Rewind Review: The American

It is oft preached that the marketing of a film is not supposed to factor into a film review and rest assured it will not affect this one. However, I do have a bone to pick with that notion because it does ask that the film reviewer be somewhat super-human and wipe all preceding knowledge of the film from their brain. An instruction as futile as when a judge asks a jury to disregard a certain piece of evidence. I know said thing and can’t un-know it. Having said all that it is extraordinarily disappointing that The American is packaged in its trailer as something it is not. However, its failing as a film and its false advertising are mutually exclusive. It does not work as what it is based on those given circumstances not based on what it was sold to be.

What The American turns out to be is a deliberately paced, OK, slow film, which is a character study and not an action film in the mold of James Bond or the Bourne series. However, in this thoughtful character study several facets come up short and when several pieces are just a little below par the whole suffers.

I am not one who wants to impose a moderate to fast pace on every film. Each film needs to find its own rhythm like a piece of music. However, some films do not find it going either too fast or too slow. So there is no aversion to a slow-moving tale here especially considering my fondness for the more than seven-hour-long Satantango, what that film has going for it was that it needs its time and The American does not. There are silences for the sake of silences, moments of thought where we can’t read the subject and scenes that could easily be shorter or excised altogether.


One way in which this film overstays its welcome is by having too many scenes where we go back and forth between Jack and Mathilde and Jack and Clara as if his affections are somehow torn when we know if he’s going to be drawn to anyone it’ll be the latter. This is the least of the film’s issues however.

The relationship with Father Benedetto also becomes ultimately unsatisfying. First, it seems it will be a one time encounter. Then it becomes a a daily ritual but the decision to go back and see him again isn’t made on screen. The meetings, which are several, in the end serve almost no purpose the priest confesses a secret to Jack but not the other way around. In the end Jack just says “Sorry, Father” after the priest witnesses his “profession” but what does that serve? It was already a given that Jack was tired of this life and wanted out so ultimately the whole relationship serves no function in the plot.

As intimated above there are in this film beats you could drive a bus through, long pauses for us to watch mainly Clooney thinking, however, rarely can we glean anything off his stone-faced expression, which is fine as long as pace doesn’t suffer. To watch him work methodically and expertly on his munitions are some of the best moments this film has to offer playing into the fascination we can have with watching people simply behave as has been demonstrated in countless films. The issues begin when the actions stop and we watch a character think. If we don’t catch a glimmer of what that notion is it is time wasted on the screen, and far too much time in this film is wasted.

the-american-6The smallest things could’ve been done to tighten the edit. One small example: Jack makes repeated calls from phone booths to his contact. Each time he does we must hear the phone ringing and rarely if ever do we L-cut. We sit and watch and wait for the phone to be answered, if there is no dramatic reason, no significance attached to the continued ringing of the phone so why must we sit there and watch it and listen to it?In the end the plot is more than a bit contrived as the target of the hit is revealed. The end of the film is even more contrived and the coup de grace of contrivance is that we must wait for a butterfly, an animal which through the language of this film has become synonymous with our protagonist, flutter off the frame for the film to end.

The one thing that can be said in favor of The American without reservation is that it does get one talking afterward, which few films do anymore but there are far too many things that keep it from reaching its potential.

Blu-ray Review: The Reflecting Skin

Philip Ridley and the Film

As a fan of the horror genre one is usually on the lookout waiting for something new, persistently waiting for—living in anticipation of your mind being blown. However, sometimes something you’ve seen before, or haven’t looked at in the right way yet, can bring the same effect. One of the things about The Reflecting Skin I never fully took into account were those involved in the making of it. This reexamination has revealed Philip Ridley—and artistic force in multiple media—who I’d somehow never really considered or looked into despite holding this work in such high regard. Furthermore, close examination of this film made me realize that I have one of his novels on my TBR (To Be Read) pile and I only made the connection now. 

For a work to stand out and be unique it needn’t create entirely new American iconography.  The Reflecting Skin combines familiar tropes of Americana which are ingrained in not only our consciousness, but the world’s (the film being the imagined version of America by a British auteur). In its presentation, through the twisted perceptions of a traumatized child, the move recombines the familiar in unfamiliar ways, mingling the sacred and the profane, humor and horror, beauty and depravity, open spaces and oppressive homes.

The Reflecting Skin tells the story of an eight-year-old boy, Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper) and a harrowing sun-soaked summer on isolated Idaho farmland wherein death looms and strikes indiscriminately; he longs for the return of his older brother Cameron (Viggo Mortensen) from the war; copes with his overbearing mother (Sheila Moore), tolerates a pitiable father (Duncan Fraser), suspects a strange neighbor Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan) of being a vampire; and is stalked by black Cadillac driving hoods.

This film will leave you overwhelmed by its beauty on occasion. Its subjective, dreamlike, subconscious language will either speak to you or it won’t. An example of this is that as I prepared to view this film anew my thought on it was that for 96 minutes it instills in me an awestruck fright that my childlike self felt at the quasi-literal visual that accompanied the line “All the vampires walking through The Valley, move west down Ventura Boulevard” in Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” video. This is what came to me before images from the film itself, such is its dreamlike persistence. 

The Images

I’m not one for statements like “I’d never really seen this movie before” even though I firmly believe in being a member of the #AspectRatioPolice on film-Twitter, but aspect ratio is the least of the sins absolved by this new release. The opening frame of this film hit me like a sledgehammer unlike it ever had before. So long had it been since I last saw it I’d forgotten that before we’re introduced to Seth Dove all we see is a wheat field. The sumptuous beauty of the image properly framed, immaculately presented, and color balanced toward excessive saturation forced a reflexive expletive from my mouth. 

The Essay

As is standard with Film Movement Classics releases there is an essay accompanying this film. This one is co-authored by Travis Crawford and Heather Hyche and illuminates some of the unique path of The Reflecting Skin’s path to cult classic status. It also teases Philip Ridley’s other two feature films which comprise a horror trilogy of sorts. Its closing line about cult films rings particularly true when this new, proper presentation elevated my appreciation of this film:

“Ridley has stated that the film’s restoration looks even better than the movie did upon its initial release, and this should finally satiate fans who know the truest cult films are not only the ones that have aged well over time, but the ones that also improve with each obsessive repeat viewing.”

Angels & Atom Bombs: The Making of The Reflecting Skin

This 44-minute documentary with insights from Philip Ridley, Viggo Mortensen, Dick Pope, and Nick Bicât is worth watching, but perhaps the most interesting part of it is Ridley’s explanation of the anthropophagous creation of the story from his art to a story idea about a recurrent figure in those paintings and collages. 

The Commentary Track

For any and all who might be inclined to get this film, I recommend all the bonus features. While between the making of and the commentary some information will be conveyed twice, however, with Philip Ridley’s feature-length commentary there are some things taken more in depth, such as the adjustments to cover sets; other filming specifics like lighting challenges, film cheats, and more. Both are suggested after seeing the film if the title is new to you. As I’d seen it before, I saw the featurette first.

Pertinent Details

Release: August 13, 2019

Formats: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital

Blu-ray Review: Kamikaze ’89 (1982)

Kamikaze ’89 was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that I supported vehemently on this site. Were it merely one of Fassbinder’s final films, it would’ve earned my support regardless; however, there’s more in the film worth noting than just that. This newfound exposure is definitely warranted. As Film Movement Classics was in the midst of restoring the film and wanted some aid getting it up on the big screen where it belongs. That effort proved this film did have an audience and it saw both repertory arthouse, physical, and digital release last year.

This is a film based on the novel Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Walhöö, which has seen a number of cinematic adaptations first in the USSR in 1972 and 1980 respectively both on TV, then in 1981 in Hungary, then this version in 1982. The plot ostensibly revolves around a murder investigation the machinations and convolutions of which are giallo-like but it’s the underpinnings of a system on the edge of collapse and the portrait of a society in an uncomfortable middle-ground between dystopia and utopia that give it its emotional resonance, and its melange of capitalism and communism food for thought.

As something of an anomaly in Fassbinder’s filmography, he did not adapt or direct this film, but was lead actor. However, one thing you will glean from Nick Pinkerton’s wonderfully insightful essay on the film (preferably read after having watched it) is that Fassbinder directed by proxy through Wolf Gremm, which can be seen in a few ways. So, if you know Fassbinder’s work it will still feel very familiar.


The score is a trance-inducing orchestration by Edward Froese of Tangerine Dream fame (for more on that score the Blu-ray booklet also features an essay by Samuel B. Prime about it), bringing its eerie familiar yet vacuous other-worldliness to life was Xaver Schwarzenberger the same DP who brought Berlin Alexanderplatz to life. The film also features a small role performed by the legendary Franco Nero, and Fassbinder mainstay Günther Kauffmann.

Kamikaze ’89 does feature the minimalistic futurism of films like Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire or Godard’s Alphaville one wherein the implication of future happenings is more about societal structure rather than awe-inspiring technological advancements. This tale is also cloistered in as much as it takes place in and around one particular edifice and its mysterious and unfindable 31st floor.

This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.

Bonus Features


Aside from the aforementioned essays there is plenty of added viewing including:

  • A feature-length documentary by Wolf Gremm Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year.
  • And an additional documentary Wolf at the Door, a filmic memoir by director Gremm.
  • Feature length commentary by Regina Ziegler
  • Radio ads voiced by John Cassavetes

Blu-Ray Review: Once Were Warriors (1994)


Once Were Warriors was a one of a flight of films I saw at the dawn of IFC. It was one of the films that most marked me in my formative years as a filmmaker. It’s one of a handful of movies that rocked me to my core – in a good way. I was younger than one ideally should have been to be watching such fair but the upbringing of those who end up in film in one form or another is likely not orthodox.

As I progressed in film studies this film continued to shine as a true independent film. It was raw but lacking sensationalism, emotional while avoiding manipulation, a first nation film for the whole world to see, a film prizing honesty over spectacle.

In many ways it quite literally shined a spotlight subgenre of Kiwi film focusing on Māori culture. It paved the way for the works of Taika Waititi, like Boy, and subsequent films starring James Rolleston to get more international notice.


An interest in native cinema helps but is not mandatory when it comes to appreciating this film, The film starts off by plunging us right into the Heke family’s life as Beth (Rena Owen) need to keep everyone together against great odds based on the sociopolitical barriers the Māori face in modern New Zealand, but those things are unique in their details only and become apparent as the film moves on.

Clearly with the centrality of Beth’s character, Rena Owen is crucial to the success of the film, and she delivers and emotional cascade that radiates throughout the film. As such Owen’s was one of the most decorated actresses of 1994-1995 earning Best Actress awards at the San Diego International Film Festival; Montréal World Film Festival; Fantasporto; Nominations at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards and the Chicago Film Critics Association.

One thing that the behind-the-scenes materials help to underscore is how casting Temuera Morrison as Jake was an unorthodox, due to how he had become well-known and his persona, but it most certainly paid off. On the one hand you needed him to be a violent brute when his fuse runs out, on the other hand you need to see the jovial charmer who could win everyone over, and be the kind who could keep a family together despite his best efforts to splinter every one.


However, his and everyone’s success is due to Lee Tamahori’s vision he weaves naturalistic performances, heightened emotion, camera movement, edgy environs, and a rock music score to create a tale about a modern dystopian existence for a people whom once were warriors.

As one who went into this film for the first time completely unprepared, I’d recommend nothing more than the bare minimum and save all the bonuses for after you’ve seen it.

Bonus features


As far as the bonus features are concerned, there is the previously referenced vintage 1994 behind the scenes featurette on the film. It starts with a disclaimer stating the quality of the film is presented as is, and there was only so much that could be done. The need for the disclaimer is understandable but I’d always rather supplemental features be included rather than not even if they’re not in the greatest shape.

Aside from that Film Movement continues its tradition of including a newly written essay from a film writer well versed in the film at hand. The brief essay on Once Were Warriors by Peter Calder is most illuminating, and best left for after viewing especially if the film is new-to-you.



This Blu-ray is a must-buy for admirers of this film (which are numerous) and should be a rental priority for enthusiasts of foreign films, especially indigenous cinema.

Review: The River Thief (2016)

The River Thief is a film that tells the story of Diz (Joel Courtney), a street urchin for as long as he can remember, who was abandoned by his mother and has long since lost touch with his father. Diz is the kind of character one could see as irredeemable, as he steals to survive and has no qualms about it. His solitude and lack of upbringing make him socially maladjusted to say the least. His worldview is challenged when he meets Selah (Raleigh Cain) whom is the first person he he’s longed to be closer to and ingratiate himself to.

N.D. Wilson helms this, his debut feature, in fairly assured manner with missteps few and far between, as he builds a somewhat unconventional tale methodically that manages to surprise without cheating and with a minimum of tonal dissonance. Wilson is a best-selling author whose previous directing experience include book trailers for his own titles, and short films.


There are large portions of the second act where there is a sustained betterment of the film, which is almost entirely unlikely considering some of the hiccups of the first act. This crescendoing leads to a powerful, unexpected climax that fulfills the allegory, message, and meaning that was merely alluded to at the start. Much of the cohesion to be found among at first seemingly ill-fitting tropes and narrative facets is created through the scoring by Eli Beaird and music by Tommy Cash, whose musical aplomb is on display in one of the films more heart-rending scenes; and the rest is tied together by the lovingly sumptuous cinematography of Andy Patch.


Joel Courtney assuredly turns in his best performance since Super 8, due in equal parts to his maturation as an actor, the material, and his rapport with Wilson. Raleigh Crane matches Courtney with a vibrant breakout performance as an average girl equally struggling to understand her enigmatic new admirer and her grandfather’s willingness to forgive and reach out to Diz.


The River Thief is a film that is akin to Diz’s namesake, St. Dismas –the Penitent Thief of the Cross, so named in the Apocrypha- any of its sins either of omission or execution can be forgiven because of the way it ends, its earnestness, and persistence in reaching its final poignant moments. The River Thief has not been rated by the MPAA but I would recommend it for older teens due to certain themes and scenes.

It is available on VOD starting on Friday, October 14 on iTunes and in select theatres.

Review: Theeb

This is a film that represented Jordan as an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film at the most recent ceremony. It’s a film which concerns a young boy named Theeb going on a transformative journey through the desert. It’s a story that plays like a transplanted western cum coming of age film. However, it always keeps its narrative structure in the forefront and does not make these allusions to western film styles overly-dominant such that the film is hampered in any way.

The film tells a simple tale, which relatively devoid of dialogue and nary is a word uttered that is unnecessary. It’s not a film that is visual by happenstance but by design as it revels in lush cinematography of the sandy, craggy Arabian landscapes the characters travel through.

It is set during the War to End All Wars but avoids the convolution of that barroom brawl of entanglements that came with that conflict, and tells an uncomplicated narrative fairly far-removed from the main battlefields though the threat of the Ottoman Empire does lurk beyond the borders of the frame.


Musically the indigenous scoring that works emotionally and in terms of placement is always far better than a homogenized score designed solely to create the illusion of Hollywood product. A stirring score and the use of vistas in fully-exploited widescreen frames make the comparison between this film and Laurence of Arabia understandable but it is a facile and overly-simplistic allusion. While the impetus for the journey is a British character, Edward’s (Jack Fox) need a guide, but it is indeed the boy, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), whose name means wolf, who is the focus and whom goes on a journey wherein he fights not only for his survival not only for his identity as a Bedouin but for his human dignity and future.

What Naji Abu Nowar has constructed in Theeb takes two well-known constructs as a foundation yet still has the capacity to surprise and enrapture viewers from the world over. The universality is in the techniques employed while the story is one that could not possible move. It paints a portrait of a populous at a crossroads in time, which is independent of and complicated by the war in the world outside, when adding these turmoils and exterior antagonizations with fairly common to all difficulties brought to us in the dusk of childhood innocence and it creates a fully immersive, transportive experience.

Rewind Review: Jurassic Park (1993)


It was hard to know how to categorize this old writing. This was a lengthy reaction piece, not quite a traditional review, that I wrote after viewing the film in my Films of Spielberg class. Part of why I chose to post it here is how it ends, which (scout’s honor) I did not recall until I re-read it, not that it takes a clairvoyant to predict Jurassic World, but it is longer for here roundabout 12 years ago.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it was the box office champion of the world when it was first released, but in a way I feel that Jurassic Park did suffer from bad timing as it came out only a few months before Schindler’s List. If there had been more separation between the two or maybe if the Academy viewed ’93 like they viewed ’00, Spielberg would have had two Best Director nominations. Although, I’ll always think it’s underrated.
According to Spielberg he got on the project when working on ER as a film script. Spielberg asked Crichton out of curiosity what his next project was. Crichton was hushed, as writers usually are. Then he finally gave Spielberg only two words: dinosaurs and DNA. Spielberg got it immediately and wanted to be the first to read it. Crichton agreed but he said Spielberg would have to direct. The rest is history. Sometimes you’re good and lucky.
The concept of this film is so tremendous I don’t know how everyone wasn’t out flocking to make dinosaur films of every and any kind. The only thing I think that kept people away were budget concerns. Dinosaurs were quite big in the silent era but then faded away. What a lot of people fail to recognize is that this story is so tight; it’s so well acted and flat-out well done. It’s unquestionably a cinematic masterpiece that is as grand as it is great and here’s why…
In Spielberg’s renowned tradition the dinosaurs are kept out of view early on, so we’re not bombarded. In many action movies people are moving around so long and so much that all focus is lost. We get taken into Jurassic Park very slowly, first we’re on Isla Nublar and the tree shake and we get a subjective shot from inside the dinosaur cage the handler gets attacked but we see no blood nor any “monster.” And in the very beginning the issue of responsibility, which is a theme throughout, is raised.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

We then move to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic, the globe-hopping Spielberg loves to do in the Indiana Jones films only occurs here in the first 20 minutes. The atmosphere and setting of Isla Nublar is huge in this film. The purpose of these scenes is two-fold being to introduce the safety questions surrounding the park and also for the exposition of the fact that two experts will be needed to approve the park. Alan Grant is brought up and we only learn that he is a digger.
We then move to Montana. We see Alan Grant (Sam Neill) on a dig, there’s an annoying kid (Whit Hertford) to whom he demonstrates a raptor attack with his 6” fossilized claw. This also foreshadows the very last of the dinosaur attacks in the film. Not only is that introduced but also the notion that the T-Rex’s vision is based on movement. It also serves to establish the relationship between Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They are then visited via helicopter by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) he asked them to come to the island, never really reveals the true nature of the park, and bribes them by offering to fund their digs for three more years.
We then move to San José on the Costa Rican mainland where Dennis (Wayne Knight) meets with Dodgson (Cameron Thor) and we see there is a conspiracy afoot, in which, he will be paid quite a bit of money for fertilized embryos. Knight, best known for his supporting appearances on Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun gives a great performance as a the nervous, over-anxious, bumbling conspirator.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)
Upon arriving on the Island, Grant and Sattler are introduced to Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) he provides a lot of comic relief and also has his own unique scientific perspective juxtaposed with Sattler’s knowledge of plants and Grant’s knowledge of dinosaurs.
This is without a doubt some of John Williams’ best work in scoring. It’s definitely some of his most melodic and well-placed work. The main theme appears at the right spots and stays in your head long after the movie is over.
We’re shown a sign upon arrival reading “Danger!/1000 Volts” which is another piece of foreshadowing. Another sign that provides a little hint is “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” which is draped over the exhibit of skeletons.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another great touch is its timing. It’s 20 minutes before we see a dinosaur in its massive glory. Spielberg knows this is what we’ve come to see and isn’t going to throw it out too much or two quick or it might get stale. After this we move into the plausibility aspect and walk the audience how it could and did happen through a film strip and a little cartoon character named Mr. DNA.

The film shows its intelligence when dealing with cloning whereas most films just gloss over the issues that might make it more difficult or simply changes a few laws of natural science around to make it more convenient for themselves. In Jurassic Park one of the first things we see is that cloned dinosaurs are born where other cloning films might make them full size from the get go. Secondly, there are gaps in the DNA sequences which are filled by frog DNA which comes into play later.

When walking in the park we get some information in the Raptors which actually shows later films have kept the series consistent in that regard. One place in which there may be an inconsistency in parts 2 and 3 is that on Isla Nublar there is a plan called the “Lysine Contingency” in which, the dinosaurs are purposely engineered without the amino acid Lysine and if they are not given doses through injection or in food they will fall into a coma and die. If this is the case, how are they still even alive in parts 2 and 3?

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

Another clever link-up is first Dr. Malcom uses water to explain Chaos Theory and then cups of water shaking is the clincher that tells us the T-Rex is after these people. This only occurs 63 minutes into the film; this is not what one would call action all the way. Case in point, the big chase with Dr. Malcolm looking back at the T-Rex and the famous “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” shot, doesn’t begin until the 82nd minute of the film.

We’re occupied with suspense elements with the plot to steal the embryos and Dennis’ encounter with a Dilophosaurus. Coupled with the attempt to try and get the systems back up and running after the virus made itself known with Dennis’ caricatured image in the scene repeating “Uh-uh-uh, you didn’t say the magic word.”

A major element of fear that these dinosaurs cause is that these people realize that there is only so long that they can run and outdistance these beasts before they are caught. There is a lot of hiding. Tim (Joseph Mazzello) is forced to hide under the Jeep when the T-Rex is stomping on it. Later on he is hanging in the tree and they rest for the night perched on a branch. The same holds true for the fear we feel when the tandem of Raptors are after the kids, during this part we also see a genetic sequence displayed in light on a Raptor which is quite an impressive shot.

Jurassic Park (1993, Universal)

While waiting out the night Hammond tells of how he used to run a flea circus and how he used to love to make people happy. He said he wanted his park to be something real but is told it’s the same thing because there’s no real control over the animals.

The situation escalates when we find the dinosaurs are breeding even though they are all supposed to be female. The explanation there is that the gaps were filled with frog DNA. Frogs have been known to spontaneously change gender and it has occurred here. Life has found a way.

The dialogue in Jurassic Park is just great and I could go on an on listing smart and snappy lines that are funny and/or thought-provoking but it all just works. In this film Spielberg yet again showed his unique talent for having people and things that come out of nowhere and just scare you. What cements Jurassic Park’s greatness is when the Raptors meet up with the group on the museum/lobby. This element of Spielberg’s greatness comes when the Tyrannosaurus Rex, while the Velociraptor is the breakout species of the film, T-Rex is the star – and saves the day by knocking the Raptors aside allowing the people to escape as the main theme chimes in with perfect timing. As the banner rains down the T-Rex gets into the perfect pose and roars. It’s one of the most personally pleasing moments I’ve ever experienced and it was the work of a crowd-pleaser and a true genius.

Jurassic Park (1993, Univesal)

What marks Jurassic Park the most is how it ends. In this respect, it understands its own modesty. There’s no corniness at the end of the first or the third, I’m trying my best to forget the sequel. They got away. That’s what mattered in the end. There may have been a lot going on but that’s about it right there, they’re flying away.

Jurassic Park is a classic film which succeeds at something very difficult taking creatures many people loved as kids and showing the scary side of them and having us embrace that too. The anti-cloning sentiment won out quite easily, but with the T-Rex saving the day we see that these creations are victims of circumstance and not so unlike Frankenstein’s monster.

Paleontology is a science I devoted most of my childhood to. It’s also one that’s full of new discoveries and theories which provide unlimited amounts of material. Just one example is that in recent years many paleontologists through kinetics and computer simulation now support the T-Rex was a scavenger and not a hunter as believed since its discovery. This is a franchise I think has a lot to stand on and a built-in audience and I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if it were to continue.

Review: Glassland

Glassland concerns itself with John (Jack Reynor), a Dublin cab driver like his estranged father, who is struggling to keep his life together and care for his mother (Toni Collette) who is fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. As things come to a head, he has difficult decisions about how to raise money to make.

This is a film that relies heavily on visual storytelling and strong edit that moves the story along. It never says too much until it has to. It sounds counterintuitive but to have a film communicate this visually is rather unusual in this day and age where video equipment nears ubiquity and dialogue is still as cheap as its ever been.

To paint your story in moving images requires sumptuous cinematography with tremendous framing, and in seeking to dramatize reality make lighting and compositional decisions that are as visually compelling as they are unobtrusive. That’s what Piers McGrail brings to this work persistently for 93 minutes.


A close second to visuals in terms of priority in Grassland are the characters who have to be fully understood and conveyed by the actors playing them, and they succeed in spades. While there can be a debate on the merits of a story-based monologue as a useful tool for actors, there’s no question, however, that Collete’s monologue of the story of her life is one of the most memorable in recent memory; and a standout in a supernova of a performance.

Jack Reynor is more than a worthy adversary and provides a star-making turn of his own, which in my estimation means I will also sit up and take notice when I see him in another film from hereon out. He is convincingly the conscience of the film whom feels the burden of the oldest child to care for his mother when she can’t seem to care for herself. His journey is his own, but being selfless is invariably tied up in the fate of others.

One tricky maneuver this film navigates well is that that it does not genre-shift when criminal activity becomes more involved in the plot. Grassland persistently subsumes the criminal element remaining focused on characters, decisions, and visuals rather than explosive set-pieces.


Also taking part in this ensemble is Will Poulter, one of the finest young actors the world over who never fails to deliver. In this film he adds another weapon to his arsenal blending in seamlessly with the local actors with his own Irish brogue, which also acts and a warning to those who may need subtitling assistance.

Glassland presents all its characters at a crossroads. It doesn’t offer easy solutions or even closure per se, just a close to a chapter but there is a glimmer of hope in some of the third act developments, and at times, in life as in drama, that’s all that remains.

Review: Boy 7 (2015; Netherlands)

Boy 7 starts with title that introduces the world wherein the tale takes place, and it undoubtedly reduces the running time of this film somewhat. It’s a film that starts in medias res as the protagonist regains consciousness in a crowd and cannot remember a thing about himself, then before he has time to think on it at all he realizes he’s being pursued by authorities, and has no choice but to frantically run out of sheer instinct.

The film is set in a dystopian future in the Netherlands wherein the government takes absolute control of people’s lives owing to the great need they feel for safety they willingly sacrifice their freedoms.

Based on a novel by Mirjam Mous it features a number of familiar YA tropes, which can be good or bad depending upon your outlook on the genre. The book’s popularity is such that its spawned two adaptations produced in Europe and released last year.


One of the better aspects of a film dealing with a society that devalues individualism and strips these criminals of name entirely replacing them with a number as they are retrained, is that there is a small population in this world. The focus remains on Sam (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) who seeks to piece together his past through a journal he wrote; Lara (Ella-June Henrard) whose memory he tries to jog with certain passages and Louis (Yannick Jozefzoon) who helps Sam in his plotting.

The score by Jorrit Kliejnen and Alexander Reumers is effective at underscoring the action and bringing the appropriate amount of tension to the proceedings. The edit is tight and brisk in technical terms but in story terms it seems to be a bit too abrupt and taut for its own good at the end and deadens the climax a bit.

The invariable links and comments that this futuristic tale makes between totalitarianism and corruption are valid, however, the balance between the macrocosmic and microcosmic insight is perilous at best. Much like the society it seeks to critique it lessens the individuals making theme mere pawns, archetypes that are supposed to engender interest and devotion by default because our plight would be theirs.


There are the bones for what is more than just a middling entrant into the YA pantheon here. Sadly, much like many of the films in this genre things get a bit too boiled down to reach maximum efficacy.


Review: Der Bunker

Der Bunker is a film that almost needs to be seen to be conveyed but here goes nothing; I will begin by quoting the great John Waters in saying “Get more out of life. See a fucked up movie.” This one definitely fits the bill, and not just because the Blu-ray features a pull quote that alludes to Waters.

Der Bunker tells the story of a German family who live in a bunker. It begins with a Student, who goes solely by that moniker (Pit Bukowski), who is seeking a rental that affords him solitude to do his scientific research, which is just barely more tangible than things volunteered by Bergman in Scenes from a Marriage or Tarkovsky in Stalker. Quite quickly Mother (Oona von Maydell) and Father (David Scheller) rope him in to taking over the homeschooling duties for their man-child Klaus (David Fripan) whom they have designs on making the future President of the United States. His haircut, comportment, and lack of geographical knowledge vaguely allude to slightly more ludicrous real life candidate.

The labeling of the characters rather than worrying about them having actual names is certainly a fairy tale trope that fits in to the absurdist tone that the film seeks to establish. Further plot details will be spared lest all the fucked-upness is spoiled for you, however, I can advise those who would venture to see this comedy that they should definitely expect the unexpected and soon enough you’ll find yourself understanding the odd rhythm of this world.


It’s one of the first films in a while that have really brought to mind the eternal conundrum which is: “What exactly is good taste and bad taste?” The film goes to there so to speak and is not overly concerned with explication but more so with revelation in stages of a curious world.

The comedy of the film works in simple examples. There are some book titles read where we see what the parents have tried to teach Klaus in the past. The Student observing a lesson noted that he can’t even memorize capitals so more profound things like “What is being?” will have to wait.

Nothing this off-the-wall has no chance of working if the cast is in anyway off, and most crucial in that function is the casting of Klaus. It is quite simply unimaginable that any one but David Fripan could have made this film in anyway believable. In many ways it’s a stroke of casting fortune akin to David Bennent in The Tin Drum. This does not detract from how well the other cast members perform but he clearly is the most pivotal.


Der Bunker is a comedy that’s great for a laugh but it is of the far-too-rare variety in this day and age that makes you think as well.