Posts tagged "movie"

“Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie

April 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Vivarium” A chillingly twisted and smart “Twilight Zone” type of movie”

Fans of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” rejoice! “Vivarium” will sate that craving for that odd, twisted, sci-fi story. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots star as Tom and Gemma in this thriller as a young couple on a quest for the perfect house to purchase in a seller’s market. What they find is a home that “has all you need and all you’d want” but it will plunge them both into a nightmare they could have never dreamed. This is a smart, chilling, and captivating film that orchestrates psychological dilemmas that are eerily relevant to our sequestered lifestyle today.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scene is straight out of National Geographic as a mother bird is off to find food for its newborns, but a cuckoo comes along and shoves the babes out of their nest and takes it over, only to be fed by this unwitting and unrelated “mother.” And this is the first foreshadowing of much more to come. We cut to a cheerful scene as Gemma, an elementary school teacher, helps the children act as trees with the wind blowing and then wildly swing their “branches” to replicate a storm…another glimpse into the future. Gemma and Tom, a landscape maintenance man, head to a real estate office where a peculiar man named Martin (Jonathan Aris) convinces them to check out the homes in Yonder…it’s not too far and it’s not too close.” Gemma, not wanting to be rude, agrees to check it out. Driving into a development where the green identical houses line the street, Martin’s odd mannerisms as he shows Gemma and Tom the home rise to the surface a bit more and then he disappears. And try as they might to leave this place, all the roads lead back to number 9; their place.

It’s not until a cardboard box with a baby boy inside with instructions to “raise the child and be released” that they realize they are in a dire situation. The boy, or “it” as Tom will only refer to him, grows at an exponential rate, but he’s just as odd as Martin and even creepier! His uncanny ability to mimic Tom and Gemma give us a glimpse into what’s been going on over the last 98 days during which time Boy as gone from infancy to pre-teen. The emotional turmoil is unraveling them at their seems and the strangeness increases exponentially. There are so many great surprises and twists and turns that punctuate our own psychological needs in this film as it explores gender roles, expectations, and programming. Colors and sounds play an important role in this film as well, both aspects of living that make it complete for most.

This ensemble cast is exceptional. Poots and Eisenberg balance one another perfectly as the happy yet familiar couple who are thrust into not only living together but parenting unwillingly. Their love is certainly tested and as they devolve and evolve in this situation, it is genuine and believable. Neither Poots nor Eisenberg is afraid to show their unattractive side for these roles, but it is their interaction with Boy (Senan Jennings) that is mind-blowing. We watch Poots portray Gemma as a sweet teacher who loves children morph into a child-hating mother figure…perhaps Boy represents the cuckoo bird in the beginning. Jennings is incredible, taking on such a nuance-heavy character. I’m sure he’s a very sweet boy, but this kid gave me the creeps immediately! His body language, facial movements, and speech cadence and style all contributed to a performance that sends chills down your spine.

Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley co-wrote this twisty narrative, placing a heavy load on three main characters and all three of them rise to the occasion. Finnegan directs “Vivarium” (look up the meaning of the word for more clarity), with absolute precision. There can be no errors from his chair or the entire feel of the film is lost. As a fan of Serling’s “Twilight Zone” especially Billy sending people to “the field,” “Vivarium” has exactly the same eerie and chilling notes.

Check out “Vivarium” on all major streaming platforms including Amazon and iTunes for only $6.99. It’ll raise a lot of conversation points!

4 Stars

“Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story

February 7th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Human Capital” A morally complex and intriguing story”

Stephen Amidon’s novel has been recreated once again for the silver screen, but for American audiences this time. Initially an Italian film, it depicts the destinies of two families from vastly different socioeconomic classes whose lives are irrevocably changed after a cyclist is hit and killed just before Christmas. The American version, rewritten by Oren Moverman, stars Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Marisa Tomei, and creates a similar scenario where two families’ children and their underlying stories are intertwined on that fateful night of an innocent cyclist being killed in a hit and run accident.

The story is told from several different perspectives, Rashomon-style. We are introduced to Drew (Schreiber), a real estate agent and father as he drops off his teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke). It’s obvious from the beginning who the have’s and the have not’s are in this scenario and Drew’s unrefined interactions with Jamie’s (Fred Hechinger) parents, Carrie (Tomei) and Quint (Sarsgaard). This sets the foundation for the ensuing tensions and poor decision making that put all the pieces into place and drive the story forward.

As part of the 99%, Drew thinks he has hat the jackpot and asks Quint to get in on his action–hedge funds. Leveraging every cent and item he has, the game has begun, but this is a big boy’s game and Drew isn’t ready. Needless to say, life devolves, spiraling out of control for him. Later that evening, after both families have gathered at a school event, the accident takes place. Each and every character may have done it, and they all have their own version of what happened that night.

From this point, we get Carrie’s, Quint’s, Shannon’s and Jamie’s perspective of what happened over the course of the previous 24 hours. Sharing all their inner-most thoughts and secrets, like a fly on the wall, we see the events of the fateful night unfold. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is chilling, unearthing the depths to which humans will go to save themselves and/or their loved ones.

It’s an interesting cast, all playing pivotal roles and having their time to shine in the spotlight. Sarsgaard portrays a pompous, deleterious narcissist, who cherishes money more than his wife. Tomei, a side character for much of the film, has a few scenes that give us more depth to peel away the superficial layers of her character. She proves that money cannot buy happiness and her performance connects us with her, creating sympathy for her situation. Hawke and Alex Wolff, a troubled teen, bring us all back in time where we made those bad decisions in love. Their honest portrayal is simply engaging with a storyline that could be in any town, highlighting the social issues that plague our current day. Schrieber’s former character of “Ray Donovan” is difficult to shake as his character of Drew is the antithesis of Ray. Initially awkward, Schrieber eventually finds the right tone and I’m able to see him as a man-child who is impulsive and not the brightest bulb in the box. This is a stretch for him and always walking a tightrope of authenticity.

This version of “Human Capital” takes us along a little different path, but the results are the same–it’s fight or flight as our autonomic nervous system kicks in. This engaging film, filled with social issues and consequences, is at once thought-provoking as we are challenged intellectually and emotionally. Ultimately, we place ourselves in each of the roles, predicting our own responses and when a film can do that, it’s worth seeing.

3/4 Stars

“Three Christs” makes you a believer in the need for compassion

January 9th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Three Christs” makes you a believer in the need for compassion”

“Three Christs follows Dr. Alan Stone who is treating three paranoid schizophrenic patients at the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, each of whom believed they were Jesus Christ. What transpires is both comic and deeply moving.”

Based on the book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by Milton Rokeach, Director Jon Avnet takes an incredibly talented cast and creates a mesmerizing tale of three men all identifying as Jesus Christ in a mental institution in the 1950’s. As Dr. Stone (Richard Gere) bucks the system of over-medicating and using electroshock therapy, his revelatory and purely experimental therapy techniques push the professional limits and moral boundaries. Fighting against the administration and the use of physically punitive measures, Stone protects these three men and attempts to intervene, using them as a part of a research study. Placing them together, they must confront their true identity and this is where the story picks up the pace and the complexity of human nature and varied personalities makes this story one worth watching. Joseph (Peter Dinklage), Leon (Walton Goggins), and Clyde (Bradley Whitford) all believe they are the savior, but it is Stone who must delve into his own psyche to not only better understand himself but his patients.

“Three Christs” delicately balances humor and the dramatic need for human connection as it expertly explores the disorder of paranoid schizophrenia. There is a gentle and almost charming friendship that develops among not only the three patients, but also with Stone. Goggins is almost unrecognizable as Leon and Whitford’s verbal eloquence even as he demeans his roommates, floods your senses with a certain calmness. Dinklage has a standout performance and we connect most with him as he searches for a part of himself that is forever lost.

There are a couple of side stories that seem somewhat irrelevant, however they make Stone a more well-rounded character. It is the naturally developing relationship among all four men that is most intriguing and at times, heartbreaking and we root for approval of Stone’s more humane approach to intervention and expelling the barbaric therapeutic techniques used in this era.

“Three Christs” finds an unpredictable path to take in telling this true story and as mental health continues to be at the forefront of our society, we can better understand the need for compassion for those who suffer.

“Ford v Ferrari” So much more than a car racing movie

November 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Ford v Ferrari” So much more than a car racing movie”

No other movie this year will rev your engine and make your heart race as well as pull on those heartstrings more than “Ford v Ferrari,” directed by James Mangold and starring Christian Bale as race car driver Ken Miles and Matt Damon as car designer Carroll Shelby.

Based on a true story, and all car aficionados will recognize the story immediately, “Ford v Ferrari” features Shelby and Miles, hired by Ford, the man (Tracy Letts) and the company, to create a car that would beat the competitor, Ferrari, in the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1966.

The film transports us back in time to meet Miles, a cantankerous perfectionistic car mechanic, struggling in business and itching to get back into car racing. The talented driver, as we see immediately and throughout the film, has a temper, is impulsive, but above it all yearns to drive, race, compete, and most importantly, win.

To read the review in its entirety as published in the Friday, Nov. 15th edition of The Daily Journal, go to:
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Waves” Interview with Writer/Director and Stars

November 14th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““Waves” Interview with Writer/Director and Stars”

Trey Edward Shults boldly plunges in to his second full-length feature film “Waves,” starring Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Luce”), Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown depicting a suburban family dealing with an unexpected tragedy and must find a way to forgive and ultimately heal. This personal film explores the emotional range of a young black man never quite seen on the silver screen before. Shults, Harrison Jr., and Russell were all in Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival and sat down with me to discuss the making of this tragically beautiful and visceral film.
*(Edited for space and clarity)

Pamela Powell (PP): I know your first film, “Krisha,” was a very personal one, based upon your own life’s expereinces. Is “Waves” also?

Trey Edward Shults (TES): Yes, it was. This one probably more myself or starting with myself and things I’ve actually lived and gone through…and the collaboration with Kel (Kelvin). It was a kind of very narrow, personal point of view and understanding other perspectives as well.

PP: Was this a type of therapy or catharsis for you?

TES: My mom and my step-dad are both therapists. I think that could go both ways, but I actually feel very blessed to have two parents as therapists because I think I would have been a total mess and they put up with me pretty well. (Everyone laughing) I think everything I’ve done so far is working something out. I genuinely believe that with this movie [I] was putting a lot of past experiences, some present, and everything that I believe and feel as a human being, spiritually, creatively, emotionally, where I’m at right now, into a movie. It was an incredibly cathartic experience; every different stage of the movie.

PP: Kelvin, tell me about your input and collaborating with Trey.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. (KHJ): He pretty much already had an idea of what the movie was going to be and at the end of “It Comes At Night,” he said he was going to make this high school movie and I was like well then maybe I should be in it.(Laughs). So then about a year later, he came and he was like, ok, I’m ready. And so let’s talk about it. …. the collaboration became this, like Trey said earlier, therapy for us. Rehashing out our childhood and our upbringing and relationships and experiences with our fathers and my sister and our romantic relationships and just trying to figure out who are we and what would it feel like to be a young man. What were the struggles of just trying to find our identity in that moment, just trying to understand and love yourself. It was like honest and this universal truth so then me coming into it, just explaining to him what it was like to be an African American and throwing in those experiences, him just being such a great listener.

PP: Forgive me if I’m unaware, but I really haven’t seen an African-American family portrayed in this way before.

Taylor Russell (TR): No, I think you’re incredibly intuitive. We were at a Q&A and it was a mixed audience … What was lovely is that somebody said, he wasn’t Black, this story doesn’t feel like a Black story, it feels universal. On the other side, a Black person said, this feels like so tailored to the African American experience. … It’s very rare that you see a person of color who you see all the nuances and the tones of what it’s really like to be a real person who is African American, who’s upper middle class or who has all the different levels as human beings. I think because of the fact that it’s universal and about a Black family, we really haven’t seen that before and I think it’s really important.

PP: Kelvin, tell me about creating such evocative scenes and which one spoke to you?

KHJ: To be honest, I think it’s the scene with Tay in the bathroom. I think it’s because, first of all in terms of masculinity and black masculinity that was something we really wanted to explore …I look at Denzel and he does it so well, but then there’s that strength behind it [and there’s] always this idea that I’m going to hold it together because I have to. One of my favorite movies is Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station,” and even him in this movie, it’s still like, be tough, get through it. … I think we see, they’re playing the truth of what this is to be a Black man, and it speaks on the progression of where we are and what the youth are like. … they have the opportunity to be more vulnerable and be less fearful.

PP: Trey, tell me about creating an unexpected yet now favorite scene.

TES: When Tay and Lucas meet, that, I wasn’t even going to shoot the scene that way because that seems very unorthodox where it zooms in on her. It was just going to be a two shot, solo shots the whole time, but I let the scene keep running. We zoomed back out and we kept playing this whole scene with this nice awkward take where you see the body language. It feels really special because of that.

PP: The cinematography is uniquely dramatic. Can you tell me about that, especially driving and capturing these sometimes dizzying scenes.

TES: I [try] to make them (the cameras) feel hidden. Sometimes they are far away or were tucked behind something, but sometimes they’re right here, spinning (hand in front of Kelvin’s face) in front of their faces, but we’re trying to not get in their way. We want to set up the environment for freedom so I hope for them, it feels like the camera isn’t even here any more [that] we’re just playing.

“Waves” opens Friday, November 15 in limited theaters.

“Social Animals” An Instagram story

December 27th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Social Animals” An Instagram story”

Instagram.  If you’re over 30, and I am, it’s an anomaly.  As a teenager in the 1970’s, popularity was assessed based on the number of carnations you received on Valentine’s Day during classes.  Now, it’s the number of public “likes” that can truly make or break you in high school.  Director Jonathan Ignatius Green followed three teens; an aspiring photographer in New York City, a Midwestern girl from Central Ohio, and a wealthy entrepreneur near Malibu, California.  The three are very different teens, but they all experience the emotional costs, both positive and negative of the impact of the social media platform of Instagram.

Green introduces us to Humza, a kid from the inner city of N.Y.  who develops an eye for photographs taken from forbidden vantage points.  Humza’s popularity blows up, but just at the peak of his popularity, he is vilified for revealing a subculture within the city.  Green interviews Humza before, during, and after his Instagram “success,” giving the viewers a keen insight to Humza’s rather mature and very candid expression of social media consequences.

Interwoven into Humza’s story, Green expertly incorporates Kaylyn’s unusual panache for engaging viewers with her style and look which eventually leads to greater opportunities.  Although, fame does have its drawbacks for her and her family, we are privy to the emotions at the time.  Matching Humza and Kaylyn’s story arc, we see that Green couldn’t have chosen a better representation for middle America than a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio with Emma who pays an ever greater emotional price as a negative spin is thrust upon her perceived persona.  

The pressure these kids feel is obvious, determining, in many instances, whether a teen has a sense of self-worth.  In fact, as the film reveals, purchasing “likes” and “followers” is also a technique used to increase their reputation as someone worthy of knowing.  As crazy as this might sound to someone outside of the Instagram realm, it’s a heady and real situation for kids, not to mention emotionally and financially costly.

Green tells each of these teens’ stories from beginning to end, allowing the viewer to walk in their shoes.  His ability to ask the right questions and create a trusting atmosphere for each subject to feel comfortable gives the film integrity and honesty.  These elements connect us to Humza, Kaylyn, and Emma as we watch them rise and fall and then hopefully find the strength to rise again.  Following these “kids” as well as having interviews with parents and other kids over the course of two years, Green allows you, the viewer, to arrive at your own conclusions about the impact of social media as he always takes the position of neutral observer, allowing the story to unfold naturally and honestly.

Initially, my hopes for the film were to be in some way to denounce social media platforms, justifying my inabilities to somehow master the medium, but Green doesn’t place a judgment upon it.   “Social Animals” expertly weaves together a compelling narrative, but more importantly, it allows everyone, no matter their age, to better comprehend the social pressures of today’s youth in a digital era.  It also serves as an avenue for teens to relate and perhaps even find comfort in knowing that they are all in the same boat.  

 

While I long for the days where it was only one day of a popularity contest and hoping that I wouldn’t get any green carnations (indicating “You bug me”), times have changed and “Social Animals” creatively communicates these changes.  Every parent, teacher, social worker and counselor would benefit from seeing this film.  While I no longer have teens at home, the film did allow me to let go of the pressure I feel as I attempt to “master” using Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Don’t even get me started on SnapChat!

For more information about the film and director, go to  https://www.socialanimalsfilm.com/home

and  http://www.ignatiusgreen.com/social-animals/

You can see “Social Animals” on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/social-animals/id1438474795?mt=6&ign-mpt=uo%3D4    or on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Social-Animals-Kaylyn-Slevin/dp/B07K1L5VF3/ref=sr_1_3?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1544750364&sr=1-3&keywords=social+animals

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