Mini-Review: The Brass Teapot

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Brass Teapot

This is a film that tells a quirky, fairly originally-spun tale about unlimited riches being made available to a young, struggling couple and the toll that takes on their life. As funny as the film manages to be for a while, it does start to lose its bearings as it moves on. The rules seemingly change on a whim and it builds to a chaotic yet fairly anticlimactic finale.

The film has its moments and its laughs as well as good performances but it ultimately doesn’t keep itself in check and loses its chance to be a quirky charmer as it goes off the deep end.

5/10

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Mini-Review: Byzantium

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Byzantium

If one were to just look at the surface of Byzantium you might think it rings a bit too familiar as compared to other vampire-related films of recent vintage. However, when you consider the fact that this film has Neil Jordan at the helm, or if you just simply watch it then you see that surface similarities are merely what the name suggests: superficial. For what Byzantium has in spades are what other vampire narratives all too often lack: backstory, character, emotion, depth, conflict and humanity.

To put it quite simply, the only thing Byzantium does that is a little tiresome is something that’s true to a teenage character, it’s that it rehashes the same conflict over a few times without true progression of the struggle. However, it does move forward and unravel more of the web that these characters find themselves in.

The film is spearheaded by another brilliant turn by Saoirse Ronan and by far the best performance I’ve seen by Gemma Arterton to date. It’s another film that epitomizes the fact that drama is the foundation of all other genres and is intrinsic to building a good horror tale, and this is a great one.

9/10

Mini-Review: A Place at the Table

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

A Place at the Table

When one discusses hunger in America there are a lot of seemingly disparate facts that need to be connected so that the roots of the problem are readily understood to all. When No Kid Hungry and other similar charities started to have more of a national presence the dots weren’t quite connecting. That’s not meant to downplay the quality of filmmaking here to one similar to a PSA. I merely mention that to illustrate that some issues have enough layers such that a film such as this one is a necessity. The economic restraints of having and applying for food stamps; concepts such as food deserts, food insecurity; the budgeting of school lunches; the link between poverty and obesity; the dated structure of food subsidies; are all things that cannot quickly be discussed and this film does well to correlate these facts and paint a picture.

However, the film is issue-centric only when needed. As much as it can, it dramatizes these political issues with tales of actual people that personify certain struggles. Thus, the issues are brought home more so than they would be otherwise. It’s yet another documentary that tackles a dangerously large scope but it does fairly well to rein in all the contributing factors. Any who see it will be made more aware and it will likely spur action by many.

8/10

Mini-Review: The Deflowering of Eva Van End

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Deflowering of Eva Van End

I’ve discussed the fact that I quite enjoy the Film Movement film-of-the-month club. One aspect I’ve mentioned less frequently than the included short films on each DVD release, is the fact that on the inside cover there is usually a statement about the film from both the company and the director of the film. I make it a point to not read either until after I’m done watching the feature. The reason I mention that is because what struck me from the first frame is what Eva’s (Vivian Dierickx) look, her persona; reminded me of was Dawn Wiener, the protagonist of Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, and as the opening scene played out that notion was reinforced. Those sentiments were echoed in the statement. However, I agree this is its own film because it’s not a myopic view of a world but rather a portrait of an entire family.

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.

It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

9/10

Review: The Mystery of Happiness

Santiago (Guillermo Francella) and Eugenio (Fabián Arenillas) are longtime friends and business partners. They seem to be as in sync as best friends are when they are children, and then one day Eugenio disappears without a trace. Nothing about the timing of it makes any sense. Disconsolate Eugenio’s wife, Laura (Inés Estévez), shows up seeking to help run the business and find her husband. As they search they want to know what prompted this and how well they really knew him.

The Mystery of Happiness balances elements of comedy and drama, offering insights about life, as well as sensitive touches and laughs much the way last year’s Dos más Dos did, which is also an Argentine film. The main difference being that this film doesn’t begin with a subject matter as inherently humorous and over the top.

While the film introduces in Santiago and Laura comedic foils, but where there is a delicate touch in this film is the way in which it easily introduces a dual examination of relationships of two different types: best friend/business partner and spouse. The way the examination is conducted is also wise: with Eugenio being practically a ghost each deserted party is left to wonder about his/her respective relationship and also give their impression of the other pair.

One way in which this film makes itself a touch unique is through the quirky private eye character that is brought into the fray. Oudukian (Alejandro Awada) is an enigmatic figure who through his unrevealed life experience, and his arcane approach to interpersonal relationship examination steers the abandoned wife and business partner in the right direction. In essence, he acts more like a guide, a guru, rather than a traditional private eye, and the main characters conduct the search. This works fine because it allows the world of this story to stay small and this small mysterious character to stay shrouded.

This film begins with a sumptuous montage of Santiago and Eugenio walking about enjoying various activities. It establishes their seemingly inseparable nature, and also sets a tone for the visual approach to storytelling in this film. As per usual, it sounds ridiculous to laud a film for a visual storytelling approach as it is a visual medium, but the fact of the matter is being dialogue-heavy is a very easy trap to fall into, for comedies especially. In this film, however, many of the key moments are conveyed entirely in visuals: the opening, the montage then mirrored and the conclusion and denouement are specific, important examples.

The Mystery of Happiness is a funny and moving story that finds people in search of answers about relationships they thought they had. The literal disappearance of Eugenio symbolizes the vanishing of stability in their lives and is a classic example of a MacGuffin. The film balances its funnier moments with heartfelt, bittersweet ones. This is occasionally underscored by music which is always brilliant especially Nico Cota’s re-orchestration of “Aquarela do Brasil.” The Mystery of Happiness is now available to stream and on DVD and is most definitely worth viewing if you want to see a mature dramedy that’s not afraid to take things seriously as well.

9/10

Review: Moebius

In synopsizing this film too many sites, like the IMDb, have versions of the story that are far too reductive. So much so they are dangerously vague and would leave the potential viewer woefully ignorant. I’ve frequently written of the benefit of going in to a film with a clean slate. However, in some cases an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To be almost equally cutesy one could categorize this film as the Bobbit case extrapolated into Greek domestic tragedy, or a vicious cycle of betrayal and attacking manhood, or you could visit Ram Releasing’s site for an even more exact version of the story. With all the severing and revenge going about you do want to be somewhat prepared.

This is another film that could be far more sensationalistic with its squeamish subject matter. As opposed to Cannibal this one does occasionally show rather than imply, however, such a happenstance is rare. Those instances are noteworthy because the balance between the grotesque and comedic aspects of the narrative at play are probably some of the lesser moments of the film. This is in terms of tonal equilibrium which is a far less subjective criteria than the nearly irrevocably prudish “good taste.” For once you make the commitment to take the journey of this story you have to realize that it’s not a rabbit hole you’re going down, but rather a Möbius strip, so if you are perturbed by a beat or revelation once, odds are some refraction of that very same narrative iteration will recur.

Another consideration about this film is that is one where there is almost no dialogue. Specifically, I don’t recall there being any after the opening sequence in the film. To it’s credit it doesn’t need any dialogue over 90% of the time. A few of those situations where it is needed are just those where it’s hard to believe nothing would be said by any party involved. Even more rare is the scene that would’ve been illuminated by some piece of dialogue.

As such it is a film that relies and tells its story visually. The images do communicate are perfectly composed and artfully lit. Yet it also stays true to environment and the story, only toward the end in a dream sequence, and the climactic one, are there any affectations that are not entirely diegetic.

Sometimes a story can be twisted, can shock and place its characters through the wringer, not have them be particularly likeable and it all works, even when ostensibly the play’s the thing and it’s not seeking to expound upon some deeper meaning. In Moebius’ case it almost begs for more. Perhaps that is something that will come with further reflection and reviewing. It being a film lacking in dialogue it allows the audience to plumb its depths (which are pretty deep considering where we begin) for some other meaning if we want. One can easily infer commentary, but it’s almost too superficially preoccupied too much of the time such that deeper psychological portraiture of these people is forfeited to an extent.

However, any film is unique in the way it plays to the individual audience member, and Moebius will be no exception. It will garner a wide range of reactions and perhaps reads. It may repel or fascinate, engage or bore, but it refuses to be ignored and for that any film enthusiast must be thankful. For in an age where far too many films are safe here is one that doesn’t dare to be divisive it insists on it.

7/10

The Movie Rat discusses The Funhouse on Forgotten Filmcast

I was invited back as a guest on the Forgotten Filmcast during this Halloween season. Yesterday, it went live. You can find it here. Todd and I discuss the 1981 film The Funhouse directed by Tobe Hooper. It’s an in depth discussion of that film, as usual Todd brings up some great points to consider about this weird little film. We also include our own personal film recommendations. The runners up for my own pick were the films of Zé do Caixão (a.k.a. Coffin Joe) and The Other, which has a great Blu-ray release from Screen Archives Entertainment. My choice was Rammbock, see why I recommend it so highly, and if you think a comparative allusion I make in talking about it is wrong, ben trovato or eerily accurate. So it’s worth checking out for that and for a deeper look into The Funhouse. For other episodes you can also search iTunes for “Forgotten Films.”

It’s a timely horror listen. Also, while I’ve not brandished many posts with 61 Days of Halloween, I am still covering horror here this season. Look:

Katasumi
Under the Bed
Mercy
The Captured Bird
Annabelle

A new post about Halloween (1978)
Shadow People
Stoker
Fantasmagorie
Grace
A Haunting at Silver Falls
Bad Kids Go to Hell
Kiss of the Damned
The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon
The Depraved
The ABCs of Death
Dracula 3D
Jacob
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
The Condemned
Hambuster
In Their Skin
The Hidden People
The Ward
The Innkeepers
The Strange and Eerie Memoirs of Billy Wuthergloom
11/11/11
Red State
Bereavement

Review: 1,000 Times Good Night

Rebecca (Juliet Binoche) is one of the world’s foremost photojournalists. She specializes in going into war zones and getting the shots few would dare to. After a life-changing event she, her husband (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and her daughters (Lauren Canny and Adrianna Cramer Curtis) struggle to hold their family together as they wrestle mixed emotions about her employment.

1,000 Times Good Night drops you into the deep end from the start. It places you alongside an embedded journalist. With scarcely any dialogue of significance we follow Rebecca as a suicide bomber is prayed over and prepares to do what she sees as her duty. It is an affecting and hypnotic start to the film. Much like Rebecca herself we merely see her in the field, are just focused on her in the moment. That assignment having ended we see her making her way home. A family we didn’t know was there, that feared for her safety, emerges. As the film goes on to be about the family’s struggles with each other and the demands of the matriarch’s employment, we see what a sage beginning to the story this was. Instantly we are shown the dilemma facing them all: what Rebecca does matters, she’s excellent at it, and it separates her from her family and consistently threatens to tear them apart.

Having persistently been in war zones she faces battles at home. However, when dealing with a narrative such as this the tendency can be to treat this with too facile a touch, make conflicts too petulant and infantile (especially the adult ones). Similarly, there are also cycles of acceptance and rejection ongoing. The characters each struggle within themselves and then with one another.

Not only is there a fairly complicated relationship each character shares with the fact that Rebecca is a professional photographer but there are some reversals as well. The film also deals with two very different types of mise-en-scène to create: both area of conflict set-ups and more homey scenarios. The film excels in both and then really puts the cherry on top when it combines them both in a necessary narrative turning point.

The films direction from that crucial midpoint, how it deals with the secrets kept and lies told are the only significant slips in an otherwise sure-handed film. However, the sequence in question is not long and the ill-effects are overcome and backed up by a very strong and decisive third act.

The framing mechanism in the narrative works perfectly, and again almost entirely without any need of dialogue, encapsulates the central struggle of the story. The success of the final act of the film surpasses merely mechanical distinction. The visceral connection that conclusion makes is due in large part to Juliette Binoche’s interpretation of her character. Binoche is strong throughout, a women always seemingly entirely present in her current environs, a convincingly passionate crusader for justice and loving mother racked by guilt. Her performance alone is enough to carry the film, but she does have help.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does have to breakout from a personage that seemingly has less dimension than the other but he shows compassion, vulnerability and hurt anger and effectively creates the image of a father who not only raises his girls alone, but feels estranged from a wife he’s still married to. Lauryn Canny, as Rebecca’s eldest daughter, has the unenviable task of being a typically rebellious, dramatic teenager throughout much of the film. However, she does eventually shows other levels and to her character, even if she’s still a bit immature. Not to be undersold Adrianna Cramer Curtis’ quiet loyalty to begin with is a necessary counterpoint that adds much emotion.

1,000 Times Good Night
in dealing with a woman caught between two sets of responsibility and two worlds, the second where she wields a camera like a weapon, has the responsibility to be a highly visual film. It is so, but is also a fairly taut and moving account that offers a lot to think of as families the world over balance homebound and global responsibility in different ways all the time.

8/10

Short Film Saturday: Katasumi (1998)

With this being the last Short Film Saturday entry before Halloween I figured it was time to kick up the selected horror film. Katasumi one of the short films that acted as a precursor to The Grudge films in the US, and Juon in Japan, does that in three short minutes: it features a simple set-up, unsettling soundtrack and a rate on incidents. Enjoy and Happy Happy Halloween (Silver Shamrock)!

Review: Finn

Finn is about a nine-year-old boy, played by Mels van der Hoeven, who lives in a small town with his father (Dan Schuurmans). One day Finn notices someone has moved into the abandoned farmhouse that he passes as he goes to and from school. He is drawn there by a wonderful sound he’s never heard before: a violin playing. He starts to take lessons with the old player (Jan Decleir), and skipping soccer practice. His father discovers this and forbids him. As the story moves on it becomes clear that his father’s concern is not just about Finn fitting in. All this time Finn wants: to know more about his mother, to fix their relationship, his father to open up, and to know what’s so bad about the violin anyway.

It would be easy to watch the trailer, or read other online synopses and dismiss Finn as being just another run-of-the-mill family dramedy. You may be lead to believe that it’ll be cutesy and geared mostly for children, however, one of the best things about it is that it respects all its potential audience members, and would likely entertain them in equal measure. For while Finn definitely seeks to speak to both children and parents it portrays a world that can draw both in.

The world of the story is seen mostly through Finn’s eyes, and though he’s known his pains (like never knowing his mother) it is a still a world that most children have experienced at one time or another: a world of magical realism. Finn openly wonders about the connections between music and magic, the ability to induce visions; in short believes in the unseen world and is not shy to talk about it. Resistance is met when he does share it though. He estranges his best friend and confounds his father, to say the least. So there is a balance struck.

Finn (2013, Attraction Distribution)

This balance allows for the creation of a bittersweet, sensitive narrative and as events unfold and revelations are made joys and sorrows walk hand-in-hand. The gorgeous nature of this film is precisely that the journey it takes you upon ebbs and flows. With each narrative progression truths are being revealed and though the truth invariably introduces new pains (pains both Finn and his father seek to avoid) it is ultimately freeing and allows them to move on with their life.

The journey taken here is most definitely a heart-rending one. It’s a film that could easily rest on the laurels of its mellifluous orchestrations, and captivating pastoral scenes of the low country but combines that with a universal, unpretentious and moving story. Due to the fact these things play off of one another the film is allowed to true resonance and cannot be dismissed as nice, cute or quaint, but rather a wholly realized intimate family portrait that should be shared not only at the holidays, but by families the world over.

This is a film populated by deceptively hard characters to play: Finn, has to be simultaneously precocious in that he seeks greater meanings in life and his activities, but naive enough to believe in the improbable and even impossible. The deft scripting assists in that regard but van der Hoeven is often the one, as the film’s namesake, carrying the scenes, who needs to connect with the audience and does. Shuurmans has to be simultaneously quiet definitively hurt and guarded. He has to be brusque with his son without ever alienating the audience and he succeeds in spades because as bad as the arguments get it’s always clear he is torn, has his reasons, but believes he’s doing right by his son.

The film flows with such ease that it washes over you like a dream, which is fitting. This is a factor that should also make this film one that’s conducive to revisiting. Considering that this film is repped by Attraction Distribution, who have had a good track record lately of getting European produced family fare seen in both Canada and the US, prospects of the audience for this film widening are quite good. This is most definitely a film worth finding. This kind of beauteous, lyrical family drama has nearly been the exclusive purview of Benelux in recent years. It is a moving, sincere film ought to be discovered, and one of the best of the year to date.

10/10