1. What Have I Been Watching (Week 40)


    Like Father, Like Son d. by Hirokazu Kore-eda (2014) – Only a few could argue that Koreeda isn’t a true connoisseur of family dramas and Like Father, Like Son is the newest addition on his shelf. This film deals with two families whom children have been switched “accidentally” at birth and the mistake had been found just before the kids will enroll in pre-school and now the parents have decided to switch them back. The two families come from different backgrounds; one is upper middle class with an ever so occupied businessman father (Ryota) and the other is lower middle class with a sleazy dad (Yukari) who fixes electronic stuff in his small shop.

    This is a very engaging plot which opens the door to many questions director could focus on exploring but the eventual outcome of these family-son relationships is the “nature vs nurture” topic mostly seen through the Ryota’s perspective, leading to undeveloped characters from the other family who are always passive and on the receiving end of Ryota’s actions.

    Koreeda does little to nothing to get away from the businessman dad who has no time for his family stereotype thus leaving Ryota very one-dimensional and second to Yukari who is shown as the perfect dad in almost all occasions.  

    While the script and acting is as great as we’re used to see in Koreeda films, the lack of a deeper character connection makes Like Father, Like Son a bit underwhelming in regard to audience expectations.  7/10

    Boyhood d. by Richard Linklater (2014)As no recent film before, Boyhood got a universal praise that was impossible to deny. Already being a Linklater fan I was so happy to finally catch this in a theater. The film begins with the young protagonist Mason looking up in the sky, immediately giving up the central theme in the film – insecurity. Even though the title suggests we would mainly see this insecurity flow through Mason’s coming of age, this is not a centralized story at all. Linklater deliberately has chosen to show not so important moments from Mason’s life because he isn’t looking for an already done to death trope but being as edgy as only he can be, he is showing us this journey through random moments in this kid’s evolution. This concept pays its dues in certain times when we see either a repetition of a statement or a not so convincing acting by all of the young kids involved in this project.

    Every character in this film is very dual, the insecurity of choice is much of a concern for adults as is for the teenagers and all this collection of random moments brings out the ultimate question of who are we and what it does all mean. The conclusion will not surprise you if you followed Linklater enough in his ramblings but as a final piece Boyhood has managed to complete a hard task of fulfilling a cycle of life in a way we haven’t seen before. 8.5/10

    Au Hasard Balthazar d. by Robert Bresson (1966) – I’ve been wanting to get into the “Dostoevsky of film” for a long time but other priorities were due. I was very well aware that Bresson used non-actors to act for his projects but I wasn’t aware that he used non-actors to purposely non-act at all. This baffled me throughout the film while also being a challenging perspective to consider. The film parallels between the lives of a donkey (Balthazar) and a girl (Marie) from their childhood to their (supposed) end.

    Earthly life brings out its known injustices and sins throughout a myriad of characters that revolve around Balthazar and the girl. There can be drawn parallels to Malick’s Tree of Life “way of nature and way of grace” concept but ultimately Balthazar is our hero, the one that can be burdened with all the sins of humans and not revolt, he is this grateful saint we all should aspire to be.

    Since this is my first foray in the Bresson territory, his unconventional methods have left me a bit unfulfilled although I understand why this might be considered an essential film, I have yet to get used with Bresson’s perspective and will probably check it again later on to see if his method recognition complements my film experience expectation. 7/10


  2. What Have I Been Watching (Week 34)

    In The Mood for Love d. by Wong Kar-wai (2000) - A very anticipated and acclaimed film worldwide due to its uniqueness and demanding cinematography. This couple drama shows its singularity very early in the film, with distinct quick cuts and a lot of filming in the narrow halls of an apartment building in a crowded setting from the 60’s Hong Kong urban life. We follow the two protagonists (Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow) in their daily encounters in and out of the building. Even though their respective spouses are left unseen they are the driving point of the plot. Coming to a sudden realization they are being cheated, Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow develop a platonic relationship, refusing to indulge more unto each other because they don’t want to resemble to the infidelity of their spouses.

    The perfect acting from Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung interfered with a combination of slow motion and Nat King Cole elevate this film to the most elegant form. Regrets and tribulations follow our couple through their journey culminating with a confession in the visually stunning Angkor Wat.

    The last shot of the film kind of wraps up the essence of what Kar-wai wanted to show us. Visuals, soundtrack, styling, camera are all top notch but unfortunately there isn’t much under this surface. Characters wear thin after a while and I felt there was an overt attempt to Westernize the film. 7/10

    The Congress d. by Ari Folman (2014) - The shadow of Waltz With Bashir looms large on Folman’s CV. I want to believe that he had a license to roam due to his previous success and he wanted to roam for real with The Congress. I love “go big or go home” directors and I wasn’t giving this film the benefit of the doubt even when some of the theater personnel warned me about the mundane experience they had watching this 120 minute ride. I immediately run in the difficulties following the credibility of these characters and the strange idea of the plot seems absurd but I wasn’t phased much because I hoped that plot would be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. I put up with the non-convincing acting from Danny Houston (Jeff) and the thin monologue of Harvey Keitel (Al) who would somehow evoke into Robin Wright, a tough character, a roller-coaster of emotions.

    Then things start to get dreamy when she visits the film studio after 20 years. In a utopic animated world where everyone can become everything they want to be through the newest technology, these evil Hollywood-like producers try to convince Robin to also sell her image for this purpose which she reluctantly agrees. There are a lot of other things that follow which make it harder to keep up with the structure of the film so by the end I was totally glad it was over.

    In general, I think Folman had a great idea about a film that deals with the growing role entertainment is having in people’s lives, the drug that we are given to avoid the big social inequality, but ultimately he lacked execution and unfortunately the film pleases way more the cause of a trippy on-substance experience than the social critique it intends to. 5/10

    Under The Skin d. by Jonathan Glazer (2014) - There could not be a more perfect film to counter The Congress in terms of how you “go big” than this one.

    Set up in Scotland, we see this film from the eyes of our lone alien protagonist. The hard accent of Scotts is as much difficult to grasp for the normal audience as it is for the alien woman. She is on there with an assigned mission to hunt men. That’s the only plot premise that follows nearly the entire film.

    What’s so impressive about it is the gradual connection the strange creature from outer world develops with its human victims. She meets all kind of men, from the most caring to most violent ones. In the beginning she is intrigued how this human race could be so vulnerable to things like compassion and love. We see a chain of actions starting with a family dog nearly drowned in the sea which eventually ends up with a lot of casualties. All this is too confusing for our alien protagonist. How can such a “developed” civilization be so vulnerable? It’s all too easy for her to do her job here.

    But what she fails to recognize in the beginning, is that this is a contagious behavior. There is a beauty in this emotional connection and she slowly is turning into one of theses species. This is affirmed when she meets a disabled man, a cast-out from the society who she eventually lets go thus quitting her role and fleeing to embrace the full human experience, only to be punished by the same consequences she once found dumb. 

    Glazer does a marvelous job on keeping the whole film in a grey tone, very careful to not go too far with a statement and always trying to keep the balance on what it means to be human, what’s our distinction badge among other uncertainties surrounding us. The grim cinematography and the haunting score only emphasize the point of this being a film seen from the eyes of the outsiders. If there’s a film competition in galaxy every ten years where human race should select only one film to compete with other races, Under The Skin is the entry of this decade. 9/10 


  3. What Have I Been Watching (Week 19)

    Snowpiercer d. by Bong Joon-ho (2013) - I did not know nothing about this film until I heard about the controversy with Weinsteins about the US Release. Even though I keep in high regard the Korean director, I was skeptical about the collaboration with the US Producers and actors (especially with Chris Evans as a lead role) but I was pleasantly surprised. Snowpiercer comes off as a very original action film. For me the action genre is the most hostile environment for good films but here that was not the case. The film clearly thrives on the train setting and its depth is shown as film progresses. What starts as a battle of the 99% vs 1% kind of Occupy idea, it doesn’t rely on this cliche concept to be the main theme of the film. The ending, although a bit flawed in my opinion, reveals the other side of the train and how complex is the nature of the hierarchical structures, not hero & villain kind of narrative we had a feeling we would expect on the end. 8/10

    The Immigrant d. by James Gray (2013) - I have an issue with war melodramas, most of them fall on the “good but not great” category so I was expecting The Immigrant to defy that concept. Coming from a country where illegal immigration to USA is a daily talk, this was bound to have a specific interest to me. The truth is I wasn’t moved as I expected it to be. There is a great story between the trio of Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner and films does justice by not portraying one-dimensional characters but besides being a film that challenges society’s norm on the “immoral” perception in the 20’s, I didn’t get much else. This is also another one that falls on the “good but not great” category. 7/10

    (rewatch) The Great Beauty d. by Paolo Sorrentino (2013) - I always felt I could not grasp the entirety of this film the first time I saw it, so when this was screening at a local theatre I could not miss it. A lot of films feel different after you watch it the second time and TGB is one of them, simply because it has so much to offer. The transition this film goes through is really impressive. The first time I saw it, I thought the turning point in Jep’s journey was his encounter with the Saint but the second viewing made me realize this happened way earlier, the moment he breaks in tears at the funeral. This film brings to the table so much more than just the superficiality of the high-socialites, the themes of authenticity, gratitude, the same origin of both the modern and classic art are really some things to ponder about after leaving the theater. 9/10

    The Selfish Giant d. by Clio Barnard (2013) - This was the second screening I caught in a local film festival, I’ve heard great reviews so I decided to catch it in the big screen. It is a story of a young kid who struggles with hyperactivity and is very rebellious in some poor neighborhood of Bradford. He is calm and collected only when he is hanging out with his best buddy who is a very quiet, humble kid that loves horses. They struggle to keep themselves in school and start earning money stealing scrap and copper wires. What follows is a very sentimental and heart-wrenching story between them. The element of redemption is very present in this film and I’m not sure how much this film resembles Oscar Wilde’s story with the same name (which is thought to be an inspiration for the film) but as much as it is emotional, I can’t say it is something fresh especially the ending felt too forced in order to give the story a stronger emotion. 7/10


  4. What Have I Been Watching (Week 15-17)

    Mistaken for Strangers d. by Tom Berninger (2014) - Being a massive The National fan, I had to watch this. I understood that it’s not a documentary about the band but that made it even more special to me since band documentaries are hardly new ground. The story is pretty basic, Matt’s (vocalist of the band) brother Tom comes on tour as a roadie and that’s enough for him to start a documentary on the band. There is not much of a story going on but what starts as a roadie experience slowly turns on “living under your famous brother’s shadow” theme, in case of Tom this is even more emphasized since he also struggles with insecurity of his own and this becomes the subject of the film while The National members are seen to add an extra depth to Tom’s awkward character. In general I thought that Matt and his wife who I was convinced had a say in the creative process especially at the end traded the band’s sincerity (opposed to “making the band look good”) to give Tom a premise for creating a brotherly tale and a decent character exploration. While overall I liked the film, the ending felt a bit rushed and actively trying to get the viewer to feel with the overcoming of Tom’s struggle. Nevertheless it’s fresh and you don’t have to be a fan to like this. 7/10

    Leviathan d. by Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel (2012) - I went into this film expecting some sort of awareness about the dangers regarding the ocean habitats and it took me a lot to understand that this is actually just different footage assembled in a sea ship. Once I understood the concept, I started to get bored with the long takes and I couldn’t wait for this documentary to end. I get it that it wants to show the everyday life of people who work at sea and the creatures they deal with, the hardships and all that but this just didn’t fulfill as a film-making concept. I guess that footage could easily be compiled on a Vimeo clip and it could have evoked the same feelings but I have a hard time grasping this as a documentary or even a film. Yes some of the footage are really mind-blowing and show great depth (the seagull trying to jump the fence) but the ocean is full of breathtaking stills. 4/10

    To the Wonder d. by Terrence Malick (2013) - No other film-maker intrigues me today as much as Malick, yet again I have just recently watched his latest film which is out for more than one year and I agree that you either like it or you don’t. It’s hard to find a middle ground in this film, to put it simply if you like Malick previous works you will also like this, if you dislike his previous works there’s a big chance you won’t only dislike it but truly hate it. I guess this has been said a lot but this is the most spiritual Malick film to date. It’s no Tree of Life but this feels very personal to Malick. There are words that say this might be partly based on Malick’s life. Insecurity through confusion, the concept of ideal love, the struggle of finding God are all entangled in this non-cohesive poem which are later liberated through acts of forgiveness and gratitude. I feel the hate for this film comes from the fact that this is more of a poem than a film if we measure with conventional structures of both. Although the story is told through Olga Kurylenko’s character, it’s Ben Affleck’s character in which Malick embodies his past fears and Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) is a compelling character going through a rough patch removing himself from the superficiality and embracing the truth. I strongly believe this film was a reflection of a very important part of Malick’s life and it could have been the reason why his writing feels a bit undeveloped in people’s eyes. 8/10


  5. What Have I Been Watching (Week 10 - 15)


    Inside Llewyn Davis d. by Coen Brothers- In a year where American Dream themed films were quite popular, Inside Llewyn Davis felt like the opposite of them, a sincere story of mediocrity and failures, which has become a trademark of Coen Brothers film-making style. The film is entirely focused on the Llewyn Davis character, it doesn’t even bother creating a plot.

    Llewyn Davis is a representative of the authenticity in people’s life, he refuses to budge and sell-out because even though he is self-centric and obnoxious, he is not aiming to be a folk-star and living the dream, he just wants an honest pay for his efforts. He keeps being refused by the industry over and over and this creates a pattern in his life, a cyclical pattern when one resorts to “I don’t care anymore” motion, you know when you hit that first obstacle and settle for mediocrity while Bob Dylan is right around the corner waiting to shake the world in a matter of moments and when he does, you won’t be there because you didn’t care anymore.

    Just to be clear, this isn’t a glorification of “work hard -> opportunity -> success” story but it’s quite a real observation of some people’s carelessness towards success, or life in general. 7/10

    The Grand Budapest Hotel d. by Wes Anderson - You know when there is that thing you really want to like, but you just can’t? This is my issue with the new Tarantino and W. Anderson movies. I was not very impressed by Inglorious Basterds but I wanted to like Django Unchained since it was being hyped so much and you know how far Tarantino hype goes, I went to see it straight in the theater when it was premiering in my town and I can’t remember when did I leave a theater so frustrated. This is repeated with the Anderson’s TGBT. I wasn’t very much into Moonrise Kingdom, but seeing the reviews and the praise TGBT got, I wanted to believe that this time I won’t be disappointed. So again, I went to see it straight into the theater and it’s more or less the same reaction.

    I am not saying this was a bad movie, by no means. It’s just that all this vintage, stylish and quirky setting from Anderson is not really my jam. Similarly like Moonrise, TGBT entertains you in terms of visuals and it’s from occasionally funny but I found it to be a tad too pointless for my taste. It has been a week since I saw it and I already forgot what the plot was (let’s agree that character development is not something we should really focus on Anderson’s new work). I know I am barking in the wrong tree here but I know I won’t be rushing to see the new Wes Anderson film. 5/10  

    Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac)d. by Alan Guiradie - or else known as the “the other French queer movie of 2013” is actually a better film than Blue is the Warmest Color (just for comparison sake) simply because it’s not a film centered around gays and controversy that goes with it. Yes, there are way too many needless explicit sex scenes but despite that the film never loses itself on them (which was not the case with Blue). I have to admit, it took me a while to get into the movie (I very much thought about pausing it halfway), the simplicity of it all almost fooled me and it’s only when the end comes that I finally start to realize that this was actually a very well done film with a clear message to it.

    The minimal settings make a valid ground for the characters to come and look what they’re looking for. There isn’t a more basic need for humans than companionship and love, so this becomes a central theme on this film. This is best reflected through two characters, Franck and Michel, the former which resonates the need for appreciation  and the latter presents that emotional blockade who continuously refuses to attach to anything bigger than sex. Progressing through the film these becomes clashing factors which will result with an unresolved ending but that is overshadowed by the power of that last scene where the “loneliness is worse than death” point is so emotionally wrenching. 7/10

    A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding) d. by Jia Zhangke  - This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2013 since it got rave reviews in Cannes Festival from some of my favorite critics. I am glad to say that my expectations were fully met.

    There are 4 stories in the film sequentially shown after approximately 30 minutes. Personally I thought that the three stories (1st, 3rd and 4th) had a similar pattern in terms of showing the struggle of the people involved with the nature of China’s recent economic and industrial boom (corruption, injustice, low-paying industrial jobs, denigrated service labor, women objectification etc) and their eventual closure in the end but the 2nd story looked a bit different in that sense.

    To not be mistaken, this film hasn’t got a connection arc like anthology movies seem to have (Alejandro Inarritu’s Amores Perros & Babel), some of this actually happened and Zhangke adapted them so well in order to watch the movie through perpetrators lens challenging the audience with a different reality that they’re taught in the media.

    This might be the reason this film is yet not cleared to be shown in Chinese theaters but Zhangke proves once again he is the leader of the Chinese Fifth Generation film-makers steadily getting away from the glorification of the past and focusing deep on the current societal struggle in China. As much as this approach is fresh and inspiring it’s also proves to be a weakness since throughout the film we see Zhangke trying to install a very negative feeling toward the system and this shifts the balance of the film to some extent. 9/10


  6. "It’s really almost impossible, to judge art, that it’s so subjective, you can’t really say, well, this performance is better than that or that writing is better than this and that, if you get caught in that trap of relying on other people, however great they are, to tell you whether you’re any good, you’re either going to consciously or subconsciously start playing to that group. The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don’t."
    — Woody Allen (has continuously turned down invitations to participate in the OSCARS)

  7. What Have I Been Watching (Week 7 & 8)

    Upstream Color d. by Shane Carruth - Too many things have been said about Carruth disappearance after Primer, but one thing was for sure, when it was announced that his second feature film will be airing this (previous) year, the film world was buzzing. So was I, but somehow it took me so long to finally watch it. Can’t say I am not impressed although I felt a bit weird watching it for the first time which is not an unusual pattern in his movies since his reluctance to dumb down his movies to fit in with the audience (which is what I feel Cuaron did with Gravity) is a well known fact right now. It’s one of those movies which you need to watch in theater following with a Q & A from the director. Once you’ve heard/read the whole life-cycle connection theme than it becomes really clear and the second time you watch it, it’s a very different treat. But after I finished being impressed by the level of the “mindfuckery” (for the lack of a better name), I felt that characters were really boring and I could not really care for any of them. I think this is Carruth’s big weakness, creating characters that people can’t connect, he really doesn’t bother delivering any emotion to the scene and I think this is an issue with most of these films, they try really hard to give you the “mind-fuck” but don’t deliver on the character and “big picture” side. For some reasons, this film resonated a lot to me with Rian Johnson’s Looper and it had great cinematography but despite the remarkable style of one of the most intriguing young film-makers out there, it left me emotionless just like his characters. 6/10

    Nebraska d. by Alexander Payne - I am not an American but I have always have heard that the Midwest is not a place where you’d be having a lot of fun and Nebraska is the first film I’ve seen that has matched exactly that scenery. Probably that has to do with Payne being born there but that doesn’t take away his craftsmanship, I’d say it enhances it. Nebraska is a road movie and one thing’s that’s good about these movies if done right, it’s the ability to portray some great character studies (Little Miss Sunshine comes to mind). An old man beaten by his age and alcohol is in for a last thrill in the company of his caring son. Throughout the movie the other family members chime in and we get to observe the unchanging nature of a man and a town. It’s interesting to see so many old people in a movie yet they all act similarly how they did decades ago and this gives our pathetic protagonist (Bruce Dern) a chance to win one over those people who once made a fool out of his naivety. This film made me feel strong vibes on the aimlessness of the Midwest which to me is a metaphor of old people and how they live to find another thrill before they come to terms with their nearing death but this is not a depressing movie. Payne sticks to his realism grounds and his witty dark humor is there to make this such an enjoyable experience so in the end you can’t help but warmly smile with the absurdity of Woody’s final act.  8/10

    (re-watch)The Past d. by Asghar Farhadi - There is a reason why Farhadi is my favorite film-maker right now and that’s his ability to portray his stories in the most real way possible with an immaculate eye for detail, not settling for any emotional tour-De-force (it’s hard to believe there is no music in the entire film) and a script that makes his characters very strong and multidimensional. It’s obvious that his previous A Separation (one of my decade favorites) echoes it’s influence in The Past in terms of story pacing and character development but The Past is surely his own film. I was lucky to be around when this film was premiering in a local festival but I decided to give it another view, primarily because my gf wanted to see this so badly and this was a good opportunity for me to notice even more the amount of details that are common among Farhadi’s recent work. The first part of the film comes out really strong and despite the common perception, it’s never slow, the amount of dialogue and interaction between all the three adult protagonists reveals so much about them and we gradually start to know why everyone is acting in the way that they do. The second part feels like a slight let-down with the increasing twists, although neither one of them is shocking enough to detriment film’s end goal which is demonstrating the clinging effects the past has on us but I didn’t find it powerful in the way I found it in A Separation. 9/10


  8. What Have I Been Watching (Week 4 & 5)

    Computer Chess d. by Andrew Bujalski - It’s one of my first experiences with the mumblecore genre and I really liked the premise set in the 80’s where people along with their computer chess programs would compete against each other. With all the VHS shooting quality and the camera-work, it was an awesome depiction of engineers during that era. It’s only after a while that the film gets a tad exhaustive, maybe because I was expecting to be a bit more smart and beautiful. The main story arc was still engaging but I was thrown off by the side-stories like the cult group and the cyborg. I feel that the film-maker knew where he was going, he wasn’t just articulating it good enough. It’s another theme to the ever-growing technology impact on humans with some weird conotations but I didn’t really connect with any of the characters neither the plot. 4/10

    The World’s End d. by Edgar Wright - Can’t really remember a funnier film this year Nothing short of what I expected from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, this is a witty film that builds up very nicely with a lot of laughter in between. Halfway through the film, there is another layer added with the appearance of “robots-who-aren’t-actually-robots” and the audience quickly realizes than this aspires to be way more than just a hangover film that’ll make you laugh your ass out. The story is mainly driven by the protagonist Gary King (Simon Pegg) and I like to think we are seeing the world through his eyes. He is a man whom stature as a high-school popular guy has been diminished in a long time while his gang has moved on so he is back for an ultimate adventure which symbolizes him clinging on the past and hoping to lure his friends in it so he can recreate his best self. So when the blue-blood robots are introduced, it’s how he views the adapted society, manufactured by a big corporate state that has “starbucked” every individual with a suit & tie lifeless, controlled lifestyle. So in the end we are left between two themes here: the drunken, rebelled Gary & his friends vs The Network (can’t help but note the Sidney Lumet references here) and while we are left to sympathize with the concept that humans are flawed and freedom is more important than “integrated prosperity” the film undermines alcoholism as a struggle and that’s something I didn’t really like. We are given closure though, when we see that Gary isn’t healed when he heads back to Newton Haven for another Golden Mile, this time with the robots. In general, I thought the ending was a bit of a fluke but as a comedy-first film, this is a great movie which was equipped with the right elements of social issues and satire. 8/10

    The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) d. by Paolo Sorrentino - The first time I was tempted to see this film was when a friend recommended it to me after I saw Before Midnight. And now I can understand why. To me, The Great Beauty is an extended version of the lunch scene in Before Midnight, thematically speaking. I found it to be a very compelling depiction of the superficiality of the modern artist class. Rome as a setting fits perfectly with the mixture of classic and modern, but I felt strong vibes towards the nothingness that this class aspires and breathes on in general and how hard is to describe something so empty (the fact that the second book never comes). Jep strives for meaning and finds it in the form of the old nun, who shows him the importance of the roots, how devotion to see beauty in the simple things is actually a solution. Regardless how beautiful Rome is, she is not the great beauty this film speaks, it’s actually the opposite, she’s that great giraffe trick that enables the superficiality Jep has suffered for so long.

    Nonetheless, even though this film had a great trajectory, this is no Certified Copy in level of script and dialogue, also from time to time I felt detached from some scenes which of course had a purpose, but I just could not connect to them, they looked a tad too stylish for my taste. 8/10

    The Hunt (Jagten) d. by Thomas Vinterberg - For some reasons, I went in this film expecting a strong Nordic horror flick. Well, I was wrong but I was enjoying it more than anything I was anticipating before hand. The questions posed by this film might not big and essential, they are just in tact with the village setting, but they are delivered so strong and beautifully, it’s what makes me love cinema, that ability to amaze the viewer with the most simplest of plots, which in recent times has masterfully been done by Farhadi, Kiarostami, Herzog and the like.

    Surely, Vinterberg has still a ground to catch to be in the level of those guys but with The Hunt he has made a perfect mixture of plot and character development, which is of course leaded by a strong Mikkelsen performance.

    In terms of plot I love how Vinterberg doesn’t give up on the urge to include shock value twists (my only problem with the Prisoners) but stays true to the reality of the situation. As for Lukas character, I agree that his best scene is in the church but I was won over by his persistence to go back to that grocery store, a strong reflection of a character who knows himself and his deeds, refusing to be trapped on society’s mindset. I thought that to be a great character exploration.

    Unfortunately, while Lukas and Theo characters were very well constructed I had some issues with some of the others which were detrimental to the film especially with the kindergarten principle and the psychologist. They were way too easy almost laughably fooled into Klara’s lie and I had really hard time buying that and also the principle running away when Lukas comes to confront her felt so out of place, it immediately brought me down from the high of this film.

    All in all, it’s a very good film which deserves recognition, in terms of quality I would have a really hard time to choose between this and The Great Beauty as the best foreign film but I could give The Hunt a very slight nod simply to Mikkelsen’s acting. 8/10


  9. What Have I Been Watching (Week 2 & 3)

    Frances Ha d. by Noah Baumbach - Well, it’s a black & white movie and it is set in Brooklyn. I guess that tells you already what this film is about. And it’s perfectly okay, that’s why I am in for the ride and as a matter of fact the beginning is so strong I was really excited to follow through. I thought the part when Frances (main character) moves in the new apartment with her two male friends was really great. Except almost half-way through, she starts getting very obnoxious and I understand it’s all part of her character development but I thought the writing was so over-the-top, it really made me question her character’s credibility. And then when things apparently things start to settle, I feel the film is stuck and it’s not going in any particular direction. I’ve heard the comments on the movie being a satire of college graduates quest for dreams and meaning, this kind of aimlessness people talk about, but in the end feels like even Baumbach got lost in his quest on getting the audience to feel his message, if there ever was one. 5/10

    Blue Jasmine d. by Woody Allen - Being a fan of drama and topics that are usually discussed in Allen’s films I could have not missed this. I really considered Before Midnight as the best drama of the year(haven’t seen Llewyn Davis nor Her yet) but Blue Jasmine is certainly up there and is among my top 5 movies of the year. You can clearly see Allen’s pattern but besides his screenplay and his craft on treating relationships, it brings so much more to the table. Maybe because Allen said this movie is something that happened in his youth, but nevertheless is very strong and convincing (in contrary to Frances Ha). It draws a parallel between two life concepts, how much people are driven by the “good life” concept in such a way that you find yourself alienated from lower class people you and once everything is broken to pieces, you find out you have been living a lie. Not just in terms of relationships but in everything you did yet again even when you are starting from the bottom you use the same actions that made you fall in that lie in the first place, such strong is the drug called “elite” but this time around it has fatal consequences. I think this point was strongly delivered through majestic performance from Cate Blanchett and I consider this to be one of the best Allen’s films of this decade. 9/10

    The Wolf of Wall Street d. by Martin Scorsese - This was definitely the year of American Dream-themed movies. Spring Breakers, American Hustle, Blue Jasmine (not really, but some parts resonated strong with me) and finally the anticipated Wolf who I was expecting to be a wrap-up by the mere fact that Scorsese was behind the wheel. Well, it’s not. First of all, I realized this was a satire only after the credits rolled but as far as satires go, this left me unfulfilled especially when we’re talking Scorsese standard. This movie leaves a lot open to interpretation, that’s why is so polarizing, but to me it didn’t have the impact to influence me in such a way than let’s say Spring Breakers did (I took this comparison since both of them are satires). I can’t help but say that the film is way more sympathetic towards Belfort than it should have been and the scene when the FBI agent is returning home in a subway which was previously predicted by Belfort cut it for me. That’s because even in a satire the “chickens come home to roost” but in WWS they never came 7/10

    Gravity d. by Alfonso Cuaron -The moment some facts were shown in the first few seconds and there is a line that says  ”Life is impossible in space” I immediately thought “okay, this is is some major IMAX big audience shit”. And I am afraid it was so. Don’t get me wrong, it was visually stunning and it really delivered in the aspect of portraying the stillness, isolation and the scariness of space but it left so much to be desired in terms of plot and character development. I know that was not the purpose of the movie and I am barking in the wrong tree here or maybe it has to do with the fact that I watched this in my laptop (albeit being a Blu Ray copy) but I could not really connect with anything characters had to offer. Just like in WWS the name of the director plays a role since immediately lifts your expectations and that was the same with Cuaron since I know he can offer much more than this so maybe he had to take this bullet in order to be more free in his other ventures. 6/10

    Her d. by Spike Jonze - It will be really hard to bring this down in just few lines. I can speak for a lot of people, prior watching the movie, from the trailer we all felt it will be a movie that will show the disconnection and loneliness that technology is bringing to humans, and I was perfectly okay with it as long as it was a moving experience. Turns out, it’s not like that. It’s so much more. I can’t remember a recent movie that was so open to interpretations as this one. It’s really a lost battle if someone tries to give the “final conclusion”. It’s like fucking The Shining. Anyway here are my two cents.

    Eventually one of the major issues this film tries to portray is selfishness and how much it will be evident in the future. Selfishness nurtured by the comfort zone everyday technology provides or at least is an incentive. The future society is reflected to us in the eyes of Theodore and Amy and the fact that their comfort zone was challenged by their loved ones thus leading them to break up for even the most absurd little things (the shoes argument makes it really clear). Enter Samantha. Now she’s not the one-dimensional technology character that will consume the individual, fulfill his desires and eventually make him lonely. Yes, maybe in some parts yes and that was truly sad (the vacation Theodore took) but there is another dimension shown which made me absolutely love this movie. Samantha actually is not something that obeys and fulfills Theodore’s desires. No, she confronts him a lot and I dare say she makes him feel real emotions (in contrary to what Catherine said). What is more impressive is that money and subscriptions are not mentioned anywhere in the movie. Because this film it’s not about addiction to technology. When Samantha leaves, it’s clear to us that she has evolved to a state where humans cannot possibly be intact. Now this might seem weird and a cop-out but this ultimately helps us show that Theodore has learned his lesson. Just like Theodore is a fragment of Samantha’s evolution, he was a fragment of his ex-wife’s upbringing and he is aware now that the world is bigger than his ego. Relationships are impossible if people don’t get away from their personal comfort zones, if they are not willing to allow shoes to be put in a place when sometimes they don’t want to be put in. Because like Amy says, we’re here briefly and we want to feel joy. Joy is not on those stupid details, it’s in the bigger things.

    This is a film that combines so well between the effects of technology will have in people’s emotional lives and it doesn’t settle with just presenting the problem but it takes a step further and actually tries to give a solution. 10/10


  10. What Have I Been Watching (Week 1)



    Prisoners d. by Denis Villeneuve - I’ve heard quite rave reviews about this film but some weird reasoning like the poster and Hugh Jackman were keeping me away from watching it. I’m glad I decided to watch it though. It’s a film with quite a nice build-up to the tension and keeps you always immersed in the story. Characters are well written and have a purpose. Religious tones are strong. I really like the Jackman-Howard friendship as a metaphor of a guy who tries to be religious but isn’t satisfied with God’s will and the other a quiet, mature individual who understand that some things are bigger than him thus he gets his daughter back quicker and safer. The one thing I didn’t like much was the old lady character in the end. It felt a bit sleazy, although I found the motivations to be acceptable, I thought Villeneuve should have done better emphasizing those motivations in a different, more grounded approach. Nevertheless, this movie caught me in a surprise, I haven’t been very keen on Villeneuve’s previous Incendies since I felt it relied too much on shock value, but Prisoners was a very different treat. 8/10

    Zodiac d. by David Fincher - After I watched Prisoners somehow I felt the need to watch Zodiac, maybe because Gyllenhaal and possible similar story arc and I have been planning to watch it in a long time since I always heard how it was a cult film and it’s considered among the Fincher’s best work. I found this film to be really well-made and its ability to slowly get you in the mindset of the agents until you realize that you as obsessed with finding the guy as the people involved in the case are. It’s not hard to see that the film is about obsession and not really bringing Zodiac to justice. In a long time I haven’t felt more convinced by a serial killer story, what drives the Zodiac to send those letters and why Ruffalo and Gyllenhaal are so addicted to find a man who hasn’t killed more than 3 people in a span of 7 years in a town that counts 200 murders for two years. I understand the movie is based from the perspective of Graysmith and the end shows how much he wanted closure, how he wanted to believe he found the guy when in reality there isn’t such convincing facts as Graysmith claimed to be and this IMO could have been a perfect ending, if Fincher would distance a bit from the book to show the frustration of the fact that this case will never be solved and how it affected the lives of people involved. That would best drive home the point of Zodiac and his killings. 8/10

    12 Years a Slave d. by Steve McQueen - I’ve been riding high on McQueen train this past year. When I heard he will be doing a “proper” slavery movie (yes, I am looking at you Tarantino) I was really excited and was anticipating to be ranked among the best movies this year. Maybe, it was because the theme of slavery that doesn’t have some white guy playing the hero, has been dearly missing from American cinema. McQueen was clearly inspired by this lack of treatment and in 12 Years he shows no remorse. We immediately see that with the portrayal of “good” slave-owners like Ford for whom Solomon Northup wrote constant praises in the original book, he is shown as indifferent with a slightly positive attitude but ultimately weak in his attempt to do something. I feel that McQueen was trying to tell the audience how the indifference shown by people like Ford who maybe were righteous in the inside were worse than sociopaths like Epps who were alienated with the situation. 12 Years is proven to be a tour-De-force of physical suffering which as much as is a necessity in a topic such as slavery it overshadowed the characters development to an extent. The second best scene (the first being the hanging of Solomon) in the film for me is when Solomon argues with the mother whom had her children taken away. It presents the audience, the dual sides of dealing with this horror. We have the good spirited Solomon who thinks being positive is necessary for survival vs ultimately broken Eliza who does see no light in this tunnel of suffering. But basically that was it, we didn’t see it continued, we don’t really know why Solomon acts the way he does or how will his mindset reflect in the future. As the ending comes we feel more and more empathy for Solomon and once he gets his freedom we don’t really care about Patsey and the other slaves which had it way worse than Solomon which looked to me as a “hero complex” ending. It’s not right to put all the blame in McQueen though since he had to work according to the book and his hands were tied in that aspect but I still felt he could have done a bit more in the character side. Also, the music was a bit overused but I guess that’s what you need to do when you pay Hans Zimmer for your score. I see I have criticized the film a lot but I still believe it’s a great and essential piece of work. The sheer boldness of visual experiences connect with the viewer in such a way that we are very aware how slavery desensitized people and stripped them from any integrity as human beings. It will definitely go down as an essential slavery movie similarly like Schindler’s List was for Holocaust. 9/10

    American Hustle d. by David O. Russell - Never understood why Russell was such a darling to critics. To me he fits the bill as an Oscar bait film-maker, always making films in award season while getting a bunch of good actors to perform and not bringing anything fresh to the table. I was so put off by The Fighter as a mediocre film over-focused in Christian Bale’s character so I never watched Silver Lining Playbook but I decided to give a chance to American Hustle as it felt as one of those movies you are obliged to watch for your end of the year lists. Not having too much expectations actually made me like this movie although it’s a genre that has been done to death. It’s nothing big though, the plot is a mess and some details are way off (I refer to Amy Adams cleavage extended screen-time) but I felt the film had a purpose, which is something I haven’t found in other Russell films. I especially liked Louis CK character, he added a dimension that made us able to observe and differentiate. Not coincidentally he was the only one without a wig, and that scene when agent Di Maso was mocking him, dry-humping him and whatnot is a great tribute to how people like Di Maso (the closest to fit the “American Dream” type of character) have no shame when it comes to hustle their way to the top. Another great character was Mayor Carmine portrayed beautifully by Jeremy Renner. I felt he was the only one who was hustling for the “right” reasons and I could really resonate with him (maybe because I come from a place where a Mayor doing shady things to keep the balance is nothing strange). The ending was typically Oscar-bait though, but as a whole it felt like good entertainment. 7/10


  11. Tracks of the Year (2013)

    Here are my favorite tracks of the past year. If you want to listen to all the songs in a single playlist click here 

    26.Daft Punk - Doin’ It Right (feat. Panda Bear)

    25. The Strokes - Slow Animals

    24. Pusha T - Nosetalgia (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

    23. David Bowie - Where are we now?

    22. Vampire Weekend - Step

    21. Mikal Cronin - Weight

    20. Arctic Monkeys - R U Mine?

    19. Action Bronson - Seven Series Triplets (feat. Prodigy & Raekwon)

    18. Kings of Leon - Supersoaker

    17. The National- Sea of Love

    16. John Grant - GMF

    15. Laura Marling - I Was an Eagle

    14. The Weeknd - Belong to the World

    13. Queens of the Stone Age - The Vampyre of Time and Memory

    12. James Blake - Retrograde

    11. Deerhunter - Monomania

    10. Mikal Cronin - Change

    9. Foals - Bad Habit

    8. Arcade Fire - Afterlife

    7. Arctic Monkeys - Do I Wanna Know?

    6. Vampire Weekend - Diane Young

    5. CHVRCHES - Tether

    4. The National - Don’t Swallow the Cap

    3. Vampire Weekend - Hanna Hunt

    2. Queens of the Stone Age - I Appear Missing

    1. Arcade Fire - Reflektor


  12. Videodrome


    d. by David Cronenberg

    It started out very promising. When the Videodrome concept was introduced in the movie I was very positive on the setting and the premise of the film. Well, I kind of lost it on the second half of the movie. I understand Cronenberg was playing hard with symbolism on this one, but it just didn’t affect me the way I was expecting, too weird in the bad sense of the word. Maybe that’s because I just watched Network before it and the perfection of Lumet just let me dry on Videodrome. I totally understand how people can relate to this film. It treats a very daring issue, the difference between real and virtual violence, how people are susceptible to the former, but totally normal to the latter. A similar theme is discussed in one of the sketches of Waking Life(the one who sets himself on fire) and it certainly rings true on this day & age which ultimately opens the door to the cravings and desensitization the virtual world is offering to mankind today on the weekly basis.


    TrueFilmClub #11


  13. Network

    d. by Sidney Lumet

    Well, first of all this is a remarkable film. It has so much to say, it’s a bit difficult to grasp all in one short review. It’s pretty obvious what’s it about, the nation under the “tube” and all the influence that will have on future generations (scarily accurate, but not something prophetic like I’ve heard people say. You didn’t need much to know back then to know where the society was heading).

    Leaving aside the Fight Club-esque revelations(for the younger generations) and messages, I would want to focus on the characters of Beale and Diana. The former, clearly affected by his damaged life, becomes this psychotic yet appealing figure for the public and money-making machine for the network. Yeah, Alex Jones strikes to mind. It’s really interesting how he is never taken seriously on his content but he is a toy that is being played to the audience to make them feel better. They don’t really dwell on his rants, as long as he talks to people as important factors on the future of their nation, they love it and they feel important. On the other side TV network are raving on controversy, and they want more because controversy is what sells.

    I might be reaching a bit here but I think it’s really accurate of what is happening in the world. We have the masses who basically don’t do nothing, unemployed or having existentialist crisis, and they want to be known, they want to be heard. So they go support organizations like Occupy St. or insert any other revolutionary org here. And their equivalent of ” I am mad as hell and I cannot take this anymore” shout on the window, is a share/like on Facebook. That makes them feel good, feel important. That’s why most of the intnl people who were praising Morsi in Egypt for winning the elections fair and correct, are now praising the military for the coup. Because as long as there are people on the street, “they cannot take this anymore, man” so they rebel.

    There is a very thin line between being oppressed and being ignorant and this film shows us best.

    Also, Diana is a very interesting character, I’d like to draw parallels to the character of Vickers in Prometheus. A person who is so blinded by career and her work, she uses everything to satisfy her ego, and her relationship with Max, while in the beginning I thought it was unnecessary, it was beautifully build to give us one of the greatest speeches on film history, and made me realize Max knew what he was doing from the beginning.

    As I mentioned before I didn’t want to go on deconstructing the bigger picture, the influence of TV and dehumanization of the individual, because those are fairly obvious statements but need say those are very strongly transmitted, sometimes  even force fed to the viewer and that is the only slight negative I could get from this great film.


    TrueFilmClub #10


  14. Take Shelter

    d. by Jeff Nichols

    I haven’t watched this movie before, but I heard a lot of polarizing stuff about it.

    I can assume all the polarizing thoughts came from the ending. It varied from “prophetic message” to “pretentious crap”. And they were both wrong. Sometimes we focus too much on the narrative so we lose a bit on terms of experience and feelings. Yeah, I am not a fan of “draw your own conclusion” endings either, but I really think that the outcome of the last sequence isn’t of such importance.

    The turning point for me, was when Sam asks Curtis to open the door, she wants him to do it so he can finally confront his fears, and embrace the help and support from his family. That moment when he opens the door and finds the sky as blue as ever is when his whole load of stress and anxiety is being divided into pieces.

    The ending just confirms to the audience the pledge he made to get through his illness and now his whole family is with him. He is not a stranger to them and he doesn’t need a tornado shelter anymore, his family is the best shelter he could find.

    All in all, what is impressive about this film, is the way Curtis struggle is depicted. It doesn’t take the melo-dramatic route which would be a more conformist choice, empathizing with the character, neither it doesn’t take over the top drama which would be a more unforgettable way of storytelling. Both of them very tempting but misleading.

    Instead Nichols takes a bold, strong, confident and very close experience of the real challenges the society faces when encountering such situations. Yeah, it might have been a bit ambiguous and weird, but some experiences cannot be described on just words and reasoned actions.

    I somehow relate this to von Trier’s Melancholia, just because they both build up gradually slow but their packed finale gives you a very lasting experience of the film and its message.


    TrueFilmClub #9


  15. Waking Life


    d. by Richard Linklater

    I am a bit late on this but I’ll give my two cents anyway.

    The film aspires to be something that is not. The philosophical tone and raw materials who are seemingly just put there to engage the viewer, don’t work all the time. Well, there are some nice bits which I found pretty refreshing and kept me thinking(Boat-car, free will, red headed lady scenes) and probably there are some others which I can’t remember right now, but there were of course the cheesy and weird discussions who is trying to tell us the “look how deep and intelligent I am trying to be” pretentiousness. Also, putting a lot of 2 to 5 minutes of so-called philosophical scenes, it’s like taking an easy way out of preventing to have to dwell further into these concepts. It’s like Linklater is showing us a lot of quotes but he doesn’t want to get down and deconstruct them, because that’s a pain and I don’t think he is capable of that. Think of those people who stay all day in Facebook and post Carlin quotes with some nice space backgrounds.

    Nevertheless, this movie struck me as an ode to life, opportunities, saying YES to that instant and the importance of dreaming in reaching one’s full potential therefore waking the life into you. It’s merely inspirational as my Leadership class in Coursera but it has its moments and while it might not have a lasting effect, it does feel like a 100 minute brain refresher. I applaud Linklater desire to go on with this and while it didn’t reach its full potential, it’s still something that deserves recognition. As someone else said it, it is a very exciting movie for a young generation/teenagers because it introduces a lot of questions for them and their view of life.


    TrueFilmClub #8