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Friday, February 28, 2014

Salute Your Shorts: Black Spot (2014)

Black Spot

After his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, a man makes his way down a desolated country road in search of assistance. Before too long the man comes across a stranded car, only to find the body of a dead woman inside. This discovery leads to a game of survival, as the man does all he can to avoid becoming a victim himself, while also coming to terms with his own personal demons.

Written and directed by Luther Bhogal-Jones (Creak) and produced by Faster Productions under the Sincerely, Psychopath label, Black Spot was shot in one day using a $47 Aiptek 3D camcorder. Outside of being a 3D short, what stands out about Black Spot is the atmospheric setting, with an eye-appealing overcast sky hanging heavily over the lush British country-side setting. Black Spot also showcases some good camerawork and editing, though using such an inexpensive camera does result in a pixelated picture when watched in 2D. This was not an issue in 3D, however.

There are three version of Black Spot available to view: a 3D version requiring the classic red/cyan 3D glasses, a stereoscopic 3D version for viewing on 3D TVs and a standard 2D version (which I embedded below). I do have a few pairs of the old-school red/cyan 3D glasses, so I was able to watch Black Spot in 3D, and the 3D worked as well as you would expect from the technology used.

You can check out the 2D version of Black Spot below, but if you’d like to watch the short in 3D, you can do so by going to Faster Productions’ Vimeo page.

Salute Your Shorts 3.5

Friday, February 21, 2014

CNAMB’s Best Documentaries of 2013

I saw an incredible amount of fantastic movies in 2013, many of which happened to be documentaries. As a matter of fact, I saw so many great documentaries this past year that when it came time to do my best movies of the year list I thought it would be best to simply do two separate lists. And in doing so, it really gives me the opportunity to showcase a handful of docs that made an impact on me in one way or another in 2013.

Onward bound!

10. The '80s: The Decade That Made Us

The 80s The Decade That Made Us

I was born in the late ‘70s, therefore I spent 10 years of my young life living in the ‘80s, so this six-part documentary that aired on the National Geographic Channel was certainly of great interest to me. Going over everything from politics, fashion trends, pop culture, disasters, and everything in between, this informative and dense series covers the decade of decadence in a way that makes for the perfect outline for the 1980s. Truly a fascinating watch, and I really hope that National Geographic decides to dig into other decades with such depth.

9. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

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Speaking of the ‘80s, nothing speaks to me more than the silly fashions and cheesiness of that decade, and every ounce of this documentary – which lovingly looks back on the short lived history of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – exudes such cheese with pure nostalgic delight. The story of GLOW is an entertaining and interesting watch, but what gives this doc a nice boost is the fact that there is some heart to it. There are some incredibly touching moments, which really add weight to the impact that this organization had on its wrestlers and fans alike.

8. 30 for 30: The Price of Gold

the price of gold documentary

The story of Nancy Kerrigan bring attacked at the 1994 Winter Olympics was such a huge story when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to watch The Price of Gold that I learned that Tonya Harding wasn’t quite the villain I, and likely most of America, thought she was. In fact, what really came to light throughout this documentary is the fact that Harding was, in many ways, a victim herself. Being the black eye of women’s ice skating, Tonya Harding was a victim of classism and was persecuted as such, even before the ‘94 Olympics. While it’s never very clear how much of a role she played in the attack on Kerrigan, if any at all, it is clear that her road to gold was never meant to be smooth, despite her every best effort.

7. The Square  

the square poster

I somewhat followed the events of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square a few years back, though I honestly cannot act as if I truly understood everything that was going on. The Square, however, made me feel as if I was in on this revolution in a way that made it feel palpable and real; not just some five minute news story jammed in between tales of teen pop stars gone wrong and killer women on trial. The Square shed light on a struggle I did not understand while also giving me a true feeling of inspiration knowing that there are people out there who are willing to fight for what they think is right; to fight for something worth fighting for. The Square is the type of documentary that makes me appreciate my life because, compared to what these people are going through, I have nothing to bitch about.

6. Blackfish

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While I am far from being a member of PETA, I am certainly someone who is sympathetic to the treatment of animals, and nothing chaps my ass worse than seeing animals be neglected for profit. Naturally the filmmakers had a clear agenda with Blackfish and the film is focused on portraying that agenda, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that what is done to the animals themselves is simply awful.

5. Cutie and the Boxer

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Quirky, adorable and touching, Cutie and the Boxer is a fascinating film that encapsulates the lifelong struggles faced by famous Japanese artist Noriko Shinohara and his wife Ushio. The relationship between Noriko and Ushio is filled with regret, complaisance and even a touch of jealousy, but there is only one way a couple who has lived such a tumultuous life could have survived together for so long.  

4. The Imposter

The-Imposter poster

The Imposter is a documentary so wild that it’s difficult to believe that the events contained within could have ever happened. A grown man with a French accent and completely different facial features being able to successfully impersonate a missing Texas boy is insane, and that’s only the beginning of this captivating and unpredictable story of a conman and the family who accepted him as their own son.

3. A Band Called Death

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Whether it be a book, a film or – in the case of A Band Called Death – a band, there’s a swell of excitement that comes with uncovering a hidden gem. You want to tell everyone worthy of such a discovery about it as soon as possible so they too can join in on the joy that you are feeling. This is essentially the basis for A Band Called Death, a documentary that is as much about discovery as it is rediscovery. However, while that aspect is certainly a huge part of what makes the documentary such an enlightening watch, the real heart of the film comes from the story of redemption it tells.

2. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th

crystal lake memories the complete history of friday the 13th

Seeing as horror is my bread and butter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a nearly 7 hour documentary that focuses on one of my favorite horror franchises is very high on my favorite documentaries list. Crystal Lake Memories is an expansive, informative and entertaining look at the history of the Friday the 13th franchise, giving equals amounts of coverage to each and every film in the series, regardless of quality or fandom.

1. The Act of Killing

the act of killing movie poster

If I could only use one word to describe my feelings about The Act of Killing, that word would be shock. The fact that Indonesian death squads composed of self proclaimed “gangsters” murdered thousands of people for being of a different belief is shocking. The fact that it happened in the past 60 is shocking. The fact that some of the men who participated in such acts are proud of what they have done is shocking. The Act of Killing is a grim reminder that atrocities are a dime a dozen in this world, and while the film is indeed a tough watch, it’s one that, in my opinion, is too important not to see.

That’s all I got. If you have any thoughts about my list, be it positive, negative or somewhere in between, please let me know in the comment’s section. Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out my best of the year list by clicking the link below:

CNAMB’s Best Movies of 2013

Saturday, February 15, 2014

CNAMB’s Best Movies of 2013

After what I consider to be an absolutely stellar year for film, I am extremely excited to bring to you my list for what I consider to be the best movies of 2013. Now, of course there are a slew of highly-anticipated films that I wasn’t able to catch before putting this list together, but 2013 was such a great year for film that doing a list of twenty worthy movies was pretty easy. In fact, there were so many great movies that I decided to make a separate list featuring my 10 favorite documentaries from 2013.   

Anyway, I won’t waste anymore of your time with semantics, as there are twenty films below waiting for your attention. So without any further ado, here are my 20 favorite films of 2013!

20. John Dies at the End

john_dies_at_the_end movie poster

With John Dies at the End, horror veteran Don Coscarelli continues his streak of bringing to life cinematic worlds where genres are bent and horror and humor hold hands while skipping through a field of wild creativity. This darkly comedic, mind-bendingly chaotic piece of cinema goes down a rabbit hole and into a world where reality and sanity are questionable. The dialogue is snappy and kinetic as is the overall pace; however the film does go a little too far into gag territory at times, which is also sort of expected with Coscarelli. Overall, however, John Dies at the End continues a trend of interesting genre cinema from a man who has been doing it since the 70s.

19. A Hijacking

a hijacking movie poster

A thoroughly tense experience, A Hijacking guides its audience down the parallel paths of one story as seen through the eyes of the crew of a cargo ship that has been taken hostage by a group of Somali pirates, and those who are negotiating to get them released. Writer and director Tobias Lindholm (who also wrote the screenplay for my number 2 film), brings to life a taut and frightening situation that no one should ever have to experience. Driven by pure realism and genuine emotion, A Hijacking features moments that pull the viewer forward and right to the edge of their seat, all of which being achieved with pure subtlety. Also notable are the performances, specifically from Søren Malling and Johan Philip Asbæk, each of whom representing the story from both sides of this lateral tale of terrorism.

18. Antiviral

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Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature-length film would call for comparisons to his father’s work for more reasons than just the family name alone. Antiviral carries on the tradition of body horror in a fashion that makes a clear statement about society, taking celebrity worship and obsession to an extreme that doesn’t necessarily feel too far-fetched. The somberness of the film is nicely balanced by the stark white minimalist surroundings of many of the film’s set pieces, leaving the deterioration of the lead character, Syd (soundly played by Caleb Landry Jones), to appear as if he is no more than a societal scab needing to be picked.

17. Pieta

Pieta movie poster Kim Ki-duk 2

Kim Ki-duk, blah, blah, blah, read my review by clicking that link below:

Pieta (2013): Baby Mama Drama

16. Stoker

stoker-2013-movie poster

South Korean director Park Chan-wook is easily one of my favorite working filmmakers, so hearing that he would be making his way to Hollywood was a bit concerning, as many Asian directors have a spotty track record when it comes to making the move to Hollywood. Thankfully this was not the case with Stoker, which not only has a dark and slightly taboo storyline filled with interesting characters and great acting, it’s is magnificently crafted on every level, from the photography and editing to the music and impeccable sound design. All of these attributes are very much inherent to the director’s previous work, and to have Park be able to come over to the states and make a film that is HIS film is an achievement as well as a relief.

15. The Lords of Salem

the lords of salem movie poster

Despite the division among fans about his work, I think it’s difficult to deny Rob Zombie’s ability to create visually enticing films. I find him to be one of the most talented visual filmmakers working – regardless of his inconsistencies – and it is his maturing visual prowess that makes The Lords of Salem such a fascinating and enjoyable piece of transcendent horror. The story is simple, which I think works for what is a subtle and slowly brooding film where reality is never a certainty, and the fact that Zombie takes a much more subdued approach to his characterizations and especially his dialogue speaks to what he was aiming for with Lords.

14. V/H/S 2

VHS 2 2013 movie poster

Hey, I wrote a review for this one. You can hit the link below to get the dish on my thoughts about this enjoyable anthology sequel:

V/H/S 2 (2013): Tapes of Terror

13. This is the End

this is the end movie poster

I absolutely love to laugh. I love watching movies that make me laugh. Unfortunately, however, I do not find most modern day, Hollywood made comedies to be very funny. I’ve sat through movies like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers and not even cracked a smile. Thankfully this was not the case with This is the End, which is one of the funniest pure comedies I have seen in many years. 

12. You’re Next

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The hype behind You’re Next coming out of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival was extremely high, making it one of my most anticipated horror films in quite some time. The two year wait was grueling, and while there was honestly no way that You’re Next could live up to my sky high expectations, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett did indeed give horror fans (or at the very least me) a refreshing and fun home invasion flick worthy of a high spot on my best of 2013 list. Not only does You’re Next have a great pace, it’s surprisingly unpredictable. The cast is as good as it gets for an independent genre film, and there is an interesting dynamic between many of the characters, something that comes to be a big asset to this film’s success.

11. Maniac

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Maniac was easily one of the biggest cinematic surprises of the year. Who would’ve thought that a remake of one of the most iconic slasher films would be crowned as my favorite horror film of the year? Every decision from Elijah Wood’s casting to the LA setting took a lot of balls, but those decisions paid off. Maniac not only captures the sleaze and creepiness of its influencer, it does so in a way that very much feels loyal to itself as a film. The first person photography is effective, especially in how it captures the male gaze from the perspective of the male. Wood gives a great performance despite not being on screen too often, and the violence is satisfyingly brutal. Furthermore, the final moment of Maniac will remain one of the best final moments of any horror film, period.

10. Frances Ha

frances ha movie poster

In all honesty, I had no desire to even give Frances Ha a try. At the time I had started to hear a little more about it, I still wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the film’s lead Greta Gerwig. Even the mid-air jumping poster art rubbed me the wrong way. I know, what a snob. Anyway, after hearing more and more good things from the right people, I figured I’d quit being such a turd and give it a watch. Clearly I made the right choice, as Frances Ha is a charming and frustrating film about a charming and frustrating girl. And that is a complete and total compliment. 

Frances’ awkward behavior and lack of maturity is as uncomfortable as it is funny. She’s a character that you want to strangle one minute and drink a beer and laugh with in the next. This balancing act is a major attribute to the film, and much of this has the be credited to Gerwig, who gives such a free and open performance. The black and white photography works as a nice contrast to Frances’ colorful personality, and the film as a whole has a feel reminiscent of the French New Wave films of the ‘50s and ‘60s – many of which, too, were as charming as they were frustrating.

9. Drinking Buddies

drinking buddies movie poster

There are a number of reasons why I enjoyed Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, but the most important one is how relatable it is. I can truly relate to the characters and the situations they are in on almost every level as they reflect my life experiences in some form or another. Though, at this point in my life the issues that they face aren’t reflective of where I am now, but I certainly haven’t forgotten about them. They are life experiences for a reason, and Drinking Buddies captures this extremely well.

Swanberg’s characters are believably written and have genuinely realistic interactions and conversations. Furthermore, the performances are impressive, especially from Jake Johnson who after a great performance in one of my favorite films of 2012 Safety Not Guaranteed has become an actor I am really excited about. I also came out a budding fan of Olivia Wilde, who is someone I had little to no experience with previous to Drinking Buddies.

8. Only God Forgives

only god forgives movie poster

Taking a page from my favorite Refn film, Pusher 2, Only God Forgives focuses on a character who is simply devoid of any sort of parental acceptance. Julian’s mother is overbearing, domineering and downright nasty. The way in which she raised Julian has turned him into an impotent man filled with self doubt and ineptitude, which is the complete opposite of the dashing hero that many would’ve expected from a character played by hunky Ryan Gosling. I suppose that fits in with a film that is the complete opposite from what Drive fans where looking for, which has certainly caused a lot of vitriol towards the film.

Only God Forgives isn’t what a lot of people expected, let alone wanted. But as a big fan of his entire filmography (save for Fear X, which I still have not seen), Only God Forgives is Refn through and through. It’s a masterfully shot art film that doesn’t feel the need to lay out all of its intentions and ideas on the table for people to gobble-up without thought. Nicolas Winding Refn, divisive or not, is making movies that he wants to make – movies that he wants to see. Not movies that he thinks people will like. I wish more filmmaker had the balls to be themselves instead of trying to please the masses, but alas, the masses speak the loudest.

7. Upstream Color

upstream colour movie poster

Upstream Color is best described as an out-of-body experience; a puzzle begging to be solved by the characters and viewer alike. With a filmmaking style comprised of mesmerizing, transcendent imagery, filmmaker Shane Carruth (who also stars) dives into a fever dream filled with frustration and panic, focusing on two extremely damaged characters who share an unexplainable connection with one another. Both leads give a refreshingly honest performance, especially Amy Seimetz, who portrays emptiness in a way that makes it easy to sympathize with her plight. 

6. The Place Beyond the Pines

the place beyond the pines movie poster

An epic that sprawls three generations, Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a bleak and painstakingly crafted film that looks at the cause and effect of every decision that we make and how these decisions can affect future generations. The three act structure takes a vignette approach, which initially prevents the film from ever having a clear path. However, by the film’s third act, the path indeed becomes very clear, as the present is a reflection of the past; an insightful ripple effect from a pebble tossed in another life.

5. Mud

mud movie poster

With only three films under his belt, writer/director Jeff Nichols has proven to be one of the most talented American filmmakers working today. HIs latest film, Mud, continues his penchant for Southern set dramas focused on richly written characters. It also continues the incredible run that Matthew McConaughey has been on over the past two years. In fact, McConaughey’s performance as the almost fantastical character of Mud might be one of his best, and that’s saying quite a bit considering his output as of late.

What I find to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of Mud comes from the fact that it’s a coming-of-age tale not unlike something along the lines of Stephen King’s Stand By Me. Ellis and Neckbone (Neckbone wins my award for best character name of the year) act and talk like real kids act and talk, both portraying a genuine childhood innocence and curiosity. It is they who are the real heart of the film, and both performances (especially that of the up-and-coming Tye Sheridan) are simply wonderful.

4. Gravity

gravity movie poster

It's no secret that Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men is my favorite film of all time, so when news came that Cuaron would be returning with his first feature film since Children of Men (which was released in 2006), I was clearly very excited. Obviously I had set some high expectations for what would become Gravity, and despite a few minor issues (most of which are character related), Cuaron brought to life a cinematic rollercoaster unlike any I had ever been on before.

From the opening 17-minute-long take to the intense and surprisingly emotionally satisfying ending, Gravity is an experience, plain and simple, and it is that experience that makes it such an enveloping and memorable film.

3. Her

her movie poster

Spike Jonze’s Her is filled with so many layers that it is almost difficult to unravel them all, and that’s because every layer is so carefully intertwined. There is certainly something that the film is saying about the attachment that we have to our technology and the way we feel when it astounds us or lets us down, which is an ebb and flow not unlike a relationship between Theodore and Samantha, or any relationship for that matter. However, there is no guilt cast upon the viewer for our, the audience’s, relationship with our cellphones, tablets and PCs.

Despite its odd concept, Her is a straightforward story of love. More so, it’s one of those rare love stories that actually has a lot of weight. The relationship between Theodore and Sam is genuine and truthful, despite the fact that she is an operating system and he is a human being. In fact, the issues that Theodore faces have less to do with the fact that he is in a relationship with an OS and more about his shortcomings when it comes to being in a relationship. The subtly futuristic setting of Her is attractive and seemingly sanitized from pollution. It almost seems like the perfect world; but even in a perfect world people will always have flaws, and that is something that no technology can fix.

2. The Hunt

the hunt movie poster

Thomas Vinterberg follows up his fantastic 2010 film, Submarino, with yet another powerful character study in The Hunt. This emotionally gripping drama about a lonely man having his life ripped apart after being accused of child molestation will likely put your emotions through the wringer, but never in a way that is cheap or exploitative. Mads Mikkelsen once again proves why he is one of the very best actors of this generation, giving a heart-breakingly sympathetic performance as Lucas. In fact, just about everyone in The Hunt gives an impressive performance. However, one of the strongest aspects of The Hunt comes from the fact that the viewer always knows the truth of this awful situation, which makes it such a difficult but impactful movie, and one that will definitely challenge your eyes to hold back a few tears.

1. Spring Breakers

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Propelled by a simply incredible performance by James Franco as the hip-hop honky Alien, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is one of those films that simply hits all the right marks for me. The neon infused color palate and hallucinogenic cinematography blend together to produce a world of pure transcendental fantasy, where morals take a back seat to visual splendor. The path that Korine takes his characters on is as simple as it is complex, as no one character has a predictable outcome despite their arcs having such a natural progression.

While I adore moments like “Look at muh sheeeit!” and the funny, yet somewhat touching cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime’, some of my favorite aspects of Spring Breakers comes from those quiet moments – specifically those involving Alien dealing with Big Arch. These are the moments where Franco’s performance is the strongest, and they give the character a lot of depth, which is certainly a surprise coming from a guy who has nun-chucks, gold fronts and wears a mixture of Calvin Klein Escape and Be.

Honorable Mentions: Prisoners * Berberian Sound Studio * Ninja: Shadow of A Tear * Curse of Chucky * The Package * WNUF Halloween Special * Evil Dead * Warm Bodies * The Conjuring * Kiss of the Damned

Okay, that does it for my list. Dig it? Cool. Hate it? That’s cool, too. Just be sure to let me know in the comments section below! And don’t forget to check out my 10 best documentaries list by clicking the link below:

CNAMB’s Best Documentaries of 2013

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