Celebration, Antichrist, Let the Right One In and Insomina (the 1997 version).

Creative Revolution or Mediocre Pollution – A Film Review of Press, Pause, Play

Creative Revolution or Mediocre Pollution -  A Film Review of Press, Pause, Play

We live in a world where if you have an internet connection you can be a star. In 2011, The House of Radon, a creative agency from Stockholm, Sweden recognized this swelling cultural shift in our society and set out to document the phenomenon that no one else was talking about on a deeper level. Press, Pause, Play, which premièred as an Official Selection at SXSW, and as received accolades from The New York Times, The Guardian, Huffington Post and Wired, explores piracy, advancements in technology and digital mediums, and the notion of ‘accessible fame’ through the channels of art, film and music.

Concerned with the larger questions of technology’s problematic side, the most interesting angle Press, Pause Play takes, relates to standards and how these issues have affected our collective notion of “The Artist”. Prior to the digital revolution, standards in creativity tended to lean towards a black and white approach of ‘good art’ vs. ‘bad art’. Generally dictated by organizations, be it, Schools of Fine Art, record companies or Museums, art was delivered to the masses through a top down approach. What we are culturally experiencing today is a polar shift in the traditional methods that dictate fame and success. Art is growing from the ground up, but quantity is altering quality.

Is the democratic self-filtering approach emerging in art a successful one? Or will mediocrity be all you need to survive.  Named as one of the Top Ten Art Documentaries to watch on Netflix, Press, Pause, Play explores the significant and timely issues surrounding modes of creativity.

Press, Pause, Play is available on Netflix, itunes and is also available to download here.

The Greatest Suspension of Disbelief – A Film Review of ‘The Imposter’

The Imposter film poster

Agatha Christie, the grandmother of mystery fiction, couldn’t have written it better.  The Imposter, a first feature by Bart Layton is what fiction dreams are made of. The only predicament is that not one bit of it is imagination. A documentary of sweeping thrill, The Imposter reconstructs the very real, and fully inconceivable crime of Frédéric Bourdin – master con-artist of the utmost niche genre – stealing the identities of missing children.

In October of 1994, Nicolas Barclay, an American lower-middle class pre-teen from San Antonio, Texas was declared missing by his family one evening when he did not return home after basketball. Three years later, a destitute, and lost, un-identified young adult is found in southern Spain, and taken into custody of a children’s shelter. Refusing to cooperate with Spanish authorities until the very brink of legal action, the unidentified person finally announces that he is Nicolas Barclay. But who can attest to the truth of his assertion? In a world where fingerprints and DNA are the only truths that are left infallible, assumption becomes the advantage of those who prey on humanitarian kindness – he is a missing person, and everyone is anxious to be a Good Samaritan. There is only one unsettling piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. This Nicolas Barclay looks nothing like the Nicolas Barclay that disappeared. Relying on the power of group-think not to mention the incremental and segregated process of solving a mystery, the new Nicolas Barclay makes his way to the U.S, is reunited with his family, begins to attend high school, and immerses himself in the American dream, with few questions being asked.

As a result of already knowing the ‘Who’ of the mystery, the ‘Why’ and the ‘How’ become the compelling guide to breaking down Bourdin’s crime. The inspirational seed for the design of The Imposter can be found through Errol Morris’s ground-breaking documentary The Thin Blue Line. Morris’s 1988 film successfully freed a man who was falsely accused of murder due to its fact-gathering presentation of the evidence and its stylish re-enactment of the night in question. The same can be said of The Imposter which places sociopath Frédéric Bourdin in the bizarre position of star and culprit. He recounts his own crime with such enthusiastic motivation and eerie charm that even the objective viewer forgoes atonement in place of thrill.

By far one of the best documentaries of the year, The Imposter has the potential to grow a documentary sub-genre that will successfully blur the lines between fiction and reality. Not only will it keep you strapped to your seat in anticipation, it will have you digging through all the angles long after the closing credits.

Awkwardly Erotic – A Film Review of ‘Turn Me On, Dammit!’

Turn Me On Dammit Poster

Turn Me On, Dammit! is an exploration of female, teenage, sexual expression – a perspective that is rarely awarded equal billing on the big screen. There are plenty of coming of age stories that deal with first loves and the romantic feelings associated with this right of passage, yet Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s film is clearly a breed apart, due to its definitive main character.

Alma (Helene Bergsholm) is a gangly, yet attractive 15 year-old who refuses to suppress, ignore or plain control any sexual feelings she has towards anyone, no matter how uncomfortable things may get. Whether it is witnessing a kiss, watching her friend sensually apply lip gloss or catching a glimpse of her classmate crush Arthur, Alma is so sexually wound that she pounces on every possibility which allows her to descend into deep erotic fantasy, without actually having to touch anyone.

Embracing a sexual sensitivity that pushes her slightly past her teenage years, Alma becomes caught between Arthur’s sophomoric sexual advances and her excitement over the potential of being touched one night at a party. When word of Arthur’s unconventional “move” starts to circle amongst her classmates, Alma is given an embarrassing new moniker which she must endure as the rumour mill churns out her new name across the community of her small Norwegian town.

Based on the novel Få Meg På, For Faen by Olaug Nilssen, which originally tells the story of three women of varying ages who all experience a period of sexual exploration, the film is fiercely honest in its approach to narrate female desire. Jacobsen’s choice to focus on the teenage years of sexual angst are a refreshing reminder that there is an innocent side to lust, and as carnal as can get, there is always room for quirky in the bedroom.

Humble Yourself – A Film Review of P.T. Anderson’s ‘Hard Eight’

Hard Eight Poster

A significant amount of time in my life has been spent devouring the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. Considering that the California born 42 year-old director has only made six feature films, his achievement in cinema can be attributed to a propensity for quality over quantity. Standing amongst a sea of American and international cinema giants P.T. Anderson has been a constant inclusion on variety of ‘best of’ lists that originate from the venerable American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly. Each P.T. Anderson film sets the bar higher than the last in terms of execution and cinematic vision. Rumours over his latest film The Master which opens nationwide today, have been feeding the hype machine acclaim that it might be his finest work yet.

Too see how far Anderson has come look no further than his first feature film Hard Eight, starring Gwenth Platrow, John C. Riley and Philip Baker Hall (otherwise known as the library detective from Seinfeld).

One dreary Nevada morning, Sydney (P. B. Hall) meets a broke, down-and-out John (John C. Riley) who is desperate to win $6, 000 cash to pay for his mother’s funeral. The hard-nosed Sydney immediately has a soft spot for John. His effort to be kind begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a trip to Las Vegas, where Sydney is determined to show John how to sustain a living scamming casinos. Cut to two years later and under Sydney’s hand John has experienced the underbelly of casino life with success. When Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) enters John’s life, he becomes powerless over her seduction and vows to stand by her side regardless of circumstance.

The functioning mechanism of Hard Eight belongs to the airtight script, and the outstanding performances of the small cast. For a first feature, it is a solid film that exposes the film form that P.T. Anderon has become known for, and has strived to better ever since.

Whether placed under the category of Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Feature Film or Movie of the Year, in some facet this filmmaker has garnered over 80 nominations for his films. He is a director who sets himself apart by bringing us American rooted stories with characters that become defined in their darkest hours. Unraveling a depth that only a director with a taste for dysfunction told within epic parameters could  accomplish.

Hard Eight is available on NetFlix and itunes. The Master opens today nationwide.