Tag Archives: Cannes

Top 100 Films #1 – Punch-Drunk Love (2002)


punch-drunk-love2#1. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman

The moment of truth – my all-time favorite movie is one that I’ve seen dozens of times and a film I think back to almost every single day. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2002 film Punch-Drunk Love is the most beautiful, unique, and challenging experience I’ve ever had with a movie. It explores themes of love, loneliness and isolation, and insecurity in a relatable and stylish way that resonates in ways that no other movie could ever accomplish. Punch-Drunk Love tells the story of toilet plunger distributor Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) as he struggles with his lonely, trapped, and insecure existence. He is alienated by his seven domineering sisters, and constantly made to reevaluate himself and his identity as a man. After an attempted extortion scheme from a phone sex operator, Barry meets a woman named Lena (Emily Watson) who is strangely attracted to him. On a whim, the neurotic and compulsive Barry surprises Lena in Hawaii, where the two hit it off and begin a romantic relationship. Unfortunately for the new couple, the phone sex operator’s extortion scheme leads to the couple being harassed, forcing Barry to fight for the woman he loves. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson brilliantly creates a palpable feeling of isolation and loneliness throughout Punch-Drunk Love, giving viewers a look inside the mind of Barry Egan. Barry is my all-time favorite movie character for a variety of reasons – his overly anxious, awkward, and nervous personality is something I’ve always been able to relate to, but also because it’s just plain funny to see his interactions with the world around him. He struggles to stay cool in social situations, and frequently has surprising and violent outbursts when he is left alone. Anderson’s writing of Barry Egan feels deeply personal and committed – he isn’t making fun of the awkward and lonely Barry, he’s empathizing with him and using the character to portray themes that are not often tackled in movies. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction throughout Punch-Drunk Love is incredibly frantic and constantly on the move, but always feels small and relatively isolated which helps further the themes of entrapment. Anderson would win a well-deserved Best Director prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival for his work on Punch-Drunk Love. On top of incredible writing and directing from one of the world’s great contemporary filmmakers, the film features a truly terrific score from composer Jon Brion. Brion’s score is experimental and erratic, providing the perfect underlay for Barry’s many moments of nervousness, high anxiety, and misdirected anger. The use of the harmonium throughout is inspired and adds an extra layer of uniqueness to the score – the instrument is even reflected in the film’s plot. The film’s sound mixing plays a large part in the first half of Punch-Drunk Love, featuring constantly ringing phones, warehouse noises, and beautiful tone of the harmonium. Adam Sandler delivers a career-best performance as Barry Egan, being believably unpredictable and awkward at all times, but also surprisingly romantic and brave in his shining moments. Anderson’s brilliance as a director is reflected in Adam Sandler’s performance, as it’s clear that the actor was extra inspired in the performance. Emily Watson’s performance as Lena is equally as weird and compelling, even though she doesn’t have nearly as much screentime as Sandler. The two have more than enough chemistry to make the film’s central love story believable and adorable, and their interactions are some of the best moments in the film. I can’t possible state how big of an impact Punch-Drunk Love has had on my adult life – it provided me with a relatable, humorous, and beautiful story to escape in during some of my worst years. It’s a wonderful film that I can come back to again and again and still feel as moved as I was the first time – an unsung masterpiece whose brilliance can’t be understated. I’m proud to call Punch-Drunk Love my all-time favorite film, even if it’s a bond only I can understand – it’s a beautiful, incredibly well-crafted movie with themes that truly resonate with me.

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Top 100 Films #23 – All That Jazz (1979)


all-that-jazz-dancing#23. All That Jazz (1979)
Directed by: Bob Fosse
Written by: Robert Alan Aurthur, Bob Fosse
Starring: Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Leland Palmer, Ann Reinking

All That Jazz is Bob Fosse’s semi autobiographical masterpiece about his experiences as stage dancer and director, as well as his time working on his previous film Lenny and the stage production of Chicago simultaneously.  All That Jazz follows stage director and performer Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) as he splits his time between editing a feature film and directing an ambitious new Broadway show.  In order to cope with the stress, Joe relies on his a trusty cocktail of cigarettes and pills, which eventually catch up to him.  Joe eventually begins to experience serious chest pains and is rushed to the hospital – where he is forced to stay for a number of weeks.  With his projects on hold indefinitely, Joe is forced to deal with his health issues and reevaluate his life decisions.  What follows is a surreal and dreamlike series of bombastic musical numbers and existential angst, imagined only as a visionary like Bob Fosse could.  Roy Scheider gives a career-best performance as Joe Gideon, who is a compulsive, workaholic visionary who never comes across as anything short of genuine.  Scheider’s Joe is perfectly understated and subtle – something I had never seen from the actor before All That Jazz.  Bob Fosse’s work behind the camera is highly energetic, self-indulgent, and full the director’s stylistic flares – the dream sequences in particular are some of the highlights of All That Jazz.  The director’s attention to detail pays off in spades in the incredibly well-choreographed musical numbers, proving that his time on the stage could translate perfectly to the big screen.  The screenplay by the duo of Fosse and Robert Alan Aurthur is entirely self-aware and death-obsessed – it’s clear that these themes and ruminations are coming from a very intimate and personal place.  All That Jazz is Bob Fosse’s brilliant take on a subject many all-time great directors have tackled – a self-aware exploration of the tortured mind of an artist, obsessed with their legacy and their untimely death.  It’s easy to argue that Fosse’s film is self-indulgent and more impressed with itself than it should be, but to deny its sense of passion and the artistry involved would be plain foolish.  All That Jazz is not always an easy or joyful watch (especially for a musical), but it’s one hell of an affecting film.  

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Top 100 Films #65 – Kagemusha (1980)


9hjmvhq#65. Kagemusha (1980)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai

Kagemusha is Akira Kurosawa’s epic tale of deception within a political dynasty in Sengoku era Japan.  The film served as Kurosawa’s return to Japan after a brief excursion to Russia in order to make the equally incredible Dersu Uzala. Kagemusha’s intricate story sees Takeda Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), leader of the Takeda clan, save a thief from execution due to his uncanny resemblance to the daimyo.  This “Kagemusha” (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai) is taught the ways of the Takeda clan in order to serve as their leader’s double, eventually fooling even those closest to the daimyo.  After a series of unfortunate events, the Kagemusha is forced to assume leadership upon Takeda Shingen’s untimely demise, throwing the clan into chaos when their enemies suspect that something is going on.  Akira Kurosawa is best known for his intimate and action-packed samurai-era epics, and Kagemusha absolutely delivers on that front.  While it may be something of a slow burn in its first act, the story being told by the director is an intimate and delicate character study of an incredibly powerful man and his enemies.  Stories of people being thrown into positions far over their own heads are age-old, and yet Kagemusha manages to shed a new light on the classic story structure.  The titular Kagemusha is transformed from a barbaric thief to a dead ringer for the daimyo of the Takeda clan, and the transformation is wonderful to behold.  While Kagemusha is a more personal tale than some of Kurosawa’s other epics, it also features incredible, sweeping panoramic scenes of action.  While never as thrilling as something like Ran, Kurosawa’s film doesn’t seem interested in telling a non-stop thrill ride – instead it’s sure of what it is, which is a tale of deception and intrigue, and it delivers on these fronts.  The dual performance of Tatsuya Nakadai is admirable, with the actor eventually able to blend the two dynamic personalities into the transformed Kagemusha.  The samurai epic saw modest success, tying with Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and picking up an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.  While it may not be the best introduction to those not familiar with the samurai genre, Kagemusha is a captivating, beautiful, and highly rewarding for those brave enough to give it a shot.

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North Bay Film Festival (Day 4 – October 2, 2016)


Sunday, October 2nd marked the final day of the North Bay Film Festival.  Regardless of your feelings towards the films, there’s little doubt in my mind that the festival was a success.  While it may not have reached the high expectations of some longtime festival goers of the city, I saw a huge amount of fresh faces, made exciting personal connections, and saw a lot of interesting and exciting movies from some of the industry’s young up-and-comers.  I had an incredible weekend of volunteering, networking, and watching movies, and I absolutely can’t wait to get involved again next year.  Sunday’s lineup saw Canadian documentary The Messenger, Northern Ontario aboriginal film Fire Song, and Xavier Dolan’s French-Canadian award winner It’s Only the End of the World.  Below are my quick thoughts on the three films, and my personal best of the fest awards:

messenger-poster-webThe Messenger (2015)
Directed by: Su Rynard
Written by: Su Rynard
Starring: n/a

Su Rynard’s documentary about the mass deaths of migratory songbirds around the world was in my opinion one of the biggest missed opportunity of the festival.  While the film is beautifully shot and clearly very well researched, it doesn’t do much to connect and resonate with its audience after the thirty minute mark.  It’s a film I feel would have worked much better as a short film, as a feature length did it no justice at all – the material just isn’t there for 90 minutes of dead or dying birds.

What I Liked:

  • The film has some incredibly well-constructed scenes, especially those with closeups of birds flying.  The 9/11 memorial scene was memorable as well.
  • The archival footage used in certain scenes was very interesting, especially those featuring house cats preying on songbirds, as well as Mao’s “Four Pests” footage of sparrows being driven to death by exhaustion.  

What I Didn’t:

  • While I understand that the message is something needs to be done, it’s repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.  It’s tiring after 90 minutes of “something needs to change”, especially since we aren’t provided with any real hint of solutions to the problem.
  • The structure of the film is bizarre, jumping from location to location with no real rhyme or reason or flow to it.  There were times I thought the movie was winding down, only to reveal that there were still locations to visit.
  • The Messenger feels like one giant guilt trip.  It seems that everything we do as humans results in the deaths of songbirds.  We’re shown more dead birds than I’ve seen in my life, but after the first few I found it hard to feel bad anymore.

All in all, The Messenger just didn’t do anything for me outside of exhaust me to the point of complete apathy.  I was sad that the birds have been so horribly affected by our Western lifestyle, but I was angry that the film would hammer this point home without any real solutions or suggestions.  It feels half-finished, even though it runs for 90 minutes.  In other words, The Messenger isn’t nearly as important or ambitious as it thinks it is. It’s unfortunate, because I feel with a smaller scope and some real solutions this could have been something truly special.  Su Rynard’s The Messenger is not recommended.

Fire Song (2016)fire-song
Directed by: Adam Garnet Jones
Written by: Adam Garnet Jones
Starring: Andrew Martin, Jennifer Podemski, Derek Miller, Brendt Thomas Diabo

Having grown up in Northern Ontario, it’s bizarre to have finally seen something created in that region up on the big screen.  Fire Song tells the story of a gay aboriginal teen in Northern Ontario struggling to put his family back together after the death of his suicide.  While Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song may not be the best or the most subtle film ever made, it tackled some big issues in a fairly refreshing way, and had some terrific Northern Ontario scenery to go with it.  It constantly verges on the edge of seeming like a cheap back to school special, but in the end still feels worth the journey.  It’s bleak and depressing, but also full of hope and wonder.  It’s a story that, given the right director and budget, could really become a mainstream classic.  Unfortunately for Fire Song, its budgetary limitations will most likely keep that from happening, but what we’re presented with is nothing to ignore.  It signals the arrival of an exciting new voice and a new movement in Canadian film, and I hope to see it get even bigger and more ambitious as the years go on.

What I Liked:

  • It really, truly felt like a Northern Ontario reserve, for better or worse.  Everything featured in the film looked legitimate, and by my experience was very much true to life.
  • The message is an important one, and was fairly effective at the delivery of this message, especially in the first half.
  • For a group of mostly non actors, the performances given from the supporting cast are mostly okay.

What I Didn’t:

  • The script could have used a few more pairs of eyes, as I felt that there were a number of subplots left unresolved or without any sort of satisfying conclusion.  
  • The budgetary limitations are clear in the film’s casting, as neither of the three leads are talented enough to carry the film on their backs.  Scenes with emotional weight feel slightly hackneyed or false due to some overacting or over emoting, and I had trouble connecting to them because of this.
  • While the message of the film may be incredibly important, the script really tries to nail this home, and it becomes a little eye rolling in the final act.  This is a film that badly could have used some sense of subtlety.

While it may not be about to change the Canadian film industry, Fire Song is a refreshing look at the life of Northern Ontario aboriginals.  It tackles a lot of big issues to varying degrees of success due to the limitations of its budget, screenplay, and cast.  By the end of the 90 minutes, I felt mostly satisfied, having enjoyed most of the first half of the film.  The last half presents most of the heavy-handedness I had a problem with, but manages to deliver a somewhat satisfying conclusion.  It’s far from perfect, but I definitely look forward to what Adam Garnet Jones has up his sleeve in the future.  Fire Song is recommended.

juste_la_fin_du_monde_posterIt’s Only the End of the World (2016)
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Lea Seydoux

The Cannes reception to Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World has made it clear that his films are not for everybody, and it’s Grand Prix win at the same festival shows just how divisive the director can be.  I’m pleased to say that I very much enjoyed Dolan’s latest, but I can definitely see why it may not be for everybody.  The film tells the story of a writer called Louis returning to his family after an extended absence.  His plan is to tell them that he is dying, but things aren’t always as easy as they seem, especially when it comes to family.  It’s Only the End of the World perfectly paints the picture of a broken and dysfunctional middle class family trying to enjoy a few hours together.  Everybody is faking enthusiasm, putting on false smiles, and going through the motions in order to please Louis.  Some are able to fake it better than others, but eventually everybody cracks and the facade is dropped.  Dolan’s film feels genuine in a way that so many other movies fail to, telling a story of a family without hope, holding up their forgotten Louis to impossible standards.

What I Liked:

  • The film is tense, awkward, claustrophobic, and at times incredibly hard to watch because of that.  It feels real, and all of the performances work and the play well off each other.
  • The film is incredible from a stylistic standpoint, using music and dream-like flashback sequences to paint a surreal portrait of Louis’ past.
  • Vincent Cassel shines as Antoine, an angry, unheard man who obviously has a great deal to say but never gets a platform to speak on.
  • The ending of the film is perfect and satisfying in every way, even though it’s bitter and heartbreaking.
  • Each character gets equal talk time with Louis, telling stories he’s missed over the years, using him as a verbal punching bag, and generally doing whatever they can to stop him from leaving their lives again.

What I Didn’t:

  • I wish that Lea Seydoux and Nathalie Baye had a little more to do in the film, as I felt their characters were the most interesting, but got the least amount of attention.  I wanted to know how Louis’ mother felt about his absence, what false sense of hope she needed in her life.  I wanted her to explode on Louis like other characters did, but we never got it.

Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World absolutely isn’t for everybody.  In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll probably dislike it if the general consensus is everything to go by.  Whether you love him or hate him, it’s impossible to deny Dolan’s style and voice.  He’s one of the world’s finest up-and-coming filmmakers, and It’s Only the End of the World only reinforced that for me.  It’s tough to swallow, but in the end feels cathartic in some ways, though it features no real answers or conclusion.  It’s dark, it’s frustrating, it’s angry; it’s life.  It’s Only the End of the World is highly recommended, but you’ll probably hate it.

Favorite Narrative Film: TIE between Love & Friendship and It’s Only the End of the World
Favorite Documentary: How to Build a Time Machine
Favorite Performance: Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship
Favorite Moment: Pillow Makeout Session in Morris from America
Least Favorite Film: The Messenger

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Women in Film Feature #6 – Jeanne Dielman (1975)

JeanneDielmanJeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
Written by: Chantal Akerman
Starring: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Henri Storck, Yves Biscal

On October 5, 2015, the world lost one of its all-time greatest arthouse directors; one who changed the landscape of filmmaking for women worldwide.  Her name was Chantal Akerman, and her suicide marked the end of an era for international and arthouse cinema.  Her prolific body of work is full of brilliantly inventive films that most people have never seen or heard of, or just haven’t been released to the public in any form.  Chantal Akerman is famous for her documentation of the mundane, for her painfully long takes, and the detached yet incredibly personal nature of most of her films.  Often blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, Akerman had an incredible eye for realism and for the beauty in the little things; something that many established directors seem to forget about as their films becoming bigger and louder.  As modern female directors take on ambitious and award-winning films, they can all thank Chantal Akerman and her incredible body of work for paving the way in the industry.  Her contributions and influence on the medium are innumerable, and much of her work is ripe for rediscovery by a whole new generation.

Chantal Akerman’s most famous film came incredibly early on in her career, after just a handful of shorts, and a feature length film that went unfinished by the director.  1975’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was Akerman’s first shot at working with a “big” budget, working with just $120,000 in grants at her disposal.  Director Chantal Akerman opted to shoot the film with a cast and crew composed of mostly women, a feat that hadn’t been attempted at the time. While she struggled with finding working women for certain technical positions, she ultimately prevailed and proved leagues of naysayers wrong.  The incredibly ambitious project ran for 201 minutes (or a little over 3 ½ hours) when finished, making its mundane and repetitive premise even more effective. The film opened at the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975, and was met with mixed reactions by the unsuspecting crowd.  Luckily for Akerman, the film quickly became a tremendous financial and critical success, and at just 25 years old she was instantly recognized as one of the most progressive and unique filmmakers of the time. Jeanne Dielman was praised by critics for its ability to hold the attention of audiences, despite the film’s incredibly long run-time and the film’s slow and repetitive nature, as well as for the minimalistic, calm and reserved lead performance by Delphine Seyrig.  Jeanne Dielman was incredibly successful among feminist critics of the time, who recognized the picture for its use of an all-female crew, and for being so open and honest about the subservience of the housewife. Though the film wasn’t released in the United States until the early 1980’s, its influence has been felt by some of the country’s most ambitious filmmakers, most notably Palme d’Or winning director Gus Van Sant.


Delphine Seyrig as the titular Jeanne Dielman in Chantal Akerman’s groundbreaking 1975 film.

The story told in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles seems simple at first glance, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.  We follow the titular Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) in real time through three seemingly normal days.  On the first day, Jeanne cooks, cleans, and interacts as much as she possibly can with her disconnected teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte).  Jeanne’s schedule is incredibly well-rehearsed, and seems almost ritualistic.  Not a single minute is wasted, and never once does she seem unfocused or unproductive. During the afternoons, she is visited by men who pay her for sex.  These visits help to pay Jeanne and Sylvain’s comfortable life, and seem nearly as ritualistic and rehearsed as her chores are.  The men stay for a short while, and when they’re finally gone Jeanne quickly returns to her routine of cleaning and preparing dinner for her son.  Jeanne’s meditative and ritualistic life begins to slowly unravel on the second day, after she wakes up unexpectedly early and is expected to fill an extra hour of her day.  Not knowing what to do with the time, Jeanne sits and broods, giving into the anxiety and darkness that she so desperately tries to escape with her methodical regimented schedule.  This extra hour unnerves Jeanne, and causes her to make small mistakes like drop a clean spoon and overcook the potatoes she has been preparing for dinner.  These imbalances in Jeanne’s perfectly planned life slowly begin to eat away at her, and eventually cause her to lash out in the film’s quietly explosive final moments.

Jeanne Dielman is a film that I’ve been dreading having to dive into for years now. I’ve always been curious and interested in the experimental aspects of it, but so turned on by its slow nature and ridiculously long running time.  Those reasons, and the fact that it paved the way for so many females in the film industry, are exactly why I chose to finally cover Jeanne Dielman.  Though it wasn’t quite love at first sight, I can say with every bit of certainty that the film is a masterwork in pacing, and in never quite letting the audience get ahead of the story being told. Chantal Akerman’s camera pauses for long stretches as Jeanne Dielman goes about her daily rituals and perfectly rehearsed habits, and it’s very haunting to watch unfold.  The subtle and deliberate pacing of the film never once lost my attention, and always had me trying to understand Jeanne Dielman as a character. She has completely given into the complacency of being a mother, and seemingly has no hobbies or interests outside of cooking, cleaning, and having loveless and passionless sex.  She doesn’t say a great deal, and yet somehow still manages to be completely enthralling because of Delphine Seyrig’s incredible performance. Seyrig’s titular Jeanne Dielman is perfect and believable in every single way.  The way Seyrig does small things like perfectly flattening the sheets on her son’s bed or clean out the bathtub, makes it seem as if the actions have been performed thousands of times before.  When something goes wrong in Jeanne’s routine, you can tell just by the look on Delphine Seyrig’s always emotionless face.  It’s not showy or large in any way, but I can safely say it’s one of the best and most dedicated performances I’ve ever seen from anybody on film.  If the lead performance wasn’t compelling, Chantal Akerman’s film simply wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.  She absolutely made the right choice in casting a veteran actress like Seyrig, and perfectly compliments the incredible performance with the most meditative direction, writing, and pacing I’ve ever seen.  Though Jeanne Dielman is a long film, it never feels played out or tedious – aside from the banality that Akerman wants the audience to feel through the use of repetition.  When things start to get more interesting in the second day, the film starts to feel claustrophobic and ultimately feels soaked in dread.  This all comes to a perfect crescendo in the final moments of the film, and Akerman’s direction makes the moment we’ve been waiting more than three hours for feel like just another insipid moment in Jeanne’s life.  It’s beautiful.


Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) and her son Sylvain (Jan Decorte) in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

While I can safely say that few people reading this are going to enjoy any aspect of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the influence it has had on modern filmmaking is undeniable.  Chantal Akerman’s exercise in patience and deliberate pacing paved the way for countless generations of award-winning female filmmakers and other behind-the-line roles.  The lead performance by Delphine Seyrig is undeniably great in its focused and meditative nature, and make this a can’t miss experience.  It may be a while before I revisit Jeanne Dielman, but I can promise you that I’ll never forget my first experience with the film, and with the work of Chantal Akerman.  Though it isn’t for everybody out there, Jeanne Dielman comes highly recommended.  

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Behind the Candelabra (2013)

behind-the-candelabra-posterBehind the Candelabra (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Richard LaGravenese

Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe

Runtime: 118 minutes

Rating: 93% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Steven Soderbergh is one Hollywood’s most diverse, most successful, and most talented directors of the last 30+ years, and his announcement concerning his nearing retirement took the film world by shock.  The one-time Best Director winner decided for his last theatrical film to be 2013’s Side Effects, and that Behind the Candelabra, an HBO film, would be his farewell to the world of film direction.  Soderbegh’s official last film made it’s debut at Cannes (in competition for the Palme d’Or, no less) to a very respectable critical reaction, making his swan song a complete success.  Behind the Candelabra is based on the book of the same name, written by Scott Thorson, and is about Scott’s former lover, virtuoso Liberace.  The film doesn’t focus on the lives of either man, but instead chronicles the secret relationship the two had for a five year period.  Scott Thorson (played by Matt Damon) meets Liberace (Michael Douglas) when the piano player’s act is at its peak in popularity.  The two quickly strike up a close friendship, and soon become secret lovers.  Liberace begins moulding the much younger Thorson into a version of himself, paying for a plastic surgery, and transforming his image and lifestyle.  Scott’s pill addiction and Liberace’s need for an open relationship eventually causes a rift between the two, and it leads to a very personal and public break-up and scandal.

Soderbergh’s Candelabra is a perfect example of a director making a very personal and passionate final film, and one that has made his early retirement that much harder to cope with.  His career spanned nearly four decades, and featured incredible films likebehind-the-candelabra Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, The Informant!, and 2012’s highly underrated (and misunderstood) Magic Mike.  It’s a shame to see such a talented and visionary filmmaker with so much life ahead of him step out of the limelight so early.  His direction in the film is subtle and handled with great care.  Nobody is portrayed as a “bad” person in this story, and that alone is worthy of praise.  The use of Liberace’s music throughout the movie adds life to Candelabra, as does the glossy look of the entire film.  On a technical level, Behind the Candelabra is flawless.

Behind the Candelabra features one of the most amazing performances I’ve seen in a long time in Michael Douglas’ Liberace.  At times I forgot I was watching Douglas, because his Liberace was so incredibly deep and convincing.  Douglas hasn’t been this good in years, and neither has his co-star Matt Damon.  Damon isn’t usually somebody Behind the Candelabra trailer - videowho is known for giving bravura performances, but his turn as Scott Thorson is worthy of many awards.  When these two actors retire, their performances in Behind the Candelabra are going to stand out among their impressive filmography’s.  Supporting performances from Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, and Dan Aykroyd among others are also great, most notably that of Rob Lowe’s.  Lowe plays plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, and adds a huge amount of comedic relief to the film.  The comedy isn’t forced, and definitely not in your face (pun intended, for those who have seen the film).  The incredible performances within the film add that much more to Candelabra, and again show just how talented of a director Soderbergh really is.  A phenomenal film as a whole, and a triumph for Steven Soderbergh.  Highly recommended!  9.5/10.

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Elephant (2003)

ImageElephant (2003)

Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen, John Robinson

Runtime: 81 minutes

Rating: 72% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Gus Van Sant’s second entry into his “Death Trilogy” (which also includes 2002’s Gerry and 2005’s Last Days) has been a controversial film since its initial release in 2003 and its Palme d’Or and Best Director wins at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.  Elephant was a truly relevant film upon it’s release, coming just four short years after the Columbine High School massacre, and just one year after Michael Moore’s controversial Bowling for Columbine documentary.  Elephant is about a school shooting at its very core, but there’s much more to it than just a school shooting.  Alex (Alex Frost) and Eric (Eric Deulen) are two high school students who one day decide to shoot up the school, with targets including the “jock” kids, and their principal.  Along the way, Gus Van Sant’s camera is never not moving, and we follow the lives of a regular day in a pretty regular high school (even if nobody seems to go to class in this school, as everybody just kind of roams around the halls throughout the film).

Gus Van Sant’s roaming camera during the first half of the film is incredibly beautiful, giving the audience an idea of what a regular day at this high school feels like.  None of these young teens have any way of knowing about the horrible events that are going to happen to them in a few short hours, and it makes this film (and the reality of shootings like Columbine) seem even more tragic.  As far as filmmaking goes, Elephant is a fascinating and incredibly well-structured film.  The school shooting scenes are over as quickly as they begin, and are never once easy to watch.  Van Sant follows the two shooters with as much care and thoughtfulness as did while following the lives of the students during the first half of the film.  The cast is mostly made up of non-actors, and the realism of these performances really comes through while watch the film, adding that much more to the experience.

Elephant is an incredibly troubled film when you really dig deep into its themes and motivations.  Van Sant never delves into why Alex and Eric decide to shoot the school up, other than showing us some fairly minor bullying at the beginning of the film.  Elephant isn’t about giving us the answers, and one can definitely understand why the answers aren’t provided.  We still don’t Imageunderstand why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold massacred their Colorado school in 1999, and we probably never will, which is why this works within the film.  The trouble with Elephant lies in the symbolism and some of the more subtle imagery Van Sant paints as Elephant wears on.  The first time we see Alex and Eric together, one of the them is playing a mindless first-person shooter video game on his computer, giving the indication that perhaps violence in the media is to be blamed for this.  In a scene soon after where the two boys are unpacking their brand new weapons, a documentary about the relationship between Hitler and Mussolini is playing in the background.  A lot of these things would feel like cute satire in most films, but Van Sant’s direction makes them feel unflinchingly serious in these scenes, to the point of distraction.  The point of all this is that Elephant is both heavy-handed and disconnected at the same time, and it simply doesn’t work.  I can’t recommend Elephant to anybody, unless they’re interested in truly great technical filmmaking.  It’s far too heavy-handed and flawed for me to look past, and I really expected more from a director and writer like Gus Van Sant.  6/10.

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Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

ImageYi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)

Director: Edward Yang

Writer: Edward Yang

Starring: Nien-Jen Wu, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang

Runtime: 173 minutes

Rating: 96% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Edward Yang’s last and probably most widely-recognized film is one of great and subtle beauty.  It’s a film that not everybody will love, but one that has to be experienced because of the sheer number of small, elegant, beautiful moments contained within.  Yi Yi is about family and about everyday life.  The story revolves around a very conventional Taipei family, namely a father NJ (Nien-Jen Wu) who is unhappy with his job, and seemingly his life, his young son Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) who is having trouble at school and who is being picked on by both his teacher and the girls in his class, and his daughter Tiny-Ting (Kelly Lee) who becomes intertwined in a love triangle involving her best friend, and her friend’s boyfriend.  After NJ’s mother-in-law goes into a coma following a stroke, his wife Min-Min leaves for a Buddhist retreat after experiencing a mid-life crisis, leaving NJ and his children to take care of their grandmother.  An old flame of NJ’s, Sherry (Su-Yun Ko) returns to the city and tries to come into his life after thirty years apart, leaving NJ even more confused about where his life is going.  The story also explores the life of NJ’s brother-in-law A-Di, who is married at the beginning of the film.  Edward Yang’s sensitive and Ozu-esque direction makes what could be an impossibly confusing multi-character story very easy to follow, flowing almost perfectly at times.

Yi Yi won the Best Director award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and for good reason.  ImageEdward Yang’s camera is mostly still throughout the film, but manages to capture so many amazingly small moments through the movie’s 3-hour runtime.  The direction is very similar to that of Yasujiro Ozu‘s (a famous Japanese director whose career spanned nearly four decades between the 1930’s-1960’s) in that both filmmakers are able to capture the true beauty of day-to-day life.  The film moves at its own pace, which may turn off viewers who aren’t quite used to this style of filmmaking.  This is truly a film that you let play out in front of you, one that you must experience and take in very slowly.  Yi Yi isn’t a film that you immediately adore, but rather one that you come to appreciate and love after wrestling with its themes and images and pacing.  I will admit that I wasn’t immediately sold on the film after my initial viewing of it.  It’s pacing and length definitely hurt the end product for me, as did the fact that this is a film where you must work for any sort of reward.

There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end of Yi Yi, especially concerning the characters of Yang-Yang, Ting-Ting, and A-Di.  The film explores their day-to-day lives with such precision Imageand detail, and then essentially drops them in the last 30 minutes of the movie.  Yi Yi isn’t about giving the audience answers, or exploring what happens to these characters after the events take place, but rather about exploring the wins and losses that everybody experiences in their daily lives.  The big and small moments that happen to us every single day of our lives is what Edward Yang is trying to cover with his film, and he is very successful in this exploration.  Family dynamics, love, heartbreak, and death are all things that every human being has to go through at some point in their lives, and Yang makes every minute look beautiful and memorable.  8/10.

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Dancer in the Dark (2000)

ImageDancer in the Dark (2000)

Director: Lars von Trier

Writer: Lars von Trier

Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare

Runtime: 140 minutes

Rating: 68% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing

Dancer in the Dark is a film I’ve heard a lot about over my years of being an avid movie-goer.  I’ve heard it compared to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, I’ve heard it praised as one of the greatest films of the 21st century, and I’ve heard others disregard it as being art-house trash. Whatever Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is, it’s an incredibly original and fresh film, and a powerful one at that.  The film follows Selma Jezkova (played by pop diva Bjork), a young single mother who has recently located to from Central Europe to America in hopes of a new, fresh start.  Selma is plagued by a disease that will eventually (within the runtime of the film) permanently rob her of her eyesight.  Since the disease is hereditary, her young son will someday have to face the disease too, unless Selma can gain the money for the boy’s operation.  Selma takes a job at a local factory, and comes to learn that her new start in America may not be everything she was hoping for.  She copes with this realization by disconnecting herself from reality, and with her near-obsession of Hollywood musicals.

Bjork’s Selma Jezkova is both a beacon of hope because of her golden heart, and a devastatinglyImage flawed main character.  Her disconnection from any sort of reality is flawlessly pulled off by non-actor Bjork, who gives one of the greatest performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on-screen.  Selma’s interest in musical films adds so much more to this disconnection because she expects her life to play out like a Singin’ in the Rain or Sound of Music-esque film.  When things get difficult or stressful in any way for Selma, she imagines everybody surrounding her to begin bursting out in song and dance.  Unfortunately for Selma, her naivety and desperation to save her young son gets her into the worst situation one can possibly get into, and things get very bleak for the young woman.  Bjork’s portrayal of Selma Jezkova earned her the award for Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been universally praised by critics worldwide for good reason.

Von Trier’s exceptional direction makes Dancer in the Dark a near-perfect film in a lot of ways.  The performances of the supporting cast are nearly as good as Bjork’s.  Catherine Deneuve plays Kathy, Selma’s closest friend, David Morse plays Bill, a man who shares financial and marital secrets with Selma, who also confides in it, and Peter Stormare plays Jeff, a love interest of sorts for Selma.  The interactions between Selma and these characters are perfect in almost every scene.  One thing I didn’t know about before going into the film is that Dancer in the Dark is actually a musical (or anti-musical) of sorts.  There are expertly shot song and dance sequences that give the film a sense of magic, and really helped the flow of the film.  The main sequence “I’ve Seen It All” was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars that year, with good reason.  Hours after completing the film, I had the soundtrack on my iPod, that alone is a testament to how great (even if slightly ironic) the songs in this film are.  Had the film not contained these musical numbers, Dancer in the Dark might have been a much slower, much less interesting film.

Dancer in the Dark is truly one of Lars von Trier’s best films yet, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen from the early 2000’s.  It’s a bleak, dark, and powerful film with elements of the fantastic, and von Trier’s excellent direction and Bjork’s phenomenal performance makes this a film I believe every fan of dramatic cinema should see.  9.5/10.

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