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

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Best Horror Films of 2013

While my total for viewed films overall was up in 2013 the new horror that I saw was down. Due to that I decided that a top 10 would be more prudent and meaningful. That does not mean, however, that these are the only horror films I liked. I have created a Letterboxd list that ranks the horror I saw from 1-38. About half that list are films I liked and would recommend viewing.

But these are the best of that faction.

10. Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies (2013, Summit Entertainment)

Making a genre-specific list can be a tough thing, especially when you deal with horror. There are a few reasons for this: first, almost everyone and anyone has their own picks that they peg as horror that are debatable. For example, a few years ago I chose Take Shelter. I stand by that and get arguments against it. Similarly, though one of my favorite films of the year, I don’t see Stoker as a horror film, but I get it.

Which brings us to Warm Bodies. Yes, it’s comedic and romantic and there are zonbies. I can even get it if you don’t want to see zombies this way at all. However, I think it does what it does in a fun and creative way. It’s not perfect, of course, and the balancing act to an extent puts a ceiling on it but I did enjoy it quite a bit, aside from the makeup work.

9. Stitches

sttiches-creepy

This is perhaps the darkest dark horse to crack my list for a few reasons. First, yes, when balancing horror and another genre things get tricky and this movie keeps the laughs and gore working hand-in-hand rather well. Moreover, it not only deals with a hard motif to sell me on, but it incorporates a folklore of the craft of clowning such that it creates a marvelous horror mythology out of it, and most definitely puts its own unique spin on the scary clown motif.

8. Maniac

Maniac (2012, IFC Midnight)

This is the latest-viewed in the year selection that I included. As noted before I didn’t get to finish viewing the original Maniac, and I don’t really mind that now. This one features a memorable score, a great use of POV with some great sleight-of-hand behind the camera and in the editing room. It’s also further testament to how a great performance can elevate a horror film and Elijah Wood is a testament to that here.

7. The Purge

The Purge (2013, Universal)

I do wish some things in The Purge, say the decision to have the antagonists in animal masks, hardly a unique one at that; had been handled differently. However, despite that pet peeve and and overly-short act one that was rather shaky. This definitely worked for me in the end. To the point of my post about it, it sets up as a film whose sequel may surpass it. I do think this is a good first step and that that film functions as a home invasion tale with an added twist.

6. Haunter

Haunter (2013, Dark Sky Films)

I wrote about this film specifically during 61 Days of Halloween and addressed the way it uniquely combines a few tropes that are old hat by now. It’s an engaging low-key horror tale that revels in slight variation, nuance of character takes its slow-burn to a near blaze by the end.

5. The Condemned

The Condemned (2012, Strand Releasing)

It’s a little surprising to even myself that this is the only horror film shot in a language other than English on this list. However, it does bear mentioning that if you limit yourself to American horror only, even with a healthy dose of indies, you’re doing yourself a disservice as you’ll find some really cool stuff globally. This one is not even coming from that far away as it was produced in Puerto Rico. Because it’s likely the least-seen of all of these here’s my review from April:

This can be a tough film to discuss without putting too fine a point on things and giving away several key elements, but like the film I will try to be subtle. There has been much talk in recent years, as it’s been more in vogue as of late than in years past, of the slow burn, particularly as it applies to the horror genre. A slow burning tale, as I’ve likely stated before, is not one that’s in and of itself problematic. Usually, the key to success for these films is either of two things: first, incremental and consistent, even if slight, escalation of stakes, and second, a sufficiently impressive and resonant pay-off to the wait.

The Condemned does not build quickly, even for a slow burn, but it excels tremendously in the pay-off department. What’s interesting is that it dabbles with many known tropes: haunting, children, secrets and the like, but with the way things play out it even toys with the very notion it even being a horror film, in a similar way to how last year’s The Hidden Face did, but ultimately remains one for all else it is.

There are subtleties throughout, things you are advised to recall though you may not think it crucial at the time. The Condemned is a wonderfully rendered tale that does sufficient visual exposition and elaboration on its turning points such that most, if not all, loose ends are tied up and the whole piece is elevated by, and not subjugated to, its trickery.

Its surely for horror fans, and I’d say art house fans too as it is an intelligent, well-acted and crafted film that does linger. It seems like the horror crop of 2013 may be a brainier bunch than ones in the past few years.

4. The Awakening

The Awakening (Universal Home Video, 2011)

This is another one that inspired me to write a piece. Not quite a review but it was the very strong performances in this well-crafted old school ghost story that re-emphasized in my mind the foundation of drama in all other genres, especially horror. Because the performances are so good, the characters so well-drawn and story so conducive to building them the scares (fairly fundamentally employed though they may be) really work.

3. Byzantium

Byzantium (2013, IFC Films)

Yes, this is a vampire love story. This was a dismissed film on Peter Travers summer “skip list” based on vampires alone. But this is Neil Jordan, this is not run of the mill, and most definitely not twilight. And make no mistake this film unlike Warm Bodies definitely emphasizes the horror aspect. It also tells a tale in two time periods, and has the narrative intertwine, has great production design and cinematography and is well worth looking for if you want an escape from the ordinary.

2. The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013, New Line Cinema)

Welcome to the top of the list or as you could call in 2013 James Wan country. Even though I was a huge Insidious fan, and I saw trailers for The Conjuring coming, I didn’t realize ahead of time that he’d have two horror releases so close to one another. Much less did I realize that Wan would throw down the gauntlet before at least taking a hiatus from the genre. The fascinating thing, and I will expound on this below, is that when all is said and down there were really two somewhat different approaches to the genre taken. Many would’ve expected his two films to be two-sides of the same coin, but they’re really not. Not quite.

The Conjuring is old-school scary that gets huge near its finale for better or worse all the chips go to the middle of the table. And notably, publicity stunt or not, genre-necessity for a studio or not, its R-rating can only be intellectually argued based on how effectively made it is, and not based on any MPAA guideline it violates.

1. Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013, FilmDistrict)

Landing in the top ten, especially up at number one, is ostensibly about two things in most cases: doing something a little bit different and doing it very well. Yes, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a sequel. However, its status as such gives it even more leeway; heck, it’s almost expected to be a variation on the original. As a testament to Leigh Whannell, James Wan and Blumhouse, they did not play it safe. They took a chance and took this second installment where pretty much no one else expected, and I for one loved it.

2013 BAM Award Considerations – July

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

A Place at the Table
The Iran Job
The Brass Teapot
Despicable Me 2
The Lone Ranger
Grown Ups 2
Bad Kids Go To Hell
Pacific Rim
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
Red 2
The Conjuring
Venus and Serena
La Sirga
Teen Beach Movie
Paradise: Love
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
Hayride
The Depraved
Byzantium
Ginger & Rosa
Safe Haven
Let Them Wear Towels
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Wolverine
Come Out and Play
56 Up
No Limits
The Way, Way Back

Best Picture

The Conjuring
Stoker
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Way, Way Back

Best Foreign Film

La Sirga
Post Tenebras Lux
Paradise: Love
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Come Out and Play

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

A Place at the Table
The Iran Job
Venus and Serena
Let Them Wear Towels
56 Up
No Limits
Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain
*

*It’s borderline, but will likely stay as a candidate.

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

A Place at the Table
The Depraved
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End

Best Director

James Wan The Conjuring
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
56 Up
No Limits
The Way, Way Back

Best Actress

Juno Temple The Brass Teapot
Lili Taylor The Conjuring
Margarete Tiesel Paradise: Love
Natalia Acevedo Post Tenebras Lux
Mia Wasikowska Stoker
Abigail Spencer The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
Nathalie Kelley The Depraved
Saoirse Ronan Byzantium
Jacqueline Blom The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Tao Okamoto The Wolverine
Toni Collette The Way, Way Back

Best Actor

Michael Angarano The Brass Teapot
Armie Hammer The Lone Ranger
Ron Livingston The Conjuring
Aldofo Jiminez Castro Post Tenebras Lux
Matthew Goode Stoker
Nick Eversman The Depraved
Ton Kas The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Hugh Jackman The Wolverine
Liam James The Way, Way Back

Best Supporting Actress

Ruth Wilson The Lone Ranger
Helen Mirren Red 2
Vera Farmiga The Conjuring
Nicole Kidman Stoker
Catherine de Léan The Depraved
Gemma Arteton Byzantium
Alice Englert Ginger & Rosa
Vivian Dierickx The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Rila Fukushima The Wolverine
Allison Janney The Way, Way Back
Annasophia Robb The Way, Way Back

Best Supporting Actor

Johnny Depp The Lone Ranger
Charlie Day Pacific Rim
John Malkovich Red 2
Patrick Wilson The Conjuring
Peter Kazungu Paradise: Love
Klaus Stiglmeier The Depraved
Max Reimelt The Depraved
Caleb Landry Jones Byzantium
Tomer Pawlicki The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Abe Dijkman The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Rafael Gareisen The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Hal Yamanouchi The Wolverine
Sam Rockwell The Way, Way Back
Steve Carrell The Way, Way Back

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Emily Alyn Lind The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
Elle Fanning Ginger & Rosa

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Ross Lynch Teen Beach Movie
Liam James The Way, Way Back

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Mana Ashida Pacific Rim
China Anne McClain Grown Ups 2
Joey King The Conjuring
Mackenzie Foy The Conjuring
Mimi Kirkland Safe Haven

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Bryant Prince The Lone Ranger
Mason Cook The Lone Ranger
Joseph E. Foy The Lone Ranger
Jake Goldberg Grown Ups 2
Cameron Boyce Grown Ups 2
Noah Lomax Safe Haven
River Alexander The Way, Way Back

Best Cast

The Brass Teapot
The Lone Ranger
Red 2
The Conjuring
Paradise: Love
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Depraved
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Way, Way Back

Best Youth Ensemble

The Lone Ranger
The Conjuring
Post Tenebras Lux
Safe Haven
Come Out and Play
The Way, Way Back

Best Original Screenplay

Pacific Rim
The Conjuring
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Depraved
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Way, Way Back

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Lone Ranger
Red 2
Paradise: Love
Byzantium
Come Out and Play

Best Score

A Place at the Table
Despicable Me 2
The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
Red 2
The Conjuring
Stoker
Byzantium
Come Out and Play
No Limits

Best Editing

The Lone Ranger
The Conjuring
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Depraved
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
Come Out and Play
No Limits
The Way, Way Back

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
The Conjuring
Stoker
The Wolverine
Come Out and Play

Best Cinematography

The Lone Ranger
The Conjuring
The Sirga
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Depraved
Byzantium

Best Art Direction

The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
Red 2
The Conjuring
La Sirga
Post Tenebras Lux
Stoker
The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia
The Depraved
Byzantium
Ginger & Rosa
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Wolverine
Come Out and Play
The Way, Way Back

Best Costume Design

The Lone Ranger
The Conjuring
Stoker
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Way, Way Back

Best Makeup

The Lone Ranger
The Conjuring
The Depraved
Byzantium
Come Out and Play

Best Visual Effects

The Lone Ranger
Pacific Rim
The Conjuring
Post Tenebras Lux
Byzantium
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
The Wolverine

Best (Original) Song

Despicable Me 2
Venus and Serena
La Sirga
Teen Beach Movie
Stoker
Safe Haven
The Deflowering of Eva Van End
56 Up
The Way, Way Back