Tag Archives: Film Review

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

bone-tomahawk

Rating- B+/ Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns. I occasionally like to watch one with my dad, but they’re not typically my favorite genre, or my second favorite genre, for that matter. That said, the premise for Bone Tomahawk immediately caught my interest. A western? Pfft. With hill-dwelling cannibals? Huh. With cannibals and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. now you have my attention. I just had to watch it.

My level of interest was increased exponentially by the presence of Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor I’ve loved and admired since my early teen years, when I saw him in Burn After Reading and The Visitor. But really, like any other of the ubiquitous American character actors that blend into small roles in big movies every year, I’d seen him so many times before that. And let me tell you, this movie started out with a bang.

Rather than being a straight-out slow burn, Bone Tomahawk starts out cuckoo and then slows down around the middle to reflect on it’s themes and characters, then becomes balls-out sadistic in it’s final act. Some people think the 2/3 part drags, but I would not be among them. How can a movie drag with such a great cast of actors and characters. If you want to flat-out categorize this as a horror-western, then Bone Tomahawk has something 99.9% of contemporary horror movies lack- it makes you give a damn about it’s protagonists. Which is something in this day and age as rare as Aztec Gold.

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the cool-as-a-cucumber man of the law in a tiny town in the old West ironically dubbed ‘Bright Hope,’ this moniker being ironic because three people have just been abducted from Bright Hope by feral hill people who also happen to be inbred cannibals.  Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is the happily married man and former cowboy whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by the psychos.

This comes at a particularly bad time for him (not that there’s any particularly good time to have your wife kidnapped by cannibals) because Arthur has recently broken his leg falling off a roof and must decide whether to go after her in his current condition or stand by impotently while the love of his life gets eaten by hill people. Except for Arthur, there’s no deciding about it. He’s going, man.

Arthur and Hunt are accompanied by Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), an racially biased flirt and Chicory (Richard Jenkins,) a chatty eccentric and Hunt’s right hand man despite his rapidly advancing age. Together they have no idea what they’re getting into, and personalities clash when Brooder’s abrasive nature, lack of compassion, and casual racism butts up against the others’ surprisingly Liberal values. Added to the explosive mix is Arthur’s hotheadedness when it comes to saving his wife his way and his powerlessness when dealing with his broken leg. Not to mention how fast the posses’ horses get stolen by Mexican bandits. How could this situation go wrong? Add conflict, injury, and homicidal cannibal nutcases and stir well. Let simmer.

bonetomahawk

Bone Tomahawk is an exceptionally well-written and well-thought out horror movie that happens to have a few scenes that rival the fucking Human Centipede in gore factor. And I’m not talking the surprisingly tame Human Centipede I. I’m talking Human Centipede II, with Martin tearing out peoples’ tendons, baby. Except this movie offers more in the dialogue department than the THC movies. Not that that would be hard.

The conversations the characters have in their blooddrenched journey is fairly idiosyncratic, a little Tarantino-esque, but with a verve of it’s own. Subjects such as flea circuses and reading in the bath might seem a little random and out of context until you realize no, they make more sense than you originally suspected. Slowly, the pieces of the narrative start to fall into place, the good, the gory, and the weird.

And boy, is this movie gory. There was one death in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) that had me squirming in my seat. And I am not a prude. Depending on your threshold for really bloody movies, this might have you cheering or running in the other direction. The violence is really raw and sadistic, definitely not for everybody, or even most people for that matter. But it’s not all about the gore here. The filmmaker, a first-time director named S. Craig Zahler, has more tricks up his sleeve than just wanton brutality.

Although the characters’ lack of true shock and horror at the events unfolding rapidly in front of them seems kind of unlikely given the circumstances (they seem disturbingly calm after having someone disemboweled in front of them, not a likely reaction for anyone who isn’t a hardcore psychopath,) this movie is for anyone who’s wanted to see the Western genre done a little differently, but with a deft hand in terms of dialogue and character development.

The miracle of Bone Tomahawk is that it utterly keeps your attention and your investment in it’s characters alive for it’s 2+ hour runtime. That’s no mean feat for a first-time director who allegedly was told my many people prior to filming that this movie couldn’t be done. Maybe they should have spent more time making their own movies and less time arguing that Zahler couldn’t see this project to completion. But as Taylor Swift wisely said, the haters gonna hate, and this film is evidence of their failure to sway the dream of a potential-packed filmmaker with a bright future.

bone-tomahawk-review-20151023

 

Advertisements

The Kindergarten Teacher (2014)

kindergarden teacher poster

Yoav Pollack (Avi Shnaidman,) an adorably precocious kindergartner who is also a brilliant wordsmith, captures the attention of his unstable teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) who becomes dangerously obsessed with with maintaining the continuation of his poetic talent in this unsettling Israeli drama. The majority of the film follows Nira as she becomes increasingly disenchanted with the ordinary people surrounding her and pushes her little Mozart to succeed in the poetry world and maintain his creative chutzpah. Obviously you can’t push a child that young to reach artistic greatness without eventually breaking him, and Nira’s all-consuming obsession with young Yoav will have eventual and long-lasting ramifications.

Of course, the boy’s talent is never about him or his happiness as much as it is about Nira and her failure to make anything meaningful of her life. Like an ugly mother who enters her attractive daughter in a beauty competition, Yira is simply living vicariously through her bright-eyed young student. And while she avoids having sex with her husband (Lior Raz,) Nira disturbingly finds some kind of outlet in bathing the young boy (in a supremely creepy scene, although none of the child actor’s sensitive parts are shown.) Yoav’s father (Yehezkel Lazarov) could care less about his son’s burgeoning talent, but the icily determined Nira is determined not to let it fester.

Sarit Larry’s spectacularly unlikable protagonist strikes me as an incredibly cold creature, preoccupied with putting up a veneer of warmth. At this she does a tremendous job, vacillating between deeply damaged and deeply disturbing in the smallest but most tremendously telling ways. Larry has some of the most coldly striking eyes I’ve ever seen, and even when she smiles, it doesn’t seem to reach those eyes as much as startlingly contrast them. The boy is adorable and shows a kind of genuineness on screen, his character displaying a kind of Asperger’s-like oddness in his behavior and precocious examination of his narrow world.

Despite the compelling nature of the premise and the impressive display of acting talents, I felt this movie tended to drag a little too much. It’s two hours long and nothing really seems to happen until the last twenty minutes. The characters also seem pretty unlikable with the exception of the young boy. Although The Kindergarten Teacher is well-filmed, with extraordinary tracking shots and close-ups and well-acted, I had difficulty getting sucked in by the story it had to tell. it didn’t help that I had no sympathy for Nira, an ice queen unconcerned by exploiting her student’s talent and sacrificing his happiness for what she thinks he should do with his life.

Also, no matter how precocious Yoav is, the sheer sophistication of his poems seem very unlikely. I came across a theory online that Yoav was blessed with an eidetic memory and merely recited the poems his uncle (Dan Toren) had written, and that actually sounds more plausible to me than the surface explanation (that the kid was a flat-out wunderkind.) The Kindergarten Teacher is a well-made movie that ultimately leaves you a little cold, without the confidence in its clinical iciness that made Michael Haneke’s films so effective. It’s definitely worth watching, but I don’t expect it’ll make you want to add it to your collection immediately after. Technically outstanding, but not much fun, and not entirely memorable due to your lack of concern or interest it’s characters.

kindergarden teacher

Two Days, One Night (2014)

two-days-one-night-poster

You know how some movies feel so real it’s like you’re watching a documentary? Well, this is one of those films. It’s not for everybody, because it’s sllooww, and by slow I mean straight-up kitchen sink realism with virtually no frills. But what I really like about Two Days, One Night is how close it hit to home for me. I grew up with a sporadically depressed mother with very low self-esteem and I started suffering from severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was five, and was put on medication for clinical depression in my early teens.

This movie understands the effects of depression on people suffering from the illness as well as their loved ones. Marion Cotillard plays Sandra, an often infuriating but utterly plausible character. Sandra has just been fired from her job at the factory and prepares to sink back into the abyss of depression, taking long afternoon naps and gobbling Xanax like a hardcore druggie.

Sandra is depressed because without her job to sustain her, she will have have nothing to distract her from hopeless sadness and she will be on the dole, but mostly because the majority of her co-workers voted against her in favor of a substantial raise. Shortly after her lay-off, it comes to light that the foreman at the factory, Jean-Marc (Oliver Gourmet,) most likely intimidated the other workers into screwing Sandra over. Now, she has two days to convince the employees to give up their raise so she can return to her job at the company.

Sandra has a devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and two beautiful kids (Pili Groine and Simon Caudry, ) but she is deeply unhappy and endlessly self-defeating. She also undermines her husband’s support at every turn. Even  more concerning than her depression and suicidality is her casual abuse of prescription medication. Both her misuse of drugs and her unhappiness is the proverbial elephant in the room. We can tell immediately something is not right in this household, her husband Manu comes home from work and runs upstairs when she doesn’t immediately respond to his shouted greetings as if her half-expects to find her hanging from the ceiling.

Two-Days-One-Night

Marion Cotillard owns this role. She superbly portrays the exhaustion and resignation of being clinically depressed, when everything, well… sucks, and nothing is good enough or fulfilling enough to make you laugh or even smile. The plot of this film is absurdly simple. but Cotillard and every other performance across the board makes it feel incredibly real. Sandra will piss you the fuck off half the time (even, or maybe even especially, if you see some of yourself in her) but you can feel her anguish like a flame burning the back of your hand.

Withholding spoilers, I was really surprised and pleased at how this movie ended. It’s not a conclusion you see coming but when the credits roll you realize it was the perfect way to wrap up the film. Thinking back on the plight of Sandra’s co-workers, I honestly don’t know what I would do if someone gave me that ultimatum on whether to keep a kind but slightly ineffectual co-worker on the team or earn a substantial raise. I would like to think I would pull through for Sandra, but then again who knows?

It wasn’t like these people were living in exorbitant wealth. They had kids to put through college, rooms to paint and renovate, bills to pay and food to put on the table. It’s hard to judge them, but at the same time, it’s hard not to, especially when you see how vulnerable Sandra is and how much she needs to keep her job. That’s the great thing about this movie; it doesn’t judge. The majority of these people aren’t sneering, bullying fat cats sitting on top of a massive fortune; they’re struggling to get by and support their blue collar families. In fact, they’re hardly mean at all, with the the marked exception of an older co-worker’s teenaged son, who’s a piece of work, and Jean-Marc, who’s just a total dick. But that’s realistic too. Not every one can be convivial and nice, just like not everybody is the equivalent of the high school bully who pantses you during gym.

Although this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of rewatch value in my opinion, it’s definitely worth watching once if you like kitchen sink realism and nuanced drama. Some people might be frustrated with the lack of empowerment of Cotillard’s character, but not every woman can be a superheroine. Sometimes, it’s enough just to survive. Again, Two Days, One Night is not a movie for everyone, but Cotillard’s performance is a genuine revelation, and even significant among the barrage of great performances we’ve seen lately, and are likely to see again.

two-days-one-night-2014-004-marion-cotillard-alone-walking-street-night

White Bim Black Ear (1977)

white-bim-black-ear-movie-poster-1977-1020465788

Bad things can’t seem to stop happening to Bim, The canine protagonist of  the heartbreaking Soviet Russian film White Bim Black Ear. Despite happy beginnings with a tender-hearted widower named  Ivan Ivanovich (Vyacheslav Tikhonov,) Bim’s life is thrown into turmoil when Ivanovich’s old war injury deteriorates and he is placed in the hospital.

Despite Ivan placing a neighbor in charge of feeding and taking care of Bim, the faithful dog pines for his master, wandering the streets every day desperately searching for his person and meeting people both sympathetic to his plight and merciless. Is suffering to be Bim’s lot in life? Must he consistently be exposed to the worst human nature has to offer, even when aching for his owner’s return?

Warning; if you’re at all sensitive to cruelty to animals and/or a dog lover, this movie will hit you hard. My helpless weeping at the end of this film can not even be counted as a cathartic cry as such; it was an ugly cry, complete with my vision blurring so badly through a multitude of tears I couldn’t even see the screen. There’s only one movie involving doggie melodrama that made me cry even more than this one; and that movie was Hachi- A Dog’s Tale (the ultimate canine grief porn weeper, which you will desist from so much as mentioning in my presence.)

Although the emotional factor of this movie is alarmingly high, it is by no means a perfect movie. For one thing, it’s wwaaayy too long, just over three hours. It could probably be cut down by thirty minutes or so, but the director is intent on getting every moment of brutal tragedy in there. Luckily, I have a really long attention span for movies; on the other hand, some people don’t. Those people are likely to find White Bim Black Ear excessive or even, ahem, boring (it does manage to be bafflingly grueling at points, especially for a film that seems to have a fairly small story to tell and an awful lot of filler.)

I also have questions concerning how Ivan’s corpulent, gossipy neighbor (Valentina Vladimirova) is portrayed. She really doesn’t seem to have much motivation for ostracizing Bim, rendering her one-dimensional and almost cartoonish. The strident nature in which is she is portrayed in the film doesn’t really work, especially since it is her that deals the final fatal blow to Bim’s fate. It seems like she should be taken somewhat more seriously by the script; the only reason I can imagine for her atrocious behavior is that she is a horrid and deeply bored old hag, intent on making those around her suffer. She seems too over-the-top to be a real person though, despite the definite existence of people somewhat like her in this world.

Now for the good; the animal wranglers have picked an amazing dog actor to play Bim. Vyacheslav Tikhonov does an excellent job as BIm’s much-loved master and has good chemistry with the canine who plays him. This movie really shows the loyalty of dogs, although it goes to far at times at making Bim more intelligent than a dog could be in actuality (including making Bim know in his heart that the note placed in front of him on the floor is from his hospitalized master- I mean, I know that we’re told a million times that Bim is an intelligent dog, but come on.)

Take heed, this movie is not for children. It’s agonizingly sad; you keep holding out your hope things will turn out okay, but the tragedy overrides any happiness that might have been had by the characters. However, if you like heartbreaking Russian stories, drowned in hundreds of years of tears and Vodka, this movie is for you. Bim is a true innocent, ignorant to maliciousness of many human beings, but, as they say, sometimes it is the innocents who suffer. Keep tissues handy.

whitbim

Zero Motivation (2014)

ZEROMOTIVATION

Who’d of thunk that the women’s training sector of the Israeli military would be a lot like high school? Cat fights, cliques, and general snarkiness are all par for the course. Moody Daffi (Nelly Tagar) would like nothing more than dispose of her uniform in favor of serving coffee at the Tel Aviv, but her service is mandatory, which means that she’s pretty much screwed until her senior officer Rama (Shani Kein) decides she can go. Daffi’s bestie Zohar (Dana Ivgy, star of the heartbreaking Or, My Treasure) tries her best to keep Daffi’s spirits afloat, but several differences of opinion turn the two friends into the bitterest of enemies.

     Zero Motivation is broken into three ‘stories’- one about a girl on the base’s suicide, another on Zohar’s self-consciousness about her virginity, and the third about a power shift between the two friends and the epic falling-out and stapling-gun war that ensues. The film seems to suffer from uncertainty about what genre it belongs in; sometimes it seems to be making a valiant attempt as a comedy, but it lacks much of the requisite mirth and humor; other times it comes off as dark and even depressing (as with the bloody suicide of a lovesick girl (Yonit Tobi) who was passing off as a soldier to get the attention of a boy who was, as they say, ‘just not that into her’ in the film’s first segment.)

I think I should be able to relate to these people, as a world-class slacker, but the characters lack likability. This is not the fault of the cast members, who are very good- it’s just that the protagonists (except Daffi, who seems pretty sweet for all her drama) take bitchiness to a whole new level. Sometimes their bile is funny, but mostly not so much. I guess this is kind of the point; to humanize the military in far away countries that people generally picture as dramatic or extreme by portraying their raucous, even silly set-backs and foibles. And the film is not a bad effort by a  long shot.

But there’s a crisis of tone at play here, as evidenced by the scene where the Daffi and Zohar beat the living shit out of each other when Daffi threatens to delete her former friend’s much-loved collection of online games from the military PC. The situation is absurd, and I guess they’re going for comedy, but by the end the girls are full of staples from a staple-gun attack and bloody. Not only that, but one girl tries to actually strangle the other with a length of cord. So, it’s a bit too dark to be slapstick, but is it supposed to be dramatic? (we’ve got to remember that the fight was over some video games, which is ridiculousness if I ever saw it.)

Is Zero Motivation a comedy? An attempt at dark and cynical absurdity? A drama with humorous elements? In the end, it’s just so hard to tell. I found myself chuckling a few times, but other times it seemed astonishingly dark but didn’t have the seriousness to be a drama. I love black comedies if they’re done right, but I’m just not sure this one is. Ultimately it’s just a curiosity (albeit a well-acted and competently written one) about raging estrogen and histrionic back-stabbing in a military facility for women. Which is not in of itself funny.

There is, however, some interesting political and social context to this movie,  like the patriarchal hierarchy the male soldiers inflict on the women, refusing to listen to their opinions, enlisting them to fix them nibbles at staff meetings; and surreptitiously ogling shapely female asses when the women come to bring them said nibbles. We see how hard it is to be taken seriously as a woman in the military; you kind of have to be mean; as Rama the perpetually angry and overlooked officer well knows. It is in these moments that the film really excels; showing us how unappreciated women who choose to be soldiers are, whether it be here, there, or anywhere.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that 99% of the men in this movie are huge dicks. This Borderline display of misandry might frustrate male viewers, but to be fair, the male characters are a minority here, as the film focuses on femininity and how the women balance it in a job dominated by men, and men annoyingly mired in their own machismo at that. Just like I imagine it would be hard to be a female cop; especially an attractive one (if you’re a female officer and unattractive, it’s easier to blend in and become one of the guys.)

    Zero Motivation is not a movie without value, it just could have done so much more with it’s intriguing premise. When all is said and done, it feels a little lightweight, which is a shame. it could have been great. However, it still worth watching for buffs of multicultural films that look at social issues in a slightly skewed way, if not for those in search for a laugh-until-you-cry comedy.

zero