Tag Archives: Female Director

Movie Review: Beyond the Lights (2014)

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Rating: B-/ Fame offers a thrill more potent than any drug,  but like a drug, it can also consume your life completely. This is the dilemma faced by Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw,) a beautiful mixed-race pop star pushed beyond endurance by her domineering white mother (Minnie Driver,.) Noni is famous primarily for making trashy pop-rap music videos with her musical partner/ sort of boyfriend Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly,) where the unlikely duo sings about booty and twerking while Noni leaves very little of her scantily clad body to the imagination. Continue reading Movie Review: Beyond the Lights (2014)

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Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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    Rating: C/ Puppylove opens with two 14-year-old kids preparing to have sex. The awkwardness and authenticity of this scene made me think the movie itself was going to be more realistic than it was. But no, the ick factor of this film goes way above and beyond a realistic amount and into a level of ridiculousness. Let me explain. The girl in the movie, Diane (Selene Rigot) is a young teen and looks barely old enough to be weaned off Barbie dolls. She also seems to be in love with her ineffectual father (Vincent Perez) (Freud would be proud.) At the beginning, we see the girl, Diane, befriend Julia (Audrey Bastien,) the remarkably self-possessed nymphet daughter of overbearing intellectual parents who is all too aware of her effect on men. Continue reading Movie Review: Puppylove (2013)

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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The Voices (2014)

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Jerry Hickfang (Ryan Reynolds) is the kind of man no one would suspect of any wrong doing- well-groomed, mild-mannered, and charmingly naïve and uncomplicated, he gets along with all his co-workers at the bathtub factory at which he works, and lives a comfortable life with his cat and dog in the podunk town of Milton.

But Jerry has deep-seated problems- problems that stem from his Schizophrenic mother, his abusive stepfather, and his own out-of-control fantasies and delusions that manifest themselves in voices and often comforting, if woefully misleading, visions. Like many mentally ill people, Jerry finds that all the color is drained from his life when he takes the zombifying pills his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) prescribes.

But Jerry has a secret. It’s not that shocking that Jerry talks to his pets (Hell, doesn’t everybody?) But his animals have been particularly vocal lately. His cat, especially, has been known to push him to the edge. And Mr. Whiskers has an agenda- an agenda that turns downright murderous after Jerry accidently kills his indifferent love interest Fiona (Gemma Arterton) in a fit of panic.

Mr. Whiskers is insistent that Jerry kill again, but Jerry’s lovable mastiff, Bosco, tries to convince Jerry to live a morally righteous life. Jerry’s descent into madness is both wickedly funny, fairly disturbing, and oddly touching. “The Voices,” helmed by the graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (‘Persopolis,”) is an offbeat morality tale about the pressures of being a ‘good boy’ Vs. giving in to your inner sociopath.

The script is convoluted, and downright ridiculous at times- the deer scene will make you laugh if you aren’t too busy cringing at the copious gore. But it’s all part of the blackly comic vision screenwriter Michael R. Perry has offered up on screen for us. “The Voices” is also visually striking; there’s a distinct contrast between the beauty, presented up in rich hues that makes up how Jerry sees the world and the dank, dark reality of Jerry’s bloodstained apartment.

Ryan Reynolds gives a commendable performance as Jerry, an upbeat man-child with a homicidal streak, and disturbingly, you’re forced to sympathize with his earnest if deranged worldview, and thus, to some extent, his crimes. Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are also voiced by Reynolds, which makes perfect sense, being that they are quite literally extensions of Jerry himself.

Considering the talent that is on display here, the totally WTF ending is regrettable to say the least. It’s like the writer went ‘what the hell’ after days of writer’s block, got high, and quickly scrawled down an ending with no real cohesion or connection to the rest of the story. Why not have a big song and dance sequence at the end of your horror film? Add Jesus? What the hell! We don’t see enough of that guy these days anyway.

For people who wanted an actual conclusion to Jerry’s story, that you know, made any kind of sense whatsoever, the ending will be a huge disappointment. Simply put- this is not a great movie. But it is the kind of movie I like to watch, off-the-chain and quirkily, even shallowly psychological, so I’m bound to cut it more slack than some people might.

For those viewers who set their expectations (reasonably) low and prepare for a stinker of an ending, for those movie lovers who like their comedies pitch-black and all kinds of twisted, The Voices” might turn out to be a strangely gratifying experience. Because like poor Jerry Hickfang, we all see the world the way we want to see it. But unlike Jerry, most of us are unwilling to kill for that vision.

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Take This Waltz (2011)



“Is that that Seth Rogen guy? What’s he doing?”

“I think he’s… acting.”

“Acting? You mean actually giving a performance without using immature fart or stoner humor as a crutch to compensate for an apparent lack of talent? Well, I’ll be… Do miracles never cease?”

Seth Rogen is, indeed, quite good in this. The scene where he expresses, in various takes, his shock and horror at his wife’s infidelity is revelatory. Overall, though, “Take This Waltz” is so-so, marred by a lack of likable characters and consistent dialogue.

I there’s one thing you can say about this movie, it’s that it doesn’t glorify the act of adultery in any way. Bored housewife Margot (Michelle Williams, who gives a very nice performance here) engages in cutie pie antics and baby talk with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogan,) but longs for passion and intimacy.

When Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby,) a handsome artist, sparks fly almost immediately. As it turns out (damn you, fate!,) Daniel lives right next door to Margot and Lou’s place, and temptation for indiscretion may be too much to resist. But what are the consequences for such an act?

I was underwhelmed by the dialogue here… sometimes it was really good, and sometimes it was cringe-worthy. It felt like the movie was divided into two different worlds- one where intelligent characters say intelligent things, and one where a verbal expression comes directly out of a third-rate sitcom.

The relationship between Lou and Margot was interesting. I could neither fully support it, nor deny it’s moments of comfort and familiarity. I can understand Margot’s need for a more intellectually stimulating relationship (as any reasonably intelligent person would presumably have,) as many of the ‘tender moments’ between them were saccharine or just plain icky.

However, we don’t really see a side of Daniel that allows us to understand Margot’s prompt crisis. In fact, some of the dialogue was just as vomit-inducing, and the scary thing is, I’m not even sure it was meant to be. For the most part, the characters were more exasperating then likable.

This would be a much better movie if not for the dives in quality of dialogue. “Take This Waltz”‘s acting is both fresh and powerful, as is it’s refusal to slap itself with a happy ending. However, I have difficulty recommending it and will, sighing, present my ambivalent review.

Sister (2012)

Set primarily in Swiss ski resort and nominated for a foreign language Oscar, “Sister” is an emotional and mature work that is engaging from start to finish. All the actors are effective, but fifteen-year-old Kacey Mottet Klein steals the show as Simon, a youthful twelve-year-old dealing with responsibilities and problems way beyond his age level. Simon lives in a low-rent apartment with his immature older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux of “Blue is the Warmest Color.”You might remember her as one of the LaPadite sisters at the beginning of “Inglourious Basterds.)

While Simon makes money stealing equipment and luggage from a nearby ski resort and selling the philfered items, Louise shirks any kind of responsibility, mooching off the spoils of her brother’s thievery and having sex with different guys. Although Simon takes from tourists with a cold and calculated  efficiency, you can’t help but feel for the little guy as he does what he has to to survive.

There is definitely a weird incestuous subtext between Simon and Louise. You don’t feel that they are aware of this  or that they would even act on it, but their relationship is marked by an odd co-dependence and half-formed, burgeoning sexual interest on Simon’s part, and maybe even on Louise’s too. There’s a very strange scene partway through (which I love and I think speaks volumes about this pair of outcasts) where Simon pays the angry Louise over a hundred dollars to sleep next to her.

He craves human contact, but Louise is selfish and exploits his vulnerability in a weird way, and is only able to offer comfort in the most basic manner. The cinematography is great and in it’s own way, powerful, while the ending leaves you to draw your own conclusion. Scotsman Martin Compston (who caught my attention playing a sympathetic criminal in Ken Loach’s social realism drama “Sweet Sixteen) has a role as a employee at the resort who gets in on Simon’s thieving.

“Sister” is special in that it is pensive and character-based without being ever boring and it evokes deep emotions, yet is subjective and stays away from gooey sentimentality or blatant attempts at audience manipulation. There are no ‘villains,’ just despair and dead ends. Kacey Mottet Klein is just perfect as a kid who has many foils and has run into trouble trying to live a halfway normal life.

Don’t let the incestuous vibe I get from this picture deter you from watching a great foreign film. This is not a movie about pedophilia. It is a movie about secrets, responsibility, and what it means to be an adult. Léa Seydoux is practically his equal as a character you probably should hate, but you end up feeling kind of sorry for.

“Sister” proves that ‘art film’ doesn’t have to mean being bored out of your mind. If you don’t mind subtitles, you’ll surely find value in this fascinating film about a troubled girl and a little boy who is forced to take up responsibility for the two of them. I liked this almost but not quite as much as “The Intouchables,” the French submission for best foreign film of 2012. While “The Intouchables” is heartwarming and funny “Sister” is quieter, sadder, and maybe a little truer. Do. Not. Miss.

Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) (1999)

I’ll go ahead and admit as a bad filmgoer and reviewer that I have never seen “Vivre Sa Vie” (“My Life to Live”) by Jean-Luc Godard, and I considered watching it to get some perspective before reviewing “Set Me Free.” “Set Me Free,” though not directly related to “Vivre Sa Vie” thematically, is the story of a frustrated young girl who becomes fascinated with the prostitute character, Nana, in Godard’s classic.

It’s also about growing up. And sexual awakening. And youthful confusion. And the moment as a child when you realize that you can’t save the grown-ups in your life; sometimes, you can only help them along while they choose to sink or swim, to fight against the current, or drown. It’s about the way movies influence young people, and how it’s often the one’s you wouldn’t expect that change their ideology, for better or worse.

Hanna (Katrine Vanasse) is a knowing yet naive 13-year-old who lives with her thief brother, Holocaust survivor father, and suicidally depressed mother in France. The year is 1963. Her father (Predrag Manjlovic) has a iron grip on the household. On the other hand her mother (Pascale Bussières) is as submissive and weak as her father is dominating. In an opening scene, Hanna gets her first period near her grandparent’s house, and shortly after goes back home to her parent’s.

While she was hardly happy at her grandma and grandad’s, things go from bad to worse at home. Her dad is a pretentious, lofty, and generally bad writer who fancies himself a great artist, and her mom is one twitch away from a complete nervous breakdown. Her brother Paul is a petty thief. In an opening act of general assholery, Hanna’s father spits at her mother that her’s is ‘mongoloid family’ because her brother (Hanna’s Uncle Martin) has Down Syndrome (I told myself that ‘Mongoloid’ was not such an offensive term back in the 60’s, but nah, it’s still not excusable.)

When Hanna goes to the theater and sees “Vivre Sa Vie” for the first time, she falls in love- with the movies, Anna Karina, and with Karina’s ‘glamorous’ character. From what I saw of the film within this film she is totally misreading the message of the movie, as her teacher tries to point out. But as a confused kid (sexually and in life) looking for a role model, it makes sense.

Boy, did the child actor knock it out of the park here! Hanna was a sweetheart. From what I understand, the child actress was sixteen when she did this movie, and in fact, she looks childlike in some shots and more womanly in others, probably a intentional decision on the part of the director. Hanna’s father insists on masculinizing his daughter, cropping her hair down to boy length (the hair-cutting scene reminds me of the one in “Ma Vie En Rose.”) As Dad cuts, a silent tear runs down Hanna’s cheek, and she gradually is made to feel a little more helpless.

Hanna propositions a man, maybe in hopes for a normal life or because it is the ‘thing to do’ as a girl, but exchanges intimate kisses with a female friend (Charlotte Christeler.) Does that mean she is bi, simply confused, or something else. Fed up with her family, Hanna runs away, but will a life on the streets be easier or harder than she was looking for?

The acting was fabulous, but I wished the ending had offered a little more. There seemed to be a real lack of realization, and everything get’s better quite abruptly. What was learned, except that being a ho’ isn’t all it’s cut out to be? It’s nice to have a happy ending for such a lovely character, but the story doesn’t seem to have the most logical conclusion.

“Set Me Free” is well made and most of all bittersweet and sad. It’s is based on the director Lea Pool’s life, so that makes it this much more authentic. I would love to know if filmmaker Lea Pool is gay, because that would shine a light to better understand the sexual elements of this movie. Note- You can watch this on Huluplus. Otherwise it is not available on DVD as far as I know. I hope you get the chance to watch this powerful film. Thank you.