Film Reviews

Film Review: Brimstone (2016)

 The first English speaking film from Dutch director Martin Koolhoven (Winter in Wartime, 2008) is a two and a half hour long western epic about a young woman who has suffered in her life probably more than all the women in Lars Von Trier’s films combined.

Brimstone

 Starring Dakota Fanning (Liz) and Guy Pierce (The Reverend), the story begins when the Reverend arrives at Liz’s town. The young mute woman who works as the town’s midwife instantly recognizes the man and the terror he brings from her past for both herself and her family. As the chapters of the film unfold the story of Liz’s melancholic past is told in gruesome detail, and the nature of her dark and twisted relationship with the Reverend is further explained. The performances by the two main actors are highly impressive, yet fail to divert the viewer’s attention from the conspicuously flawed script, and it most certainly is flawed.

 Recounting the relationship between Liz and the Reverend would require spoiling the entire film. However, it is safe to say that it includes some very dark themes and taboos, and although it is almost always refreshing to see filmmakers venturing into the darker areas of humanity often left untold on the silver screen, in Brimstone these efforts fail miserably. It appears as if the filmmaker bit more than he could chew with this one, after all you cannot include child abuse, pedophilia, domestic abuse, human violence, sex worker’s rights and religious fanaticism in one film, even if it’s a 2 and a half hour one. The main problem lies within the spreading of these themes throughout the film, as they are all clustered together in the second act dividing the film into two distinctly separate halves, and ultimately disrupting the pace of the entire film.

 Another rather disappointing quality of Brimstone is its unceasing determination to fall into clichés and stereotypes. I understand it is mostly a genre piece and avoiding formulaic ideas about the American old west is almost inevitable, still the film’s use of recurrent and corny ideas regarding the representation of evil characters and religious fanatics on screen is rather frustrating. Scenes as lightning striking as the bad guy is introduced, or a man flying out the window by a single rifle shot tend to devaluate the artistry of the entire film. Besides, the story itself progresses into an over the top purposefully depressive tragedy that reaches its peak of irrationality by the ending scene, at which point the film has already lost its credibility.

Brimstone 1

 Brimstone includes some beautiful shots, yet its cinematography is not particularly remarkable. The performances are notable, yet they cannot hold the film alone. The characters diverse, yet far-fetched and over blown. Brimstone may be an acceptable film, passably entertaining, but it’s definitely not the masterpiece it is promoted to be.

Rating: 4/10

Film Reviews

Film Review: 20th Century Women (2016)

 Few production companies have garnered the same following as A24; with the continuous release of groundbreaking genre pieces and indie hits, the company continues to raise a rather large group of loyal viewers awaiting its next release, as most of their films have maintained a certain level of high quality filmmaking; 20th Century women is no exception. A story both uplifting and heart-rending, about a single mother in 1979  raising her 15 year-old boy with the help of two other women, each of a different generation, and a different philosophy.

20th century women

 Based loosely on the life of its writer and director Mike Mills, the film offers a realistic yet comical look on the lives of its main characters, with multiple voice overs from different characters each describing one another. Dorothea Fields (Annette Benning) is the moving force of the house (and even the film itself), a 55-year-old woman of the silent generation, a traditionalist who fails to connect with her son or his entire generation. She has an abiding concern that her son’s lack of a fatherly figure will affect his future personality. After her failed efforts to connect her son with their hipster lodger William (Billy Crudup), she decides that “you don’t need a man to raise a man”, thus she asks for the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig) her lodger who is immersed in the punk scene of the 1970’s, and Julie (Elle Fanning), her son’s promiscuous friend and crush.

 Jaime (Lucas Jade Zumann), the son, and the center point around which all the other characters tend to revolve, is from Gen X, bored and cynical. His remarks about his mother are often sharp and accurate, yet Dorothea’s belief that he is “just a kid” denies the validity of these remarks. His interactions with the women around him are as delightful to watch as his comments about them. The film uses a great amount of stock footage that goes along with the sharp commentaries the characters make about each other, and as the characters continue to introduce each other in chapter-like manner, the viewer is eventually presented with a lively and captivating assortment of characters, each with their own singular peculiarities and spirit.

AnnetteBeningLucasJadeZumann20thCenturyWomen-1

20th Century Women may not involve fascinating events for its viewer to gape at. Its characters – bizarre as they may be – are strongly rooted in reality, and highly relatable. The film doesn’t even include a pronounced character arc.  However, the clever selection of this time of American history, and the collage-like approach of the film, offer memorable insight into a time that was in fact the catalyst of the generation gap theory.

Rating: 6/10