Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), Director: Sean Durkin, DP: Jody Lee Lipes
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), Director: Sean Durkin, DP: Jody Lee Lipes
Australian director Ben Young’s debut feature film is a dark tale, the darkest I’ve seen in years, about a murderous couple in the suburbs of a small town in Australia. The film is a Psychological thriller based on the murders and kidnappings of Perth’s murderous couple The Birnies, and though this fact is never mentioned in the film, the similarities between the murders committed by The Birnies and those represented on screen are incredibly hard to miss. Now before we go any further, this film is indeed not for the faint of heart. Despite the fact that almost all of the violence and gore is done off-screen, Hounds of Love remains a nerve wrecking experience that will ultimately disturb its viewer.
The story follows a rebellious high school girl, Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings), who is stuck in the middle of her parents’ divorce. One night she escapes her house after being grounded only to be lured into the home of deranged couple Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry). What follows is an 80 minute long nightmare of disturbing perversity and torture, and some very fine filmmaking. The strength of Hounds of Love lies not in the gore and the bloodshed, but in the fact that it keeps everything as realistic and authentic as possible. The way John and Evelyn lead their lives is highly plausible which makes for an even more chilling story. In other words; Ben Young managed to capture true human evil on screen, and it is both unsettling and mesmerizing.
As the film progresses, we delve deeper into the demented psyches of the couple as the dynamic behind their relationship unfolds in front of Vicky, who soon realizes that her only way to escape is to use this dynamic in her favor. Hounds of Love goes the extra mile in trying to explain the highly abusive codependent relationship that binds these two murderers together. Backed by praise worthy performances from all the cast – especially the two leading ladies – the film delivers a powerful and troubling character study of the minds of serial killer couples. Perhaps the film’s only sin is that its pace is often confusing; with it being too slow for a thriller, yet too fast for a drama. This discontinuity gives an impression of being rather underdeveloped.
Hounds of Love is a film destined for critical acclaim. Its powerful camerawork, intense performances, and ultra-realism all make for a respectable work of art that would both shock and captivate its audience, and it would definitely appear on lots of lists for best Australian films in the future.
I have to be honest with you here; I was in a position to choose between Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest action-packed, comedy heist movie, and Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s epic endeavor that has been showered by rave reviews from the critics over the past few weeks. Needless to say I went with Baby Driver, because I would take Wright’s quirky originality over Nolan overrated pretentiousness any day, but let’s not get into this argument just yet.
Starring Ansel Elgort as the title character; a young man who is forced to work as a getaway driver for a crime lord called Doc (Kevin Spacey) in order to pay off his debt. Trouble arises as soon as Bats (Jamie Foxx), a wild and unpredictable mobster, joins the group for a risky heist that threatens to get everyone in it imprisoned or worse, and that includes fellow mobsters Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). The film which includes some of the most impressive car chase scenes over the past few years was shot by Bill Pope (The Matrix, Cosmos) with some gorgeous black and white vignettes about the main character’s love interest Deborah (Lily James) and a colorful color palette typical of Wright.
The film also contains an extraordinary soundtrack including both classic rock tracks, and some original tracks remixed from actual dialogue in the movie. The remarkable thing with Wright’s use of the music in the film is that it’s not there simply to add some liveliness in the background of a scene, the music of Baby Driver is more or less the star of the film. It is explained in the film that the main character has a constant buzzing in his ears and thus uses music to drown it out, however the way the music tracks are incorporated in the car chases and basically the characters’ everyday lives goes way beyond that. According to an interview, Wright stated that the opening scene of the film was inspired by the track used in it; “Bellbottoms”, and that he even included the tracks he wanted to use in every scene with the script surprisingly before the studio secured these tracks’ from their owners.
Baby Driver is an exhilarating ride with great visual comedy and not just some cool punch lines, it has a refreshing approach when it comes to using music in an action film, which keeps the whole thing original and creative. However, the film doesn’t really take itself too seriously in terms of exploring a new aspect of filmmaking or something similarly grand; it is simply a heist movie, it’s true that it’s a really cool heist movie, but it doesn’t really introduce any groundbreaking ideas to the genre, and that is exactly why I went with Baby Driver and not Dunkirk, because personally I’d rather pay for a film that knows exactly how good it is and what it offers to its viewers than another with somewhat exaggerated delusions about its own artistic value, and that kind of self-awareness is exactly why I believe Baby Driver will eventually evolve into a cult classic over the following couple of years.
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.
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 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.
A Cure for Wellness (2016), Director: Gore Verbinski, DP: Bojan Bazelli
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.
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.
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.
Filmed over a five-year period, that included postpones due to production difficulties, and the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Coming Forth by day was released in 2012 to limited release, and it was finally released in 2014 to mainstream audiences. The film, which included mainly non-professional actors, is Egyptian director Hala Lotfy’s first feature-length debut. The 84-minute Drama follows a day in the gloomy, monotonous life of a middle class Egyptian family, and their journey to overcome their disappointments and eventually connect with each other. The title of the film was inspired by the Book of the Dead, an ancient Egyptian text detailing the passage of the deceased into the afterlife, and ultimately their coming forth by day.
Set mainly in an old shabby flat in Cairo, the film follows a day in the life of its main character Soad, a young woman in her late-twenties living with her two elderly parents. With the camera placed expertly in the corner of the house, it appears almost as if the viewer is spying onto the lives and daily chores of this middle-class family, the biggest chore of all being taking care of the elderly paralyzed father, and the tension his condition poses on both the mother and the daughter. The gorgeous set design gives the house a warm familiar feel, and the yellowish color palette of the film adds an almost tangible air of depression that surrounds all the characters. Despite the excellent use of light inside the house, and the mesmerizing frame composition, the film seems lost when it comes to shooting external scenes; with a certain sequence shot form a moving car guaranteed to make its viewer dizzy.
With her exceptional cinematic vision, Hala Lotfy managed to capture the boredom of her characters, and their dull daily routine with as little dialogue as possible. The complexity of the relationship between the mother and the daughter is nothing short of spellbinding, as they both feel guilty about the father yet resort to what most humans do when feeling guilty; they blame each other. The director skillfully sheds a light on the pressure imposed on families by caring for a disabled member, a subject rather common among most Egyptian households yet rarely spoken of. However, her ambitious efforts to explore the pressure imposed on older single women or ‘spinsters’ in a funny scene of a bizarre young woman who Soaad encounters as soon as she leaves the house, comes off as rather irrelevant to the moody atmosphere of the film.
The film was appraised in a number of local and international film festivals including Abu Dhabi Film Festival and Thessaloniki Film Festival, it even got included in an updated list of the 100 Best Arab films by Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say Coming Forth by day is not a film for everybody, and if you’re irritated by slow-paced movies, then steer clear of this one. However, if you’re a lover of hypnotizing static shots, gritty realism, and complex characters; this is a unique and charming film that will definitely be appreciated as one of the best Egyptian films made in the last decade.
Rating : 7/10