Warrior

Warrior is a film that holds nothing back as you witness the colliding lives of three estranged members of a family as issues, both new and old, arise. The story follows three main characters. These characters are brothers Tommy and Brendan Conlon and their father Paddy. This film follows the brothers separate struggles, both of which lead to the Sparta MMA competition in Atlantic City. Tommy is a bit of a drifter who reunites with his father after a number of years and seeks him out to be his trainer so he can win this competition. He isn’t really given any motivation to win and really he doesn’t speak that much, but when he does you can sense everything you need to know about him. The other brother, Brendan, a high school teacher, has a wife, two little girls, and a home that’s about to be foreclosed on. He attempts to bring in some money to stop this by participating in small fighting tournaments which end up getting him suspended from the school that he works at. This leaves him only one option: to participate in this mass fighting tournament that could get him five million dollars quickly. It isn’t a very complex plot-line but it’s executed very well.

The thing that really keeps this film afloat is the relationships between the three leads and the performances that make them feel so real. The oldest brother, Brendan, is played by Joel Edgerton who really surprised me with his stellar performance. His greatest scene in this film comes in the ring against his brother and he conveys such great emotion through his face in that moment and it really left me astonished. The anguish and hesitance in that moment pains his character so much and it shows. The younger brother, Tommy, is played by the always excellent Tom Hardy in one of his best performances. Tommy is the more complex of the two characters and his extra backstory makes for a multi-layered performance. Tommy is a man full of shame, regret, and, more than anything, sheer anger. Tommy is not proud of what he has done in his past and he takes this shame and turns it into this animosity towards the world. It’s clear that the events through his childhood shaped this quiet figure that you are watching on screen, and this is all able to be inferred through Hardy’s incredible portrayal that adds something more to the character.

Then third major character is Paddy Conlon, the father of the two brothers played by Nick Nolte. This is the real standout performance in a film full of standout performances. What Nolte achieves here is nothing short of spectacular as the formerly alcoholic father who has managed to reform his life by getting sober and finding Jesus. This character in itself sounds like a bit of a cliche but in the context of this film it is anything but that. Nolte inhabits the character with a blend desperation, power and humility that results in one of the best performances of last year. Paddy regrets what he put his children through and even with his changed nature he knows that they won’t accept him. The most heartbreaking scenes in the film occur between him and either of his sons as he begs to be an important part of their lives, and they just deny him anything. There is one scene in particular where he shows up in from of Brendan’s house to tell him about how he just reached his 1000th day sober in attempt to prove that he’s changed. Rather than doing anything resembling some type of acceptance he just denies his father any access to his life. Nolte’s frailty in this is scene is truly marvelous, as is his entire performance.

At this point I think I’ve established that the acting is strong enough to carry this film but there is more to it than just the performances. The director Gavin O’Conner really did a great job capturing the atmosphere of the films surroundings. Take, for example, the fights at Sparta. Everything from the energy in the crowd to the commentators, cameramen, and every other aspect of the experience is accounted for. When this all comes together it manages creates a series of very well-shot scenes with a great atmosphere. There’s also one other scene that I have to praise the director and the several editors for. It is a law in sports movie that they have to have a training montage that gets the viewer excited for what’s to come, and this film has one of the best training montages that I have ever seen. Due to the split story-line (One for each brother) there are two entirely different training regiments being done. In this one several minute segment you get to see each of them train and during these training clips you also get to see essentially ESPN clips regarding MMA and the upcoming Sparta event. It is extraordinarily well done and one of my favorite scenes in the film.

All in all Warrior is a one of the best sports films to be released in the last several years. It is an engaging story filled with remarkable acting and great writing. Well worth the watch.

 

95/100

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Earrings

About eight months ago I read a review by Roger Ebert about a film entitled Shame. He gave it a four star rating and praised every facet of it. His review intrigued me so I went and looked up some more reviews of the film. One of the first links I clicked on lead to a website called And So It Begins…” and that was my first introduction to the work of Alex Withrow. Since then I have always visited his website at least once a day, looking forward to his always brilliant content. A few months ago when I looked to see what was new on there, I saw a post about his new short film that he was working on: Earrings. Since then it has become one of my most anticipated films of the year. Today it was released and let me tell you. It did not disappoint.

Earrings takes place in the midst of a woman named Chlo’s downfall after a terrible catalyst occurs and leads her into multiple negative behaviors. Chlo is played to perfection by Catherine Warner, an actress that I hadn’t heard about prior to this film but I am sure that we’ll all be hearing about her in the future. Most of the film is free of dialogue and that results in her having to really express her character through subtle movements, looks, and mannerisms. That is where the excellence of her performance stems from. She manages to portray great emotion though subtle facial expressions. The first and really the only time her character has dialogue is during a brilliant extended conversation between her and a man who we soon find out is a friend of her ex-fiancee. In that five minute span we really learn all of the back story that had been hinted at prior to the explanation. Even in the explanation the dialogue doesn’t attempt to insult your intelligence but rather give you the parts to piece together the story yourself. In this scene it really showcases another aspect of the actresses talent in her delivery of the dialogue. It is a marvelous performance.

As I said before, most of the film does not have dialogue which results in a greater emphasis on things like cinematography and editing. All of the minor problems that I had with the film come from this area. There were a jump cuts that were a little off and didn’t exactly look natural. Other than that all of the editing was very well done. Then there was the cinematography. I absolutely loved the cinematography. There were two instances in particular where the camera would remain still on Chloe where she was in front of a window in an otherwise dark room and all you could see was her silhouette and I thought those scenes were extraordinarily well done. While the cinematography was good throughout the entire film there was one sequence that kind of stands above everything else for me. Following the centerpiece conversation that I talked about earlier there is a three minute sequence where  Withrow really hit his stride. It is reminiscent of Brandon’s downfall in Shame as we watch Chlo in her most desperate moments. All of the camerawork and coloring in that sequence were absolutely flawless and resulted in one of the most memorable pieces of the film.

That same sequence shows one of my favorite aspects of the film and that is the use of music. There are two songs used in this film and both of them fit perfectly into what is occurring on screen and really complements the scenes well. I have to say that I am a bit biased when it comes to the music as the film’s final few minutes contain a song by one of my favorite bands: M83. Regardless of that, the use of music was excellent.

I’ve been waiting for this film for the last few months and now that it’s here it was even better than I thought. At 32 minutes it flies in front of your eyes and leaves you thinking about the brilliance that you just observed. Alex is a clearly gifted filmmaker and I hope to see similarly great things from him in the future.

94/100

You can check out the film here: http://vimeo.com/46372044

Taste Of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 film, Taste Of Cherry is a rather unusual experience. By unusual I mean that the majority of the film is an afghani man driving through the desert in his range-rover. Now, answer me this question: How dull does that sound? The correct answer is very. Despite this, Taste Of Cherry manages to be an enthralling experience that takes you into the mind of a man ready for death.

The film focuses on an elderly afghani man known only as “Mr. Badii”, and Mr. Badii, for no known reason, is ready to leave this world through suicide. The entire plot revolves around what he requires to complete this task which is another man willing to knowingly allow Badii to take sleeping pills and get in a hole, and then come back the next morning to either help him out or bury him with dirt. Obviously this isn’t a task that most people would take on due to the fact that it is essentially assisted suicide. In there lies the plot. This man goes and finds someone who wants a job. Drives them around, gets to know them, finds their weak spot that would allow things to be negotiated, plays off it, gets rejected, repeat. In the time that he is going to these people, the director is building a portrait for the viewer. With every failure and every shut down the character of Mr. Badii gets more and more desperate. This where you get close to the man emotionally. This is only possible through the performance by Homayoun Ershadi.

Homayoun Ershadi manages to deliver a truly excellent performance in this film. In fact, the only reason why this film really manages to land an emotional blow on the viewer is because of his performance. He portrays this tired and withered old man who is ready to go, and steadily changed his character ad the film goes on. He shows more desperation in his eyes, in his mannerisms, the way he speaks. All of it is tunes to perfection to allow us to spend an hour an a half in the life of Mr. Badii. This is an emotionally tense part to play. This character is essentially going through an emotional breakdown, but the thing is that it is never really said. Most of the information about the character has to be inferred based on the acting. This results in the quality of the film relying solely on the acting. This isn’t a bad thing in this case. With most other actors is would be, but not here. Instead of delivering an over-zealous performance or a monotone performance, Ershadi gets it just right.

The acting talents of Ershadi are especially displayed in the final scene where Mr. Badii is lying in his whole, staring at the sky. Following that moment the entire screen goes black. Everything is gone. All of a sudden there is lightning, and for a brief moment you see his emotionally destroyed face. He looks regretful, he looks angry, but most of all he looks entirely unsure. But then the film ends, and all you are left with is the image of his face staring up at the sky and you think to yourself “Did he die? Was it the right thing to do?” That is the genius of films like this. They take you in deep, and when they throw you out you are left with the memory of moments like that.

Very good overall.

90/100

Un Chien Andalou

I am so confused while I am writing this. I just finished up Luis Bunuel and Slvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou and I am entirely unsure regarding my feelings about the film. Honestly who watched this and had a single clue as to what just happened? I certainly don’t.

From what I have read about the film it is supposedly just a series of random surrealist images ranging from the juxtaposition of a sliced eye and a cloud moving through the moon to a man dragging priests and dead donkeys. The strange thing is that this is not what I got out of the film at all.

What I saw was a broken up narrative that told the story of a type of maniacal and evil magic man who had the ability to perform actions that fit in perfectly with the surrealist theme of the film. I really was intrigued with the story of this crazed man who stopped at nothing to hurt the woman who witnessed one of his murders. This woman who used to be his lover became disgusted with him after she saw the true him. This occurred in one of the most memorable scenes to me which was when he was looking out the window at the woman as cars approached, waiting for her to be struck. This was your first insight into the maniac. Of course that was what I got out of it.

Overall the film was very unique and just so surreal, but of course that was the point of it. Through the time it has taken me to write this I have discovered that I really loved the film. It was probably the most unique experience that I have ever had in film and I love that. I love films like these that leave you with that “What the hell?” feeling and films that leave you not knowing exactly what happened. This film will test our intellect and it will cause you to think. If you like films like this then you should watch it. If you hate thinking and you like being spoon-fed your endings then don’t watch it. Me personally, I like staying up till 2 AM thinking about the ending of a film. In my mind that is a wonderful film.

That is why I love this film.

95/100

Night and Fog

The holocaust. It’s a term that essentially everyone is familiar with, and it is the subject of many films. Although these films have been made over the last several decades the greatest one is this, Night and Fog made in 1955. This film chronicles what went on in the concentration camps during World War 2. This is a Polish documentary that gives you a true insight into the horrors that occurred during the war. Although the film is only 30 minutes long it manages to be a moving and powerful piece of history that will leave you speechless.

This films true shining feature is its juxtaposition of the horrific black and white shots of the camps which are shown in between shots of the beautiful landscapes 10 years after the war ended. Not only does it add emphasis to what is happening on-screen but it also adds an indescribable beauty by highlighting hope after a terrible event. Some of the images that you will witness are disturbing and will stay with you, but that it what happens when you show the truth of the holocaust. Warehouses full of women’s hair, lifeless bodies dragged and thrown into trenches, the blank eyes of the dead. All I can say is prepare to look directly into hell.

There is one segment where the film shows SS members bring in bulldozers to push dozens of lifeless bodies into a large trench. In most films you see dead bodies as people with makeup, but here you have the real deal. You see people who are malnourished, pale, and truly lifeless. The impact that this scene had on me is immeasurable. Death is a dark and brooding part of the world that has the ability to horrify unlike anything else. This segment wouldn’t have the same impact if the film wasn’t the length that it is. While you are seeing real black and white shots of dead bodies you also have the lingering memory of beautiful shots of deep and luscious fields filled with life. Hence the drastic juxtaposition.

Another aspect of the documentary that adds to its overall quality is its narration. The descriptions and the writing fit the scenarios and complement the other aspects of the film perfectly. There is one quote that ends the film that particularly resonated with me. That quote was this: “We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us, and a deaf ear to the never-ending cry of humanity.” That quote truly encompasses what occurred during World War 2 and after the war. You have these people who want to ignore it and put it in the past, but that is not where it belongs. That was the purpose of this film. To document and show what happened and to make people aware, and it did. 

What else is there to say about this film? The camera work is incredible, the images are mesmerizing, the narration and writing is top notch, and you will be enthralled with this bleak and realistic depiction of the trials and tribulations that the people in the concentration camps had to suffer through. With all of the masterful traits of the film there are so few things that someone could complain about, and if they chose to complain they would all be incredibly nitpicky at best.

This film is a masterpiece. Not just in the field of documentaries but in the field of overall film. It is an unparalleled look into the world of the jewish prisoner and it will allow you to develop a greater understanding of the holocaust while putting you into a state of shock.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you: The power of film.

Side-note: I am changing my rating system to an out of 100 system rather than out of ten.

Night and Fog: 99/100

Waltz With Bashir

This is easily the most unique film that I have seen in quite some time, and it takes its uniqueness and uses it as a tool to create a beautiful, harrowing, and unforgettable experience. Think about, for a moment, the premise of the film. It is an animated recreation of a filmmakers interviews with his fellow veterans and friends from the Lebanon war of 1982. The film follows its director as he sought after lost and repressed memories of his regarding the war. He gained more and more of his memory as he heard the experiences of others in the war.

 Although the plot of the film may not sound incredibly interesting don’t let that stop you from viewing a true masterpiece. The flashbacks that you witness and the interviews that are taken mesh together in such a seamless fashion that supplies a wonderful watching experience. One of the great features of the film is the directors choice of having it be animated. Not only does this allow him to show his talent as an artist but it also supplies some of the most beautiful images that I have seen in a film. Besides those two reasons, there is also one more reason that I am glad that this film was animated and it wasn’t something I realized until the final several minutes of the film. (Spoilers, kind of) The film ends with real life footage of the massacres that took place during the war. These images are brutal and disturbing, more so than anything else that I have seen in a while. It is those few images that will make you glad that he made it animated.

It is hard to comment on the acting and the writing in a film like this considering, well, it’s a documentary so there is no writing or acting. Everything you hear is straight from the mouths of the real men who fought. Although I will comment on the animation of this film again. Just incredible. The images of the flares in the sky and the three men emerging from the water in a yellow and black world will stay with me for a long time. It truly is beautiful.

I also want to comment on one scene in particular, the scene that gives the film its name. (Spoilers) In one of the films scenes you have an account of this one man talking about he and his men got stuck due to sniper fire coming from the roofs of the buildings across the street. The man who is being interviewed went and grabbed one of his mens large machine guns and ran out shooting. In that moment, rather than shooting, he started to dance in a way as he spun around with bullets flying. That scene with stay with me for a long time, as will its beauty.

98/100

Drive

What a film. What. A. Film.

Drive follows an essentially nameless protagonist (The Driver) as he goes about doing this one main move in his life. He is a successful stuntman and getaway driver, he has another business that is starting with his business partner of sorts, Shannon (Bryan Cranston), and along with that he has began to develop a relationship with his neighbor (played by Carey Mulligan) and her son.

Then everything starts to break down around him. The film focuses on the events surrounding a heist that The Driver pulls with Irene’s husband who was recently from prison and owes a debt to some mobsters. While the heist is being pulled a few very key things occur that I don’t want to give away for the sake of story. Following that it is essentially The Driver’s story of revenge and how he is protecting the few people that e has grown close to. Although the story is not that complex it is pulled off masterfully.

The film opens with a ten minute sequence where you see the Driver doing his job and it is remarkable. This job begins with the Driver alone in his apartment explaining his procedures over the phone and rules that it entails. From there you follow him on a job where he helps two armed robbers get away from the police. Not only is this scene stylish and impeccable, it also sets the bar for what’s to come. As simple as the scene may sound it is done to perfection by the films director Nicolas Winding Refn.

The first thing in this film that needs to be mentioned and praised is the acting. Ryan Gosling is the man of the moment as he has just been constantly displaying his talent in every project that he has taken on over the last few years. In this film Gosling delivers what I consider to be one of, if not, his greatest performance yet. The character he plays isn’t dialogue driven as much as he is driven by facial expressions and small mannerisms. It takes a real actor to have you feel for a protagonist that hardly says a word, and yet he does it.

Along with Gosling are the wonderful supporting performances from Carey Mulligan, Ron Pearlman, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac, and the standout Albert Brooks as the mobster Bernie Ross. Brooks steals every scene he’s in here. He was this presence and this force that is undeniably prevalent. Following just behind Brooks, the next best supporting performance is easily Carey Mulligan. She has essentially the same acting responsibilities as Gosling in that it’s more facial than vocal.

One of Drive’s main selling points to me is its style and its flare. Like most films by Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive is a beauty to behold. Every shot is like a portrait, whether it be of a character and their emotions or an action that is occurring on screen. Everything just feels so unique and wonderful. From the techno-pop soundtrack to the interesting pink font of the credits, to the beautiful backdrops, everything is perfect.

The last two things I want to touch on is the writing and directing. Although there isn’t much dialogue in most of the film, in the scenes where there is it is phenomenal. Especially every scene where the Drive has a mini monologue or a threat. Great writing by Amini. Finally we have the directing by NWR. This man is an artist where every stroke he makes is a stroke of genius. He did it with Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and now Drive. One of the greatest filmmakers working today.

In conclusion this film is masterful and deserves to be seen by all.

94/100