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The Sacrament [2013] dir. Ti West

When a photographer’s sister joins an isolated religious cult, he enlists a Vice documentary crew to track her down. Indie-horror auteur Ti West lays waste to his considerable talents with this tasteless found footage re-creation of the Jonestown Massacre. In…

Just released this week, here’s my review of it from back in September during TIFF.

— 4 months ago with 2 notes
#Ti West  #horror movies 

Joe [2013] dir. David Gordon Green

A teenage boy forges an intense and paternal bond with a man named Joe, an ex-con with a dark and violent past.  Recognizing similarities between the two, Joe seizes the opportunity for mentorship, attempting to both protect the boy and redeem himself.  David Gordon Green emerges from his wilderness years with a dark, Southern gothic that immediately reestablishes his sinuous style and unique, dexterous tone.  At times Joe is light and playful, Green effortlessly crafting scenes of humorous rumination through his objective, observational style.  At other times Joe is mythically minded, a contemplation of masculinity and inheritance saturated with a pervasive threat of violence.  From start to finish Green’s film is never divergent, thematically aligned through elliptical editing, a score at once brooding and sublime, and rich cinematography.  No longer mawkishly Malickian, Green has refined his aesthetic into a poetic, lyrical formalism thoroughly his own.  A-

(from a earlier TIFF post)

— 5 months ago
#joe  #David Gordon Green  #Nicholas Cage  #film 


Haunt [2014] dir. Mac Carter

A family takes possession of a new house with a terrible past, one which still lingers in the floorboards, closets and foley work.  With the foreknowledge that the previous owners had died one by one, the new tenants make themselves at home, with their teenage son increasingly aware of spooky goings-on.  When the troubled teen begins a relationship with a troubleder girl, they seek to draw the predatory ghost (or ghosts) from their astral plane.  Haunt is an extremely lean haunted house vehicle, steeped in conventions and devoid of wit, momentum or engaging facsimiles of humanity.  Carter’s film relies not on story or character, but on an eerie soundtrack and the audience’s previous experiences with genre filmmaking to fill in the multiple gaps.  Carter offers little to no back story on his characters (far too generous a term) and relies on confusing flashbacks and bookend narration that attempt to clarify his plot but only expose his weaknesses as a filmmaker.  The flashback sequences are particularly problematic, as there is no way to discern whether this information is solely for the audience or if the characters are somehow psychically receiving information from the film’s specter.  Not only are the characters empty vessels, but the setting is similarly vacant.  Why has this family moved to this house, when there is seemingly nothing, not even a town (though we hear vaguely of townspeople) nearby?  Why aren’t any of these children in school?  Seriously, where is everyone when this ghost is making all this fucking noise?  Deeply confused about dramatic irony and jump scares, Carter  makes little use of the haunted space, the set design nondescript and, therefore, not at all frightening.  In the wake of 2013‘s The Conjuring and Mama, and making absolutely no effort at genre-subversion, Haunt feels especially bland, regressive and dull.  Haunt’s best features are its’ short runtime and horror cliche checklist drinking game potential, as one can predict the film’s dialogue and beats right up to the limp twist.  Perhaps it’s not a sound cinematic idea to have your central character’s defining characteristic be his introspection.  C-   

— 5 months ago
#Haunt  #horror movies  #film  #haunted house  #ghosts 
10 Greatest Best Picture Winners

10 Greatest Best Picture Winners
1. The Godfather II (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
2. Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtiz)
3. Lawrence of Arabia (dir. David Lean)
4. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)
5. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)
6. Unforgiven (dir. Clint Eastwood)
7. The Apartment (dir. Billy Wilder)
8. Bridge on the River Kwai (dir. David Lean)
9. No Country for Old Men (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
10. The Deer Hunter (dir. Michael Cimino)

— 6 months ago
#AcademyAwards  #Oscars  #the godfather  #greatest films of all time 
10 Worst Best Picture WInners

10 Worst Best Picture Winners
1. Slumdog Millionaire (dir. Danny Boyle)
2. Crash (dir. Paul Haggis)
3. Shakespeare in Love (dir. John Madden)
4. Forrest Gump (dir. Robert Zemekis)
5. A Beautiful Mind (dir. Ron Howard)
6. Chariots of Fire (dir. Hugh Hudson)
7. Driving Miss Daisy (dir. Bruce Beresford)
8. Around the World in 80 Days (dir. Michael Anderson)
9. The Greatest Show on Earth (dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
10. American Beauty (dir. Sam Mendes)

— 6 months ago
#AcademyAwards  #worst films of all time  #Oscars 
Berberian Sound Studio


Berberian Sound Studio [2012] dir. Peter Strickland

Gilderoy, a gifted, yet unknown sound engineer and foley artist, takes an assignment doing overdubs for a Italian Giallo film.  With no experience in the horror genre and little worldliness (he still lives with his mother), Gilderoy begins to feel isolated and uneasy, and the distinction between the film and reality becomes blurred.  Strickland’s attempt at Lynchian, nightmarish, surreality filmmaking begins well, immediately establishing Gilderoy as unreliable and sound as the film’s primary method of manipulation.  However, as Strickland continues rabbit-holing with no clear motivation or grasp of his material, the film becomes the worst example of ambiguous, meandering, pretentious filmmaking in recent memory.  One fears that the film’s many supporters merely wish to bluff their way to an interpretation of Strickland’s seemingly thoughtful nightmare moebius strip construction, when there is simply none to be had.  Berberian Sound Studio is about nothing.  It is an empty shell of a film hidden in genre trappings and nods to genuinely great and subversive Giallos.  Strickland’s film defies clear interpretation because there is nothing to interpret.  Strickland does not know how to use symbols in film beyond mere reference.  When close up of black gloves (an objet in Giallos) turn on the camera (a repetitive edit-point throughout the film) the active viewer can make the assertion that in Berberian the camera is the weapon to wielded upon the film’s victims.  That is, until it becomes apparent that Strickland can’t do anything with this concept. The gloves are not a symbol beyond their status as a symbol; an in-joke for genre fans.  This issue arises again and again in Berberian, as Strickland does not understand how subtextual elements inform a film, nor how payoffs work.  What is one to make of the receipt that Gilderoy so vigilantly (and repeatedly) tries to get reimbursed, once the filmmaker completely abandons the plot-point? Whereas the Coen’s would use the receipt as a Kafkaesque, comedic MacGuffin, Strickland attempts to employ it as a device by which to measure the film’s reality (is the movie company real?  can they be trusted?) before forgetting that he ever brought it up at all.  Berberian not only misunderstands the horror genre, but elemental filmmaking.  Strickland is not interested in horror, the genre as a veil to cloak his lack of ideas, as even casual visual references to minor works annihilate his film.  That Berberian has garnered such a positive critical reputation is baffling, as the film is so inept, empty, shallow and vacuous that the film’s true victim is not Gilderoy, but cinema itself.  A definite case of the Director has No Clothes.  D+

— 8 months ago with 1 note
#berberian sound studio  #peter strickland  #giallo  #horror films  #film 
Prince Avalanche


Prince Avalanche [2013] dir. David Gordon Green

In an effort to get in touch with his inner country mouse, upright Alvin flees the “big city” and takes a summer roadwork job painting lines on a Texas highway.  Accompanying him in his Thoreau-like journey is his girlfriend’s brother, Lance, an affable dimwit who fancies himself a ladies’ man.  After their first weekend brings them both life altering news, the pair begin to develop a deep emotional bond and forge an unlikely friendship.  David Gordon Green’s road-to-nowhere buddy film is an offbeat tribute to BBS and the New Hollywood movement.  Deliberately minor and allegorical, Prince Avalanche utilizes all of Green’s gifts as a filmmaker, especially his ability to marry sound and image in a poetic, lyrical manner.  Green’s cinematic frame of reference is so broad that Avalanche manages to conjure Apocalypse Now (the opening wildfire), French New Wave (Pierrot Le Fou and Truffaut) and Mark Twain with ease.  Guided by longtime collaborator Tim Orr’s sublime photography, Green’s Avalanche is never overrun or derailed by his influences.  Rather, the playful interaction of cinematic elements renders his film so unique and resonant.  Green makes perfect “hangout” movies, where communication is not just between characters, but a synergistic visual component that allows the audience to dialogue with cinema.  Steeped in Green’s pet themes of friendship, malleable masculine identity and aging, Prince Avalanche may be lighter than his previous masterpieces, but is no less effective.  A-

— 8 months ago with 1 note
#prince avalanche  #David Gordon Green  #film  #paul rudd 
American Hustle

American Hustle [2013] dir. David O. Russell

When a pair of con artists (and lovers) are arrested, they strike a deal with the FBI for immunity by using their skills to entrap white collar criminals.  The operation is led by an ambitious and reckless underling determined to make a name for himself by escalating the targets to bigger and far more dangerous game than the pair anticipated.  With American Hustle, Russell continues his frantic assemblage of images, music and dialogue, his coked up pacing and whipping camera substituting style for substance in his first genuine period piece.  Where Huckabee’s benefited greatly from Russell’s frenetic pace and structure, American Hustle exhausts itself in a marathon of long cons, short cons, double crosses and high wire histrionics.  Russell’s film infers sexuality, but is so thoroughly and bafflingly chaste that his ensemble resemble adolescents playing dress up, his cast so costumed and wigged in winking nostalgia that it becomes a distracting pantomime.  Like P.T Anderson in Boogie Nights, Russell’s 70s dysfunctional opus references Scorsese via editing, but inures his tale of found families with Sturges slapstick.  Only Russell’s is a far shallower film than Anderson’s, and therefore bears the weight of influence more bluntly, failing to distinguish itself beyond presenting a copy of a copy, and an anxious one at that.  For an auteur, Russell’s films are frustratingly peppered with unmotivated camera movements and superfluous edits.  He remains simply unable to achieve any compositional depth, so reliant is he on montage to obfuscate his inability to frame master shots, incorporate mise-en-scene or establish a meaningful visual thematic.  Fortunately, Russell has surrounded himself with talented players, all of whom seem dialed in to his particular style, landing nearly all of the humorous beats of his manic dialogue.  That American Hustle does not take itself too seriously is, in the end, it’s greatest asset, as most of the scrutiny of the film can be shrugged off with the knowledge that Russell had originally titled it American Bullshit.  B

— 8 months ago
#american hustle  #david o. russell  #film  #boogie nights  #scorsese  #p.t anderson 
The Best Films of 2013

Best Films of 2013

1: Norte, The End of History (dir. Lav Diaz)

2: Her (dir. Spike Jonze)

3: 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

4: All is Lost (dir. JC Chandor)

5: Blue Jasmine (dir. Woody Allen)

6: Stranger By the Lake (dir. Alain Guiraudie)

7: Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth)

8: Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

9: Before Midnight (dir. Richard Linklater) 

10: Computer Chess (dir. Andrew Bujalski) 

Honorable Mention:

The Past (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

Frances Ha (dir. Noah Baumbach)

Enough Said (dir. Nicole Holofcener)

Vic + Flo ont vu un ours (dir. Denis Cote)

Manuscripts Don’t Burn (dir. Mohammad Rasoulof)

— 8 months ago with 2 notes
#norte the end of history  #2013 in film  #best films of 2013  #Top Tens  #film 
Best Horror Films of 2013

Best Horror Films of 2013

1: The Conjuring (dir. James Wan)

2: 100 Bloody Acres (dir. Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes)

3: Stoker (dir. Park Chan-wook)

4: This is the End (dir. Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)

5: The World’s End (dir. Edgar Wright)

6: Mama (dir. Andres Muschietti)

7: We Are What We Are (dir. Jim Mickle)

8: You’re Next (dir. Adam Wingard)

9: A Field in England (dir. Ben Wheatley)

10: The Lords of Salem (dir. Rob Zombie)

— 9 months ago with 1 note
#best horror fllms of 2013  #Horror movies  #2013 in film  #the conjuring  #james wan  #lists 
Vic + Flo ont vu un ours

Vic + Flo ont vu un ours (Vic + Flo saw a bear) [2013] dir. Denis Cote

Recently paroled, Victoria returns to her family’s secluded sugar shack, tucked away in the Quebec wilderness.  She is joined by fellow ex-inmate and still lover Florence, the two of them hoping to make a fresh start and remain free. As the weeks pass, Flo’s past comes between them, and their idyllic retreat becomes a new, more dangerous, prison.  Part romance, part thriller, Cote’s Vic + Flo is a wholly engaging and confident film.  Misanthropic and hopeful, funny and sad, Cote keeps viewers at a distance from his protagonists, never making their motivations, their histories or the threats facing them explicit or fully known.  This strategy pays dividends, the film’s elusiveness utterly engrossing Cote maintaining a deeply unsettling tone through focused direction and unpredictable plotting.  Culminating in one of the more divisive yet beautiful endings in recent memory, Cote has crafted a truly unique and terrific film. A-

— 9 months ago with 2 notes
#vic + flo ont vu un ours  #denis cote  #film  #queer cinema 
The World’s End

The World’s End [2013] dir. Edgar Wright

Gary King embarks on a quest to recapture the halcyon days of youth, reuniting his high school friends and returning to his home town of New Haven for an epic pub crawl.  Once there, he finds that things have not changed much in his absence. Oh, except the citizens of New Haven have been replaced by robotic simulacra that are slowly taking over the human race.  Wright and Pegg conclude their Cornetto trilogy with a funny, sci-fi send up, a Village of the Damned for the Starbucks generation, that replaces communism with corporatization and tension with humour.  Wright’s kinetic editing mimics his dialogue so concretely that World’s End feels like a graphic novel come to life, whipping from frame to frame with the ease of turning pages.  While Pegg’s King is a more tragic figure than the duo’s previous protagonists, the film never becomes overwhelmed by melancholy, successfully balancing humour and pathos while gleefully flipping off the end of the world. B+

— 9 months ago
#the world's end  #edgar wright  #film  #sci-fi  #simon pegg 
World War Z

World War Z [2013] dir. Marc Forster

A typical, idyllic day for Gerry and his beautiful family goes awry when a traffic jam places them square in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  Using his former UN training (what?), he saves his family and promptly sets about flying all over the world to find a cure for the virus.  World War Z is an action approach to the zombie subgenre, favouring panoramic, helicopter horde shots and scenes of international diplomacy to gory, boxed-in explorations of group trauma.  While zombie films have always been fertile ground for allegorical social critique, Forster seems content to globetrot his handsome hero through various white liberal fantasies.  In WWZ, a working, effective UN leads the response, the WHO is full of heroic Hippocrates, a benevolent Israel is rewarded for it’s wall-building foresight, and first class passengers pile luggage to trap zombified coach dwellers.  With Pitt, Forster has a perfect cipher, capably portraying a man of infinite resourcefulness, courage and means, relatable to the1% of us who balance on that tricky beam between perfect husband and hero genius. Forster’s blockbuster ambitions rule out explicit zombie gore, which actually helps certain scenes, the violence made more terrifying through suggestion and viewer imagination.  As zombie films are the bottle episodes of the horror genre, Forster’s WWZ differentiates  itself by presenting a global perspective of the epidemic.  Unfortunately, the CGI, lightning-quick, zombies also plague the uncanny valley, their hyper-unreality belittling the impact of his large, disaster set pieces.  Ultimately, Forster’s action aesthetic does not heighten WWZ’s content, but rather renders the film utterly indistinguishable from the myriad of post-Emmerich disaster-porn vulgarities. C

— 9 months ago with 1 note
#world war z  #zombie movies  #film  #horror  #zombie apocalypse 
Gravity v. All is Lost

Gravity [2013] dir. Alfonso Cuaron

A team of astronauts are barraged by a sudden orbiting debris field while mid space walk on the Hubble Space station.  Stranded and cut off from ground control, the remaining survivors fight to stay alive and return to Earth.  Cuaron’s ambitious space opera’s fatal flaw spoiled by the jarring disparity between the quality of the visuals and the intellectual content of the script.  While Gravity has uninterrupted stretches of virtuoso technical filmmaking, it also contains ponderous, sentimental dialogue and ham-fisted visual metaphors.  The lack of nuance isn’t fatally detrimental, as Cuaron’s roving, unbroken shots call so much attention to themselves as technical achievements that they become Gravity’s de-facto denotation.  When Bullock returns to the airlock, strips herself of her suit, and floats fetally in zero Gs, it’s not too distracting that Cuaron punctuates this metaphor by incorporating her spacesuit’s tether as an umbilical cord.  The largesse of the film’s previous sections allows for such indulgences as it remains consistent with Cuaron’s explicitly technical concentration, the fetal metaphor still composed of a long, continuous shot.  These manipulations become far more problematic in the third act, where unnecessary backstory and cloying speechifying suck all the air out of the film.  Cuaron, himself, becomes so lost that the film literally breaks focus to close in on a single floating tear, rendered 3D in the foreground.  Never mind that Bullock’s survival is its’ own force of momentum, negating the need for such extraneous character flourishes, but the simple fact is that it is physically impossible to cry in space!  There are moments of near perfection in Gravity, where Cuaron’s attention is solely on examining the annihilation of the self against a vast nothingness using the most thrilling and arresting space photography in recent memory.  If only he had paid more attention to his text and relied less on well-worn Hollywood story arches and Bullock histrionics.  B

All is Lost [2013] dir. J.C Chandor

A sailboat crashes into a cargo crate, setting off a chain of events that pushes a lone sailor to the very edge of survival.  All is Lost is a completely visual film containing almost no dialogue, a remarkable departure from J.C. Chandor’s debut effort, the verbose Margin Call.  In the great tradition of Twin Films*, All is Lost is 2013‘s anti-Gravity, both films essentially the same in plot but distinct in execution. Both Chandor and Cuaron have their protagonists’ safety disrupted by debris, and focus on survival in an environment of vast space, in which humans are at a natural disadvantage.  In Gravity, Cuaron’s limited success is external, as the technical components of the film, not the content, are what drive the proceedings.  In contrast, Chandor removes all extraneous elements from his film, stripping away backstory and dialogue, recognizing that survival and action are the motivating elements.  In Cuaron’s film, the unbroken shots, while impressive, are not immersive, as they resemble no recognizable spatial or environmental reference point for the viewer, so wholly artificial is their construction.  Chandor, though, has married content and form, so that the shots themselves need not stand alone, but are incorporated fully into the film as an essential element, not a spectacle.  All is Lost becomes an unique and subtle visual experience, without a single frame out of place.  Chandor creates a space both infinite and microscopic in detail, while Cuaron opts for operatic, Kubrickian set-pieces.  In fact, it is All is Lost that more aptly resembles Kubrick’s 2001, opening with the monolith, towering in an empty sea, and moving through the life cycle of all humanity.  From Redford’s introduction (sleeping, awakened by water rushing into his cabin) to the fiery finale, Chandor’s survivalist tale plots the trauma of birth through to the crushing inevitability of death, the time in between spent staving off the immense emptiness.  Redford has always been a physical actor (Newman the cerebral of the pairing), and here he is allowed to be fully present and vulnerable through action, a single expression more effective than a thousand crying Bullocks.   A-

*Every so often, two films of similar plots and themes are released in the same year, as if by some divine act of cinematic synchronicity.  See 1997‘s Dante’s Peak v. Volcano, 1998‘s Armageddon v. Deep Impact, 1994’s Jurassic Park v. Carnosaur, or 2013’s This is the End v. The World’s End, Olympus Has Fallen v. White House Down, Oblivion v. After Earth, and Smurfs 2 v. Blue is the Warmest Colour

— 10 months ago
#gravity  #all is lost  #alfonso cuaron  #jc chandor  #sci-fi  #film 
Clear History

Clear History [2013] dir. Greg Mottola

After losing out on a massive investment opportunity, Nathan Flom flees the city and begins a new life in Martha’s Vineyard.  10 years later, his old business partner begins construction of a mansion in town, causing Nathan to take extreme measures in order to remove his rival.  Entertaining Larry David vehicle is full of his trademark patter and improvisational spirit, tightly tied together by Mottola’s confident and breezy direction.  Though still rough around the edges, this Larry David is a far more likable and effervescent manifestation of the Curb creator’s Id, one with stronger communal bonds and instincts.  With Clear History, David has finally found a way to ameliorate his onscreen persona, much like Chaplin and Allen, retaining his unique characteristics while adding new distinctions.  Mottola’s film cruises along until a 2nd act reveal places too much emphasis on dramatic irony; the perceived antagonist possesses heroic and tragic qualities, while David rabbitholes further into his ill-conceived plan.  Light on consequence (the film being punctuated with a blowjob joke) and a little long on length, Clear History still represents a step forward for David feature lengths, the bitter taste of his earlier Sour Grapes finally extinguished.  B 

— 10 months ago
#clear history  #larry david  #film  #comedy  #curb your enthusiasm