Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Before we get in to the big end of the year wrap-up in a few weeks, let's take a look at some of the films from 2015 that I wasnt able to write about at length but still enjoyed...

The best thing about Junun, PT Anderson's documentary that chronicles the recording of the Shye Ben Tzur/Johnny Greenwoods/Nigel Godrich collaborative album of the same name, is that it's unlike anything he's ever made. That's not saying it's the best thing he's ever made (because it isn't) but it's still a breath of fresh air within the world of PT Anderson. There's no Altman references or borrowed shots from classic American 70's cinema. There isn't even much of a narrative (or talking) outside of musicians recording & drawing inspiration from their surroundings - the Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan, India (prior to Junun this tourist attraction was best known in the world of film as the backdrop for the prison in The Dark Knight Returns). The music within Junun is the real "dialogue" in the film.

PTA takes the cliche dream of the musician going off to an isolated place in a far off country to record, and he makes it an enjoyable experience in under 60 minutes. I feel like had most directors set out to document Junun it would have been an extra feature on a DVD rather than a (short) feature, but Anderson managed to pull a unique standalone project.

Instead of focusing on the key musicians like Greenwood & Godrich, PTA focuses mostly on the singers & musicians from the area in a non-fetishized/fascinated westerner kind of way.
Although the film mostly highlights analog recording and vintage instruments, that signature Radiohead sound (a combination of digital & analog) definitely rears its head at certain points in the film in an organic way (at the 24:20-ish mark there's a great sequences that combines old traditional music with a computer-driven electronic baseline).
I get a slightly bigger bonner for a film like this as I also make music and can be a studio rat from time to time. I love the combination of old/vintage gear & new/computer-driven equipment (artists like Holy Fuck, Animal Collective/Panda Bear, Antipop Consortium & Black Dice are some groups that come to mind when I think of masterful combinations of old/dated equipment mixed new technology).

I'm sure a small handful of PT Anderson fanatics will try to make Junun out to be more than it is but at the end of the day it's certainly worthy of an honorable mention on a 2015 movie list).

White God
I went and saw White God with two good friends of mine who happen to be dog owners, so the emotions were a little heightened in certain parts (that fact alone makes this films success on some level). Any time a dog in the film experienced some type of emotional or physical abuse, I could sense my friends on each side of me cringing and/or looking away in discomfort. The montage where our protagonist dog is transformed in to a fight dog is incredibly hard to watch. And I don’t even own a dog. So imagine what it’s like if you’re a “dog parent” watching a scene of another dog getting strung up by its neck or beaten in an effort to “toughen” it up. So while White God isn’t the master work that some critics said it was, it’s still a worthwhile movie. If not for nothing, the crew behind White God deserves a little extra credit for crafting a film that kind of rested on of the shoulders of shelter dogs. I don’t know if some of you are familiar with the psychology behind some shelter dogs but they aren’t always the most trusting animals (rightfully so). While White God has absolutely nothing on a movie like Roar (a film that saw actors working alongside untrained lions & tigers), it’s still pretty impressive to make a successful movie with a cast of mostly untrusting & abandoned (wild) animals. The lead dog in particular gives one of the greatest animal performances in the history of cinema (his movements & expressions are incredibly humanistic).

In White God we follow "Lili" and her dog “Hagen”. After Lili’s father refuses to keep a dog in his home, he drives the dog far off to another part of the city and for the rest of the film we watch Lili & hagen try to find they're way back to each other (throughout their journey various forces get in the way of their reunion).

The thing is, for me at least, White God gets its points across long before the movie even reaches the half way mark – animal abuse is terrible, the world can be an ugly place, and the bond between a dog and it’s owner is unlike any other type of bond (personally, I’m a cat person but I do recognize how much more loyal & friendly dogs are over felines). For the rest of the movie things kind of drag on and get a little repetitive. The exploration of friendship, animal abuse and the idea of turning a mirror on society so it can take a look at itself is hardly uncharted territory. With hints of everything ranging from the obvious White Dog & Cujo to Milo & Otis, White God sort of melds together elements of various genres (the title, a play on its spiritual predecessor White Dog, isn’t as controversial as it sounds). On the surface things starts out like a family-oriented drama about the relationship between a young girl and her dog “Hagen”. Then the film focuses primarily on the dog and his journey to get back home (Milo & Otis). After that, the tone completely shifts in to a sort of social commentary on how ugly the world can be and how easy it can corrupt a naive/blank vessel like a loyal canine (White Dog). And by the end of the film we’re waste deep in to a lowkey horror movie where dogs have completely taken over a city and are out for blood (Cujo). 

White God is an enjoyable movie at the end of the day. The only reason I haven’t been raving about it like I have other films is because of what I said earlier – the plot is a mixture of material we’ve all seen in movies before. I think I found certain parts to be funnier than they should have (the scene where the dogs murder the evil dog fighter comes to mind) but it’s still a success. Actually, certain scenes bring about reactions in me that I think the filmmakers wanted to evoke in an effort to challenge the audience. Take the scene I just mentioned where a gang of dogs murder one a guy. I honestly found joy in the fact that a dog abuser got killed by a gang of dogs. But it goes without saying that I shouldn’t find pleasure in seeing someone get killed no matter how bad of a person they are. I’m kind of playing in to that ugly way of thinking that the film is sort of shaking its finger at.
This will definitely come up again in my year-end review.

Not gonna lie – I thought Room was going to fall somewhere between a well made lifetime movie with good actors, and full-on Oscar bait. I’ve said it before on here and I’ll say it again – I can be a judgmental prick when it comes to film and my prejudgment with Room was yet another example of this. I was wrong. I definitely had my internal judgy thoughts thrown back in my face as Room deserves all the praise it’s been getting.
What I appreciated so much about Room is that films with incredibly heavy subject matter tend to focus on the story & performances (which is important) while leaving behind style & ambiance, but that wasn’t the case here. And by style & ambiance I don’t mean that Room is supposed to be some stylized-looking Michael Mann film. But a film like Room needs to convey the grit & ugliness that comes along with being trapped in a shed for 7 years, and it certainly does that. There’s also some cool little metaphoric moments, for folks that like that kind of stuff, which really stuck out to me. When Jack first leaves the shed in an effort to get help, that scene is almost like his second birth as he’s seeing the (outside) world for the first time. Room also has a lot in common with Michael (2012). Both films, which deal with an abducted protagonist held against their will, show the claustrophobia of being trapped in a tight space along with the fear of being a prisoner.

There are a few angles one could take that could pick apart certain aspects of the movie but if you allow that level of nitpickiness to seep in then you won’t be able to enjoy anything. If you’re prone to cry at the movies then this will more than likely bring on the water works as it deals with everything from (the obvious) abduction, rape & crushing isolation to sever depression, hopelessness & PTSD. The film doesn’t take these issues lightly. Room is a realistic portrayal of the aftermath of a traumatic experience) and it doesn’t handle the characters with kid gloves.

I’ve said it on here a few times this year and I’ll say it again – reality mixed in to fiction seemed to be the general theme in prominent films this year, and Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth is just another example. In the film Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel & Jane Fonda (in a brilliant three scene appearance) all play aging entertainers (a music composer, a movie director and an actress respectively) reflecting on their respective careers while vacationing in Switzerland. Youth has the same vibe of Sorrentino’s previous work in terms of basic plot and overall look (Michael Caine’s look is practically modeled after Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo). Like Great Beauty, Youth is another look at upper-class/well off artists coming to grips with getting old while looking back on life which naturally bring up a few skeletons here & there. Caine’s “Fred” is forced to accept the fact that he wasn’t a good husband or father, while Keitel’s “Mick” has to come to terms that he has fallen off as a filmmaker. If you’re a diehard Harvey Keitel fan like I am, then Youth will definitely hit you right in the gut (mostly towards the end). Like Forest Whitaker in Abel Ferrara's Mary, Keitel’s performance in Youth is fairly tame until the final act of the film when he suddenly lets loose and just hits a homerun (Keitel’s performance in the last third of Youth is some of the best stuff he’s done since his resurgence in the early 90’s).

Youth (along with the release of The Lobster this year) also opened my eyes to how great Rachel Weisz is (I never had anything against her or ever thought she wasn’t a good actress but 2015 was an eye-opening year for me).

Forbidden Room
Forbidden Room is a mixtape of everything ranging from Maya Deren to early Bunuel (Guy Maddin even references his own films in this). There's tons of blended/overlapping imagery, off-kiltered moments and triumphant music. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it can be enjoyed by any & every cinephile. You may love Los Olvidados or Persona but that doesn't guarantee you'll love this. Hell, you may want to approach Forbidden Room with caution even if you're just a casual fan of Maddin. Much like what Inland Empire & Eraserhead is to David Lynch (total & complete self indulgence), Forbidden Room is the equivalent to Guy Maddin. This is Guy Maddin with almost no filter. Now...if you're a diehard fan of his work and/or the type of experimental films played at Anthology Film Archives on a random Tuesday night - then this is right up your alley. I'm a Guy Maddin fan so let me preface that what I'm about to say is meant to be a compliment - the vibe of Forbidden Room feels like the product of an intelligent person staying up all night then having to write a thesis paper in under 24 hours. Sure, there's some misspelled words within the body of the document and possibly some coffee stains on some of the pages, but it still gets its point across to the appropriate audience.

There is a plot (a heroic lumberjack sets out to rescue a kidnapped woman), and some obvious themes are explored (masculinity, sanity and the importance of dreams & nightmares). But Forbidden Room is such an overwhelming film - both visually & sonically - that you may find yourself forgetting about the plot and just zoning out to the moving images on the screen in front of you. Even the ensemble cast is a little overwhelming. While there are a handful of consistent characters that we do follow from beginning to end, there are also familiar faces that appear out of nowhere for a few minutes and then they disappear for the rest of the film (I while say that Maddin does tie all the characters together in the end). 

Side note - it's always a pleasure to see Adele Haenel in anything even if it is a non-speaking role.

This is an experimental feature so don't expect everything to feel polished or "safe". If you appreciate silent film, the ambiguous moments of a film like Clean, Shaven along with obscure Kids In The Hall sketches - then this is a movie for you.


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