Monday, 3 March 2014

Mother of Mine: Äideistä Parhain

During World War II Finland fought the Soviet Union twice between the years of 1939 and 1944, forcing more than 70,000 Finnish children to be evacuated to neutral Sweden to avoid the conflict. Based on the novel by Heikki Hietamies, Mother of Mine (2005) shows the vivid journey of a young Finnish boy Eero Lahti (Topi Majaniemi) who is shipped off to Sweden by his mother Kirsti Lahti (Marjaana Maijala) after the death of his father, who died fighting at the front line. A grief stricken and confused 9 year old finds himself on a train journey where a surrogate family awaits him. Directed by Klaus Härö, Mother of Mine is a heart breaking wartime drama focused around a coming of age story of a young boy who is forced to grow up in a world plagued by war.
Eero’s long journey ends at a farm where a Swedish couple Signe (Maria Lundqvist) and Hjalmar (Michael Nyqvist) are waiting for him. Right away there is some friction between him and his surrogate mother. He is constantly struggling to adjust to the abrupt and curt Swedish mother, who refuses to emotionally move on after her daughter’s unfortunate death. However over time, this surrogate family heals and bonds with one another and discovers that their surrogate family has become a real household.
Mother of Mine is a drama focused on characters and the journeys they undertake. Klaus Härö main objective is to take an emotional gripping and visually striking film and focus it on an individual war child. When the 9 year old is taken away from war, the narrative turns away from war and focuses itself on the relationship to his two mothers. One mother brought him into this world and the other taught him how to live. Director Klaus Härö plants the question into our minds “which one of these mothers is Eero’s real mother?” Eero’s biological mother bought him into this world but then made the difficult choice of sending him away. His surrogate mother made the choice to take him but right away was unwilling to move on and accept the death of her own daughter, this causing some emotional dissonance between the two. The films primary focus turns to the principals of the characters and their repressed feelings.
With the compelling and touching narrative, Mother of Mine is a tale of a young boy focused to grow up in a warring world. Even though the boy is physically taken away from war, his emotional and psychological presence is ravaged by it. The film identifies and targets viewer’s feelings and thoughts and shows them a vivid journey of a war child. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

13 Tzameti

A young immigrant roofer Sebastian (Georges Babluani) is hired to repair the roof of a drug addict (Philippe Passon) who is also under police surveillance. While slaving away and working long hours, Sebastian eavesdrops on his employer and overhears a vague detail about a get rich quick scheme. When the boss dies from an overdose and his employer’s sister is unable to pay him, Sebastian seizes his chance and decides to venture on the scheme. As he follows a set of anonymous instructions that lead him deep into the French countryside, Sebastian soon discovers that he has bitten off more than he can chew and the scheme reveals itself to be a deadly gambling event of Russian roulette.
Directed by Géla Babluani, this absorbing French feature is filled with agonising suspense, nail-biting thrills and claustrophobic tension. 13 Tzameti (2005) is a thriller with such pure and raw rigidity that the film’s compelling story is centred on the cruelty of luck. As the men are given numbers, they’re names and identities cease to exist when they arrange themselves into a circle and point their revolver at the man in front of them.  As the spectators place bets on who will survive, your morals are meshed into frenzy when you hope the guy behind Sebastian doesn’t have a bullet in his chamber. The black and white cinematography adds to the hellish nightmare when Sebastian’s innocence slowly disappears with each round.
As the film’s drama is replaced with tension and the film concludes with a horrifying finish. Director Babluani makes 13 Tzameti a brilliant art house film with style of unnerving thrills that drags you into a malicious game with the highest stakes and unspeakable luck. The entire ambience of the film is a surreal nightmare with an unwavering attitude to violence to be trapped in a pitiless whole of gambling and murder.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Last Ride

In this low key Australian film, Hugo Weaving plays a farther called Kev who takes his ten year old son Chook (Tom Russell) on a road trip to explore the vast and beautiful Australian outback. However the hidden truth is that the father is actually on the run after committing a violent crime. As father and son journey into the desert and into the unknown future, their already troubled relationship is shaken even more as they take to the road with no money. Traveling from town to town stealing cars and food as they venture through Australia, Kev and Chook must battle the odds and often each other. Directed by Glendyn Ivin, Last Ride (2009) is a humble and yet terrifying Australian drama based on the novel The Last Ride by Denise Young. This is a coming of age story about a young boy who is confronted with moral choices that often have devastating effect on him and his father’s life.
As the pair head deep into the Australian bush, it becomes quite clear that father and son are heading away from trouble, to an unknown destination. Just before they head off into the beautiful South Australian landscape, Kev cuts his hair and they ditch their car. The father and son try to maintain normality, however with a shaky history, an ill temper and the stresses of being on the run, the pair’s future has already been chosen before hitting the road. Despite their dire situation and often beatings, Kev shows a compassionate humanitarian side and the pair often have their heartfelt father and son bonding moments. Silhouetted they light sparklers at dusk, Kev shows his son the art of bushcraft in the forest and teaching him how to swim in the shimmering outback lakes.
The films that come to mind when watching Last Ride are, Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition (2002), Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and even Dennis Hopper’s Easy Riders (1969) is a comparable film, if you leave out the drugs. Like in most road trip dramas, there is always a sense of an unknown destination, both physically and mentally. With two characters that seem to have nothing in common, the road helps discover common ground for the two. The first time we see Kev and Chook express some interest in each other is their curiosity of their family background.
One of the key fascinating elements in Last Ride is the symbolism in location that Glendyn Ivin uses to expresses emotional bond between the father and son. In a fit of rage Kev abandons Chook in a vast and void desert, layered with a thin layer of water. As Kev drives away from his son, the boy soon realises the emotional and physical emptiness between him and his father. Chook is soon thrown into a world of adulthood and is left to make a difficult choice, for both himself and his father.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Way Back

Directed by Peter Weir, The Way Back (2010) shows a desperate band of Gulag prisoners escape their Siberian captivity and head towards freedom. However, as the Soviet communist rule spreads, the group soon discover that the frozen barren woodlands were only the beginning and now must endeavour into more hardship. Based on a book by The Long Walk (1955) written by Sławomir Rawicz, a Polish POW in the Soviet Gulag. Starring Jim Sturgess as Janusz, Colin Farrell as Valka, Ed Harris as Mr. Smith, the Siberian gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom. Peter Weir’s captivating tale of endurance takes us on journey of survival against the odds and the individuals who venture towards freedom.
The core theme is about a group of people and their human endurance against a dehumanizing landscape. As the group become prisoners of a Siberian Gulag camp during World War II, they soon discover that the bars and barbwire are not the only things that imprison them. It is the vast landscape of the brutally cold winter and the barren land of snow, blizzards and woodlands. In the midst of beautiful cinematography we find our group lost in the snowy wastes of Siberia, dehydrating in the Gobi desert and at the very end at the verge of death caused by the unforgiving land. The Way Back itself is an old fashioned linear structured film about how far would some go for freedom. These valiant prisoners escape the Gulag but they soon are prisoners of the landscape. On foot they cross through the Desert into China and onward into British controlled India.
The individuals who embark on this daring voyage give us a perceptive view on the brutal justice system in the Stalin communist era. Janusz is a Polish soldier who was accused of being a spy and his wife was forced to confess to this false accusation. Mr. Smith is an American engineer who came to Russia to work on the Moscow metro system however is tossed into the Gulag during The Great Purge. Under the communist rule, the ideology had no place for religion and priest and worshipers were sent to prison. The Latvian priest Voss (Gustaf Skarsgard) became victim to this ideology. The censorship in the Soviet Union repressed writers, painters and musicians. The artist of the group Tamasz (Alexandru Potocean) was sent to the Gulag for his paintings.
Through the magnificent visuals of the landscape, Peter Weir’s The Way Back shows a group of men and their gruelling odyssey across unspeakable hardship. While we are stunned by vistas of the Siberian woods and mountains, the group have to endure hypothermia or frostbite. Mongolian landscape of the Gobi Desert brings not only a vast wasteland of sand but also exposed bare rock. The lack of water, sandstorms, sunburn, blisters and sun-stroke weakens the group. Yet despite the hardship these men endure, The Way Back unfolds into an emotional tale of courage and survival.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Trees Lounge

It hasn’t been a good few weeks for our no-hoper Tommy (Steve Buscemi). He lost his job and his girlfriend left him for his best friend who was also his boss. Apart from making a poor effort looking for a job, Tommy’s life revolves around the neighbourhood bar Trees Lounge, a place full of peculiar individuals. As our protagonists drunkenly drifts through life, Tommy is in desperate need of a change of existence beyond the confinements of the bar stall he so often sits on. Written and directed by Steve Buscemi, Trees Lounge (1996) is his directorial debut but there always were signs for a promising film career. Fargo (1996) came out the very same year and going further back, Buscemi was also in two of Quentin Tarantino’s most iconic films Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). Buscemi’s barfly drama and comedy is so much more than an out of job mechanic who virtually spends all his time in the neighbourhood watering hole. His effort to take hold of his life leads him to ambiguous ethical choices through his life.
In a small blue collar town where nothing much happens, Tommy finds solace in drinking his problems away at the Trees Lounge and even rents a room upstairs so the commute is more convenient. Tommy befriends an unhappy family man Mike (Mark Boone Junior) whose idea of a vacation is to also drink at the Lounge. It seems that Tommy’s ambition to get his life back on track is handicapped by indolence, alcohol and a disastrous love life. As Tommy continues and amplifies his pattern of self-destructive behaviour, his love life takes an even darker turn when he falls in love with his friend’s teenage daughter Debbie (Chloë Sevigny).
Trees Lounge is blessed with a bunch of real colourful supporting actors, from Kevin Corrigan, Samuel L Jackson, Anthony LaPaglia and Steve Buscemi’s brother Michael Buscemi. Even The Sopranos co-star Michael Imperioli makes a quick appearance. Sopranos creator David Chase would later hire Steve Buscemi to direct the "Pine Barrens" episode and star as Tony Soprano's cousin Tony Blundetto during the show's fifth season.
A film partly inspired by autobiographical events, Trees Lounge is certainly a hidden barfly gem. It is a well-executed black humour film that explores the destructive nature of an alcoholic. Buscemi not only performed brilliantly, his writing and directing showed an accurate portrayal of the daily saloon drinker trapped in sorrow. Trees Lounge is a blue collar drunk character study, conveying the gradual downward spiral of our protagonist. It’s a story that rubs shoulders with Charles Bukowski’s novels Post Office (1971) and Factotum (1975). 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Lift

In the confined spaces of an East London tower block, filmmaker Marc Isaac decides to install himself in an apartment block lift and film the residents entering and leaving the lift. The simplicity of this idea not only shows the reaction of the residents but eventually they begin to answer his peculiar philological and mythology questions. Once the suspicions of wry smiles and awkward silences disappear, the residents begin to reveal their life stories. We hear the most humorous of stories but at the same time the utmost moving and morbidly sad ones. Trapped in the restrained area in a short period of time, Marc Isaac’s Lift (2001) is a short film documentary that not only shows a rich variety of people that reveal the things that matter to them most.
In the cramped and catastrophic space of the lift, Mark and the resident first appear to be quite distant. However, as the resident and even the viewer become curious about what Mark is doing, the documentary somehow changes from focusing on Mark to the residents. Before you know it we become quite fascinated about the residents and their lives. The documentary explores the modern British residents from a variety of demographics. From young bachelors to married old couples, nuns to drunks and from seemingly quite solace men to loudmouth grannies. In just under a minute for each course, we gain little information about the stranger from questions like “What did you dream about last night?” to “What is your earliest childhood memory?”
Everyone has a different perception on the meaning of life, love, religion and death, but to hear the strangers answer can be either uplifting or morbid. The questions asked from the residents begin to show the characteristics of a passive or a belligerent person. However, from previous or upcoming questions we can see what happened to them in their life that shaped them to become this person. In the few seconds we have with these people from the floor they got on to the ground floor, Isaac manages to get complete strangers to open up to him. Isaac demonstrates by having an engrossing concept and using the most simplest of methods to film it, he achieved a rare uniqueness that documentary filmmakers dream of, having their interviewees completely open up to them. One particularly striking resident is a man who appears to be so imperceptible and too reluctant to hold any discussion with Isaac. His fondest childhood memory is “winning a recorder competition as the only boy”. However this forgettable man has one of the most unforgettable stories in the documentary.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Winter in Wartime: Oorlogswinter

The year is 1945 and Holland is still under Nazi occupation. During the closing months of World War II, a young Dutch boy named Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) finds himself in a quandary when he discovers a wounded British RAF pilot. Faced with the perplexity of turning him in to the German Army or helping him, young Michiel decides to aid the pilot knowing very well if the enemy discovered them, they would both would face execution. Directed by Martin Koolhoven, Winter in Wartime is a gripping melodrama with hints of a thriller that tells the tale of a fourteen year old boy in a snowbound occupied country. He despises his mayor father Johan (Raymond Thiry) for conciliating with the Germans but worships his Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) who’s in the Dutch Resistance. As Michiel aids the pilot he finds himself involved with the Resistance, however as the conflict comes to an end, the young Dutch boy soon discovers the horrors and the ugly realities of war. Michiel is soon forced to realise that the people he knew and loved aren't always what they seem.
Under the pale skies, snowy sceneries and bitterly cold winter, this Dutch film based on the novel of the same name by Jan Terlouw, is a gripping examination of oppression, fear and heroism. As the fourteen year old Michiel is faced with moral absolutist, between doing what is right or endangering himself and his family. The film gives a bleak perceptive view of how people acted in times of war, especially this war. When occupies facilitated with the German army for their own personal gain, towns were divided by political or ethical views. Martin Koolhoven shows how partisans, loyalist and resistances lived in this small occupied Dutch town. However, the dangers they faced was shown when the occupiers would condemn anyone to public executions that worked or aided the revolution. Winter in Wartime gives an insight into a time when men and women were once occupied and what they did during the occupation. Did they act in valour and stay loyal, or were they traitors to their own countrymen? It is a film focused on morality as well as a coming of age story.
Chosen by the Dutch Critics as the best Dutch film of 2008, it won the PZC Audience Award and shortlisted for an Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Winter in Wartime not only makes for a compelling war time drama but a gripping examination of fearlessness, honourable ambiguity and an emotionally harrowing coming of age film.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Carriers

An apocalyptic tale of a flesh-dissolving virus that has plagued the United States and now has left civilization to turn on each other.  Two brothers Brain (Chris Pine) and Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci) and their girlfriends head on a post-apocalyptic road trip to the coast through a barren world of corpses. As the viral pandemic sweeps through the country, they soon realise that their companionship comes to question when they have to decide how far will they go to survive the epidemic chaos. Written and directed by David Pastor and Àlex Pastor, Carriers (2009) shows how driving through the empty post-apocalyptic freeways with your family, buddies or partners may seem ideal, but will soon discover that the your sibling next to you and your partner behind may be far more dangerous than any airborne pathogen. Do you have what it takes to have the pressure of making the difficult decisions in order to keep everyone alive or worse, do you have the courage to do what must be done if your sibling or partner get infected.
The four survivors reach the deserted roads, far away from major cities and from possibly infected individuals. The group make a desperate attempt to head to a safe haven where they can wait for the viral pandemic to die out. However, an unexpected detour takes the group to one grisly encounter to another, with dwindling supplies and running low on fuel. The group soon realise that in world where law and order is in utter disarray no one will help them. Anyone can be a threat from suspicious travellers, military personnel gone rouge to gun wielding militias. Carriers presents a very bleak future of how helpless civilisation can be when airborne pandemic plagues the planet and showing he realistic perception of what humanity will do during the outbreak and aftermath.
With the airborne lethal sickness a constant threat, the real unpleasant truth is that breaking down or petrol shortages on the road mean dealing with other possibly-infected strangers. These moments not only give such visceral thrills and suspense, but it makes you question your own moral choices. With that in your thoughts you are constantly left with a moral ambiguity, which I feel is a fantastic element to the film. However, the choices the characters make doesn't really seem to have much of an impact and the detours they make lead to nothing. This all makes it just pointless, so the effective motor of suspense begins to lose power sadly.
Carriers is still a very decent post-apocalyptic horror with a brilliant unique touch of a road movie as its core theme. However John Hillcoat’s The Road starring Viggo Mortensen's very much identical film was released the same year but Mortensen's The Road is a far superior film and highly praised by critics. This is possibly the reason why Carriers went so far under the radar. However, if you're a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre Carriers is a well-crafted and thrillingly gripping horror with characters plagued by moral uncertainty.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Jackie Chan's Who Am I?

An elite special commando ops team heads to the jungle of South Africa to kidnap a group of scientists who are working on a new type of natural compound that has the ability to power a small town. However, a fraction of this natural material has the explosive energy of a nuclear weapon. When the team secure the compound and head back to base, their helicopter is rigged to crash into the African desert. Only one agent survives (Jackie Chan) but after falling from the helicopter just moments before impact he wakes up in an African tribe, with no recollection of what happened or who he is. He now has to discover his own identity and what happened. Written by Jackie Chan and directed by Benny Chan and Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? (1998) is one of the most underrated action Jackie films of the 90’s. Its compelling mystery narrative, imaginative style, directing skills, phenomenal choreography both vehicle and fighting makes this one of the greatest action films.
Like most Jackie Chan films, Jackie’s performs has some pretty amazing escape routes that would even leave Harry Houdini perplexed. No Jackie Chan film is ever complete without seeing him jump from building to building and parkour from bedroom to living room, up and down construction sites and using the environment to his advantage. Even massive skyscrapers like the Willemswerf building are just slips and slides for Jackie Chan.
With brilliant choreography comes a phenomenal chase scene with the Mitsubishi Lancer. Performing a 180 degree bootleg turn and reverse into an empty parking spot and watching the police just drive by, a classic getaway. The chase scene is both extravagant and beautifully imaginative, the awesome power of German BMW engineering chasing the Japanese Mitsubishi gliding and ripping its tires through the streets of Johannesburg. It is performances like this that give such a brilliant atmosphere of thrilling suspense, action and even give a comedic value.
As the film draws to an end, we see Jackie’s Harry Houdini escape tactics, Spiderman like parkour skills but not enough martial arts. However, all is not all lost and the Willemswerf rooftop fight sequence makes up for this with some kickboxing mayhem. The last fight sequence between Jackie Chan, a henchman and Dutch Kickboxer champion Ron Smoorenburg is both comedic and intense. Two against one with Jackie Chan’s frantic speed and deadly precision is a fantastic last fight sequence that leads to the traditional Jackie Chan keep away sequences. With such a huge space to fight on, the choreography between the three definitely makes for a brilliant showdown. 
Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? demonstrates excellent stunt work, brilliant car chase and a phenomenal  final showdown fight scene that gives enough emotional drive to make this one of Jackie’s greatest action and adventure films.  With Chan’s signature comedy-action also give a brilliant charm to the 90’s relic.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Dead Man's Shoes

This British psychological thriller tells the story of a disaffected soldier Richard (Paddy Considine) who returns to his Midland home town back to his mentally-challenged younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). But the real reason for his return to Derbyshire is to get revenge on the drug dealers who brutalized and tortured his younger brother when he was absent. Written and directed by Shane Meadows, Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) takes us on a brutally raw revenge endeavour where an ex-military servicemen takes the law into his own hands and turns the quite streets of Derbyshire into guerilla hunting warfare. An utterly disturbing and yet gripping drama, Dead Man’s Shoes shows that even the most deranged men out for revenge are also faced with moral ambiguity between crime or punishment.
The film begins as a mysterious and portentous journey of two brothers taking a stroll through the Midlands countryside under a grey lowering sky. As the pair arrives in a small farm just outside the country town in the valley of Matlock Derbyshire, Richard heads into town and we begin to see signs of a crazed killer. He stirs up trouble by stalking the thugs, breaking into their homes and terrorizing them everywhere they go. The psychological anguish ends when the thugs get picked off one by one with DIY tools, axes, plastic bags and knives. It seems that Richard has been planning his revenge spree for quite some time and will stop at nothing to get his vengeance. As the thugs exile themselves and try to escape the wrath of Richard, a series of black and white grainy flashbacks begin that reveal what lead up to the abuse of Anthony and the dramatic end that made Richard seek revenge on the thugs. However it seems that while burying those who tormented his brother, he might be his digging his own grave.  
Dead Man’s Shoes is certainly a Midlands tale of revenge, violence and haunted images of the past, but the film steers away from revenge to murder. The British psychological thriller and drama veers to a bloody and brutally raw reality of a siblings looking after one another.  However the moral question always seems to come to play when you begin to feel sorry for the thugs as they slowly become victims of Richard. With an extraordinary performance from both Paddy Considine and Toby Kebbell and the juxtaposition between the beautiful countryside of Midland’s with a gritty and raw plot. Dead Man’s Shoes proves to be both a provoking and powerful British low key film.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Vanishing on 7th Street

A horror mystery and supernatural thriller, Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) shows a post-apocalyptic vision of Detroit, where it seems that an entire city has been abandoned. A hospital full of patients now a void, movie theatres packed are suddenly empty and the busy downtown streets of Detroit are silent. Cars have crashed into each other with no drivers and planes come crushing down with no pilots or passengers. All that remains are the clothes. When civilisation is wiped out by a virus, zombies or extra-terrestrials, director Brad Anderson shows that with the intensity of silence, suspense and the fear of darkness can create an atmospheric post-apocalyptic horror.
Among the debris of vacant cars, rubble of clothes and empty sky scrapers, a few stragglers remain. A physical therapist called Rosemary (Thandie Newton), who finds herself completely alone at work, is now on a desperate mission to find her missing baby. A distraught and wounded cinema projectionist named Paul (John Leguizamo) finds himself bleeding under a bus shelter. Twelve year old James Leary (Jacob Latimore) is left alone in a tavern waiting for his mother, and finally a television reporter called Luke Ryder (Hayden Christensen) who unwillingly becomes the leader of the group. As the remaining survivors stumble into a bar on 7th street, they have to work together to keep the bar’s electrical generator running. However as the survivors mental status comes into question, something in the darkness lurks and hovers closer.
Vanishing On 7th Street certainly does know how to build up a great amount of tension and suspense with the eerie darkness that creeps closer to our survivors but the film doesn't hold up for much longer. For a post-apocalyptic film it should have a message about humanity or the destructive direction we are heading to. If we look at George A. Romero's post-apocalyptic zombie horrors, Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (1995), John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009) or even Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), each film not only portrays a world that is devastated by nuclear war, a global cataclysm or a virus but a destroyed world with civilisation on the brick on extinction and provides a terrifying insight into humanity and how society would tear itself apart. 7th Street failed to deliver a message into humanity or give any indication of what the film was focusing on, apart from survival. This independent low budget film does have a brilliant horror atmosphere with the creepy shadows whispering, lurking in the blackness and grabbing anyone who lingers astray from the light and into the darkness. Never seeing the figures gives a more profound effect on the viewers when they themselves have to imagine what is in the darkness.
The film certainly does end on an exceedingly unsatisfied and ambiguous finish but Brad Anderson’s abstractness and unique style created a great horror for the first half of the film. No film has ever made silence seem more unsettling and eerie. With no gore, monsters or virus, Anderson used only shadows and whispers to terrify his viewers.