20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2017)
reviewed by Audy Christianos

R | 118 min | January 20, 2017 (USA)

Picture
Director: Mike Mills

Writers: Mike Mills

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Studio: A24 Films

Stars: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann



Don’t you need a man to raise a man?” 
During the summer of 1979, a Santa Barbara single mom and boardinghouse landlord, Dorethea (Annette Bening) decides the best way she can parent her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), is to recruit her young tenants - a quirky self-aware freebird photographer, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a mellow puppy dog eyed handyman, William (Billy Crudup) and her son's sweet but broken best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) - to serve as role models in a changing world.

Mike Mills, who built this movie on the premise of displaying his memory and affection of his mother, demonstrates early on that he intends on delivering an appreciative love calling card for her but it wasn’t on the same inherent level that he established with the subject of his father in his stronger previous 2010 film - Beginners. In that film, he showcased an endearing personal “autobiofictional” essay much like 20th Century Women, but did it with more careful conviction through the assured eyes of his main character played by Ewan McGregor (portraying a fictionalized version of Mills). He witnesses his elderly father (played by Christopher Plummer, in an Academy Award winning performance) coming out of the closet as a homosexual at the virile age of 76 firsthand. What Beginners got right that 20th Century Women did not, was a time capture of a tender and more interesting film that demonstrated retroactively just how Mills understood his father’s desires and personal motives.

Told in an engaging, smart, graphic narrative that seamlessly blended with Mills' personal sense of quirky sentimental humor, Beginners allowed for Christopher Plummer’s performance to come alive as his character was coming out. In contrast with Benning’s Dorathea as the centerpiece of this alternative family dynamic, none of that ego or dimensionality was given to her with the same personal descriptive treatment.  Annette Benning gives us another triumphant lead performance that fills in whatever blanks of Dorathea that Mills can’t give her himself. Through Benning’s essence, Dorathea is a Birkenstock wearing, Volkswagen bug driving, Den Mother with an endless arsenal of Salem cigarettes, encapsulating the character to endearing parental hysterics. Benning is so natural in this role, that it’s almost a disservice. As Dorathea, we are never fully allowed to search the character’s persona under the same family soul searching tropes that Mills has established in prior films. Dorathea is a mixed bag. She is educated, but stuck her in ways, independent but clingy, fierce but repressively sad. She drives the action from scene to scene but we are always standing next to her. Never at any moment during the proceedings are we walking in her shoes and thus shortchanged by the most compelling aspect offered by the film: Dorathea herself. This film never gives us a thematic resolution with its characters or story. Mills tells us what happens (by way of flash forward montage narration) to everyone before we are ever allowed to discover them, cast our own judgments about them and curious to continue chasing them. Any mystery or character development is stunted and thus we are robbed of any genuine surprise from its inhabitants.

The film is served in a conjoined dual perspective by way of Dorathea’s son Jamie. Jamie’s voice and point of view is intermixed with Dorathea’s first person testimonial where one is trying to figure out the other. Jamie, played by newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann, is interesting in his own skin. He finds the right mix of tumultuous Black Flagg angst, with a glimmer of good natured, artistic skater boy cynicism who gets beat up for liking the Talking Heads. Jamie is simmering with sexual frustration for his unrequited love towards his best friend Julie. Tall, blonde and sexually dangerous, Julie climbs up every day to Jamie’s room to spend the night and just to talk. Being his friend is all she knows and sleeping innocently in the same bed is all she gives him. He wants more but scornfully settles for less because it’s better than nothing. Keep your friends close and Elle Fanning in your bed closer. 

Jamie’s main irritation and driving force in the film, however, is trying to figure out exactly who his mother is. Dorethea, ironically, is also trying figure him out, but they can’t seem to get on the same page. She recruits the help of crimson haired, blunt cut, Abbie, but that seems to be an even worse idea. When Abbie gives Jamie the same feminism books that she has read, it makes Jamie sensitive to the women around him, in particular Julie. Dorathea’s dismayed reaction to it makes him too sensitive and the feminine mystique is no longer mysterious, it’s Jamie’s adopted condition. 

20th Century Woman has a lot of visual tension mixed with a reoccurring theme of clashing emotional discord. The film’s opening scene shows an overhead shot of the idyllic Santa Barbara beach oceanfront and then cuts to Dorathea’s brown 70’s generic hatchback getting caught on fire in the parking lot during a grocery store trip. Compositional foreground of every scene is presented with bland, grey-milk colors, that are supported in the background by vibrant splashes of red and yellow. Even the film’s historical changing-of-the-times subtext knocks heads with Dorathea’s no-nonsense classicist aura versus 70’s punk misunderstood raggedness represented by Jamie and Abbie. The overarching metaphor is the last vestige of Californian individual communal bohemia ideals decaying making way for a new era of 80’s over commercialized, consumer uniformity and ubiquitous excess. 

The tension and dramaturgy of 20th Century Women bleeds through these characters, however, for all of this film’s energetic voice, it really started to flatline towards the end. Everything that felt fresh, cute and stimulating in the beginning and second act started to wane, becoming too complacent in its self-reverence and affection of its main characters. The more 20th Century Women unfolded through its introspection, it became obvious that Mills’ commentary could never truly answer itself fully from the very thing he tried to depict: can a faithful life adaption of the main character as secondary subject be fully expressed? That is when his movie suffers the most because Mills doesn’t have the answers leading up to his conclusion of parental appreciation through dramatic investigation. It is a shame because Dorathea’s adaptation is wonderfully treated and tragically flawed at the same time. We are left to our own judgments but maybe that’s the point – that we truly never know our parents. Benning’s portrayal was so enjoyably terse and honest, I wanted to get to know all of her and I couldn’t. Maybe that is what this films' legacy will become – a burning conundrum that leaves me with a personal debate that makes me question the movie’s ultimate intent by conducting my own self-imposed interpretation, like Jamie did with Dorathea and ultimately like Mike Mills did with his own mother.

3 out of 4 stars
 
 
THE NEON DEMON (2016)
reviewed by Audy Christianos
R | 118 min | France, Denmark, USA | June 24, 2016 (USA)  
Picture
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writers: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham 

Stars: Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves    

Runtime: 118 min

Language: English

Color: Color

When aspiring model Jesse moves to Los Angeles, her youth and vitality are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women who will take any means necessary to get what she has.

Refn’s second movie since his art-house modernist crime thriller Drive, and the languid paced oedipal puzzle box of Only God Forgives, set The Neon Demon up with anticipatory fail with its hallowed promise of its drippy style and euro-trash attitude blithely delivered with a blank cynicism of altruistic obtrusiveness. This is Refn’s second time filming in L.A. and it’s clear that Refn, like so many other directors loves the warm, cool slick blanket the city tucks behind its films, but with this latest effort, it’s quite apparent L.A. no longer loves him back. The movie which is led by soft-faced, saucer eyed Elle Fanning, follows her character Jesse, an aspiring, orphan entering into the cutthroat subterranean, lethal culture of high fashion. Jesse, in the beginning of the movie is 16, and wants to be a model but lies to get jobs. She tells a weird, gaunt, hipster photographer that she is 19. She gets the job because we need the movie to move forward; and for every audition, she gets to the front of the line, possessing a power with her look and thus is the subject inexplicable industry worship.

Of course this comes at a cost – She bumps into Jena Malone’s, necropheliac loving - going my way - make-up artist Ruby, who at first seems to genuinely care for Jesse, but looks can be deceiving. It’s not that her character, as mouthpiece proxy of Refn’s visual style isn’t interesting nor doesn’t care for Jesse, but, it’s clear Refn has better things to do as in keeping you submerged in the hot liquid sheen of his film.

The movie’s biggest fault is two folded: It purposely left vague as to what type of movie it is, along with Refn choosing to template the film as a philosophical discourse on how beauty makes the fashion world go round which, as a thematic center is a really insipid thesis. Is Refn’s film a horror? - Maybe, is it a thriller – at times, is it Sci-Fi? Only if Cliff Martinez’s score dictates it, or is it a drama? Sure if you count Keanu Reeves having to eat the cost of the broken door to Jesse’s mountain lion booty call. The trouble with this film, is that on his own merits Refn, is anything but uninteresting and definitely knows what he is doing, but there seems to be a tension within himself on giving it to us in a digestable manner. Things can look cool, but that only goes so far with a film that limps to its ungratifying climax. This movie is representational of Refn at his best and worst: giving us a sexy, irresistible, hot plate of brilliant visual gibberish.

Fashion, as one might guess is a complex thing: easy to admire, hard to intellectually grasp and esoteric in is industrial sensibility to the general public. One assumes, with fashion, that yes, it’s an industry built on good-looking clothes, skyscraper legged models, and fashion designers that are the real auteurs in telling what you want before you know. Movies that reflect this commentary, transport you into the world, exposing the machinations of how, beauty is everything, and without it, you’re an apparition. This is apparent in the comedy Devil Wears Prada, or the Anna Wintour-centric documentary the September issue about Vogue – but the thing with those movies that made the message translatable regarding the currency of beauty, that Refn didn’t get right, is that there was a tangible reason to the commodity of beauty that drove those movies, and how it can be leveraged into business, that runs deeper, meaningful beyond the vapid quandary of beauty on the outside, ugly on the inside complex. Refn decides to not prove the worth of his interest with any intellectual validation other than having a dead-ended silly discourse of beauty in the emptiest, styrofoamic way possible. 
Picture
Elle Fanning, who was 16 at the beginning of the production, and 18 as I write this, was at home with this movie. She cloyed and babydolled every scene in the best way possible, giving into the predatory threatening danger of the world around her. You can see why Refn casted her. She possessed a freshness, and versatility that I don’t know many other actresses her age could have provided. She needed to be innocent, naïve yet, dangerously conceited that plays into an ultimate school girl benevolence and when Refn decides to stabilized his music video mania, he gives uncomfortable, evocative moments built around her, but that is all they are – moments, not a film.

 Refn has the filmmaking strength to have you squirm with enticement, but there isn’t a momentum to push it with more force. I can only hope that, Refn, will stop trying to write his own films – he’s not David Lynch, and this isn’t Mulholland Drive, for if it were, I would give an honest effort on wanting to find out more, but I don’t because there isn’t anything worth salvaging. Strobe light, thumping rave music is well-meaning window dressing, but this needed narrative juice to easily down the demented abstraction at the sake of a more cohesive film structure. 

This movie could have been better, and Refn knows that. It is unforgettable on how it chose to tell its story visually, but beyond that it was too “Valley Beyond the Dull”. The film industry has a love hate relationship with Refn – he was booed and jeered his last two times at Cannes for this and Only God Forgives – but because we want more, and know that he is capable, he seems perfectly adept to letting us down for the second movie in a row, and now he is officially on notice he is too talented not to be good, even though this movie almost convinced me otherwise. 

Picture


2 out of 4 stars

 
 
THE LOBSTER (2016)
reviewed by Audy Christianos
R | 1h 59min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 13 May 2016 (USA)    
Picture
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou

Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden

Runtime: 119 min

Sound Mix: D-Cinema 48kHz 5.1

Color: Color

Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1

Colin Farrell stars as David, a man who has just been dumped by his wife. To make matters worse, David lives in a society where single people have 45 days to find true love, or else they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the woods. David is kept at the mysterious hotel while he searches for a new partner, and after several romantic misadventures decides to make a daring escape to abandon this world. He ultimately joins up with a rebel faction known as The Loners, a group founded on a complete rejection of romance. But once there David meets an enigmatic stranger (Rachel Weisz) who stirs up unexpected and strong feelings within him.

“It’s no coincidence that the targets are shaped like single people instead of couples.” This line delivered dry and acerbic to our protagonist David is the perfect encapsulation of what the movie haunts over him in the short window of time he has to find a new romantic match or be turned into the animal of his choice, a lobster, for all eternity. If this sounds hilarious it’s because it should be and is. The movie co-written and directed by Greek filmmaker, Yargos Lanthimos, mixes a gut-busting cocktail of three counts sharp deadpan wit with one count of social satire. The Lobster’s promise is so unabashedly unique that if I told you that I completely understood the whole movie, I would only be lying to you. It’s intentionally ambiguous. The fascination of this film is that for the first half, Lanthimos presents a subversive world within the hotel where nothing seems to make sense. As the movie begins, David checks in and is asked formal questions to prep him for his transition. He responds blankly. Farrell doesn’t let us in on exactly what his character is thinking and thereby we don’t know what to think - he lets the movie do all the talking.

Farrell, who has reinvented himself in the past couple of years, starting with his Golden Globe award winning performance as a convincing low-rent “heart on his sleeve hitman” in the crime caper In Bruges. From there he set down a path to where he has carved himself a small role corner that really fits him well. His looks want more but he could never deliver “star turns.” In movies, however, where his looks don't rely solely on them, he shines and this is that movie. His David looks beaten. Barely making eye contact with anyone, carrying weight all in his midsection, of metaphorical despair and tax accountant passivity. Farrell performs in such a downplayed nuanced hilt that you are forced to take him seriously regardless of your preconceived notions about him. He’s that good.

Picture
And so are the other actors that share scenes with him, from the benevolent limp legged Ben Whishaw to venerable character actor/comedian John C. Reilly whose character talks with such a crumbled lisp that one would understandably lie to him just to stop from laughing in his face. The movie is at its fiercest when trapped in the hotel. Every man is wearing a blazer/tie, and all the woman suitors look like sister wives doing 50’s suburbia spring cleaning. Whishaw, to court one, goes so far as to bang his head on a table to get his nose to bleed just so he can be matched with a pretty young female companion with the same ailment. Safe to say the gag works. 

The film’s style lends to offbeat humor, with a sleepy undercurrent of lethargic mania. Action is played to madcap effect dramatizing the absurdity of it all. In the best sequence of the movie, the hotel guests are loaded onto a truck only to be dispatched to the woods to a “fox and the hound” shoot ’em up to hunt the “loaners” in the woods with the reward being for every loaner caught, an extra day is given to extend the patron’s stay.

The sequence is filmed drenched with the wonderful dreariness of Greek piano piece - Apo Mesa Pethamenos by Denai. The scenes give a melancholic wither that would make the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing ending proud. Lanthimos' direction crescendos epically with controlled deviousness of David and the other guests slashing and swaying through the trees shooting tranquilizer darts at other humans (loaners) in order to maintain their own humanity or else finding time running short on their own. It’s all done with farcical aplomb. 

With this energy and obscurity, The Lobster offers a fresh intensity with its commentary against the proxy of institutionalized social norms by hammering the theme that humans are no better than animals, regardless of man’s definition of civilization. Lanthimos could care less about telling it how he feels straight faced, as evidenced by his track record, because that would be boorishly dull and who wants that?

Picture
Regardless of how ironically funny the ideology of the movie is, you keep hoping that David will find his match, and not turn into a lobster. This is when Rachel Weisz comes in. The two demonstrate exactly what it is that Lanthimos is going for with an eccentric love connection, but this is when the movie is at its least interesting. Both actors play well off of one another, with Weisz demonstrating her natural girl next door charm and whimsy, and both stay true to inhabiting a world that makes sense only to them, but it’s presented far too conventional against that of the off-beat Luis Brunellian nonsensical offerings the film delivered in the first half of the film.

When first watching this I thought I had finally found the film I had been looking for for quite some time, and at many moments in the first half of the movie, it was that. However, like my review of Lenny Abrahamson’s academy award nominated The Room, once the movie shifted into our knowing of familiarity opposed to the unknowing of the first half’s warm but dreary moralistic macabre, the movie slightly loses its way. What saves it from not becoming truly disappointing with its conventional turn is Farrell’s lead, the movie’s art direction dripping with its satirical personality, and the loose way The Lobster presents itself while having substance to mock the world’s subjected hypocrisy on mating in its tranquilized cross-hairs.

Picture


3 out of 4 stars

 
 
STILL ALICE (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"They have a nice life, you know, really beautiful lives."
- Alice talking about the beautiful, yet, short lifespan of butterflies
Picture
Alice's life really is that of a butterfly. She's experience much professional success, has an equally successful husband, three wonderful children and home full of warm happiness. The moment she learns of the diagnosis, her life becomes that of a butterfly - full of much beauty but cut short. The comparison of the butterfly somehow sweetens the adversity Alice is faced with - but only for a moment. Julianne Moore's performance forces you to remember that regardless of Alice having a life any one would be proud to have lived, it is still being cut short when she's not ready to let go.

KEYWORDS
Devastating, authentic, emotional, moving, fear

THE GOOD
Convincing, sensitive, difficult subject, vulnerable, Julianne Moore’s performance and Kristen Stewart’s acting (whaaa?!)

THE BAD
Uneven, unnecessary family plot lines, generally boring, dislikeable family, average

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Julianne Moore plays Alice, a 50-year-old established, respected, intelligent linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Where most movies may focus on the family and friends who are losing their loved one to a hazy world of fading recognition, the film focuses on Alice’s point of view and how she copes with her diagnosis. It makes for many difficult moments and scenes that cannot be viewed without an already tear soaked tissue close-by. Alec Baldwin plays her equally respected and successful husband, and Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart play their three children.


 
 
BIG EYES (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"So, who is the artist?"
- a woman inquiring about the Big Eyes artist.
Picture
And with these five words, Big Eyes reveals itself as a movie about two different artists: one that dabbles in acrylics while the other dabbles in deception. Big Eyes is layered in its story-telling, beginning with hopefulness, trust, deception, abuse, horror and relief. Amy Adams (as Margaret Keane) and Christoph Waltz (as Walter Keane) handle the delivery of these complex emotions like the professionals they are with a cherry on top. The strength of Margaret Keane is one of beauty, especially when that strength is finally acknowledged and rewarded. The feminist layer to this movie, a product of the time period, was an unexpected but pleasant surprise to the film’s depth. The duration of the movie is spent realizing we’re watching Margaret and her artistic talent only to realize that Walter is just as artistic, albeit in a very different way. 

KEYWORDS
Sad, Unbelievable, Manipulative, Beautiful, Inspiring, Deception, Feminism

THE GOOD
Beautiful acting by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams
Color palette
Layered emotions
Authentic film production value



THE BAD
Odd tonal change throughout movie
Uneven movie pace
Felt lengthy at times
Lack of Tim Burton touches

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
I remember Big Eyes paintings when I was a child. After watching the film, I realize now they were the mass-produced versions of the originals as posters, postcards, t-shirts, etc. However, before we delve in, can we please discuss how Amy Adams never ages? She’s got the same anti-aging genes as Pharrell and Paul Rudd. Am I right? She’s 40-years-old and looks fucking amazing! She radiates innocence and dangerous flirtation at the same time. The complexity of achieving this baffles me. Okay. Just had to get that off my chest. Let’s move on.

Big Eyes follows the story of Margaret Keane and her paintings of children with eyes exaggerated in size. She explains that for a short while as a young child, she was deaf and relied on the facial expressions and eyes of those she was talking with to completely understand them. Eyes are important to her and thus, she enlarges them in all her paintings. Enter Walter. He’s an artist, charming as hell, and wants to take care of Margaret. Soon after they meet, they become husband and wife. Walter, realizing Margaret has a genuine talent in painting, offers to sell her paintings and are a success very quickly, making large sums of money. The caveat, however, is that Margaret must relinquish public ownership of the artwork because “nobody wants to buy lady art,” according to Walter. Giving in to her husband, she allows him to take credit for her paintings for over a decade.


 
 
FORCE MAJEURE (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Tomas say something you’re freaking me out.”
– Tomas' wife, Ebba 
Picture
Tomas messed up, he messed up something fierce. In the beginning of the movie Tomas put himself before his wife and children during a remarkable cascading avalanche by running away only thinking of his egotism. Once this happens, Ebba is fractured with his lack of heroism, in particular for his family, and she, for the duration of the movie, doesn’t get an explanation, or rationality as to why Tomas would flagrantly leave like he did, when stereotypically, in times of trouble, the man – the father, inherently protects those he holds dear. Not the subliminally effeminate Tomas, though: he ran as if it was murder she wrote and that avalanche was Angela Lansbury. Once Ebba decides to confront him and put her snowboot up his delicate ass, she still doesn’t receive the answer to the question she is dying to unlock. Tomas, shamed, can’t muster up that courage to answer her terse question, sitting on the couch isolated from her without any remorse for reconciliation that smells of anything less than an authentic attempt Ebba will wait for but never receive. Does Tomas not say anything because he can’t find the words? Does he choose not to say anything? Or does he know deep down inside what he did is pathetic, but because his marriage to the frazzled Ebba is at the point of no return, it’s a moot ridden situation? Tomas, doesn’t know, Ebba doesn’t know and neither do we, but that doesn’t take out the fun of trying to figure out this trivial man, in this non-trivial “what would you do?” scenario. It’s fairly clear how egregiously frustrating his actions are to everyone that encounter him, seeking answers from a man that is seeking them for himself.


KEYWORDS
Icy, quirky, tense, peculiar, vapid, passive aggressive, sly, unassumingly brilliant, suffocating

THE GOOD
Ridiculous humor
Great usage of film space
Subtle tension and mood
Attractive framed scenes/composition
Amusing study of passive aggression among relationships
Understated screenplay
Smart writing delivered by philosophical dialog 

THE BAD
A few nonsensical plot points/scenes  
Decent, not great ending

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
This wickedly funny and precisely observed psychodrama tells the story of a model Swedish family - handsome businessman Tomas, his willowy wife, Ebba, and their two blond, pre-teen children - on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. The sun is shining and the slopes are spectacular but, during lunch at a mountainside restaurant, an avalanche turns everything upside down. With panicked diners fleeing in all directions, Ebba calls out for her husband as she tries to protect their children. Tomas, however, makes a decision that will shake the family's world to its core. Although the anticipated disaster fails to occur, his marriage now hangs in the balance as he struggles to reclaim his role as family patriarch.


 
 
THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Only now do I finally remember why I came here."
- Princess Kaguya
Picture
I’m not going to start off this review and lie to you by saying there were moments in which this movie didn’t test my patience with its overly self imposed reflection. All the bells and whistles that you normally find in a Studio Ghibli film, and to a greater extent by Isao Takahata, were in full force, but I kept finding myself checking my watch, timing its running length and wondering why is this movie, beyond its “bona fide” impactful style, allowing its narrative pretentions to stymie the film from ascending to the very atmosphere of thematic gratification that Princess Kaguya herself descended down from the beginning of the film? I somewhat took for granted what this movie offered in a reticent way that would typically make me discard a movie of this nature if it weren’t an art house Japanese animation. However, the more I watched, the more I bypassed it’s obvious visual pleasure and succumbed to the naturalistic presentation of folktale itself and how it was told - in which by the end I too, like the Princess, remembered why I came to see this movie, just as she remembers why she descended down on earth: for me it’s because Takahata has a way of not penetrating your consciousness in a direct manner, but like the glowing bamboo and the princess from it, his touch subtly affects you without you knowing it, until it’s over and that is when the movie proves its worth. The Princess or also known as “Little Bamboo” is conflicted between two worlds in which she is trying to prove to herself just who she is and what she ultimately wants. She traverses the film emotionally, accelerating in age and love in the most grandiose, personal, and exertive way forcing the movie to not only prove its worth to me, but also trying to prove itself in keeping its “Little Bamboo” in the world it created for her. The fixed reality though is that this movie has nothing to prove to either of us, it only needed to wait until we both came around to realize what we knew all along – the gentle force of its delivery is held in contempt by the very promise of our unrealized but preexisting loyalty.

KEYWORDS
Sweeping, charming, magical, reflective, celebratory, warm, chasten, contemplative

THE GOOD
Softness and simplicity in animation style
Beautifully captures fairy tale soul
Musical score
Mostly enjoyable characters
Excellent voice acting from James Caan

THE BAD
Lack of energy at times in pacing
Movie’s running length was too long
Narrative at times was tangential

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Legendary Studio Ghibli cofounder Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko) revisits Japan's most famous folktale in this gorgeous, hand-drawn masterwork, decades in the making. Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen), a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady (Chloë Grace Moretz). The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her - but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime. From the studio that brought you Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and The Wind Rises comes a powerful and sweeping epic that redefines the limits of animated storytelling and marks a triumphant highpoint within an extraordinary career in filmmaking for director Isao Takahata.


 
 
THE BABADOOK (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Stop calling him boy, his name is Samuel”
– Amelia 
Picture
The boy, Samuel, is 6-years-old, and is suppressive of his mother’s energy willfully bulldozing an incorrigible co-dependency that tears down Amelia’s last shred of understandable tolerance and fading maternal love as she protects her son to the school board. Samuel, who is plagued by “The Babadook” a scary, possible figment of his imagination “boogie man” cloaked with Tim Burton’s fashion sense, has made Samuel a problem child to where Amelia can no longer keep him in school. He is so obstructive, that the administrators can’t even bring themselves to call him by his name, only referring him as “the boy” to which Amelia, drowning in her lament and frustration of Samuel, still defiantly defends her son, as if it’s a last resort, and not out of genuine motherly pride. There is love for the boy, but its withering, sucking the life out of the pupils of her bright eyes with little margin for error because Amelia is running out of options in trying to control her son’s fear of the so called Babadook. Immediately you feel her burden, as she is losing her sanity, failing to realize it’s only going to get worse, because deep down inside she will soon find out that “the boy” is the least of her problems.

KEYWORDS
Cagey, irritable, burdened, heartfelt, tight, suppressing,
lurking, shrouded, sparse




THE GOOD
Kent’s strong, smooth direction
Polished cinematography for independent film
Pitch perfect pacing
Multifaceted horror storytelling presentation
Layered dramatic visuals 

THE BAD
Overly relied on built in horror movie troupes
Lackluster ending

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT 
Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her out of control 6 year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel's dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called 'The Babadook' turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he's been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control and he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son's behavior, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.


 
 
AUTOMATA (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"To die you have to be alive first."
– Banderas' Jacq Vaucan to robot 
Picture
Antonio Banderas, who has been off the movie screen radar for several years, casts the “hand to god” line as he is being painfully dragged against his will by a robot in the middle of a dry, uninhabitable desert, showcasing his latin star power in a low budget science fiction film that desperately depends on it. His character, which is in charge of investigating offlined protocol robots, is forced to leave his city, his metropolis, his home, in the hopes of finding the leader robot that doesn’t prescribe to society’s restrictions on free will or what the robot thinks that is and how it applies to its kind. Masking in the dark, our rogue robot liberator is leading all other service robots to find it in order to break away to create a utopia in a dystopic world – as its utopia isn’t the dirt, boards, rocks, or the barriers of human hatred the robot shelters himself away from, as much as the ideology it’s exodus is harkened by. Banderas’ character, Jacq Vaucan is trapped under the nomadic pale faced robots, that are making their way towards an unforgivable destination (which didn’t originally include Vaucan) but since he doesn’t have much of a crippled choice, he is now a part of this chromed out, metallic Donner Party. Unable to sustain refuge, badly in need of water, and laying heavily restless on a stretcher, Banderas is ironically in a life or death situation with the very robots he believes will kill him as they consider what the application of life is to them and their right to be defined by it. The anonymous service robot that is the focus of Banderas’ ire, exemplifies the movie’s unspoken attitude that him and his brethren are tired of "picking up society's check” when it comes to being utilized as worn out corroded after thoughts, corporate issued drones, and life sized metallic swiffer mops cleaning up dystopic future’s “hard to reach areas.” The movie, like all other science fiction films, treat its robots in an arena of endless disposable indentured servitude for the very human’s life it’s programmed to protect. The film’s reality overstates this: it marks heightened actuality that a definable class system is in place, with a tension between the “humans” (masters) and the “robots” (slaves) – property versus identity, It wants to initially treat its robots as nothing but an inanimate felt machine that animates its given orders. However, the robots have other ideas, and you can’t blame them - only blame how they were under-explored by the director. They won’t hurt you, they protect you, but it doesn’t sound as gracious as one might think. Banderas feels trapped, powerless, unable to muster resistance towards a destination that is out of his control and death as he explains to the semi-intelligent robot, looks like a great consolation prize to the one person who knows its debt by knowing the value of life itself.


 
 
WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"He is so simple that when you scratch the surface, there is just… more surface."
- Kat, in describing her boyfriend, and yet, the movie, as well.
Picture
White Bird in a Blizzard sells itself as a sexual awakening story for main character, Kat Conner, just as her mother disappears without a trace. The juxtaposition of these two events lends some intrigue but on the other hand, it’s also a unique combination that could fail miserably, even under the most artistic of treatments. My hope was to see these elements handled with a refreshing perspective on events that have been talked about time and time again in film. Perhaps the book does it more successfully but Araki’s direction of it in film leaves much to be desired.    

KEYWORDS
Below average, confusing, boring, tired approach

THE GOOD
Dream sequences’ artistic nature

THE BAD
Poor casting
Unconvincing acting
Nudity for no real reason (oogling does not count)
Poor accuracy of character’s “wildness”
Empty
Obvious


WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
Kat Conner (Shailene Woodley) is 17-years-old when her mother goes missing. This event coincides with the beginning of her sexual awakening as a budding young adult and explores this chapter in her young life with boyfriend, Phil. Kat’s mother, Eve (Eva Green), is portrayed as despondent and at times, cruel, a product of the uneventful life she’s led ever since marrying her husband, Brock (Christopher Meloni). A former wild child herself, Eve demonstrates bizarre attention-seeking behavior, directly related to her losing her youthfulness and intrigue while Kat is blossoming into her own.