Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

The Vital Importance of Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilya 4-ever”

Lukas Moodysson’s “Lilya 4-ever” chronicles the life of a sixteen year old girl after she gets abandoned by her mother who flees to America to escape poverty in Sweden. The viewer is quickly plunged into a downward spiral of human trafficking, Scandinavian sex slavery and betrayal. Based on the true story of a Lithuanian girl, “Lilya 4-ever” is one of the saddest films ever made and a powerful reminder of what life can do to people who aren’t as lucky as you. The film left me completely devastated and Oksana Akinshina’s performance is absolutely heartbreaking. It hurts me to know that there are children who go through this all over the world.

After this film was released and heavily promoted by the campaigning groups UNICEF and End Child Prostitution, the Swedish minister debated the problems of sex trafficking. It was also exported to Russia and Easter Europe as a means to influence policy makers in countries where victims are often sourced. The director’s aim was to make a film that would awaken Europe into following Sweden’s lead in dealing with the exploitation of women. “Lilya 4-ever” was so powerful it helped reshape laws within society. This is as important and urgent as cinema gets.

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The Greatness of Bela Tarr’s “Werckmeister Harmonies”

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”_H.P. Lovecraft

I firmly believe that decades from now people will look back at the work of Bela Tarr in the same light as that of Tarkovsky, Bresson, Dreyerand, and Ozu- cinema of the highest order. To watch “Werckmeister Harmonies” is to look the unknown dead in the eye and see the insignificance of humanity and accept our inevitable mortality. This bleak vision of chaos attempts to reinvent cinema as we know it; and while doing so, it will make you question everything you know about the construct of society and the world around you. The imagery in this film is as daunting and intimidating as anything I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of the feeling you get when you look at the black emptiness of cosmic space. The more you attempt to grasp its vastness, the more you realize how insignificantly small you are. Watching this film felt like I was inadvertently peaking at something that is beyond myself. If there was ever a film worthy of the word life-changing, this is it.

Film Analysis: “Arrival” ★★★★★ (5/5)

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Denis Villeneuve’s elegant sci-fi thriller, “Arrival”, contains one of the most deeply thoughtful messages of any film this year. Like Villeneuve’s breakthrough masterpiece, “Incendies”, the central message is a desperate call for solidarity. While “Incendies” addressed how absurd it is to hate on one another based on religious differences, “Arrival” pleas for the unification of humanity through world peace among nations and races. The film couldn’t be timelier.

This isn’t your ordinary alien invasion film. In fact, “Arrival” is more interested in asking questions about ‘us’ than ‘them’. So many world conflicts stem from miscommunication. The slightest misunderstanding could have dire consequences, be it between races, nations, individuals, or in this case, intergalactic visitors.

Instead of jumping to conclusions and taking action, the film argues we should converse more clearly. Emotional transparency is vital in creating a deeper connection amongst one another. What I find most fascinating is how Villeneuve communicates the importance of clarity of language through the universal and visual language of film.

Much of the film revolves around the public’s desperate need to finding answers regarding the nature of the arrival. Are they tourists, invaders, or educators? As the mystery drags on, the world begins to fall into complete chaos. We live in a world that demands immediate answers, for we fear the unknown. Villeneuve sophisticatedly practices this notion by integrating it into his masterful filmmaking. He understands that less is more, and what we don’t see is often scarier than what we do see.

It takes the film nearly thirty minutes, for example, to reveal the alien spacecraft and its occupants. By teasing viewers with what is left out of the screen, Villeneuve grips viewers and forces us to use our imagination. We become as eager and impatient as the desperate characters in the film. When we do finally meet the extraterrestrials, it comes with a sense of wonder and awe.

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Amy Adam plays the linguistic specialist in charge of communicating with the aliens. Both the character and the actress herself understand the importance of body language in communication. Adams’ performance evokes so much emotion without relying too heavily on dialogue. The subtly of her acting gives this nuanced film a cumulative resonating emotional power.

If she’s the heart of the film, then Jeremy Renner is the brain, and Forrest Whitaker, the muscle. The former actor plays the role of a theoretical physicist, and the latter, an army general. Through their interactions, we encounter distinctively different approaches to a given situation.

Apparently, director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning visual language for the aliens. Everything about the film feels plausible and well thought-out. According to astrophysicist, Andy Howell, the film does a great job at depicting physicist, linguists, and possible alien life. Grounded in reality, the devastating pace succeeds at unraveling an overwhelmingly awe-inspiring spectacle, which is no easy feat with genre audiences exposed to right about everything nowadays. I was reminded of the first time we took a glimpse at a dinosaur in “Jurassic Park”, the first appearance of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and the sweeping shot showcasing the “Titanic” from bow to stern. The poetic cinematography accompanied by Johann Johansson’s haunting score is a thing to behold.

What I found extraordinary about “Arrival” is how everything comes together nice and neatly at the end (or beginning). Let me explain. The structure of the plot itself is very well rounded, and I mean that in a very literal sense. The film explains how the alien’s perception of time is evident in the way they construct sentences and words. Unlike our linear way of writing, the aliens in the film write sentences in circular fashion. What that means is, the sentence has no beginning or end. Their awareness of time is correspondingly circular. Time for them is like a flat circle that constantly loops. There is no past, present and future.

The genius of Villeneuve is how he applies that to the structure of the actual film. “Arrival” has no beginning or end. Notice how the story begins where it ends, and ends where it begins. The film not only discusses complex theories about time, but also exemplifies it by creating a circular sequence of events. Embarking on the mounting steps of Villeneuve’s hypnotic structure is assured to leave viewers spellbound.

 

The 20 Best Films of 2015

Any list should be useful in containing films you’re not familiar with. In that sense, the purpose of this list is not to list movies in order of preference, but rather function as a suggestion to seek out significant films that might have flown under your radar. The goal is to call attention to movies you might have missed in a year where blockbusters overshadowed smaller productions.

For that reason, I have excluded “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, even though it deserves a place on this list. But let’s face it; we’ve all seen J.J. Abrams’ retro throwback. Another film I greatly admire, nowhere to be found here, is Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups”. Technically, Malick’s film doesn’t open nationwide till March of 2016, which disqualifies it from inclusion. That said, had it been released in 2015, I would easily call it the best film of the year. You can read my review of “Knight of Cups” here. Without further ado, the best films of the year in no particular order:


The Look of Silence
(Indonesia)

Joshua Oppenheimer follows his bizarre, “The Act of Killing”, with another brutal documentary focusing on the aftermath of a genocide. During the 1960’s Indonesian genocide, Ramli Rukun was one of millions accused of being a communist by the military dictatorship. He was taken to a nearby river where executioners repeatedly stabbed him, chopped off his penis, and drank his blood before dumping his body in the water. Decades after this horrific ordeal, Adi Rukun confronts the group of men who killed his older brother.

At first, the killers brag about their killings with nationalistic pride. “I know from experience, if you cut off a woman’s breast, it looks like a coconut milk filter, full of holes…it doesn’t matter. If they’re bad people you can hack them.” At the end of each interview, Rukun reveals to the former killer his identity, and the camera captures the most extraordinarily reaction shot, the look of silence.

 

The Lobster (Greece/UK)

“The Lobster” is a love story set in a dystopian future where single people are arrested and transferred to a hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate within 45 days. If they fail to meet the deadline, they are transformed into animals and released into the woods. This bizarre synopsis alone should be enough to tickle your curiosity. Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy is an exercise in absurdness. It also happens to be the funniest film of the year.

If it were up to me, I would’ve awarded it the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected to compete for the prestigious prize. The most original film of the year mocks the many facets of society from our universal obsession of finding a compatible spouse to reproducing. “The Lobster” is pitch-perfect satire that ridicules modern dating obligations. Colin Farrell delivers one of the most underrated performances of the year.

 

Victoria (Germany)

Victoria is the most suspenseful German thriller since “Run Lola Run”. Sebastian Schipper notably shot the entire film in one single take clocking in at 134 minutes. Last year’s “Birdman” may have stolen the spotlight of this feat, but unlike “Birdman”, “Victoria” does it for real, without any smart transitional editing tricks.

Victoria is a young Spanish pianist who quickly finds herself in the midst of a heist with a group of friends she just met. Set within a single night in Berlin, the film grabs you by the throat from the get-go, and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end. “Victoria” is pure cinematic fineness. Schipper neatly develops his characters within the first half of the night, before thrusting the characters we grew to love into realistically portrayed danger. The film also features a magnificent musical score by Nils Frahm.

 

When Marnie Was There (Japan)

 Pixar’s “Inside Out” may have the brains, but Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There” most certainly has the bigger heart. Studio Ghibli is synonym with quality animation. The truth is, every Studio Ghibli review is most likely to contain the same descriptive words, breathtaking animation, fleshed-out characters, beautiful music, and a heartwarming story.

“When Marnie Was There” is no exception. The studio’s first film since Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement is an exceptional work of art. The film tells the coming-of-age story of a young introverted foster child with asthma who is sent to the countryside by her guardians. Soon she runs into Marnie, a ghostly friend at the big mansion across the river. Through their friendship, she learns many things about herself. As for the viewer, we learn about traditional Japanese values: forgives, family, and harmony.

The Big Short (USA)

Adam McKay figured out a way to make a film centered on the credit and housing market collapse of 2008 entertaining, and that’s no easy feat. It is the strongest film explanation of the global financial crisis to date. The reason it works so well is because it takes financial concepts that are hard to grasp by the general public and packages it as a comprehensible “Wall Street Banking For Dummies” nutshell.

“The Big Short” is surprisingly light footed for a subject matter so heavy- the greatest economic tragedy since the Great Depression. McKay managed to translate finance into plain English and make it all engaging thanks to a script that boasts comedic one-liners from an all-star ensemble. Yet, the film is as unsettling as it is entertaining. It possesses the energy of “The Wolf of Wall Street” and the investigative enthusiasm of “Moneyball”.


Listen to Me Marlon (UK)

After watching Listen to Me Marlon, the first thing I did was walk over to the ticket booth to buy another ticket for the next showing. Stevan Riley dissects Brando’s life using nothing but audio recovered from tapes the actor recorded himself. He also utilises a 3D digital version of Brando’s head that the actor got made in the 1980s in order to be part of future digital performances. It’s a first documentary of its kind.

The end result is the best-documented film on, not only the most influential actor ever, but on acting itself as an art form. Riley paints Brando’s words with corresponding visuals that perfectly encapsulate the meaning behind the spoken word. Like Brando’s many monumental performances, Riley has figured out a way to showcase a portrait in a way that has never been done before. To watch this documentary is to not only understand why Brando is regarded as the greatest actor of all time, but it is to grasp the undeniable fact that he was truly one of the most remarkable human beings to ever walk this planet.

 

Tu Dors Nicole (Canada)

At one point, Nicole mentions she plans on visiting Iceland with her best friend; to which her brother’s buddy replies, “What are you going to do there?” She then thinks about it for a second and answers, “Nothing. We’ll do nothing, but we’ll be doing nothing somewhere else. Nice nothing.”

I can see viewers watching this gem and complaining that nothing really happens throughout the film, but it’s the nice kind of nothing. Besides, by watching all this beautiful shot black and white nothingness, so much can happen to the viewer.

 

Bridge of Spies (USA)

Steven Spielberg’s sharp espionage thriller is a marvelous exercise in classical-virtuoso filmmaking. “Bridge of Spies” feels like it belongs to a different era of films. Tom Hanks’ performance has Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” written all over it, and Spielberg’s classical directing cements him as a modern day Frank Capra. This is a fine piece of vintage Hollywood moviemaking.

Fans of Spielberg will find many of his signature trademarks, from the classical musical score, to the suburban family setting, great iconic set pieces, and the common theme of ordinary men achieving extraordinary tasks. The term traditional can perceived in a negative light, here I mean it in a positive way. At times when every filmmaker is trying to break new ground, the old-fashioned “Bridge of Spies” paradoxically feels rather refreshing.

 

Anomalisa (USA)

Like every Charlie Kauffman film, “Anomalisa” exposes the melancholy of the human condition in spades. However, what distinguishes it from his past work, and really any stop-motion animated film to date, is its deliberate use of that form of animation. Stop-motion and voice acting in particular serve the plot dynamics as opposed to being a filmmaking gimmick.

“Anomalisa” is a slice-of-life animation that couldn’t have articulated its message in any other form. Voice-over acting serves as a narrative plot device metaphorically symbolizing the act of falling in love. “Anomalisa” is just as much about falling out of love, as it is about falling in love. Nevertheless, what makes “Anomalisa” truly stand out is not what it is about, but how it is about what it’s about.

 

Ex Machina (UK)

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as an AI is programmed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.

“Ex Machina” is a study of what it means to be conscious/human. With its release, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. The film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (Australia/USA)

I think by now, it’s quite clear that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the blockbuster spectacle of the year. It has been discussed to death. With a strong feminist undertaking, mastermind George Miller pumps up his post-apocalyptic trilogy with a nitrous oxide charge of marvelous cinema.

This recklessly fast-paced motion picture is quite possible the greatest stunt film since Buster Keaton took over a locomotive in “The General”. The fact that it tackles contemporary issues such as gender equality, climate change and the inevitable water wars to come is just the icing on top – or shall I say the shooting flame on an electric guitar?

The Assassin (Taiwan)

Some critics have likened the viewing of this film to watching paint dry. But when the overall canvas resembles a scenic museum piece, you don’t really mind the slow pace; the paint can take all the time it needs to dry. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first feature in eight years won the Best Director award at Cannes Film Festival, and with good reason, it is a feast to the senses, a moving painting if there every was one.

That said it’s not for everyone. Students of film will appreciate “The Assassin” more so than regular moviegoers. Hou creates an anti-wuxia film, replacing generic wuxia fight scenes seen in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, “Hero”, and “House of Flying Daggers” with soothing compositional elegance. “The Assassin” floods us with one picturesque sequence after the other. The camera often peeks at characters through thin layers of fabric curtains, ultimately unveiling the most beautifully composed film of the year.

Son of Saul (Hungary)

A Hungarian Jewish prisoner involuntary assists Nazis with operating the mass extermination inside a concentration camp. One day, as he’s forced to burn his own people, he comes across the body of young boy he takes for his son. We’ve seen one too many Holocaust films, but “Son of Saul” takes us closer to the horrors of Auschwitz than most films.

Laszlo Nemes shot the film almost entirely in close-ups sculpting a claustrophobic documentation of how a concentration camp operated. It is one of the year’s most important films. Not only does it accurately depict the horrific procedural mechanics of a concentration camp, but it also manages to use exceptional framing to trap viewers inside one of the most horrific places ever constructed by man.

 

Winter of Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (Ukraine)

Witnessing the Ukrainian revolution is bound to bring back memories of the Egyptian revolution. Watching how dictatorships similarly react to peaceful demonstrations is absolutely fascinating. In late 2013, Ukraine erupted after president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement to join the European Union, and resorted to hardening an alliance with Russia instead. “Winter of Fire” covers the almost 90 day uprising period that led to Yanukovych’s resignation.

Netflix scored its first Oscar nomination for Best Documentary in 2014, and two year later, the streaming service is emulating that success with a deeply involving look at the Ukraine situation. While “The Square” took a micro look at the Egyptian revolution by following a small group of protesters, “Winter of Fire” uses a macro bird-eye perspective look at the whole situation. Some of the images of footage presented in this documentary should send shivers down your spine.

Sicario (USA)

Denis Villeneuve takes a tactical filmmaking approach to explore morality in the violent world of drug cartels. “Sicario” fumes with chilling photography. This comes as no surprise when you have 13-time Academy Award nominated cinematographer Richard Deakins added to the mix. The film also boils with nerve-wracking tension, thanks to a thunderous score by Johann Johannsson, and Benicio Del Toro’s powerhouse performance.

Few actors demand the viewer’s utmost attention like Benicio De Toro. With only a few lines and limited screen time, Del Toro completely dominates the film from start to finish. Much like Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs”, and Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now”, one can feel Del Toro’s towering presence hovering over the whole film, even when he’s off-screen.

 

It Follows (USA)

“It Follows” is a near-perfect horror film. When I first watched this terrifying film, I was looking over my shoulder the whole way back. It very much follows you long after the credits roll. David Robert Mitchell has perfected a nerve-racking tale that is both intelligent in its use of metaphoric plot points and hypnotically terrifying, the like of which we haven’t seen since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”.

Layered with an STD subtext where sex has metaphysical implications, the film promotes the behavior as much as it feasts on sex-related fears. This is the type of film made for drive-in theatres, and if this were to screen in a drive-in, you would more likely be glued to the screen in absolute terror than undressing your partner sitting next to you. Everything about “It Follows” is perfectly executed, from the haunting Disasterpeace original score, to the dreadful atmosphere reminiscent of the work of John Carpenter. It’s very much an impeccable exercise in pure terror.

 

Room (Ireland)

What would it be like to experience the world for the first time? “Room” tells the extraordinary story of a mother and her five-year-old child’s escape from captivity. Much of the film takes place inside a small room. This portion of the film plays out like a suffocating version of “Panic Room”. Both main characters and the camera never leave the confines of the room, which is a remarkable technical achievement in itself.

However, the film’s dark first half is perfectly balanced with a heartwarming second and third act. “Room” has the power to make us look around, and notice the little things we often take granted in life. Lenny Abrahamson practically opens a window to the world. This dark room shines with uplifting performances from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.

 

Inside Out (USA)

Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece has steered viewers, both young and old, to take a deep look inside their own minds. Much of the film takes place inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl dealing with joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. The film is full of insights about the nature of how we process emotions. More importantly, it demonstrates how we are essentially the sum of our past experiences.

Memories from different points of our life shape who we are and how we behave. We learn that every outer-experience dictates an inner emotion, and suppressing emotions like sadness won’t do any good. In fact, it is important to acknowledge and get fully immersed in every emotion to lead a healthy life. “Inside Out” compresses the universal fundamentals of humanity in a fun journey to the core of child psychology.

 

The Revenant (USA)

Alejandro González Iñárritu continues his campaign of experimental filmmaking with “The Revenant”. Iñárritu always had a flair for pulling off impossible feats. His first three features, “Amores Perros”, “21 Grams” and “Babel”, were exercises of nonlinear interconnected narratives. ”Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” appears to have no editing whatsoever, and came from the realization that “we live our lives with no editing”.

His latest entry in a very impressive filmography practices natural lighting. “The Revenant” uses no artificial lighting techniques whatsoever. Iñárritu’s dedication accumulates to an anti-revenge flick simultaneously breathtaking and brutal. In a film with standout action-packed cinematography endeavors, my favorite scene is surprisingly the film’s quietest moment. Hugh Glass encounters a lone Native American butchering a wild beast in the middle of nowhere. For the briefest moments, two individuals from opposing sides, strip themselves of titles and skin color. At desperate times, they become simply men sharing a meal.

 

45 Years (UK)

“45 Years” portrays the devastating effects of keeping secrets in a long marriage. After an incident from the past gets uncovered, we witness the old couple attempting to recapture youth in a desperate attempt to cling on the grounds they’ve built over 45 years of marriage. The film speaks of the difficulties of sustaining a relationship so long and taming retrospective jealousy. At the end, one can’t help but recognize the fragility of relationships, no matter how long-lasting.

Charlotte Rampling commands the screen with a tragic performance sizzling with subtle nuances that expose an avalanche of emotions. It is a case study in refined acting, and perhaps the most powerful female performance of the year. The final moments of “45 Years” makes very strong use of musical lyrics, helping the protagonist, and the viewer, arrive to a heartbreaking revelation.


Honorable Mentions:

“Phoenix”, “Clouds of Sils Maria”, “Charlie’s Country”, “Macbeth”, “Mustang”, “Carol”, “Beasts of No Nation”, “Hard to be a God”, “Steve Jobs”, “Theeb”, “Youth”, “Spotlight”, “Queen of Earth”, “Brooklyn”, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Martian”, “Chriaq”, “The Russian Woodpecker”, “James White”, “Hitchcock/Truffaut”, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, “Straight Outta Compton”, “Paddington”.

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review: “Listen to Me Marlon” ★★★★★ (5/5)

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In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Brando elaborates the effect an actor should have on his audience. “Hit ‘em. Knock ‘em over…with an attitude, with a word, with a look! Be surprising! Figure out a way to do it in a way that has never been done before. You want to stop that movement of the popcorn to the mouth. Get people to stop chewing. You do that with the truth.” I can see director Stevan Riley listening to those very words for the first time through his headphones, the vibrating wavelengths travelling beyond his eardrums and taken to heart. Riley implements that exact same Brando technique on the making of his documentary.

After watching “Listen to Me Marlon”, the first thing I did was walk over to the ticket booth to buy another ticket for the next showing. Stevan Riley dissects Brando’s life using nothing but audio recovered from tapes the actor recorded himself. He also utilizes a 3D digital version of Brando’s head that the actor got made in the 1980’s in order to be part of future digital performances. It’s a first documentary of its kind.

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The end result is the best-documented film on not only the greatest and most influential actor to walk this planet, but on acting itself as an art form. Riley paints Brando’s words with corresponding visuals that perfectly encapsulate the meaning behind the spoken word. Like Brando’s many monumental performances, Riley has figured out a way to showcase a portrait in a way that has never been done before.

“When the camera is close on you, your face becomes the stage; your face is the proscenium arch of the theatre, thirty feet high, and it sees all the little movements of the face and the eye and the mouth.” _Marlon Brando

While the film is an intimate portrait first and foremost, it is also many other things. Much of the film feels meditative, much like the work of Terrence Malick. Brando reflects on life with personal and philosophical commentary without it steering away from being a posthumous autobiographical film. The viewer learns about the method of the quintessential actor, but we also get a peak at the man himself. This is as close as we’ll ever be to seeing the world through the eyes of Marlon Brando, a deeply thoughtful artist if there ever was one. This isn’t merely Brando on Brando; it’s Brando on life and the world, as we know it.

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“Don’t bring anything into the present that doesn’t have the past.”_Marlon Brando

One part I found interesting is when Brando is asked if the roles he picks reflect his life and he replies yes. His powerhouse breakthrough as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is so real and authentic, because what we’re really seeing is Brando slipping into the shoes of his abusive father. In fact, the documentary makes a strong argument for the auteur theory. It establishing it as a legit theory of film.

The auteur theory is possibly the most interesting theory in film for the simple reason that there is no true definition to fully explain the theory. The thematic link between films of an individual artist reveals a view or outlook the author or auteur has on the world. The auteur is an individual who has something to say to the world, and through his work, the viewer discovers his statement. An auteur doesn’t necessarily have to be the director; in fact, it may be a director and an actor working together, each displaying his own vision. Each film can have more than one auteur.

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If we carefully examine the films of Marlon Brando, you’ll find the one thing that binds them together is rebellion. His characters are often individuals fighting for a cause be it Terry Malloy fighting mob corruption on the docks in “On the Waterfront”, or his motorcycle led rebellion as Johnny Strabler in “The Wild One”. Other notable roles of characters fighting an establishment include Emiliano Zapata in “Viva Zapata” and of course his turns as Mark Anthony in “Julius Caesar”, Fletcher Christian in “Mutiny on the Bounty” and defected Colonel Kurtz who went rogue in “Apocalypse Now”. Brando’s latter choices as an actor are presented as a protest against the Hollywood studio system.

Brando very much practiced what he preached as is evident in some of pivotal activism chapters in his life. He supported many causes most notably the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and various American Indian Movements. The latter was a point of much discussion when he protested the Oscars by declining to accept his second Best Actor Academy Award for the misrepresentation of Native Americans in Hollywood westerns. “Listen to Me Marlon” feels like an extension to his acting and activism; the film allows the legend to deliver a message to the world from beyond the grave.

As a film critic, it is my duty to guide eager viewers to the right movies, because money and time is a luxury. I can’t remember the last time I felt the urge to show a film to everyone I know, as strongly as I did walking out of “Listen to me Marlon”. To watch this documentary is to not only understand why Brando is regarded as the greatest actor of all time, but it is to grasp the undeniable fact that he was truly one of the most remarkable human beings to ever walk this planet.

The 15 Best Films of 2015 (So Far)

The year is off to a great start with triumphs in both blockbuster films and independent filmmaking. Like all my lists, it’s not organized in any particular order, with the exception of “Tu Dors Nicole” taking the top spot for being a clear personal favorite of mine. After that, all the listed films are scattered in random order. The list excludes critically acclaimed films I still haven’t seen such as “Inside Out”, “Timbuku”, “Love & Mercy”, “White God”, and “Far From the Maddin Crowd”. Whether or not any of the films survive to make it to my end-of-the-year list remains to be seen.

Tu_dors_Nicole_Poster_27x39_HR

At one point, Nicole mentions she plans on visiting Iceland with her best friend; to which her brother’s buddy replies, “What are you going to do there?” She then thinks about it for a second and answers, “Nothing. We’ll do nothing, but we’ll be doing nothing somewhere else. Nice nothing.” I can see viewers watching this gem and complaining that nothing really happens throughout the film, but it’s the nice kind of nothing. Besides, by watching all this beautiful shot black and white nothingness, so much can happen to the viewer. “Tu dors Nicole” is probably my personal favorite film of the year so far.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIEf5T3U2YA

ex

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.   “Ex Machina” is a study of what it means to be conscious/human. With its release, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. The film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI8XBKb6DQk

mad-max-fury-road-poster2

I think by now, it’s quite clear that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the blockbuster spectacle of the summer. It’s only been out for a month, yet everything about this film has been discussed to death. With a strong feminist undertaking, mastermind George Miller pumps up his post-apocalyptic trilogy with a nitrous oxide charge of marvelous cinema. This recklessly fast-paced motion picture is quite possible the greatest stunt film since Buster Keaton took over a locomotive in “The General”. The fact that it tackles contemporary issues such as gender equality, climate change and the inevitable water wars to come is just the icing on top – or shall I say the shooting flame on an electric guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woHTUsl66BY

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According to Roy Anderson, the film’s 72-year old Swedish cult filmmaker, merely watching this film from beginning to end will make you a smarter person. This is his third installment in a philosophical trilogy about what it means to be a human being. However, like “Songs From the Second Floor” and “You, the Living”, it works as a stand-alone film. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” is beautifully sad, and humorously bizarre. It will more likely find its audience in a museum than a multiplex.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGwGyo5Ywpo

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“It Follows” is a near-perfect horror film. When I first watched this terrifying film, I was looking over my shoulder the whole way back. It very much follows you long after the credits roll. David Robert Mitchell has perfected a nerve-racking tale that is both intelligent in its use of metaphoric plot points and hypnotically terrifying, the like of which we haven’t seen since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Layered with an STD subtext where sex has metaphysical implications, the film promotes the behavior as much as it feasts on sex-related fears. This is the type of film made for drive-in theaters, and if this were to screen in a drive-in, you would more likely be glued to the screen in absolute terror than undressing your partner sitting next to you. Everything about “It Follows” is perfectly executed, from the haunting Disasterpeace original score, to the dreadful atmosphere of a small-town that recalls the work of John Carpenter. It’s very much an impeccable exercise in pure terror.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaRx7iR9kXg

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Damian Szifron’s Academy Award nominated film is the most entertaining film on this list. The film is composed of six revenge tales with twists and turns at every scene. Not all of the stories here are great, but they’re all certainly engaging. One thing they all have in common is the directorial chef; Szifron peppers his stories with dark humor and a thread of wicked irony. “Wild Tales” grabs it viewers by the balls from the brilliant opening scene and doesn’t let go till the credits start rolling.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUnXv6R2HI8

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Oliver Assays blurs the lines between fiction and reality as art intertwines with actuality. This Bergman(esque) character study revolves around a legendary actress who accepts to star in a film where she revisits the role that made her a star twenty years ago. However, she has been chosen to play the role of an old veteran actress who gets practically walked over by a much younger talent. Things start getting out of hand when script starts to reflect reality. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Moretz deliver a trio of in-depth performances that fearlessly dig into the female psyche. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is in many ways a female-centered “Birdman” with European flair.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-9rcEhGm4

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Technically, “Charlie’s Country” made its festival debut in 2014, but the film just opened in selected theaters across the US, which makes it qualify to land on my list. It is said to be the first film ever to be spoken in Yolngu, Australia’s indigenous language. The sad reality is that the film could also very well be the last of its kind. Once rulers of their land, the Yolngu only make up 1% of the current Australian population. I can’t think of a better film to preserve the roots of Australia’s native population than “Charlie’s Country”. Legendary Australian actor, David Gulpilil carries the whole film on his shoulders with a heartbreaking performance that is at times both witty, and comical. “Charlie’s Country” is a fine piece of Australian cinema, perhaps even, the most important Australian film yet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpcfNQ6tiiE

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“Slow West” is as close as we’ll ever get to see what a Wes Anderson western would look like. Writer and director John Maclean combines a somewhat similar visual style with offbeat humor in a story that follows a young man’s journey across the frontier in search for the woman he loves. Midway through, he stumbles upon a mysterious cowboy who offers him road protection. This isn’t by any chance a masterpiece, nor is it one of the genre’s best, but it’s a fun little gem of movie that works in unexpected ways. Michael Fassbender shines as always as the outlaw with a heart of gold.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFfsTsdJfF8

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“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is based on the rock star’s diary entries, art and home videos, and the end result is as intimate as a music documentary could get. In fact, some of the material shown here is so personal, the viewer might feel uncomfortable prying into the artistic mind of artist. Brett Morgen uses beautiful hand drawn animation to retell key chapters of Cobain’s life that ultimately led to his sudden demise. It is an emotionally wrenching cinematic portrait of Kurt Cobain the person as opposed to the icon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqyPMyC2T0s

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The funniest and most violent action film of the year comes from “Kick Ass” director Mathew Vaughn. Colin Firth stars as a secret agent who could probably pistol-whip James Bond to a pulp. Imagine if “Pretty Woman” was re-written as an R-rated superhero film about spies, and you’ll probably end up with “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. The film consciously spoofs both the “My Fair Lady” type of film and the espionage genre. Everything here is over-the-top from the hyper action scenes to the abrupt violence, the foul language, even the product placement is in your face. On paper, none of this should work, but somehow the sheer absurdity of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, and the director’s awareness of it, makes it one of the most entertaining films of the year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl8F-8tR8to

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“The Tribe” is presented entirely in sign language, without any translation, subtitles, or dialogue. It is a first of its kind in all of cinema and that alone warrants it a place on my list. The film follows gangsters in a school for the deaf as they spread anarchy whether they go. There’s a lot of sex, drinking, smoking, fighting, and unlawful criminal behavior committed throughout the film. It isn’t an easy film to watch, and it’s not because of the lack of dialogue and soundtrack, but because of the disturbing nature of their acts. A new cinematic communication is born with this film. “The Tribe” is a testament to the power of visual storytelling, and proves that gestures, facial expressions and body movement are all you need to tell an emotionally powerful story.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xboxgEm-ucU

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“Jurassic World” is composed of every ingredient you would expect in a generic summer blockbuster, but what makes it work is the fact that the whole spectacle is a big homage to the far superior original, “Jurassic Park”. Much like an actual roller coaster, the film is a roaring thrill ride from beginning to end. And even though one of the theme park’s managers tires to justify creating a new genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur by declaring, “people are bored with dinosaurs”, the most electrifying moments mount from the appearances of the very dinosaurs that made the original the classic it is today. “Jurassic World” lacks the wonder and awe of “Jurassic Park”; but it’s still the best sequel within the franchise so far.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lP-sUUUfamw

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Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”) masterfully crafts a film about the consequences of a lie. Following a beach incident, the mysterious disappearance of Elly leads a group of vacationing friends to lie. All lies bring forth suspicion, and with each question asked, the lies snowball into more fabrications. What we end up with is a study of group mentality and the psychological/emotional motivations behind the occasional painful necessity to lie for greater good. “About Elly” reaches its audience nearly six years after its initial release, and it cements Farhadi as one of the finest filmmakers working today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdqMICWhxuA

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Warm, charming, and absolutely delightful in every sense of the word, “Paddington” is the surprise hit family film of the year. Paul King stuffs his film with British charm and all things English. Like the “Harry Potter” films, both adults and kids alike can enjoy “Paddington”. The simplicity of the self-contained story will make you remember how wholesome it felt to hug a stuffed teddy bear.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxeBdrGGU8U


Honoroable Mentions: “
5 Broken Cameras”, “Red Army”, “Mojave”, “Spring”, “Shaun the Sheep”, “The Driftless Area”, “Duke of Burgundy”, “Heaven Knows What”, “Blackhat”

Nutshell Review: “Under the Skin”

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In an earlier review for Under the Skin, I wrote that I wasn’t sure if I would ever watch it again. I’ve re-watched the film five times since making that statement. With over a hundred years of cinema, filmmakers recycle, remake, and try to improve upon originals with lesser sequels, etc. Rarely do I stumble upon a film that shows me something new, something I’ve never seen before. Under the Skin did just that. The music, sound effects, cinematography and art-direction are so fresh and different; it almost feels alien, much like its protagonist, an extraterrestrial being played by Scarlett Johansson. She terrorises the streets of Scotland seducing pedestrians; much like the visuals seduce the viewer. Through our protagonist’s development from an “it” to a “she”, we slowly grasp the fundamentals of what it means to be human. On another LEVEL, victimising men with the promise of sex will give male audiences a taste of what it’s like to walk down a dark alley as a woman in a man’s world.