Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
I try to keep my mind as open as possible during the year and as you start assembling a list like this you see there could be perceived slights. The fact of the matter is making this list was brutal. More than once I had to consider if I can stick to a previously made proclamation, more than once I jotted down additional titles to see if they could slide into the top 25.
Here’s a film that vaults onto this list after a personal recommendation. It’s a condemnation of trailers, a triumph of narrative and ensemble film acting. It’s a well-balanced tale of parallel narratives that hearkens back to Love Actually for me, however, has more varied and universal themes, and also some contemporary global commentary.
I wrote a lot about Goon after I first saw it, and it hurts even more to do so now seeing as how the NHL is well on its way to losing a full season for the second time in my adult life. It’s no coincidence that I write this with a teutonic team’s hat resting upon my head. Psychological baggage aside, this is a film that develops its characters, humor and story very well; and it celebrates, understands and embraces the sport its about better than most.
I love horror films so I typically will make a genre-related list to highlight those titles, but that won’t stop me from including genre titles here so Sinister takes this spot and is the first of a few that will appear on this list. It takes a popular current trope uses it better than most, expands upon it, builds suspense, a lot of character, has a fantastic score, occasional needed comic relief; and a hell of a lot of impact. It’s one of those movies that affected my real life, as I know have a flashlight app on my iPhone.
On my horror list I discuss my general feelings on Gothic horror, they are positive but it’s a hard subgenre to tackle because it’s so classical and commonplace. For this film to do what it does, as well as it does, in this day and age, is triumphant indeed.
This is a film that has had quite an adventurous, long and winding release pattern. It is a film that actually appeared on Slant’s best of 2011 list and has flown under the radar for most. However, for many of those who happen upon it, it’s made quite an impact. I was fortunate not only to have it play near me, but also that I decided to go as I nearly didn’t. It is a well-told, interestingly constructed, dramatically rendered and universal telling of what could seem like a niche tale of custody battle between surviving family members and a same-sex domestic partner.
I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.
Recently I’ve been seeing quite a few horror anthologies. Part of the reason behind that is just to familiarize myself with a few more of them and the voices involved in creating them. The second reason, to be perfectly honest, is that due to their episodic nature they are conducive to fractured viewing, which makes them easier to schedule. However, I did see The Theatre Bizarre all the way through in one sitting.
This one, like many horror anthologies, is a bit inconsistent in its quality, which is to be expected when different directors handle each segment. In my estimation, the highs are rather high and the lows are rather low. There are some interesting and at times daring attempts. It’s always hard to gauge them as a whole because this see-sawing in quality is not unusual at all. However, for fans of the genre I do think it’s one worth checking out, your feelings on the whole piece or a particular segment may be greatly different than my own. In the end, I really liked more of the installments than I disliked so it’s worth a watch.
One thing I thought was particularly interesting an effective about Cold Sweat was the implementation of antagonists who just could not let go of the past in a very villainous way. At the start of Cold Sweat there is archival footage that gives you a brief overview of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary factions at play in Argentina in the 1970s, then you get a very specific incident chronicled. You know this will all come back into play, you just don’t know how. Now, using overt political symbols in horror has been done, most commonly with Nazis in all likelihood. However, the circumstances and players of each countries political past (and seedy underbelly) are all somewhat different, and the refracted ideologies, and reverberations thereof, can still be felt at current, in one way or another. So it is rather fascinating to find this angle in this film because it lends a specificity to the film and a voice; a stamp of a national cinema. Coincidentally, I saw another Argentinian (co-produced with Spain) horror film soon after this one that implemented many similar threads. The horror setpieces and manipulation of given tropes in this film is quite effective, but it its this backdrop of sociopolitical commentary, past and present, combined with the narrative that makes this such an intriguing film.
Hiding in some ways reminded me of Beautiful Wave in as much as we see a teenage girl do a lot of brooding with minimal backstory given to the audience so it becomes tiresome. The good news is that this film is quite a bit better than Beautiful Wave. The bad news is that it still doesn’t end up being good. It concerns this brooding girl (Ana Villafañe) who is in witness protection and there’s a given that she’ll be found and there’ll be this dramatic showdown. What really matters is how do you get to that point and sadly much of it seems like they’re just trying to fill time. She is interested in two guys at her new school and has similar, nearly mirrored scenes with them, at times. There’s a psycho jealous cheerleader (Kelcie Stranahan) who does a lot of digging into her on a delusional whim, there are flashbacks some of consequence and some not; all with an an annoyingly unnecessary excess of jiggling. Many characters make really bad or dumb decisions and we don’t necessary have enough affection or interest to let that slide. The best part of the film is unquestionably Jeremy Sumpter‘s supporting turn. He remains a heinously under-utilized and under-valued talent.
For my thoughts on this film please go here.
As per usual, and as I say quite frequently, I went into Absentia knowing very little and that’s the way I prefer it. I knew it was was a low-budget horror film and what the basic synopsis was from Netflix. That’s about it. Only later on did I learn more details like the budget was purportedly $70,000 and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign.
All that stuff is great to know after the fact. Knowing it before you see something can be a double-edged sword. Essentially, either the movie works or it doesn’t. What the budget is, whether exorbitantly high or incredibly low, does not make it immune from, or more deserving of, criticism.
As for the film I really enjoyed it a great deal. It tells a tight-knit simple horror story that gives you just enough information to keep things going but never gets ahead of itself, and the idea is a low-concept production of a rather high-concept idea at the bottom of it. However, the curtain is only barely raised on the horrors being uncovered by these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was shot rather in continuity because it certainly was doable and the performances across the board got much stronger as the film progressed, and even rather impressive at times. The score is really good and there are good twists to it. This is definitely a Netflix gamble worth taking.
Exit Humanity is a horror film that has a rather interesting take on the zombie subgenre. With the proliferation of such a genre one must contend with both fatigue and differentiating one’s own story from the crowd. In these aspects is where the film is most successful, and that’s without including the fact that this is an alternate history tale of the postbellum south. The story is an introspective one that is more concerned about those left behind after a plague of zombieism, and isn’t so concerned with making the walking dead of this tale a metaphor. Yes, there is a somewhat different spin to the cause and the history, but that ends up being more a narrative necessity than a focus.
With a fairly original take the film is setup to succeed and does, but only barely. Where the film struggles most is in terms of balance. The score is really good but at times only in isolation, at times it’s too intrusive and too intense. There is some wonderfully florid voice-over, but at times it’s too much, and at other times the scene would’ve been better demonstrated visually than through monologue. The film does have its twists and turns that are rather surprising, but after some of those unusual decisions some quickening of pace is needed so that it doesn’t feel aimless.
The film never really lost me as a viewer, however, it had me reeled in at times and let go just a little bit due to some of these inconsistencies. I don’t want to over-accentuate them because I do still like the film, but feel it easily could’ve been something truly special had certain edits been made. It’s worth watching for fans of the genre for sure. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if some professed greater admiration for it than I do, especially considering some of the touches it employs such as animation, colored shots and top notch make-up effects.
Not too long ago I was finally missing hockey enough that I decided I should watch Goon (For my rating, which will be omitted from this commentary, please go here). I had the conflicting emotions going in of having high hopes but also being somewhat guarded. As I have discussed with films set in Brazil, but made abroad, I have some trepidation when it comes to handling of subject matter is close to me. Hockey is one of those touchy subjects.
For example, when I was younger, I was obsessed with hockey (mostly with the New York Rangers) quite badly, such that I’ve had to temper that with conscious effort such that a win or loss doesn’t effect not only my day, but also the time that elapses in between. When I was younger I naturally would have had to rented Slapshot at some point. Now, the point of this piece is to discuss Goon, so suffice it to so say I was quite turned off, didn’t find it overly-amusing and didn’t think it got it. To paraphrase what Penelope Spheeris said about why she didn’t do This is Spinal Tap when offered “You’re making fun of these people,” and feeling a part of that scene she couldn’t see herself doing it. That’s how I feel Slapshot dealt with its subject matter, which is the polar opposite of how Goon does it.
I think Goon does understand, touch upon and convey so many nuances of the game that fans, and those involved in the game get that outsiders cannot and what it most amazing is that the film puts these notions in a great movie that’s accessible and enjoyable to the non-fan.
Clearly, Goon will deal mostly with fighting, as it chronicles the unlikely rise of a nobody into a minor celebrity at lower levels of the sport simply due to his prowess in fisticuffs.
While the film doesn’t get didactic about anything I feel it does thoroughly examine fighting as a part of the culture of a sport, the fabric of it really, and the mindset of said fighters. It shows the trade-offs you’re willing to make, what’s tolerated, what isn’t, momentum shifts a fight can cause; essentially the “necessity” of it.
While I, as a hockey fanatic, will grudgingly admit to the “necessity” of fighting I also cannot in good conscience leave it out of quotes and cannot just leave it at that. I think it also important to delineate that this is hockey we’re discussing and I compartmentalize. Just because I accept and understand a brutal, physical practice in a sport played by adults who agree to the risks they take on does not denote my feelings on nuclear proliferation, capital punishment or any other topic.
I think the film shows even while making spectacular out-of-this-world bouts that there are ramifications and consequences of many kinds in fighting. What bothers me most about the perception of fighting, which I hear all too frequently on debate shows when they deign to talk about hockey, is that it is allowed. It’s more accurate to say it’s an accepted practice, but it is not allowed. If it were allowed you’d have something akin to Blades of Steel, wherein only the loser was penalized, or what’s more no one was. If you fight you are assessed five minutes in the box. There can be a strategic purpose to it therefore it really is a more violent version of intentional fouls in basketball, or on rare occasions in soccer (aka football).
However, I can agree that hockey is likely the only sport wherein there are enforcers, whom you don’t expect goals or assists from, but whom you expect to protect said assets. The complaints are old, but some of the facts are new and Goon touches on the head injury issue.
With the growing animus in all sports to keep its participants safer never is the conversation more nebulous than around fighting in hockey. Many head injuries in hockey and football are typically the result of one player being either defenseless or unaware of the oncoming collision, in a hockey fight 99 times out 100, heck I’d wager 999 times out of 1000; you have both combatants know they’re about to deliver blows to one another’s head. It’s probably the clearest case of they know what they’re signing up for there is. Yet it’s the most vilified act in sports it seems, and I think what Goon does amazingly is humanizes these players, even ones that start out as caricatures. However, Doug Glatt, the lead played by Seann William Scott, is so well drawn. He’s a gentle giant, a consummate team player who will do whatever needs doing whether it be fighting or taking a puck to the face.
If the sport were to clamp down on fighting more would I still watch? Absolutely, and I think that those who argue attendance would drop don’t get it. It will only drop where there aren’t real fans of the game. With regard to player safety, I’m far more concerned about enforcement of blows to the head in the middle of a game at full speed than a fight, though I’m not going to act as if there are no cumulative ill effects health-wise there. It seems sports leagues are skewing towards legislating to avoid sudden cataclysmic injury rather than chronic ones.
Now, while I’ve been off on a tangent, what the film does is the polar opposite of what I have, which is what makes it so good. It avoids bombast and soapboxing of any kind. For example, Glatt’s rival Ross Rhea, played by Liev Schreiber, talks to him, seems like an OK guy and steals a comment he made in his speech when having his number retired, but that’s the end of that thread. They have something to settle on the ice and won’t be distracted by off the ice stuff.
The film has pretty effective action sequences and really good looking hockey plays, which go beyond your typical insert of a puck bulging the twine. The totality of the handling of the sport in the film is amazing aside from narrative, performances, aesthetic and other production choices. However, fighting, because it is called Goon after all, is at the center of it and within the sport and without it’s a hot button type of issue and perhaps what I’ve been driving at, aside from letting some things off my chest, is that it dealt with it without pretension, condescension, excuses or even glorification, it just is. It’s in the game and that’s it.
In film one of the terms you’ll hear all the time is “raise the stakes.” Put more at risk, go bigger, bolder or higher for more dramatic impact. So, yes, Glatt is a superhuman fighter, some of the impacts and injuries in the fights are extreme and he does stop a shot with his face, and several subsequent stuff-in attempts, but when the tone, details and spirit and scenarios are all right then the occasional extravagance needed in film is far easier to accept.
If you were to cull through all the video you could find to create a montage, as long or as short as you want, to illustrate why you think a sport is great it probably won’t connect. If you put it in the context of a story then you have a chance of even getting neophytes along. For example, I know very little about cricket but I’ve really enjoyed films about it because of the common themes I could relate to the passion, strategy, desire to play, hero worship and so one (aside from the fact that it’s aesthetically great on film). Now, if you take many elements that make a game great and combine it with a great story that anybody can sit and watch then you’ve got a real winner.
Goon‘s success is attributable to the fact that it cares deeply about its story, its protagonist and the game it’s portraying and that’s all. It’s not trying to make any other statement at all, yet, paradoxically that’s just how it makes one. Hockey is a beautiful game and if those who run the sport treat it as well as this film does then it’ll be in great shape.