The Film Experience™ was created by Nathaniel R

 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Sundance: Blind, a Playful Stunner From Norway

From the Sundance Film Festival here's Nathaniel on "Blind" which won the World Cinema screenwriting prize...

Excuse me while I leap forward 11 months and give Blind the  gold medal for "Best Opening Scene" of 2014. This highly original Norwegian film begins with a visualization exercize. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a married blind woman, is detailing her recent loss of sight. She's trying to remember what things looked like and has been warned that with no new visual stimuli from the optic nerves, her memoires of sight will fade. She'd like to keep the images for as long as she possibly can. She visualizes a tree, her apartment, a park, a dog. It's a German Shepherd to be precise - a morbidly funny choice given their status as the original seeing eye dogs.

Once the dog is visualized in a park, the background vanishes leaving only the panting dog on a blank canvas, as if it's posing in a photographer's studio. Ingrid visualizations a shopping center she likes and just before this intriguing prologue ends we see the dog again, barking forcefully in a window. But we don't hear it. Ingrid and director Eskil Vogt have unexpectedly robbed us of one of our other senses to close out this playful series of images. [more...]

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Cuarón Takes DGA

In non-surprising awards news Alfonso Cuarón has won the Directors Guild of America prize for his long-in-the-making sci-fi epic Gravity. Though I've long been predicting him to win the Oscar, the Best Picture race still seems competitive. It's insane that 12 Years a Slave, a magnificent film and a historically significant drama in several ways, isn't steamrolling but it isn't. My guess is that even if Gravity sweeps the craft categories, Best Picture will be a nail biter down to the last envelope opening. The most famous 'dominated the Oscars but still lost Best Picture' year is, of course, 1972. Cabaret won 8 Oscars but The Godfather beat it in two of the top 8 categories Adapted Screenplay & the big kahuna Best Picture. The end result: they were both winners. Cabaret took home a lot of Oscars and has the impressive distinction of being the biggest winner among all Best Picture losers. (There are some who think that 2002 was heading toward a similar outcome had The Pianist had another month to gain momentum on Chicago) 

Will we see another split year? No predominantly black film has ever won Best Picture which is depressing and bad news for 12 Years a Slave but no sci-fi film has won either which isn't exactly points in Gravity's favor. 12 Years has to convince voters who are resisting it to see the picture (if you ask me, AMPAS voters who won't watch all the Best Picture nominees each year before voting really ought to have their memberships revoked) and it needs to find a second wind with the media who have a predictable way of turning on frontrunners each year. I fear a Brokeback Mountain situation where the less evolved voters just won't give a seminal work its due because of the subject matter. Am I too pessimistic?

Gravity has the potentially easier task in that it only needs to convince voters that it isn't lightweight and that it won't age poorly (I'm not convinced on the latter). And, since it hasn't truly been the frontrunner at any point, it doesn't have much backlash to conquer. I'm leaning toward predicting Gravity to just (nearly) sweep the whole thing.


Sundance Prize Winners

The Sundance prizes were handed out tonight and the top winners will be screening on Sunday the last day of the festival. =Glenn, Michael and I have a handful more reviews for you including a couple of these winners. But it figures that not one of the three of us caught the unquestionable champ, Whiplash starring Miles Teller as a drummer and JK Simmons as his military father, which took home both the juried top prize and the audience award for dramatic feature. You may recall that last year Fruitvale Station won both of those prizes too... but it wasn't able to convert that early rush of promise into Oscar nominations. The year before that those top prizes were split between Beasts of the Southern Wild (jury) and The Sessions (audience) which both went on to Oscar nods. The year before that Like Crazy (jury) and Circumstance (audience). Etcetera. Sundance is hit and miss in terms of its top films going on to further awards glory. Any guesses as to how Whiplash will fare further down the road? 

Full list of winners is after the jump.

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Sundance: This Girl Walks Alone Into Greatness

From the Sundance Film Festival here is Glenn on 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night'

Despite the high profile of vampire movies in the past decade, very few of them have been strong enough to justify their budgets and mainstream success, let alone done enough to warrant any sort of long-term attention. Buffy the Vampire Slayer concluded in 2003 and since then TV series True Blood and The Vampire Diaries have attempted to pick up where Joss Whedon left off. On the big screen, however, the only vampire property to strike any form of sustained reverence is Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish take on vampire lore, Let the Right One In – and, depending on who you ask, the American remake, Let Me In, too – although I did enjoy the Spierig Brothers’ high-concept Daybreakers as well (I didn’t care for Stake Land, but I hear people like that one, too). So it’s not only a surprise, but an genuine delight to report that Ana Lily Amirpour’s stark beauty, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is not just great movie, but should be considered an instant entry into the cannon of vampires on cinema.

With perhaps the most literal title of the festival, Amirpour’s American-made yet Iran-set film takes place in the fictional town of Bad City. A lawless wasteland of a location where a local pit is home to the rising number of dumped, abandoned corpses, and where thugs and pimps undertake their criminal enterprises is broad daylight. Oil drills chug and churn on the city outskirts sucking the land's resources even more than Bad City's low life residents, and a teenage boy takes advantage of a local drug dealer’s death by stealing his stash and moving in on his territory. Bad City, undoubtedly inspired at least in part by Sin City, is a town that both literally and figuratively is being drained of blood; where people don’t so much live and merely exist. It exists in a seemingly parallel world, a twilight zone of evil and it's the perfect place to go unnoticed. 

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We Can't Wait #11: The Last 5 Years

[Editor's Note: We Can't Wait is a Team Experience series, in which we highlight our top 14 most anticipated films of 2014. Here's Jose Solis on The Last 5 Years.]

The Last 5 Years
A musical based on Jason Robert Brown's Off Broadway sensation about a crumbling young marriage which is told forward and backward in time simultaneously

Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick and stage star Jeremy Jordan (Newsies and Bonnie and Clyde on Broadway, Smash on TV)

Why We Can't Wait
When Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years debuted in 2001, the composer probably never expected his intimate musical (based on his relationship with ex-wife Theresa O'Neill) to become the theater sensation it would turn out to be. Although it was never Cats or Phantom-like in its success (the show has never actually been done on Broadway) the Chicago production and its subsequent Off-Broadway staging turned stars Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott into the doomed-lovers-of-choice of myriad theater geeks who still show up audition after audition carrying the music and lyrics to "Goodbye Until Tomorrow".

Brown's musical, with its complex structure and twists, always had a cinematic feel to it and dreams for a film version were only marred by the knowledge that Hollywood would screw an adaptation by hiring movie stars with no voices. Then suddenly it seemed as if the theater gods aligned all the stars when news came that musical veterans Kendrick and Jordan would play the leads.

Even though new musicals are rarely written for the screen any more, The Last 5 Years has the advantage of being unfamiliar enough to broader audiences that it will feel like it's completely fresh. After her success in dramedies (did you love her as much as I did in Drinking Buddies?), Billboard and the web, Oscar nominee Kendrick might finally have the year we've all been hoping she'd have with this and her role in Into the Woods, while Jordan has a face and a voice that were just made to have people fall in love with him the moment they see/hear him.

But the one thing making me some fans doubtful is the show's director Richard LaGravenese who, apologies to his fans, hasn't directed anything decent since Living Out Loud sixteen years ago. His latest adaptations (Water for Elephants and Beautiful Creatures) have left much to be desired and most of his movies aimed at romance lovers have resulted in corny snoozefests that range from the preposterous (P.S. I Love You) to the utter and completely dull (The Horse Whisperer) but then you think of Holly Hunter in Loud, that advance screening in mid-December and especially about the magic of Brown's music (I'm already sobbing thinking about it) and you realize that yeah, this one might do just fine.

Previously: #12 Gone Girl | #13 Can a Song Save Your Life |  #14 Veronica Mars | Introduction


Sundance: Sophomore Directors Soar in 'Listen Up Philip' & 'I Origins'

Watching Alex Ross Perry’s mumblecore comedy The Color Wheel or Mike Cahill’s ambitious, but disappointing Another Earth in 2011 can’t really prepare you for their sophomore efforts, both of which premiered in Park City. Both Listen Up Philip and I Origins demonstrate a near stratospheric development for the pair in virtually every conceivable way. Cahill, especially, appears to have finally found a compelling way to conclude his high-concepts, which was one of the most frustrating elements of his debut. Perry on the other hand, has taken all of the promise found within his Indie Spirit-nominated gem and spun it into a literary tapestry that unfolds delicately and yet at breakneck speed.

You’d be forgiven for being taken entirely by surprise with Listen Up Philip thanks to its vivid, golden colourful strokes of 16mm beauty appearing in stark contrast to the minimalist aesthetic of his debut. Even more surprising is the structure that delightfully plays with audience expectations regarding the direction of certain characters. Just when you think Perry’s astute screenplay is teetering on the verge of monotony, it veers ever so delicately so that you may barely even notice. It’s a wonderful little game of bait and switch that helps make the film feel more intricate and less like two straight hours of people talking.

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Sundance: The Raid 2: Raid Harder

From the Sundance Film Festival here is Glenn on the bone-crunching 'The Raid 2: Berandal'

"It doesn't end, does it?" asks a character in the excessively bloated sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal. He's talking about the depth of Indonesia's underworld, but I choose to take it literally and out of context, okay?! Fans of Gareth Evans' 2011 original will likely find nothing wrong in this film's 150-minute runtime - it's 9.7/10 IMDb rating only two days after its world premiere suggests just that - but as somebody who had hoped the original's 0% body fat take on the action movie formula would be given time to breathe and open up with the extended runtime, I was severely disappointed. 


Much like The Raid (which absurdly went by The Raid: Redemption in the US), Evans' sequel sees a cop battle a seemingly endless stream of villains amongst the Indonesian underworld with little else in between. Funnily enough, it reminded me most of all of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, which I also didn't like. Both are excessively indulgent and monotonous films that sap all the potential fun out of their concepts. The Raid 2 doesn't even allow its actors to revel in their villainry although I did get some enjoyment out of Ken'ichi Endô looking like Willem Dafoe. Likewise, the brief performance of Julie Estelle as "Hammer Girl" is fun and I'm tempted to compare her to a lesser Gogo Yubari from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol 1 (a film with about ten times the amount of colour, style, fun and pizazz as The Raid 2). 

Of course, looking for anything other than bone-crunching violence in one of these films is ultimately silly and futile. 150 minutes of almost constant nihilistic violence isn't my idea of a good time, although my crowd was certainly into it with clapping, laughing and hollering throughout. The action choreography is certainly impressive, there's little denying that, but eventually becomes little more than a processions of swinging fists and kicks. I enjoyed the lone, spectacularly filmed car chase sequence because it was at least a change of pace and allowed the eyes something different to concentrate on. 

Still, when characters take on the consistency of zombies, constantly getting up and fighting despite broken bones and gushing blood, it becomes hard to take any of it seriously. It was also eye-rolling worthy to see the film's hero so routinely saved at the last second by a gunman running out of bullets just as it looked like his number was up. The blood flows freely and the pulsating film score rarely gives you a moment of peace, all adding up to a sequel that took all the of the original worst habits and amplifies them. For many, I guess that will not be a problem. For me, however...

Grade: D+
Distribution: March through Sony Pictures Classics