<![CDATA[Cinema Samurai - Movie Reviews]]>Tue, 20 Jun 2017 04:40:54 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[20th Century Women (2017)]]>Tue, 17 Jan 2017 03:59:54 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/20th-century-women-201720TH CENTURY WOMEN (2017)
reviewed by Audy Christianos

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

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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
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<![CDATA[The Neon Demon (2016)]]>Wed, 29 Jun 2016 03:17:18 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/the-neon-demon-2016THE NEON DEMON (2016)
reviewed by Audy Christianos
R | 118 min | France, Denmark, USA | June 24, 2016 (USA)  
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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. 
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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. 

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2 out of 4 stars

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<![CDATA[The Lobster (2016)]]>Wed, 01 Jun 2016 03:17:58 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/the-lobster-2016THE LOBSTER (2016)
reviewed by Audy Christianos
R | 1h 59min | Comedy, Drama, Romance | 13 May 2016 (USA)    
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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.

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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?

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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.

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3 out of 4 stars

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<![CDATA[Still Alice (2014)]]>Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:22:53 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/still-alice-2014STILL 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
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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.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
I first saw the trailer for this movie in the theaters. Within seconds, the waterworks were in full force. My face? Coated in tears. Clearly, this meant it needed to be on my “must-watch” list. As I sat in the theater, armed with Kleenex, I was fully prepared to cry my way through this film. The subject matter es on a personal fear so I was expecting the worst, in terms of it being realized. To know that, although rare, it is possible to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an age way before you should is scary and unimaginable. I knew I was in for all things emotional.

Still Alice wastes no time getting into the meat of the subject. Alice innocently begins to forget words here and there, a very common thing all people experience. But as she becomes confused on where she is during her daily jog, she visits her doctor, and is asked a number of questions letting her and the viewer know that something more than an unassuming case of forgetfulness is brewing. Once officially diagnosed, which is a tragedy in and of itself, the film goes one step further in “gasp” mode when the gene causing this disease is hereditary, making her children 50/50 carriers of the gene.

Julianne Moore captures the fading of her life, memory, and knowledge in such a delicate manner; she makes you believe she is Alice and suffering from Alzheimer’s. Alice’s determination to fight this disease is admirable and make her inevitable shortcomings that much more tragic. My focus and attention was only on her – how is she going to try and remember this moment? What inventive way, with the help of her iPhone, is she going to come up with so she remembers her daughter’s name? Her “forgetfulness” makes for an awkward family moment as she fails to remember being introduced to her son’s girlfriend as a guest for Thanksgiving, and repeatedly reintroduces herself. Each family member encounters Alice in different phases and situations of her fading mind. Notably, Kristen Stewart’s scenes with Julianne Moore were some of my favorites. That’s right – I said it. Stewart was actually tolerable. She showed a quiet and empathetic performance and to be honest, the only likeable person in the family. She was gentle when she needed to be, allowing me to appreciate her especially in the moments she shares with her mother. Her response in understanding and helping her mother are what you ache to see in this film, especially when the rest of the family is just, plain annoying and unlikeable.
Julianne Moore was magnetic. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her expressions, her eyes, as she searched for ways to keep a smile on her face, trying to come to terms with what was happening to her while losing all the success she’s worked for. It reminded me of 2012’s Oscar nominated film, Amour. The movie follows an older couple whose bond is tested when the wife, Anne, an accomplished pianist, suffers a stroke, leaving her dependent on her husband and good Samaritans to take care of her. The difference, though, was the stroke immediately changed the dynamic between the couple, making it even stronger. In Still Alice, I did not feel that family bond strengthen or change much in any way. It almost bordered on the family seeming sort of detached. Equally so, I couldn’t care less with what was happening to the family members, either. Anne (Kate Bosworth) is pregnant and expecting twins, her husband (Alec Baldwin) is continuing his path towards success in his career, and Lydia (Stewart) is trying to succeed as an actress – all things that took away from what was truly the star of the movie – Alice and her diagnosis. 

There was a moment in the film when Alice speaks frankly with her husband on her feelings and what she is going thru. With a single line, Alice is able to give you a glimpse of her thought process, telling her husband “I wish I had cancer”. And you understand why without even her having to explain the reason. Whether or not you know someone with Alzheimer’s, Moore’s delivery of this conversation is honest and demands your empathy and understanding. It’s in these vulnerable moments where she shines and evokes an immeasurable amount of sadness from the viewer.

Now that I’ve given ample and deserved praise to Moore’s performance, I don’t feel so bad telling you how utterly boring and empty this movie was. I know - I’m just as confused as you. How can such noteworthy acting be in the presence of a film that can only be described as, “meh.” I assure you, though, there’s no other way to put it. Everything around Moore was average or teetering right below it – the side storylines, the family characters and dynamic, and the overall journey. The film was uneven and the movie never met the level of emotion Moore carried in each of her scenes, disappointingly so. Despite this, Moore owns her role in the film and makes every scene feel more important that it was. She truly was a stand out and not just because everything surrounding her was not. You felt the energy radiate from every twitch, the flinch in her hesitancy, the anticipation of tears waiting in her welled eyes, or her blank confused stare. She made you FEEL something amidst the unfortunate lack everywhere else. Where Alice is trying to stay connected, the movie feels detached. 

KEY SCENE
The moments with Alice and her daughter, Lydia, were some of my favorites in the scene. Lydia empathizes with her mom and wants to truly understand what her mother is going thru. I thought she asked sensitive questions and didn’t treat her mother any differently than when she was coherent, before her diagnosis. This scene also reveals the significance of a butterfly necklace Alice wears and why there is a folder on her computer’s desktop bearing the same name, triggering one of the saddest moments in the film. 
CONCLUSION
Julianne Moore is a solid actress, not one I clamor to go to the movies for but don’t mind, nonetheless.  The last time I saw her in a movie was in The Kids Are All Right (2010) and I thought she did a nice job in that film, as well – but nothing surprising. It was a solid performance. For Still Alice, however, she encompassed this character and the 180 path her life is now on and how devastatingly sad it is to watch. I was transfixed on her face and her resiliency to deal with this tragic change in her life. The film, as a whole, isn’t anything to write home about but Moore’s performance most certainly is. The grace her character exudes in the face of fearful times, shows a determination that is so admirable, you can’t help but be moved to tears. I wished her performance were placed in a film and with characters that were more interesting. But, perhaps that was done on purpose, knowing the movie had Moore’s stellar performance to hinge on. The only thing worth watching, and rightfully so, is Moore.
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2.5 out of 4

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<![CDATA[Big Eyes (2014)]]>Thu, 08 Jan 2015 03:50:50 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/big-eyes-2014BIG EYES (2014)
reviewed by Jessica Elliott
"So, who is the artist?"
- a woman inquiring about the Big Eyes artist.
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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.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
Big Eyes’ opening scene screams Tim Burton – the cookie cutter houses in the perfectly structured neighborhood against the pastel blue sky and crisp neon greenery. But something not so perfect was going on: Margaret is leaving her husband and taking her daughter. This act shows the viewers Margaret’s strength and responsibility – characteristics she struggles to remain true to throughout the film. Her naiveté falls prey to traits of women of her generation – one that depends on a man’s strength and provisions and believes it is necessary to have in order to be a respectable woman, especially one with a young child.

Big Eyes is peppered with beautiful artwork but its all razzle dazzle for the con happening right in front of your eyes – no pun intended. The biggest proponent of said conning is Christoph Waltz’s character, Walter Keane. The minute he is introduced on-screen, the corners of my mouth turned up and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. I got got… I got got baaaad. He’s smiling that charming smile of his, enunciating his words in ways no normal person would, and over complimenting you but you don’t care. Walter Keane is a snake charmer and its turned up to a fucking 11. Margaret, desperate for someone who wants her and her child, finds what she thinks is a soul mate in a fellow “artist,” Walter. She’s fallen into the deception trap Walter has laid out for her by showering her with the right combination of vulnerability, sensitivity and protector. As she discovers the first lie – that he is taking credit for paintings she produced - Margaret becomes part of the lie by adding to it. She can't fight against Walter because he plays on her vulnerability, making her believe this is the only way they can sell the artwork because “nobody wants to buy lady art.” Margaret believes him, albeit, never fully. Walter is cunning and Margaret so badly wanted to be wanted so she continues on in this charade. This deception continues for over a decade, with Walter seemingly unable to tell apart fact from fiction.

This ruse is created not only for art buyers but for Margaret’s daughter, Jane, as well. This was probably the most heartbreaking part of the movie for me. From the opening scenes of the movie, Margaret and Jane are shown as a very strong family of two. Once Walter enters the picture, the dynamic between mother and daughter begins to fade and so does Jane’s role in the movie, entering back into the film only to further the story as needed, a misstep, in my opinion. As Margaret’s daughter, Jane could have brought another level of insight or dimension to the movie, sharing her point of view. Along with hiding her true identity as the Big Eyes painter, Margaret deceives her daughter in order to sell the story for outsiders. This chips away at Margaret and ultimately adds to the deterioration of their relationship.

The wonderful tactic of this movie is the viewer sharing the same eyes (another pun?! I’m on a roll) as Margaret. We are being deceived by Walter just as she is. With each reveal of who Walter really is, my heart skipped a beat. Each uncovered deception learned about Walter is like a punch in the gut because you're reminded you're not just watching a movie - but the story of someone's true life.

The pace of the movie from the beginning to about the halfway mark was presented really well: compelling, disturbing, sad, but fascinating. After that point there are questionable scenes put into the film that stick out like a sore thumb. Two of these moments are 1) Walter violently confronting a critic about his/Margaret’s work and 2) Walter drunkenly threatening Margaret and by starting a fire in their home. I mention these two scenes because of how awkwardly they stood out among a pretty straightforward film. The first of these two scenes I’ve mentioned is Walter confronting critic John Canaday (Terence Stamp), who was not a fan of the Big Eyes painting style, to put it lightly. After a verbally violent confrontation, Walter decides to display his anger physically and grabs a fork with every intention of stabbing Canady. Canady has got fast hands because he stops the fork about an inch away from his eye and the camera pauses on a close-up of this for a half-second longer than needed. When this scene happened, I laughed because the editing, pacing and execution of the scene, was so odd and unexpected. It felt like something that should belong in a superhero movie.

The second scene was with Margaret, Jane and Walter in their home. It felt like a domestic violence scene from a Lifetime movie. At this point, Jane is older and has discovered the truth about her mother as the painter of Big Eyes. Walter is yelling at himself, at no one, and then at Margaret and Jane. As the screams become more and more ferocious, Margaret and Jane run into the studio room, locking themselves in. Walter decides to light matches and push them thru the keyhole of the door, all the while giggling and finding amusement in his actions. This scene stood out because of the dangerous and violent tone his psychopathic persona was going. It just didn’t quite match the rest of the movie. Perhaps this is a testament to Waltz’s acting and how scary his irrationality had become.
I wish there were more obvious Tim Burton touches in the movie. I was hoping for something a bit more whimsical like Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish. But when the movie is based on a real story and person, I guess that’s the goal – to tell their story, not add Burton-esque touches for the sake of adding them. He includes enough: the bright pastel color schemes in many of the scenes and even more overt, the scenes showing how Margaret was haunted by her paintings. While shopping in the grocery store, the eyes of other shoppers was enlarged, matching the same of the Big Eyes paintings, burning a hole into Margaret’s conscious. These few moments remind you of Burton and are welcomed familiar traits. 

KEY SCENE
This scene is important and encompasses the movie perfectly. Walter, in all of his smiling charm, overshadows any questions Margaret has about how they’re approaching the selling of her artwork and ownership of it. Waltz’s acting is so perfectly done – as a viewer, you begin to believe his justifications for doing anything and how dare we question him! Equally brilliant is Adams. This actress, people, is extremely talented. She plays naïve, strong, intelligent and aloof at the drop of a hat. She’s captivating from the minute her face graces the screen. Watching Adams and Waltz together makes the happy feels in my body burst with enjoyment because they are on top of their acting game – each one restraining just enough when needed and allowing each other to shine when necessary. Wonderfully done.
Big Eyes is satisfyingly layered with deception, feminism, and beautiful artwork. The story is fascinating and incredibly sad. Giving up ownership of your artwork is essentially giving up a part of yourself and the fact that Margaret did this for 10 years is a difficult thing to comprehend. Burton’s direction is fine but does not warrant a trip to the theaters. The story is intriguing but the way it was shared was nothing out of the ordinary, especially for Burton. You can, however, tell he is a fan of Margaret Keane’s work because there is a sense of reverence and importance given to her character and thus, her work. She begins the film in a fragile state of mind transforming into courage and confidence by the end – truly inspiring. Her strength to fight for what was rightfully hers is empowering, claiming her role as the true artist.
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2.5 out of 4

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<![CDATA[Force Majeure (2014)]]>Wed, 17 Dec 2014 05:06:33 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/force-majeure-2014FORCE MAJEURE (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Tomas say something you’re freaking me out.”
– Tomas' wife, Ebba 
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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.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie is a satirical look at marriage and how something that occurs within its foundation at an innocuous treble can reverberate stronger under each passing minute between spouses no matter how big or trivial the point of contention could be. Unresolved issues in a marriage, as highlighted from director Ruben Östlund, can jar open already lingering tiny cracks in any relationship’s foundation. Here Tomas, by all accounts, didn’t do anything atrocious against the sanctity of his vows in an obvious way: he didn’t cheat on his wife with another woman, he didn’t lose his job, nor is he an alcoholic or a greasy obnoxious womanizer – he is just inattentive and rudimentary in his selfishness which harms against his family, but most importantly towards his harping wife. Östlund is fascinated with theoretical sociology, especially when applied to situations when people, specifically Tomas, react against a pending crisis in a way that is socially uncharacteristic of how a person should act based upon their gender norms. Tomas, for the better part, establishes everything a man should in providing for the family; patriarchal duties are ever present when helping his children ski, or agreeing with his wife to go on a double date with the promiscuous fellow tourist and her boy toy. He is affable, but vacant, to the casual observer. Frankly the snow outside has more vivid personality in its unassuming opaque white blanketing the horizon but like the snow, Tomas’ cerebral persona can be accessible with the film leaving its tracks onto his psyche by way of his detracting pressure of failed matrimonial responsibility. 

What stood out to me the most is how the film portrays itself with a heightened level of passive aggression. Nothing in the film screams confrontational at first glance. The characters only rely on its confrontations when left with no choice. Take for instance, when Tomas and Ebba, in a brief moment of unity, decide to not wake up the children, go out in the long tangerine hotel hallway to air out their frustrations to one another (or primarily Ebba dog chewing Tomas’ ear off) that has been long overdue. Ebba, after Tomas’ request, decides to light a firecracker of guilt in his direction. Tomas, standing there passively, arms crossed, postured only in his fitted baby blue muscle T-shirt and Black boxer briefs weakly receives all of Ebba’s vehement rage as the hotel’s custodian is sitting there watching it unfold on the next level up without a concern of being caught. Tomas’ passive aggression turns immediately to misplaced tepid confrontation towards the eerie onlooker. Tomas tries to exert himself, and his manhood, but fails again calling into question if it ever really existed, leaving Ebba to effectively request the man to keep it moving, which he ostensibly agrees to do under his cloud of cigarette smoke. Östlund delivers this scene to a pitch perfect moment while also exhibiting the complexities of psychological behavior and how it shapes a person, or people in a typical setting by suffocating the family and other tourists through ineptitudes flagged by forced company within the lavish resort. Cabin fever is felt, but not in its typical meaning. Tomas and Ebba aren’t bounded or constricted indoors, nor trapped in the interior linings of its French accommodations – they are unfortunately trapped with one another; Östlund accentuates this by gifting the screen utilizing slight camera movements, framing his scenes slightly off center and not allowing for any expressive action. By doing this Östlund heightens the tension by paralleling the movie’s tone to match the characters emotions. Its done harmoniously giving way to a unifying experience of what the movie is expressing without having to verbalize its intentions to a pandering malady of the audience’s goodwill.

Östlund not only directed Force Majeure, but also wrote it leaving his soul within every line, every scene and every filmic characteristic. It’s apparent that Östlund knows what he is dealing with regarding the subject matter, and with that comes an authenticity in how Tomas treats the situation, and how it treats him. Submerged within the depths of its humanity, humor delivers a much needed counter punch to not only set up the ridiculous nature of the film, but also dividing his own personal feelings between the movie’s tone (flat, demanding, non-responsive) representational of a mixture of Ebba and Tomas’ emotional state of being towards one other and how through Östlund’s comedic quirky delivery the film denotes how one person may feel towards the other’s discontentment over an arguable slight that may be silly to Tomas but deathly serious to Ebba. Östlund masterfully creates this context, not allowing the viewer to search for anything else. The character’s internal thoughts and feelings may be open to interpretation and dissection, but the mood and tone of the film is definitely not. Humor finds its way throughout the film, in transition scenes of intense violin strings of impending doom for a startling affect - not to threaten but to take you a back in a surprisingly offbeat goofy manner. Östlund, however, sinisterly leaves you unbalanced by cutting into the next frame of the family loading onto a ski lift with a banality in tricking you to overlook its efficaciousness. It’s effective in its usage of establishing an irreverent wit to interplay with the tenuous chemistry between both leads, as to support the notion that something damaging is brimming within the marriage no matter how much of a brave face the family puts on to enjoy its thankless vacation. There is continual vapidity that encompasses the environment of the French Ski Resort. Östlund presents frames slyly but inhabiting a “less is more” approach. It’s more practical to show no emotion in the scenes, in the characters and also in the terrain of the beautiful window dressing around the hotel. Established close ups in the beginning of the film featuring loud booming canons jut out bellowing seismic sounds to stimulate the snow to create slopes for the skiers, are placed continuously to add an ominous thematic residual effect later on in the film. Östlund uses it as a device to keep the audience from feeling too comfortable in the film’s serenity to where when moments of genuine mettle is used to punch up the drama thereby holding the audience’s attention. This movie never wants you to feel completely comfortable, completely relaxed. It detracts the notion of being on vacation, just because the characters and it setting is on vacation, when In fact it’s the opposite. The audience is here to work. We are studying for the final exam, and Östlund intends to quiz us by the end of the movie – hence it’s peculiar open ending. This is what makes this picture intelligent: it falsifies its narrative intent to the characters by allowing the viewer to be in on the movie’s true meaning. Time is being manipulated. You presume that the family is on a week’s vacation, but you really don’t get a definite answer of what day it is or what day just passed. Time is irrelevant with this movie, because the motif of time would only fasten the contents within the frame which goes against the very essence of what Östlund is trying to capture in the stillness. He wants the film to make you just as stir crazy as his characters had become. With the diminished usage of calculable time, the movie is forcing Tomas and Ebba to have a resolution one way or another, forcibly wielding its power over them to a place of an over welcomed theme of foreshadowed confrontation.

Tomas, played by little known Swede actor Johannes Kuhnke, demonstrates a sympathetic, yet enigmatically pathetic man. Kuhnke, is genial, well groomed, but he’s not all there: sure he’s physically present, but he’s pretty much an empty wobbly chair for company’s sake. Östlund doesn’t really explore what his internal void is, or why Tomas reacted the way that he did. Was it an habitual act? Was it the first time he ever demonstrated this kind of cowardice? Did he finally decide this is my way out? These answers are never established, only presented in a straight forward yet beguiling manner. I was never frustrated by the lack of answers as much as intrigued by the gamut of evidence presented against him. I didn’t need confirmation as to where he was coming from or not coming from, I had Ebba to thank for that display of reactionary anger. I was more inserted in the my fascination of how both characters were going to come out on the other side of this conflict once this vacation is over. There is likability to Kunhke’s portrayal. He isn’t a cad as much as he is “caddish” at times, but he is really not a bad guy, just a bad husband and father, and unfortunately for Tomas that is how a man in his situation is judged. You want him to come up with a response to his laughable dastardly reaction in the beginning of the film, but he can’t. It’s apparent he is searching for the answer, but he either doesn’t have one, or can’t come up with one. Either way it’s not a good look. It’s obvious to any onlooker that he isn’t going to come out of this in any favorable light, and when he “mea culpas” himself, clinging woefully onto Ebba’s pajama bottoms, it’s still done in an emotionally forced manner which he can’t even get right or apologize in a convicted manner to where Ebba is satisfactorily convinced. Ebba doesn’t know what to do with him. She is stuck with this man. It’s apparent to the audience why these two work well even though they both don’t see it. She is the dominant, assertive, take action partner in the relationship – he is the opposite. She isn’t upset that he is who he is, as much as she is pissed on who he is at that moment. She wants something out of him that he cannot possibly provide, and with that comes her consternation. 

The complexities of the screenwriting and screenplay are maybe the best I have seen this whole year thus far. The director knows how to make obvious to the audience the film’s underlining issues without having to spoon-feed them. In one scene, Tomas and Ebba, have over a fellow tourist Swedish couple that at first glance seems to be a fine evening amongst adults. What turns from relaxed acquaintances and pleasantries becomes an inquisition directed from Ebba to Tomas, with the unsuspecting couple stuck in the middle like Malcolm. The man, feeling sorry for Tomas, tries to explain in his best reassured but ass-backward way of why Tomas reacted the way that he did during the opening scene’s avalanche. Ebba is not convinced, and neither is the man’s girlfriend. So now our good compatriot is also boiling like a red bearded Norse lobster in hot water. Later, in the following humorous scene, the couple in bed is now arguing, with the girlfriend questioning the boyfriend’s virtue, by judging him that he would probably do the same as Tomas, since he tried “rationalize” Tomas’ behavior, when all the boyfriend was innocently trying to do was shed some light on the situation. The correct answer my man is that there isn’t one to justify what Tomas’ did. Human condition has never been this easily understood and vastly dissected and showcased in any movie that I have seen in quite sometime. You comprehend the magnitude of the circumstances of the film with each character, each framed scene, with the way the film overall speaks to a pervasive realism in large part due to the depth the screenplay  and Östlund’s remarkable ability to execute it from script to screen. 

KEY SCENE
Wonderful opening scene – the scene of the crime if you will – "Papa! Papa! Papa!" screams his daughter as the ferocious avalanche comes thundering down the slopes changing the course of the film’s story to irrevocable uncertainty. Notice the movement in the scene. Notice how immediately Östlund sets the farcical tone, with a mix of dread and bemusement from the point of view of Tomas. Here you see what he does and doesn’t do, and the repercussions of his inabilities. The French waiter asks off camera, after the snow dust settles “are you okay?” Oh frenchie, you don’t know the half of it. Tomas comes back as if nothing happened, but Ebba sees all she needs to. The genius of this scene is the Tomas’ lack of self awareness beginning with telling his kids that the avalanche is created on purpose and not to be scared (as everyone around them is scurrying to leave) then only to come back and deny what Ebba and everyone else sees what he did – and we still find ourselves still kind of feeling sorry for him when he sure as hell doesn’t deserve it. 
CONCLUSION
I was happy when I saw this movie. It was high on my list of films to see this year, and it delivered by all accounts. It is excellent in its usage of smart writing, careful dialog and three dimensional characters. Östlund, a director prior to this movie, has never been on my radar, and his direction and visual touch is deft and sublime. He never over does it with this film to prove his filmmaking merits. He, unlike Tomas, is very self-assured in his ability. He won’t overpower you with caustic imagery or film school techniques. His effectiveness is knowing how to package a subject close to him, and deliver it, virtually in every aspect a film can give without being overly apparent or abundant of its own relevance into studying the thoughtlessness of human behavior. He chooses to neither explain or judge this, just admires his characters like a good Mike Nichols’ movie would but Östlund purposefully adds the European self-mocking depreciation that only added to the film’s greatness. Funny, atmospherically well shot, with a natural sense of touch, this film bravely demonstrates that it can turn the most innocent of situations on top of its head like a directionless skier down the very French Alps on the film’s location. Force Majeure, like the sliding intimidating avalanche, and the gust of psycho-bullcrap that metaphorically follows, is ultimately a force to be reckoned with. 
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3.5 out of 4

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<![CDATA[The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014)]]>Wed, 17 Dec 2014 02:12:14 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/the-tale-of-the-princess-kaguya-2014THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"Only now do I finally remember why I came here."
- Princess Kaguya
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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.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie is a rendition of an old Japanese Folktale from the 10th century titled “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” Adapted over countless times, this rendition was created by the storytelling maestro of Isao Takahata whose visuals I have come to respect over a revered filmography exemplified by the hallmark Grave of the Fireflies. The first thing that struck me about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is how dramatically different in animation style and design Takahata chooses. It immediately separates itself from other movies from Studio Ghibli. Where before the Studio Ghibli's uniformed animation and direction is classic Japanese with round big eyes, soft smooth textures, cartoonish but grounded fluidity, Princess Kaguya stands apart and is wonderful on the eyes. Immediately upon first sight the film separates itself allowing for definition of a wholly unique vibration with its animation that The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is its own separate entity of an animation film, and not part of a long anthology that is congruent or commonplace to its predecessors. It works alone, but also complements the catalog of films and production studio that it associates with.

The film’s world and picture frame is borderless. Frames are presented with no edges no lines, brushstrokes lend your eyes to the colorless, formless, corners but one could easily argue that there is a world beyond those barren borders challenging your logic that there could be nothing possibly there, but that is the point: this movie always proves its reality by not prescribing to yours. That is what is effective about its mythology. Takahata delivers his world with such confidence, that you believe this world actually exists and all others are only make-believe. The white outlines are frames to the picture allowing for the watercolors to bleed until its transparent existence dries sprayed out in its own colors.  But the borders are flourishes of unfinished art direction, showing that within its limits, we are dealing with a story that is by virtue - limitless. The white space allows for us to know that there is a great mystical unknowing that exists beyond the characters comprehension – with that there is an uncertainty of what "Little Bamboo" is purposed for. It’s open to interpretation depending on your vantage point and also to the individuality of the characters and their nominal attachments. You cannot trap “Little Bamboo” because she really doesn’t belong to anyone: she is adopted by the woodcutter and his wife, but they aren’t her real parents even though she loves them. She befriends and becomes affectionately close with a young man she grew up with named Sutemaru in which the relationship is starcrossingly remorseful at best, and her beauty which garners the attention many royal suitors never becomes theirs to behold regardless of each misguided attempt. The film objectifies her mostly in a way in which makes you understand her, sympathize with her but you find yourself never fully relating to her.

When she is first introduced "Little Bamboo" is ushered by a montage of her early stages of rebirth – she is immediately treated as a fascination, almost of superhero proportions, capturing a Japanses fairy tale that meshes cohesively with that of a post modern pop comic hero mythology. The fascinating thing with this film is that there is a lingering familiarity to the story’s processional delivery but it still remains fascinating and original, never stale. In a time in which audiences ask for new material, new stories and new ideas, this comes along entrenched in response to the feasted movie going clamoring that not only delivers, but delivers in ways that aren’t profound in its own historical reputation but careful in a manner that needs to be accepted on its own terms and not yours. The movie starts out with James Caan wonderfully voice acting as the wood cutter. On one of his typcial outings in the woods he comes across a glowing jade bamboo, and from inside it births a little girl. Immediately Caan’s woodcutter adopts her calling her “princess” without a trace of conscious. The child is not of this world and has powers that not only amaze Mr. and Mrs. Woodcutter but also inspire with a spirited release onto the  other people that come across her otherworldly brilliance. The first act builds up her character in its most origin form. I saw significant parallels to DC’s Man of Steel himself. Both are from another planet – both are adopted by earth parents – both are given a name (Clark and "Little Bamboo") and a alter ego (Superman and Princess Kaguya) and both have powers and come from a small rural almost innocent simple lifestyle and domesticity (Supes from Smallville and Kaguya from the woods). They both have responsibilities that they both are bounded by duties beyond their own self-interests. Kaguya is forced upon her father that she is to be of nobility (because the heaven’s said so – I mean what else do you do with a girl birthed in a tree). With the bamboo tree, the family receives silks, gold and other materials that convince the father that his “Little Bamboo” is from a higher divinity and therefore must be treated as such. Of course, she wants to stay back home and live in simplicity with her friends, but the father imprudently chafes, moving the family to the capital, and onto delusions of grandeur of rubbing their raw elbows with the elite in the name of Princess (just like Clark has a higher calling in help saving our planet by being a superhero, leaving his small town onto Metropolis). Like all origin stories dealing with heroes, or persons of mythical proportions there are heavy similarities between both but this is where its ends as far as Kaguya is concerned. 

Majority of the movie is anchored in the melancholy of Kaguya’s internal conflict of doing what’s right for her family (particularly, for her father) and what she personally wants to pursue in life but is not allowed to. As with all things fluently tied in Japanese culture, the film is a cautionary tale of honor and how one (Kaguya) reacts strangled by it and how others (suitors, her father) sometimes commit dishonor at the sacrifice of Kaguya for pure gratification. Moments are punctuated with a wonderful score. It can be dramatic flourishing with emotion and warmth, but also necessary when trying to enforce the mood of Takahata’s direction. For all of Kaguya’s never before seen style from a Studio Ghibli film, there were long periods of time in which the movie suffered in energy. I found myself wanting to latch onto something beyond the story’s visuals to where I could find myself overwhelmed by the sheer audacious attempt of the plot that could match that mesmerizing art and storyboards.

There were too many times in which Takahata would lose himself in showing every unnecessary detail, every nuance of the world he created that it came at the cost of a tighter presentation. Coming in at 2 hours and 17 minutes the story is too simplistic and rote to sustain that length of time in this movie. The production of the movie possessed a visual that was spectacular enough, characterized by dynamic action scenes time to time, but the story albeit epic in the folklore, found itself shouting aloud to my deaf ears. I felt as trapped in boredom at certain moments as Kaguya did in her royal court. To make matters worse, Chloë Grace Moretz (who I like tremendously) wasn’t the right actress. Her voice couldn’t capture a deeper intangibility a movie and role like this required. She came across more like a person reading lines, than a person becoming those lines. Her tweeny raspy tone of voice was ill-fitting onto the character and felt disappointingly out of place with the movie’s overall magic spell of the beautifully crafted world building it achieves. Moretz plays Kaguya in a straight forward manner. The character herself exudes a gracefulness and kind of approachable girl next door type where it’s not hard to empahtaize with her suppressions of making everyone around her happier than she could ever allow herself to be. It’s not hard to understand why Kaguya is special. Takahata does a wonderful job of making sure it happens no matter how hard Moretz’s voice tries to sublimate the character. With most of these animation movies, the challenge for actors is not to overshine the character they are voicing on the screen. It is harder not to put in a fine performance than it is to hand in a disfigured one; however, James Caan as the woodcutter and Kaguya’s adopted father was convincing. His voice was one of believability in which you could imagine that voice coming out of that two dimensional character. Caan, endowed in his timbre of concern, carefulness and domineering that casts a shadow on Mary Steenburgen’s role as the mother, or even Moretz. Caan inhibited the character in a way that was vital to the movie’s overall ethos to where the woodcutter is both the understandable good natured man and feudal Japanese stage mom. Without that conviction, the demonstration of a paternal excellence allocated to Kaguya all that he feels is existent but he is also taking away all the joy and happiness that made her fall in love with life in the first place. It’s his actions that irony rears its ugly head, and with that Caan “Falstaffs” the woodcutter to a place of mournful symphony conducted between actor, character and plot.

What’s really intriguing about the film is that those (like me) who are not familiar with the actual folklore itself, is kind of left in the dark of the realities on which the world holds its explanations. Its presentation is very meditative, and you grow with Kaguya as she is discovering what the world possibly holds and how she could very well steal it from its grasp. Because of the movie’s charm the audience doesn’t feel compelled to be let in on the secret of why this girl is in a bamboo and why its shits out gold coins like a super Mario brothers green pipe. You just go with it. You’re willing to be lead into its sumptuousness of how it’s being told, not why it's being told. This is also helped out because Studio Ghibli’s reputation of long standing quality of films. You never have to guess with them, just trust that you would be dropped off in the same place you were picked up when it started only more exhilarated - and Princess Kaguya for the most part gives you that. With Takahata withholding the truth from us you take it for granted as you are too occupied feasting on the art enticing you to plunge further in the movie’s mythology while abruptly being rewarded by the mystery of what Kaguya stands for and how that is representational to the audience and how she will be used towards the film's harrowing climax.

KEY SCENE
This scene is one of the more intense moments in this fairly light film. Close up on Kaguya shows her dread as she is fearful of the thought of marrying a potential suitor that she wants no part of. The music delivers a hammer of fractured emotions combined with wonderful animation, transporting the viewer into to the film’s reality relating a certain precursor of grief stricken melodrama in the most sincere of ways. She runs out of her house like a bullet train taking the sharp, broken animation with her in such a precise trained perspective, narrowing the tension and leading the eye as you are witness to a powerful experience because of the intimacy shared between you and Kaguya in the scene. Framed as a long tracking shot, shedding her clothes symbolizes her stripping all self doubt, anger, and negativity that she has bottled up inside her up to that point, leaving her no choice but to run setting up one of the better visual action scenes mixing art, motive, style and heartache. 
CONCLUSION
Princess Kaguya for all intents and purposes is a fine film that struggles with how to balance its disproportionate amounts of never before seen animation against a simplistic and at times lethargic adaptation. Takahata, after a long 15 year period, triumphs for the most part leaving you almost breathless from all of its uncanny visual wonderment helping to offset his decision of an unbearable run time, tangential narrative structure and lack of much needed energy. Had the movie been shorter in length and tighter with its pacing then it would had been a more, well-rounded, filmgoing experience. But it doesn’t really need to be for you to be awed by its splendor. It delivers with its visuals, original storytelling, engaging characters, putting The Tale of the Princess Kaguya over the top rewarding us in this stratospheric birthright of a Ghibli film. You won’t necessarily fall in love completely with this bamboo, but you will appreciate it long enough afterwards to not cut it down. 
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2.5 out of 4

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<![CDATA[The Babadook (2014)]]>Sun, 07 Dec 2014 07:22:13 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/the-babadook-2014THE BABADOOK (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
“Stop calling him boy, his name is Samuel”
– Amelia 
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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.

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
The Babadook, guided by the promising talent of its director, Jennifer Kent, is about the theme of challenges, and how one, when facing an suppressive challenge, reacts and possibly either overcomes it or succumbs to it. Kent, admitted that the more she went along the creative process, she found herself calling obvious attention to the fact that the script was turning into a horror movie, even though it wasn’t her initial intent. Kent wanted to focus on the theme of challenge by way of Amelia's character being a single mother, coping with the loss of her husband, and dealing with handling a young child on her own, while also maintaining a slippery handle of the truisms and stigmas of motherhood and the judgment a woman self-imposes on herself in trying to uphold to that social standard bearer. Kent treats Amelia’s experience metaphorically with the actual monster, “The Babadook.” It represents, subconsciously, what Amelia is experiencing between the loss of her soul mate: her spouse, the father to her child but the anger, resentment and frustrations that currently weigh her down in trying to deal with an unruly, but cute little shit of a son. There are real moments in the movie anchored by Essie Davis’ wonderful performance of Amelia, where you question if she really loves her son. Its very pliability is apparent upon the audience because of the richness and sympathy of Kent’s direction in capturing Amelia’s borderline hatred for Samuel. It’s not outright a given, but it’s lingering there for ample dissection. 

Kent’s idea for The Babadook came from her original piece of work, a movie short, titled Monster which stars Kent, and basically is a rough draft outline to Babadook's final term paper. Kent displays a reverence and intelligence to horror genres and clearly knows how to handle suspense, with spare takes, drawn out simplistic but heavy terse atmosphere that lingers to delight, without the cheap gimmick of scare tactics or monsters jumping out to manipulate the audience. She self admittedly doesn’t play for cheap thrills and doesn’t portend her imagination by patronizing the audience. She gives the audience the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t hand-hold you in her world where its terrors forcefully fills up the blank space. Direction is given to us in a polished, sustainable manner where Davis solemnly entices your eye in a plain, understated, and rebuking but generous manner. There is a strong preexistence of wonderful collaboration between Kent and Davis. They have been personal friends for over 20 years, first meeting in acting class to professional colleagues and eventually good friends. This lasting relationship forms an easy energy where it’s obvious that Kent’s words are breathing life into the very lungs of Davis’ delivery. To a certain extent, it speaks of a superfluous lockstep creative symbioses that made Kurosawa/Mifune, Allen/Keaton or Von Sydow/Bergman successful - unifying cerebrally to where it comes across like something that is beyond authentic, something seemingly more natural. The most fascinating thing about The Babadook is how polished its lens and camera work is. For an independent movie there isn’t any cheap feeling, like something was slapped together, because there wasn’t an available resource to Kent’s disposal. It’s actually the opposite. Kent films this movie with a certain cinematic economy. It doesn’t come at a sacrifice to the overall feel of The Babaook but there is a production simplicity in which Kent knew what to focus on and how to carefully develop the world in which the characters inhabit. By filming this horror movie in pretty contained close framed settings, we are treated to beautiful effortlessness in how we are challenged by the characters and Mr. Babadook himself, once Kent decides how to carefully present them in unison. The house itself is devoid purposely of any color; it is suppressive, not allowing for any meritocracy to be given to Amelia no matter how hard she is kicking ass at being a loving, willing mother. Hallways are grays, the grays stuck grimly on the walls have even darker grays, and the muted tones shroud every move and placement the camera fixes itself on. Streams of light are suffocating at best, shining dimly, streaking seldom in the house as if it requires permission to be there in the first place. There isn’t any pop of color in sight, outside of Amelia’s bright blonde hair as it tresses down her head in a lingering frayed shock. Terror permeates through the house in a deep and dampened way trapping both mother and son but aren’t aware of it – home sweet home, it comes across more of toleration and a necessity of limited means than they both are gripped by it, defying logic in leaving it. The house is characteristic and by way of extension embodies Amelia’s emotions signifying how she feels loss internally as each of Kent’s mise-en-scènes builds dread to a distillable intensity from one quick cut to the next. Kent’s biggest attribute towards this rewarding film, is how she is presenting the story is a multifaceted way, in which she doesn’t dictate what vantage point or whose sympathy you are supposed to follow or connect with. You start off sympathizing with Amelia, for having to deal with the son; feeling as if this movie is going to be like Lynne Ramsay’s eerie “We need to talk about Kevin” presenting itself as typical mother can’t figure out her son’s troubled behavior. However, this film switches its point of view, forcing you to sympathize both characters as they are reacting to the possible “Babadook,” to finally, your sympathy is toward Samuel, and his arc once Amelia finally has had enough. What separates this movie from other genre films is the complexities in which the characters are treated. They don’t fit archetypes and are developed by standard templates, but there is a realism of right and wrong, good or bad with how the actors, especially Davis, portray themselves. Kent was self aware enough to know that she didn’t want two dimensional characters. Davis was gifted with a wonderful character arc, starting the beginning of the film differently from where she ends up. In particular, Samuel, played by newcomer Noah Wiseman (in his first starting role) is raw; remitting an eventual likability as the movie progresses. He starts off as a child that you just want to throw off a bridge. Davis convinces of us this. You can tell Kent let Wiseman loose and told him to be as convincingly obnoxious as a kid. You can understand Amelia’s declining affection and possible last remnants of love dying through each establishing scene, but no matter how terrible the kid is, Kent doesn’t leave him out to dry. 

Kent, who recently won the New York Film Critics Circle as “Best First Feature” with this movie, handles the technical side with assurance and aplomb. She has a talent with carefully crafting suspense, with minimal nuanced payoffs and delivery, and her build up to the monster, regardless of expectations carries weight, and isn’t overbearing to where its preposterous, nor limp enough to where its weakly dismissive. Scenes are quickly moving. The movie never wrongfully lingers or overstays its welcome in expository moments, and holds tight, inching tension and fear with the right amount of hesitancy knowing that its building towards a payoff or if not the payoff, the layered impression will attribute to a grander one later in the film. She knows what she is doing with subject, with the transparency of the psychology of Amelia, and the guilt that haunts all parents, let alone mothers – just this movie is pumped up with a monster that is neither an antagonist, nor a fallacy – its real. The only underlining question is, how real? And who in the film decides if it is or not? We are never given an answer, and that is what separates this movie from other bloated, self induced mainstream retreads. 

Mr. “Dook” or “Baba”, is revealed from time to time, and the thought of him is terrifying because Davis and Wiseman do a convincing job of demonstrating their collective self-doubt (Davis) to outright fear (Wiseman) and vice versa. The monster, in an obtuse way, attacks the characters psyche in which to Kent’s intention is for Amelia and Samuel to act out of the norm, and grow as a result of the consequences. The Babadook is symbolic of everything that was wrong after Amelia’s husband’s death, and what is still wrong because of it: Mr. Babadook, is an emotion, a mood, a tonal crutch in which sorrow can manifest itself. This idealism of The Babadook is as jarring as the deep blood red hardcover book it’s sourced from. Amelia tries several ways to get rid of the book, but each time it comes back reassembled like a dyslexic arts and craft project. Once she decides to burn it, though, is when things get rough, and the movie takes off. 

Sometimes the movie would fall by the over indulged troupe-ish hallmarks that come fixated with the sub-genre of supernatural horror movies. These clichés neither added to the movie nor punished it to a shameful pander to hard core horror buffs. At times the built in elements would smack to glaring referential sheepish quality, as if Kent said “I need this in the movie, because this is what’s typical in horror movies, and my movie is a horror movie.” Lets run down the checklist. Scary two story town house? Check. Traumatizing event with husband’s death? Check. Her son wearing a school uniform? Check. Scary nosy elderly but lovable neighbor that knows too much on what goes in Amelia’s house and is friends with Samuel? Check. Scary book that somehow Samuel owns that isn’t designated as a gift receipt item? Check. Mother’s job working at a retirement home with despondent almost comatose senior citizens? Check. Mother watching scary retro programs at night succumbing to insomnia like Requiem for a Dream? Check! I admit, it was all done well, and fit within the narrative of the movie, but the movie isn’t constricted by these elements, nor didn't have to fall back on them to effectively set the mood. The screenwriting, direction and acting more than did that while also anchoring the conception of a thrilling monster exemplifying the movie’s gratitude towards the audience and the genre it represents. 

For all of the goodwill brought by this movie and to achieve so much winningly on such a small scale, the ending was real lackluster and unsatisfying. It didn’t betray anything that preceded it in the movie, but it also didn’t punctuate that fear and persuasion that Kent so diligently built up. It was too hallmark in its treatment, but did leave a resolution – just not one that I particularly cared for, but one nevertheless. Personally, it’s the ending that separated this movie from great, new age classics, doing for horror movies like The Raid: Redemption did for action flicks. This movie doesn’t even come close, but it’s so smart in its message and interwoven layering and the foundation was built on excellent direction in which the movie leads you to every corner and crevice of itself that you don’t know where you’re being led and you don't mind it. This is all forgivable regardless of how its ends because the industry with horror movies in particular are so devoid of any intelligence. Once something like this comes out, and comes out with such a small economical force in which the simple premise allowed for Kent’s daring aggression to meet the audience who want to digest anything remotely chilling regardless of whether its excellence is displayed for only three fourths of the movie. 

KEY SCENE
This scene is great because it exemplifies everything you need to know about this film: 1. The source of how The Babadook is introduced to the audience; 2. How the book itself sets the tone and is a great precursor on what to expect in the latter part of the movie; 3. How Samuel is an innocent little boy, sweet, just overbearing and 4. How the mother is processing everything that her son is warning her from the very beginning. You see Amelia’s concern not only as a parent but its representational in this scene on how she is finally giving The Babadook power, by believing in it, cautioned by it when it’s the last thing she needs to deal with. Davis does a wonderful job of trying to handle the situation, managing her own concerns along with her son’s troubled reaction to this book while also allowing us in on her character becoming affected by the sheer audacity of unnerving trouble presented on each treacherous page. 
CONCLUSION
I appreciate a good horror film but it’s not one of my favorite genres I naturally lean towards. However, I do hold dear to some movies that carry a dramatic gravitas busting through its horror movie category, and defining themselves on their own terms and conditions of how they want to be viewed and identified – like The Exorcist, Psycho or The Shining. Yes, they all have horrific, terrifying elements but they possess that extra cinematic power that separates them from the pack. Does The Babadook do this? Not really, but that doesn’t mean its desire to be put in the conversation can’t be held - it most certainly can. From Kent’s fascinating treatment, to her knowledge of touchstones of its genre to confidently delivering her vision by crafting wonderful fully realized character arcs and intricate layered storytelling, this movie is a terrifying punch in the face. Even with its lackluster ending, this movie still holds up and mostly delivers on its sinister promise of one part monster allegory to showcasing a woman’s torment of the maternal pressures of a single parent. Once you’re finished giving this movie a well deserved look you won’t want to get rid of this remarkable Babadook. 
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3 out of 4

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<![CDATA[Automata (2014)]]>Thu, 04 Dec 2014 03:09:39 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/automata-2014AUTOMATA (2014)
reviewed by Audy Elliott
"To die you have to be alive first."
– Banderas' Jacq Vaucan to robot 
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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.

KEYWORDS
Philosophical, derivative, uneven, schlocky, hazy, slightly imaginative, imitative, cheap 

THE GOOD
The movie’s theme of life
Tension of classic v. futuristic ideological motif
Design and character of robots

THE BAD
Uneven technical visuals
Ill-fitted film depth and dimensions
Lack of professional presentation in production, casting, writing and overall theatrical polish
Choppy narrative
Continuity issues

WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT
In a future where earth's ecosystem verges on collapse, manmade robots roam the city to protect dwindling human life. When a robot overrides a key protocol put in place to protect human life, ROC robotics insurance agent, Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas), is assigned to locate the source of the manipulation and eliminate the threat. What he discovers leads him, ROC Robotics and the police into a battle with profound consequences for the future of humanity. 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
This movie is director Gabe Ibanez’s, vision on the exploration of several separate theatrical science fiction subjects and how they intersect and the complexities caused by society’s over-reliance of machines to increase man’s life expectancy in a decaying world. First, life is a prevailing theme that presented in Automata. He is using life as a narrative tool, as a philosophical quandary, and as motivation for the movie's characters to become predetermined by their dependence of it in order to avoid their own mortality. Second, Ibanez tells his story by constructing it in an allegorical voice: the historical context of slavery and the different class systems naturally create an opinion on how his futuristic dystopia chooses to deal with it. Ibanez wants to explore this critique for not only dramatic purposes of slavery, but also study the causal reaction of history’s mistakes by way of robots as they are harbingers in this world’s futuristic uprising. Ibanez is selling his robots as if they are people. He asserts in his script that these robots can think, make independent decisions, and live a life where they are free from “slavery” and can “live” how they want without being chained against their enlightenment, in the form of built-in protocols, which override their absolute free will and serve as a failsafe due to humans' mistrust to empower a robot completely. The weight of the movie’s thesis comes from Ibanez exploring that very theme of life, and how it is applicable to the robots in this world. Also, life comes in the form of Vaucan’s pregnant wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) who is ready to have their child. As this is occurring, Vaucan, under orders from his boss to find the escaped robot, leaves her to handle the birth of their child without him. This gnaws at his conscience, and strengthens his resentment towards all robots. In the beginning, life is nearly extinct, as Ibanez’s script called for solar gamma rays to burn the earth's surface, decimating the human population, where the humans created the so called “Pilgrims” (servant robots) to go outside and cultivate for the survival of humans, with two commandments: 1) Preserve human life (which Vaucan will later regret) and 2) Do not modify themselves (good luck with them following that). Having failed to decertify the scorched earth, society no longer viewed the robots as saviors and decided to devalue the robots to perform service industry types of functions to a simple implication. The humans begin to harbor an anger, an expectant prejudice towards the robots since they are no longer purposeful and failed in the job they were created to do, and now a real motivation of the movie’s trappings developed through humans' inherent resentment towards the overrated robots in the most xenophobic way. This creates a haunting hatred that is evident seeing the first frame of Dylan McDermott’s greasy bearded crooked cop on the search for the same robot leader. He pulls his futuristic gun, squeezes the trigger without hesitation and blasts an unsuspecting look-alike robot, destroying it in a reckless brawny manner. This action strengthens the director’s choice that robots could possibly have life or should have life, creating the context that humans consider robots disposable and nothing more, when it’s obvious the movie wants you to feel differently.

Throughout the film, style and design lends itself like similar genre movies of classic architecture with a merging of futuristic voyeurism. The movie is built on rundown buildings, tattered roads, occupied by burnt out humans mired in unmitigated depreciation towards the future but the past stubbornly still lingers, remaining ever present. The city is rancid. It’s meant to be. It's marked with dangerous subterranean disgust that the director assimilates against classic, pristine almost angelic lighting to off-set the visuals from becoming too murky, too downtrodden. The city, like the philosophy of the movie, is representational of change, but not yet fully a metamorphosis. Change is treated more like a pause in the passage of time – the city itself, and like the movie, is having identity issues mirroring the robots and humans that inhabit it. This movie is reflected in the future, but doesn’t want to necessarily commit to changing from the past, conflicting in the struggle of relinquishing control to the robots even with the inevitability of it all coming quick. Old meets new. Old doesn’t passively relent to new, but old depends on new for its very existence or else face extinction. Ibanez creates and presents his robots in a well crafted, thoughtful manner. The robots are completely convincing and to a certain point, outside of Banderas' lead, the only other aspect of this movie that rates this plagiaristic movie passable by its limited originality. The robots have dimension: they carry feelings as best as robots can, but there is a real sympathy you attach yourself towards, as they are trying to move on with from their predicaments. One particular robot named Clio (a call girl robot used primarily for sexual deviant fetish acts for humans) finds Vaucan. She is representational of a woman whose robotic soul can be saved. It can be because she thinks she has one that needs saving to begin with. She is built with all the curves a woman of that ilk would or could have, plastered with a vast emptiness for a mask, rounded lips and perfect cheekbones. Her hair is cut bluntly, with lined bangs that hang where they are supposed to. She helps Banderas find his robot. She is equal parts threatening and non-threatening, but ultimately underutilized. She was potentially the most interesting element in the movie. Banderas finds her interesting and appealing but nothing more than an advanced toaster with sexy parts. He feigns fascination towards her but only in passing. In the trailer, Ibanez calls himself a visionary, but how can one be a visionary when most of this environment and set design was from other, better, more rewarding sci-fi films? For the most part, Ibanez’s world is one big Neill Blomkamp wet dream. The city, with China girl holograms outside of Banderas’ burnt out condominium window, blatantly scream Blade Runner, even down to the same type of Deckart trench coat Banderas’ Vaucan uncomfortably wears. There is imitation and then there is this. Also compounding the sloppy mess of the uneven special effects was the discrepancy of the authenticity of filmic depth between foreground and background. In order to create Ibanez’s futuristic pot stew, the foreground was shot live, with a cheap green screen in the background to give the illusion of a bigger world than there actually was. I understand the movie didn’t have an enormous budget, but the incongruities of the visual effects were offensively shoddy. The film was cloaked so badly in amateurism with its production, actors, sets and screenplay that it forced Banderas to stick out like a sore thumb. He was head and shoulders above the rest of the production it gave off the perception he possesses a greater acting stature than he really does. This isn’t Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, but in this movie one would be hard pressed not to watch him in that light. You couldn’t help it since he was the producer that helped the film get made in the first place. Banderas, to his credit, was strong and viable enough that regardless of how audiences have seen him before, his characterization works in this film. He is not asked to do anything beyond what he brings to the table. Ibanez wants the bells and whistles of the world, the robots, and the theology of his world to entice you – but it’s really Banderas' natural charisma that earns your trust, not Ibanez’s cinema aspirations. Banderas harnesses a seriousness that makes you believe in the character, the situation, and how Vaucan will react given the unforeseen circumstance. He portrays a solemn and pensive lead. This is the most hardened I’ve seen his acting. He shaves his head, rarely looks anyone in the eye, and pushes forward with contempt, bravado, while remaining virtuous to the task at hand no matter how diluted the movie is.

Insightful dialogue and lines are delivered in a clunky manner that echoes the movements of the robots. Not only did Ibanez fail the direction of the film, he also failed at writing a compelling screenplay. He had a lot of promise and talent to work with: from the science to the humanistic allegory to the actual definition of “life” and how that can be applied to this world from his vantage point - but it was all wasted because he couldn’t get what was most important right - narrative structure. Case in point, in science fiction movies, the world plays just as big of a part in telling the gravity of the size and scope of that director or creator’s world. It’s what helps sell the narrative on how time is affected, and how it’s handled itself in being affected by that very same future. George Lucas’ Star Wars, in particular Episodes 4 through 6 treated his universe that exhibited a uniquely built characteristic in another galaxy; his world was light years beyond our time. What Lucas decided to do was not make things pristine, immaculate or even totalitarian like his THX 1138, he chose to depict a future that was for the most part, uneventful, ramshackled, or woefully rundown. He wanted the future to show just how awful the galaxy had become with a bunch of assholes in a ship for a planet running things – which was into intergalactic shithole, or the galaxy equivalent America's rust belt. Lucas’ world was singular in its presentation and had a built-in visual narrative that agreed to the kind of film he was making. Automata doesn’t do that. Outside of ripping off Blade Runner’s gotham sewer drain of electro-pop, jumping to the characters occupying in shanty’s outside of the city like a bad District 9, Ibanez is painting us a picture with other people’s brushes seen before with better tones and mediums. This isn’t influences afflicting this picture, because there is no homage being exercised. This film was drawn by a director that saw what he liked and figured to utilize it and put his robots and intellectual premise in it, hoping that audience’s would overlook the connection by being immersed in the awe of the robots he created. It would have been better had he paid homage to these films, but the movie gets stuck due to its lofty ambitions and self-reverence for not knowing how to ultimately borrow something from a far superior film and make it his own. 

KEY SCENE
This scene, when viewed on its own without the context of the entirety of the movie, looks good but it’s really fool’s gold at the end of the day. Alone, this movie looks well crafted, and to an underwhelming extent it slightly is. When Ibanez puts the whole thing together that is when the amateurism and the director’s over ambitions disobey your trust. The scene encapsulates Vaucan as he finds himself in less than ideal circumstances, where rationality of the robots overcomes his irrationality in wanting to go back home as home is out of the question. Irony is at play here as it’s the very same protocols to protect the humans that is the very same dialog that could possibly kill Vaucan. Furthermore, you get a striking visual of Clio and what makes her fascinating and intriguing, almost trivializing the scene and Vaucan’s petulant reactions within the frame.   
CONCLUSION
The best compliment I can give this movie outside of Banderas’ relatable performance, and the design and realism of the actual pilgrim robots, is the vast potential this movie embodies. Mostly derivative, and without a well founded bridge to merge a seamless schism of Ibanez’s ideas with compelling storytelling, Automata virtually fails on all levels. When viewed in snippets like the key scene or one of the trailers, this movie looks more than legitimate, hence why I had an interest to even review this movie; but framed as a whole, it clangs and clunks, like the downcast robots it follows as they traverse through a grueling thirty minute desert scene accompanied by a then already fed up Antonio Banderas. Afflicted with a choppy narrative, nonsensical ending, fundamental continuity issues and a weak cast highlighted by a cameo from Banderas with then wife, Melanie Griffith (playing a scientist out of all professions), this movie is recognizably silly and ultimately delusional in its attempts to be a game changer. As I finished watching this movie I found myself hoping for a third protocol: protect my eyes from ever having to watch this again. 
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1.5 out of 4

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<![CDATA[White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)]]>Mon, 17 Nov 2014 03:41:14 GMThttp://cinemasamurai.net/movie-reviews/white-bird-in-a-blizzard-2014WHITE 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.
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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. 

WHAT THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT
White Bird in a Blizzard wants to be more interesting and maybe even revelatory than it actually is – but never quite reaches that level. It wants you to believe in the change Kat is going through sexually and what that must be like when having to deal with her mother’s vanishing at the same time. Separately, these events aren’t anything new to the movie screen but together – perhaps a promising story could have been told. It’s possible the book had a more interesting approach in melding these poignant moments in one’s life (not having read the book) – unfortunately, the movie had no such luck.

The shortcomings of this movie first come from the casting. Eva Green as Eve Conner, the mother, was completely unbelievable. Her acting left so much to be desired, instead coming across incredibly empty and forced. Even in moments where the character is in a happier point in her life (shown through flashbacks), you can’t ignore the unconvincing taste in your mouth. The father follows suit. Played by Christopher Meloni, Brock Conner is an amiable and simple man. His character is supposed to evoke empathy but again, falls short (problem with the script or Meloni’s acting?) and we’re left with what comes across as a sorry attempt to promote emotion. Rounding out the top tier actors of this film is Shailene Woodley as Kat Conner, their daughter. I can’t say I’m the biggest Woodley fan but have seen her turn it out in superb films like The Descendants so I did hope for something I could latch onto when it came to her screen time. I’m sorry to report this choice in role felt like a step backward. I saw the same wooden performance I noticed in the other two – that and toplessness. Quick side note: let’s talk about nudity in film. I don’t mind it when it feels natural or heightens the mood or scene in someway. However, when the scene is so obviously framed and the actors are staged so specifically so as not to cover a breast, it takes away from the overall importance of the scene and replaces it with a robotic quality. I never believed Woodley as this sexual creature, hungry for more. I saw her trying to act and wanting me to believe this character was going thru this period in her life. Who knows, maybe Woodley was unconvinced of her character’s motives and feelings herself. And then there’s the list of throwaway side actors Araki didn’t know what to do with (Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe) and the sad interpretation of the 80s as a backdrop (pump up the Tears for Fears – we’re in the 80s now!).

The story starts off promising: Kat’s relationship with her mother waning as she became older, coinciding with her budding sexuality, in turn rivaling that of her mother’s. We’re supposed to be convinced of Kat’s coming-of-age sexuality thru her relationship with her boyfriend, Phil, and all the sex they’re having and how much she talks about it when she’s not having it. Oh but if that’s not enough for you to believe in her blossoming sensuality, maybe you will it when she seduces the detective (played by Thomas Jane) assigned to her mother’s disappearance case. Just a poor attempt in reminding the viewer that she is this sexual being who wants to get some booty wherever she can - unconvincingly, by the way. The detective fling was outright creepy and gross.

 The relationship between Kat and her mother becomes strained so when Eve vanishes, Kat’s response isn’t one of worry but relief. She is set free from the unexplainable strange behavior her mother was exhibiting soon before she went missing. Now, she and her father could live in a sense of peace and treat the vanishing of her mother as just that – a vanishing. Except for those pesky dreams Kat is haunted by of her mother (which, feel extremely misplaced with their artistic nature amidst such a flat reality) but dismisses them, even after going to therapy, and continues to go thru life, seemingly unmarred by this event. That is, until she returns home from college, drudging up feelings she thought were buried deep within her. Apparently, the disappearance of her mother has made an impact and soon enough, the truth is revealed. This obvious truth isn’t shocking by any means nor is the American Beauty-esque twist. Can you call it a twist when you saw it coming? At most, the ending will evoke a poor excuse for a jaw drop, which, could be mistaken for a yawn.

KEY SCENE (NSFW)
Eve barges into the bathroom after Kat has finished her shower and is inspecting her changing body and curves. It’s a poor excuse for a nude scene in which we see more staged Woodley boob action. This scene lacks the uncomfortable or confused state that comes with accepting your changing body and instead focuses solely on boobs. If I remember correctly, puberty includes a lot more than boobs. Kat startles Eve by barging into the bathroom proceeds to ask her if she loves her boyfriend and continues her drunk-induced babble about not ever loving her father. The scene ends with Kat angrily barging out, yelling at her mother to talk to someone else about her problems. This clip encapsulates the movie perfectly: boobs and hot air.
CONCLUSION
I have to admit – I have no idea why this film was made. Did it fall victim to a poor adaptation, truly making the case for why books are usually better than the film version? Or, was the acting to blame, leaving us empty and without feeling? There was no substance or suspense within the film, instead, it was filled to the brim with half-hearted attempts. And maybe that’s it – the film just took what a bunch of other movies have already done and tried to recycle them into this one. The film, overall, was amateurish and without feeling. There was no real sense of urgency in finding out why Eve went missing, no one cares Kat is a nympho (or wanting so badly to be one). There was no attachment to any of the characters, nor do we care what happened to them. None of the tired themes in the movie left any impression on the viewer. It was just booooring. I guess this white bird got caught in the blizzard and needs a fuckin’ snow plow, STAT.
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1 out of 4

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