Disturbing, reprehensible and yet so fascinating and compelling
Todd Solondz's 1998 "Happiness" is one of the most audacious and daring films I've seen in a long time.
Through seemingly disparate and intertwining stories, Solondz's paints us portraits of different troubled souls and is so unabashedly confident in his use of uncomfortable moments that it often borders on the taboo. But there's a curious sense of sadness and emptiness at the core of many of the morally reprehensible things on display that, through the film's keen mix of composition, production design and performances, inexplicably draws you in. You start to question how you can 'feel' for the depraved.
"Happiness" never excuses nor exploits these actions but it harnesses a poignant undercurrent that's both dark and bewildering. It's a challenging experiment that works because of its willingness to invite you into the psyche and lives of these strange people without trying to judge; It shows the strange impulses that drive us without giving any answers. We want someone to love us but if we don't love ourselves first, what can we expect?
It made me think: what if it's not happiness, but company we seek? Or as this film so gently puts it, can you really have one without the other?
"No emotions now; I really want to be calm" - 9/10 ⭐
There's a tragic sense of volatility that permeates throughout "A Woman Under the Influence" and it makes watching the film quite the harrowing experience. Embedded within the moments of explosive argumentation are quieter moments, some happy and some not, that all feel tense because we know at any moment things are heading to hell in a handbasket. Does this make the film a bad experience? Quite the contrary. John Cassavetes' 1974 family-drama is one of the most immersive film experiences I've ever had.
Gena Rowlands plays Mabel Longhetti, a mentally unsound, erratic LA housewife and mother. Her marriage with her construction-worker husband, Nick (played by Peter Falk), is on thin ice. After a failed attempt at an intimate night due to Nick working late, Mabel heads to the bar to drown her sadness in alcohol where she meets a man and reluctantly goes home with him. From the get-go, it is clear she is a woman under the influence of her own craziness; an influence that will prevent her from any kind of peace of mind.
A dinner with Nick's work friends at the house proves to be a most uncomfortable time. What begins as a happy-go-lucky, pleasant occasion quickly becomes extremely awkward when Mabel's distracting lack of social cues climaxes is Nick yelling at her to 'get her ass down'. A debacle with a kid's parent proves to be the final straw and Nick reluctantly sends her to an institution but not without one of the most painfully raw scenes in which Mabel puts up the fight of her life in order to not be taken away from Nick and her children.
Will the family be okay? Will time away for Mabel be the solution? To know more would giveaway too much and if you've read this far, I encourage you to watch the film; you will see JUST how emotional it is. The film's jazzy score is poignantly fitting to the story, evoking a sense of melancholy that is palpable through all the characters who have any kind of associations to Mabel. But what truly makes this film so impactful - and as trite as this may sound - is the performances which are some of the best I've ever seen.
Gena Rowlands as Mabel is simply transcendant; portraying such an erratic character with such an inherent likability and realism is a most remarkable feat. In wise direction from Cassavetes, we have moments of the camera merely lingering on Gena and this is when her true brilliance shines through. Her mannerisms, down to the smallest detail, and demeanor are so spot-on in this Academy nominated turn; it's acting of the highest caliber. Also incredible is Peter Falk as well as the children; all equally tug at the heartstrings.
This is a mesmerizing cinematic experience electric with its realism and pulsating energy. John Cassavetes reaches deep into the human condition and creates an emotional story that anyone with a soul will feel touched by. It's been said that Cassavetes struggled to find a distributor for this film due to the depressing and dark subject matter. Thank god for Mr. Martin Scorsese who vowed to pull "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" from a NY film festival unless this film was accepted too.
Mendes/Deakins have set a new standard for war movies with this incredible piece of filmmaking - 9/10 ⭐
Easily 2 of the most gripping hours in a theater I've experienced all year. Through a series of extended shots made to look like one continuous take, we follow (without breathers) Lance Corporal Blake and Schofield through a visceral and relentless journey during WWI. In addition to top notch direction, set design and music, I'm left with just two words: Roger. Deakins. The man is simply the greatest cinematographer to have ever lived and here he captures nothing short of technical brilliance. The man deserves b2b Oscars for this masterpiece!
Absolute mayhem and destined to be misunderstood - 8/10 ⭐
Holy cow! This was the first film by Gaspar Noé I had seen and I'm currently struggling to put into words exactly what I experienced. What starts as a fun, underground dance party quickly spirals into a nightmarish descent that is better left seen than explained. For people who don't vibe with this, all I can say is that cinema was initially created to provoke the senses and elicit our deepest primal emotions. Think the cinema of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. This is what cinema can feel like. I'm speechless. Say Yes to Noe!
Cassavetes' directorial debut is a quiet gem - 8/10 ⭐
Shadows (1958) is an incisive and naturalistic look at humans; how similarly some think and act as well as the differences that exist among them. A clever name for a film whose characters morals and intentions are often not black and white but rather bordering on the "shadows" of right and wrong. The first feature film from legendary director John Cassavetes, Shadows was said to have started the movement now studied and known as "cinema verite" also known as truthful cinema. Ahead of its time and a true treat!
One of the best pieces of filmmaking I've ever seen - 10/10 ⭐
Le trou (1960) is minimalist filmmaking at its absolute finest; this prison drama is a slow-burn that never feels slow for a second. The wheels are set in motion from the get-go as we are introduced to the gang in the film's opening and thanks to brilliant direction, sublime cinematography and an airtight screenplay, we are side by side with these men every step of the way. With such few ratings, it'll be some time before this film is able to find its way on the Top 250 but it deserves a spot there as much as any film I've seen - outstanding!
The difference between a hero and a villain can be one libellous move - 8/10 ⭐
Eastwood has done it again, adding yet another wonderful film to what is a beyond legendary filmography. Based on the real-life story of a heroic security guard turned villain during the '66 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, we see the horrifying extent to which the media can vilify an individual, especially one as kind-hearted as Richard Jewell. So many incredible performances but Paul Walter Hauser... man oh man... his portrayal of the titular man is as deeply affecting and human as anything I've seen this year. Incredible stuff!
A true selfless act always sparks another - 9/10 🎄
Netflix has produced yet another instant film ciassic, this time in the form of a Christmas movies, of all things. For a genre that you think you've seen it all, Klaus (2019) does the unique task of rewriting the origin story of "Klaus" and the result is a breathtaking, beautiful piece of animation. Wonderful hand-drawn 2D animation (that will surely bring any 90s kid back to their childhood), incredible music and top-notch voice acting. It's all executed incredibly well and is surely one of the best Christmas films ever made!
An incredibly raw and heart-rending story anchored by two wonderful lead performances - 9/10 ⭐
Sometimes two good people just aren't 'good' for each other. I learned this from my parents who separated albeit very amicably. Marriage Story (2019) shows us just how ugly a journey this can become when things become contested and compromising turns to competing. Noah Baumbach has crafted an extremely raw and poignant screenplay (based off of his experiences with Jennifer Jason Leigh) and both Scarlett Jo and Adam Driver give absolutely lights-out performances; career highs for both of them in my opinion. This one deserves all the awards it has coming - Don't miss it.
Life is in all the little moments where the minute details connect - 8/10 ⭐
Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (2016) is a meditative experience that so often borders on the realm of a dream. Through interesting overhead shots and soft bounced lighting, we see everyday life through a change of perspective and through the eyes of the titular man who fittingly shares a name with the city in which he resides. The city is almost a character in itself providing the backdrop to the mundane, humdrum existence of Paterson (played exquisitely by Adam Driver). Another quiet masterpiece by JJ.
An out-of-control, surreal and relentless odyssey through 1940s Belgrade - 8/10 ⭐
This was an epic like I've never seen before; chronicling the journey of a group of people from the beginning of WWII all the way until the Yugoslaw wars, Underground (1995) is a 3-part story that features surrealistic imagery at every turn. Featuring some stellar performances and wonderful music, the viewer is taken along for a wild ride that makes 3 hours fly by. Don't miss this Palme d'Or winner!
Didn't know much about Rectify (2013) going in other than it was the story of a man, Daniel Holden, who is miraculously released from Death Row after serving 20 years and the struggles both he and his family endure thereafter as they try to adjust to life with their son on the outside. The cast is simply incredible; every performance is superb - and the writing hits at the core of what it means to be human as good as any show out there. The music is divine and really punctuates the film through its emotional moments and the direction is simply flawless. It is a slower show that demands your attention and one which focuses on characters and state of minds over action. But if you stick with it, you'll find this is one of most underrated TV shows out there. TV gem alert 🚨
Bringing back the classic whoddunit in amazingly entertaining fashion - 8/10 ⭐
What an excellent film by Rian Johnson; definitely feels like the film he was destined to make. Writing that is slick as hell, sublime performances (most notably Daniel Craig who brings his A-game in a wonderfully charismatic turn), superb editing and wonderfully atmospheric music - all tied together by masterful direction. Will probably be among the most fun you have at a theatre this year and fans of Agatha Christie and old murder mystery stories will have plenty to love here - a nostalgically entertaining time!
First half heats up the engine; second half steps firmly on the gas - 9/10 ⭐
After a slightly glacial exposition into the history of the stories behind motor companies Ford and Ferrari, the film goes into full on over-drive with one of the most pulsating second halves in a film you're sure to see all year. The film is a technical marvel with top-notch editing, sound design and direction - almost a lock to get nominations (and probably wins) in those categories and then some. Bale and Damon are simply stupendous, showing a real sensitivity in the more dramatic moments while showcasing their charisma and comedic chops in performances that rank among the year's best. F v. F is an exhilarating, exciting and emotional ride to be in the driver's seat for and undoubtedly one of this year's best.
Lovely jazzy film full of elegance, style and fun - 7/10 ⭐
If you're a fan of either A) Jazz or B) Old Hollywood, this film is certainly one you should check off your list. Featuring great performances by both Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier (at such young ages too!), the story is a solid albeit not legendary one. I wouldn't say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts here (the individual subplots including romance and drug addiction don't come together quite as neatly as they should) but its a beautiful B&W film with a clear love for jazz and the era. Worth checking out for sure!
It was great to be back in Breaking Bad territory and with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019), it's clear Gilligan hasn't lost his touch 6 years after the final episode aired. Taking place literally seconds after the show's finale, El Camino's got everything we loved about the show (Great drama, hilarious black humour, POV shots, edge-of-the-seat suspense) and is a story with larger ideas at hand addressing the themes of trauma, regret, love and friendship. Paul is fantastic and gives the performance of a lifetime; an Oscar-calibre turn without a doubt. And with several great cameos I won't mention here, we get the cherry on top; weaving the past and the present beautifully, El Camino is the breaking bad film we didn't know we wanted but are sure happy that we got. Thank you Vince for this fitting conclusion <3
A masterpiece as both a social commentary and cinematic experience...and one of this year's best! 9/10 ⭐
In the latest film of Bong Joon-Ho (Salinui chueok (2003), Snowpiercer (2013)), we are given a story that, in a brilliant turn of events, sees the day-to-day lives of two Korean families intertwined. These families couldn't be more dissimilar; one makes money from folding pizza boxes & steals the wifi of nearby cafes while the other lives like royalty, served by maids and taken around by drivers.
The income disparity is quickly made apparent to us and in a string of events I don't want to spoil here, the poorer family finds themselves usurping one role at a time of the richer family until they all find themselves employed by the rich. And yet they have to act like total strangers with one another. How this is all written, directed and acted plays off incredibly well.
"Parasite" really surprised me in that it takes you on a whirlwind of emotions. It's storytelling is ambitious and takes chances in veering off-tone and off-the-book, so to speak. I found myself dying of laughter at some parts, tense or sad at others and purely enchanted throughout. All of this while showcasing some of the most unique storytelling I've ever witnessed.
Certain to nab a Best Foreign Film nomination at the Academy Awards and perhaps even a Best Director & Best Picture nod, "Parasite" is certainly one of the year's best. Arguably even one the decade's best. It's all in the little details whether it's using a keen sense of lighting, composition or blocking to reveal something. Give this one a watch and you'll see what I mean. Masterpiece!
Brilliant character study and goes to dark place most films wouldn't dare to - 9/10 🃏
I have so many thoughts on this film and it truly does take you to places most films wouldn't dare. It takes its time in developing a truly dark, brooding atmosphere and fleshes out the full extent it can take to truly push one to the edge. And those last twenty minutes or so... just speechless. Loved the direction by Phillips, the music, the homage to older Hollywood filmmaking and the brilliantly engrossing character study. Bravo Joaquin - I, and it seems like many people here on IMDb, will surely be rooting for you come Oscar season. It truly feels like his entire career has led to this moment - undoubtedly a performance for the ages!
A fantastical blend of art cinema, nightmarish horror and surrealism that reels you in and hooks you right into its world - 10/10 ⭐
It's an exciting time to be fan of original storytelling in the movies and Robert Eggers is a huge reason why. Showing both a proclivity for mythology and understanding of suspense in his directional debut "The Witch", Eggers builds on this profoundly and puts to rest any chance of a sophomore slump (Though from the first glimpses of the film's trailer, I don't think there was ever any doubt.)
The Lighthouse (2019) is, to recycle a hackneyed phrase, something that you've never seen before... but seriously. It's a nightmare set in motion from the very first frame where unknown figures in the shadowy distance slowly emerge amid a screen full of murky sea fog. Like a classic Bergman film, the introduction is devoid of dialogue and set only to the ambient sounds of its ambiguous setting.
I was hooked from the first frame; there is little explanation as to who the two protagonists are, where they are or why they are there but an acute sense of foreboding is immediately felt thanks to the superb cinematography (shot on hundred-year-old lenses and black-and-white 35mm film stock with a tight square aspect ratio 1.19:1 used all the way back in the silent era) and incredibly atmospheric sound design. Technically, it's a marvel.
As for the 3 performances (if we're counting the seagull), they were absolutely spot on. Dafoe and Pattinson take this material and totally lose themselves in it, showing the full emotional extent one can go through in such a claustrophobic maddening. I can't seem them not at least garnering nominations for their extraordinary commitment and manic turns on display here; they're both sublime.
There's twists at every turn and all the while establishing an increasing sense of dread and claustrophobia that never lets up. Even in the moments of dark humour (and there are certainly a few), there's an unsettling energy growing that's constantly brewing beneath the surface and one that's able to gets under your skin in ways few films are able to do. The direction, cinematography, score, production design, sound design all combine here to create a psychologically draining film of the highest art form conceivable. Now, when did I start writing this review... Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.
A wonderful film that boasts a faultlessly atmospheric soundtrack and some of the most eye-catching cinematography you're sure to ever see in a film. Wim Wenders creates a fascinating story here about a purposeless man who is brought back into civilization and seeks to repair the mysterious problems of his past. Featuring a beautifully restrained performance by the late Harry Dean Stanton, this is a film that can quite simply change your perspective on life if you can find a way to totally give yourself to it.
Denzel and Ethan are great as the two leads in a day-in-the-life of training for the narcotics division of the L.A.P.D. Great action, dialogue and drama while testing the limits of morality and ethics. Denzel has never been more electric and the story keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Antoine Fuqua's undisputed masterpiece!
Entertaining from start to finish and wonderful performances make "Dolemite" one of the year's best - 8/10 ⭐
Based on the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, Dolemite Is My Name pays a wonderful homage to both the time period and era of films in which Moore resided while also providing a wonderfully entertaining story from start to finish. Eddie Murphy carries the film beautifully and his versatility as both a comedic and dramatic shines through in one his best performances in years. Similar to Ed Wood (1994), this story shows the hard work and persistence put in by an individual facing a whole heap of adversity and how, against all odds, they are able to find some semblance of success against all odds. Great stuff Netflix!
An ambitious and beautiful piece of storytelling from Fincher - 8/10 ⭐
Wow, this was such a breath of fresh air and such a different vibe than we're used to getting from Fincher. The visual effects and production design were incredible; no surprise the film picked up the Oscar for both categories. Brad Pitt is just sublime in the role, displaying a sensitivity and vulnerability well beyond his years (no pun intended). Every performance is wonderful and the message at its core of seizing opportunities while we still can surely resonated. Wonderfully atmospheric music as well... it might be a taaad too long but overall I genuinely loved the story and if you check it out, you might just too. Well done to everyone involved here!
Inventive, hilarious and original - "Jojo" is a ballsy film that works because of its wit and heart - 8/10 ⭐
I was fortunate enough to catch Taika Waititi's latest film at the 2019 TIFF People's Choice Screening and what an absolute treat it was. In this "anti-hate satire", we follow the trials and tribulations of a German boy who finds a Jewish girl living in his attic and is confronted with a clash of his conditioned values as a little nazi boy. If you think the synopsis sounds crazy, you have no idea what you're in for...
Though seemingly taking inspiration from the works of Wes Anderson and Mel Brooks, "Jojo" manages to create something in an entirely new ball park pulling off a spoof that manages to be hilarious while not disrespecting its touchy subject matter, a feat that only the wonderful Taika (who directed, wrote and acted as Imaginary Hitler in) could pull off so well. The film also boasts some killer cinematography as well as a wonderful soundtrack, both of which punctuate some of the films quieter moments to ground us in the era and atmosphere of the film.
As mentioned above, Taiki plays the titular boy's imaginary Hitler friend and leaves you weak in the stomach from laughing so much - he's, quite simply, hilarious. And yet, he doesn't manage to overpower the rest of the cast which includes Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Jo and Rebel Wilson all of whom are wonderful. But most notably, it's the child performances that take center stage. The two little leads are incredible, making us laugh at times, shed a tear at others and just feel for the two of them. Their comedic timing, range and overall performances are done to a T - it's because of them the film works as well as it does.
In today's day and age, more than ever, people need a reason to just sit back and smile and this makes "Jojo Rabbit" a truly timely film. Leave it to Mr. Waititi to take one of the most gruesome periods in human history and, believe it or not, find both a humour and beauty in its telling. It's also entirely original in its execution and is perhaps the perfect example of the kind of film Hollywood could use more of. All that's left to say is thanks for the laughs Taika; and for your brilliantly twisted mind!