Mini-Review: In the Heart

Here is the synopsis for this film as listed on the IMDb:

Masha (37) is in an overwhelming relationship with Luuk, father of two and separated. Nothing seems to stand in their way until Luuk turns incurably ill, leaving Masha without status.

What is interesting about this film is the way it plays with the traditional meet-cute formula in act one with a couple that’s a bit more mature. Luuk is divorced with children and Masha has never been in a relationship. The typical romcom plot exhausts most of its plot points in this entertaining, funny and charming first act and then the aforementioned life-changing event alters the path and the genre of the film. This is the film’s strongest and most unique point.

The sequence when Luuk is diagnosed and the immediate fallout thereof is the next strongest section of the film and is ultimately what buoys it over the finish line.

However, the film does lose some of its momentum as it pulls into its inevitable conclusion the button on the story is strong and well-earned, but it does lose a lot of what if could’ve been in getting there.

Much of what slows it down is that the tension amongst makeshift family members ends up being as frustrating for us as it is for Luuk. Which does help us identify with him but it seems that, even as emotional as they are that the ex-wife/girlfriend tension is ill-timed, repetitive and unfortunate.

Kim van Kooten is highly effective in this film and her charms are equally evident in both distinct portions of the narrative. Though his character here follows a similar trajectory as his in Time of My Life Koen De Graeve is wonderful here playing a different kind of man in a similar process.

In the Heart was released in Netherlands in January. Should it hit other markets it is worth looking into if you are intrigued. While I lamented what it could have been it is still an enjoyable experience with memorable performances.

6/10

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Mini-Review: The Brotherhood

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!

Brotherhood

This is a film about a fraternity initiation ritual gone terribly wrong.

This is one that starts off very strangely but do stick with it. There are surprising and intriguing plot twists in store and in a situation that’s extremely tense throughout there’s some really great acting especially the performance by Trevor Morgan who has the talent to become a breakout star but just hasn’t had that one project yet.

I got this film from Netflix and actually watched it twice in two days. It’s the standout of the bunch.

Here was my reaction to it upon further reflection at year’s end:

Who saw this movie? In all likelihood practically no one, which is why it had to show up here. Perhaps the biggest mantra of my year-end write-ups will be advice for film enthusiasts: “Seek and ye shall find.” With almost as many distribution paths as there are films now, it is likely something you’d be inclined to enjoy will slip through the cracks. I had to confirm what this film’s release date was on IMDb and got the disc from Netflix. Aside from my mini-review round-up post I never saw it elsewhere but essentially this film is part suspense, part horror, part tragedy and part comedy. It takes a commonplace situation and exploits it to its fullest potential and thus has been very memorable to me and could easily have finished higher.

It is a film well worth seeking out.

10/10

Blu-ray Review: Mysterious Skin (2004)

Film

The IMDb synopsis of the film describes this film as follows:

“A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth.”

That’s about as dull a point as can be put on it without going too far into it.

This is a film that I had only truly written about once in the past. When compiling, to the best of my ability, and within the realm of what I had seen; the best films of the past decade. I wrote this about this film:

One of the most disturbing yet most captivating tales of the decade which creates a great plot around the subterfuge of memory. It also tells the disparate tales of two kids now grown with a shared traumatic childhood experience. This is the film that allowed Joseph Gordon-Levitt to break out of his sitcom persona and become a giant of the independent film scene.

That is certainly only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to this film. Perhaps what is the most captivating thing about this film is not just the emotional resonance, or the parallel structures of seemingly disparate stories, but the fact that it stays with you, and also leaves the characters in a place that doesn’t finish their whole story, but rather concludes what needs telling.

When the dust settles, and this was certainly true this time, it becomes apparent that some of the seeming-meandering (although still effective) is all deftly building and exploring character throughout. Neil’s pains are more below the surface, he doesn’t show them, but his is a more difficult arc to write and perform because his character is the one who doesn’t misremember his past but has an interpretation of it that both helps him cope but to an extent poisons his present.

I think what was re-affirmed in this re-watching of the film is that its impact the first time around is one that will not be equaled upon review whether you see the finale coming or not. It’s also proof that whether the subterfuge of memory fools you or not it’s a harrowing and effective narrative regardless.

As will be demonstrated through some of the special features, Araki’s direction of this tale is sure-handed and allows a sensitivity and insight to exude this tale usurping its brutal and harrowing moments cutting to the heart and soul of the characters at the core of this tale. They are characters we don’t always fully understand but when we do the empathy overflows, and through some of their questionable choices and actions they are still watchable.

It’s a film that’s still very highly recommended to all (of suitable age to see it). If you are unfamiliar with the film I’d recommend you find a way to rent it before committing. For fans of the film already either the Blu-ray or the DVD are a steal for all the bonus content you get regarding the crafting of this magnificent film – the Blu-ray offering clearly superior imagery.

Bonus Features

Here I will specifically discuss the bonus features included on the new Deluxe Blu-ray.

Introduction by Director Gregg Araki

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Sometimes having an introduction to a movie can be a great thing and really set you up well for what you’re about to experience. You need not feel guilty if you skip the intro for later consumption. Araki does discuss all the fortuitous breaks that made the film what it is but does not offer any greater insight in this short snippet.

Interview with Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is perhaps the gem of the bonus features. I won’t give it away by enumerating the surprises in store but will rather say it’s great to hear their thoughts on the film ten years later, the intelligent discussion that they have, and that they frequently talk to one another as if there is no interviewer there.

Script/Sketch Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

One thing the actors talk about is Gregg Araki knowing what shots would end up in the cut – the clarity of his vision. This is illustrated here with his crude storyboards on script pages mapping the film’s conclusion.

Deleted Scenes

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

Deleted scenes usually should be deleted. However, they never fail to fascinate and often can be illuminating and rarely educational. Here you get a rare example as you see dailies of how the toughest parts of the story were handled. Illustrating the fine direction and editing the film had, and that the very young actors really weren’t fully aware of what the scenes were about (yet Chase Ellison and George Webster are still fantastic), but rather the Kuleshov effect and other editing techniques that filled in the blanks.

Mysterious Skin Book Reading

Mysterious Skin (1996, Harper Collins)

A very cool touch is that you get to see Brady Corbet an Joseph Gordon-Levitt read the opening chapters of their characters’ story out of the novel upon which the film is based. A fitting feature.

Author Scott Heim Reflects on the Adaptaion

Scott Heim (2008, Harper Collins)

The author discusses how in tune he and Araki were, and also how he was allowed more involvement than most writers are on film adaptations of their novels.

Photo Gallery

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

A good look a probably more stills of the shoot than you can find anywhere. Proof of the upbeat atmosphere Araki created in spite of the content of the film.

Actors’ Audition Tape

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

I always love to see this included. No, they’re not always earth-shattering obvious examples of why so-and-so got a part. However, it’s interesting for the layman, filmmakers and actors. You see unfinished renditions of these characters, the raw material of the performances were already present, and how much was being done with the actors having nothing to play off of.

Isolated Score and Effects Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

This is not a feature that’s done very often but it can be very cool and informative. You can see how the score works independently, as usually it’s about a seamless marriage; and also some effects work you may have missed with everything else going on.

Commentary Track

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

If you listened to the commentary track on the original DVD release this is the very same one. It features writer/director Gregg Araki and stars Brady Corbet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since they all do help to contribute new material to this Blu-ray release this recycling is perfectly fine. In spite of the self-conscious and self-deprecating nature of the commentary track there are useful pieces of information conveyed and it is entertaining. Despite jokes to the contrary I did listen to the whole thing.

Trailer

Mysterious Skin (2004, Strand Releasing)

When a trailer is the only real bonus feature it’s a throwaway, when it’s added with all these other bonuses it’s the cherry on top.

Film Score: 10/10
Bonus Feature Score 10/10

Mysterious Skin is now available on Blu-Ray from Strand Releasing.

Underrated Dramas: Brazil

Introduction

Recently I decided to partake in another great theme going on at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The last list I did there was for the Underrated Comedies series. As I anticipated there, was far more competition among movies I like to make the dramas list than the comedies list. So much so that I decided to post ancillary lists here before the big list debuts there. I wasn’t able to get all the contenders onto these lists but I was able to feature the most competitive regions (foreign films were one of my main foci). This is the last of the lists, you can find the first such list here and the second here.

Underrated Dramas: Brazil

Brazil immediately came to mind as another region that could have its own list for me. As opposed to the Benelux region, where I’m seeing much of the zeitgeist and that’s getting me more interested in the region in general as well as their history in film, with Brazil the intrigue is life long owing to my dual citizen status. A few other criteria I tried to hit were to have disparate decades represented, and even though there are two 1986 titles, one is period and one is “present day.” I also tried to find films whose availability is limited. So while these are all great and highly recommended they may be hard to track down.

On to the list…

Malandro (A Opera do Malandro) (1986)

A Opera do Malandro (1986, The Samuel Goldwyn Company)

I have likely written about all these films before, so rather than quote myself I will link and then discuss the film briefly from a new vantage point.

When playing national word-association most will mention football (soccer) when it comes to Brazil. I would hope they would also mention music at some point if pressed for more words. Chico Buarque is among Brazilian music’s legendary names. Here you have a film that’s a dramatization of songs he wrote, but also quite a telling and compelling drama. The images I always associated with these songs in my mind here are given form and context in a great way, incorporating period and obfuscated commentary.

All Nudity Shall Be Punished (Toda Nudez Sera Castigada) (1974)

Toda Nudez Sera Castigada (1974)

Once when looking to get into the works of one of Brazil’s most famed writers, Machado de Assis, I was surprised to learn that some of his works had been translated into English. When seeking to discuss this Rodrigues-based film I decided to search anew. Apparently there was once a translation of his collected works that’s gone out of print. I’m not surprised by that fact. However, why I think films based on his works could translate better is the very nature of the medium itself. Especially now, you can get films to you. Theatre has, and always will be, either in text or as a spectator, something you have to actively seek out; it’s about live performance. All you can have at the push of a button is something recorded. Therefore, a visual interpretation of his plays, which would fill in blanks a reader may not know or think to fill in, could very well connect. This film is particularly effective, shocking and rather emblematic of his style and would work brilliantly as an introduction.

Love Me Forever or Never (Eu Sei Que eu Vou te Amar) (1986)

Eu Sei Que Eu Vou Te Amar (1986)

Whenever a film has garnered a major international award and then falls into relative obscurity, it always makes me wonder why. That question becomes even more relevant when the award was an acting award, but the film itself is also very strong. Fernanda Torres, daughter of Brazil’s most acclaimed actress, Fernanda Montenegro; has in this film her breakout role that won her Best Actress at Cannes. However, for as cloistered and chamber-bound this film is, it really is a tour-de-force and doesn’t feel overly-stagey due to the edit, and is well worth watching should you be able to find it.

Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (Tropa de Elite 2: O Enimigo Agora É Outro) (2010)

Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora e Outro (2010, New Video)

It sounds trite to start with: A sequel better than the original, but it really is. Granted, I’d never recommend you start with part two, but if you’re looking for an impressive double-feature with well-directed and choreographed action and sociopolitical intrigue it’s hard to top these films. These are also the films you should be watching when asking yourself: “Where did Spider in Elysium come from?” These are the kinds of, usually superior films, crossover international actors make their names in. Director José Padilha has also been rumored or linked to English-language titles and may get one yet.

Blue Eyes (Olhos Azuis) (2009)

Olhos Azuis (2009)

Kind of as antidote to the issues I discuss in the globalization of casting piece this film is a tremendously taut drama that puts an American character actor, David Rasche, in a starring role and maximizes his underutilized talents. This is a mightily overlooked piece of work that addresses the immigration question head on. It takes things to extremes and does engage in literal debate, but it’s about its characters too so that makes the piece inherently human for as politically charged as it is. It’s worth looking for as it features Irandhir Santos of the above title in another great role.

Silent Feature Sunday: The Kid (1921)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

As this series progresses I fully intend to discover new silents through it. However, as I get it started I figure what better way to do so than to start with ones that I know best, and have known for the longest. As a long-time fan of Charles Chaplin it’s hard to say if this is my favorite. I may be more inclined to lean towards Modern Times or, dare I be so blasphemous as to say, The Great Dictator (seeing how it is his capitulation to talkies), but what I can say about The Kid is that it does perhaps do the best of combining Chaplin’s comedic skill, dramatic sensibilities and whimsy. Enjoy!

Thankful For World Cinema: Simon and the Oaks

The Foreign Award Struggle

I touched upon this a while back when writing about Spud, and that is the marketing of films from around the world hits a pothole when trying to cite foreign film awards that American viewers as a whole are not familiar with. Invariably a national film award, whether it be from South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, or almost anywhere else (Those are just the nations I recall seeing with this distinction), will have their award name cited and then in parenthesis it will say “The Swedish Oscar,” or whatever the country it would happen to be.

I’ve been in theaters where this connotation has gotten a chuckle and I find that to be a very narrow-minded thing to do. I will grant that some national cinemas are just more prolific than others so some of these national awards may have more clout than others, but the fact remains that when I see films that have virtual sweeps in terms of nominations, and then you pair that with the fact that it wasn’t even the film submitted to the Oscars from a given country, that will make me take notice.

Which brings me to Simon and the Oaks. When I was last in New York, I was about to see Robot & Frank at the Paris Theater and I saw a synopsis. It seemed quite intriguing. The Paris being an independent theater usually only screens trailers for what they’ll soon be showing, and, sure enough, a trailer for Simon and the Oaks came on. The trailer made the film seem even more interesting than the synopsis did and what really stuck with me was that it was nominated for 13 Guldbagge Awards, the Swedish national film award (let’s avoid the O-word for propriety’s sake).

As I alluded to earlier, that’s nothing to sneeze at especially coming out of Sweden. Now, I won’t completely play the naive neophyte, I’m sure if you were to talk to connoisseurs of specific national cinemas they’d tell you that their awards have their tendencies and trends just like ours, but as I said I had already been sold on the film the awards were an additional curiosity. Then add the fact that it had been passed over as Sweden’s Official selection in favor of Lasse Hallström’s latest and I was further intrigued. Adding to the equation was the fact that it was picked up by the Film Arcade. I always am supportive of new players entering the distribution game, and their other acquisition thus far is The Other Dream Team, a doc about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, which also seems interesting.

Simon and the Oaks

So, external factors aside, how is Simon and the Oaks? It is very good and engaging indeed. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the changes to the expected path it gives you. It sets itself up as an outsider’s, observer’s tale that as its child protagonist grows becomes more the focus and more central to the thematic conflicts than we were led to believe at the beginning of the film.

It further surprises by setting up well-crafted, well-written situations about World War II that while not all that unique are captivating. Then about midway through there’s a crucial revelation that really sends the structure of the film for a loop in a good way and subjugates the external struggles and factors, and makes the tale a far more internal one than was ever expected. The performances are strong through the whole cast.

Not only that but there are very interesting mirrored family dynamics that intertwine. The only real uneasy patch is right after the temporal shift, but things still sort themselves out. The film moves well enough such that it could’ve taken a bit more time to transition, but this is truly a minor quibble.

I’m a big stickler for the moment in which a film decides to end its narrative, and this film selects the perfect moment and does so with perfect symmetry and poetry. It’s a film that does well to underscore the fact that there are many films out in the global market that can find an audience in the states, and I’m glad to have gotten to see this one.

Short Film Saturday: Motherland

What’s curious is that both this week’s and next week’s selection are films I encountered when seeking out different films entirely. In the case of this film, I was seeking a comedy called Motherland instead came across this stark, artistic, wide open to interpretation film produced by British fashion designer Ozwald Boateng that I found to be very intriguing.

61 Days of Halloween: Vinyan

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Vinyan

Vinyan was an unknown horror-drama film to me before picking it up at Best Buy one day. This film is an absolute success visually and there are myriad reasons why. Students of cinematography should watch this film because rarely if ever have I seen so many different techniques employed in a single film so naturally, and effectively. It was most certainly not what Hitchcock would’ve called “pictures of people talking” but rather “paintings in which people moved.”

A second, solid bonus is the performances of the two leads. Emmanuelle Béart especially is fantastic as usual and definitely gets to flex her muscle as she slowly loses her bearings over the stress of thinking she has seen her long lost son. Rufus Sewell’s performance is no less complicated. He is strong and must get angry, impatient, and sympathetic. He must also try to deal with the possibility that Béart is right, and try to be the grounded one, while he is just as stressed.

While the inciting incident, first act and first plot point are very strong the film does sort of lose a little bit of its momentum after the idea of the Vinyan is introduced. Aside from being onlookers they never assert themselves as a presence psychologically or physically and that is what ultimately leads to this film falling short of greatness that and the herky-jerky pace of act two.

The ending’s disturbing nature, and rightness in timing, doesn’t quite make up the squandered potential the film shows. The visual variety ultimately save it some examples are: a shot of foreground colored differently than the background, the red lighting in the rain, the use of an overhead shots, POV of a man being buried, shafts of sunlight through the trees, fog, fog and light through the trees; a silhouette and more. If only it had closed the deal narratively speaking and accompanied the visuals better.

7/10

61 Days of Halloween: The Mist

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

When it was released The Mist was one of those films that just fell through the cracks for many. Mixed reviews are likely the reason. It is a film that should be seen if only as a conversation piece because it does have one of “those” endings, you know the kind that will get you talking and will inflame passions. In other words, it takes a risk and that alone makes it worth watching.

However, for the two hours leading up to said ending it earns that “should be watched” distinction. The running time alone is worth noting. Few films in the horror genre have enough substance to add a half-hour to the usual running time to build character but if a film can it should. Knowing who these people are and whether we as an audience love them or hate them makes a huge difference. The personal dramas and threats keep us locked in when there is no threat from the creatures in the mist.

The situation in which these varied characters find themselves in is built up steadily, slowly and sinisterly; such that before any of the characters realize the peril they are in we are already feeling tense. In combining two techniques of the genre we get in this film a very compelling drama with a horrific backdrop: characters trapped in a building with assailants outside (reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead) and a multi-character yet character-driven tale, which is a forte of Stephen King’s, whose novella is the source material for this film. Darabont’s handling of King’s difficult-to-adapt material is again nearly spot-on, Darabont creates and in some ways amplifies King’s effective scenario and makes it one of the most enthralling and captivating no-win horror scenarios ever created. There just seems to be no escaping it.

In a horror film one can forgive flawed acting from a lead, Thomas Jane, but the antagonists and most of the cast, especially in a film such as this need to be solid and they are. Andre Braugher plays his character convincingly enough such that you despise him, forgetting that it’s the part and not the man annoying you. Marcia Gay Harden, as always is brilliant, and downright frightening in this role. Her ability to convince those in the supermarket, though a bit overwrought at times, is fantastically illustrated. Some of the smaller parts are also very well-played like the Woman with Children at Home (Melissa McBride), Nathan Gamble as Billy (most well known from Dolphin Tale) and the Terrified Woman (Kim Wall).

The thing which is the most inconsistent in the film is the CGI. It seems whenever there was a good to great sequence of effects they would extend it too long or cut too close to the action and the illusion would fall apart. Typically, CG looks better on DVD than in the theatre, but not here. Some elements, like the bugs, were very impressive but the CG was not judiciously used and not carefully crafted enough, which is the only major inconsistency in the film. However, there has been worse it’s just upsetting to see such a glaring problem in a film which is of a very high caliber most of the time.

The ending is a conversation piece. It is strong and unlike King’s story it’s not open. King approved of this change. Certain elements are very effective some aren’t. What you make of it is up to you. It does not detract from the whole and the film is definitely worth watching.

This review pertains to the standard edition DVD not the two-disc special edition.

8/10