Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wiener –Dog (2016) - “The reality of owning a pet”

Todd Solondz is back after 2011’s Dark Horse with an anthology film only he can conjure.


Wiener-Dog starts off with an upper middle-class family of three adopting a Dachshund. The parent’s son loves the dog to all hell and sees it as another living being with rights, as the parents see the dog as most people see pets subconsciously, as nothing more than accessories to a household that may endure any abuse to conform to the hierarchy of a family. The Dachshund is then passed on ironically to the grown up Dawn Wiener (of Welcome to the Dollhouse) who in her loneliness treats the wiener dog like her baby and her link to widened companionship. The third owner of the hopeful hound is a remorseful screenwriting teacher who would rather sell s script than teach, being the butt of every joke amongst his students. The final owner is a bitter grandmother who’s disillusioned from the experience of being blind and only being visited by her granddaughter years at a time.


Wiener-Dog is Todd Solondz’s most adventurously funny piece yet while being straightforward and subtly delivering its point at the same time. Like many of his films Wiener-Dog paints a beneath portrait of the real world, with characters spouting questions and getting direct core truth answers in return like lines such as; “....The breaking of will is to force character and that force of character makes you, you.” Or characters spouting underlining phrases that mark an unconscious social reality like; “I’ve always wanted a leash.” Solondz also takes things further in this film with his use of appointed yet ambiguous meaning with sounds and visuals, such as unconscious racism in all of us and truthfully parody of what we think to be marital life and the next step in a healthy relationship. Solondz also creates a tone throughout the film in which he has become the master of. A tone of dread created from indifferent behaviour and long silences accompanied with an abrupt end that genuinely make you feel the only the worst is to come.


Now I wouldn’t say Todd Solondz has ever made a movie that can be considered accessible but I would say in the sense of cinematography and plot this is his most accessible film to date. With bright colors and a story that allows hilarity and jovial touches sprinkled throughout the movie, and not to mention a stellar well known cast, this could very well be the touch stone of a Todd Solondz novice.


Wiener-Dog isn’t a complete home run ie; Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness. However its direction and themes are important enough and rare enough to be seen as a home run. As it reminds us more and more that the world is as least earnest as it’s always been and our oldest, most contradictory human ideologies will never change.



-          Maurice Jones

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Shallows (2016) “Very much this generations JAWS or at least that’s what they’ll say…”

The Shallows is a survival horror film with a glossy finish and modern day antics but with its heart in the right place.

Blake Lively stars as a former medical student whose on vacation and decides to surf on the same beach her mother once did back in the day in solidarity. Things seem serene as can be in the water until she’s runs into an injured whale turned on its side in the water with apparent bite marks. This forces her to come to the conclusion that there’s a shark nearby who will stop at nothing rid of everything edible in its path.


The Shallows is a great solo acting vehicle for Blake Lively to showcase her natural acting chops for once. Being from mainly a TV show (Gossip Girl) it’s rare someone gets an original acting gig as intense and inducing and front in centre as The Shallows years down the road. Blake Lively is quite perfect in this role as she plays earnest yet cautious, clever but uncertain and hopeless yet determined. These are all effective traits for a small town girl who doesn’t realize they’ll be up against a giant ferocious CGI shark. Blake Lively makes the character fun to be around which doesn’t allow a movie like this to wallow in dread, but instead carry a strategically driving force such as JAWS that is more about a feverish chess game than animalistic torture porn.


Now one would think a CGI shark would be as enjoyable as watching Scrubbing Bubble mascots in a commercial but surprisingly if you use the shark in the most sparingly shot way, it actually can work to an advantage. Featuring a scene where the shark devours a random surfer in mid sea level and well detailed still shots in a found footage format, the shark at times looks real as can be and equally as frightening. Though there are scenes of CGI delusions of grandeur, the fact these are scenes of urgency and not Deep Blue Sea level obnoxiousness make it part of the fun and at the same time interestingly intense mixed with Blake Lively’s performance. Furthermore the effects do reach Jungle Book-esque impressiveness when at the right angles, that give a perfect surreal quality of realism witnessing it all one screen. With all that said this movie entails tasteful attributes of gore and doesn’t skimp on the blood which gives more than enough to make this shark a worst nightmare.


A few tonally problems do occur in the movie that lessen the intent of the films score and plot. As the movie starts off you get establishing shots of Blake Lively sexually getting her surf gear on, and showing us her characters surf skills while being drenched in a mainstream EDM soundtrack yet the movie begins with a frightfully preparing JAWS-esque score, making the film feel disjointed almost immediately with what looks like scenes from an upcoming surf documentary or uplifting biopic needlessly thrown into a survival horror flick. If kept with the fearing original score from the start, that would of things more consciously disturbing when things get into gear and not be as slightly lackluster as it feels. Even just toning down those scenes as just one far away surf shot with music over it, instead it’s a music video in the middle of the movie. Accompanied with that is an end credits song that is apparently used to invoke “Girl Power” propaganda, as if the only way to display strong feminism is through an implied mainstream pop song. Not the most intriguing ending ever.


So could The Shallows of been darker with a different lead actress? Sure. Could the films soundtrack be more simple and subdued for more theatrical horror effect to enhance the experience? Sure. Could the editing be more focused and less head scratchingly choppy? Definitely! But overall The Shallows is a fun refreshingly scary ride appropriate for an air conditioned escape from these hot summer days in a crystal clear blue ocean on screen. And Blake Lively makes the ride a sweet and comforting one all the well.


And just to point out……The Shallows looks amazing, with some of the best cinematography in recent years. Every inch of a scene looks crystal clear and enhancive to the point of crossing realism with surrealism. And while watching this movie I realized The Shallows is a great test run in how Disney could do the live action version of The Little Mermaid. If so, I for one am “hella” excited.  


-          Maurice Jones

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Angst (1983) “The cognitive wavering of a serial killer”

Who would of thought in 1983 the most mentally involved and realistically portrayed movie about a serial killer would have been released?

Angst is an Austria Proto-Slasher film about a man who’s imprisoned for 15 years for the murders of his mother and a random stranger. As the movie starts from his prison cell, the murderer tells us his story about why he is the way he is, as it happens to be the day that he is finally and mistakenly released from prison after 15 years. The man goes on a journey of re-self-discovery as he navigates a world 15 years later, finding out that he still has the same murderous urges, well realizing how awkward and self deprecating he actually is around girls of the current time which makes him desire homicidal mutilation even more. As the man stumbles upon a lone house in the woods, evil energy starts to take hold and chaos runs rampant.


Angst does something that was never fully delved into with any Slasher-esque films, allow us to accompany the villain on his murderous rampage and almost sympathize and coddle them as they try to go about their creative process of irreversible carnage. To immediately understand where the killer is coming from while at the same time begging them to stop and rethink their choices. The most fascinating part about this movie is noticing that the other characters in the movie aren’t given a voice, everything is seen based on the killer’s perspective, so only emotions are apparent not motives from the otherwise protagonists which gives a hopelessness that hasn’t been explored in type movies such as Psycho, as at same point in those films interference is hailed from outside characters. Throughout Angst you come to the conclusion that our hero is unfortunately the antagonist.


The film makes artful decisions in developing a slasher’s strategy that is effective in the sense of watching the human struggle. Trying to get away and stay alive looks more poetic and ironically euphoric as things play out than in anything else in horror film. The movement of certain characters bodies mixed with the killers narrative speaking voice and back and forth contemplation, acts like watching an intriguing visually pleasing puzzle orchestration.

I can’t help but think……..if you were to make a movie about Jeffery Dahmer or Son of Sam without having it to be a crime procedural, this would be the most accurate way to go that is scary as all hell.

Now whether Angst is a Horror-Slasher film or just an Art film is neither here nor there, as it’s a movie that has an idea in mind and plays it out and those are some of the best kinds of movies. If you’re looking for something lethal yet interesting, you’re here.

-          Maurice Jones

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Au Hasard Balthazar (1966) - “Classic French New Wave”

What happens when a donkey is a signifier for your stupid decisions?


Au Hasard Balthazar is a classic of French New Wave cinema that uses a donkey’s life to chronicle the lives of two kids whom fall in love and then grow apart as they get older. Balthazar is a donkey adopted by a little girl named Marie who spends her summers with a family friend, a little boy named Jacque. Marie and Jacque lovingly adore Balthazar being the catalyst of their loving relationship. As kids Jacque promises to always be there for her every summer, but as time goes on that promise means less and less, and in parallel so does the life of Balthazar.


This classic film explores what influences someone’s life, what can turn them to a grim path through the vassal of abuse towards animals, the loss of innocence through neglecting something seen childish, class struggle, gender inequality, greed and the perils of youthful rebellion. Smartly directed, shot in black and white, giving light to the emotions at hand, grounding them in a cold straight reality for the most effective scenes. Au Hasard Balthazar brilliantly uses modern music at the time to convey the presence of a sinister character, having cut scenes convey the most unfortunate and lecherous of moments.


If Au Hasard Balthazar is your foray into French New Wave of the sixties, be prepared for one of the most hopelessly intriguing of them all.


-          Maurice Jones