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I am a college student who has some free time, and an insatiable, ravenous obsession with film. I have a wide variety of tastes and I try for quality films, and I almost never say Not Interested. I love mind bending films, screwball comedies from the 30's and 40's, romantic comedies, classic and low budget horror, coming of age films, silent slapstick, feel good, and generally 70's cinema. I rate films with a mixture of "What the film is" versus how much I enjoyed it. If you want to read about my opinions on modern film, here's a link to my column in my college newspaper:
It's really surprising that this film hasn't been paid more attention. Not positive attention, mind you, but the kind of attention that truly bad films deserve. This film should have been eviscerated, picked apart, and trivialized until it couldn't languish in its obscurity any longer. Director Jim Sheridan (a six time Oscar nominee) tried to get his name taken off of this film after it was recut, and the trailer released, which gave away the entire twist of the film. That's right, if you watch the trailer, you will understand the entire film without having to watch it. Daniel Craig plays a father and husband, who lives in a house, which apparently was home to a family who was murdered five years prior. While the film looks like a ghost story, it's actually a psychological mystery, which it needn't be. This film is clumsy, thoughtless, confusing, and doesn't know what it wants to be. The ending is slapped on carelessly, in a way that makes you laugh incredulously, like "Really? That's how you're going to end this horrible tale?" The murders are handled horribly, trying to make the gruesome deaths somehow dreamlike, taking away all the familial tension. The specters somehow have agency, and shift from his mind to nearly tangible phantoms. If you're looking for a well handled haunted house film, this is not it.
After watching "Oculus" for the first time I was just a little disappointed, because though there are many frightening elements to this story, it's much more of a psychological mystery than a horror film. Thinking this was more of a ghost story, I went in expecting specters, and a clear, concise ending, but this film surprised me. Leaving much of this ambiguous for the viewer, the film is a fully realized thought experiment about paranormal investigations, and how much of these characters' actions can be blamed on this mirror's influence, or their own mental illness. I didn't like this ambiguity at first, but after letting the film simmer in my brain for a couple of days I was still thinking through the complexities of the premise of the story. I could easily watch this again and again, toiling over what the events of the story mean, and whether the mirror really is haunted. The great thing about this film is that it stays with you, seeps into you, until, like the mirror's influence, it takes hold. There aren't many horror films that can boast such complexities. I wouldn't be surprised if, like recent horror trends, this film spurs sequels, but I hope it doesn't. The ending was perfect, fusing the past and present in a furious whirlwind, never letting us know exactly what transpired in that house. It was confusing at times, since it melded two separate narratives, and included hallucinations, but it controlled its story well and ended perfectly. Any sequel would botch the nuanced aspects of this modern horror classic.
The mere premise of "This is Not a Film" is extraordinary. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years of a suspended jail sentence and banned from making any films for twenty years. In a pure form of protest Panahi had a cameraman film his life, while he was stuck in his home trying to fight this extreme form of censorship, and still having a pure nationalistic love for his country. Without that information watching the film seems a bit dull. Panahi eats breakfast, talks to his attorney, and watches some of his films, while feeding his iguana. In the midst of these mundane activities, Panahi almost loses his cameraman at a checkpoint, Iran's fires burn in the streets, and his family has left. It's tense throughout, scary even, and though he is not allowed to film anything, he takes up a camera, a clear violation of the terms of his suspended sentence and ban. Though nothing really happens in this film, everything happens in this film. To even get it to Cannes, Panahi put the film on a flash drive, baked in a cake, and sent it through customs. If there's any true form of protest to the film, it's that, which makes Panahi's actions that much more impressive and inspiring. This is a film to watch in order to understand the complexities of Iran's forms of censorships, and to understand the real life turmoil of Panahi.
While racially motivated police violence isn't anything new, "Fruitvale Station" is a feature to watch in our present political climate, in lieu of ongoing protests around the country. Directed by Ryan Coogler, who won Sundance's Grand Jury Prize in Drama, "Fruitvale Station" depicts the 24 hours before Oscar Grant's death at the hands of transit police, on New Year's Day 2009. The film features actual footage from the shooting, and the protest at the BART station one year later. Jordan stars as Grant, a man who is characterized as having a troubled, often tumultuous life. Recently out of prison, fired for being late to work, and dealing marijuana on the side, Grant has all the makings of a careless criminal. Inversely Grant is a considerate and sweet natured individual who takes care of his daughter and girlfriend, loves his mother, is friendly to strangers, and hopes for a better future. These two parallels show the realities of Grant's life and personality, neither demonizing him nor canonizing him for his behavior. The film simply tries to point out that Grant was not the perpetrator of any crime, that he was unfairly treated and killed, only because of his race. Grant makes for an interesting character, his kindness interlacing with his own personal demons throughout the narrative. This film serves well as an indignant example of the unfair conventions of police brutality, than as a biopic, yet still this entertains throughout as a film. The editing is amazing, the score is poignant in its placement, the performances from Jordan, Butler, and Diaz are realistic and thoughtfully achieved, and the direction from Coogler makes for an interesting watch. The only thing keeping this from being perfect is that it is pointed, and is trying more to educate than entertain, which explains the short runtime and lack of interiority from Grant. I highly recommend this film for those grappling with present events, or for those who just want to watch a well-made, politically motivated piece of filmmaking.
Joe Swanberg is a recently emerged figure in the mumblecore movement, and he has been making films that have been well received both critically and commercially. Most of his film's dialogue is improvised, he sometimes stars in his own films, and they all deal in the same components of the mumblecore genre, including using twenty-and-thirty-somethings who are trying to get their lives together. Anna Kendrick has recently been making a ton of independent features, and this is her second collaboration with the director. The story follows Jenny (Kendrick) as she goes to stay with her brother (Swanberg) and his wife (Lynskey), following a bad breakup and a lack of ambition. Jenny and her sister-in-law start to bond and Jenny realizes her feelings for their babysitter (Weber) though she also realizes it's just another bad decision in her already harried life. The film itself doesn't say anything specific about life as a young adult, and it doesn't have much of a plot, but the improvised dialogue between Kendrick, Lynskey, and Dunham reminds me of the same gabbing I have been privy to as a twenty-something. Entertaining for college students, but this doesn't say anything about our lives other than that it's difficult to figure out who we are at this stage in life.