The Gray Area 2013

To put it in its simplest terms this piece is my best attempt to keep myself and my BAM Awards process honest. What this means is that if I had a legitimate opportunity to see a film in 2012, but for whatever reason it falls through the cracks, its review ends up here, rather than rolling over into 2013. There have been some good films that have appeared here in the past and I have found a home for them after all. For a guide to what these ratings mean go here.

Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher (2012, Paramount Pictures)

This is the kind of film that looks pretty good based on the trailer, but I’ll admit I didn’t rush out to see despite the fact that this film boasts the brilliant move of using Werner Herzog as its villain. My reaction to the trailer was that it seemed like those bits would be the highlights. It does, however, expound upon that with good action sequences and an intriguing web of mystery that’s well executed in visual and cinematic terms. It’s another winning project for Tom Cruise, who remains one of the few actors who can consistently find star vehicles that work on a narrative, financial and aesthetic level.


Clandestine Childhood

Clandestine Childhood (2011, Film Movement)

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, for I mentioned this when I reviewed Teddy Bear, not only do I truly enjoy the fact that Film Movement pairs a short film with its feature, but whenever possible its by the same director, and on occasion the short that inspired the feature. Here that is the case and it’s interesting inasmuch as the short serves as a springboard to the feature rather than just being expounded upon. The film is very well-shot with creative use of color and effective lighting throughout. It illuminates the oppressive atmosphere rebels in Argentina faced living under the regime of the late-70s/early 80s with human characters, humor and sensitivity. It’s not a wonder that Avila’s first feature earned him a spot at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes.


The Impossible

The Impossible (2012, Summit)

Out of all the films that will likely end up appearing in this post before it peters out, this one was the most lamentable. This past year was the first time I that I jotted down a list of films I wanted to see before the year was out in order to create my lists and awards. This was the only one left on the the outside looking in.

All that aside, be it my awards, the Oscars or anything else, the film still stands and should be seen. The film has a very smooth and even flow, such that the climactic sequence feels like it may be a prelude of false hope. On the technical end the film is a small marvel, not only in terms of effects work but also in terms of sound design and scoring. That’s before you get to the narrative and the performances. There’s a wonderful, pitch-perfect cameo, which is as much as I will say. As for the leads: Ewan McGregor’s work in one particular scene is likely the best moment of his career to date, and he’ll have many more to come, Naomi Watts is brilliant and all her accolades for the film are more than deserved. Most critical is the involvement of Tom Holland. He’s the audience’s bridge to the narrative, we divide time between his mother’s plight and father’s search, and he shoulders much of the burden and has a star-making turn that out not be drowned out in the award season buzz and should be seen.

Perhaps the best thing one can say about this film is that its impact as a piece of cinema is not immediately felt because it really is a harrowing and intimate portrait of a tragedy, and all that credit goes to director J.A. Bayona. The tonality of the film never wavers in its intent so it for the most part continues to feel like an account of an event rather than fiction. It never really feels over-dramatized or sensationalized, it’s real enough such that it’s engaging if not entertaining in the traditional sense.


The Thompsons

The Hamiltons (2012, Film Harvest)

Essentially part of the criteria for falling through the cracks in one year is cognizance. The release date on video for this film was 12/31, which made it a tough one to acquire and view before the end of the year.

This film reaches an honorable and rare duality of being a sequel that one could watch without having seen its predecessor and that continues the trajectory of a series properly. This sequel builds upon its own vampire myth, which is one whose origin is genetic rather than viral. What this film does infinitely better than its predecessor is build mystery, and suspense but also has reveals and significant plot points at a persistent pace. The necessary information, both new and old, is relayed quickly enough such that the raising of stakes happens early and often. You also have here a rather unusual paradigm wherein humanity is the outside world and you’re purely in a vampiric world. What The Thompsons does is firmly establish a foothold for the Buthcer Brothers concept in the genre, one that should be supported by those who like seeing new takes on old creatures, and specifically, want vampires to be brutal.


Reviews in the Gray Area 2012

Last year I posted an article of this type as well, you can read it here. Essentially what the Gray Area is with reference to this site are films that were out in 2011 that I could’ve gotten to see and just didn’t get around to. They always exist and it’s usually the awards season wherein I will view a vast majority of them, should others come along the way throughout the year I will add them here but this particular post should be active through the first quarter of the year or so and then gradually grow inert. So while I can’t include these films in either last year’s BAM Awards or this year’s and they remain in the gray that does not mean they do not deserve some sort of attention.

For an indication of what the scores mean please refer to my rating scale.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Focus Features)

Had I not read that Thomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directed this film I would’ve figured it out at some point and that’s due to the film’s pace and construction. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not an easy story to convey on the screen. It’s the type of film that has to put forth a very difficultly-attained and nearly intangible fascination that is usually the sole purview of spy capers and whodunits wherein you must be simultaneously enthralled by the intrigue of the narrative and rapt by the film such that you can keep pace with it, on a mental level. I specify that pace because the temporal pace of the film is rather interesting. In a film such as this it’s information that’s flying at you tinged with foreboding and a sense of a gyre closing such that the story cannot speed along at a brisk 90 minutes but must unfurl at a more leisurely 120 yet also still have enough incidents within it to hold that bifurcated attention it’s worked to create. The film manages that easily and keeps the pace rather steady and the facts quick in coming. Even when in flashback sequences, which there are many, though the cuts may be quick the information does not overwhelm. That is not to say that a second viewing wouldn’t make the film more enjoyable or that nothing will be missed, I certainly can’t guarantee that as the film does play things close to the vest often but it does easily connect a lot of seemingly disparate incidents such that a vast majority of facts, and how the conclusion that occurs is reached, becomes clear. In the end whatever vagueness the film may have is not something one can find in anyway distasteful as it recalls to me Bergman’s quote:

I don’t want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically… I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency.

I have always taken that to mean that he wanted people to be moved one way or another by his work and if you’re actively trying to piece this film together and succeeding or failing it won’t bore you to the point of indifference I feel and I think it’s riveting.


Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (20th Century Fox)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, which I believe in, I will say “Yes, I am a Chipmunks fan.” These characters without question are divisive. There is no middle ground it seems you love them or you hate them. Being a fan I was surprised to have liked the first film (just barely) and very sorely disappointed in the second installment. Where I feel things went wrong the second time around wasn’t in the introduction of the Chipettes but in doing so spreading itself too thin amid myriad conventional plot devices. That’s not to say that this installment breaks ground with some unconventional plot machinations, however, it does combine a few old hat techniques creatively and it focuses heavily on the Chipmunks and the Chipettes and on their character. Furthermore, while maybe having fewer musical cues than before it functions more like a musical than the prior two installments seeking emotional veracity in spotting songs rather than literal locales. By having the Chipmunks and Chipettes pushed to extremes and assuming different characteristics than expected this is the first tale of the three that feels fully realized especially since it restrains Dave, who was overly-involved in the first two. It’s also interesting that Cross’ somewhat listless turn is somewhat elevated by his recent ranting.



Oh, how I wish I could cite the Titus Conundrum as an exception here, but I cannot. What I mean by that is that I did know of Coriolanus at the end of last year and its having opened at the Ritz theaters in Philadelphia in late 2011 made it eligible for the BAMs last year. To make a long story short, I could’ve seen it but I did not. Therefore, it cannot carry over into 2012 unlike some films, which I had no legitimate chance of seeing last year, like We Need to Talk About Kevin for instance.

There are many facts that this film crystallized in my mind: first, it is much easier for me to watch Shakespeare, even if going in cold, than to read it. Seeing some sort of visual accompaniment provides a context that in a way allows me to focus on the words, the inflections used and in so doing I interpret rather rapidly. Whereas with the text, it’s you and the book and you stare at the words, glance at the footnotes and not having a framework of production there’s a bit more mental legwork to do to break down that barrier, to surpass the wonderful linguistic acrobatics and capture the meaning.

The second fact was a bit more interesting, as I have now for the fourth time seen a cinematic adaptation, which took liberties in updating the visuals of the story, quite a few things became clear simultaneously: While I certainly take no issue with a film that wants to take a literal period approach, I love the creativity that these modernized renditions show. Perhaps the biggest facts they underline is the timelessness of Shakespeare’s themes. In Coriolanus, for example, the names of the characters and the city-states remain the same. If looking at the text I would wonder what on Earth is a Volsci and where is Volscica, not that those questions are invalidated, but with this rendition that portrays Ancient Rome in a modern yet alternate reality, it’s easy enough to understand; Rome is a huge Empire, Volscica lies on the outside, they are an enemy state.

Coriolanus, like many a Shakespearean tragedy I’m sure, excels due to the fact that you not only understand the tragic figure’s flaw, and to an extent identify with it but circumstances constantly conspire to shift characters from one side to another, power play opportunities abound and each and everyone is taken, plots and counter-plots are always afoot.

With the implementation of news television as a major narrative device, combined with televised senatorial debates, even the peculiarities of Roman politics become not only easily accessible almost instantly but the entire story resonates so much more as a modern political allegory than it would be allowed to as a period piece.

The performances are exceptional and what also allows the film to be quite relatable is that the nucleus of dramatis personae is not as large here as in other Shakespearean works, at least in terms of major figures as they are presented here.

Essentially, Coriolanus as envisioned by first-time director and lead Ralph Fiennes and multi-talented screenwriter John Logan is a film that is likely to be an awe-inspiring experience for neophytes and die-hard Shakespeare fans alike. I know hearing from people on either side of that fence made me want to see it and after another invigorating adaptation I am certainly seeking to brush up on my Shakespeare further.


The Gray Area Reviews

Every year there is invariably going to be a gray area with regards to films. What I mean by that is due to the tyranny of release dates (meaning Oscar-nominated or contending films being released towards the end of the year) there will be some that slip into the following year.

Some of these films will fall into the gray area meaning they were out in say 2010, I had adequate opportunity to see them but passed for whatever reason. Some I was ignorant about their release so they retain their eligibility for the following year.

This year has an additional shade of gray, if you will, and that comes form the fact that I was transitioning from one site to another and busy archiving rather than writing new content. Some films failed to get timely reviews due to that fact, however, they still deserve them and that’s what this article hopes to do: bridge that gap.

So without further ado: The Gray Area reviews.

Rare Exports

Rar Exports (Oscilloscope Films)

There isn’t much in the way of originality coming out of American horror films these days. If you want something different you’re better off going international specifically to Europe. Rare Exports is a Finnish film that tackles the Santa Claus in horror subgenre with style, humor and intelligence much in the way the Norwiegian film Dead Snow took on the Nazi zombie subgenre.

There is a good bit of folklore re-interpreted and made to be a modern horror tale with a few intentional chuckles along the way. There is some good make-up work and some really good performances out of the cast both young and old.

The only thing that holds this film back is after a while it stops progressing its narrative and danger quotient and just sort of stagnates. It never becomes uninteresting and has a nice button at the end it just slips in the latter part of the second act into the third.

It is, however, a brisk and fun watch that you should look for on video when it comes out.


True Grit

True Grit (2010, Paramount)

This film falls into the Gray Area because I only managed to see it in January though I had chances to in December. For the record, I would not retroactively include this film in my Top 15 of 2010, however, that is one of the few things I can really fault it for. The film works and it works well I could just never get as involved with it as it wanted me to be.

The other thing that is a little bothersome is that in a rather realistic and well-spoken film you get an ending that smacks of a Hollywood cliché. The annoyance of false climax aside it’s two perils combined in one to add a little more running time and a quasi-tragic button to the whole affair.

Regardless of that the film is beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins and is played very convincingly by its cast particularly Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. It’s a plot that’s simple enough but also intriguing enough that it naturally becomes a character study without ever being tiresome.


The King’s Speech

Colin Firth in The King's Speech (The Weinstein Company)

I have been reading some people either complain or just state how The King’s Speech is both rather bulletproof but also not mind-blowing. To re-iterate the above review if I had to go back would I slide this film in my Top 15, probably not, do I get the bulletproof comments? Yes.

There is even less to nitpick this film about, if you want to use that term than there is for True Grit. The only thing that slightly holds it back in my book is the intangible visceral reaction that I just didn’t quite get out of this film as opposed to others.

It’s not a daringly original film in terms of concept or structure it’s just very well executed, acted, edited and shot. It’s the kind of Best Picture contender that while I may not have nominated I can really get behind because it is the best film that the lowest common denominator can get behind. Seriously, who can hate this film?

Before you answer consider the fact that I may need to ask you what your problem is. This is a really easy film to get into whether it blows you away or not and is a really likable kind of story. It’s a “feel good” movie without all that “feel good” movie cheese in the mix.


The Rite

Anthony Hopkins in The Rite (Warner Bros.)

The Rite is a rather surprising entry in the possession/exorcism subgenre of horror. There’s not a lot of new ground to tread so far as this kind of tale is concerned, however, the one thing this film, does right off the bat is acknowledge the existence of the subgenre with a reflexive joke about The Exorcist.

This film, of course, is a little like that one: there’s an old priest and young priest, there is the subject of doubt and it is in turn more about the exorcist than the exorcised, as a matter of fact, the exorcised are typically rather glossed over. However, what this film does do is deal with the mundane aspects of exorcism, it deals with many possessions and brings it down to earth a little from where its been.

The examples it uses as proof are simple and well-thought out. There are very good flashbacks in this film that allow more doubt to be created about where the tale is going then you’d ever expect.

Then there’s Anthony Hopkins. Just the fact that I am mentioning his name this late is an indication that this is a quality film worth seeing. Without saying too much there are shades of Hannibal Lecter in his performance which are great. The acting overall in fact really props this film up. It is definitely worth viewing.


The Green Hornet

Seth Rogen and Jay Chou in The Green Hornet (Columbia Pictures)

I truly shudder to think at what this movie would’ve been like had it not been for the creativity and flair that Michel Gondry brings to it. Yes, there is plenty of competition between action and comedy elements of the tale and both serve the film and story well but there’s also a lot of both and the film gets a little long in the tooth. As an origin story it’s not the most gripping based on how its handled not just based on the empirical facts of the character such that the flair and verve that Gondry brings is desperately needed.

The name Seth Rogen in the same sentence as the word superhero still does seem a little funny to say, however, it does kind of work for this character because it’s not a case of his being superhuman and his sidekick, well-played by Jay Chou does contribute quite a bit to the equation.


2016 BAM Awards: Honorary Awards

Robert Downey, Jr. Entertainer of the Year Awards

Dwayne Johnson


To say that I never expected when he was making a name for himself in the WWE that I’d one day award Dwayne Johnson anything would be an understatement.

However, with the second season of the HBO show BallersCentral Intelligence, and one of the bigger Gray Area films of the year, Moana.

Johnson has come a long way, but has always seemed a parallel on a higher plain than another honoree on this page.

It was a great year for him, he has three big 2017 films and has become one of the more enjoyable personalities onscreen and one of the few movie stars.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Paris Agreement For Climate Change Signing

In an indicator of my 2016, both the men I chose as entertainers of the year, have additions to the Gray Area. With DiCaprio it is The Ivory Game that is in that category. His award is more a behind the scenes one, specifically in the link between The Revenant and Before the Flood which created a personal narrative in a macrocosmic view that enlightened and enlivened both.

DiCaprio is also one of a notable few (recently Emma Watson also has) speakers at the UN who are using their celebrity for some good.

Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Awards

If there was one thing that 2016 showed the world, it’s that there should not be a limitation on appreciation. While my lifetime awards want to try to award those “not on their deathbed” it’s become even clearer to all that there are not guarantees and being too premature awarding in a category like this is not the end of the world.

In that spirit I picked two this year, and may find a way to squeeze in three for 2017. Here they are:

John Williams


50 Academy Award Nominations.

5 Oscars.

Nearly all of Spielberg’s credits.

The basis upon which the scoring of Star Wars and Harry Potter scores are built by others.

3 BAM Awards (1997, 2001, and 2002).

7 BAM Award Nominations.

Countless other memorable moments. Clearly deserving and frankly overdue.

Arnold Schwarzenegger


Movie stardom is a rare commodity now it seems, and Schwarzenegger definitely has always had that kind of magnetism.

However, after serving two terms as the governor of California, in 2011, as Arnold Schwarzenegger started to appear on the big screen again, I realized something: I’d missed him on-screen. 2016 was an off-year in as much as most of what he’s worked on lately will be out in 2017 and beyond, which is part of the tradition I like to follow (to have things forthcoming of note like (TripletsThe Legend of ConanJourney to China: Mystery of the Iron MaskAftermathWhy We’re Killing Gunther and more) but he still managed to make people take notice:

But while that brought entertainment value to his now-too-rare, sane conservatism this is not a political trophy. Since 2011 he has returned to the Terminator franchise (in which he was far superior to the narrative of the most recent film), delivered perhaps his best performance in Maggie, not only cemented his action legacy but muscled his way into Liam Neeson’s action niche, and, of course, we all know what he was to action in the ’80s.

Neutron Star Awards


Walter Lantz

One series of viewings I was able to achieve was to watch my Woody Woodpecker box set this year. I always was a fan of that cast of characters, from my childhood, but I had gotten to such a removed perspective from having seen them that I thought it might’ve been mythologized nostalgia.

In finding things about Lantz, those characters (especially the secondary ones), I see that was not the case. There are more out there to find, they should not be overlooked, and I’ll be glad to see them. This man on a smaller scale made a world of characters to take note of. Not just Woody but Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, Wally Walrus, Buzz Buzzard, and others.

Qusai Abtini


In a better world I never would’ve learned who Qusai Abtini was, in a better world the show he was one wouldn’t have needed to exist. However, it also shows the power of the arts as escapism, even when the comedy is very close-to-home.

Abtini starred in Um Abdou Aleppan, a sitcom started in 2014 in Aleppo’s rebel section, the first production to start as so:

A Syrian sitcom which takes place in one of the historic stone houses in the old city of Aleppo and in which all the roles are played by children has lost one of its stars this month: a tragic reality that has intruded on the innocence of the show. A 14-year-old boy Qusai Abtini, was killed when a missile struck the car he was in as he tried to escape Aleppo. Fresh-faced with a toothy grin and thick black hair, Abtini had become a local celebrity. His life and death underscored the suffering of Aleppans. Their city was once the commercial center of Syria with a thriving, unique culture. It has now been torn to pieces by fighting, with whole neighborhoods left in ruin. since the summer of 2012, when Aleppo split into rebel- and government-held districts and the two sides turned on each other, tens of thousands in the city have been killed. 14 year-old Qusai Abtini is now one of the killed.

Special Jury Awards

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

When I was young, in my teens most likely (based on how it looked in my mind) I daydreamed about death being no obstacle to a casting decision. Is a Ghost-Peter Cushing ready to headline a film? No, but knowing it would be there, it still had me in the first scene and I was surprised that they went there so much. It is marvelous.


Debra Paget, For Example


wins this award for exemplary for artistry of the video essay, and the best short of 2016. It was previously reviewed here.

This film is available to view on Fandor.

Review: Off White Lies

Off White Lies

I find myself commenting on a film’s subtlety quite often. Rather than sounding like a broken record I will expound on that. It’s one think to tell an intricate story without spoon-feeding an audience like say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and another to tell a simple story in a straightforward way. However, to tell a simple story, subtly; jumping in medias res and making revelations indirectly rather than with overt exposition is quite a feat. As is often the case, it’s not necessarily the end destination that matters with a film, it’s the journey. With necessary information being delivered when absolutely necessary and without drawing attention to itself we are allowed instead to focus on the characters and how they interact. This is especially helpful when dealing with a father-daughter dynamic. We see how they interact and the why becomes more and more apparent as we learn more about them.

The story, such as it is, moves rather smoothly ends at an appropriate time and features good performances all around.


DVD Review: The Summer House

A film like The Summer House truly make one examine what the borderline of exploitation and art is. The selfish utilization to capitalize on vulgar tastes is the cornerstone of all forms of exploitative cinema. The mark of art and craftsmanship is if the work in question can take that story element which may be considered to be depraved or base and render out of it a narrative with a greater purpose, one that could underscore common themes or concerns and be about more than just the shocking aspect that will invariably garner the film attention.

Over the course of a summer the Larsen family: Markus (Sten Jacobs), Christine (Anna Altmann), and Elisabeth (Nina Spletstoßer) are rocked to their very foundation by the pains they the carry. Their internalized struggles only externalize themselves in a vacuum and their convergence is combustible. Markus, whose commonplace appears to be indulging his bisexual tendencies on side (even these are rendered to a chilling effect) sees himself reach new depths of decadence. Acting as a catalyst for this pending familial implosion is Markus’ fascination with a friend’s twelve-year-old son Johannes (Jaspar Fuld).

This is not unprecedented subject matter. Lolita and Death in Venice deal with these themes also – and this film does have a less myopic, more diverse vantage point than Michael does. The concern with plots like these is not even so much how tastefully the distasteful can be rendered but rather to what greater purpose does it serve.

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

Here is a case where the distributor Artsploitation seems to have a rather keen eye. Before I saw Reckless I was fearful it’d be too much in the BTK school of things like Hostel with little other point than to make you squirm, but that was not the case there; and it certainly isn’t the case here.

Each character in this claustrophobic drama has their own distinct arc, and for family members there is scarcely overlap as for many reasons they scantly communicate. One of the bonus features discussed below is a rehearsal of a virtually dialogue-free dinner scene that is the epitome of the state of this family unit for a majority of the film. Each has their own aims and desires which can seemingly be achieved without the others standing in their way. Things of staggering significance are debated and decided upon without consultation, not to spoil it, but some of these are things most couples would discuss.

And for all the attention the sensational aspect of this film will get nearly equal, if not greater, screentime is given to Markus’ escapades with men. This film does a great deal with circumstance and it makes scenes that would otherwise be fairly innocuous chilling because of their set-up and with its more delicate situations it shows restraint and tact while still being disturbing and provocative.

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

One of the more impressive things about this film is the way it builds itself in a less traditionally formulaic fashion, typical of European cinema throughout, then, after certain revelations, plays perfectly into a classical suspense formula at the drop of a hat. Furthermore, this late in the game shift makes things that seemed a bit too overt before work in hindsight as now subtextual motivations in the cut, edit and performances are clear.

In terms of performance, Jacobs’ excessive openness in glances is partially absolved by late-in the-game revelations. His ability to be distant and stern with his family, chillingly charming and human with Johannes, and calculating with his friends is impressive. Altmann has perhaps the most unenviable arch as much of her unhappiness is unspoken and enigmatic and yet communicates perfectly in some rather difficult solo scenes. Spletstoßer and Fuld have very different characters to play and in each different tones. Spletstoßer often needs to be distant but observing, and Fuld plays more subtext than at times we realize. It’s a triumph for the cast overall, a testament to their trust in Burz and his process.

The Summer House is most definitely an uncomfortable viewing experience that is not for the ill-prepared or faint of heart, for reasons in addition to the aforementioned ones that will remain a surprise. What’s most impressive about the apparent genre-shift is that it then brings out the universal genre reactions inherent to thrillers and had me rooting and reacting audibly to the turns whereas a majority of the film was cerebral and wandering in the gray areas of drama, at best. That is quite a feat in and of itself. In the special features (you can see my commentary on them below) Burz discusses how this is a departure for him in terms of genre and it not being autobiographical. It certainly made me curious about his work as his results here with his troupe on treacherous ground is highly impressive.

Special Features

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

As is the case with any home video release I review I like to take in all the features. Typically, just for ease, I view them in order. With this film it is actually the preferred method. As you scroll through the features one-by-one you get a more complete view of just how this film came into being conceived.

As is the ideal for this bonus content usually, in a way few releases do anymore, it’s giving you an inside and as complete a look as they can at the thought processes during the making-of and edit.

Having this be the first Burz film I’ve seen, and I believe the first one to come to the US, it was edifying to learn that he works in an improvisational fashion not different to Mike Leigh and others. It was also intriguing to learn how much of a skeleton crew they worked with and some of the restraints of the production making what was accomplished more impressive in a technical regard.

Here are the features specifically, which really make the disc a furthermore immersive experience.


The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

Master shot of a nearly silent dinner scene where the family’s disconnect is intensely illustrated.

Deleted Scenes

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)As tends to be the case, the scenes deleted from a film are better off having remained outside the cut. However, there is a curiosity sated here, and one can see how the pace of the film is aided in having excised them.

Extended Scenes

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

The extended scenes are a bit different and there is additional context added that otherwise is merely inferred rather than shown.

Alternate Ending

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

When completing the film one of things that will have you pondering it for some time is the ending. Seeing the alternate take will convince you that the way the film chose to go was indeed correct


The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

Where this release starts to downright Criterion-like in the amount of additional content it includes is in the extensive interviews with cast and crew, which gives tremendous insight into the creative process, and each member’s views on the myriad themes running through the film.

Curtis Burz (Director/Writer/Editor)

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

Thoughtfully shares stories on the making of the film in thematic and practical senses, and working with his familiar players.

Bastian Schick (Composer)

The Summer House (2014, Bastian Schick)

Discusses his musical philosophy in constructing the score, his joining the troupe and how he made Burz’ acquaintance.

Andreas Gockel and Peter Sebera (Directors of Photography)

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

In separate interviews Gockel and Sebera give technical insight on how the location, skeleton crew, and amount of equipment affected decisions. The insights on specs make some of the shots accomplished even more impressive.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to hear each speak separately about their working relationship in the unusual circumstance of co-DPs on a shoot, and their familiarity with one another making the hand-off from one to the other easier.

Sten Jacobs (Actor)

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

Both lead actors provide interesting insight on what it was like to work in an improvisational atmosphere, as well as one wherein the location made for an unusual production schedule.

Anna Altmann (Actress)

The Summer House (2014, Artsploitation)

What Altmann adds that Jacob didn’t is insight on a far more enigmatic character. Furthermore, the unique insight of having her real-life daughter playing her daughter on the film and how she was very pleased with the results as mother and actress in allowing her the freedom to the work independently with minimal stage-parent style interference.


After having seen all the other material it really is refreshing to finally see the trailer. Knowing the story and events therein one can see how much is concealed in the cut while still making it pique a potential audience member’s curiosity.

The Summer House is now available on DVD and digital video outlets.

Mini-Review: True Grit


This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Gray Area 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!

True Grit

This film falls into the Gray Area because I only managed to see it in January though I had chances to in December. For the record, I would not retroactively include this film in my Top 15 of 2010, however, that is one of the few things I can really fault it for. The film works and it works well I could just never get as involved with it as it wanted me to be.

The other thing that is a little bothersome is that in a rather realistic and well-spoken film you get an ending that smacks of a hollywood cliché. The annoyance of false climax aside it’s two perils combined in one to add a little more running time and a quasi-tragic button to the whole affair.

Regardless of that the film is beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins and is played very convincingly by its cast particularly Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. It’s a plot that’s simple enough but also intriguing enough that it naturally becomes a character study without ever being tiresome.


Welcome to Jurassic World, Part 7: What Works and Really?


I’m not going to over-elaborate in this section. In prior posts I have discussed some of the inconsistencies in the film. Here I will mention a few that I haven’t yet gotten around to, which leaves about two topics.

The CG is at times an issue, but at times I was surprised it worked so well. Sadly, the reason CG usually doesn’t work as well as it could have less to do with actual computer technology and other film trends. Even more surprising was the occasional actual practical effect like the dying Apatosaurus.

The implementation of the Phase One: Real World order rolls out slower than the execution of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith, as quite a bit of screentime passes before the last employee (the gyrosphere operator) hears about it.

What Works

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

In parsing through many smaller moments in the larger sections there are similarly not many elements I enjoyed that didn’t get mentioned. The first thing that bears saying is that Trevorrow successfully transitions from a small film with a fantastical element, Safety Not Guaranteed, to a fantastical story with smaller elements here.

As mentioned above the use of some practicals is greatly appreciated, and of course, I love that this was a film that brought the series back to its roots of a being a park of dinosaurs (which is coincidentally the Brazilian title), which two and three kind of skipped.

The pulse-pounding elements are also there aside from youthful wonder. Many of the at-the-screen 3D-aimed scares worked on me more than once, and the ACU (Asset Containment Unit) members’ deaths being accompanied by the sound of flatlining as they monitored their vitals was especially effective.

Jurassic World (2015, Universal)

Character’s deaths can be among the trickiest things to handle in films. The handling of a death scene, like the genres of horror and comedy, can be highly subjective. The death of Zara (Katie McGrath) in the clutches of a Pterodactyl seems to hover in the gray area between comedy and horror, and it’s not a wonder its received a disparate range of reactions.

The reasons this scene works for me are myriad, among them being the morbid sense of humor, it’s the schadenfreude of taking out an annoying character, but the main reason is that it takes what is not inherently a threatening family of the dinosaur kingdom and really renders them terrifying by the torturous ordeal it puts her through, which ups the stakes for the other chases and battles, namely the one Claire ends, saving Grady, with cool confidence and a flurry of well-placed shots.

This series concludes tomorrow with Part 8: Conclusion.

Mini-Review: From Time to Time


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!

From Time to Time

This is a film that I saw a little bit ago and I struggled with whether I’d qualify it for this year’s BAM Awards or just leave it in the Gray Area. Typically, I go by US release date (so long as I had a legitimate chance to see it), should a film have not had a US release date (namely only released overseas, or seen in a festival, etc.) it’s qualified in the year viewed. With regards to From Time to Time, I knew that its actual vintage was a few years old and it was released in the UK some time back, however, it only his US home video very recently. Technically, that is is its US release since it didn’t have a theatrical run, so there you have it.

This is a very interesting ghost drama, which has a few interesting things going in its favor: first, it cuts through time with great facility and creates a British gothic tale with the ease of Magical Realism. This stripping down of the typical pretensions of supernatural tales making the acceptance of these other-worldly facts commonplace allows the film to dwell in a more dramatic and intriguing milieu. Second, as clearly intimated above this film deals in two periods but makes them both intriguing and vital and blends them wonderfully. Lastly, this film features very strong performances most notably by the under-utilized Alex Etel, last seen by me in Sea Horse; Maggie Smith, whom at this point could benefit any and every film in creation and Carice Van Houten, whom viewers of Game of Thrones may recognize.

This is an intriguing film that is worth looking for on Netflix or other home video resources.


BAM Best Picture Profile: Titus (2000)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

NOTE: I have skipped the 1999 Best Picture in this retrospective because I covered it earlier in this post.

In the history of the BAM Awards Titus has taken on a rather important place. Prior to the year 2000 I was even looser with release dates than I am now. With this film, my renting and viewing it after a very limited release in late-December 1999; I had to create some kind of eligibility rule, especially considering how much I liked it.

Here’s my post that explains the rule in detail:

Below you will find a paragraph which was prepared for the Best Films of the Decade list:

9. Titus
This is the over-looked film of Julie Taymor’s cinematic career thus far and it was here debut. It was an emphatic statement of style and vision but it also combined with substance to reinvent Shakespeare’s most violent tale with verve and surrealistic panache. The ensemble, headed by Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, is brilliant and not overly-stagey even dealing with such cumbersome dialogue. The film is visually stunning and engulfing.

All this is true. What’s further true is that Taymor adds a bit of surrealism to the tale not only with the hallucinogenic interludes that appear on occasion, once to try and convince us Titus is mad but also through the opening of the film. An opening which introduces us not only to the character of Lucius, played very aptly by Osheen Jones, but also to the mix of modern technology, furniture and settings that will be mixed into this film. We see a child epitomizing with action figures and ketchup the kind of over-the-top violence that will be the reality of this tale, a reality he is put into. A reality he is a mute witness to for approximately an hour of the nearly three that the film runs.

All that is well and good but some of you may be asking why this film didn’t make the final cut. It was based on a technicality. The technicality is this. Titus was released by Fox in New York and Los Angeles on December 25th, 1999 in order to qualify for that year’s Academy Awards. It was resoundingly ignored. It’s wide release to general consumption and an equally absent public audience was in January of 2000. Upon double-checking the release date on the IMDb app on an iPhone I proceeded to re-screen the film to confirm inclusion on the best of the decade list. It fit. Then before publishing a trip to the IMDb proper showed all release dates.

Based on the wide release date it was the best of the year in 2000 but due to its actual release date not on the best of the decade list. Therein lies the problem. The good films get sat on until the end of the year and those not able to attend special advance screenings are left with many a film in a no man’s land.

Recently, there had been a reticence on my part to allow films from the prior year entry into award consideration, which punished The Reader. While it seems difficult to consider Titus a film of the aughts because that is a much bigger threshold to tread over I will no longer be disqualifying end of year releases from consideration in the next year. It’s only fair. While Titus can be denied a place in this decade passed it will always be a standout of year 2000 to me.

Going back to the film more than the business and politics of release dates, which I may come back to in a separate post at some point. Since I’ve completed my formal education I’ve not successfully picked up a Shakespeare text without first viewing an adaptation. While painstaking and pedantic, the formalized, syllabus-based approach slows it down and structures it such that I can better absorb the text off the page.

However, I’ve found that viewing a representation of it on film, no matter how modernized, breaks that barrier down. This film was the first that showed me that and it was while I was still in school. That fact has re-proven itself with Coriolanus and with yet another Romeo and Juliet adaptation recently. One task I may want to partake in next year is viewing more of these modernizations, including also reading A Winter’s Tale, which I’ve started many times.

If there’s a bit of youthfulness about this choice its my connecting to one of Shakespeare’s early works, as presented in this film. Titus, like my first Best Picture selection, influenced me, but for far longer than that title did.

Technicalities and rallying cries aside Titus remains a film I’m very fond of and a testament to the power of film to introduce the uninitiated to Shakespearean works.