Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE LOBSTER


I'm not quite sure why The Lobster was described as strictly a drama prior to its release (I read more than a few seemingly legitimate sources late last year that described it as such). There are certainly a few heartbreaking moments, and the film does take an unexpected dark turn in the final act, but overall it's a dark comedy. Or perhaps "dramedy" is a more accurate label. The overall premise is too silly to be taken seriously no matter how straight-laced & (intentionally) dry the actors played their parts.
In The Lobster we follow "David" (Colin Farrell) - A somewhat introverted middle-aged architect whose just been dumped by his lady. This is a problem because he exists in a dystopian society/unintentional reworking of Logan's Run where humans are required to be in romantic relationships. Being single is not only frowned upon but if you haven't found a mate within a certain time frame you're turned in to an animal (of your choice) by the nameless Orwellian government that controls everything. David is sent off to a sort of "forced dating retreat" in order to find love but instead all he finds are equally desperate people trying not to be turned in to animals (we discover early on that one of David's family members has been changed over in to a dog).

See? The premise is pretty silly, isn't it? The ambiance & color palette of The Lobster is very cold & drab (much like Alps) but what goes on in most of the film is comedy. Dry & twisted comedy but still comedy nonetheless (Lanthimos jokingly blamed the drab color palette on the particular section of Ireland that served as the film's backdrop but I thought The Lobster looked almost identical to Alps which was shot in Greece).

After a failed relationship attempt with a coldhearted women, David eventually finds compatibility in the form of a nameless woman (Rachel Weisz) living with a society of outcasts off in the woods. Problems soon arise for David and the woman as their relationship is forbidden. Will their love prevail, or is their relationship doomed?

Ariane Labed (left) & Yorgos Lanthimos (center) at the Q&A last night

Adults sometimes put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to finding love to the point where they become desperate. The motions that some of the characters in The Lobster go through to find a partner is an obvious not-so subtle comment on the idea of speed dating which, in my opinion, is rooted in desperation on some small level. I understand the purpose behind speed dating but the idea that strangers are essentially rushed to meet each other under the setting of a date is a little weird to me (no offense to anyone who found a lasting relationship through speed dating. I certainly don't want to downplay the positive aspects that can come from it).



I imagine some fans of Dogtooth & Alps are worried about Yorgos Lanthimos making the transition to English-language cinema as it may compromise his style or just not "work" in the vein of Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights or Park Chan Wook's Stoker (I know those films have their fanbases but at the end of the day they were pretty disappointing when compared to the films that came before them). I had my own reservations. John C Reilly's presence worried me because he's starting to become a doofy caricature of himself more & more which can distract from a film (there were definitely shades of that in The Lobster but Reilly was tolerable overall). But rest assured that Lanthimos' dry semi-surreal fucked up humor is all over The Lobster. In one scene we see a donkey get shot in the head execution style and we're supposed to find it funny. In another scene David/Farrell kicks a little girl in the shin. And like with all of his films, there's plenty of goofy/awkward dancing (I'm still not certain if Yorgos played up his particular style a little bit now that he has a larger audience).

I asked Yorgos Lanthimos if he looked at The Lobster as an extension of Alps (I feel like both stories exist in the same cinematic universe). While he doesn't share my spectrum-brained fascination with connecting every movie in existence, he did acknowledge that there are quite a few similarities between both films. With The Lobster Lanthinos continues to explore themes concerning identity (Alps) and the false meanings we sometimes put on things (Dogtooth). Dogtooth & Alps fans should also find comfort in the fact that Yorgos regulars Ariane Labed & Angeliki Papoulia shine in their supporting roles (not to take anything away from Farrell, Weisz & Ben Winshaw as they all give solid performances as well).

This feels like is a natural progression for Yorgos Lanthimos. No matter how many similarities there are to his previous work, he's still trying his hand at a completely new genre (science fiction) and exploring new ways to tell a story (this is his first film to use both voiceover narration and a traditional film score). And for an Orwellian science fiction film, I though it was cool that he embraced nature instead of storm troopers, claustrophobic settings & pretentious-looking modern architecture (basically...he didn't try to copy Terry Gilliam's Brazil like so many others have in the past).

The Lobster may not be for everyone but if you're a fan of the aforementioned films like Dogtooth & Alps (along with obscure Monty Python sketches or Rick Alverson's The Comedy), want to see Colin Farrell step outside of his comfort zone, and appreciate dark & subtly quirky humor - then I highly recommend this.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

UNCLE JOHN (CutPrintFilm.COM)

I had the pleasure of watching & reviewing Steven Piet's feature film debut; Uncle John for cutprintfilm.
Check out the review when you have a moment and support this film if it's playing at a theater near you...

enjoy (click picture to go to review)

http://www.cutprintfilm.com/reviews/uncle-john/

Monday, September 14, 2015

AMY


Amy Winehouse is probably the last (good) pop artist to have a connection with (good) hip-hop music, so this documentary did kind of strike a chord in me (some might make a case for Justin Timberlake or Joss Stone, but not me). I became a fan of Winehouse after listening to her album “Frank” which used some of the same samples & beats as Nas’ God Son album (both artists worked with producer Salaam Remi)…



While collaborations/relationships between Christina Agiulera & Redman or Justin Beiber & Lil Wayne seemed a little forced, Amy Winehouse’s relationships with the likes of Nas (who was strangely not present in this documentary), Mos Def and a pre-Jimmy Fallon Roots seemed a little more organic (side note – anyone find it strange that The Roots played the fictitious talk show house band in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled then ended up being the real house band for Jimmy Fallon’s talk show exactly a decade later?). Sure, Mos Def & The Roots aren't my all-time personal favorite artists (I haven’t loved a Roots album since Things Fall Apart) but they still have an authenticity that a lot of hip-hop artists (on a large platform) don’t.

And lets be honest – any pop singer/non hip-hop artist that wants to prove they’re “down” with rap music or hip-hop culture always loves to namedrop post-’99 Outkast Andre 3000 or Busta Rhymes (no disrespect to either artist but those guys and their personas are a bit “safe” to site). 
Although troubled, for reasons that this documentary delves in to, Amy Winehouse seemed like a pretty authentic person (bratty, self-destructive & complicated too) so it makes sense that she would align herself with other authentic artists even if they were outside her genre.

While Amy isn't exactly a “groundbreaking” documentary in the vein of Stories We Tell, Pina, Leviathan or The Act Of Killing (a few recent films I personally feel are keeping theatrical documentaries alive) it still isn't formatted like a boring/run of the mill music documentary that’s 50% interviews/50% concert footage. A large majority of the film is made up of archival footage took by family & close friends, personal pictures, old audio recordings and even old answering machine messages left by Amy (style-wise Amy is similar to recent documentaries like Black Power Mixtape or Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine). What I appreciated most about Amy is that we actually saw her love of (all) music (filmmakers often forget to focus on what makes a musician stop wanting to be just a fan and become a contributor).
Director Asif Kapadia also made it a point to focus on the music (sonically, Amy sounded like a music engineer worked on the film). You wouldn’t think from watching the trailer but even though this is an incredibly intimate film, it's still very much a “big” theatrical experience (not saying it cant be enjoyed on a laptop or phone, but seeing this big makes it worthwhile).


Before her untimely death, Amy Winehouse was making unsavory headlines for a good five years. If you spent a semi-decent amount of time on social media or just reading a newspaper, you’d know this even if you didn’t listen to her music. Asif doesn’t spend a good part of his movie shining a spotlight on that aspect of her life (although there are certainly a few montage sequences that chronicle her tabloid escapades). Instead he focused more on her demons and, more importantly, where they came from. Her story isn't that much different from a Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin or Kurt Cobain. The tortured/troubled artist isn't anything new. But very few films delve deep in to the root of the problem (even a great film like Last Days doesn’t get too deep in to the “who/what/when/why” of Kurt Cobain’s depression). And, like a lot of tortured/troubled folks, the root of Amy’s problem, in my opinion, were her mother & father. Amy does not paint the most flattering picture of her dad. In the first half of the film he’s made out to be this emotionally unavailable part-time dad and in the second half he comes off like this opportunistic enabler. Obviously editing went in to how he was portrayed but there’s enough factual evidence (documentary or not) that makes it hard to not give him a side eye. I mean really – if your daughter damn near overdoses and requires numerous interventions, why would you continue to push her to perform (…make money) instead of going to rehab? And I know some folks might roll their eyes at the age-old exploration of the relationship between the unavailable dad and the insecure daughter, but the father/daughter relationship is an important & complicated one that I imagine goes deeper than most films have dared to go. I don’t want to use this review to bash Amy Winehouse’s father, but I’m almost certain anyone who sees this will come out judging him in the end.


128 minutes is a nice chunk of time to dedicate to any movie, let alone Amy Winehouse, so there is a level of dedication you need in order to sit through this, but the payoff is certainly worth it. Amy does carry some of the intimacy of a documentary like Stories We Tell and Asif manages to fit an entire life in to one film without really skipping much (no matter how short-lived Amy Winehouse’s life was, that’s still a difficult task).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THE CINEMA OF BRUNO DUMONT TOLD THROUGH IMAGES & STILLS



You can never just enjoy a Bruno Dumont film. There's always some level of struggle or frustration that comes along with the viewing process. I've never heard anyone refer to his movies as "ok" or "pretty good". His stuff is usually considered terrible or masterful. There is no middle ground. You either love Bruno Dumont or you hate him. Even I'm a big fan of his work and there's still a few films that really frustrate the hell out of me (Flanders & Hadewijch).
But that's what I love about him. Bruno Dumont always leaves me feeling intrigued, pleasantly confused & wanting to talk about cinema with my friends (Camille Claudel, 1915, Hors Satan & L'il Quinquin are some of my personal favorites of the decade so far).


While the images in this article certainly represent the cinema of Bruno Dumont, I highly suggest checking out my individual reviews of his films to gain an even better understanding of his work.




THE HOLY SPIRIT
From the titles of his films and how they’re promoted (The Life Of Jesus & Hors Satan) to all the shots of his characters praying on bended knee (Camille Claudel, 1915, Hors Satan Hadewijch) – it’s clear Dumont's relationship with God goes deeper than simple fascination (although Dumont claims to be an atheist, I don't think you can make the kinds of films he does and not have some kind of relationship with God). 
We often see his characters take the form of Jesus on the cross (L'il Quinquin & Hors Satan) or struggle with some kind of torturous relationship with Christianity or Catholicism (Hadewijch & Hors Satan).
Both Camille Claudel's brother and Celine (Hadewijch) truly believe they have a personal relationship with God when in reality they're both a little disturbed.
In Hors Satan we follow a mysterious drifter who takes up residence in a small French town. In the first half of the film he helps out a young girl that's being abused by her father (we never actually see the abuse but we're lead to believe that's what's going on). Later on he heals a young bedridden girl who appears to be possessed (he even starts to gain "disciples" at one point in the film).
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Life Of Jesus
L'il Quinquin
Lil Quinquin




LONELINESS, DEPRESSION & DESPAIR
Camille Claudel, 1915 is probably the best example of Dumont’s exploration of depression as the film just oozes with sadness (it's also based on true events). It’s the perfect movie to watch for people who don't get depression or have the wrong idea about what it is (personally, I feel Dumont doesn’t get enough credit for exploring the triggers behind depression). 
But loneliness, isolation & despair are prevalent throughout his entire filmography...
In Humainte our lead character Pharaon struggles with the loss of his wife & daughter. In Flanders Dumont explores the post traumatic stress of war. Our Bonnie & Clyde-like protagonists in The The Twentynine Palms are loyal to each another but at the same time all they do is fight and have aggressive sex which is an indication of some form of unhappiness.
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Twentynine Palms
Humanite
Humanite
Life Of Jesus





RECURRING SHOT: "DOWN BY THE WATER"
Another example of Dumont’s religious fascination comes in the form of baptism scenes, both literally (Hadewijch & Hors Satan) and metaphorically (Humanite)...
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Humanite
L'il Quinquin
Twentynine Palms
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
RECURRING SHOT: A WARM EMBRACE
Flanders
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Humanite
Hors Satan
Life Of Jesus
L'il Quinquin
Humanite
Twentynine Palms

RECURRING SETTING: RURAL FRANCE 
Flanders
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Humanite
L'il Quinquin

RECURRING SHOT: THE DUMONT GLARE
Flanders
L'il Quinquin
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hors Satan

Twentynine Palms
Flanders
Hadewijch
Hors Satan




INFLUENCES & INSPIRATIONS 
I don't know if I'm capable of writing about an early Bruno Dumont film without mentioning Robert Bresson (at one point in his career Dumont was nicknamed “the artistic heir to Bresson”). 
It goes without saying that most filmmakers are influenced by each other, but in the case of modern European arthouse filmmakers like Bertrand Bonello, Eugene Green, Miguel Gomes, Manoel De Oliviero and Bruno Dumont, the Bresson influence is so strong that you have to mention it. The dry tone and cinematography within Camille Claudel & Hors Satan contains shades of L’argent & The Devil Probably (with a touch of Maurice Pialat's Under The Sun Of Satan). The nuns in Hadewijch & Camille Claudel come right out of Diary Of Country Priest.

But legends like Tarkovsky & Dreyer rubbed off on Dumont as well. When reading up on Hors Satan (from blogs to legitimate reviews written by critics I respect) Dreyer's name kept coming up. This makes sense as Hors Satan deals with faith, religion and the presence of God just like Dreyer's work (one key scene in the Hors Satan involves a character being brought back to life after they've been pronounced dead like in Ordet). 

Dumont also branches out to non-cinematic sources for inspiration. The scene of the cow being airlifted at the beginning of L'il Quinquin looks like a Salvador Dali painting come to life while the murder scene from Humainte was clearly influenced by the work of Marcel Duchamps…

Humanite
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
L'il Quinquin
L'il Quinquin




JEAN EPSTEIN'S (POSSIBLE) INFLUENCE
While Dumont's work has many similarities to Bresson, I rarely hear folks mention the (possible) influence of Jean Epstein...



the same could be said about Dreyer...


DREYER'S INFLUENCE





RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE/THE NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY
Bruno Dumont was a varsity letterman of the New French Extremity movement during the late 90’s/early 00’s so you can always expect isolated moments of murder & violence.
He also has a fascination with rape and/or rough unsensual sex. Dumont crafts these scenes of men ramming themselves inside of women (almost as if they're stabbing with their penis). In Twentynine Palms we see both main characters attacked & raped by a gang of thugs (preceded by scenes of hard pounding & face fucking between the two lovers in the film). In Humanite not only does the film center around the rape & murder of a young girl, but all the sex scenes are rough and difficult to watch. In The Life Of Jesus a gang of boys sexually assault a young woman and the last third of Hors Satan focuses on the rape & murderer of another young girl.
Hors Satan
L'il Quinquin
Flanders 
Twentynine Palms
Twentynine Palms 
Life Of Jesus





NON-PROFESSIONAL ACTORS
Bruno Dumont often casts inexperienced actors with some type of physical disability or awkward mannerism/facial "imperfection" that you almost can't help but notice and, depending on how vein you are, possibly snicker at or comment on. Casting homely-looking lead actors is clearly Dumont challenging the viewer's perception of what beauty is on the big screen. 
In Camille Claudel, 1915 Dumont used actors with real physical and/or developmental disabilities.
The female co-lead in Humainte is often referred to as “overweight” and her figure is sometimes talked about more than the actual movie. 
The co-lead in L'il Quinquin has a hair lip and Dumont doesn't shy away from shooting nonstop close-ups of his face. Sure Stacey Keech, Joaquin Phoenix & Michael Kenneth Williams paved the way for mainstream actors with facial disfigurements, but for every one of them there's a hundred Chris Pines, Chris Hemsworths & Paul Walkers (the other co-lead in Quinquin has uncontrollable non-stop facial ticks as well).
L'il Quinquin
L'il Quinquin
Humanite
Humanite
Camille Claudel, 1915
Flanders
Hors Satan
Twentynine Palms




SEX & THE NAKED BODY
No one is ever really naked for the sake of being naked in his movies (there’s a nude in scene in Hadewijch that might be the one exception). When someone is nude in the world of Bruno Dumont its because they’re about to have sex or they just finished having sex (Twentynine Palms, Hors Satan, The Life Of Jesus, Humanite or Flanders). 
When his camera focuses on a man’s lower body, it’s not to show us his well maintained physique, but to indicate that his female character is looking directly at his bulge (Humanite). 
Dumont almost always casts these R. Crumb physiqued women (Flanders, Humanite & L’il Quinquin) so he can highlight the large natural breasts, butts & hips.
And again – there’s almost never anything sensual or erotic about the sex in his movies. It’s usually rough (Humanite), incredibly rough (Twentynine Palms) or ridiculously rough to point where I have to look away in disgust (Hors Satan).
Life Of Jesus
Humanite
Humanite
Humanite
Twentynine Palms
Twentynine Palms
Flanders
Hors Satan




YOUTH
Young people in Bruno Dumont’s films often find themselves in over their heads. I wouldn’t say he portrays children in the most realistic way (they are sort of caricatures on some level) but he doesn’t rely on their “cuteness” in the way so many other filmmakers do (he isn't afraid to place kids in dangerous & uncomfortable situations). With Hadewijch we see a young character taking on religious responsibilities that so-called god-fearing church-going folks wouldn't want. The kids in L’il Quinquin don’t seem to be scared that a serial killer is on the loose but rather curious. The youngsters in Life Of Jesus seem to be jaded yet they’re so inexperienced and have yet to really do anything important with their lives.
L'il Quinquin
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Hadewijch
Life Of Jesus




SURREALITY 
Putting aside all the dry Bresson-esque ambiance, Bruno Dumont’s movies are downright weird at times. That’s a major part of what makes his movies so unique. In the world of Bruno Dumont his characters can levitate (Humanite) and stick to walls (L’il Quinquin). In Hors Satan, some of the women in the village are plagued with an unexplained illness and require exorcisms. And often times, his characters spurt out random lines of dialogue that have nothing to do with the anything…
Hors Satan
Humanite
Lil Quinquin
Lil Quinquin




STEPPING OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
Although films like Humanite, Flanders & Hors Satan truly define the cinema of Bruno Dumont, he’s still not afraid to step outside of that Bresson-influenced comfort zone of religious symbolism, non-professional actors & monotone/deadpan dialogue. In films like Camille Claudel, 1915 & Twentynine Palms he collaborated with professional/established actors like Juliette Binoche & Katerina Golubeva.
And most recently he branched off in to the (dark) comedy genre for the first time with L'il Quinquin where for the first time it was ok to laugh at the people in his movies…
Twentynine Palms
Camille Claudel, 1915
Lil Quinquin

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