Review : ’71

’71 (2014)

dir. Yann Demange

starring: Jack O’Connell, Paul Anderson, Richard Dormer, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Martin McCann

An intense night in Belfast at the height of the Troubles in 1971.  Jack O’Connell plays an army recruit thrown into the middle of conflict who must find his way to safety.

In Northern Ireland, at the height of the Troubles, an army recruit (Jack O’Connell) is sent into Belfast with his unit to quell the violence.  The unit is sent in to assist the local police force in an investigation.   As they enter they are met with open hostility.  Kids throw turd bombs at them.   A crowd soon gathers, angry at the army’s presence.  Then one of the soldiers is shot, and a riot breaks out. The situation gets out of hand and he is separated from his unit.  He has to find his way back, while trying to stay alive, in enemy territory.  The film is grimy and tries to get the look of an urban war zone.  The night sky is lit with burning cars and buildings; and the few people on the street rush to the relative safety of their homes.  Director Demange employs the shaky, handheld camera device, which at this point feels tired and showy.  ’71 gives no context to the situation.  The meaning of the movement, the riots, public opinion aren’t addressed directly.  Like Hook, we are thrown into the thick of the conflict.  From that confusion, the main focus is the humanity and underlying compassion.

It is a cat and mouse thriller where allegiances are unclear.   It soon becomes clear that the undercover agents (lead by Sean Harris) are also out to get Hook.  Their mission isn’t made clear, and, in any case, it doesn’t seem  to be the point.  It seems more to focus on compassion for a fellow human in a time of crisis.  That being said, no good deed goes unpunished.  The Lieutenant (Sam Reid) chooses to go into Belfast without riot gear.  It is a goodwill gesture that backfires spectacularly when they are unequipped to deal with the riot.  The army vet (Richard Dormer) that helps him, didn’t know who he was, is later threatened by enemy.  The juxtaposition of mercy and violence reminded me of Children of Men, in a good way.  Those were the powerful moments of ’71.

The ending, while not ambiguous, is not hopeful either.  Hook is not developed enough for us to fully invest in his story after the conflict.

Recommend: I’d wait for the DVD release. 

Availability (US): in limited theatrical release 27 Feb

Surrealist Sundays: Viridiana



Viridiana (1961)

dir. Luis Bunuel

starring: Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey

Viridiana is like two movies in one.  As such, it doesn’t feel like a cohesive piece.  It begins as an uncomfortable family reunion and turns into a lampoon of our beliefs in humanity’s inner goodness.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a novice nun about to take her vows.  The Mother Superior sends her home after hearing that Viridiana’s uncle, Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) is very ill.  Viridiana goes home, but with hesitation.  She hasn’t been home in years.  When he sees her, he sees she looks exactly like his dead wife.  He asks her to marry him.  She, of course, refuses.  He drugs her and dresses her in his wife’s wedding dress.  After that night, Don Jaime commits suicide.  Viridiana, feeling like a ruined woman, stays in her uncle’s home.  However, she chooses to do some good while she’s there.

She takes in local beggars, a prostitute, and a leper.  She lets them stay at the house and earn a living.  It’s almost like a medieval feudal system, however Bunuel reminds us of man’s true nature.  The beggars she takes in are just as petty, ungrateful, and greedy as anyone else.  That’s a nice surprise.  It culminates in a raucous dinner party and a re-staging of The Last Supper painting.

Being a Bunuel film, there are the foot fetish moments.  There is an inordinate amount of time spent on her taking off her shoes.  What stayed with me the most, was the pessimistic view of humanity.  The beggars shun the leper, Viridiana’s uncle takes advantage of her.  By the end of the film, Viridiana is defeated, spiritually.  It is a strange and sly film, that ultimately feels empty.

Movie Review: Predestination

Predestination (2014)



dir. The Spierig Brothers

starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor

Poignant and intelligent science fiction drama.  Despite its trite premise, Predestination is a treat that places the focus on strong characters.

Predestination begins with a man in a trenchcoat racing against the clock to diffuse a bomb.  The diffusion is successful, but the man’s face is burned beyond recognition.  Cut to the hospital, where that man wakes up and is revealed as Ethan Hawke.  In Predestination, Ethan Hawke plays a time travel agent hunting down the man responsible for massive bombing in New York, 1975.  He poses as a bartender in 1970’s New York, presumably to find the killer.  Then, a man walks into the bar, and then the real story begins.

The bartender, Ethan Hawke, places a bet: a good story for a bottle of scotch.  The man tells the bartender that he was born a girl, Jane.  Jane (Sarah Snook) was an orphan who was always out of place.  She got pregnant and, during the delivery, the doctors discovered she had two sets of reproductive organs, male and female.  The doctors removed her female organs, and Jane was forced to become John.  Soon after that discovery, her baby was kidnapped from the hospital.  Sarah Snook has the meatier role, and tougher job as the emotional anchor.  This could have easily been given the Lifetime movie treatment or been hastily shoe-horned into the bomb plot.  Thankfully, the filmmakers place the emphasis on character development, so we identify with Jane/John.  After hearing his story, Ethan Hawke gives John another proposal: go back in time and kill the man who ruined him.

Predestination is based on the short story “All You Zombies” by sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein.  After reading a synopsis of the story, it’s surprising that the piece the filmmakers added was the terrorist bomb plot, which is the weakest piece of the film.  Predestination is a paradox wrapped in an enigma inside of a puzzle.  The paradox, enigma, and puzzle add up to the belief that free-will is non-existent.  As the film becomes more deterministic, it also becomes more stifling.  The past determines the future which determines the past.  Ugh.  It’s hopeless.  Also, the weight of history gives the film a feeling of claustrophobia.  That doesn’t detract from the experience of watching the film.  That frustration prompts repeat viewings and discussions.

On a side note: for those that found the film silly, imagine the movie being remade as the Mirrors: the Kanye West Story.

Recommend: Yes.  Although the plot isn’t the most surprising, Predestination’s emphasis on character gives the plot twists a greater emotional impact.

Availability: DVD and Blu-ray, Redbox, Amazon Instant Video

Two’s Days: First Blood & Rambo

A shell shocked Vietnam War vet is harassed by local law enforcement.  That’s the whole plot of First Blood.  Overall, a serviceable action film.  First Blood is metaphor, perhaps cautionary tale, for the maladjustment to civilian life that the Vietnam vets experience.  Thirty years later, this film feels relevant.  Like the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been extremely unpopular in the U.S. Will the films based on their readjustment be about men figuratively trapped in the jungle?  Will they be as simplistic as this film?  I hope not.

The final scene of the First Blood gets to the substance of Rambo’s lament.  He handled million dollar machinery, but now can’t be trusted to park cars.  Compounded on to that is the treatment he receives.  The cops are pathologically bent on antagonizing him.  They are so simply evil, they come across as straw men.  A clear stand-in for public opinion of the Vietnam War.  His transformation into one man army is a defensive strategy.  A complex situation is dealt with brute force.  The DVD contains an alternate ending where John Rambo commits suicide.  Other than eliminating the mindless sequels that came afterward, that ending would be too pessimistic.

Twenty years later, and many sequels later, Rambo is back.  He lives in Thailand, somewhat at home in the jungle, but still humorless.  He is a thousand yard stare and a man with a dark past, who is reluctantly roped into a rescue mission.  A missionary group has been kidnapped by a Burmese military group.  Only John Rambo, and a team of mercenaries under AARP eligibility age, can save them.

The bad guys are clearly bad guys.  They gun down innocent villagers indiscriminately.  They rape and pillage.  It’s unsettling and over the top, and so is the retaliation.  The violence carries an odd emotional weight.  At the beginning of Rambo news footage of the civil war in Burma is shown.  The events in Rambo feel like a footnote to a violent and incomplete chapter in global politics.  Don’t misunderstand, the setting is of minor consequence.  It’s an invitation to be detached from the carnage on screen.  Again, a serviceable action film.  This is, presumably, the last outing of the character.  At the end of the film, John Rambo goes home.  It’s open-ended because the violence isn’t cathartic.

Surrealist Sundays: Diary of a Chambermaid

photo credit: imdb

photo credit: imdb

Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)

dir. Luis Bunuel

starring: Jeanne Moreau, Michel Piccoli, Georges Geret

People are not as they appear to Celestine (Jeanne Moreau), the new chambermaid of a wealthy household.  Bunuel’s film balances satire, comedy, and drama with skill.  The film warns to be skeptical of institutions.  After all, they are run by humans.

The film begins with Celestine arriving at her new job.  She’s from the city, Paris, and now working out in the country.  Her fur trimmed coat and tattered stockings mark her as an outsider within the household.  The servants’ clothes are ill-fitting and layered, whereas the family wears tailored, rich fabrics.  As a chambermaid, Celestine is able to move within the upper and lower classes with ease.  Her outsider status makes her unpredictable.  Celestine’s origins cause the household to question her morals.  The lady of the house, Mme. Monteil, warns Celestine to stay away from her husband.  That is easy for Celestine because M. Monteil is a coward.

The first illusion that is shattered for Celestine, is that the man runs the house.  Mme Monteil is feared by her servants, she bullies her husband, she controls the finances, and is rumored to be frigid.  She’s just following her priest’s advice to have sex less than once a week and to not enjoy it.   M. Monteil blows off steam by hunting and watching, staring at, Celestine as she works.  He feebly attempts to hit on her, but she brushes him off.  It’s hard to believe that he initiated any of the affairs, when he hides in his room whenever he’s in the house.

The second illusion shattered is that of the kindly, old man.  Mme Monteil’s father is sweet to Celestine.  He shows her his scrapbook and he asks her to read to him.  He also asks to stroke her legs while she reads, and for her to model his wide selection of women’s shoes.  Celestine obliges and because the dirty old man trope is played for comedy, it’s funny.  While, the upper class exploit the lower class and blame them for the consequences, the lower class imitates but wraps it in the flag of justice.

Joseph (Georges Geret) represents the politically minded lower class.  He is a man of the people, who excludes immigrants, women, and other races from his perfect society.  He publishes a reactionary newspaper, but because he is the house snitch, it’s okay.  In other words, he is a hypocrite.  Joseph’s patriotism works effectively as a mask for his dark nature.

foot stompAt first it’s cruel and small, he chokes the geese before killing them; then he choking Claire, a daughter of another maid, and forces her to stare into his eyes.  However, it plays as a strange, symbolic action, and not as threatening as it sounds.  Celestine sees through his talk.  Unfortunately, she isn’t able to stop him from molesting and killing Claire.  Joseph’s patriotism makes him an unlikely killer to the police.  Celestine’s mission of revenge is thwarted because no one believes her.

The film ends on a downbeat.  Celestine is married to a rich man, but still wishing for revenge. Joseph runs a bistro and is seen as a good citizen.  Image is everything.

spiral stairs

Dark Hearts: Top 5 Rom Coms Gone Wrong

spiral stairs

Valentine’s Day approaches, and if that makes you feel glum, do not despair. Do not cry into a pint of rocky road.  We’ve got your back and brought an extra spoon.  Top 5 Rom Coms Gone Wrong (Fatal Attraction memorial).  Here are five films that begin with a meet-cute, a manic pixie dreamgirl, or a serendipitous meeting.  But end with a boiled rabbit and a trail of bodies.  As you dig into that pint, just be happy love has never made you this crazy.  However, if you happen to be taking notes while watching, make sure the object of your obsession is worth it.  It doesn’t end pretty.

Two’s Days: The Raid and The Raid 2

The only way out of a maze is through it. The fictional Jakarta of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 is a grimy, dark, industrialized maze filled with its own minotaurs and dead ends.  To call it hyper-violent is an understatement.  There’s a fight scene with a hammer that bests the scene in Oldboy (the original).  The fight choreography is for a dirty street fight.  Bones crunch and blood gushes.  It’s fast and brutal.  It is also exhilarating to watch.  The man responsible for the lightning fast beatdowns is Iko Uwais, who stars and is also one of the fight choreographers.  He plays Rama, the good cop who must navigate his way out of an underworld full of mobsters and corrupt cops.

On a side note, it is not necessary to watch the films in order.  Although The Raid 2 begins right after The Raid: Redemption, references to the first are made but do not hinder understanding of the sequel.  It’s like Kill Bill.
After having watched the sequel before the first, the first felt like an action dessert.

The Raid: Redemption is about a SWAT team raid on a building controlled by a drug dealer.  It is mainly a set up for the extended action sequences, which are cool, but don’t forward the story that much.  The fight scenes are shot and edited with clarity, and an over-the-shoulder perspective of the good guys.  What it hints at, and what is developed more in the sequel, is the sense of being trapped in a thick web of corruption.

The Raid 2 begins shortly after the events of the first.  Rama must now hide out in prison until the mob forgets about him.  However, his release date is being delayed.  Good news, he can start building a case on the mob boss, since his son is in the same prison as Rama.  Bad news, his superiors want to know which cops are in the mob boss’ organization.  Rama could continue to hunt down and arrest the criminals, which seems to be a losing battle, or he could just join the mob.  They are like a hydra.  Instead, he tries to just get out.  It’s not easy in a world of constant shifting alliances and selfish criminals.  Although, the tone is tough and dark, The Raid 2 has some flair with the baddies.  There’s a leather-gloved mob lieutenant, who is vaguely reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, and the lethal duo of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.

A real strength of both movies is that the feeling of climbing out of quicksand is expressed in the action scenes.  The extended action sequences in The Raid 2 contain their own dramatic story arcs and have larger consequences than say, Henchmen #4 gone.  Characters, alliances, and tone are firmly established from the first fight, which is Rama fighting his way out of a grimy bathroom stall. Seriously.

Recommend: Yes, mostly The Raid 2. Watch The Raid: Redemption if you still need an action fix.  You won’t regret it.

Surrealist Sundays: Belle de Jour

lace detail picture

Belle de Jour  (1967) is a Bunuel film about a woman coming of age.  The young female protagonist enters into a degrading relationship that she finds sexually liberating.

The film stars Catherine Deneuve as Severine, a comfortably middle-class, frigid wife.  Belle de Jour doesn’t look too closely at the motivations of Severine.  Granted, her life is dull.  She’s a housewife with no children and a boring social life.  She and her husband sleep in twin beds and are polite to each other.  But in her dreams, she is being ravaged by her husband.  He flings mud on her and ties her up.

Through the grapevine, she learns that one of her neighbors moonlights as a prostitute.  Severine is fascinated at the thought.  She then seeks out that brothel, but not without trepidation.  The madam accepts her flimsy cover story and gives her a stage name: “Belle de Jour”.  She then begins an affair with a possessive, younger man.  He threatens to kill her husband to be with her.  On top of that, her husband’s lascivious friend discovers her secret and threatens to tell her husband.

By leading this double life, she becomes a more affectionate and well-rounded person.  However, she feels guilty.  After her first day on the job, she burns the underwear she wore.  The dream world and the real world collide uncomfortably.  Her lover, Marcel, is the exact opposite of her husband.  The new person she is becoming clashes with her comfortable bourgeois life.  Her husband can’t or won’t reciprocate affection.

jewelry box close-up She chooses to work only during the day, between the hours of 2pm and 5pm.  These hours become the “witching hour”.  A funny episode in the middle of the film, is when Severine is propostioned by a man with a monocle.  He asks her to be in nothing but a black veil, while lying in a coffin.  It is the only time a dream world scenario plays out in the waking world, and it comes with shame.

We are ashamed to live our dreams and fantasies, women more so.  When her husband’s friend discovers her, he says he has lost all interest in her.  Before, he would leer at her and come on to her, but now that he knows she enjoys sex, he thinks she’s dirty.  He can’t wait to ruin her reputation.  The real world is harsh and full of hypocrites and shame.

Despite the dream sequences and ambiguously happy ending, the film’s politics feel dated.