Snowtown -- Disturbing Contemplation of Evil

                              Australian director, Justin Kurzel's feature film debut -- "Snowtown" (2011) is a fictional dramatization of real-life events. In the Southern part of Australia, from 1992 to 1999, a killing spree was carried out by a group of degenerate men led by their ringleader John Bunting. Most of the victims were known to Bunting and most of his victims were discovered stuffed into barrels in an abandoned bank in the small rural community of Snowtown. But, "Snowtown" is not an ordinary serial killer movie, where we have a charismatic Hannibal Lector like character. It has harsh dialogues and naturalistic environment, where a mood emerges that’s thick with childhood damage. 

                             The film is set in the suburbs of Adelaide, where an atmosphere of desperate 1990s poverty and hopelessness is in the air.  The housing projects presented here are a drab wasteland, which is as hard on the eye as it is hard on those that live there. Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is a lovely and passive teenage boy. He lives with his detached mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris) and with three brothers. Jamie becomes the victim of the poor choices made by his unhappy single mother. Along with the atmosphere of poverty, he is molested by his mother’s boyfriend/neighbor and also raped by his older half-brother. 

                              Bright-eyed and bearded, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall) makes his entrance and scares away the local paedo creep from Elizabeth's three sons. Bunting cooks breakfast for boys, keeps them off drugs and settles down in the house like a dad. But, in the neighborhood-watch meetings, he indulges in grotesque and violent revenge fantasies. On one instance, he chops up some kangaroos and spill the bloody remains on the front door of Pedophile boyfriend. James participates in this willingly and later the residents of neighborhood embrace and allow his group to be their eyes. 

                              Gradually and eventually, Bunting shows his true colors to James and his mother. His idea of who needs to be punished extends to anyone who bothers him in some way and he imagines himself as judge and executioner. When James collaborates with Bunting gang (he had a serial killer gang with at least three men), his descent into hell starts in frightening details.

                                Daniel Henshall who plays Bunting is the only pro actor in the cast. Henshall reveals acting of the highest caliber. He is repelling as well as compelling and this breakthrough performance has got to be one of the worst human beings ever portrayed on-screen. Pittaway, with an consistent stoic expression on his face, is superbly believable as the bloated killer. The rest of the supporting cast (mostly unknowns and amateurs) picked by director Kurzel delivers intensely naturalistic performances. 

                               Adam Arkapow's grim cinematography ("Animal Kingdom") portrays the locality as a grinding, oppressive and essentially lawless circle of hell. Kurzel's direction and Grant's script takes a honest approach, where they simply stand back and observe the behavior. They allow a viewer to draw his/her own conclusions as to root causes. Still, in the end, when murders pile up, the directorial detachment offers very less in the way of insights. 

                              For a serial killer movie, there aren't many gore and violent scenes since the narrative searches for psychological detail rather than big dramatic moments. Yet, the violence and abuse that exist are definitely daunting enough. "Snowtown" is a brilliantly directed nightmare that has the power to leave one perturbed. 


Snowtown -- IMDb

Snowtown Murders -- Wikipedia
has the power to leave one rattled

consistently stoic expression on his face

embrace him and allow him and his group

idea of taking revenge against that pedophile boyfriend, for instance, is to chop up some kangaroos and spill the bloody remains on his front door - See more at:
a fictional dramatization of real-life events
a fictional dramatization of real-life events
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's
Justin Kurzel's

The Gatekeepers -- Unnerving Political Commentary

                                 Dror Moreh's Oscar nominated documentary "The Gatekeepers" (2012) opens with an real targeted assassination somewhere in the streets of Israel. The bleak footage of a man being blown up inside a van is the handiwork of Israel’s counter-terrorism agency, Shin Bet. The name of the countries, "Israel and Palestine" continues to elicit questions that defy easy answers. It's been 65 years, since the state of Israel was founded, and there were countless films on this complex issue. But, "The Gatekeepers" offers a galvanizing perspective as six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet counter-terrorism agency confess to misdeeds, miscalculations and to the blood on their hands -- both guilty and innocent. 

                                   Shin Bet is Israel's internal security agency and primary anti-terrorism unit. It was formed to find a solution between Israel and Palestine, but gradually turned towards brute force and oppression. Director Moreh has interviewed six men (separately) who have directed Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillion, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin. They are speaking out publicly for the first time and they discuss about, what went wrong, the fateful decisions that backfired, the ruthless strategies that brought more bloodshed and violence.

                                    Avraham Shalom was in charge (of Shin Bet) from 1980-1986. He is said to be a Holocaust survivor and he belonged to the team of guys, who captured Adolf Eichmann and brought him to trial. As a vexed observer of Palestinian-Israel conflict he utters these words, "Israeli Defense Force is a brutal occupation force similar to the Germans in World War II.” He and Avi Dichter (2000-06) claim that their government and its leaders had little understanding of the pain and anger of the one million Palestinians whose came under Israeli control following the "Six-Day War." The language barrier and mutual mistrust set of a vicious cycle of attacks.  The descriptions from the former heads of Shin Bet are validated here by black-and-white archival footage of Israeli soldiers moving through Arab refugee camps.

                                    Moreh's interview take us through years of lasting debacles and brief hope: the PLO, the 1982 Lebanon War, the 1993 Oslo I Accords brokered by President Clinton, the resulting rise of a violent Jewish religious group that tried to bomb the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and that ultimately led to the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. From 1995, the peace process is undermined and both parties have out of anger and hatred accepted the attitude of "Victory For Us Is To See You Suffer." 

                              Moreh showcases how intelligence agencies can be blindsided by events and he also repeatedly presses his subjects on some more explanation. Regarding the execution of two unarmed hijackers in the 1984 “Bus 300 Affair”, Shalom (1980-86) says "I don't remember," initially. When Moreh presses him, by saying You killed a terrorist whose hands were tied — how is that moral?"  The response was: “With terrorists, there are no morals.” In the part called "Collateral Damage", we see the former heads discussing about targeted assassinations, the bombings of terror suspects and the tragic yet inevitable civilian deaths. At that point, it becomes increasingly clear that each of the six men has a desperate need to explain their actions, if not atone or condone for them.

                                Throughout the documentary, Moreh aptly uses the extraordinary archival footages, enhanced photographs and computer simulations. The separate ultimately blends into a sustained chorus of  condemning the uselessness of violence as a political imperative and the corruption and cruelty of Israel since the late ’60s. The security chief, Ami Ayalon (1996-2000) says, “We win every battle but lose the war,” -- a chilling reminder that the lasting peace surely will remain elusive until the leaders transform themselves from avid hawks into lovers of peace. 


The Gatekeepers -- IMDb 

World War Z -- A Zombie Flick with Pulse-Pounding Set-Pieces

                                Marc Foster's "World War Z" is a Zombie apocalypse movie. Yet another movie on a flesh-chomping pandemic? Yeah, but the film never lacks on originality. That's a great trait for a summer block-buster. The Zombies, here are also very different. The virus works faster -- it takes only 12 seconds for an infected human to turn into a twisted, soulless creature with a ravenous need to hunt down healthy flesh. The Zombies moan and prowl at first but later runs as fast, as if they are in a sprint race.

                                 "World War Z" (loosely based on Max Brook's novel) was produced by Brad Pitt for $200 million. It also went through a tremendous amount of rewriting and production delays. The script was written at first by Michael Carnahan ("State of Play") and then there were many 11th hour rewrites by Lost’s Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof. All these revisions dispense any lofty aspirations of political allegory or genre satire. This is a star-driven action picture and makes us watch in awe as Jerusalem's walls are breached by mass of soulless yet still somehow mobile human bodies. 

                                The film starts with usual warnings that things are going awry: news reports of dead dolphins and roving mobs. Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), a retired U.N. disaster specialist drives his wife Karen (Mireille Enos) and two daughters (Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove). They are stuck in traffic in downtown Philadelphia, where suddenly the street erupts. People are running terrified from shrieking creatures who smash their heads through car windows and start bite at the people inside. By now we know the routine -- individuality completely replaced by ravenous will of the virus that infects them.  

                               Gerry manages to get his family out of the chaos and is rescued by Under-Secretary-General of the U.N. (Fana Mokoema) -- a former colleague of Gerry's. He thinks Gerry can deal with this problem and gives him an offer which he can't refuse. He has to keep company with a virologist to search for the first victim in order to find the cause of the outbreak and then a cure. An unfortunate accident happens in South Korea, which sets him off in the direction of Jerusalem and, eventually, to a World Health Organization facility in Wales. He also attains a potential sidekick -- the fearless female Israeli soldier (Daniella Kertesz). 

                               Brad Pitt has evolved greatly as an actor who's worth watching for his screen presence. He turns casualness into an potent style. He is a thinking action hero and perfects his role as the only person on earth capable of reasoning his way out of the zombie crisis. Mireille Enos has nothing to do except redialing her husband’s cellphone number and weep quietly. There's also a good amount of interesting supporting actors -- David Morse, Peter Capaldi, Ruth Negga, Moritz Bleibtreu -- from South Korea to Wales. 

                                Director Marc Foster ("Monster's Ball", "Finding Neverland", "Kite Runner") wasn't much of a film-maker when it comes to staging big-budget action. His foray into action with a 007 movie ("Quantum of Solace") was a botched attempt. But, with "World War Z", he has perfectly choreographed chaos. He builds suspense in an old-fashioned manner, yet there is lot of visual invention -- assaulting the wall from the outside, the Zombies racing down the narrow ancient passageways, like water bursting from a dam. 

                                The script rewrites has worked in favor of the movie, although there is a rushed and muted finale. We briefly glimpse at many countries abandoned to the undead hordes, but the script makes clear that these are parts of a larger story that’s been trimmed for the sake of expediency. The script never hints at the origin of virus and it's also not mournful because this isn't about a world being destroyed but one that's trying to start back up -- there's no end of the world vibe. The 3D is good enough at places, especially when the Zombies leaps out of the screen.

                                    "World War Z" isn't an R-rated scary Zombie movie. It is a cool, good popcorn fare which moves at a breakneck pace, just like the Zombies. 


World War Z -- IMDb

Alain Resnais' "Hiroshima Mon Amour" -- A Brief Analysis

                                      1959 was to prove a banner year for the French New Wave. Truffaut took home the Palme d'Or ("400 Blows") and Alain Resnais won the international critics' prize for his first feature film "Hiroshima Mon Amour" (Hiroshima My Love), which was shown out of competition. Resnais had, by this time, already made a name for himself as a documentary film-maker, with short portraits of painters (Van Gogh and Gauguin) and the devastating holocaust documentary "Night and Fog" (Nuit et brouillard, 1955). It was a 30 minute collage which was filmed in color and also featured black and white photographs and newsreel footage. "Night and Fog" focused on the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War and displayed the influence of Sergei Eisenstein's celebrated montage sequences. 

                                     The film cut seamlessly between the sites of the concentration camps and the horrors that they housed during the war. A truly harrowing history lesson told with dramatic panache, Resnais' documentary won the Prix Jean Vigo (an award in the cinema of France) and prefigured "Hiroshima Mon Amour" by employing newsreel material and creatively interweaving the past and present.  

                                     The story begins in 1957, Hiroshima. A French actress from Paris is in Japan to make an international film on peace. She meets and shares a brief and passionate affair with a Japanese architect. The woman, whose name we never learn, is set to France the day after she meets the Japanese man, who similarly remains anonymous. Both are married and have children. Both have other lives. However, they are impossibly drawn to one another. As time passes, these lovers from very different backgrounds struggle to understand not only each other, but also each other's culture.

                                     Resnais collaborated with acclaimed author Marguerite Duras whose dazzling Oscar nominated screenplay frequently borders on the poetic. Resnais' treatment of time in "Hiroshima Mon Amour" is considered revolutionary for film art. He changed the way we perceive time on screen and, to fully comprehend his achievement, we have to take a lead from his heroine who says, "It's my idea that we see nothing without being willing to struggle to learn the way to see." Resnais' intelligent use of time is multi-layered. For example, time is running out for the couple from the film's very opening as the women is set to leave the city. 

                                     More importantly, the narrative switches seamlessly between current and historical events. The way in which different eras bleed into one another here also recalls the novel of Virginia Woolf. Resnais' rejection of conventional narrative structure would later be echoed in the work of Godard, who famously commented that every film must have a beginning, middle and an end, although not necessarily in that order.

                                   "The past and the present coexist, but the past shouldn't be in flashback", Resnais told in an interview. As Resnais' film moves between past and present, it combines a number of other opposites; war and peace, reality and memory, public and private, life and death, madness and sanity, truth and lies. There are other opposites at play, namely documentary and fiction, memorably blended together in the film's opening minutes. Resnais documentary background is very much on display in this enthralling sequence; a dazzling collage detailing the horrors of Hiroshima in much the same fashion as "Night and Fog" dealt with the Holocaust.  Resnais patrols the halls of Hiroshima museum, picking out exhibits with the same unflinching eye. The comb made by a concentration camp prisoner in the earlier film, here finds its match with a clump of human hair shed from a Hiroshima victim.

                                     "Hiroshima Mon Amour" amounts to a two-hander and Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada deliver strong performances, veering between sensuousness and seriousness. Riva, in her first feature film, skilfully handles the bulk of the dialogue. The film is also technically excellent. The use of light is constantly striking, especially during the indoors and the woman's harrowing cave memories. The editing astonishes throughout, notably in the beginning but also during the woman's recollections of a youthful romance. 

                                        Alain Resnais, still directing at the age of 91, proved his directorial dexterity with this groundbreaking and enigmatic brief encounter. A landmark in French cinema, "Hiroshima Mon Amour" offers both a challenging and rewarding experience. Resnais' next film "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961) is another very complicated study of time and memory.

 Resnais' Interview:

Hiroshima Mon Amour -- IMDb

Chasing Ice -- A Dire Visual Message

                                     James Balog is an acclaimed environmental photographer. He was a global warming skeptic, who went looking for substantiation about climate change for a 2005 photo essay accredited by National Geographic. What he saw for himself made him begin the project called "Extreme Ice Survey" (EIS). Director Jeff Orlowski follows Balog's project from 2007, in Alaska, Iceland, Greenland and Montana in this beautiful and more realistic documentary "Chasing Ice" (2012).

                                   People are divided up over the fact that human intervention could change the planet's sea levels and glacial ice packs. Balog says that "What they need is a believable, understandable piece of visual evidence, something that grabs 'em in the gut." So, he and his mountaineering scientist crew set up cameras capable of photographing glaciers continuously from their stationary vantage point. They have placed cameras all around Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and other icy regions.

                                 Placing the camera is itself a suicide mission. They embed dozens of cameras into the rock walls above various ices mass -- most of them are the inhospitable places on Earth. The cameras are placed inside a protective box with an automatic timer. The time-lapse cameras take one image for an hour. When Balog's team of young scientists assembles the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are dropping off at an staggering rate.

                                  The documentary is at times harrowing, when Balog's endeavors are threatened. He places the camera and returns six months later to find almost all had malfunctioned due to minor computer glitches. Frustrated and battered Balog slumps behind nonfunctional camera and weeps. He also puts his life at risk by ruling out his knee problems. His knees, abused by years of mountain climbing, resembles a bag of loose gravel.We see him daily at base camp bracing his battered legs. Balog's team has also faced huge risks by coping up with the vertiginous climbs over abysses, i.e. literally the height of danger.

                                  Chasing Ice's most breathtaking moments are the stunning time-lapse photography of glaciers receding worldwide. These painstakingly captured images are presented as montages that proceed with a slight jerkiness but show the inexorable reduction of enormous ice blankets into mere patches of white. Documentaries with power-points, graphs and diagrams have always called for action, but this documentary lends a visual credence that there has been as much glacier reduction in the past decade as in the preceding century.

                                 Orlowski has brought in "how" behind nature photography. He uses emotional, evocative imagery (at times he depicts Balog's inner conflicts) to illustrate the hard facts that ice is on the run and seas are on the rise. At a running time of 76 minutes, we are presented with otherworldly destinations that are practically godlike to look at. Are such chilling images enough to convince the naysayers? That's doubtful, but "Chasing Ice" makes a strong convincing case about climate change than the pictures told by words.


Chasing Ice -- IMDb

James Balog Photography 

Man of Steel -- CGI Overkill

                                 Director Zack Snyder gave us "300" and "Watchmen." Both movies could be called as excitable indulgence of special effects and also had a good narrative structure. His last movie, "Sucker Punch" was a catastrophe. Now his "Man of Steel" (written by David S. Goyer from a story by Chris Nolan) travels in different directions, delivering gratifications without managing to be completely satisfying. As an origin story, the movie takes itself very seriously, but the mind numbing action in last 40 minutes is a huge disappointment and shatters the promising build up. 

                                 Like the 1978 Superman movie, the story starts from the planet Krypton, just before it is due to self-destruct. The 1978 movie didn't have Marlon Brando flying around Krypton, but, once again thanks to special effects, we get to zoom about Krypton as Jor-El (Russell Crowe) pilots a giant dragon or insect. There's also an environmental angle to the self-destruction. Jor-El sends his naturally born son to earth in a small space ship, knowing that the boy will have superpowers in this planet. Meanwhile, the villain, General Zod attempts a coup and fails. He and his gang of baddies are temporarily subdued (after few large scale explosions).

                                   Thirty Three years years later we meet Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) -- a fisherman, saving some men on a doomed oil rig. He floats around in the water experiencing flashbacks to his childhood living in Kansas with adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Clark encounters Lois Lane (Amy Adams) while she is in the Arctic investigating a mysterious space ship under the ice. Unlike, previous Superman movies, Lois Lane know Superman’s secret from the get-go. Soon, Zod parks a space ship in Earth's orbit and demands surrender or to face total annihilation. He is also after a "codex", which is sent with Clark. It contains the key to rebuilding the Krypton species.  

                                   The movie's plus are Nolan/Goyer's story. It has broad sci-fi outlines rather than the regular superhero histrionics. The script repeatedly hints at the similarity between Jesus and Superman, except, of course, the unbelievably long and violent battle. Director Snyder always have a fondness for explosive action set pieces. Unfortunately, in "Man of Steel", the battles are so numerous and too long that the effect is numbing, leaving us bored rather than exhilarated. 

                                   The casting is perfect. Henry Cavill, the British actor, uses this movie as an opportunity to lay the foundation for what could be a long and memorable run. One of the main requirement for actors playing superheroes is to look the part. Cavill succeeds there by subtly playing emotional moments and conveying sharp feelings of self-doubt. Costner and Diane Lane gives a stupefying performance as Clark's adoptive parents. The talented Michael Shannon rants and snarls throughout the film as super-villain Zod. Lois Lane's character is a improvement over the usual naive, starry-eyed versions. Russell Crowe keeps on materializing as holographic Jor-El and repeatedly reminds Clark to save mankind. 

                                  When Superman finally saves Manhattan from Zod and his merciless Kryptonian renegades, he has ruined huge swaths of the city and laid waste to scores of humans. He contradicts from his ideals and rather than being a legendary hero of his own story he comes across as a pawn of special effects. 
                                  Superman has always been a figure of truth -- unlike other superheroes -- which makes up for a difficult movie subject because there's no ambiguity about who he is and what he represents. The reboot, retold in digital-age justifies its existence, but the climatic excesses pose a question that whether this "Man of Steel" can spearhead a franchise that aims for greatness or for simulated spectacles of mass urban disasters. 

Explosion of Korean Genre Cinema

                                 Korean cinema faced a turning point in the late 90's. In fact, there were already signals of change. Kim Ki-duk signaled this change in Korean cinema with his debut feature "Crocodile" in 1996. But, not until 2000's had these new kinds of Korean cinema been fully recognized. The new directors were more interested in a variety of genre films and became successful in domestic market. Ryoo Seung-wan (in action genre, films: "City of Violence", "The Berlin File"), Bong Joon-ho (thriller & comedy, films: "Memories of Murder", "The Host") and Kim Jee-woon (horror, noir and thriller, films: "I Saw the Devil", "A Bittersweet Life", "A Tale of  Two Sisters") proved their abilities to play with styles from various genre and made up the core of the industry. But it was none other than Park Chan-wook ("Oldboy") who led them to the front-line.

                                  Before Park became known internationally, he was also a film critic who showed his passion with written words. When he embraced styles of Hollywood B movies, he received attentions from the world with his films. Fueled by cinephile experiences on films, the film-makers could form a new cinematic discourse and become industry leaders with their active devotion to film genres. Although they were not after genre films directly, genres obviously offered a lot of form to these trends. Throughout the history of films, we can easily notice film genres have been closely connected with the ups and downs of a country's film culture.

                                 Film genres offered the biggest opportunities to ambitious young talents of Korean cinema who could not avoid balancing auteurist achievement with commercial capability. Newcomers to the industry have actively used genre structures, but in twisted, creative way of their own to bring familiar yet unexpected, transgressive pleasures to audience. At first, Bong Joon-ho surprised people by bringing styles of thriller or sci-fi that had barely been attempted in Korean cinema, in the past decades.

                                  With its tagline "rural thriller", "Memories of Murder", Bong's second film based on true events of serial killings in Hwaseong (a twon on the outskirt of Seoul), traces reminiscent of 80's Korea and wrapped around its thriller structure. With "The Host", he also proved that he can achieve the feel of sci-fi genre without expensive visual effects. What matters is the director's true appreciation of the genre, not resources available to him. He showed it is important to infuse genre techniques into local stories, not a mere copy of Hollywood structure. In other words, it is genre merely served as groundwork that allowed him to realize his own artistic vision.   

                                 Bong says, "Genre is, simply, one of the codes for attracting audience. It is not satisfying to ride in the bus running strictly on a designated route. Instead, deviating from the path often gives new spectacles and surprising moments of pleasure." Attention to genre films in Korean movie culture was also prompted by various subcultures. New generation of films opened different discussions of Korean films and offered self reflexive perspective on Korean cinema as a whole. "Memories of Murder", "Mother" and "Oldboy" don't rely on concrete recreation of genre conventions. With energy released from tension between them and cultural landscapes, these films deconstruct and reconstruct themselves. 

                                 There was also an effort to open a possibility of genre rarely tied in Korean cinema such as Hong-jin's "The Chaser" (2008) and Kim's "I Saw The Devil" (2010), serial killer thrillers that molds unique genre structure with the director's flair for portraying violence. Fueled by the film's success, more thrillers like "Marine Boy", "The Scam" and "Handphone" were released in 2009 and 2010. These thrillers attempt to bring forth the issues of drug or stock market not frequently seen in Korean films and succeeded in getting attention. However, these titles leave a lot to be desired since they count on peculiarity of subject matters too much so that they failed to bring the gist of pleasure from the genre itself.

                                   After more than a decade, Korean genre films still deconstruct themselves to find more breakthroughs. Helmers like Bong or Kim Jee-Woon or Park are still working hard on their projects (Hollywood debuts with "Snowpiercer", "The Last Stand", "Stoker") and feverishly welcomed in international markets. From both artistic and industrial imperatives, Korean cinema says this: there is always a desire for change and for brand new experiences.

Bong Joon--ho Interview

South Korean Cinema : New Wave

The Place Beyond The Pines -- A Tale of Redemption Among Fathers and Sons

                                   Derek Cianfrance -- director of critically acclaimed "Blue Valentine" (2010) -- wields a multi-generational morality tale with the film "The Place Beyond the Pines" (2012). He offers a microscopic look at the dangerous, dysfunctional fathers and sons. The narrative unfolds in three separate but interrelated stories. Each story is told in a straightforward manner, not demanding the viewer to piece together a cinematic jigsaw puzzle, like in the films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. There is something honest in each chronicle, even though the acts are substantially weaker than the one it precedes. 

                                  Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is covered in tattoos, including his cheek that shows a dagger dripping blood. He is a reticent motorcycle stunt rider (called as 'Handsome Luke') in a traveling carnival. His shows stops in Schenectady, N.Y., after meeting a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes), a waitress. She had known him previous summer and shows up mysteriously, looking for something she isn’t sure is there. Soon, Luke learns that he had fathered a child last time he was there with Romina. She lives with a boyfriend, but still has feelings for Luke, and so Luke quits the carnival, deciding to get to know his child, Jason better.

                                   Luke fetches a job at a roadside mechanic shop run by a motorcycle partisan, Robin (Ben Mendelsohn). Robin teaches Luke that there are more lucrative and easier ways to rob a bank. Luke's bank robbing techniques leads the film to the second part, involving a hero cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper). Avery is a strait-laced, ambitious cop, who is led by a cynical and corrupt veteran (Ray Liotta). He has a boy, AJ, the same age as Luke’s, who is threatened by his own righteous arrogance, which also undermines the relationship with his wife (Rose Byrne). 
                                  Avery eventually exposes the police corruption and demands a position of Assistant Attorney for all his troubles. Fifteen years later, Avery is running for state attorney general. The sins of the father's -- Luke and Avery -- are visited on their sons, AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane DeHaan), in the third-act. They from an unlikely friendship based on the spoiled-rich AJ's ability to get cash and Jason's drug-dealer contacts. 
                                   The first segment involving Ryan Gosling is dramatically compelling and unpredictable. The first shot is one long take following Luke from his trailer to his motorcycle. That opening shot intrigues us to know more about this guy who has a job riding motorcycle inside a giant metal ball. Gosling, with the blond-hair and tattoos commands attention with every flick of his eyelashes, even though the character is similar to the one he played in "Drive." We can feel the emotions of Luke, whose desperation drives him to take risks to provide the child with a better upbringing than he had -- "My father was never around and look how I turned out." The second part though not very compelling (as the first), has a well-drawn character, Avery. Bradley Cooper once again proves that he is a resourceful talent. Bradley's Characters' reactions are believable and emerge as a charming winner who is nonetheless very difficult to like. 
                                 The Director makes us love the bank robber so much that it is hard to judge him harshly. And when our hero is cornered by police, we are suddenly asked to switch allegiance to the “hero cop.” The shift at that point, is a whiplash for a viewer. The shift also copes with issues rarely addressed in movies -- moral uncertainty. The third act is a bit sluggish and the characters of DeHaan and Cohen are flat and predictable (even though the young actors display a bravura skill of acting). 
                                Cianfrance is not a hastening storyteller. He prefers to hang out with his characters and turns the mundane conversations giving up nuggets of the past. Only when the character is good and ready, he pushes a bit of momentum. The basic theme of this film is masculinity’s cost and toll and Cianfrance tries hard to narrate it in a poetical way (as the title suggests). He also has an eye for an attention to human detail -- Luke vomiting after his first bank robbery and the family photograph which travels through all the three acts. 
                              Cianfrance's and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt's blue-collar landscapes of the United States feels like a place that time forgot, far away from the ruckus of politics or commercial popular culture. He prefers handheld shots but they are less distracting than in some other productions. The car chase scene and the opening motorcycle gigs are filmed in an effective manner. The disappointments attained from this film are only the product of its aspirations, which is easy to forgive. 
                              With "The Place Beyond the Pines", Cianfrance once again proves to be exceptionally skillful at wheedling electric performances from his actors and creating an hermetically self-contained world. If the film had carried on at the level of first 40 minutes, it might have been one of the best crime/dramas. Nevertheless, this is beautiful and bold filmmaking. 
The Place Beyond the Pines -- IMDb                          

Stoker -- Metaphysical Horror with Lingering Imagery

                                  Psycho-sexual imagery is always spread through every inch of esteemed South-Korean film-maker Park Chan-wook ("Thirst", "Oldboy"). His movies inhabits within the themes of psycho-sexuality, psychological suspense, and hair-raising horror. His vision has a rarefied chill that somehow submits them fit for the art house cinema. The stylistic film-maker has now entered Hollywood with an twisted coming-of-age tale, "Stoker" (2013). The title of the movie is not an reference to Bram or his Dracula. Instead, Park has said that he has taken inspiration from one of his most favorite works: "Shadow of a Doubt" (1946) -- another bored girl on the cusp of womanhood. 

                                   "Stoker" tells the story of 18 year old girl, India Stoker (Mia Wasikwoska), who is at the funeral of her beloved father (Dermot Mulroney) - a traumatic event for the high school senior due to her closeness. India's mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is a grieving alcoholic, whose parental capabilities are limited to remaindering her daughter to say "no thank you." Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode) -- her father's younger brother -- attends the funeral and decides to stay in the old mansion with India and her mother on the edge of a fairy-tale forest. 

                                    Charles is a charming man, whom the family never knew existed. He says that he has spent most of his life traveling through Europe. But there is something wrong with Charles: his unblinking eyes suggest at an underlying craziness. People come across him has an habit of disappearing under suspicious circumstances. Evelyn flirts shamelessly over her husband's brother and he tells Evelyn "I want to know my brother's wife." He also encircles India with a patience of a predator. Soon, the revelations about Charlie's past inevitably follow and he seems like a vehicle for India to mutate into something more terrifying. 

                                    A slow-burning psychological thriller that may also be taking place inside India's head, is also a visual artistry with an immaculately framed tableaux. Miller's screenplay takes some leaps in plausibility, which is sometimes saved by the director's fanciful style. Park has created an neo-gothic thriller which never deigns into parody. Park immerses himself in the material in a borderline-hallucinatory atmosphere by making no gestures toward reality. At times, Park's direction seems too cool to ignite the lust and envy. Comparing with his Korean flicks, he has kept on-screen violence to a relative minimum. The subplot involving school bullies and Charlie's aunt have weak payoffs. 

                                     Chung Chung-hoon, Park's usual cinematographer, displays an eye for haunting detail: an eggshell cracks as heavily as if it were the Earth's crust, dingy freezer in the basement and a pendulum that predicts an unfavorable omen. In the dinner scene, the camera swings about the trio's heads to contemplate their shifting emotional dynamics. The direction and cinematography at that scene is slick and assured but also distracting, reminding us of the drama's overarching artificiality.

                                      All the performances are excellent, with Goode providing an right touch of ambiguity and minatory as the mysterious Uncle Charlie and Mia Wasikwoska bestows the movie with  peculiar vitality as she dangerously devolves into darker hungers. Nicole Kidman is perfect as the brittle mom, who radiates burning resentment and frustration toward India. Other characters like Jacki Weaver (worried aunt), Phyllis Somerville (aged housekeeper) digresses through the drama but the film is mostly transfixed with the central three. 

                                       Coming-of-age stories always serves as a perfect medium for horror/thrillers (Stephen King's "Carrie" springs immediately to mind), because that is an age of great emotional intensity, which can also manifest itself as unpredictability and fear. "Stoker" is a compromise between Park's idiosyncratic wildness and Hollywood's distaste to risk, but still remains as an intriguing exercise in transgression. 


Stoker -- IMDb 

In Darkness - Life On The Brink Of Death

                         Director Agnieszka Holland's 'In Darkness' is a a moving Holocaust saga based on a true story, which speaks about the humankind's capacity to endure, to fight on in the face of terrible cruelty. The memory of the Holocaust and the terror caused by Third Reich still cast dark shadows upon our consciousness. While we are held with attention to remember the dimensions of indifference and hatred which characterized this period of history, we are also challenged to be aware of the heroism of those who risked their own safety in order to save Jews in Europe. The movie 'In Darkness' presents one of those heroes named Leopold Socha, a working-class Roman Catholic who looked after a group of Jews living in sewers.

                       You might say, another story of the saintly non-Jews saving the Jew during the Holocaust. How many editions on "Schindler's List" do we need? That query has no real answer, of course, but if the stories are as well-told and moving as Holland's film, one might say: at least one more. It is a fitting addition  to the group of films fighting with complicity, opportunism and resistance in the face of genocidal madness.

         Based on the book, In sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, the film offers a arduous account of the true story of a group of Jews who spent 14 months living in a rat-infested underground sewer. They are flawed and afraid ordinary citizens -- not heroes. Coerced from the ghettos as the Nazis lined up Jews for the work camps, and the death camps, they fled to the sewers instead. This movie also tells the story of a city sewer worker, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz).

            He also operates as a scavenger to provide for his wife and daughter, and because he likes the thrill of the hunt, he and his accomplice, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny) loot the abandoned buildings of Jews. A catholic himself, Socha is hardly a Jewish sympathizer. Bortnik, a friend and a high-rank, greedy Ukrainian Officer, promises him a better life, if he finds and arrests Jews hiding in the sewers. When the ghettos are being liquidated by Nazis, Socha sees opportunity in tragedy.

             Socha and Szczepek, knowing that Jews are hiding in the sewers, decides not to turn them in. Instead, they charge a group a weekly fee to harbor them and bring them food and supplies while keeping their whereabouts quiet. But as he comes to know them, playing with the children, Socha creates a genuine bond with the people who were paying him for safety.

                 Director Holland makes a dual reality: that above ground and that below, in the rat-infested sewers. The Jews in the sewers make moving attempts at a normal life in the darkness, which is like an alternate universe. Affairs take place, child is born, and of course, many people die, in such horrific ways. Under her direction film is structured intelligently and measures out the horror in pragmatic amounts. She should also be appreciated for creating and sustaining an ambiance of suspicion, fear and paranoia, as no one, Jew or Gentile can be trusted—or taken for granted.

               Shooting out in confined spaces, Holland elicits taut performances from a strong cast. Wieckiewicz as Socha is outstanding, his face expressing a full range of emotions, often within the same scene. Is he a good man? Or is he a greedy man moved to do good things? the movie suggests both. The script by David F. Shamoon has its share of hackish melodrama (especially the subplot that features a Ukrainian jail-mate of Socha’s), but the pacing is great. The screenwriter's decision to tease you with the prospect of Socha giving up his charges makes good dramatic (if not ethical) sense, and Wieckiewicz is wonderful to watch.

                In Darkness delivers a believable scenario about the effects of desperate times upon the human psyche, and it also shows how base human instinct can nevertheless be elevated. It’s a very mundane-type movie where you don’t have as many of the big dramatic moments or character revelations. Most of the Holocaust movies arrive at a point of unspeakable, incomprehensible horror. These instants force us to ask questions about ourselves, our existence, about the nature of man and the nature of God - or if there is a God at all. The movie, In Darkness asks these questions and gets both troubling and inspiring answers. 

               "In Darkness" is apparently tough to watch, it is both unforgiving and relentlessly human. But, again imagine how hard it was to live, and face it.


In Darkness - IMDb 

Agnieszka Holland -- 

Shadow Dancer -- A Slow-Burning, Downbeat Thriller

                                    Director James Marsh is primarily known as documentary film-maker. He has made the Academy Award winning documentary about acrobat Philippe Petit’s legendary tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers ("Man on Wire") and also an excruciating chronicle of the life of a chimp raised as a human and then discarded ("Project Nim"). He recently directed his second full-length feature in the excellent British serial-killer trilogy "Red Riding." Marsh's latest film, "Shadow Dancer" (2012) is set in the  1990s Belfast with the brand of grim, tight-lipped regionalism, which was penned by Tom Bradby based on his 2001 novel. 

                                        "Shadow Dancer" is a low-budget, slow-burning IRA thriller, which will be best appreciated by patient and attuned viewers. The story is set during the last days of the Irish troubles. Earlier, there is a wonderful unspoken sequence following a young woman as she boards a train, exits at a Tube station where she drops a leery package on the steps, and later, sensing danger, sneaks off into a tunnel where she makes her escape from the station, only to be immediately picked up by two MI5 agents. The film has short intro set in Belfast 1973, where a little girl, Collette lives with her family. One day, she is making a bead necklace for herself and since she doesn't want to be interrupted, convinces her little brother to go in her place on an errand for her father.

                                         The little boy is killed in an crossfire between Irish forces and British army. From that moment, her life is occupied by cascading guilt, grief, and regret. Twenty years later, Collette (Andrea Riseborough) is caught planting a bomb in a subway station. Since she is a member of IRA, she is offered an chance to become a mole for British intelligence by MI5 officer Mac (Clive Owen). Collette is defiant at first but consents when she was threatened with the prospect of being separated from her young son (a jail term of 25 years). Collette is particularly a prized asset for MI5, since both her brothers, Connor (Domhnall Gleeson) and Gerry (Aidan Gillen), are high-ranking IRA officers. The psychological suspense builds from that point with its share of assassinations, chases and one hard-to-watch torture scene.

                                        Director James Marsh's characters takes the route of George Smiley by deglamorizing the spy-craft and by showcasing the mundane life of spies. Marsh's framing exhibit an unfussy, astute attention to spacial dynamics. The gray-green color palette very much suits the story's mood. The brown-bricked housing developments and corrugated iron of Dublin are shot very effectively. Even though the film is based upon a novel, it is more character-based rather than plot-driven. It focuses on a evil fire called distrust, which devours the good with the bad. The film is subtly incisive about how easily a woman can be entrusted, and therefore underestimated, in an aggressively male-dominated surroundings. 

                                        As Collette, Andrea Riseborough gives a luminous performance who is torn between the loyalties to her son and her siblings. Her character is a bit blurry but the shocking ending sequence leaves us with a deceitful, regretful, resolute woman. Owen is excellent as a weary MI5 offcer whose inability to stay emotionally disinterested in his line of work turns out to be his potentially fatal weakness. The relationship between a weathered Clive Owen and Riseborough conveys the unemotional exteriors their characters have spent years working up as part of their jobs. Thanks to Marsh, he downplays the possibility of romance between the two principal characters and keeps us concerned about the fate of Collette's son. 

                                     Set within an political terrain, the movie does very well to avoid a stance in favor of one side or the other. "Shadow Dancer" shows how relationships are marked by equal measures of need, exploitation, desperation and also expertly puts a viewer on a world where politics constantly corrodes personal connections. 


Shadow Dancer -- IMDb 

Godard's "Pierrot Goes Wild" -- A Brief Analysis

                                       Godard made "Bande a part" (Band of outsiders) in the year 1964. But, before making this movie, Godard attempted to film an adaptation of 'Obsession' by Lionel White, the author of the source material for Stanley Kubrick's taut crime thriller "The Killing." Godard wanted to cast Sylvie Vartan, a famous Bulgarian French singer (one of the first rock girls in France), but she refused so the project was subsequently put on hold. After he had completed "Band of Outsiders", he envisaged making the film with Anna Karina and Richard Burton, but this also fell through. Later on, Belmondo came on board and Godard decided that the film would tell the story of the "last romantic couple." The end result is a testament to the magnetic screen presence of both Belmondo and Karina. 

                                      "Pierrot Goes Wild" starts with Ferdinand (Belmondo), husband of a rich Italian woman, returning home from a dismal party. Bored, he offers a ride to his kids' babysitter, the attractive student Marianne Renoir (Anna Karina). Before long, they decide to take a one-way street out of Paris and head for the south of France. Their impromptu journey will involve a bag of loot that goes up in flames, some gun-running shenanigans and auto-theft as they resolve to hook up with Marianne's brother. the adventure sees them falling in love and ends with Ferdinand painting his face pale blue, wrapping dynamite to his head. 

                                    As fast and loose a film as Godard has ever made, "Pierrot Goes Wild" (Pierrot le Fou) recalls Howard Hawks' axiom, that a movie's plot could really be just an excuse for some great scenes. Here, Godard spins another girl-and-gun, lovers-on-the-lam narrative in order to unfold a characteristically autonomous procession of digressions, stories, set-pieces, references, satirical swipes, discursive debates, tongue-in-cheek gags and flights of fancy. One highlight is Karina's charming rendition of a song about her fate-line. The film abounds in ideas but critics considered it a little scatter-shot for its own good. Many thought it as 'repetitive  rather than inventive and fresh' and recommended pruning to increase its commercial appeal. 

                                      Like "Breathless", the film divides its time between action sequences and pensive, discursive scenes. It serves up a typically Gordardian bugger of both high and low culture references. Just as he had mixed William Faulkner with Humphrey Bogart in his first film, here the director includes references to art, poetry, film and philosophy. The artists mentioned range from modern masters, like American pop art maestro Roy Lichtenstein, to classical greats such as the 17th century Spanish pinter Velazquez. The writers who are referenced are similarly varied and include Robert Browning, Raymond Chandler, Joseph Conrad, F Scott Fitzgerald and William Shakespeare. 

                                       Recalling Fritz Lang's appearance in "Contempt" (Le Mepris), the influential American auteur Sam Fuller appears briefly as himself. Ferdinand meets him at a party where the director says he is in town to make a movie. Fuller declares that his film will be like a battle ground, encompassing love, hate, action and violence: "in one word, emotions." Pierrot Goes Wild can claim the same. This is a dazzling assault on the senses. "Pierrot le Fou" is a film about liberty and reinvention. A product of a director at the height of his powers.


Roger Ebert's Review

Pierrot Goes Wild (Pierrot le Fou) -- IMDb