2010

January 19, 2015

Taboo Films: A Serbian Film

SERBIAN

A Serbian Film – Serbian

Since we are in a bit of a swoon when it comes to new films to start 2015, I felt it only appropriate to start a new series of films covering some of the more notorious and taboo films to be released. I tried to do something like this about a year ago, sometime around Christmas, but the idea lost steam, mainly because watching a lot of these types of films is a grueling and not all around pleasant experience. So here I am again, trying this again, and I figured if I was going to go all in I might as well start with one of the more notorious film in recent years, 2010’s “A Serbian Film,” a film that is so Serbian it might turn you Serbian.

So, “A Serbian Film” stars Milos, a former porn star who now has a wife and a young son. As money is slowly dwindling away, Milos decides to take a mysterious offer from a man named Vukmir. With the deal sealed, Milos begins his work with Vukmir which starts “innocently”with standard porno fare, but things begin to take a dark turn as the days progress, including a two-day period where Milos must re-track his steps after passing out and waking up in his own bed covered in blood.

Let me put this out there; “Serbian” is sick, disgusting, and extremely exploitative, but while it is a pretty reprehensible film, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a point. According to director, Srdjan Spasojevic, the film is supposed to represent the way that the Serbian government has fu*ked it’s people over for decades. and Spasojevic means fu*ked. “Serbian” goes beyond what most people, even with the worst of taste, would be in a film. There is murder, necrophilia, pedophilia, incest, and literal skull fu*king throughout the film’s “edited” 99 minute run time. I mention edited because the film needed to be edited down an extra 19 minutes just to be suited for an NC-17 rating. Not many directors have to cut that much just to make a film barely viewable for a super select audience.

In the vein of films like “Salo,” “Martyrs” “Irreversible” and “Cannibal Holocaust,” “Serbian” is a shock to the system. However, what I will say about it, is that similar to “Irreversible” and other films of that ilk, it’s shot very expertly and looks incredibly sharp. While the imagery will surely disturb you, that isn’t to stay that the film looks bad.  Aside from the photography, the acting is also fairly decent. Srdjan Todorovic, who plays Milos, gives a convincing performance as a man who is still living in his own shadow while trying to provide for a family under extremely harsh conditions.

I wish there was more to write about this film, but it really just boils down to the fact that people will either seek this film out to watch, or avoid it entirely. I believe that any part of a well-rounded film diet consists of equal parts film and trash. And again, I’m not calling “A Serbian Film” trash, even though I’m sure many people will see it that way, and yes, duly noted, its an extreme film and features very graphic imagery that will put a lot of people off, but so did “The Passion of the Christ.” While I don’t whole-heartedly recommend “A Serbian Film” I do think it’s a film experience that might make you “Hmm, why are films like this being made if not just for exploitation purposes. There has to be another reason.” Whether there is another reason of not, it’s still a film worthy of your time, either for sick curiosity, film experience, or just that challenge of watching “rough cinema.”

“Fun” Fact: “A Serbian Film” was in fact shot in Serbia, over the course of 61 days.

June 30, 2014

I Saw The Devil

RELENTLESS

I Saw The Devil – Relentless

There are so many things that, for lack of PC sense, the Orient had given us; pasta, dim sum, Akira, Nintendo, “The Interview,” and so much more. Speaking of Korea, the South, not the North variety, they haven’t gotten very good the past decade or so at creating outlandish and truly disturbing cinema. While I still hold Japanese horror (and no, I’m not counting J-horror) in high esteem, it’s Korean horror/revenge fare that continues to give me what I want; horrific violence, creepy characters, and satisfying endings. “I Saw The Devil” is a relentless exercise in how long you can watch without squirming in your sit or questioning why you decided to sit down and watch; and that isn’t a knock at all.
“Devil” is simple enough. The daughter of a secret agent and a police officer is brutally murdered by a nefarious serial killer. As the agent tracks the killer it leads him down a road where he will never be the same. I know it sounds melodramatic, but the since K-drama is so big these days, I thought it appropriate.
While Korean actors might not be household names, by now most people have heard of Min-sik Choi who plays the main antagonist Kyung-chul. Choi most will know from his roles in “Oldboy” “Lady Vengeance” and the upcoming Luc Besson flick “Lucy.” Like he does in “Oldboy” Choi does a balancing act of mania and composure and he might be the most memorable on-screen serial killer since John Doe in “Se7en.”
One complaint many people might bring up is the lack or character development and/or plot. I agree on the way the characters are handled, and I didn’t really figure out that the protagonist Kim Soo-hyeon, played by Byung-hun Lee, was a secret agent until I read the film’s synopsis afterwards. It made sense since he was very good at hand-to-hand combat and had an array of gadgets, but it was still generally vague for the most part. Being this is a foreign film, I’m sure a few things were lost in translation for me.

Another thing that might seem off to most people not familiar with the Korean Revenge Drama genre is the motive of the killer and the relentless violence that is seen throughout the film. The violence is brutal and it does go a little over the top in some scenes. Being a gore-hound, it really doesn’t bother me too much, but even I, a believer in ultra-violence, found myself saying under my breathe “…..jesus.” There is also a lot of violence against women in “Devil,” including an attempted rape, who seems to be an underage girl. That might be enough to make people pump the breaks as well.

However, outside of the violence, and the simplistic narrative, the performances, direction and production design are fantastic. The atmosphere is eerie, and there is a haunted house feel throughout that never quite relents. Along with the atmosphere, the sense of dread is incredible and adds to the unease of “Devil.” Bottom line, it’s a horror film without being a horror film.

“Devil” is a must-see if you’re into either horror films, splatter films, or serial killer films. If you’ve seen “The Vengeance Trilogy” from Chan-wook Park, and can handle the type of blood-letting you might have seen in a Takashi Miike film, “I Saw The Devil” is right up alley.

Fun Fact: The surnames of Kim, Park, and Lee account for nearly 50% of all Korean surname.

March 18, 2013

Barney’s Version

Barney’s Version: Touching

134mins/Drama/2010 IMDB link
Late one night I was surfing the channels on the good old TV in which honestly only shows nothing but pointless crap. Then I caught this film with only 15 mins left, It drew my attention so much I quickly found the next day it would play and scheduled it; with the single greatness advancement in the living room the DVR! Well it was a long time ago and I completely forgot about it, then one day boom there she is! There is that film one night that caught my attention.
So I watched it and its very good. If you might be looking for a film to watch I would say watch this film you wont be disappointed. 
The film is about Barney, played by Paul Giamatti and his life. He is this extremely flawed man who has issues. He meets beautiful women who he ends up meeting (and marrying), including meeting a woman at his wedding and becomes caught so badly by her beauty. Barney’s father is played by the wonderful Dustin Hoffman. No one really does what Hoffman can do, he steals every film he is in. Honestly when he pops up within 5 secs he puts a smile on your face. We meet Barney’s friends as well as his other issues we as people go through. But the relationship with his father is my favorite part. I love this relationship where Dustin jokes around one moment and the next knowing and talking about his son’s flaws then grabbing him with his words and pretty much saying I love you, I stand with you and I trust you. 
You will see what I mean, lovely and funny stuff you just don’t see much of anymore.

Side note: The makeup team has done one of the best jobs I’ve seen in years. Fantastic job on aging the actors!… Unlike this film.

January 16, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Winter’s Bone

Winter’s Bone – Break

We all know Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood’s new sweetheart, and rightfully so.  She is young, talented, attractive, and someone you would want to hang out with.  She is Julia Roberts without the toothy grin.  She is the girl that all the other girls want to be and all the guys want to be with.  She’s a revelation if you will. When I first got a glimpse of her on the red carpet of the Oscars about two years ago, I really didn’t know what to make of her. She was this young new face with a smart mouth.  Sorry, but I kind of took her for a bitch, like she was too good for the Oscars.  I look at her now, and she is down right adorable and so self-deprecating, it’s irresistible.  I also appreciate the fact that she takes chances, and makes the role her own.  For a perfect example of what made her a star before she became a star was her first major role in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone.”

You can call “Bone” a “White Trash Noir.”  Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year old girl taking care of her two younger siblings without the help of her drug-affected absentee mother and meth-dealing father.  After her father skips town, she finds out that he put their house up for bond and the whole family could be homeless within a week.  Ree takes it upon herself to track down her father and navigate a neighborhood full of drug dealers, murderers, and crooked cops.

The story is simple, but the themes of innocence lost, family responsibility, and loyalty run deep in this film.  In Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree you can see the reason why she was chosen to be the lead in “The Hunger Games” as Katniss Everdeen.  She is a strong female protagonist, probably the strongest female character I’ve seen in years who isn’t a superhero, but she still has a vulnerability to her as she navigates her dangerous world with two younger siblings in tow.  You want to grab her and tell her to stop in her quest for her father, especially when you see some of the people that she has to deal with in trying to find the answers.

While Lawrence is great, I also have to tip my cap to John Hawkes, who plays crystal meth dealer, and Ree’s uncle, Teardrop.  Think Walter White if he was from rural Arkansas, only scarier.  He’s the last guy that you want to ask help from, and the last guy you want looking for you if a deal went south.  Hawkes is one of those guys that’s in a lot of stuff but he never reallygets credit.  I remember seeing him for the first time as the Liquor Store Clerk in “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and he pops into movies every now and than and leaves an impressions every time.  I like to think of him as the poor man’s Walton Goggins.  Hawkes was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal in “Bone,” and rightfully so.

If you haven’t already, there’s no reason to not check out “Winter’s Bone.” It’s the genesis of Jennifer Lawrence; where she got her break if you will.  She commands every scene she is in, is a natural, and strikes the perfect balance between tough and fragile.  You never get the sense that she is doing anything for herself, mother or father, she knows that they are all beyond redemption.  Her only care is the welfare of her brother and sister, which in a time where everyone is so wrapped up in their own world, is a welcome relief in film.

Fun Fact:  In the year that “Winter’s Bone” was nominated for Best Motion Picture at the Academy Awards, it had the smallest production budget at only $2 Million, compared to the budget of “Toy Story 3” which was $200 Million, the most expensive film nominated that year.

October 5, 2012

31 Nights Of Halloween, Let Me In

CRAFTY

Okay, listen.  I mean the following statement in the most uncreepy way possible.  And that statement is….I absolutely adore Chloe Grace Moretz.  If someone asked me who I think will be the next great female actress, I’d quickly and easily point to Moretz.  Most know her as Hit-Girl from the amazing film Kick-Ass.  And though it is her signature role, Moretz has proven in all her roles to have the one thing child actors rarely have. The same thing Natalie Portman possessed at 13 when I first saw her in Leon The Professional.  That thing is range.  The distinct ability to perform an array of human traits and emotions convincingly.  Most people thought that Dakota Fanning was an amazing child star because she was a little girl talking like an adult.  However, that is pretty much all she could do.  She didn’t have anywhere near the range of Moretz or even her younger sister Elle.  Moretz can play a believable (BRITISH!) girly girl as she did in Hugo.  She can play a dry witted, mature for her age tomboy as she did in 500 Days Of Summer.  She can play a manipulative con artist as she did on 30 Rock.  And as we watch her…we believe every moment.  What makes her performance as Hit-Girl so great is that we can see the little girl in there.  She knows you can see it and uses that to her advantage.  But she can also switch on a dime to a badass and we believe that too.  She recognizes the different subtleties of human behavior.  And she’s recognized it before one note actors twice her age.  Legally I’m not allowed to gush over her anymore, but suffice to say Chloe Grace Moretz is the sh*t. (I’m sooo getting served a restraining order)  So allow me to talk about one of the few films I hadn’t seen her in.  The 2010 film Let Me In.

Let Me In is a remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In.  Writer/Director Matt Reeves follows the blueprint in making a classic horror film perfectly while still presenting something new and fresh.  Blood?  Yes.  Gore?  Yes.  But Reeves doesn’t throw it in your face like most horror films do now a days.  He hides and obscures the gore in some instances and lets the viewers imagination fill in the blanks.  But I don’t see this as just a basic horror film.  And that is where its CRAFTY.  Let Me In is a touching…truly touching…adolescent love story that just so happens to be between a boy and a vampire.  Chloe’s character Abby could have been an alien or an angel or a ghost and the story between them could have played out pretty much the same.  A relationship solely based on trust.  Reeves takes his time and lets you see their relationship grow.  For the climax of the film to seem believable, you really have to feel and see that happen.  It is something that modern slasher/horror films would have quickly rushed through.

Chloe is, once again, marvelous.  However, the performance of Kodi Smit-Mcphee should be applauded.  His chemistry with Chloe feels entirely genuine and the range he shows…there goes that magic word again…throughout the film is great.  The expression on his face while examining an old photo strip in Abby’s apartment stands out to me.  We can see him realize he’s staring at his possible future.  A small but solid performance is also given by the always interesting Richard Jenkins.

If Chloe Grace Moretz is my favorite actress of the future, Michael Giacchino is probably my favorite composer of the present.  The man has done a litany of iconic scores in his career that differ wildly, yet still are all reminiscent of each other.  He should be mentioned with Elfman and Zimmer and Williams. His score in Let Me In not only sets the mood of the piece, but tells so much of the story as well.   Giacchino turns a very gruesome scene on a hospital balcony into probably the most moving moment in the film.  You learn everything about the relationship of those two people on that balcony, and only four words are spoken.  Giacchino did a lot of that.

Of the three of us here at Simplistic Reviews, I’m probably the least big a fan of the horror genre. Possibly because I’m a gigantic fraidy cat.  Possibly because the majority of horror films tend to be the most clichéd and stereotypical of any other genre.  So when I find a film that is smart and different and well crafted while still containing the elements of horror, I go out of my way to praise and recommend it.  Let Me In is worthy of that distinction.  Turn the lights out…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

September 21, 2012

Beginners

Beginners: Beautiful
(2010)

Put simply, Beginners is one of the most beautiful films I have seen in years.
It has been a long time since I have seen a film that hit a 10 on every level.
Directing ✔

Acting ✔
Story ✔
are all absolutely Beautiful.
The story is a unique one, which is nice to say. It has been a long time since a unique story like this has popped up on my “To watch list”.  As well as a story that has character development!
So what is this story about? Well a son (Ewan McGregor) is told by his father that he is gay and has stage 4 cancer. A lot to take in for his son, who’s own look on relationships has been stain by his fathers treatment of his own mother. The scenes between his mother and him, when he was young are heartfelt. Ewan also meets a girl at a party and is taken by her. She herself also has some parental problems. She also reminds Ewan of his own mother, in many different ways. The story of his struggle with life and its relationships to me are just flat out fascinating. Christopher Plummers performance is a joy to watch, as well as that dog that steals every scene he shows up in.

I tip my hat to Mike Mills. His writing and directing is simply beautiful. I look forward to his future projects.

August 2, 2012

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop – Balls

I remember as a kid I would always see this tag all around my neighborhood “Kaos.”  I never really understood what it meant growing up and I would never know, it was just some graffiti on the wall, literally.  I’ve never been into the whole “street art” scene, in fact I’ve never really been into art at all, but when you think about what street artists do to get their point across, it takes a lot of balls to do some of the art you see in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”

The guy with the biggest balls is Banksy, a London street artist who has “tagged” everything from retaining walls in the West Bank to Disneyland.  It’s really incredible that this guy isn’t locked under the jail, but he keeps calm and carries on.

Speaking of balls, Thierry Guetta, the main documentarian for which the film is based on, shows how art, in any form, is a truly backstabbing business where anything goes and you have to be in the right place at the right time and know how to co-opt a fad.

“Exit” has been accused of being a “fake” documentary, but that only adds to the mysticism of Banksy, Thierry, Shepard Fairey, and other artists shown in the film.

Fun fact:  The most expensive street art ever auctioned was Banksy’s “Keep It Spotless” which sold for $1.8M in 2008.

July 26, 2012

Simplistic TV: Sherlock

BRILLIANT

I am a big fan of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes films.  That may be because I think RDJ is my favorite actor working today.  However, the best version of the famous detective is definitely the BBC series Sherlock.  It is possible to be a fan of both the way I am because they do possess significant differences.  And not the fact that the films are set during the 19th Century and tv show is set during modern day.

For example’s sake, here is Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock.  And here is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.  Robert Downey Jr. nails the manic and playfulness of Sherlock Holmes.  While Cumberbatch, an actor who will be a household name after next year’s Star Trek 12, nails Sherlock Holmes’s cold stoic BRILLIANCE.  Both work tremendously.  Downey Jr. gives Sherlock a bit of a giddiness at his own intellect when explaining clues.  Cumberbatch treats it more like an uncontrollable condition.  His delivery feeling similar to someone fed up answering a nagging five year old who constantly keeps asking “why?”.

Both Jude Law and Martin Freeman are equally great as Watson.  Law, mostly for theatrical sake, plays Watson a bit more over the top while Freeman keeps Watson’s frustrations with Sherlock more internal.  Though, we do see Freeman’s Watson at the beginning of his relationship with Sherlock while Law’s Watson is well used to him by now.

All that said, the most important thing in creating a great incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is getting the chemistry right.  And Sherlock does this as well if not better than the films.  While the films give you more style, the tv show gives you more substance.  Its mystery first and set pieces second.  Thats what puts this ahead.

The series does cheat its substantiveness a bit by having each season broken down into three 90 minute episodes.  They play like mini movies and are each enjoyably different while still connected through a ongoing plot thread.  Don’t be alarmed by the modern day setting either.  Sherlock fits into our world smoothly and creates interesting situations that 19th Century Sherlock couldn’t do.  Like interrupting a police press conference by texting all the reporters simultaneously the truth the police chief is leaving out.

That leads me to mention a storytelling device the editors use on the show.  To illustrate how Sherlock’s mind works, the show uses in scene captions to draw the audience to his conclusions instead of having him always explaining everything.  This is very well done, as apposed to how Tony Scott overuses it in some of his films…Domino comes to mind.

An American version of this modern day Sherlock Holmes is in the works now.  However, I am sure it won’t have the same quality acting, writing, directing, and teeth this show has.  You watch one episode and it’ll hook you.  Go ahead…watch one…I’ll wait…….still waiting……..see?  Tell me I’m wrong.

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