Category Film Review

Hermetically Sealed Youth – A Film Review of ‘Dogtooth’

In Dogtooth (2009), almost everything has a falsely constructed meaning. Little yellow flowers growing in the garden are called Zombies. Planes flying over a meticulously kept backyard can easily fall from the sky. Cats are ferocious animals to be feared at all times. The first impression Dogtooth leaves stacks nicely into what we would expect from a sci-fi film. But Dogtooth doesn’t take place on a forbidden planet. It’s setting is rural Greece, and it’s center is the home of both thespian and psychotic, Father (Christos Stergioglou) who has successfully kept his adult children hostage for years. It sounds horrific, but the world director Giorgos Lanthimos presents is far from gruesome. Bordering on serene perfection, the family bastille is luxurious and near resort like in its provisions and amenities. The manipulation hides behind closed doors.

Although pushing through their adult years, Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) , Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Hristos Passalis) are treated as infants, and are subject to irking forms of mental abuse. Veiled under an icy world of control, the children are feed a heavy dose of disorientation, lies and bogus knowledge, all in effort to support the patriarchal reign. Slightly Wes Anderson in its quirk and style, Dogtooth remains unique in its portrayal of a twisted family drama, or dramedy if hilarity can be found in the outrageous lengths that are taken to keep the “children” from venturing into the outside world beyond their fortified home.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards and winner of Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Dogtooth brims with recognizable symbolic references and relies on customs of western society to feed its ingenious plot twists. The most important of which in this story is the meaning behind losing your teeth, a person’s undeniable need for sexual exploration and our intrinsic need for freedom.

Given that the foundation of the film is fixed in words, meaning and reference it should be noted that the translation of the film from Greek to English through subtitles is done with success and care, leaving nothing to the imagination. Except what happens in the end.

Dogtooth is available to rent on both iTunes and Netfilx.

Stay Young, Have Fun – A Film Review of ‘Bones Brigade: An Autobiography’

Bones Brigade: An Autobiogrpahy Poster

In 1982, the Del Mar Skate Park was home to a 14 year-old beanstalk teenager named Tony Hawk. Today, you don’t have to own a skateboard to know who Tony Hawk is. He is the most successful professional skateboarder on the planet. His beginnings and skate life destiny, as well as that of Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and Tommy Guerrero are documented (celebrated) in Stacey Peralta’s latest film Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.

Using an indirect interview technique paired with thousands of hours of video footage and still photography from the era, Peralta who is the founder of Bones Brigade, engages the six to paste their story together one interview at a time. The film reaches back into the early architecture of skate life while simultaneously profiling the history of the Bones Brigade collective.

Most inspiring to learn was Peralta’s recruiting technique for the Brigade. Initially he opted for nobodies, passing over those who already had impeccable technique. Proven skill to Peralta was less important than passion and drive for the sport. In choosing to develop young skaters, came freedom, and once within the entrepreneurial hands of Peralta his Brigade took over. The members, some as young as 10 years old, were coached, cultivated and grew so confidently into their craft they invented manoeuvres that would end up defining their decade. The influence of their peers nudged each of them up a technical notch and built an atmosphere of ambitious energy in which they could all excel in their own discipline.

An interesting angle that Bones Brigade: An Autobiography takes is its simultaneous documentation of the skate culture shift that occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As skate parks began to close their doors to contrived competitions, an American sub-culture was breeding underground. Half pipes began to emerge in people’s backyards and D.I.Y chaotic skate contests owned and operated by skateboarders were popping up across the country. Mixed with the burgeoning popularity of VHS, the timing of this phenomenon made way for a rebirth in which Peralta was more than ready for. The ground breaking ad campaigns and self produced videos surrounding Bones Brigade mythologised skate life and infused personality and image into a sport that had previously been flat. By making it about concept over product, personality over generic, and fun on all accounts, skating became accessible to everyone, and Peralta changed its face in history.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is playing nationwide at various film festivals and special screenings. The film is rumoured to be released in fall 2012.

Good Game! – A Preview of Olympics and Sports Films

Chariots of Fire

Without Limits

Sports films generally follow one cardinal rule. This rule has little to do with the technical aspects of film-making, story device, or even high octane performances. The one unforgivable component of a sports film is that it must – without a doubt- be inspiring.  When I learned of the theme week topic I was keen to begin researching Olympics or Sports related films, as this is not a genre that I would naturally gravitate towards. As my research progressed, I gradually began to form self-imposed restrictions to uncover what would stand up as a high calibre sports film. I didn’t want it to star Adam Sandler (although admittedly I am a semi-fan), I didn’t want it to be about Football (to easy), and in the spirit of London 2012, I wanted it to focus on summer Olympics (leaving out the common denominator favorite Cool Running’s). My restrictions may be questionable, but in the spirit of going for the gold, I think rules might apply here.

There are hundreds sports films that are watchable, but there are mainly two that are dimensional enough to be accessible to a wider audience of sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s a cliché choice but, Chariots of Fire is the first. Released in 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and three prizes at Cannes that year, the film remains a quintessential example of sportsmanship, and the intrinsic drive that leads Olympic athletes to compete in the world’s fiercest competition.  Set in 1924, the film follows two Cambridge scholars Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who are both accepted to compete in the Paris 1924 Olympics, but who are driven by two very different motivations. The film tends to be slow and it deals with heavy religious subject matter (Jewish Abrahams experiences Anti-Semitism at Cambridge and Catholic Liddell is asked to compete on the Sabbath). As our 2012 world grows more and more secular the characters motivations in Chariots of Fire may seem trivial, yet the positive spirit of witnessing someone achieve a goal remains vividly inspirational. Besides, every frame of Chariots of Fire looks like it belongs in the dead center of the epic September issue of Vogue. If you could care less about the religious undertones, watch it solely for the luxury in set design and costuming that it displays on screen of an era that has escaped through time.

Without Limits is an easy second choice. Directed by Robert Towne, the 1998 film is the bio-pic of American record holder and long distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) or “Pre” as he was colloquially called. Without Limits and subsequently Prefontaine’s story, is a staunch example of remaining true to the cardinal rule of inspiration as it profiles Pre’s goal to compete at the Munich Olympics. Not only was Pre an outspoken rebel and tour-de-force athlete intent on over throwing athletic establishments, his stoic and wise coach was Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) the founder of Nike. As much as it is all consuming to sit at the edge of your seat and watch Crudup out run a squad of other exceptional athletes, it is equally as entertaining to witness Bowerman’s empire collate from waffle-iron shoe soles to what we now know as his million dollar industry.

Also worth checking out is the basketball tear-jerker documentary Hoop Dreams available on Criterion, and ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. All these films are available on Netflix and itunes.


Two Nights Only – A Film Review of ‘Shut up and Play the Hits’

Shut up and Play the Hits

April 2nd, 2011 holds an alternative meaning for fans of the indie electronic band LCD Soundsystem. It was on that spring date over a year ago that the group, lead by the hailed James Murphy, played their last concert to a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City. Having announced to a shocked fan base about their disbandment earlier that year, the MSG show was methodically chosen as the extravaganza to conclude band’s 10 year career. Luckily, two British filmmakers, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who previously won a Grammy for their documentary on the band Blur ‘No Distance Left to Run’, were already engaged to develop a film on LCD Soundsystem.

Originally meant to focus specifically on Murphy as the intriguing front man, the film encountered a twist of fate. Where the director’s creative intent and Murphy’s career decision coincided, Shut Up and Play the Hits was born into its hybrid structure of character profile, concert experience and documentary film. Premiering at Sundance 2011, SXSW, and HotDocs, both Southern and Lovelace, cultivated a distinct vision for the film. Seeking to avoid the monotonous ‘taped show’ aesthetic, the duo focused on exploring the band’s last days and the transient moment in time of their last show. A crew of 10 cinematographers, including Spike Jonze, were asked to show no restraint in shooting a personal diary of the band dynamics, the relationship with their audience and the visceral experience of participating in a live setting. The concert footage strategically captures the emotion of an 18,000 strong crowd who are there to witness the last moments of the bands life – their funeral as they refer to it.

In the same vein as the infamous April one night only concert, Shut Up and Play the Hits, will play one night only in theatres across U.S.A and Canada on July 18th. Mixed by James Murphy himself, the film promises to bring you to the same emotional high as being part of the MSG show – for those who missed it. The documentary also gives fans a rare glimpse into the post existence of the band and Murphy on April 3rd – the next day.

It’s a funeral – but a musical one, where dancing in the aisles and singing along is welcomed. It might just be the most fun you have have at a funeral. Ever.

Love Reinterpreted – A Film Review of ‘Laurence Anyways’

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.

It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.

Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.

The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.

This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.

One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Time Traveler or Prophet(eer) – A Film Review of Sound of My Voice

Sometimes skepticism can easily be mistaken for narrow-mindedness.  Those who have accepted skepticism into the current of their daily ritual will tell you that it is systematic and functions on the belief that inquiry will always rule out over blind faith. Sound of My Voice, the collaborative brainchild of budding talents Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, is built upon this argument, and raises the question how can we tell the difference between fact and enlightened personal experience?

Peter (Christopher Denham) and Lorna (Nicole Vicius) have a vested interest in being accepted into a secretL.A. cult that meets nightly in an undisclosed location in the valley. The target of their pursuit is Maggie (Brit Marling) the elusive female leader, who dresses as a contemporary Virgin Mary and who claims to be a prophet from the year 2054. Orchestrating a type of psychotherapy environment where the faithful abandon their individual souls to be part of the group, Maggie presents herself as savant time-traveller who has come back to bring a select few to a ‘safer’ place. Wanting to expose Maggie as a fraud and con-artist through a DIY documentary film, Peter and Lorna immerse themselves into this ritualistic cult life. As the couple falls deeper into Maggie’s hypnotic trance-like hold, a shift occurs and those who are traditionally governed by reason and logic begin to question if they are on the right side.

Premièring at the 2011 Sundance film festival, Sound of My Voice, has received well deserved critical acclaim and has since, gained momentum as a leading film in the genre of sci-fi realism. Parallels can be drawn between Sound of My Voice and Another Earth, which also premièred at Sundance the same year. The two films not only share their main star, Marling, but also a comparable mental state of disconnection and anxiety over the inevitable, i.e the future and how we all fit into it.

The beauty of Sound of My Voice is its ability to remain thrilling in the face of ambiguity. Events transpire, and our faith as viewers is tested, as it employs an intentional disregard for dramatic irony. The greatest thrill would come for those who delve into Sound of My Voice knowing little about the plot, but who are open to experience a film that questions blind faith, loyalty and awareness. In addition to the trailer, the first 12 minutes of the film are also by clicking here.

All that Glitters: A Film Review of ‘Velvet Goldmine’

All that Glitters: A Film Review of 'Velvet Goldmine'

Gold comes in the form of iridescent glitter powder and drips off the screen with baroque opulence in Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes cinematic ode to the late seventies British glam rock scene. Released in 1998, to limited artistic acclaim, the last 14 years have seen Velvet Goldmine gain a niche following which is now nestled between rock cult classic and sexual revolution coming of age story. Although the subtext can be seen as a more serious glimpse into the sexual politics of the time, the film indulges in a campy glam which emerges as a cross between poetic and just plain fun.

Winner at Cannes (1998) and the Academy Awards (1998), for artistic contribution and costume design, Haynes succeeds at putting forth a visually intricate and detailed film through collage storytelling. Similar to his 2007 film I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine is composed of mockumetary and noir inspired vignettes that build a burlesquian glam fantasy mirroring the true-life movements of David Bowie and Iggy Pop through characters Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Christian Bale also makes an appearance as Arthur Stuart, a die hard fan turned journalist whose role is to guide the noir-ian component of the film in an investigation into Brain Slade’s faked death 10 years earlier. Set to a landscape of the surreal, the film which begs to be played ‘at maximum volume’ is abundant with musical and art historical references that elude to Haynes direct inspirations. If you are a fan of early sixties cinema you’ll notice the influence of Jack Smith, music aficionados will catch the Venus in Furs reference, and the ‘literati’ will understand why Oscar Wilde is the fibre that weaves the story through to its end.

Once you have abandoned the notion that Velvet Goldmine should make linear sense, engaging in its flamboyant glam nostalgia and sexual fervour is a trip worth taking. Besides, who can deny two hours of Ewan McGregor clad in sparking glitter and gold lamé?

A film review of ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’

Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe

Life has been pointing me towards David Choe lately, and I don’t know why. His name has come up in random conversations and his work seems to be following my every move. When I stumbled across ‘Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe’ in the most unsuspecting place, I decided it was time to listen to the signs and view the documentary which debuted theatrically in early 2010.

One of the biggest challenges with making any film, most specifically with documentary, is maintaining a safe balance between putting too much in and leaving too much out. Friend to Choe, and first time director Harry Kim, does the former, stuffing this 93-minute film with mounds of footage gathered over Choe’s 8-year climb from teenage street writer to thirty-something artist millionaire. The content of the first half offers an intimate and diverse portrait of the artist which is brimming with interviews, new reel footage and animation.  It is when we emerge from Choe’s post 3 month jail sentence that the film begins to lose it’s steam and is strung together through a frenetic set of directionless vignettes that buoy from one life change to another. I am an avid supporter of non-linear forms in storytelling yet, regardless of Choe’s manic personality and gritty creative style, a film portrait of any subject needs to have a vision. Here, its later form changes from intimate to spastic, and not in a constrictive way that could echo the disorientation and restless nature of Choe’s work.

There is a silver lining, however. It’s powerful saving grace, is rendered through the endearing and intriguing qualities that David Choe himself presents as he tells his own story. It seems redundant to say that he saved a film about himself by just plain being himself, but it’s true. The charisma he exudes on camera is one that is magnetic, and succeeds in pulling you in to his erratic world. It’s easy to feel an affinity towards him when his sensitive side rips the art world to shreds then his reckless side dangles him from unluck to luck in search of inner peace. If anything what Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe provides is inspiration. David Choe is art rebel who didn’t care about anything which is the exact reason why he got everything.

It’s a Family Affair – Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope

Comic Con Episode IV A Fan's Hope

Popularity is context and situation specific. In the case of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope, the context is Nerdom and the situation is the famous 42 year-old comic book conference held annually in San Diego. For those who have never skimmed the frail pages of a comic book, or fallen prey to the lure of the newest video game, Spurlock’s film will come as a surprise that a bizarre world of ambitious geeks and obsessive nerds exists on such a grand scale. For everyone else, the documentary is an exposé and ode to their pseudo Promised Land which allows nerds, geeks and gamers of all shapes and sizes to feel accepted into their own tribe. As Spurlock presents it, Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope champions the allure behind the event’s progressive success.  The initial buy/sell comic book zone of close to 300 attendees in 1970 has since morphed into a pop culture arcade marketplace that boasts over 125, 000 people each year. Its phenomenal success is rendered as a two sided coin. Yes, the event seems to have choked its comic book roots in order to integrate new film and digital mediums, but it is these evolving mediums which continue to attract throngs of fans each year.

The five fold expository structure of the film follows, Skip, “The Geek” an amateur illustrator who also works at a Sci-fi Fantasy bar in Colombia, Missouri; Holly, the tireless “The Designer” who hopes to catch a break in the costume design industry; Chuck “The Collector” and owner of Mile High Comics who laments the passing glory days of comic book popularity; Eric “The Soldier” from a small town hoping to catch a break in illustration, and finally James and Se Young “The Lovers” who publicly celebrate their love in an unorthodox way.  The pastiche of each story spans a full-scale of emotions from desperation to happiness, to relief.  Few might understand the connection between Holly and her passion for Mass Effect. But having passion for something is a topic that most people can identify with. Knowing this, Spurlock is less concerned with shaping each Subject’s plight into a common ground story; he wants us to root for them, regardless of if we understand their cause or not.

In a change from earlier films such as 2004’s Supersize Me and Freakanomics (2010), Spurlock has acutely chosen an observational approach to construct the meaning and importance behind Comic Con. Famous fans from Seth Rogan, Seth Green, Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (who is also a credited writer) to the everyday sci-fi junkie in a cape, straight talk to the camera about their personal attraction to Comic Con and it’s significance in their lives. As Eli Roth so delicately puts it, Comic Con is the only place where you can take a piss between a ‘Klingon’ and a ‘Strom Trooper’ – at least on Earth anyway.



‘If You Can’t Trust Your Friends’ – A review of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave

Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave Criterion cover

Good roommates are hard to find. Especially ones that share an equal disdain for humanity and can be easily cajoled into precarious situations. Like for example, dismembering a body and stealing a suitcase full of cash?

Danny Boyle’s early feature film Shallow Grave – set to be rereleased by Criterion on June 12th – will have fans of dark comedy and thriller heist films absorbed in its quick witted script and disturbing tale of spoiled friendship. It is Reality Bites sans heartstrings existing in an insensitive horror world.  David (Christopher Eccleston), Juliet (Kerry Fox) and the fresh faced Ewan McGreggor appearing in his debut leading role as Alex, together form an ensemble cast who exude a disproportionate amount of selfish and immoral behavior. Residing in an enormous Edinburgh New Town Flat, the trio is in search of a fourth roommate who will match their wild temperaments and barbarous whims. A series of harsh and embarrassing interviews with unlikely candidates leads them to the mysterious Hugo, a presumed ‘writer’, who they immediately latch onto, but not for long. There is no spoiler in recounting of Hugo’s unpleasant death, or Alex’s discovery of Hugo’s curiously hidden suitcase full of cash. The film’s question to the unscrupulous trio becomes one of righteousness. Should they return the cash along with the body to the police? Or should they risk the more sinister route of theft, desecration and dishonesty? Their chosen path unleashes a downward spiral of greed and paranoia that piles up the bodies along with their lies.

Shallow Grave is a first glimpse into the confident and energetic style later groomed in Boyle’s smash hit Trainspotting, yet it remains to be the polar opposite of his delightfully touching Slumdog Millionaire. Here, we are dealing with relentless cruelty, where the most disturbing element is our lack of knowledge around motivation. The amount of money left in Hugo’s suitcase is never discussed, making it even more difficult to comprehend the ease in their immoral behavior; these are after all average people. Yet their savagery would more aptly be suited to perpetrators surviving in the underbelly of crime. What Shallow Grave spares us in blood and guts, is plentiful in psychological thrills, specifically concerning David who rises to the role of puppeteer in his effort to control the impending fate their senseless crime.

The three slowly divide from inseparable threesome transcending into individual survival mode until the unforeseen end where trust among friends is no where to be found.