Tag Archives: Black & White

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” works so well because you know next to nothing about the characters for the first portion of the film, making it an altogether mysterious and intriguing experience indeed. Crisply photographed in black-and-white and imbued with a truly unique soundtrack compilation, this ‘Iranian Vampire Western’ is nothing if not unpredictable.

Arash (Arash Marandi,) the stressed-out protagonist, is a hard-working young man who’s dependent, drug-addled father Houssein (Marshall Manesh) proves to be continually burdensome and exasperating to him. Houssein is being frequently visited by local thug Saeed (Dominic Rains,) a ne’er-do-well, pimp, and drug dealer to whom Houssein owes thousands of dollars of the illegal substances that service his addiction.

Saeed is the exception to the rule. You know everything you need to know about him from the moment you meet him, from his truly epic tattoos (including the word ‘SEX’ inexpertly scrawled on his throat) to his cheap gangsta haircut, Saeed is only half as frightening and twice as ridiculous as he believes himself to be, but is still a volatile hood and no one to be trifled with.

With Houssain in debt, Saeed pilfers Arash’s prized car, driving Arash to steal a pair of earrings from his alluring employer (Rome Shadanloo.) But a mysterious vampire (Sheila Vand, who manages to be all at once creepy, quirky, sexy, and sympathetic) may render Arash’s drastic action obsolete.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” combines wry humor and nail-biting tension in a film that might seem disappointedly low on violence for avid gorehounds but proves to be a technically- and stylistically- sound film. Alternately self-satirizing and even cheesy and artsy and daring, this movie never seems awkward or tone-deaf, but straddles all the elements of the film with pleasing self-awareness and (no pun intended) bite.

Packed into the film is a strong feminist message that proves to be just what Middle Eastern cinema needs. All over the world, women are choked with the what-ifs of simple daily activities such as seeking help carrying groceries from a stranger, walking home from work, and drinking in bars. What if I get robbed? What if I get raped? What if a guy who looks outwardly legit decides to overpower me?

Although men themselves are not incapable of being victims of sexual violence,  it’s a much bigger cause of concern for girls and women. The irony here is, with a vampiress on the loose, now it is the guys, particularly the predatory ones, who have to worry. No pimp, rapist, or woman-beater’s neck is safe. And the halfway decent citizens  of the as-advertised ‘bad city’ are not entirely off the hook either.

You may wonder how this film got away with blunt social commentary and nudity in Iran. Simply put… it didn’t. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was shot in California. But it is, for all intents and purposes, a Middle Eastern film. And a pretty good one at that. Although some people might be put off by the Black-and-White photography and the subtitles, this would be a good starter movie to others unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cinema, as it is entertaining and takes little to no political background to understand

Nor is it overly gory or violent (other than a gruesome- but amusing-  finger munching scene,) and even the relatively squeamish viewers can watch and enjoy it. International film enthusiasts, and vampire fans, should love it.

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Nebraska (2013)

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While some might find “Nebraska” to be an unmitigated bore, I was touched, surprised, and entertained by this black-and-white, refreshingly naturalistic gem. The people look like real human beings (fat, thin, attractive, ugly) and the situations seem to have come out of an actual person’s life. What could have played off as a timeworn punchline to a familiar sitcom instead proves to be in turn genuinely funny and profoundly affecting.

Well-meaning son David (Will Forte) has problems- namely, his dad’s rapidly approaching senility and consistent fondness for alcohol. Now, director Alexander Payne could have made the old man a wisecracking, skirt-chasing stereotype- a ‘high-on-life’ old lush. But that doesn’t happen. David’s Dad, Woody (Bruce Dern,) remains a satisfyingly grounded character.

Woody keeps on wondering off to collect his one million dollar ‘winnings’ he supposedly earned according to a piece of junk mail. Despite Woody’s heckling wife Kate (June Squibb)’s and disapproving older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk)’s objections, David takes Woody on a drive to Nebraska to prove, once and for all, that Woody has not won anything. Unsurprisingly, the two bond as they embark on a road trip, as they drink at bars (not a good idea for the alcoholic father or the recovering son,) reminisce, argue, and visit family.

One word to describe this film would be ‘bittersweet.’ I was pleased to see that the mom and David’s ex both were significantly overweight. Details like that gave the film a very real vibe. The acting is excellent. I understand Will Forte is mostly in really bad comedies, but he really sold it here. Bruce Dern was really, really good. Really, really, really good.

June Squbb was convincing although I wanted to slap the old biddy silly the entire movie (if she mentions one more man from her past who wanted to ‘get into her bloomers,’ I swear I’ll… aargghh.) Bob Odenkirk, who played in “Breaking Bad” and might be getting his own career-defining spin-off, “Better Call Saul,” made the most of a smallish role. His ‘fight scene’ with one of his thuggish cousins had me in hysterics.

The conclusion of “Nebraska” is unexpected but very moving. You end up treasuring David more as a character than you would have had it ended differently. I think this was an improvement upon his last film, “The Descendents.” The former was a good movie too but I think this dares to be a little more different. Maybe  people will look past the black and white and the slow pace and see what I saw in it. That is my hope for this movie.

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Escape From Tomorrow (2013)

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Egads. I had high hopes for this despite the fact that the critical reception was lukewarm at best. An horror film shot illegally at the happiest place on earth? I’m in! As someone who had a less-than-magical experience at Disneyworld a couple of years ago (it was hot, I was tired, and my meds needed adjusting,) I was excited to see what director Randy Moore would cook up.

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But ultimately, despite a great premise and a promising preview, “Escape From Tomorrow” goes straight in the toilet. There’s something to be said for weird for weird’s sake, but “Escape From Tomorrow” has no plot arc, no direction, and no point except maybe to shock you into thinking it’s something more than a badly done piece of ca-ca. “Bowels of entertainment” indeed.

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The plot- a middle-aged schlub named Jim (Roy Abramsohn) finds out over the phone that he is fired on a family trip to Disneyworld. He doesn’t tell his nagging wife or his small children, but promptly afterward he starts drinking heavily and seeing things. If the director had stayed on one track (a drunken midlife-crisis-induced trip into psychedelia) this could have been great. Instead, with pointless scenes of projectile shitting and overt visual references to masturbation, I don’t even know what he’s getting at.

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First of all, the characters of the French girls Jim was ogling and Jim’s wife, Emily (Elena Schuber) were unbelievably annoying. The girl’s giggling and flouncing around made my head hurt. But it was Emily who surely should be put on the list of ‘most annoying movie characters of 2013.’ She was so grating with her ‘Jim, you bought me the wrong figurine’ and ‘Jim, you’re drunk’ and ‘Jim, you’re ogling those French tarts aren’t you?’ (true, but still annoying.) As the place takes a hold over Jim much like the Overlook took over Jack Torrence, Jim’s wife increases in pitch and urgency until you wish Jim would take the kids and leave her at the hotdog stand.

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Jim was annoying too, and I didn’t really care what happened to the characters as long as the movie just ended soon. I mean, who stalks and stares at a couple of teenage girls right in front of his young son? I know men have urges and get sexually frustrated, we all get sexually frustrated, but Jim’s unchained libido was accompanied by a steady dose of stupid.

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Furthermore, the script seemed like something a 13-year-old with a dirty and distractable mind could have written. Is it science fiction? If so, it’s not very good. Is is scary? No. Is it funny? I laughed a couple of times, once when the Asian businessmen were feeling up the princesses. Above all, it doesn’t go ANYWHERE. It simply hangs over the audience like a putrid cloud of decay.

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I like weird films, edgy films, whatever. And like the adventurous tourist at the Japanese seafood buffet, I’m willing to try anything. But what the hell is this. It’s weird all right. It’s not as edgy as it thinks it is. It’s fucking STUPID. If you want to make a list of movies NOT to watch this year, start with this one. You’ll thank me later.

24 7: Twenty Four Seven (1997)


Shane Meadows is one of my top favorite filmmakers, so although “Twenty Four Seven” is not bad at all, it’s a bit of a disappointment with my expectations set so high. It is a well-intentioned independent feature featuring Meadows’ trademark working-class Brits, and sporting a slightly confusing ending. It lacks Meadows’ usual intensity, and although it has a pretty decent story to tell, I often found myself getting distracted.

Good-natured and dedicated, Alan Darcy (Bob Hoskins) starts a boxing club to bring focus and passion to the kids in his lower-class town’s lives. The kids, who have little to do but mingle and get into trouble, are initially wary of Darcy’s enthusiasm, but eventually they find that boxing is a good outlet for their rage and frustration.

Darcy tries to provide guidance to the disaffected working-class blokes in his neighborhood, including abused teenager Tim (Danny Nussbaum,) sadsack drug addict Fagash (Mat Hand,) and a lonely fat kid uncharitably dubbed ‘Tonka’ (James Corden,) but finds himself becoming increasingly frustrated with the town’s limited options.

When Darcy borrows stolen money to help set up his boxing club, I expected something to come of it, but nothing really comes of the plot thread. I liked Darcy, Tonka, and Tim but didn’t find the characters as compelling as in some of Shane Meadows’ other films, like “A Room for Romeo Brass,” a film I gave 5/5 stars to.

The more I thought about it, the more I had problems with the ending, which I found increasingly unclear. What exactly happened to a certain despicable character, and are we supposed to believe that that certain someone would have a road to Damascus and show up at the funeral at the end? Pfft.

Nevertheless, Bob Hoskins did a good job playing a compelling character, and Shane Meadows’ potential was evident from early on. The home-video footage of the young boy at the beginning was not really crucial to the plot, but I liked it anyway as it fit the mood of the scene.

I would only really recommend this movie to Shane Meadows fans who are curious how his career progressed over the years. It was worth watching once, definitely. The absence of Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) or Stephen Graham (“This is England”) was disappointing, but Bob Hoskins did a good job as the idealistic protagonist. An interesting movie, if not exactly fulfilling.

Hide and Seek (1997)

Honestly, I think they should have gone one way or another with this movie — the half documentary, half film narrative doesn’t quite work, and I’m still struggling to figure out why. “Hide and Seek,” not to be confused with the De Niro/Fanning thriller, is the story of Lou (Chelsea Holland,) a adolescent girl forging her identity as a lesbian in the 1960’s.

Interspersed with this narrative are interviews with a variety of gay women. The women courageously tell stories about their experiences with sexual awakening. Meanwhile, the child actors give brave performances in the fictional narrative.

Lou is friends with Betsy (Ariel Mara), while experiencing growing affection toward an African-American classmate. School mean girl Maureen (Alicia Manta) eyes Lou suspiciously, while spreading rumors about the alleged sexuality of her schoolteacher.

Between the documentary segments and the story of Lou’s trials of growing up, the film shows us instructional videos of that time period, in an expression of the bigotry and close-mindedness of the time.

The problem is, the portion focusing on Lou just kind of ends, with no resolution, while the transitions are fairly jarring. I think the feature could have been cut into several different films, each expanded greatly, and therefore improved upon.

I wanted to hear Lou’s story, and I wanted to hear the ladies’ memories, but both in the same movie proved to be somewhat distracting. Overall, though, “Hide and Seek” isn’t a bad film, just a little inconsistent, though I’d advise you to stay as far away as possible from the short films on the special features.

I watched one and started the other, and I have to say it was the most tedious ten minutes of my life. While this deserves to be watched, the short film deserves to rot in art-film purgatory. But if you like pointless shorts with no plot, maybe you’ll like that one. I don’t know.

Frances Ha (2012)

“Frances Ha” is admittedly not normally my type of movie, but I was sporadically entertained by its down-to-earth charm. Filmmaker Noah Baumbach, who skyrocketed to indie fame after acquainting us with a cast of outrageously cruel, petty, narcissistic characters in “The Squid and the Whale” (I guess I’ve made my stance clear on that movie,) squares in on the lifestyle of the big-city intellectual again in “Frances Ha,” but at least now the characters are tolerable.

Greta Gerwig gives a amiable performance as well-meaning, somewhat ditzy college grad Frances Halladay, who aspires to make it as a dancer. Her BFF is the bespectacled and kind of bitchy Sophie (Mickey Sumner,) and and two are as devoted as two friends ever were. When Sophie prepares to move to Japan with her boyfriend who she doesn’t really love, ‘Patch’ (Patrick Heusinger,) Frances feels lost without her best friend, and her life starts to veer off the the tracks.

Not a lot happens in this film. What’s special about it is the real-life quality of the acting and dialogue. However, I did not like this as much as similarly naturalistic “Wendy and Lucy” because there was no high drama. I know, not every life contains a lot of intense drama. But in that movie Michelle Williams was struggling to keep her head above water financially and her fight to provide for her and her dog. She has a goal. Live. Or starve. We can’t look away.

Frances simply flounders. She complains about money, but scrounges up enough to take a trip to Paris where she never leaves her apartment. She lives with two hipsters for a while and it seems like something romantic is going to happen with one of them, but nothing ever does. She wants to dance, but lacks the talent to make it happen. Frances is a nice girl, but the film lacks immediacy.

However, there are pleasures to be had from watching this movie. There is something to be said for getting entangled in a characters life, uneventful as it might be. Frances is a well-written character, and all the side characters seemed real. The down side- the astonishingly tasteless moment when drunken Sophie *SPOILER WARNING* stoically describes the miscarrying of her unwanted baby as ‘cool’ *END OF SPOILER*. Ouch. It’s hard to have sympathy for her after that.

I like the way this movie deals with the everyday awkwardness of relationships. The social difficulties Frances faces never seem forced or exaggerated. Anyone who has said something they later wish they hadn’t (that’s everybody,) drunk or sober, can relate to Frances. The film chronicles little moments on Frances’ journey to become a self-made woman. I’m down with that. I just wish the story had been a little more arresting.

Note- This film is in black and white. Resident whiners and trolls beware. No it is not in color. No we do not need to hear how ‘behind-the-times’ or ‘pretentious’ the filmmaker is. You have been warned.

An Infinite Tenderness (1972)

“An Infinite Tenderness” is a beautiful piece of fiction, disguising itself as a documentary, exploring the world of brain-damaged children. It has no A-listers and no dialogue, but is probably more moving than any other film you’ll see this year.


Hollywood is full of saccharine, off-putting, and thoroughly uninspiring films about the mentally disabled. This French experiment challenges preconceptions of a group of people viewed alternately with pity and mocking derision.

Simon is a boy confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, who spends his lonely and monotonous days in a white-washed children’s home, cared for with a grim sense of duty by a black nurse.

The beginning of the film is reminiscent of the first 20 minutes of Mark Hanlon’s 1999 indie thriller “Buddy Boy” in its sense of gloom and repetition, but unlike Hanlon’s abused stuttering protagonist Francis, Simon keeps a positive attitude for a while, until he too loses his thunder and begins to look at each new day with apprehension and low spirits.

That is, until he meets Emmanuele, who, contrary to the Netflix description, is quite male. Emmanuelle, who has a very similar disability to Simon, communicates through dog-like barks and howls. They begin to connect through touch, art, and music, and open a door inside themselves they didn’t know existed.

Now this all sounds very Hollywood, with big-name actors hammily trying to get in touch with their inner spastic, but these kids have an inherent lovability that makes you sympathize with their plight.

They are resilient, without self-pity, even as life takes a s**t in their face. I felt a connection with Simon within the first five minutes. How often can you say that about a character, even one who does speak?

The film is tough going at first, with nothing happening within the first 45 minutes or so, but hang in there, because at about that point it picks up its pace. There’s even a death.

Moreover, this movie changed the way I looked at the severely retarded. Previously I saw these people as having little to offer anyone, almost parasitic in their dependance. When I watched this movie, I saw how much these two had to offer each other, in comfort, in affection. I know pretty, sappy, right? The child actors are physically disabled and mute but intellectually unimpaired, and Pierre Jallaud, directs them with finesse.

“An Infinite Tenderness” is for the patient only. But if you are one of those patient few, looking for that obscure film to move and wow you, I have one thing to say — watch this movie. Because if you are patient, chances are you won’t be disappointed.

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