Thursday, April 30, 2015

Willow Creek / **1/2 (2013)

There is one unbroken shot in the last hour of “Willow Creek” that is reason enough to applaud the chutzpah of filmmaker who finds inspiration among formula. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, that guy!), the scene features two single figures sitting inside of a tent at night while the light from the camera fills the space with an ominous point of focus. They are awake because they hear noises – many of them slight and non-threatening, but so patterned that they begin to suggest the presence of some unseen threat tiptoeing beyond the shadows. What is the source? The lack of an answer has become a well-known cliché in this genre of found footage horror excursions, but that isn’t the point; it all comes down to the fact that any notions of excitement (or skepticism) are replaced by fear of uncertainty, and while most films would lose sight of the human faces in a nonsensical display of camera jumbles and swift chases in the dark, the frame remains on them for gradual reactions, and finds ones that would be effective in almost any context. Seeing them in yet another one of those genre excursions reveals an intention that one hopes could be utilized in something much grander in scope for future endeavors.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Foxcatcher / ***1/2 (2014)

A single question in the early moments of “Foxcatcher” serves to frame the impending experience of characters: “what do you hope to achieve?” For three men brought together by love of a competitive sport, their initiatives are stirred from emotional currents. Mark (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic gold medalist whose prestige from one of the “lesser” competitive events has not done much to curb his sense of isolation. His older brother, the more family-oriented David (Mark Ruffalo), keeps watchful eyes on his loner of a sibling all while observing his success with some sense of humility. In between them stands John du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to the du Pont fortune, whose love and dedication to the sport of wrestling has made him somewhat of a radical enthusiast – to what end, one wonders with cautious curiosity. Is it simply the love of it all (or the rigorous training that comes with it) that makes him such an avid champion of competitive training? And how much of that comes from an upbringing that reduced him to a background distraction on part of a mother who adored her riding horses more than doting on her own son? Each of these individuals is out to prove something to someone – to others, themselves, or to family members – and in almost all of those examples their obsessions only mask an insecurity that has the capacity to bring them to dangerous epilogues.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Saw the Devil / ***1/2 (2010)

Many a motion picture has been made about the warped psychology of serial killers, and more often than not they are conceived within the safety of a framework that must accept them from a distance in order to avoid identifying with the subjects or their unfathomable deeds, however cogent. “I Saw the Devil,” one of the most graphic films ever made on the subject, removes that one decisive barrier with unrelenting vengeance. At its heart the movie is built on the principles of a certain morbid curiosity – as most are when it comes to this subject matter – but as a living and breathing piece of cinema it inhabits its beast in a manner that is arresting on the mind, and almost cringe-inducing to the eyes. As I sat there and watched it, I felt abused beyond mercy. This does not contradict the motives of its filmmaker Kim Jee-Woon, but the very idea that all of his assaulting visions come from a place of methodical precision (and technical craftsmanship) nearly blurs the line into something of a puzzle. A good student of film will reject visual repugnance if it stands outside of context and reveals senseless intentions, but can any film go this far and keep it all in some sort of perspective?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Undocumented Executive / *** (2013)

“Undocumented Executive” is about an illegal immigrant from Mexico who wanders north of the border to visit his feisty sister, gets a job interview, is mistaken for an accounting applicant and winds up with a cushy job in one of the most convoluted idiot plots of recent memory. You know of the sort I refer to: the sort of premise in which all mysteries and misunderstandings can be corrected with simple explanations, if not for the fact that one key person in the mix is a complete boob. For a story like this, the instigator usually comes in the form of a supporting distraction – in this case, a secretary named Marlene (Candace Mabry), who spots a well-dressed Latin man in a hallway and somehow never picks up on any of the obvious cues. Does the suit provide her with a generic assumption that contradicts all other reservations? Does she not easily sense his limited English skills? What exactly would give her the idea that he is there to interview for an accounting job, especially after she is unable to find his resume or cover letter in the ensuing encounter? In more serious movies, intelligent characters would discuss her in long, sad monologues.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Imitation Game / ***1/2 (2014)

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

When Alan Turing demands in an early voice-over that we “pay attention” to what we are about to see, it is less a plea to notate intricate details and more a statement on the behavior we come to witness. This is not a man marching to the beat of any traditional drummer. Much of that is clear from a key interaction with one of the first human faces he engages with; during a closed-door interview with a military commander seeking cryptologists for a classified mission, dialogue contrasts personalities working from two opposing engines. It is not as obvious to Denniston (Charles Dance) that Alan is communicating from within altering mental patterns, but of course it isn’t: human psychology seemed like a fantasy to the populace of the 1930s, and poor Mr. Turning’s brilliant mind could hardly conceal him from the baffling dismissals of more socially mainstream observers. But most significant history hardly rests on the laurels of the common either, because if it did there would be scarcely a reason to contemplate our own place in a world built on the successes of outcasts.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Conspiracy / *** (2001)

A mere 90 minutes is all it took for a room full of Nazi officials to reach a decision that would obliterate an entire race of people, and even less of that time was spent contemplating the moral repercussions of their dubious impulse. Those are just two of the undisputable facts of the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942, a moment so vast in its evil ramifications that nearly all those involved did everything possible to wipe away knowledge of its existence. Unfortunately for them, one written account of that notorious day did in fact survive, and after the end of World War II it fell into the hands of those who would see its disturbing secrets shared with the world. Without it, the architects of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” might have even eluded the crosshairs of authority; several who were present during those minutes were not well-known or high ranking in the Reich to begin with, and their presence at the conference was, in some cases, the only contributions they would make on the history radar. But what does it matter now, especially considering how prevalent the images of millions of slaughtered civilians are in our scarred vision? The root of rejecting evil begins with understanding it, which is almost harder to do when you get right down to the source.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Earth to Echo / **1/2 (2014)

When three friends wander away from home after receiving cryptic clues of some unknown disturbance in the desert, they invite us into one of the oldest known premises in the movie handbook: the dangerous suburban adventure that alters the lives of youngsters in a world of menacing adults. If a handful of endeavors scattered across the recent past don’t serve as reminders on how popular the concept remains in the scheme of moviemaking, the consider the base implications; a young mind is often starved for a story in which they can affect the outcome of something ambitious and forbidden, especially in the presence of aged superiors that seem to exist for the sake of squandering their passions. Generally speaking, that thought process has yielded some of the unforgettable fantasies of our time – including Steven Spielberg’s “E.T” and Richard Donner’s “The Goonies” – and now, with the advent of new technologies at the disposal of those sorts of unlikely heroes, the potential to expand on the sentiment continues to persevere in the presence of our modern awareness. It’s just too bad that the ambition is seldom matched with stories equally as compelling.