Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Year: #7-Breaking Upwards

Top 10 Films of the Year:
Breaking Upwards

I'm a sucker for romance movies that do something differently, or that are somewhat realistic in presentation. I hate modern romance that seems to only to be adapted from Nicholas Sparks novels, it's all chivalrist and unrealistic, and therefore never connects with me, because I cannot connect with it. Then came Breaking Upwards an indie film with a budget of about $15,000 and it did everything right. The way the characters interact with each other, things that are said, little inside jokes that we get to be apart of. It creates an amazing world that seems to grow with the characters and the plot, and because of its realism, the film really draws you into the characters lives, and we get amplified emotions because we know what they are feeling, as we have felt it before. This makes Breaking Upwards more funny, more thrilling, more romantic, and even more sad than most other romances on the market, and thats why I loved it so much, more than most actually. Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones give excellent performances, playing themselves in a film that is based on their real relationship, Daryl has writing, starring, directing, producing, and editing credits, and Zoe has writing, starring, and producing credits as well. Andrea Martin shows up in an excellent and hilarious supporting role, and further proves my theory she is one of the most underrated actresses of all time. The film is excellently acted, has a great script, is directed marvelously, has some really good songs to its soundtrack (written by Zoe as well) and all around is just a solid romance movie, to put it all into perspective, and let everyone watching know: You aren't the only one.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Year: #8-Antichrist

Top 10 Films of the Year:

Oh dear, not this again. It's hard for me to talk about Antichrist, especially when there is so much to be said, and so much that already has. Though I'm not sure how much I actually liked the film, I do know how much it effected me in the end. To still be thinking about it, to this day, nearly a month after I first watched, and still be mining through all the different possibilites, with absoloutly no clue at all which ones are right or wrong is just extraordinary to me. At first the only reason I wanted to watch the film is because I knew that it was going to have something shocking, then I learned of Lars von Trier's involvment, and then saw the trailer, and I was sold. The film is brutal and shocking, and disgusting, and violent, and depraved, and all the better for it. I am the kind of person that just eats that stuff up. Graphic violence? Sign me up. Controversy? I'm there. There is just something about that sort of outlaw film making that attracts me to them, and for that very reason I have sat through a lot of bad movies, Antichrist however is not one of them. The sheer beauty of the film is enough to watch it for alone. The opening sequence is just pure, pure genius, and has some of the most beautiful cinematography I've ever seen, the entire film just weaves this dreamlike quality that is impossible to shake. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe give some of the strongest performances of all time, and Von Trier directs like a pro, because he is, he really is. The succes of the film comes with mixing together beauty, and violence, and making these two polar opposites mesh in such a way that emotion stirs within the viewer, and all this goes on around a complexly wonderful story, and psychological study that almost puts the film over the top. It walks a very fine line between pushing boundaries, and just being over the top, and I think it found a near perfect balance. Antichrist is a fear to beautiful to resist.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Year: Screenplays

Top 5 Screenplays:
Adapted and Original

Honorable Mentions:
-Charlie Kaufman
-(Based on the novel The Orchid Theif by Susan Orlean)


-Terry Gilliam
-Tom Stoppard
-Charles McKeown

Inland Empire

-David Lynch

The Nines

-John August


-Nathan Parker
-Duncan Jones

Top 5 Screenplays:


Breaking Upwards
-Daryl Wein
-Zoe Lister Jones
-Peter Duchan

Hard Candy
-Brian Nelson

Where The Wild Things Are
-Spike Jonze
-Dave Eggers
-(Based on the book by Maurice Sendak)

Inglorious Basterds
-Quentin Tarantino

Synecdoche, New York
-Charlie Kaufman

Monday, December 13, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Year: #9-Brazil

Top 10 Films of the Year:

Though watching his most recent films you wouldn't know it, Terry Gilliam actually does have some talent behind the screen. Before The Adventures of Pluto Nash hollywood's biggest failure came in the realese of Brazil, which by the end of it all had three different cuts made. The definitive cut runs about two and a half hours long, and is a great dystopian tale of an opressive government and the one worker that tries to rebel. The idea is old, and often used, but it works in the realm of the story I believe. It invokes great memories of the works of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, and puts you in the mood for the type of story that is about to be told. It also allows for some great stylistic choices, which Gilliam is well known for. It was realesed in a time where American audiences were used to sci-fi epics like Alien, and Predator where as Gilliam's vision was much darker, and far more realistic, with the evil not coming in the form of some other life-form from outerspace, but rather our own governments, and were the terrorists doing the bombing, might be more heroic than our selected leaders. The film has some great performances from Johnathan Pryce, Michael Palin, Robert De Niro, and Katherine Helmond as a scene-stealer, playing Pryce's mother, who is addicted to plastic surgery, and is simply hilarious in nearly every scene she is in. The film shines in screenplay, which is quick-witted, funny, and most importantly a satire of the current industrial world. Gilliam claims the film is his version of 1984, "the nineteen eighty-four, for 1984" as he claims, which I find is perfect. The film is stark in story, bright in style, and hilarious in action. I think where Brazil succeeds is in creating this weird stir of emotions within the viewer. You realize that everything that is going on in the world is terrible, but the way the characters react, and interact within it is just hilarious. It's a great comedic satire that still holds up today, has good acting, great direction, and a lovely sense of style and pacing, a refreshing look at the sci-fi genre without delving into the realms of anything too extreme.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Year: #10-Hard Candy

Top 10 Films of the Year:
Hard Candy

What is probably the best straight-out thriller I reviewed this year is also the hardest to stomach. Hard Candy sets its sights on challening your morality and getting straight to the heart of the matter. The tale of an older man seducing a young girl over the internet is a shocking enough tale as it is, but what happens when this girl may be more than she is letting on to be. The film never explicity tells us to root for, who is evil, or who is good. Is this man a rapist? We don't know. Is he a murderer? We don't know. Screenwriter Brian Nelson brings up the topics but never gives us the answer, trusting the audience to make the decision of who is really evil. The assumed pedophile, or the young girl who is increasingly mutilating him as the film goes on? A very young Ellen Page (before her Juno days) gives an excellent, twisty turny performance as the girl we root for, but never know if we can trust, and Patrick Wilson also tunes into his inner split personality, displaying both likability, and undying hatred. Sandra Oh turns up briefly in a perfect little supporting role, if for only about three minutes of screen-time, and makes us even more tense than we already were. David Slade directs with an incredible visual flare, invoking Red Riding Hood imagery, in order to remind us that all our beloved classic children's stories that always had a dark twist. One of the most morally conflicting stories put to the screen, which will leave most audiences members feeling like they chose a villian, no matter who they wanted to see survive. It will definatly create a divide in the audience, and will trigger great conversation on who is evil in the story, and what the definition of evil is, great to watch with people who like to decifer film, or those who enjoy studying psychology. I'm still morally unsure about Hard Candy, but, it certainly did get me thinking, had me hooked, had me entertained, and got me talking, all while being an excellently crafted film to boot. For all those reasons, it would have been a crime to leave it off the top ten.

Note: Again, these are the Top 10 Films I reviewed this year, not the Top 10 realesed this year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Gettin' down to the end.

My first post on this site was on December 3rd of last year. A year if today was five days ago, that would be a year ago today. The first thing I ever posted was a review of Zombieland (don't even bother looking at it, my reviews #1-#20 I dread reading) and my most recent post, a review of Breaking Upwards. So, 43 reviews and 7 random other posts later, we arrive here at number 50. The anniversary/end-o-the-year post. Its actually rather convient that the end of my first year comes really close to the end of the year, because then I only have to really make one post on the subject.

So, I decided that I would do an end-of-the-year countdown type thing. I came up with my ten favorite films that I reviewed this year (not movies that came out this year, but that I reviewed this year) and but them in an order from least to best. I've also done the same with additional some additional categories, inluding, and limited too:

Supporting Actor,
Supporting Actress,
and Screenplay.

Each of these six categories will have my top five, the weakest of the five, to the strongest of the five, and any honorable mentions if  there are any in said category. The idea is to do one of the Top Ten Films close to everyday, and one of the additional categories on the days that I do not do one of the Top Ten. This will hopefully be starting very, very soon. Tomorrow, Friday at latest, with my #10 Best Film of my first year of reviewing!

Also, I've had an idea recently to go back and re-watch some of the films that I've already reviewed, and review them again. Some of the older ones (like #1-#20) and review them with what I feel like is more knowledge now compared to then, and see if I still feel the same way about them. Like I said this is just an idea I've had for awhile, I just haven't had a chance to ponder it that much. Really cool, or just overkill? Let me know in a comment.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

#43-Breaking Upwards (2009)

Breaking Upwards

Breaking Upwards, now my favorite film of the Mumblecore movement is also one of the most true to the definition. The film, about the hardships of relationships on twentysomethings these days, takes a really tired and cliched plot and makes rather interesting, and what makes it so, is knowing that what actually goes on did really happen. The story is taken from a true experience between stars Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, about their breakup, and what they tried to do to come back together.

The story happened between star, co-writer, director, co-producer and editor Daryl Wein, and star, co-writer, co-producer Zoe Jones who found their relationship in a bit of a slump. To try and jump start things again they decide to take "off days" where they only see each other four days a week, and are not allowed to speak to or see each other the other three. They then change the rules to allow the relationship to be open on off-days, and often encourage each other to ask out other people. An interesting idea, but as you watch the the film you realize that it does have some pretty obvious negatives, but some really great positives.

Firstly, because it is based on a true story, and has the actors playing themselves, this all feels like it could really happen in your town, with people you know. There are great little touches and things that add to the authenticity, such as whenever they meet when biking they 'helmet bump' which you see in the trailer. When they first decide to have an open relationship Daryl asks: 'what should I change my facebook status too?' And its all things that really do happen, such as an early scene where they are both eating breakfast together, but are texting different people at the same time. It is an incredibly, and almost painfully, honest look at the way modern society has effected realationships, both for better and worse.

Both Daryl and Zoe give incredibly strong performances (granted as themselves) and because they really did have a realtionship, there is some incredible chemistry there. The film is boasted by some impressive minor characters played by the great Andrea Martin, Julie White, and Olivia Thrilby. Some of the lines that come out during Zoe and Daryl's fights are really kind of heartbreaking because they say things that make sense. Things that people do often feel in realtionships, and things that we face everyday.

The films only problem comes toward the end, when the climax happens. It walks a very fine line between being really, really honestly sad, and just cliched and theatrical. But I think the way its played out leans it toward the former, and allows what happens to make sense, even though the story may have been embellished a little for the screen. Shot on digital video, the most popular format for independent cinema, it looks really good with all its imperfections. For films like this and other independent cinema, I really dig the shakey, handheld, unpolished filming style, it gives everything that happens a sense that its grounded in reality, and that based on these characters actions the plot unfolds, instead of having the plot forced on the characters. Another great aspect is the soundtrack composed by Kyle Forester. Its got hipster tunes that are just hipster enough that feel cool listening to them, but not so much that you feel you're being ironic. I know it sounds weird but its very true, the film has a great soundtrack, with all the songs having been written by Zoe as production went along.

I may be impartial to this film because it depicts the era of realtionships that I grew up, and am still growing up in. I never got a chance to experience things that happen in the great romances of the 30's. That way of life is just foreign to me, and I don't understand how it worked without being able to IM people or send them texts all the time, and I think that breaking upwards makes a good point, that our connections to people have been lessened because of all these diffrerent forms of media we are allowed to communicate to them through 24/7. Making real-life interaction seem less imporant than it was back then, and really is still today

If you can't tell by now, I just loved this film to death. Its honest, and thats the best thing about it. While cinema is mostly escapism sometimes it is just good to see the truth on screen and realize that other people do go through the same thing you do, and people that are in movies. Great writing, excellent direction, solid performances, and a great score make this something that really is to be experienced. It's not easy to find on DVD or in theatres, but it is avalible to watch on Netflix's instant service, and if you subscribe to Netflix this is definatly one to check watch, and if you don't I highly, highly, recommend that you seek this out.

I Give Breaking Upwards A:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

#42-Machete (2010) (Quicky Review)


Machete is a film that runs into problems quick and often. It's main problem comes from the fact that it is indeed an adapted screenplay, and the concept was originally designed to only run about two and a half minutes, and as two and a half minutes, even maybe at a half hour long, Machete would have been genius. It would have been one of my favorites. But at an hour and forty-five, it just runs to long.

The plot is tired and boring and brought nothing new to the table. But was it suppose to? It is one of those throw-back things that seem to be so hip these days. Danny Trejo's family was murdered, he's been trained by the C.I.A., F.B.I., D.E.A. and all the rest. So, revenge.

The film boasts an impressive cast from the B and A-List Teams. Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro, Steven Sagal, Cheech Marin, and others all make their way into Robert Rodriguez's interesting little grindhouse throwback, and you can tell that everyone involved just had a fun time making the picture. Its over-the-top, it's gratuitious, and (at times) its very fun. Just to sit back and watch it absorb in itself and weird universe that it makes. But the fun times are few a far between. Whereas I really enjoyed Death Proof, and Planet Terror, Machete just doesn't have the same flare to it.

It's pacing and direction feels very, very clunky. It seemed like a series of random events thrown together. Which it originally was, a trailer that wasn't intended to be a film. But once the idea of the film came together, it just seemed like more random events thrown together, to make the random events that took place in the trailer seem a little more plausible, and to actually happen onscreen. Not to mention the final battle that takes place between three different groups is just awful. Its not fun. Its not action-packed. Its exciting. It just felt very off.

Machete is a decent rental at best. The acting is fun, the story is stupid, and it has moments of real hilarity. But there are too few, and there certainly aren't enough for the movie to be an hour and forty minutes long. These grind-house throwback films can be good, they can be really good, but this isn't one of them. The cast had a good time, and its fun to see all these people together, and the few moments that work, really do work, but it's just a tiny idea, stretched far to thin.

I Give Machete A:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Antichrist: A Theory and Analysis

One of the hardest things about trying to give a theory on a film like Antichirst in particular, is how many interpertations of it can be made, and how after the reaction to the film, Lars von Trier doesn't appear to be giving out answers anytime soon. Another reason being is that it is a film of pyschological meltdown and confusion, giving any number of different possibilites for what is happening in reality. Combined with the films bizarre and surreal imagery and overall difficult tone, it is a hard film to pin to one certain message. I would also like to note that all this is written after a single viewing, and some serious note-taking. This post may change over time with additional viewings (if I dare.)

Being that the film is about a psycho-analysis of a woman by her husband, it must first be noted that some things may or may not be happening in reality. He and She are both deeply flawed people, and are emotionally unstable after the death of their son Nic. She expresses her sadness and anger through increasingly violent tendancies, and overall erratic behavior. But, nearly also as strange, is how easily He deals with it. He copes by trying to help She cope, almost never showing any emotional sign of the death of his son at all, except for a few tears at the beggining, which I'll get to later. The film also plays with the idea of Satan, Evil, and Human Nature, which all may have a metaphysical higher-power associated with them, and thus explaining some of the more outlandish, and impossible scenes the film depicts.

From the start, the film does have some overtly religious metaphorical connections. The cabin in the woods being called "Eden" and so forth. A scene towards the beggining, when He is helping She make a list of places She is afraid of, She mentions "the woods." He investigates further asking: "Any woods in particular?" Which is when we learn that She is scared of the woods around Eden, which He labels in parenthesis as (garden). Another play on the biblical tale of The Garden of Eden. Further religious themes come later in the film, such as when they are walking toward the cabin, and She claims that the ground is burning, and reveals burns on the bottom of her feet, as if Hell rested over that single patch of Earth. More details are added about this when She claims that "Nature is Satan's church", which allow us to make the assumption, of Eden being Hell. An interesting paradox and statement for the film to make. Even more religion inspired themes come in the form of She's earlier thesis paper, which is about the misogynistic treatment of women in the 1600's, for they were thought for witches, and the films title itself; Antichrist.

Though many paradoxes and connections can be made, and are obviously there, I am willing to write them all off. When She first speaks of Satan, He reacts with a mix of disgust and surprise. Allowing us to assume that She wasn't at all religious before the death of their son, and emotional break-downs. The two emotions, Disgust and Surprise allow us to say that 1) She wasn't religious and 2) He wasn't and still isn't. From here there are three possible ways for this to be taken.

1.He and She aren't religious, and therefore none of the impossible occurences can be attributed to a higher power.

2.He and She aren't religious, and are therefore being punished for their lack of faith by inserting the Antichrist into one of the characters.

3. He and She aren't religious, and are trying to be enlightened by a higher-power, but are unfourtanetly being swayed because they are standing over Hell.

However, I am going to say that the most likely answer is the first. None of the impossible occurences can be attributed to a higher-power. Cinemas depiction of religion usually comes in the form of religious characters, only religious characters exclaim to have any connection to God (unless the film is directly for religious purpose, at which point they will attempt to sway non-religious chatacters to their side). Since our characters are not religious, and all forms of religion on pushed on them by their own psychologic incapabilites, we can assume that they are not allowed to be effected by the Hand of God, or the Hand of Satan.

The film is notorious for its distictive look and unreal perceptions, many of which it has become famous for. The so called "Chaos Fox" and tree made with roots of human limbs and so forth. But what I think is interesting first and foremost are the animals. The first animal we encounter is a deer. The scene has He all by himself, after She has run-off, terrifed of the woods, when He finds a deer. First glance lets us know that this deer isn't like other deers. Usually when a deer meets with a human they dart into the nearest possible bush, or forested area (I live on the North-West coast of Oregon, the things are everywhere), but this deer just stands and stares at He. Not moving. Not Blinking. But aside from this the deer is pretty normal. Until it turns and we find that it has a stillborn fawn hanging out of its uterus. A possible, and in fact quite clear reference to the death of their child. In another scene where He is alone, a dead fox re-animates and begins to eat it's own entrails, and claims that "Chaos reigns". The third animal comes once more when He is alone, hiding from She in what appears to be a rabbit-hole, where a dead bird re-animates and begins cawing. This gives away where He is hiding and He kills it multiple times, only to have it re-animate and begin making noise again.

These all share a few things. Easily that they are all animals doing impossible things, which based on my theory above aren't really there. The deer isn't really there, the fox doesn't talk, the bird doesn't come back to life, they are all complete metaphoric symbols that have absoloutly nothing to do with the nature of the forest. However, another thing to notice is that all these animal occurences happen only with the character of He, and only when He is alone, without She in frame, for whatever the reason may be. The only animal scene that happens with She on screen is when a baby bird falls from it's nest dead, only to be swept up and eaten by a Raven, something that could very easily happen in real life. This is also something that I will touch on later.

Now the question. What do all these animals mean? The three beggars as they are so called. In the scene when He ventures into the attic to find She's scrawled thesis paper and crazy writing, She has carved into the desk a picture of the three beggars. The three-beggars have names carved into them as well, Grief, Pain, and Despair, which also share their names with the names of the chapters the film is broken up into. A pretty clear connection between what each one represent, and how, in the conclusion, where all three beggars must arrive before She will kill He, this means that all three emotions, Grief, Pain, and Despair, must arrive in the both of the characters, in their complete  form, in their full, natural forms, untouched by their original oddities, before He or She dies.

Another connection I would like to make is when She has run out of the house and begins masturbating on the tree. The tree starts out normal, like a tree looks, it is only when He enters the scene that the tree seems to ascend from it's basic form, and grow these strange human limbs, which appear to be the limbs of the dead, possibly buried underneath. So now we have He as the only one who had the delusions of animals, and He as the one who seemingly caused the appearance of the dead bodies, thus insinuating that there is something definatly wrong with He.

Which isn't to say there isn't something definatly wrong with She. The film reveals to us, very breifly, and without much else said about it, that She had been putting Nic's shoes on his wrong feet. And She has been doing this for a significant amount of time. It also reveals to us that she might have done this purposfully, when Nic starts crying, and She does nothing. Similairly, Nic fell out of a window, just as the dead baby bird fell out of the nest, only to be consumed by a Raven later. Early on in the film, She explicitly states that He is not paying enough attention to She, and after the death of Nic, She gets literally all the attention from He, who then thinks he can cure her. Is it possible that she wanted Nic dead? To get the attention of He? That putting the shoes on the wrong feet was just the start of a very severe pyschological damage? I think that when the Raven eats its own child, it is a clear connection with She having wanted Nic dead.

Both characters are incredibly psychologically damaged, have little-to-no connection or sense of reality, and quite simply are insane. The final straw for She comes in the finale where She has conivinced herself that all women are evil (a very clear sign in biblical texts, which throughout the film she becomes increasingly attached to) and begins to genitally mutilate herself and He. An incredibly clear sign that she has lost it. Now is when they are both completed filled with the three 'beggar' emotions, and the three animals show up. Except something happens. Whereas She has had the power for the entire film, she has been the most violent, and from the beggining has been the sexual instigator, He takes control. He kills She by strangling her to death, and then burning her body of a fire. But the scene is quite odd. She, who is usually in control, puts up no struggle at all to stop He from killing. Possibly fufilling what she wanted all along 1) getting all the attention from He and 2) much later, thinking all women are evil, and therefore letting He kill her. The final insanity straw for He breaks after he has escaped the cabin, and is walking away. The ground next to him is completely filled, and piled up with dead bodies, something that couldn't really happen, and must be happening in his head. A clear sign of even more problems, and once he reaches the roll of the hill, an incredible amount of women start walking up. Just women, walking up the hill on their own accord, faces blurred, with no features.

Which brings me to my next point, the blurred faces of the thousands of women are seen elsewhere in the film. During the funeral scene for the young boy, all the followers of the  hearse besides He and She have faces that are completely blurred out as well, with no features. This scene also has He crying what appear to be some really fake tears, and overly sensitive touching of the hearse. It all seemed very staged. Perhaps He also never wanted a child in the first place. She was always the sexual instigating. Is it possible that He never wanted a child in the first place, and as time grew neither did She?

I think the clear message of the film is that Satan is evil, as Nature is evil, as People are evil. That we are all following the same basic pattern of life and death, and though humanity might seem like a terrible thing, we are simple a mirror image of nature. The Deer suffers Grief. The Fox suffers Pain. The Crow suffers Despair. Just as He and She did. The dead bird fell from the tree, only to be consumed by its parents, just as Nic fell from the window. Falling acorns sound eerily simlair to bullets. Tree roots look eerily similair to arms. And thousands upon thousands of things die in nature everyday, just as thousands and thousands of people die everyday. But also nature overcomes everyday, just as humanity overcomes everyday. We are Nature, Nature is us. And if the film is trying to pin one thing inparticular as the 'Antichrist' it is nature. Not He. Not She. Characters who are equally flawed, but nature, who drove their insanity even further into the depths than it already was. If the film is anything more than a simple shocker its this. Make of it what you will. Am I right? Am I wrong? That's up for you to decide. You are free.